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Travel & Holidays in later life


In the village of Great Ayrton, where James Cook spent his boyhoodFollowing on the bicentenary of the Battle of Trafalgar, the UK tourist industry has been focussing on every angle of maritime heritage.

In the north-east, for instance, a 70-mile signposted trail guides you around North Yorkshire and into County Durham. 

Visitors can discover the scenic and historic highlights of the region where the explorer Captain James Cook lived before he sailed off to discover Australia.  

The closest link to Trafalgar is displayed at Hartlepool Historic Quay, where the star attraction is the restored naval frigate HMS Trincomalee. 

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More information:
Visitor Guide & Accommodation - Tees Valley Tourism Melrose House, Melrose Street, Middlesbrough, TS1 2XF . Tel: 01642 264957.

Captain Cook Mini-Guide

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She dates from 1817 - post Trafalgar, but vessels of her class fought in the battle. Trincomalee is the only one left, and is the oldest fighting ship afloat in Britain. 

Model of a seaman in the Maritime Museum at Hartlepool Historic Quay
The restoration was aimed to help revive the Teeside region by boosting tourism, together with building a reproduction 18th-century harbour. Close by, the former derelict South Docks area now features a 500-berth Marina.

Aboard ship and in the Museum you can explore the lifestyle of seamen in Nelson's time. Displays of musketry and cannon firing are held. 

The Captain Cook circuit takes you to the explorer's birthplace at Marton just outside Middlesbrough. When Cook was born in 1728, Middlesbrough consisted of only four farm houses and a population of 25.

Cook's birthplace disappeared long ago, but a modern Museum charts his life story. It shows what the ship's crew endured during their voyage which discovered Australia. It meant three years of crowded life below decks, and feeding on salt meat and weevil infested biscuits.

When James Cook was aged eight the family moved a few miles to the small town of Great Ayton. James' father worked for a local farmer, who paid for the lad's four years of education at the village school. 

That is now preserved as the Captain Cook Schoolroom Museum. The family cottage emigrated to Melbourne in 1934, when it was bought as a historical monument by Australia. Instead, the location is marked by an Obelisk from Point Hicks - the first land seen when Australia loomed up.

The Cleveland Way follows the coast from Saltburn to Whitby and Scarborough As an apprentice, Cook worked on vessels that sailed from the ports of Yarm and Stockton on the River Tees. Yarm today is a pleasant market town with a broad main street, boutiques, cafes and restaurants. 

In the old-time George & Dragon pub five men including George Stephenson met in 1820. They discussed the idea of building a passenger railway system to link Stockton and Darlington. 

Coal, iron ore and railways then transformed the Tees Valley into a boom industrial region, grimy but prosperous. But in the 20th century the bottom fell out of coal and steel, and the area declined.

In 1995 the Tees Barrage was completed, to maintain a constant river level which has helped reclaim derelict land and develop the Tees Valley for leisure. 

Three water sport centres enable visitors to water-ski, jet-ski, canoe, and go rafting and sail-boarding. Hikers and cyclists can enjoy the riverside paths, while anglers catch eels and pike. 

From Yarm the Teesside Princess Cruiser plies to and from Stockton, docking at the quay where a full size replica of Cook's vessel, HM Bark Endeavour, is moored.

It seems incredible that 94 men sailed on a ship that was only 97 feet long on the lower deck, and 29 feet wide. Cook made three journeys of exploration - first in the Endeavour, and then the Resolution.

Cook's ships were Whitby cats, designed to transport coal to the Baltic and return with timber. They were flat-bottomed, soundly built to run up on sands and be loaded through the stern ports. But the Navy also gave them a major refit, to equip them for years of exploration. 

They were all built at Fishburne's Yard at Whitby, where the railway station stands today. During the 18th and 19th centuries Whitby was a major whaling port. 

In 1837, for instance, the whalers of Whitby killed 533 whales - more than any other European port. In those days it was something to boast about. 

The Scottish herring fleet also used the port. Kippers are still smoked in traditional style, and most restaurants major on fish and chips.

Whitby began putting itself on the map in the 7th century, with foundation of a hilltop abbey, reached by climbing 199 steps. The first abbot was Saint Hilda, a niece of King Edwin who ruled Northumbria, and gave his name to Edinburgh.

Whitby today is a popular resort, with three miles of beach to Sandsend. The Cleveland Way offers great cliff walking along the entire coast from Saltburn near the Tees estuary, south to Whitby and Scarborough.

The coast is rich in fossils, displayed in one of Britain's best fossil collections at Pannett Park Memorial Museum. That museum also includes a gallery devoted to Capt Cook and the famous whaling captains. A new extension opened in 2005. 

The Fish Pier at Whitby, formerly used by the Scottish herring fleet Inland, the A171 highway on the Captain Cook route towards Whitby follows the northern edge of the North York Moors National Park, with good walking in heather country. 

But you can't do everything in a weekend. So why not turn Capt Cook country into a one-week holiday?


Where else to visit in the North East

LEEDS - Soap trail around Emmerdale

NEWCASTLE - Cultural capital of the North

NEWCASTLE - Down memory lane at Beamish open-air museum

NORTHUMBERLAND - Go furthest north in England, Alnwick to Berwick

WEARDALE - Explore Weardale and the North Pennines

YORK - follow the Vikings and the ghosts

"Books to read - click on cover pictures" or click on the links below

Discoveries: The Voyages of Captain Cook  - by Nicholas Thomas. An excellent account of the three voyages that took James Cook on his great journeys of discovery. 

Captain Cook by Rebecca Levine - An introduction to this fascinating life of the explorer who learnt his skills along the Tees Valley and outward bound from Whitby.

The Cleveland Way (National Trail Guides) by Ian Sampson - Covers over 100 miles of the National Trail that curves around the edge of the North Yorkshire Moors, and along the coast.

A History of Whitby  by Andrew White - Look deeper into the history of a great seaside port.

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