Village upholds tradition of honouring its famous captain

The Leven at Great Ayton.
The Leven at Great Ayton.
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About three weeks ago a longstanding tradition was played out on the River Leven in North Yorkshire whereby homemade model boats were raced through the water by excited schoolchildren.

It is a sight perhaps once common on boating lakes across the country but has diminished in regularity as children’s playing habits have evolved in today’s technology-led world of recreation.

Captain James Cook, as depicted by Joshua Reynolds.

Captain James Cook, as depicted by Joshua Reynolds.

But regardless of the latest cool, hi-tech gadget, the gathering of youngsters and their model boats remains an annual occurrence in Great Ayton and for good reason.

The spectacle is held to mark a day dedicated to the village’s most celebrated former resident, Captain James Cook. The great navigator and explorer spent his childhood here, attending Postgate School, which itself stands as a monument to his achievements, having been converted into the Captain Cook Schoolroom Museum.

Born in nearby Marton, Cook and his farming family moved to the village in the 1730s when he was eight-years-old and he resided here until he was 16.

Going on to become a Royal Navy captain, Cook would famously make three voyages to the Pacific Ocean, during which 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.

In honour of his ground-breaking exploration, Captain Cook Day is held on or near the Captain’s birthday in October every year. Other traditions during what has become a week of celebration include a service attended by local dignitaries at Cook’s former place of worship, All Saints’ Church, and a dinner at village pub, the Royal Oak.

Such is the village’s enduring affection for Cook, a monument can be found standing proudly on Easby Moor. It is frequently visited by hikers who tend to complete the four-mile round trek to the monument, on to nearby Roseberry Topping and back to the village.

Gary Readman is chairman of trustees at the Captain Cook Schoolroom Museum which is open for six months a year in which time attracts around 6,000 visitors.

“The Cook tradition is well respected in Great Ayton and we are very proud of that fact,” Mr Readman said.

The village is also known for its two pretty village greens and asked if Cook would recognise the village today, he said: “The greens haven’t changed, although high green now has a road going through it, but both are still very picturesque. The problem we have is car parking.”

He said walkers are encouraged to park at Great Ayton railway station, a mile outside the village and on the way to the Cook Monument.


The Cook family’s former cottage in Easby Lane was sold in the 1930s, taken apart brick by brick and rebuilt in Melbourne, Australia, where it serves as a tourist attraction.

Tim Peake is lauded as the first British European Space Agency astronaut to travel into space but he was preceded into the final frontier by NASA’s Nicholas Patrick, who was born in nearby Ingleby Greenhow before becoming a US citizen.