CAPTAIN James Cook is one of Britain’s most celebrated maritime heroes. Born to lowly farming folk in the Teesside village of Marton, his destiny lay not in farming ??? or shopkeeping, to which he was briefly apprenticed ??? but as a seaman and navigator who discovered new lands, charted unknown waters, and claimed the continent of Australia for George III before being slain by angry natives on Hawaii. So proud were the people of Teesside and North Yorkshire of their sailor son that they erected a monument to honour his achievements. It stands on a windy ridge of the Cleveland Hills and offers panoramic views across the farmlands of Cook???s childhood. The monument is the first port of call on today’s walk.
I feel slightly humble writing this. I???ve been delaying this walk all week because the weather has been wet and windy. Would Cook, a man whose reputation was founded on sailing into the unknown and in extreme conditions, and whose voyages took him into treacherous Arctic waters, have been deterred by a few autumn showers? Exactly . . .
My walk begins in Kildale. It???s a pleasant village a few miles from Great Ayton, to where the Cook family moved (to Aireyholme Farm) when James was a boy. Kildale stands on the 110-mile Cleveland Way National Trail. There is an excellent camping barn at Park Farm, on the outskirts of the village, which I can thoroughly recommend, having spent a night there about 12 years ago when I walked the trail. It is owned by a Mr and Mrs Cook. Is that too many Cooks for one article?
I set off through the village and into the woodlands of Coate Moor, following the Cleveland Way to the foot of Captain Cook???s Monument on Easby Moor. Dark clouds gather on the southern horizon, but there are patches of blue ??? enough to make a sailor???s shirt, as my wife would say. It???s windy old weather, stormy old weather. When the wind blows it blasts through the heather.
Cook remains a colossus among nautical heroes and one of Britain???s most renowned explorers. His voyages rolled back the frontiers of knowledge and played a leading role in shaping the world we have come to know. He is Teesside???s most famous son ??? and a good thing too otherwise the title would fall to Roy Chubby Brown or Paul Daniels.
Leaving the monument I head north along the Cleveland Way. My next target is Roseberry Topping, which is as resonant to Teesside as Table Mountain is to Capetown and the Matterhorn to Zermatt. But before I set foot on its slopes I meet a 73-year-old woman walking along the escarpment.
We broach several subjects in our short though illuminating conversation, the most significant being the ageing process and how it should be managed. She intends to walk the hills until she can walk no more, she tells me ??? while waving a trekking pole in a resolute manner. She has just recovered from an operation, but that will not deter her. Walking keeps her fit and active, and that???s how she intends to remain. I bid her good day and wander on impressed and sort of reassured.
Roseberry Topping has been described as ???Teesside???s miniature Matterhorn???. This is a tag I find depressing and a little impertinent. Having stood in the mountains above Zermatt and gazed up in incredulity at the magnificence of the Matterhorn, I can honestly say I can see no resemblance whatsoever except that one is very high and pointed and the other very low and slightly pointed. I will leave it at that. Neither do I intend to blunder into comparisons between Zermatt and Middlesbrough. However, there might be some mileage in Paul Daniels and William Tell. Anyone got an apple?
That???s not to say Roseberry Topping is without its charms or delights. At 1,049ft (450m), and with its distinctive ???mountain??? shape, it is a landmark for miles around and a much-loved and familiar symbol of the area. It also possesses the most fantastically rocky summit. Immense sandstone blocks and slabs crown the hill, which falls away steeply on all sides. Apparently, it takes its name from the Viking god Odin, and not roses or berries as might be assumed. This is what Wikipedia has to say:
Roseberry Topping is one of only a handful of known pagan names in England, being named after the Norse god Odin and paralleled by the Old English name Wodnesberg, found for example in Woodnesborough. The name changed successively to Othensberg, Ohenseberg, Ounsberry and Ouesberry before finally settling on Roseberry. “Topping” is a Yorkshire dialect derivation of Old English topp, ‘top (of a hill)’. The naming of the hill may thus fit a well-established pattern in Continental Europe of hills and mountains being named after Odin or the Germanic equivalent, Wodan.
On the crown of Roseberry Topping sits an old man who tells me many wise things. It???s tempting to say he has one eye, a large hat, and a raven on his shoulder ??? but I did an Odin encounter in a previous post and to embark on another would be stretching things. This man has two eyes, he???s bald, and he???s from ???Uddersfield. No ravens. But he tells me he???s 70 and still going strong.
