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Great Ayton, locally known as ‘Canny Yatton’, is situated three miles north-east of Stokesley at the foot of the Cleveland Hills and about one mile from the distinctly shaped Roseberry Topping (330m). The River Leven, rising in the North York Moors, runs through the village linking High Green and Low Green and joins the Tees at Yarm.Great Ayton has an ancient origin, having several Neolithic sites within the parish boundaries.  In former times, it was a centre for industrial activity including linen making, tile making, brewing, tanning, and the mining of ironstone, alum, jet and whinstone (a hard stone used in road making).

The navigator and explorer Captain James Cook, born in nearby Marton, spent his boyhood in this village. His family moved to Great Ayton when he was eight years old and, supported by finance from his father’s employer Thomas Scottowe, he attended the Postgate School (now a museum) from 1736 to 1740. His father was the farm manager at Airey Holme  and James stayed on to help on the farm before leaving in 1745 for an apprenticeship in a store at Staithes. A statue, sculptured by Nicholas Dimbleby stands on High Green depicting the young James looking towards Staithes and the lure of the sea. An obelisk constructed from granite taken from Point Hicks, where Cook first sighted Australia, marks the site of the Cook’s family home in Bridge Street. The cottage was built by James’s father in 1735 and in 1934 it was dismantled, shipped to Australia and reconstructed in Fitzroy Gardens in Melbourne. James Cook’s mother is buried in the churchyard of the XIIth Century All Saints Church.

Great Ayton is served by a railway station on the Esk Valley Line, which runs from Middlesbrough to Whitby. Buses from Stokesley travel through the village to and from Middlesbrough and to and from the coast at Redcar and Marske. Volunteers run the Tourist Information Centre and the Discovery Centre, which used to be a County Library.  Great Ayton is famous for two locally made delicacies ice-cream and pies