It was long before iron-ore was smelted here, before even the old alum-works had been started, that Skinningrove attained to some sort of fame through a wonderful visit, as strange as any of those recounted by Mr. Wells. It was in the year 1535—for the event is most carefully recorded in a manuscript of the period—that some fishermen of Skinningrove caught a Sea Man. This was such an astounding fact to record that the writer of the old manuscript explains that ’old men that would be loath to have their credyt crackt by a tale of a stale date, report confidently that ... a sea-man was taken by the fishers.’ They took him up to an old disused house, and kept him there for many weeks, feeding him on raw fish, because he persistently refused the other sorts of food offered him. To the people who flocked from far and near to visit him he was very courteous, and he seems to have been particularly pleased with any ‘fayre maydes’ who visited him, for he would gaze at them with a very earnest countenance, ’as if his phlegmaticke breaste had been touched with a sparke of love.’ The Sea Man was so well behaved that the fisher-folk began to feel sufficiently sure of his desire to live with them to cease to keep watch on his movements. ‘One day,’ we are told, ’he prively stoale out of Doores, and ere he coulde be overtaken recovered the sea, whereinto he plunged himself; yet as one that woulde not unmanerly depart without taking of his leave, from the mydle upwardes he raysed his shoulders often above the waves, and makinge signes of acknowledgeing his good enterteinment to such as beheld him on the shore, as they interpreted yt;—after a pretty while he dived downe and appeared no more.’
This strangely detailed account says that instead of a voice the Sea Man ‘skreaked,’ but this is of small interest compared to whether he had a tail or any fish-like attributes. The fact that he escaped would suggest the presence of legs, but the historian is silent on this all-important matter.
The lofty coast-line we have followed all the way from Sandsend terminates abruptly at Huntcliff Nab, the great promontory which is familiar to visitors to Saltburn. Low alluvial cliffs take the place of the rocky precipices, and the coast becomes flatter and flatter as you approach Redcar and the marshy country at the mouth of the Tees. The original Saltburn, consisting of a row of quaint fishermen’s cottages, still stands entirely alone, facing the sea on the Huntcliff side of the beck, and from the wide, smooth sands there is little of modern Saltburn to be seen besides the pier. For the rectangular streets and blocks of houses have been wisely placed some distance from the edge of the grassy cliffs, leaving the sea-front quite unspoiled. It would, perhaps, be well to own that I have never seen Saltburn during the summer season, and for this reason I may think better of the resort than if my visit had been in midsummer. It was during October. The