The village of Great Ayton is in the Hambleton district of North Yorkshire on the edge of the North York Moors, centred on the banks of the River Leven. It is an ancient village, with several Neolithic sites situated within the parish boundary, and a mention in the Domesday Book. The village has undergone many changes over the centuries and in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, was home to much industrial activity. Nowadays farming is the main local industry.
The village sits around two greens – the High Green and the Low Green. The Low Green is particularly pleasant, with the river running alongside, it is a popular picnic place in the summer. Also on Low Green, and definitely worth a visit, is the twelfth century All Saints church. It is grade one listed and retains many of its original features such as the Romanesque south nave doorway. Although the church is still medieval in structure, the original tower and part of the nave were demolished in the late nineteenth century to make room for burials. As a boy, Captain James Cook worshipped here, and the Cook family grave is here.
The village is probably most famous for its Captain Cook connection. James Cook’s family moved here when he was eight. The cottage that the family lived in on Bridge Street was thought to have been built by James’ father, and unfortunately is no longer in the village to see. It was dismantled in 1934 and rebuilt, stone by stone, in Fitzroy Park, Melbourne, Australia. The original site of the cottage is still clear though, as it is marked by a cairn of stones taken from Point Hicks, Victoria, the first land in Australia that Cook saw. A more impressive monument to Captain Cook stands in a prominent position on Easby Moor, built in 1827. It can only be reached by a fairly steep climb, but it’s worth it for the amazing views over the Moors, the Vale of Mowbray and across Roseberry Topping. Back in the village itself, on High Green sits a statue of a teenage James Cook, by the sculptor Nicholas Dimbleby.
Another place to visit while in Great Ayton is the Captain Cook Schoolroom Museum, open from April to October. It was originally built in 1704 by local landowner Michael Postgate as a charity school house – Postgate School. Captain James Cook attended the school, and nowadays the museum houses a reconstruction of an eighteenth century classroom, along with displays of Cook’s voyages of discovery. The current building is not the original, but was built in 1785 from the materials of the original building, and has housed the museum since 1928.
To the north of the village the view is dominated by the 330 metre (1083 ft) high Roseberry Topping, often likened to a volcano, with its distinctive cone shape rising abruptly from the Cleveland plain. Roseberry Topping is maintained by the National Trust, and from the summit has magnificent 360 degree views; on a clear day you can see as far as Teeseide in one direction and the Yorkshire Dales in the other. The area is rich in wildlife, particularly moorland birds, and is a popular place with serious walkers trailing the Cleveland Way, as well as those out for a more gentle stroll.
As you can see, there is plenty to see and do in and around Great Ayton, and with several interesting walks around the village and the river, it is also an ideal base for exploring the North Yorks Moors.