I tell him about my conversation with the 73-year-old woman on the escarpment. That???s nowt, he says. His sister is 80 and still teaching tap-dancing lessons. And his brother-in-law, who has always been a fitness fanatic, became a boxing coach at the age of 76.
He intends to keep walking until he drops, he says. I???m all for this positive approach to ageing, but it occurs to me that one day soon I shall venture onto the fells and find lots of dead pensioners lying about the place untidily. Still, it???ll make a good post.
Which reminds me of a tale a former colleague, Richard Davies, told me a few years ago. Richard was walking with two mates on the moors above Grassington, in Wharfedale, when they found a dead hiker lying face down on the path. One of the threesome was nominated to return to Grassington to alert the authorities while Richard and the other remained with the body. Several hours elapsed before the rescue team appeared. During this period, Richard and his mate became extremely hungry. In desperation they emptied the dead man???s rucksack and devoured his cheese and pickle sandwiches. Apparently they were very tasty.
I think that???s a funny story and so does Richard, but I can appreciate some people might find it distasteful and even offensive. But at least the sandwiches didn???t go to waste. And thank god they weren???t Marmite.
I take my leave of the wise man from ???Uddersfield and return to the escarpment to rejoin the Cleveland Way. I follow the footpath further into the east, across moors and bogs in warm October sunshine, before branching south along the most uplifting of tracks to the unexpectedly green valley of Sleddale.
Sleddale is a place that has been carved from the moors by the sweat of men in ages past. Their endeavours have created a pool of fertile green pasture in a hollow between heathery ridges. To follow the track along the fence line and down to the farm is like discovering an unknown England. I had no idea this place existed. Now I don???t want to leave. I want to sit in the warm afternoon air until the shadows lengthen and evening mists fill the hollows, and the cold autumn night eases me on my way. But that???s not going to happen.
So I wander along a farm track, cross another heathery ridge and follow an overgrown forestry road back to Kildale. Cook???s tour complete.
Anyway, the lesson for today ??? I decide, as I brew a pan of tea in the van ??? is that age is no barrier to fitness and health. All that???s required for a long and fulfilling hill-walking career is determination and a positive attitude. And I must admit, the tap-dancing lessons sound rather appealing.
AND FINALLY: Old Railway Wagon Number 16 . . .
I’VE worn glasses since I was a boy of five because, basically, without them I can hardly see a thing. Everything is just smudges. That doesn’t stop me spotting an abandoned railway goods wagon stuck on the side of a moorland hill at a distance of just under a mile. The nearest railway to this ramshackle wagon runs through Kildale, a couple of miles distant. It didn’t get up here under its own steam.
What I like about old railway wagons is they turn up in the most obscure places yet fit in seamlessly to their adopted environment. This one is as much a part of the landscape as Sleddale Farm.
Another splendid piece, Alen, which informs and entertains, and makes me want to follow your tracks as well as keep on walking into my old age (I’m only 64, so a youngster compared to the lady with the walking pole and the man from ‘Uddersfield).
Hi Will. At six years younger than you, I’m a youngster as well. I must admit, though, my legs take longer to loosen up these days and I can’t leap over fences like I used to. But the answer is to keep at it ??? I think.
When I saw the title of the post I imagined you in the van, driving from location to location like Keith Floyd whipping up a local meal on the camping stove. Beautiful pictures and a pretty good place to walk until old age runs out.
Those stones had me googling for a minute then. All I could find was an architect from Hull called Joseph Hirst who designed Holy Trinity Church. Aren’t landscapes teasing?
Hi Chris. That’s interesting about the school, not that I suppose there is a link. I’m surprised few people have written about the stones before because the inscription just leaps out and hits you as you walk past. But there you go.
Keith Floyd. What a fantastic bloke. I once watched him cook a “Spanish shepherd’s breakfast” on the side of a mountain in Spain and it was the most marvelous meal I’ve ever seen. Tried to do it myself while camping in the Pyrenees but it didn’t look half as good as his. That’s probably why he was a professional cook and I’m not.
Thank you so much for this post! I’ve linked it on my own blog, for people who’ve known me for many years on this US continent and can’t understand where I was a kid at all. Not London? surely you jest? this will illuminate their outlook!
