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Published: September 25th 2018
On a quiet corner of the very edge of the North Yorkshire Moors, a monument stands aloft. It is a simple structure. A large monolith high on the edge of Easby Moor, it gazes out over the farmland below. The stacks and cooling towers of industrial Teesside way in the distance throw out plumes into the atmosphere. The monument is very Yorkshire. Plain and simple. No fuss. It does the job, but not really befitting of a man who hailed from these parts whose achievements arguably changed the course of history. Captain James Cook was born at Marton on the outskirts of Middlesbrough, but moved to the village of Great Ayton aged 8 when his father got work on a local farm. Cook lived here until the desire to seek a seafaring trade took hold and he left the agricultural life, initially for Staithes and Whitby on the North Yorkshire coast. A naval career followed, in which gained many accolades as both navigator and explorer. Today we take international travel for granted, but in the 1770s a trip up the road to the market town of Stokesley was probably considered an adventure. Cook is probably most closely associated with his first
voyage in which he is attributed with mapping the east coast of Australia and New Zealand. Cook named New South Wales for the British Crown, before having an enforced holiday in what is now Cooktown in Far North Queensland after his ship hit the Great Barrier Reef. I think back to our own stay there in 1991. The copious signs that warn of the distinct possibility of becoming a crocodile meal and a discussion with a local, who was adamant that there were 5 pubs in town at the time – “3 on your way down the street and 2 on your way home”. I also think of us retracing his steps to Botany Bay (with a little help from our BA friends) - they hadn't built the replica of Endeavour at this point. Cook went on to further voyages looking for the great southern continent and seeking route through the North West passage - I am still working on that mission. He met his end in Hawaii. We were largely disappointed by the place too in pre-blog days, although in a less terminal way. Of course, not all would see his voyage as an acheivement and I discover the
lyrics of a Melbourne band, Pataphysics, as I type. I think they are best described as less than complimentary about him ever having left North Yorkshire in the first place.
I drove up passing Ayton Station and parked the car at the base of Gribdale. I hadn’t been up here for at least 35 years and I was half expecting to be the only car on the scene.I can distinctly remember learning about Cook as a child and walking up here. There is also a photograph of a disgruntled 6 or 7 year old on what seemed like a trip to the other end of the earth from this very car park towards Roseberry Topping. I was wrong about the half empty. It transpired that there was a 4 Tops Challenge running race on a 12 mile circuit from Guisborough, taking in the high points. The Captain Cook Monument was on the route. I set off for the Monument, which is a steady 25 minute walk up a steady gradient. The lower slopes are tree covered, but give way to open moorland at higher altitudes. The occasional runner speeds past me as they descend into the valley.
I catch a glimpse of their next target peak – Roseberry Topping – away to my right. A gap in the trees is marked with a plaque. It pays tribute to those killed in 1940, when a bomber crashed soon after take-off from Thornaby airfield. The ice on the wings meant it never gained enough altitude to get over the summit ahead. A small group of marshalls for the race were gathered near the Monument. It was erected in 1827 by Robert Campion, a Whitby banker. At 18 metres high, it towers above the heather. An inscription on the side pays tribute part of which states
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
I parked up near High Green. The remnants of the murals painted on the stone wall from the Tour of Yorkshire cycle race were still just about visible. A Big issue seller was busy touting near Co-op. The local affluence obviously made it a good pitch and probably worthy pitch worthy of the bus fare out here. I top side of High green
is dominated by the buildings of what was the Friends School. It opened in 1841 as a Quaker school and amid falling pupil numbers, finally closed in the early 1990s. The buildings are now executive apartments. A small statue of Cook sits in one corner of the Green. It currently has a companion statue, which is a tribute to those who served from the village in the First World War. The figure of a British “Tommy” stands to one side of a wooden rack covered in the names of those who did not return. Great Ayton at the time was a more industrial community than it is today. Ironstone mines littered the countryside all around Teesside. Whinstone used for road construction was another local industry. They refer to one area of the village which rapidly expanded to cater for the workers as California. A small plaque paid tribute to the 260 men who left the village, of which only 210 returned to see the High Green.
I headed for the Lower Green, stopping to note the old Victorian urinal - 1 of 3 apparently - that were once sited in the village. I crossed that River Leven and turned
up Easby Lane. It was here that Cook lived. The cottage is marked by a small park. An obelisk, made from stone brought from Cape Everard, Point Hicks, Victoria, has replaced the cottage. The cottage was "transported" to Fitzroy Gardens, Melbourne in 1934. Ayton Hall on the far side of the river is a grand private residence these days. It adjoins the graveyard of the 12th century All Saints Church. Cook's mother is buried in the family plot and a helpful map at the gate points to the location to save you wandering unncessarily. The River Leven was very low, even after the recent rains. I have seen it completely swamp this area, so as to make the road impassable. We once nearly put a bid in for a house fronting the river having been seduced by a first viewing. I looked at it now and thought, it was a good decision to let it be. We moved on to a property in Stokesley in similar proximity to the river and got gazumped. We retreated back to the urban world we know - some things are just meant to happen.
