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Roseberry Topping and Captain Cook Country

An ascent of Roseberry Topping for fine views and reminders of one of Britain's great explorers.

Distance 5.6 miles (9km)

Minimum time 2hrs 30min

Ascent/gradient 1,214ft (370m)

Level of difficulty Medium

Paths Hillside climb, then tracks and field paths, 3 stiles

Landscape One of the best 360-degree views in Yorkshire

Suggested map aqua3 OS Outdoor Leisure 26 North York Moors - Western

Start/finish NZ 570128

Dog friendliness Off leads, except in farmland

Parking Car park on A173 just south of Newton under Roseberry

Public toilets In car park at foot of Roseberry Topping

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1 Take the rough lane beside the car park towards Roseberry Topping. The path goes through a gateway then rises to a second gate at the beginning of the woodland.

2 Go through the gate into National Trust Land and turn left. There is a well-worn path to the summit, with several variations to the route. Some are easier than others but whichever you take, it is a stiff climb to the trig point on the top of the hill.

3 From the summit, take the Cleveland Way path on the opposite side from the ascent, going down a track which rises through a gate to the corner of woodland. Go through another gate and turn right alongside the wood.

4 Follow this track as it follows the edge of the wood. It passes through another gate and goes past a second area of wood, descending the hillside to reach a road.

5 Turn right, cross the cattle grid and bear left past a bench to a gate. Turn right to go over a stile, down the field, over another stile and out into a lane. Walk past the cottages to reach a road, where you go straight ahead.

6 At a crossroads go right, down Aireyholme Lane. Follow the lane as it winds past houses, then take a signed footpath left through woodland. After ½ mile (800m), go right up a path ascending through the woods, turning left at a crossing path and continuing along the edge of the woodland. Continue bearing right to reach a track to farm buildings which goes left then right, to a gate.

7 Walk across two fields to a stile, then continue uphill to the tower. Beyond it, take a grassy path left down a gully, to a gate into woodland. Follow the path downhill through the woods to return to the gate at the top of the lane leading back to the car park.

Visible for miles around and one of the most distinctive of all English hills, Roseberry Topping, 1,051ft (320m) high, was once an integral part of the North York Moors plateau. Over the millennia, however, the forces of nature eroded the land around it, but the Topping itself was protected by a cap of harder sandstone. In time it became an isolated conical hill, stranded above the plain of the River Tees. Through the centuries it has been called many things, from Odinburgh (after the Norse God) to Rosemary Torp (by the notoriously inaccurate Daniel Defoe). Roseberry means 'fortress in the heath' and Topping, a 'point' - though there is no sign of a fortress there now.

Roseberry Topping retained its conical perfection until the night of 8th August 1912, when a huge chunk of land fell from its south west slope and gave it the now-characteristic jagged profile. The immediate cause of the fall was the ironstone mining operations that had been burrowing into the slopes of the hill, since 1880, when the Roseberry Ironstone Company opened its first seam. Like much of this part of the North York Moors, Roseberry Topping is rich in ironstone, and it seemed a prize worth winning. The company survived for only three years, but the seam was later re-opened first by the Tees Furnace Company and then by its successor Burton and Sons. Burton's were blamed for the 1912 collapse, and for another landslide ten years later, but the topping is geologically unstable and could have slipped at any time.

After the descent from Roseberry Topping, and the climb again to the woodland, the track descends over Great Ayton Moor. Ahead, the Captain Cook Monument, a stone obelisk 51ft (15.5m) high, dominates the view. The great explorer was born in 1728 within sight of Roseberry Topping at Marton (then a village, but now a suburb of Middlesbrough) and went to school at nearby Great Ayton. The monument was erected in 1827, with an inscription that names James Cook as 'amongst the most celebrated and most admired benefactors of the human race.' From 1736 his father worked at Aireyholme Farm (not open to the public), near Point 6 on the walk.

Just after you have gone through the gate after Point 5, the dips and hollows in the ground to the left are the remains of another ironstone mine, Ayton Banks. This was last worked in the 1920s. A little further on, you will pass Gribdale Terrace, a typical row of cottages built to house the iron miners and their families.

While you're there

Roseberry Topping attracts more than 100,000 visitors each year, many of whom make it to the summit. As a result, it is in constant danger from erosion, both from those thousands of feet and from the sometimes severe weather that can affect the northern slope of the Moors. The National Trust, which owns it, needs to maintain a balance between access and conservation. You may find, therefore, that some parts are cordoned off, and access is limited to other areas. Stone and soil - in the last campaign more than 200 tonnes - are imported to try to stabilise the paths. Visitors can help by making sure that they stay on the tracks and by obeying any warning signs.

Where to eat and drink

There is often a refreshment caravan in the car park at the foot of Roseberry Topping, and an ice cream van up the lane. Otherwise, head for nearby Newton under Roseberry, where the King's Arms is recommended by locals for its atmosphere, and its meals - especially the puddings.

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