Captain Cook Memorial Museum


James Cook was a renowned 18th century explorer and navigator who is best known for three epic voyages of exploration and whose accomplishments included mapping the Pacific, New Zealand and east coast of Australia. We have a particular interest in him as he’s in my wife’s family tree – she’s descended from one of his siblings (as are my children, of course!). So a visit to the Cook Memorial Museum in the centre of Whitby was a must during our recent holiday there. Especially on a wet Monday afternoon.


Cook was the son of a farm worker, born on 27 October 1728 in Marton, a small village near Middlesbrough, which was then in Yorkshire.  At the age of 17, Cook moved to Whitby to be apprenticed to Captain John Walker, a Quaker, who was a coal merchant and ship owner. During his apprenticeship he sailed on Captain Walker’s ships and when ashore lived with the other apprentice’s in the attic of the ship owner’s own house  in Grape Lane on Whitby’s harbour on the east side of the river. After learning his trade as a seaman he joined the Royal Navy in 1755, working his way through the ranks.

The museum website tells us

Built in 1688, the house is a good example of a Whitby master-mariner’s dwelling, both a comfortable home and the centre of the family shipping business. It retains much of its original internal decoration and has been carefully restored.

The atmosphere recalls that of a prosperous Quaker shipowner’s home.

Passing From here Captain Walker and his apprentices would be able to view his ships.


Entry into the museum is via the extension on the back of the original house.



The ground floor rooms are furnished according to an inventory made in the early 1750s. The rooms on the upper floors have exhibitions about Cook’s life and career.

This model on display inside the museum shows how the back of the house would have looked


The original kitchen floor was discovered relatively recently


The dining room

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A sitting room


The view over the harbour from one of the windows on the landing


I found the exhibition rooms on the first and second floors very interesting. There were volunteers in a couple of the rooms who were very well informed and keen to tell curious visitors about aspects of Cook’s life and times. The volunteer in the room about navigation explained how ships in Cook’s era would work out their position and speed. There was a model of the Resolution, which also showed the crew and typical supplies that the ship would carry. The following picture is from the museum’s website as it was difficult to photograph due to reflections from its glass case


We learned that one of the officers on the expedition was a certain William Bligh – yes the same person who went on to captain the Bounty. The room volunteer pointed out the likeness of the figure in the model to Charles Lawson who played the part of Bligh in the well known film about the Mutiny on the Bounty!

The ships used on Cook’s expeditions were all adapted Whitby-built collier barks. The museum website tells us

These were sturdy and reliable, built to service the coal trade. They were capacious and an extra deck could be inserted into them in order to carry a far larger crew, together with stores for up to two years.

Another advantage was that collier barks were flat bottomed. They could therefore land on any flattish beach, rather than needing to tie up at a quay in a proper harbour. This was particularly useful when no-one knew what landing conditions would be like. Small boats were also carried for inshore work.

In Cook’s time the apprentices would have been quartered in the attic. They slept and spent their spare time here. It’s now used for the museum’s annual special exhibitions.


Looking out of the attic window


It was an excellent museum. I’d expected to spend about an hour there on a wet afternoon but we ended up staying much longer as there was a lot to see in a relatively small building and we learned quite a lot about Cook, life in a Whitby ship owner’s house, the architecture of houses during this period and also about aspects of seamanship.

Coming back out into the yard we spent some time reading the two information boards. One about the house


and the other about the various types of sailing vessels built in Whitby. I found this one particularly interesting and learned that a ship was originally a specific type of three masted  vessel. You live and learn!!



Roseberry Topping and the Cook Monument circular walk


We were travelling back from Sunderland last Monday and as it was forecast to be a fine sunny day (as it transpired to be!) we’d decided to divert off the A19 and go for a walk in the North York Moors. I’d checked out the National Park website where they have a number of walks and picked one that looked the right sort of length through some varied countryside at the north end of the National Park.

Starting from the village of Great Ayton, it was a circular walk that would take us over two hills, the second of which was topped by a monument to Captain Cook.


James Cook was born in the nearby village of Marton but in1736,when he was 8, his family moved to Airey Holme farm at Great Ayton, where his father’s employer, Thomas Skottowe, paid for him to attend the local school.

I’d seen the cottage in Great Ayton which was the last home of his parents when I was in Melbourne, in November 2014. It had been dismantled and shipped out to Australia where it was re-erected in Fitzroy Park.


There’s a family connection with Captain Cook and this area. My wife and, therefore, my children, are descendants of one of his siblings.

So, we parked up in the village, close to the village green and the Tourist Information office. It’s a pleasant little place, especially on a warm, sunny day.


The old school house has been turned into a museum.


And, not surprisingly, there’s a statue of the famous explorer

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He was decked out in a fluorescent tabard for the Tour of Yorkshire Cycle race that had passed through the village a few days before on 1 March


We set out through the village, crossing a field and then the single track railway line that runs to the north.


Our route took us through woodland, where the bluebells were in bloom.


A distinctive, strong odour indicated the presence of “stinking Nelly” – wild garlic


Eventually we got our first view of the distinctive summit of Roseberry Topping, our first hill, which is owned by the National Trust.


The NT website tells us

At just 1,049 feet (320 m) high, Roseberry Topping may not be the biggest hill you’ll ever see, but it will certainly be one of the most distinctive. Its shape, caused by the combination of a geological fault and a mining collapse in 1912 has made the hill the most beloved landmark in the Tees Valley area. With its half-cone summit and jagged cliff, some say it reminds them of the Matterhorn in Switzerland.

We carried on through the woods


and then took the steep path up to the summit


where we were rewarded with fine views over the surrounding countryside.





It’s said that the young James Cook would climb to the summit, enjoying the opportunity for solitude. But he wouldn’t have had much of that these days, as it’s a popular destination. It was quite busy but, with careful framing and timing, I managed to avoid too many people being in shot when I took my photographs!

It was quite windy up top so we didn’t stay too long and then set off down eastwards along the ridge towards our next destination. A steep descent then another climb up on to the moors


This is the view looking back towards the east face of Roseberry Topping.


Our route took us along the Cleveland Way across relatively flat moorland


and then on to our next destination. The summit of another hill where there’s a monument dedicated to my wife’s relative!



Looking back to Roseberry Topping, zooming in with my camera.


There were good views across the North York moors.



Then we set off down the steep path through the pine woodland.


At the bottom of the hill there was a good view of Roseberry Topping and the moors  we’d walked across.


Our route now took us through farmland


More bluebells


Looking back towards Cook’s Monument


We eventually arrived back at Great Ayton where we had just enough time to reward ourselves with a brew before the cafe closed for the day. (Why are cafes so eager to close at 5 o’clock? There were plenty of tourists and locals around who clearly would have liked a brew but were turned away as soon as it struck 4:30. We only just made it)


It was a good walk through varied countryside – fields, woodland, a couple of hills and wild moorland. It could get quite muddy in places, but recent dry weather meant that other than a few places (especially in shaded woodland) it was relatively dry underfoot.