Explore Great Ayton, the pretty and historic birthplace of Captain Cook in Yorkshire
A pretty village! Captain Cook’s birthplace in Yorkshire has beautiful walks, pretty cottages – and plenty of history
Exactly 250 years ago, on board his ship, the Resolution, Captain Cook wrote in his journal: “At about ¼ past 11 we crossed the Arctic Circle…and are undoubtedly the first and only ship that ever crossed ‘d this line.”
Back in Cook’s hometown of Great Ayton, just ten miles from what was then a humble farm called Middlesbrough, he was already established as the village’s most valued exporter – a position he still holds today.
A low-lying cluster of pretty cottages and limestone terraces, the village also features a butcher’s shop stocked with Huntsman pies and pies, while the bench seats of Suggitt’s Café leave me craving nothing more than a jukebox playing The Tremeloes and a Waitress with a beehive hairstyle.
On one side of the River Leven is Captain Cook’s old schoolhouse, now a small museum, restored to how it looked when a young cook was a student.
Cook’s family home was brought to Melbourne brick by brick in the 1930s, but a shirtless statue of the tall man stands in the village green, looking towards Staithes, the seaside village where – according to local legend – Cook first felt the lure of the ocean.
Best of Yorkshire: Rob Crossan explores Captain Cook’s hometown of Great Ayton. It’s considered the village’s favorite export, reveals Rob
Where to stay in the area is surprisingly plentiful for such a remote location. The King’s Head Inn is a solid 18th-century country inn with 12 comfortable rooms in a cute cottage building attached to the main hostel.
Twenty minutes’ drive away is Crathorne Hall in a different beast – the largest country house built in England during the reign of Edward VII.
Wonderfully enthusiastic staff and a fine dining restaurant that prides itself on venison, quail and other locally sourced game dishes help make the vast dimensions feel homey.
“For such a remote location, there is a surprising amount of accommodation in the area,” writes Rob. He recommends Crathorne Hall pictured which is a twenty minute drive away
A statue of Cook stands in the village green, looking towards Staithes, the seaside village where, according to local legend, Cook first felt the lure of the ocean
Back in Great Ayton, I turned my back on Cook’s statue to see two landmarks; one natural, one artificial. The latter is a huge obelisk at the top of Easby Moor. For a closer look, a challenging two-hour walk across railway crossings and bracken-choked forests is required. The long plaque, unveiled in 1827, refers to the “unutterable sorrow” felt by Cook’s “countrymen” when he was killed in Hawaii, just six years after that momentous crossing of the Arctic Circle.
Another hour of dizzying hike brings me to the summit of Roseberry Topping. Known as the ‘Matterhorn of North Yorkshire’, its prominent, half-collapsed conical peak was formed by a massive landslide in 1912, caused in part by the mining industry.
From the ridge there are miles of brilliant views of the pale blue of the Middlesbrough Transporter Bridge, the rugged stretch of coastline around Hartlepool and a forest of wind turbines out in the North Sea.
Captain Cook may have felt that this horizon was nowhere near exotic enough for his ambitions. But to me, achieving the Roseberry Topping feels like a more than worthy achievement for a Yorkshire weekend.
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