A Stroll With Stu: Charting Cook territory in the snow

A significant dumping of the white stuff occurred in late January and armed with a stubborn Australian flu virus, I hauled myself up to Captain Cook’s Monument to complain directly to the bloke who probably took its forefather down under in the first place.

Alighting at Great Ayton station, I started this five-miler by turning right along the adjacent road. The thick snow was beginning to lose a slow battle with a wintry sun and huge clumps of it were dropping from the trees with a resounding splat.

Away to my left, some hardy souls were ploughing up Roseberry Topping and just ahead, a local resident was gingerly walking her bemused dog, standing aside while a Royal Mail van came slithering past at an entertaining angle.

Beyond several houses, the road turns sharp left but a footpath continues straight ahead behind a row of cottages. The snow became deeper with height and great pillows of it adorned the hedgerows and trees in a way that I’ve always thought was one of nature’s more beautiful spectacles. It also had the satisfying benefit of giving my boots a good clean, except where I sank up to my knees with an alarming glug into a concealed swamp.

The path continues snaking uphill – revealing ever more glorious views over your right shoulder – until it reconnects with the road at Gribdale Gate. This is a normally a popular place to abandon the car before trekking off to Roseberry Topping, but today was understandably deserted.

Turn right through a gate and head uphill on a wide track through the woods. I wonder if James Cook

ever climbed up here and, on reaching the plateau, thought “this would be a grand place for a huge obelisk with my name on it”.

For, after a mile or so of climbing, the path levels out and Captain Cook’s Monument is revealed ahead of you in all its glory.

It was erected in 1827 fifty years after Cook’s death, by Robert Campion (a banker from Whitby), though I doubt he lugged the huge blocks of stone up here himself.

The inscription describes Cook in admirably glowing terms, celebrating his astonishing feats of exploration and his ground breaking contribution to navigational science. It goes on to extol the virtues of spreading “civilisation and the blessings of the Christian faith among pagan and savage tribes” though frankly you might be forgiven for asking just how well that is going.

There are other monuments/memorials in Whitby (of course), London, Australia, Cambridge and at Kealakekua Bay in Hawaii where James Cook was bludgeoned to death in the breakers by some unhappy locals, whose stones and knives proved too much for Cook’s small arsenal of rifles and pop guns.

An untimely and unsavoury end for an astonishing man who lived as a child at Airey Home Farm – just a hop and a skip away from Easby Moor – a man who could never have imagined that his ships would give their names to US space shuttles 200 years later, though you can bet he would have been on board if he was born in a different age.

Back at the walk, there are many paths leading away from the monument and you want the one that is effectively a 90 degree left turn from your path up from Gribdale Gate.

This soon descends into woodland and continues for two miles or so, forking right halfway along at a Cleveland Way signpost.

The snow was still deep in these woods and I was slightly gobsmacked to be approached by someone who thought it was a good idea to take his mountain bike for a walk.

He would certainly be pushing it for some miles yet as the path, and its attendant little gullies, boulders and sloppy bits were wholly obscured by the overnight blizzard.

On reaching the same road for a third time, turn right and follow it all the way down to pass over the infant River Leven and under the railway and back up to the village.

The building on your left at a minor road junction is the ever-lovely Glebe Cottage Tearoom, where a variety of hot, sweet, sticky and otherwise scrummy delights await.

The lovely village of Kildale is (I’ve been on Wiki) an estate that is entirely owned by the Turton family who do a good job maintaining the place in exchange, presumably, for monthly donations of rent.

I looked them up on t’internet but was soon lost in a sea of references to Eton, Major-General’s and Baronial history, which says all you need to know I suppose.

The road opposite the Tearoom, leads straight to the little railway station where Northern’s commendable little Sprinter train came rumbling in bang on time to take me back home.