The attractive village of Great Ayton (population 5000) is centred on the banks of the River Leven. It is ancient in origin, having several Neolithic sites within the parish boundary, and is mentioned in the Domesday Book. In former times its industries included linen making, tanning and brewing; and the mining industries of whinstone (a hard igneous rock used in roadmaking), ironstone, alum and jet were important locally. Nowadays most of its residents work outside the parish boundary while farming remains an important local industry.
Great Ayton has two village greens. The High Green is the centre of the village while the Low Green, with the river running alongside, is a popular picnic place in the summer months. To the north of the village the view is dominated by the 330 metre high Roseberry Topping. This hill, and the adjacent whinstone outcrop, are of geological importance.
Great Ayton has many connections with Captain Cook. His father worked for Thomas Skottowe, the lord of the manor, and lived at Aireyholme Farm on the side of Roseberry Topping, Thomas Skottowe paid James Cook's fees at the Postgate School. In All Saints Church (a fine twelfth century building) one can see Thomas Skottowe's memorial tablet and, in the churchyard, the gravestone of Grace Cook, the explorer's mother. A cottage, built in the village by Cook's father, was transferred to Melbourne in Australia in 1933; an obelisk now marks the site. A statue representing Cook as a boy, by the sculptor Nicholas Dimbleby, commissioned by Hambleton District Council and Great Ayton Parish Council, was unveiled on the High Green in 1997.
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