A shipshape village! Captain Cook’s Yorkshire birthplace has glorious hiking, handsome cottages – and heaps of history
- Rob Crossan learns about Cook’s childhood in the village of Great Ayton
- Cook’s schoolhouse has been restored to how it looked when he was a student
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Exactly 250 years ago on board his ship, the Resolution, Captain Cook wrote in his journal: ‘At about a ¼ past 11 o’Clock we cross’d the Antarctic Circle… and are undoubtedly the first and only Ship that ever cross’d that line.’
Back in Cook’s hometown of Great Ayton, just ten miles from what was then a mere farm by the name of Middlesbrough, he was already established as the village’s most cherished export — a position he still inhabits today.
A low-lying sprawl of handsome cottages and limestone terraces, the village also boasts a butcher’s stacked with Huntsman pies and pasties while the booth seating of Suggitt’s cafe makes me pine for nothing more than a jukebox playing The Tremeloes and a waitress with a beehive hairdo.
To 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 taken, brick by brick, to Melbourne in the 1930s but a bare-chested statue of the great man stands on the village green facing in the direction of Staithes, the seaside village where — so local legend has it — Cook first felt the lure of the ocean.
Yorkshire’s finest: Rob Crossan explores Captain Cook’s hometown of Great Ayton. He’s known as the village’s most cherished export, Rob reveals
Places to stay in the area are surprisingly plentiful for somewhere this remote. The King’s Head Inn is a sturdy 18th-century country boozer with 12 cosy rooms in a cute, cottage building next to the main hostelry.
Twenty minutes’ drive away, Crathorne Hall is a different beast entirely — the largest country house to be built in England during the reign of Edward VII.
Wonderfully effusive staff and a fine-dining restaurant that excels in locally sourced venison, quail and other game dishes, help make the vast dimensions feel homely.
‘Places to stay in the area are surprisingly plentiful for somewhere this remote,’ writes Rob. He recommends Crathorne Hall, pictured, which lies twenty minutes’ drive away
A statue of Cook stands on the village green facing in the direction of Staithes, the seaside village where — so local legend has it — Cook first felt the lure of the ocean
Back in Great Ayton, I turned my back away from Cook’s statue to gaze towards two landmarks; one natural, one man-made. The latter is a vast obelisk at the summit of Easby Moor. A two-hour, challenging walk over railway crossings and bracken-smothered woods is required for a closer look. Unveiled in 1827, the lengthy plaque notes the ‘inexpressible grief’ that Cook’s ‘countrymen’ felt when he was killed in Hawaii just six years after that momentous crossing of the Antarctic Circle.
A further hour of vertiginous hiking takes me to the peak of Roseberry Topping. Known as the ‘Matterhorn of North Yorkshire’, its distinctive, semi-collapsed conical peak resulted from a massive landslide in 1912, partly caused by the mining industry.
From the crest, refulgent views yawn out for miles, taking in the pale blue of the Middlesbrough Transporter Bridge, the craggy coastal stretch around Hartlepool and a forest of wind turbines out in the North Sea.
Captain Cook may have felt this horizon wasn’t nearly exotic enough for his ambitions. But, for me, reaching the Roseberry Topping feels like a more-than-adequate achievement for one Yorkshire weekend.
Doubles B&B at Crathorne Hall from £153 (handpickedhotels.co.uk) Doubles B&B at the King’s Head Inn from £107 (inncollectiongroup.com). More information at visitgreatayton.com.
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