Sunday, 24 August 2014

Great Ayton Moor & Roseberry Topping

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Route: Great Ayton, Little Ayton, Round Hill, Ayton bank Woods, Captain Cook's Monument, Little Ayton Moor, Gribdale Gate, Great Ayton Moor, Newton Moor, Hanging Stone, Cleveland Way, Roseberry Topping, Newton Wood, Great Ayton

Date: 24/08/2014
From: Great Ayton

Parking: Great Ayton
Start Point: Great Ayton
Region: North Yorkshire Moors

Route length: 8 miles (12.8km)
Time taken: 03:17
Average speed: 2.4 mph
Ascent: 487m
Descent: 484m

Summits: Roseberry Topping (320m)

Other points of interest: Captain Cook's Monument, Hanging Stone

If you look closely, just south of Middlesbrough, you may find a curious collection of contours, forming a lonely, isolated little hill. It is this hill that serial 8,000m mountain conqueror Alan Hinkes once compared K2 to. His exact words, on spying the 8,611m monster for the first time was "it’s nearly as impressive as Roseberry Topping".

At just 320m high, Roseberry Topping may not be the biggest hill you'll ever see or climb, but it will certainly be one of the most distinctive. Some say it reminds them of the Matterhorn in Switzerland. Alan Hinkes obviously thinks it resembles K2 (or vice-versa). Either way, it's a magnificent hill, well worthy of a long car drive to reach it.

Using a weekend staying with relatives in Pickering as a springboard, we bound across the North Yorkshire Moors early on a late August morning. The forecast was ideal, sun and white clouds, the perfect combination to provide the backdrop to our day out. The Yorkshire Moors is not a place I'm familiar with, other than the excellent drive across to Whitby and the famous steam railway so I was eager to visit it on foot for the first time (even if we were right on the edge).

The walk to Roseberry Topping can be as long as as short as you wish, some simply park nearby, climb it and return; but that's not my style. Instead, the nearby monument built in honour of Captain Cook made for a untaxing 8 mile day out during the perfect time of year to enjoy both the flowering heather and the immense scenery.

We left the car in Great Ayton, the village where Captain James Cook spent his formative years. There's plenty of parking space available contained within a number of car parks. Being an honorary Yorkshire person, we left the car on the street, opting for a slightly longer walk over having to pay to park.
Great Ayton
Heading through the village, we passed the building which once housed Postgate School, now converted into the Captain Cook Schoolroom Museum. For those out of the historical loop - James Cook, was a British explorer and navigator who made detailed maps of Newfoundland prior to making three voyages to the Pacific Ocean. During these voyages he achieved the first recorded European contact with the eastern coastline of Australia and the Hawaiian Islands, and the first recorded circumnavigation of New Zealand. Not bad for a Yorkshire lad.
The plaque outside the Schoolhouse Museum
After passing the heart of the village, a quiet lane leads half a mile to small hamlet of Little Ayton and out to the bridleways that would take us up onto the wild moorland. The route climbs, ever so slowly up to the foot of Ayton Banks Wood before it steepens quite unexpectedly. We had to take some decisive action to avoid being mowed down by a group of mountain bikers, hurtling down the hillside, though they did have the courtesy to warn us that they were approaching.
Some tree-lined lanes accompanied out route to Ayton Bank Wood
The climb into Ayton Bank Wood
The woods mark the footing of Easby Moor, a small area of high ground on the edge of the Moors National Park and commands and extensive view over the Vale of Mowbray to the distant Yorkshire Dales, clearly visible today. In fact, I might be mistaken, it was possible to make out the distinctive profile of Wild Boar Fell many miles away. From here, you can see the distinctive profile of Roseberry Topping, which I'll come to a bit later on.
The expansive views
Our first view of Roseberry Topping
A steep climb up through Ayton Bank Woods
The path emerges into some wonderful moorland scenery
After reaching the top of the woods, the scenery opens out across Easby and Coate Moors, the heather out in full bloom. Ahead is the popular spot of Captain Cook's Monument. The monument is a 50 ft high obelisk, located such that it is visible for miles around. It was constructed from local sandstone and was erected in 1827. A large plaque can be found on one of the faces and the weathered inscription reads:
'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'.
The Cleveland Way passes the monument and it would be this path that we would follow northwards off Easby Moor, over Little Ayton Moor and down to the Forestry Commission car park at Gribdale Gate. Beyond that, after crossing the road, it climbs back up once again, this time onto the flanks of Great Ayton Moor.
That view again
Captain Cook's Monument
The view across the heather to Great Ayton Moor
Late August is the best time to be out and about in the heather as it's out in full bloom, none more so than on Great Ayton Moor as swathes of it accompanied our stroll along the Cleveland Way. Once the climb is out of the way it's a very agreeable stroll, especially seeing as the sun was out.
The Cleveland Way
Striking out onto Great Ayton Moor
A sea of purple heather
Some big skies here too
The wonderful shades of heather
We passed a boundary stone standing close to the drystone wall before reaching a junction of a number of paths. It's here that the Cleveland way makes a 'there and back' trip to Roseberry Topping. We'd be visiting later on, as first, we'd be off for a quick look in Hanging Stone Wood.
The boundary stone
Some more pretty epic views
I'd use the term wood quite lightly as much of it has been felled, perhaps to open up the views, perhaps not. Either way, the actual Hanging Stone provides a superb view across Guisborough to the sea and beyond. Despite it's name, the stone is a pretty stable looking block of sandstone rather than a precariously balanced rock. Its flat, rectangular top provides the perfect setting for a lunch stop.
The Hanging Stone
Sara demonstrates the fact the stone doesn't actually hang
Refreshed, we returned to the junction of paths I mentioned a moment ago and made our way down to the foot of Roseberry Topping a short distance ahead. Like I mentioned earlier, Roseberry Topping is a real favourite of the local population, and Alan Hinkes, due to its immediately identifiable shape
I couldn't help it
It is formed from sandstone laid down in the Middle and Lower Jurassic periods, its distinctive conical shape is the result of the hill's hard sandstone cap protecting the underlying shales and clays from erosion by the effects of ice, wind and rain. Until 1912, the summit resembled a sugarloaf until a geological fault and possibly nearby alum and ironstone mining caused its collapse. The result? A unique profile that has borne similarities with the Matterhorn and K2, though on a more modest scale.
The path zig zags up Roseberry Topping
After a climb to the busy summit we were treated the views that the hill is famed for, a sweeping panorama across much of the north of Yorkshire and beyond. It was very crowded so we didn't hang around for long, enough time for a peep over the precipitous edge and to plot the last bit of our walk back to Great Ayton.
Busy on the top
Roseberry Topping's trig pillar
Sara goading gravity
We left Roseberry Topping, dropping down one of the many paths that criss-cross the hillside and following it into Newton Wood. We passed the folly on the way, a sort of stone shed that is believed to be a Victorian summerhouse built to allow a resting place for weary walkers.
The collapsed cone from below
The folly
The path continues through Newton Wood, slowly descending down to the valley floor. The wood releases you into a cow field before you arrive at the stark contrast of the streets and cul-de-sacs of Great Ayton. It was here that we concluded a truly enjoyable day out, especially seeing as the weather had been so kind. The little hill of Roseberry Topping had more than met my expectations, even with the addition of a coach load of out-of-school kids. Perhaps K2 should be next on the agenda?
Trees in Newton Wood
Newton Wood