Hi Liz. It’s funny how people tend to neglect the areas immediately on their doorstep. I can see those hills from just behind my house in Barton, near Darlington, but I’ve walked in them only a handful of times. I should pay them more attention because they really are a great place to walk.
Your apple crumble looks good, by the way.
All the best, Alen
I can see fine outdoors – it’s reading I can’t do any longer since computer screens have ruined my eyesight at work????
My mother is 86 and teaches Scottish Country Dancing – having said that, she needs help off my Dad and a friend as she is more or less blind and deaf now. It keeps her brain going though… LOL to the finding of piles of dead pensioners stacking up on the hills!
The ‘private cattle grid’ will be to do with the recent ‘suing culture’ nowadays unfortunately.
I’d nominate Alan Hinkes as the most famous living person to come out of Teesside – but then I’m a hillwalker so I would???? He used to go up Dream Topping – sorry, Rosebery Topping a lot apparently – probably still does. That name always makes me think of food (but then, so do a lot of things). And as to marmite sandwiches… mmmmmm! lovely
Marmite sandwiches. Come on, Carol, you can’t be serious. I hope you don’t take them hillwalking with you and expect other people to swap.
Now then. Alan Hinkes. If ever a story came up about him when I worked on The Northern Echo, there was always a discussion on the subs’ desk about where he was actually from ??? and no one was sure. Should he be described as a mountaineer from Northallerton, from Tyneside, from Teesside, or wherever. Anyhow, he’s certainly preferable to the other two people I mentioned.
Scottish Country Dancing is a noble pursuit. I can see the health and fitness value in that. Wouldn’t mind trying it myself. I look good in a kilt.
I tend to go for marmite and cheese sandwiches – but only at home. I don’t eat sandwiches on the hill as I find bread is very thirst-making. I just eat a biscuit or something – I carry very little to eat but I do have a few energy-type bars in my pack in case I get benighted or suchlike.
Most men tend to look good in a kilt
Brilliant post again; serious & funny! Since I don’t live too close I’ll have to make do with your adventure above then sit down with Alistair Maclean’s book “Captain Cook”. I read it over 30 years ago & CC was immediately added to my list of heroes (how did I miss him in my childhood? I would have to blame my all-time greatest hero Thor Heyerdahl; Kon-Tiki was the first grown-up book I ever read & coincidently first published in the year of my birth). As for getting older: “rage, rage against the dying of the light”.
Hi Ash. Well I’ve learnt something here. I didn’t know Alistair Maclean wrote a book about Captain Cook. So I”ve just Googled it and read an excellent review. Actuallly, it’s not so much a review as a selection of passages:
That’s on my Christmas list. I haven’t read Kon-Tiki either, so I’ve some catching up to do.
Just read a fantastic book by Tony Horwitz called (I think) “To boldly go…” about following in Cook’s footsteps in the UK and abroad, if you are a Cookphile, it is well worth a read!
Hi Howellsey. Blimey, another Cook book I’ll have to look into. I had no idea there were so many. That’s another on the list.
I always enjoy tour posts and when I see a new one I usually pour myself a coffee and settle down knowing I am in for a long wonderful read with lots of superb photographs. You always take me to places I have (usually) heard of but have never been to and you make me want to jump in the car with a buff, camera and good walking boots and follow your trail and see for myself the places you describe. Keep ’em coming!
Hiya James. Thanks for that comment. The thing I enjoy most about blogging is sharing my experiences with those who might be interested. Positive feedback makes all the hard work worthwhile.
You made ??????me laugh, Alen. It will look untidy, with a whole bunch of dead pensioners, the good news is that you don’t run out of food.
I have learned a new word, yeast. It’s probably a missing link in my upbringing that I was not familiar with Marmite, ie content. I don’t know what to think about the product, but it certainly is rich in B-vitamins. And that is certainly positive
It is impressive what James Cook performed. Good he didn’t have Mr. and Mrs. Cook on board, they had ended up sailing in circles.
It is a very good-humored post with some lovely pictures. I got a great desire to do the walk, and that’s a compliment.
All the best,
Hiya Hanna. Marmite is a peculiarly English invention made from yeast extract and god knows what else. It has what they call an “acquired” taste. I’m sure it’s a very healthy food and that anyone who eats it regularly will live to a ripe old age. I prefer cheese and pickle or ham and mustard in my sandwiches.
