The Woman on Stainsacre Cliff

By James Churchill

When my grandfather was a young man during the early years of the 1960’s he lived in the village of Robin Hood’s bay upon the Yorkshire coast and of a weekend he would set out from his home, at a place in the town near to where The Laurel Inn now stands, and he would walk for nigh on six miles along the cliffs to the abbey that stands at Whitby before returning again by the same road. On his journey towards Whitby he would not see another soul and he trod that precarious path along the high white cliffs in absolute solitude. On his return, howeve,r he would quite often see a woman, dressed all in white, standing on the very edge of the cliff that lay directly to the east of Stainsacre. What always struck him most about this woman was that he never saw her face and yet she seemed to him to be more beautiful than any woman he had ever seen, perhaps even more beautiful than my grandmother who by all accounts would cause all manner of men to stop and stare as she passed them by. My grandfather was usually a shy man who was most afraid of speaking to strangers and so, rather than approach the woman by the cliffs whom he thought so beautiful, each week he would simply pass her by. As time went on and he saw her more often, he began to long for his weekend walk along the cliffs to Whitby just for a fleeting glimpse of the beautiful woman on the cliffs.

One day so eager was he to see the beautiful woman on the cliff once more that he did not walk all the way to Whitby but instead stopped and waited at the place east of Stainsacre where he had so often passed the beautiful woman. Some time later he heard the echo of a lovely voice singing far away across the fields that bordered those cliffs:

My love, My love, you spurned me so,
And cast me out into fields of woe,
My love, my love, I mourn you so,
For I lost you oh so long ago…

This song continued for some time in much the same manner until quite suddenly there was  silence and my grandfather saw the woman gliding towards him from across the fields. For the first time he saw her face and was both shocked and somewhat alarmed for he saw that the woman was without eyes and could not see. Yet somehow she was still just as beautiful and she walked across those fields with both grace and style before coming to a halt at the edge of the cliff where she had always been before. There she stood, just as she did each time my Grandfather passed by on his return from Whitby. My grandfather sat watching her, never once saying a word or indicating his presence to the woman in any way. He watched and admired her until the sun was about to set across the fields and in all this time she remained motionless, facing the sea and as silent as the grave.

When the sun had finally set across the fields the woman turned and she walked away into the darkness, back across the fields in the direction she had first come from. His head swimming with the beauty of the woman in white, my grandfather returned to Robin Hood’s bay and for the next week he found that he could not stop thinking about her. At night when he tried to sleep thoughts of her beauty prevented him from doing so and whilst he was awake he found himself in a dream like state, only ever able to think of the woman by the cliffs. As the days went by he became more and more desperate to see her and when dawn broke on Saturday morning so keen was he to see the woman on the cliffs once again he rushed from his bed and ran along the cliffs to the place on the cliff east of Stainsacre as fast as his legs could carry him. There he waited and soon came the echo of the lovely voice singing away across the fields:

   My love, My love, you spurned me so,
And cast me out into fields of woe,
My love, my love, I mourn you so,
For I lost you oh so long ago…

Once again the singing ceased as the woman appeared on the horizon over the fields and approached the cliff edge. Once more my grandfather watched and admired her in silence as she stood facing the sea until the sun set and she glided away into the darkness. Once more my grandfather returned to Robin Hood’s bay and this time he was further bewitched by the spell of the woman on the cliff for now he could not eat or sleep or spend even a single moment not thinking of her. He was enchanted to such a degree that over the course of that week he was driven almost to madness by continuous thoughts of her bewitching beauty.

And so when weekend came he was up to the spot east of Stainsacre as fast as his legs could carry him and sure enough, as had happened twice before, the woman in white approached singing her now familiar song. My grandfather waited until she had arrived upon the edge of the cliff before making himself known to her at last.
“Good day miss,” he said politely. “My name is Jacob Connor and I’ve seen you around these parts quite often…” The woman in white smiled as he spoke.
“Good day to you also Jacob Connor. I have sensed you watching me twice before. You must think me quite beautiful to observe me in such a way as you do…”
“Indeed I do miss,” my grandfather replied. “You are more beautiful and more lovely than any woman I have yet to see in all my born days.” The woman on the cliffs laughed loudly.
“There are not many men who would be so truthful as you are today Jacob Connor. Many would rather run than kiss a woman with no eyes such as myself. Would you kiss me Jacob Connor?”
“That I would miss. That I would. I would even marry you if I could for it does not matter to me that you have no eyes. You could have no nose or ears and I would love you no more or no less than I already do for, as I have already mentioned, you are more beautiful than any woman I have yet to see in all my born days.”
“Will you kiss me here and now Jacob Connor? I have not been kissed in ever such a long time…” My grandfather, being a man of his word and finding the woman much to his liking, reached forwards and he kissed her on the lips as best as he could possibly manage. When he had finished he stepped backwards and the woman turned towards him and smiled.
“Thank you Jacob Connor. Thank you for making me happier than I have been for many years.” With those words the woman turned and glided away across the fields.

