Cleveland Hills

In 1900 - “On their northern and western flanks the Cleveland Hills have a most imposing and mountainous aspect, although their greatest altitudes do not aspire to more than about 1,500 feet. But they rise so suddenly to their full height out of the flat sea of green country that they often appear as a coast defended by a bold range of mountains. Roseberry Topping stands out in grim isolation, on its masses of alum rock, like a huge sea-worn crag, considerably over 1,000 feet high. But this strangely menacing peak raises his defiant head over nothing but broad meadows, arable land, and woodlands, and his only warfare is with the lower strata of storm-clouds, which is a convenient thing for the people who live in these parts; for long ago they used the peak as a sign of approaching storms, having reduced the warning to the easily-remembered couplet:

'When Roseberry Topping wears a cap,
Let Cleveland then beware of a clap.'

From the fact that you can see this remarkable peak from almost every point of the compass except south-westwards, it must follow that from the top of the hill there are views in all those directions. But to see so much of the country at once comes as a surprise to everyone. Stretching inland towards the backbone of England, there is spread out a huge tract of smiling country, covered with a most complex network of hedges, which gradually melt away into the indefinite blue edge of the world where the hills of Wensleydale rise from the plain. Looking across the little town of Guisborough, lying near the shelter of the hills, to the broad sweep of the North Sea, this piece of Yorkshire seems so small that one almost expects to see the Cheviots away in the north. But, beyond the winding Tees and the drifting smoke of the great manufacturing towns on its banks, one must be content with the county of Durham, a huge section of which is plainly visible. Turning towards the brown moorlands, the cultivation is exchanged for ridge beyond ridge of total desolation—a huge tract of land in this crowded England where the population for many square miles at a time consists of the inmates of a lonely farm or two in the circumscribed cultivated areas of the dales.

026Guisborough Eight or nine hundred years ago these valleys were choked up with forests. The Early British inhabitants were more inclined to the hill-tops than the hollows, if the innumerable indications of their settlements be any guide, and there is every reason for believing that many of the hollows in the folds of the heathery moorlands were rarely visited by man. Thus, the suggestion has been made that a few of the last representatives of now extinct monsters may have survived in these wild retreats, for how otherwise do we find persistent stories in these parts of Yorkshire, handed down we cannot tell how many centuries, of strange creatures described as 'worms'? At Loftus they show you the spot where a 'grisly worm' had its lair, and in many places there are traditions of strange long-bodied dragons who were slain by various valiant men.

On Easby Moor, a few miles to the south of Roseberry Topping, the tall column to the memory of Captain Cook stands like a lighthouse on this inland coastline. The lofty position it occupies among these brown and purply-green heights makes the monument visible over a great tract of the sailor's native Cleveland. The people who live in Marton, the village of his birthplace, can see the memorial of their hero's fame, and the country lads of to-day are constantly reminded of the success which attended the industry and perseverance of a humble Marton boy.

The cottage where James Cook was born in 1728 has gone, but the field in which it stood is called Cook's Garth. The shop at Staithes, generally spoken of as a 'huckster's,' where Cook was apprenticed as a boy, has also disappeared; but, unfortunately, that unpleasant story of his having taken a shilling from his master's till, when the attractions of the sea proved too much for him to resist, persistently clings to all accounts of his early life. There seems no evidence to convict him of this theft, but there are equally no facts by which to clear him. But if we put into the balance his subsequent term of employment at Whitby, the excellent character he gained when he went to sea, and Professor J.K. Laughton's statement that he left Staithes 'after some disagreement with his master,' there seems every reason to believe that the story is untrue.

I have seldom seen a more uninhabited and inhospitable-looking country than the broad extent of purple hills that stretch away to the south-west from Great Ayton and Kildale Moors. Walking from Guisborough to Kildale on a wild and stormy afternoon in October, I was totally alone for the whole distance when I had left behind me the baker's boy who was on his way to Hutton with a heavy basket of bread and cakes. Hutton, which is somewhat of a model village for the retainers attached to Hutton Hall, stands in a lovely hollow at the edge of the moors. The steep hills are richly clothed with sombre woods, and the peace and seclusion reigning there is in marked contrast to the bleak wastes above. When I climbed the steep road on that autumn afternoon, and, passing the zone of tall, withered bracken, reached the open moorland, I seemed to have come out merely to be the plaything of the elements; for the south-westerly gale, when it chose to do so, blew so fiercely that it was difficult to make any progress at all. Overhead was a dark roof composed of heavy masses of cloud, forming long parallel lines of grey right to the horizon. On each side of the rough, water-worn road the heather made a low wall, two or three feet high, and stretched right away to the horizon in every direction. In the lulls, between the fierce blasts, I could hear the trickle of the water in the rivulets deep down in the springy cushion of heather. A few nimble sheep would stare at me from a distance, and then disappear, or some grouse might hover over a piece of rising ground; but otherwise there were no signs of living creatures. Nearing Kildale, the road suddenly plunged downwards to a stream flowing through a green, cultivated valley, with a lonely farm on the further slope. There was a fir-wood above this, and as I passed over the hill, among the tall, bare stems, the clouds parted a little in the west, and let a flood of golden light into the wood. Instantly the gloom seemed to disappear, and beyond the dark shoulder of moorland, where the Cook monument appeared against the glory of the sunset, there seemed to reign an all-pervading peace, the wood being quite silent, for the wind had dropped.

The rough track through the trees descended hurriedly, and soon gave a wide view over Kildale. The valley was full of colour from the glowing west, and the steep hillsides opposite appeared lighter than the indigo clouds above, now slightly tinged with purple. The little village of Kildale nestled down below, its church half buried in yellow foliage.

The ruined Danby Castle can still be seen on the slope above the Esk, but the ancient Bow Bridge at Castleton, which was built at the end of the twelfth century, was barbarously and needlessly destroyed in 1873. A picture of the bridge has, fortunately, been preserved in Canon Atkinson's 'Forty Years in a Moorland Parish.' That book has been so widely read that it seems scarcely necessary to refer to it here, but without the help of the Vicar, who knew every inch of his wild parish, the Danby district must seem much less interesting.

More to follow ....



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