I paused for a flat white in
a fine establishment on the corner of the Guisborough / Stokesley Road, which goes by the name of the Velveteen Rabbit Luncheon Club. An inscription on the door summed up the overall plan. Atelier De Patisserie Anglais : Bistro : Larder. It was no ordinary coffee shop. The counter displayed a selection of what could be described as executive individuals cakes and treats. They weren’t cheap, but beautifully presented and tempting. A selection of artisan breads – bloomers and sourdoughs – were tucked away at the base of display cabinet. A selection of unusual cheeses complemented the offerings and an old cigar case inscribed with “Continental Cigar Selection. Handmade Havanas” was actually full of homemade chocolates. The flat white was excellent and served in a range of vintage crockery. A number of other customers were tucking into various items from the menu. The venue was dog friendly and a Jack Russell waited patiently, should his owner be offering any crumbs of comfort. I checked the ratings on a well-known review site. There was a photograph of a brunch, which looked mighty appealing. Next time!
I wandered off down the road in search of food on
the hoof. The poshest eating establishment in the village is a few yards down. It wasn’t on my radar, but I paused to check out the menu anyway. Joplins is only open evenings from 7 pm, Tuesday to Saturday. The cheapest starter on the sample menu displayed was £9 and the mains started at £20. I doubted that I would be stopping by anytime soon, although the ratings on the previously mentioned well-known review site suggested that those that do love the experience. “A Hidden Treasure” is one quote. I noticed that a shop a few doors down was having a sale. The description of the goods was Occasionwear. A dress in the window was reduced from £480 to a mere £350. I wondered what sort of occasion warranted that expenditure. A meal out a nearby restaurant perhaps? I found my food on the go at Stokesley Butchers. A sign in the window confirmed local lamb was down in price and rabbits available at only £3.50. However, it was a pork pie caught my attention as I wandered past. Great Ayton has a more famous pie outlet further along opposite High Green. The pies from D. Petch. Butcher are “famous”,
but I figured that demand might have exceeded supply by this time on a Saturday lunchtime so opted for the easy option in front of me.
The Captain Cook Schoolroom Museum opened at 1 pm. A small shop selling Captain Cook souvenirs was downstairs and a small museum devoted to Cook upstairs. The cheery attendant helpfully outlined what was on offer. The chronological display outlined the history of Cook’s early life in the village, followed by an account of his 3 voyages to the Pacific and Australia. A wall details the key people in Great Ayton history. Cook was obviously at the forefront of this display. I wonder if travel writer and modern day observer, Harry Pearson, will ever make the cut as a significant of the village history? The museum was free and well worth some of your time. Donations welcome, but not solicited. I spent some time listening to the account of the voyages and mused with the host how much there was to see in the locality. I walked through the small modern precinct that seems out of place in this rural location. I noted the A boards of the rival barbers. Heads seemed
to have the upper hand in the marketing stakes. Cuts from £6.50, but it was crucially offering a free beer on Fridays and Saturdays. A fine gesture and I might have been in on the offer had I not got the car and already been relieved of my excess my a Turk on Linny Road the previous day. The Royal Oak was busy as I made my way back to the car.
I set off in pursuit of the first football match of the day. Great Ayton Royals were entertaining local rivals, Stokesley Sports Club Reserves at the scenic surroundings of Leven Park. The sun was shining now and the clouds of earlier had cleared. The Captain Cook Monument was visible on the high moors above. Leven Park is shared with the local cricket club and the few other spectators stayed in their cars on the perimiter to watch. Stokesley romped into a commanding lead. It seemed a little unfair to be fielding former Boro and Cardiff striker, Andy Campbell. He was transferred between the 2 clubs for £1 million in 2002 and whilst there is some stupid money in the professional game, that still makes him a fairly
decent player in his day. I made the decision to depart after 40 minutes for a more competitive game in the Northern League down the road at Guisborough. After all, Red Star were the visitors - the Seaham version and alas not the Belgrade boys - although I doubt the King George V would have been able to cope with the North Stand travelling. As it was Eternal Derby weekend, it seemed the right thing to do! It turned out I missed the great fightback in the 2nd half at Great Ayton, as well as a sending off. There was a fightback too at Guisborough, as they slotted away the chances that had gone begging in the 1st half. Appendix 1 North Riding Football League (Division 1) Great Ayton Royals FC 3 Stokesley Sports Club Reserves 4 Date:
Saturday 22nd September 2018 @1400 Hours Venue:
Leven Park, Easby, Great Ayton, North Yorkshire. TS9 6JY Attendance
: Est 6 Scorers
: 0-1 Brady (Stokesley), 0-2 OG (Stokesley), 0-3 Campbell (Stokesley), 1-3 Dodds (Great Ayton), 1-4 Brodie-Myers (Stokesley), 2-4 Nicholls (Great Ayton) 3-4 Edwards
(Great Ayton) Appendix 2 Northern League
Division 1 Guisborough Town FC 3 Seaham Red Star FC 1 Date :
Saturday 22nd September 2018 @ 1500 Hours Venue
: King George V Ground, Howlbeck Road, Guisborough. TS14 6LE Attendance
: 100 Scorers :
0-1 Donnelly 44 Mins (Seaham Red Star), 1-1 Steel 54 Mins Pen (Guisborough), 2-1 Close 64 Mins (Guisborough) 3-1 Steel 78 Mins (Guisborough) Postscript
I was passing Great Ayton a few weeks later and noted that the village was transformed by a splash of colour. A hugely impressive memorial to the fallen of the First World War at key points by the Green and the Church. Lest We Forget. I added further photographs to capture the memory.
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