My grandfather returned to Robin Hood’s bay and for the next week he hardly gave a single thought to the woman on the cliff and it was only on his return walk from Whitby the following week that he remembered her for she was not in her usual position standing upon the cliffs east of Stainsacre. It was much the same the week after and the week after that and for all the many weeks that followed. Soon my grandfather forgot all about the woman in white, the woman he had greatly admired, and it so happened that not long after he met and fell in love with my grandmother, Gwendolin.

At least a year into their courtship my grandparents took a walk along the cliff path towards Whitby and it was on their return journey towards Robin Hood’s bay that they sighted a familiar woman in a white dress facing out to sea at the spot east of Stainsacre.
“Hello Jacob Connor,” the woman said as they passed her by.
“Hello miss,” my grandfather responded, very suddenly recalling her. “It is nice to see you again.”
“You have brought a companion with you Jacob Connor,” the woman noted. “Pray… Tell me child what is your name?”
“My name is Gwendolin Cooper miss. I’m very pleased to meet you miss,” my grandmother curtseyed.
“Do you love this man Gwendolin Cooper? Do you love Jacob Connor?” the woman questioned harshly and quite suddenly.
“Yes, indeed I do. I love him as much as any woman could love a man. He is handsome but he is also honest and truthful. He has a good heart and that is why I love him so…” The woman on the cliff nodded slowly.
“And what of you Jacob Connor? You long ago showed me that you are of a noble heart. Do you love this woman?”
“I do miss. With all my heart I love this woman and I desire, if god so permits it, to spend the rest of my life with her.” The woman on the cliff nodded slowly once again.
“If you truly love one another then you shall do for me one thing. You shall go to the churchyard of the All Saints between Hawkser and Stainsacre and there place fresh flowers upon the unmarked grave in the most north easterly corner of the churchyard. If you shall do this one thing for me by midday tomorrow then your union shall be blessed. Do not do this and then your union shall be cursed. It is your choice, children, as to what path you take.” With those words the woman turned and she walked away across the fields and out of  sight.

For the rest of that day my grandparents talked of naught but the woman on the cliff and being simple minded folk they decided that they had naught to loose by placing fresh flowers upon the unmarked grave at the north easterly corner of the churchyard. The next day they picked fresh flowers from a garden in Robin Hood’s bay and, as they were bidden by the woman on the cliffs, they placed them upon the unmarked grave mere moments before the clocks struck midday. As this happened, a vicar stepped from the churchyard and approached them.
“My children,” said he. “Why is it that you place such lovely flowers upon this unmarked grave? It has been many a year since any folk placed flowers here.”
“Your reverence,” my grandfather replied. “We place these flowers here at the behest of a beautiful woman whom we met upon the cliffs east of here. She had no eyes but she was a fair enough maiden and so we are fulfilling her wish as an act of kindness.” The vicar gave a coy smile and then laughed a deep and hearty laugh.
“My children the person you witnessed upon the cliff was perhaps no ordinary woman. Was she perchance dressed in white? If she was indeed dressed in white then you have surely seen the spirit of she who lies in this grave. I know not her name for that was lost to history long ago. Her story however is one that I know well. She was to be married to a most affectionate man here in this very church but on her wedding day she discovered that her fiancée had committed a most terrible sin. He made romantic love to the finest stallion in the county and he was thus outcast from honest society. Rather than live without the man she loved the woman removed her eyes, for that was what he adored about her most, and she had them presented to him in a brown paper package tied up with string. So angry was he at what she had done to her beauty as revenge for his wickedness that he threw her from the cliffs at the point where her spirit now so often stands. It is said that when someone of a pure and noble heart shows her affection as her love once did then her spirit will be at be at peace. Today my children you have done just that.”

My grandparents were at a loss for words and they stared at the vicar, agog at the story he told. Eventually the vicar spoke again.
“My children, for the kindness you have performed I shall you grant you one desire. Name it and it shall be yours.” My grandparents thought through and discussed their desires and at last they came to the conclusion that they loved each other so much that they wished to be married that very same day. That is indeed what happened and they spent the rest of their days in peace and happiness.

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