Location? Location? Confusion
PUBLISHED: 22:02 17 November 2009 | UPDATED: 15:49 20 February 2013
Stokesley, Great Ayton and Guisborough are attractive neighbours of the towns along the River Tees and, despite their ever-changing postal locations, we're happy to include them in our North East
Where does the North East end, and Yorkshire begin? Maps give the most definitive answer, of course, but not everyone embraces the boundaries left by successive waves of local government re-organisation. There are business owners in, say, Yarm, who prefer their erstwhile association with the North Riding of Yorkshire to the present political and postal position within Stockton-on- Tees, and proudly proclaim their nonconformity on their letterheads. It's a question that is very close to home for me: raised initially in County Durham, then just over the border into North Yorkshire, I went to school on the other side of the county line in what was then Cleveland. Today, I write this from near Northallerton, which is the political and administrative capital of North Yorkshire, but still only a very short distance from its recognised "North East" neighbours. Guisborough, to which we turn first, has similarly moved from one side of the border to the other, if only in administrative terms. It calls itself the ancient capital of
Cleveland - the pre-cursor to the nonmetropolitan county created in 1974 - and was part of the North Riding for most of its history. After the county of Cleveland was abolished in 1996, the town became part of the Borough of Redcar and Cleveland. Its priory (which uses the old spelling, Gisborough, dropping the initial "u") dates back to the 12th century. It was the earliest and most important Augustinian priory in Yorkshire and when closed, as part of Henry VIII's wave of dissolution in 1539, was the fourth richest religious house in the county. Today, the impressive ruins of the East End stand several stories high, like a gaping mouth opening onto the hills on the edge of town. Westgate, the main shopping street (market days are Thursday and Saturday), lies just a short walk down the hill. English Heritage is Gisborough Priory's custodian these days. Religion may have been an important driver of the town's early economy, but in subsequent centuries it was the ironstone mines of the nearby North York Moors and then - in the latter half of the last century - the expansion of the chemical and steel industries at Wilton and Redcar. Today Guisborough remains very much a dormitory town for Teesside, with some fine walking and mountain biking on its doorstep. The Guisborough Forest and Walkway, centred on the trackbed of an old branch railway and found off the A173 Stokesley Road, is a good place to start. Travel further down the 173 and you won't fail to notice the region's most emblematic rocky outcrop. Roseberry Topping is so instantly recognisable and, for a fairly modestlysized little mound (at 1049ft or 320m), so prominent on the edge of the moors. The border between North Yorkshire and Redcar and Cleveland cuts right through the mound, so it also marks the point when our journey crosses back over the county line, on the way to Great Ayton. Yorkshire's sandstone answer to the Swiss Matterhorn has been credited with providing Captain James Cook with his first taste of adventure during days off from an early career as a young farmhand in the 1740s. There has been a little latterday tugof- war over claims to the famous explorer's heritage - tourism bosses in Middlesbrough point to Cook's birthplace in Marton, while rivals south of the border (see - that north-south divide yet again!) cherish the eight-yearold Cook's move to a farm near Great Ayton and subsequent schooling in the village primary. The building on the site of Cook's former schoolroom is now a charming little museum, open from April to October, and the village celebrates its signposted status as "boyhood home of Captain Cook". Ayton is a charming and surprisingly large village which extends to almost a third of the size of Guisborough.
Pass through on the A173 and, while you'll no doubt appreciate the prettiness of Low Green and the ducks on the River Leven, you will totally miss out on High Green, flanked by what until 1997 was the private Quaker Friends' School and a wide range of shops. A bank, post office, gift shops, photography studio, jeweller, greengrocer, butchers' (savour the fine ranks of pies in Petch's window) and more line the north side of the busy High Street. On one corner of the green is a simple bronze statue to the young James Cook, executed by the lesserknown Dimbleby brother, Nicholas, and unveiled in 1997. A much larger memorial to the circumnavigator is located on the hills above the village. Captain Cook's Monument, a 51ft-high obelisk, was erected on Easby Moor in 1827, just ahead of the centenary of his birth. Moving down from one green to the other, a stop in Suggitt's caf is obligatory.What at first may appear to be a retro look, with its 1970s-style signs and shopfront, turns out to be a vintage step back to that era. Famous for its ice cream and as such a honeypot for visitors in warmer weather, its caf tables offer welcome warmth in the winter months. Walk on opposite the curious sight of
a disused and displaced Victorian cast iron urinal and you'll pass a bookshop, a bike shop, a computer shop and more, including Joplins, a popular restaurant well known for its fish dishes. All in all, Great Ayton has a surprising amount to attract and retain the interest of its visitors, even before they venture to the nearby hills on one of the many well-marked routes that criss-cross the area. Just such a footpath can also take you on to neighbouring Stokesley, following the course of the Leven. Stokesley, like Northallerton, is an attractive market town which concentrates on the day-to-day business of earning a crust. It is not crammed with visitor attractions, but nevertheless has many independent shops and restaurants, and is dotted with fine Georgian architecture. The Stokesley Pride in Our Town Association clearly does a fine job in putting on a strong floral front, even deep in winter, when Britain in Bloom judges are presumably happily tucked up in the warmth of their sitting rooms. A bustling market takes place every Friday in the main square in front of the imposing town hall. Take a few steps away from the town's extremely long High Street and you'll once again reach the River Leven once more. The Pack Horse Bridge,
crossing from the charming riverside walk that also takes you past the Church of St Peter and St Paul, dates from the 17th century. The river provides a peaceful escape from the bustle of the main drag, which becomes significantly noisier toward the end of each September, when a popular four-day fun fair takes over the centre of town. The fair coincides with the agricultural show: one of the region's biggest and best, held on the show ground on the eastern edge of town. Many a fine hour has been whiled away by my family in the poultry marquee, marvelling at the sheer variety of feathered fowl. So after a pleasant day spent taking in these three towns and some lovely countryside in between, I didn't care which boundaries they fell within. Cleveland or Yorkshire, the North East or otherwise, once again I'm reminded of the gems we are privileged to have on our doorstep.