Following on from Phillip Earnshaw’s description of these North Yorkshire coast tunnels in Ramblings 169, I was surprised to read in the Whitby Gazette (18.3.21) that Sustrans and the North York Moors National Park are looking at the feasibility of opening them up to walkers and cyclists. There would be several problems to overcome – the north-west end of Sandsend (a.k.a. Overdale) Tunnel collapsed in 2008; the “offshoot” tunnels from it to the cliff face, which were opened up for dumping spoil during construction, are shored up with timbers and look quite dangerous. These would need to be sealed up to avoid the temptation of an adventurous traverse through them by curious walkers – and who could blame them! (I must admit to having foolishly explored them myself, many years ago).
Whilst the trackbed approaching the tunnels from the south is part of the Cleveland Way long distance footpath, the access to it is by a flight of wooden steps cut into a steep hillside, which would be a barrier to cyclists and the disabled. The only way to avoid this would be to go through Sandsend Station, which is privately owned, and since Autumn 2020 has camping coaches on the platform. Also the tunnels and their approaches are owned by Lord Normanby’s Mulgrave Estate, who blocked the south-east entrance to Sandsend Tunnel long ago, complete with a warning notice to potential trespassers. However the Bidstats website states: “An initial structural report into the condition of the tunnels has been undertaken. Most of the land in the proposed area between Staithes and Sandsend is owned by Mulgrave Estate who are partners in the project and very supportive of its aspirations”. The Cleveland Way currently avoids the tunnels, but to the north of them is unsuitable for cycling as it passes between farmland and a crumbling cliff edge, with stiles and steps to negotiate.
Having said all this though, official and safe access to these tunnels would provide a marvellous extension to the Scarborough-Whitby railway path.
▲ Sandsend Tunnel collapse
▲Article in Whitby Gazette