When you visit England next you must pay a visit to the Cleveland Hills. They say that on a very clear day you can see Denmark from the tops.
All the best, Alen
I think cheese, pickle, ham and mustard sounds great the whole thing in one package
In Norway, we have ham with salad in the packed lunch. The salad consists of grated carrots, chopped pickles, chopped cabbage and a little mayonnaise that serves as glue That’s delicious too.
Maybe I should make a short journey to Jutland on a clear day. Then I can take a peek at the Cleveland Hills in advance????
I have an addition. I am familiar with using yeast when I bake. It is the English word that is the new revelation:-)
I found a shocking video on youtube about how wrong things can go when you eat Marmite. Let this be a warning: http://youtu.be/-878Nc4gzPA
With all due respect to Marmite who played a crucial role during World War 1.
May this be my last word. This time????
Strange video. It doesn’t affect me like that.
I think it is strange too. You don’t know if you should laugh or cry.
Is it a special form of English advertising? Bad publicity is better than no publicity –
The guy with the mic sounds Australian, and he probably is because Vegemite is an Australian product. Also, the strange guy at the end sounds Australian too. So I would say it is a special form of Australian advertising.
It doesn’t work with me.
Lovely one Alen – wish your hills were more conveniently situated to my front door! Although if I tried the sharper bits I’d probably be one of your corpses.
PS in our family it’s ‘enough blue for a Dutchman’s britches’.
PPS have you tried lettuce-and-marmite sandwiches? One of the great combinations.
Hello Mrs P. My wife has corrected my take on her blue sky saying to “sailor’s trousers”, which is not a million miles from your Dutchman’s britches. I like them both because they’ve probably been handed down through the generations and should be passed on to confuse children and get their minds working. As for lettuce and marmite sandwiches, if they were the only ones left on the plate at a wedding I might try them.
Definitely don’t try them at the wedding if you ever see them. They’d be vile as leftovers, dry and curly on the outside and limp and damp on the inside. No – fresh bread, zingy marmite and munchy crisp lettuce, that’s the ticket!
Great post, Alan, and I love your photos. You always find such beauty in lesser-known places. And you should take yourself more seriously as a writer. I have said this before but it just struck me again when I read the para that begins “Sleddale is a place that has been carved from the moors???” because it is beautifully written and so evocative. And those elderly hikers are an inspiration to us all! The power of the mind – it’s very strong!
Thanks for that, Jo. I have plans to do some serious writing and produce a book, but I’ve got plans to do lots of things and they don’t all come off. I’m going through a period of transition at the moment (no job, house for sale, seeking new life) so when things have settled down I intend to get stuck in. Thanks for the encouragement. It’s always appreciated.
Nice to see you are getting plenty of time in the campervan. When we head over to the Whitby area for a bit of walking we see Roseberry Topping in the distance and Moira always says we must have a look up there. Your route looks an interesting one and one day soon we will do something about it.
Ha ha Marmite, a pal of mine hates the stuff, even the smell, so I always make sure when I have marmite crisps I sit right next to him. I laugh when he realises and he then swears at me…. mates eh. Cheers
Hi David. Marmite crisps? Bloody hell, do people actually buy them to eat?
That area of the Cleveland Hills is fantastic for walking. Nothing too strenuous and plenty of long and winding paths along escarpments and airy ridges. Get yourselves up there.
All the best, Alen
I once rode up to Cook’s monument on my racer, accompanied by an old fella who, in his 70’s, rode a bike with 3 gears (and rarely changed them). He was prone to herculean feats for no obvious reason. Like trying to ride up Roseberry Topping. He swore by steel cranks with cotter pins. The one time he tried an alloy cotterless crank one of them snapped. Near Whitby. He rode back with one leg pedalling. I bet he walked in circles for a week after that.
Lifelong curiosity got the better of me last summer, and I went up RT with the dog. Well worth half an hour of anyones day.
Great story, by the way. I’ll keep an eye out for falling walkers (until it’s my turn).
Hi Steve. What is it with old fellas and bikes? There’s a chap in our village in his 80s and he goes to the shop nearly every day on his road bike but never changes down to a low gear when his goes up the hill outside my house. He’s in such a high gear his pedals look like they’re hardly turning ??? but his wheels go round and he gets where he’s going. Hope I’m as fit when I reach his age.