Why You Should Ride on This Popular Tourist Attraction in Saltburn for a Great Day Out
The famous Saltburn Cliff Tramway has finally reopened following a hiatus – just in time for summer. Discover its fascinating history which makes it an iconic tourist attraction on the coast
The funicular, which allows visitors to travel from the beach to the town, was closed for repairs in 2019 and remained shut throughout lockdown. While it should have reopened this Easter, issues identified during routine maintenance tests meant its doors remained closed for a little longer. But Saltburn’s locals and visitors alike are thrilled that the iconic Cliff Tramway has now reopened, luckily just in time for the town’s Platinum Jubilee celebrations.
Its fascinating history is just one reason why you’ll want to hitch a ride on the tram. In 1861 the Stockton and Darlington Railway arrived in Saltburn from Redcar and brought with it an influx of sun-seeking seaside-goers, and new projects, including Saltburn’s pier which was completed during 1869, were the result. Getting to the pier proved to be a challenge so an easier way to travel down the steep cliff was sought – and that’s where English railway owner Henry Pease of Darlington comes in (he was a director of the Stockton and Darlington Railway, and responsible for the foundation of the seaside resort of Saltburn).
‘Henry thought it would be a nice place to develop,’ says Trevor Russell, Saltburn Cliff Tramway’s team leader. ‘A man called John Anderson built the pier and he actually built the original vertical lift (a cliff hoist, which is different to what we see now). The first vertical lift was built in 1870, and to access that you’d walk along the platform from where our top station is now (at a height of 120 feet) to reach what was basically a vertical wooden shaft. That worked for 13 years but Middlesbrough Estates then bought the lift and condemned it – because of the weather conditions and damp causing the wood to swell, it used to stick.’
Sir Richard Tangye’s company (who built the Scarborough funiculars) was commissioned to build a replacement, and engineer George Croydon Marks was appointed to take on the work. He designed and constructed the funicular we see today – reaching a height of 120 feet and a 71 percent incline. ‘He actually built it in around 10 months,’ Trevor reveals. ‘It opened on the 28th June in 1884.’
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The funicular cars each have a water tank and double steel wire ropes, and a large tank of water sits at the stations at the top and bottom of the cliff. ‘When the car at the top is filled to capacity it enables it to pull the tram that’s in the bottom station up to the top,’ Trevor explains. ‘The water is then released into a tank underneath the bottom station and when the tank at the top gets short of water, we then pump the water back up. The original pump was gas-fired but that was replaced in 1924. In 2017 the pump wasn’t pumping the water up sufficiently, so we’ve had to put a modern submersible pump into the tank which then pumps the water back up to the top station. It’s very safe and we have a lot of safety features that have been added to it. The tram could work all day, every day, forever.’
Being the oldest operating water-balance cliff lift in Britain, it was important to Trevor and his team to get it back into working condition as soon as they could – because it’s both a key part of our coast’s history, and a much-loved attraction. ‘I enjoy working with the tram, interacting with the public, and just the buzz I get from working for something so important,’ Trevor says. ‘Saltburn is a very busy place! Even when it’s overcast, the town is always full of people. I try to create an atmosphere that’s fun for everyone, and I have a laugh with the customers.
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‘Practically everybody knows Saltburn for its tram and its pier. On the very first day when we reopened, I was being interviewed for BBC Look North and at that time I had a new member of staff operating the tills – I had to drop him in it big style! The lad really surpassed my expectations but at that time (at 11 o’clock in the morning) the whole promenade was absolutely packed. It really is a very popular place!’
Trevor says everyone has to ride the tram at least once because it’s all part of the experience – but also because it’s quite the hike back up to the town from the beach. ‘It’s 178 steps when you want to go back up to the town, or a walk up by the roadside which isn’t easy. We get people from Australia, New Zealand, Canada, America – from all over the world – heading to this part of the country to see the tram. It’ll work forever as far as I know and I don’t think Saltburn would be Saltburn without it.’
At present, the Saltburn Cliff Tramway is open Thursday–Sunday (its busiest times). Staff training is currently ongoing and Trevor hopes to have the tram open for seven days per week later in the summer. Keep up to date with opening times at facebook.com/SaltburnCliffTramway.
‘Stroll along the promenade’
Take in the sea views, capture photos of the pier, and the tram, from below and see the colourful huts that line the beach.
‘Go to the cafés and fish shops’
At the beach, get your seaside seafood at Seaview, Oscars Fish and Chips or Cat Nab Fish Bar, or visit the recently-opened outpost of Tomahawk Steakhouse. In the town, grab a full English at Rapps Café, brunch at Signals, or a coffee at Taste.
‘Walk along the beach which stretches to Redcar and South Gare’
Combining sweeping bays with a backdrop of industry, these nearby beaches are worth the walk (and don’t miss a trip to Pacittos for a delicious lemon top – a must-try, refreshing ice cream much-loved on this stretch of the coast).
‘Visit the Valley Gardens and the Miniature Railway’
The colourful floral displays and steep grassy banks make Saltburn’s valley gardens a great place to be in summer. There are circular walks, a tea room, and the Saltburn Miniature Railway.
‘Walk along the cliffs from The Ship Inn’
From The Ship Inn head towards Hunt Cliff for panoramic views of the sea and see Charm Bracelet (a circular sculpture) and Guibal Fanhouse, a historical landmark at Skelton Shaft iron mine.