Roseberry Topping & The Captain Cook Monument – walk from Great Ayton
The distinctive hill on the edge of the North York Moors has become an iconic landmark, particularly after part of the previously flat summit collapsed in 1912 due to ironstone mineworking in the area creating a half cone summit with jagged cliff edge which some people fondly call “Yorkshire’s Matterhorn”.
Having a free couple of day’s I set off with an old pal from my rugby playing days Digger, his dog Finn and my black lab Bronte to climb the peak and visit the famous Captain Cook Monument perched on Easby Moor. Whilst it was sunny and the skies were blue, it was cold and there was still some snow on the ground in places.
We parked in the free parking just opposite the post office in Great Ayton, just next to the village green. The village was once the boyhood home of the British Explorer Captain Cook who lived there between the age of 8 and 16. Whilst the Cook family home was dismantled in 1934 and re-constructed in Melbourne, Australia – there is now a statue of the young man on the village green.
After parking up we had a short walk out of the village efore picking up a pulic footpath on the right walking up past Cleveland Lodge, over the railway line and up Rye Hill to Cliff Ridge Woods.
Here the path ascended quite steeply through the woods and when we reached the top you get your first view of the strange shaped peak. You can see the path as it proceeds across fields gently rising before reaching an old shooting hut which looks more like a folly.
It is worth noting that whilst the Cook family eventually lived in the village of Great Ayton, when James Cook’s father came to the area to manage a Airey Holme Farm, it is believed the job came with a cottage. There is a signage board, next to a yew tree which argues that it was the site of a long since demolished farm building which would have been James Cook’s first accommodation in the area and it’s more than likely hikes up Roseberry Topping would have been amongst his first boyhood adventures.
We reached the shooting hut which was commissioned by Commodore Wilson of Ayton Hall as a shelter from inclement weather or a place to take lunch whilst on shoots. Whist it dates to the 1700’s, it was restored in the 1980’s with money from the North York Moors Parks Committee.
Here the path climbs steeply but obviously to the summit.
The summit is marked by a white trig point where someone had painted a portrait of Shaun the Sheep!
Whilst not as high as some of the peaks in the Dales, at 320 metres it is still a good height to gain big views and gain a sense of satisfaction from getting to the top.
The area has been inhabited for thousands of years and a bronze age hoard was found by researchers from Sheffield University on its slopes. There is also evidence of an iron age walled enclosure on the Moors nearby. It is now managed by the National Trust and falls just within the North York Moors National Park.
Roseberry Topping has been used by sailors and farmers for years as a way of predicting ad weather with the local rhyme “When Roseberry Topping wears a cap, let Cleveland then beware of a clap” – warning people of thunder and storms when the peak cannot be seen through clouds.
After taking in the 360 degree views, we took a path which forms part of the Cleveland Way off the summit. The path is very well defined but really quite steep and very unforgiving on the old knees.
Whilst descending it was worth looking at the slabs of rock which had been laid down as many of them had evidence of fossilised shrimp burrows in the stone dating all the way back to the Jurassic.
No sooner had we got to the bottom then the path started ascending again up onto Newton Moor. Once up the top of the Moor we followed the Cleveland Way along the edge of a ridge with great views back over to Roseberry Topping.
The path descended again to a road at Gribdale Gate before rising again through Forestry Commission owned lands through Gribdale Gate Woods.
As we climbed again we came to a plaque in memory of a Hudson N7294 aircraft which crashed in February 1940 on Easy Moor near the Captain Cook Monument killing 3 of the 4 airmen.
Following the path we could gradually see the impressive tower of the Captain Cook Monument getting closer. We reached the site and took a few minutes to take in the stunning views.
The Captain Cook Monument itself was erected in 1827 and paid for by a Whitby banker named Robert Campion. The monument is 60ft high and can be seen from miles around.
The inscription below about Captain James Cook is a suitable tribute to the man:
"In memory of the celebrated circumnavigator Captain James Cook F.R.S. A man of nautical knowledge inferior to none, in zeal prudence and energy, superior to most. Regardless of danger he opened an intercourse with the Friendly Isles and other parts of the Southern Hemisphere.
He was born at Marton Oct. 27th 1728 and massacred at Owythee Feb. 14th 1779 to the inexpressible grief of his countrymen. While the art of navigation shall be cultivated among men, whilst the spirit of enterprise, commerce and philanthropy shall animate the sons of Britain, while it shall be deemed the honour of a Christian Nation to spread civilisation and the blessings of the Christian faith among pagan and savage tribes, so long will the name of Captain Cook stand out amongst the most celebrated and most admired benefactors of the human race".
From the monument we descended off Easby Moor, passing a disused quarry on the side of the Moor before having to make a difficulty descent through Ayton Bank Woods. We were grateful it was dry as it was a fairly rough, muddy track.
Once at the foot of the woods we followed obvious pathways and roads past gorse in bloom with views back over to Roseberry Topping.
Eventually we reached the Woods at Cliff Ridge Wood and walked along the bottom path to meet the path we had climbed up at the start of the walk, retracing our footsteps back into Great Ayton.
We were blessed with great weather, so could see for miles from the peaks and the tops of the Moors. The walk was about 8.5 miles and with a 20 minute stop for a packed lunch took us 4 hours. I would highly recommend this walk, because it has a bit of everything – moorland, farmland, woodland, historic monuments and big views. Just beware that there are quite a few ascents and descents.