After recent visits to Whitby and Staithes, today’s walk continues my regression through Captain Cook’s life by visiting Great Ayton and having a look at his monument high up on Easby Moor.
In between we’ll have a look at a geological feature that crops up all over Northern England, and drag ourselves up the Matterhorn’s little sister, Roseberry Topping.
I started in the centre of Great Ayton, but if you arrive by train you can quickly catch up with a brisk walk down the road. The station is almost a mile away from the village, but if you’ve ever travelled by Ryanair you’ll know that by their standards, it’s in the town centre.
With the village green on your right and Petch’s wonderful pie emporium on your left, head out of town along Newton Road.
After half a mile or so, go straight on at a mini-roundabout, then immediately before the Newton Rose pub, take a litter strewn alley leading off to the right.
Head left on a quiet estate, then quickly right up Roseberry Drive.
With the imposing summit looking down on you, turn left at the top along Roseberry Crescent and right along a footpath after 50 yards.
The path bears left through an iron gate after a bungalow with so many security cameras, they must have bought them in a “buy one – get 25 free” offer at Comet.
Go over the field and through another gate, then after 100 yards cross a bridge over the railway and follow a wide track uphill.
A further 100 yards later, as the track curves right, take a narrower path on your left into woodland. Soon, another path goes off to your left next to a fence, but you need to keep heading uphill, bending slowly to the right.
You are now on the slopes of the Whin Sill, a geological feature akin to that which forms High Force in Teesdale and the escarpment supporting Hadrians Wall.
A sill is a layer of igneous rock between layers of softer sediments. After years of erosion, they manifest themselves as ridges or escarpments, standing out from the surrounding land.
Just beyond the remnants of old quarry buildings, have a climb up to your right to the top of the ridge where there is a superb view back over Great Ayton and down the old quarries along the line of the sill.
Back down on the path, it soon comes to a fence before which you turn left, across a little gully, then right to join a wider track heading into woodland. After a mile or so, turn right through a wooden gate into an open field, onwards and upwards to Roseberry Topping.
Before the final assault, take a look at the folly building on your right (thought to be an 18th Century shelter for shooting parties).
The view from the top is spectacular, though if you want it to yourself you’ll need to get there for sunrise. Fifteen people and six dogs were up there with me on a Thursday in February.
Great Ayton looks like a model village down to your left, the Durham Plain is straight ahead, the last remnants of industrial Teesside and the wide sweep of Tees Bay are away to your right, and finally Guisborough and the long sweep of the North York Moors loom up behind you.
The really good news though, is that even on the clearest day, you can’t quite see Peterlee.
Walk directly away from the summit (check my map), down the constructed path, then climb alongside a wall, through a gate, then right behind a stand of trees.
It is a three-mile hike on a clear path directly to the monument, dropping down at one point to a minor road at Gribdale Gate, before climbing straight on through the woods to the homage to Captain James Cook.
The ascent passes the crash site and memorial to three wartime RAF crew from Thornaby aerodrome, and soon reaches the magnificent 60ft monument to Cook, built nearly 200 years ago in memory of the lad who went to school down in the village.
The route down is on the path closest to the one you came up (effectively turning slightly back on yourself to your right). Go through two vertical stone posts, then follow the waymark more steeply downhill towards the woods. Soon you go further left and fall off the edge of the world on a ludicrously steep descent.
Emerge from the woods through a gate, then quickly turn right on a wide track and follow it downhill for more than a mile admiring the matchstick men on Roseberry Topping away in the distance.
After a house on the left, take a track with a ‘weak bridge’ sign (I risked it), which leads eventually over the railway to a farmhouse cafe in Little Ayton.
On the road, turn right away from the river and after the first house on the left, take a path that crosses a footbridge then curves away to the right.
Skirt past football pitches, where 30 years ago I scored a goal for my useless football team Thornaby Eagles, only for an unnaturally handsome local hunk nicknamed ‘Bunny’ to grab a late equaliser. He was tall and blond and his goal thrilled a gaggle of swooning schoolgirls who’d come to drool at him. Bunny, if you are still around, your equaliser was a fluke and I hope you’ve gone bald.
A quarter of a mile later, the path crosses the river one final time near to the Captain Cook schoolroom museum in Great Ayton.
You just hope that they have an old headmaster’s report on display saying “with a little endeavour, James should go far”.