I went to the recent Captain Cook Society meeting in Marton, England, as the spouse of a “Captain Cook enthusiast”. Since my better half became interested in the voyages of discovery, I have read a few of the books and visited a number of far-flung sites James Cook visited, but in no way could I be considered an expert. I must admit that I wondered if I would fit in with all these enthusiasts.
I was pleasantly surprised at the friendly atmosphere and fellowship of the whole meeting. From our reception by CCS officers on our arrival at the Blue Bell Lodge Hotel, to the dinners, and at the meeting itself, it was very easy to strike up a conversation with other attendees. I met people from England, Scotland, Canada, the USA, and Germany. One interesting topic of conversation was “How did you become interested in the Captain Cook Society?” My husband, John, is a biologist who is also interested in navigation, aviation, and travel. Me, I have been fascinated by the nutrition side of the long voyages, especially the scurvy story. However, at the meeting, I met members interested in many other aspects, including seamen, navigators, historians, oceanographers, astro-nomers, climate change experts, geologists, physicians, ethnologists, philatelists, etc. Yet, even with many highly educated people, it was not a stuffy, academic crowd. The Yorkshire sense of humour is delightful. I heard so many jokes and stories at the meeting and throughout Yorkshire.
The mood was set during our first dinner when Secretary Alwyn Peel welcomed us. Members are encouraged to bring interesting Cook items to share with others. Mr Peel started by sharing a version of the Nathaniel Dance painting with himself as Captain Cook and his daughter as a barmaid along with the hilarious story concerning how the painting came about and his daughter Pamela’s reaction.
The lectures were interesting and all on a level that would interest both experts and novices. The morning lectures’ theme was the Transit of Venus, and we were honoured to hear from Sir Arnold Wolfendale, former Astronomer Royal. He is such a learned man yet one can easily see why he is now asked to give expert lectures on cruise lines. Meeting attendees have such a wide range of interests that experts in one area would be learning from other attendees during both the lectures and the side conversations.
One of the highlights of attending the meeting was the chance to explore North Yorkshire. As first-time visitors, we of course visited the various Captain Cook museums and some other Cook-related sites. But, there is so much more! We took a pleasant train ride from London to York where we stayed for a few days. We then hired a car and drove to Whitby on the northeast coast, stopping to visit Castle Howard. After visiting Whitby, we drove, via Staithes, to Marton, on the “low” road A174. (We visited the Captain Cook and Staithes Heritage Centre. James Cook worked in a grocer’s shop in the village and lived by the sea for the first time.) We arrived in Marton a day before the meeting to begin exploring the Marton and the Great Ayton areas.
After the meeting, we drove back east, but on the “high” road, A171, this time to visit the Danby Moors National Park Centre in the Esk Valley. (The “low and high” roads refer to elevation.) The moors are well worth seeing! It was late in the year but some of the heather still had a purplish tinge and we enjoyed seeing the pheasants, red grouse (or ptarmigan to us Canadians), and other birds. On our last day in Yorkshire, we drove back to York on a more westerly route. John visited the memorial to Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) and Royal Air Force (RAF) airmen at Dalton-on-Tees; Yorkshire had numerous airfields during the Second World War, with many Canadian squadrons. Our final visit was to the Sutton Bank Moors National Park Centre, just east of Thirsk, where we had lunch and enjoyed the view of the Vale of York (favourite scene of James Herriot, the famous vet). An afternoon train ride took us back to London.
I should comment on driving (and walking) in England. They do drive on the left, but they are consistent about it. We just wish that people would walk consistently on the left (or right) in London and York. The crowds walk left, right, and centre indiscriminately. Along with the “look left” or “look right” markings at intersections to warn tourists, there should be prominent “walk left” markings (perhaps in hot pink!) on the sidewalks. Also, the stone walls and hedges that line many of the roads in Yorkshire are not as obstructive as they appear in the movie The Trip; one can still see the countryside, if only because of the hills, and the walls are so picturesque. Of course, it would be possible to take a train from London to Marton or Middlesbrough (perhaps stopping over in York) and skip hiring a car. There is also a connecting train to Whitby.
I had been concerned about the autumn weather. We brought warm clothing and waterproof outer layers but were lucky in having mostly dry, although cool, windy weather. A benefit of the October timing was that it was past peak tourist season.
Some of our sightseeing in Yorkshire deserves more comment. York is an old walled city founded by the Romans. In the famous Gothic York Minster Cathedral, there is an excellent display in the lower levels and crypts of the history of the building site from the Romans, through the Saxon and Norman periods, to medieval times. Excavations of the older portions were done in 1967–1972 after a structural survey revealed serious deformities in the foundations; history was revealed during the work to reinforce the tower foundation. The main Cathedral is magnificent. We attended the Choral Evensong service and heard the organ, with its 4000+ pipes, play. As noted by Cliff Thornton recently,1 Cook applied the name “York Minster” to a geologic feature in Tierra del Fuego as it reminded him of the three-towered cathedral. We also enjoyed exploring the rest of the old city with the cobbled streets, historic buildings, and shopping in the many interesting small stores. John visited the Yorkshire Air Museum in Elvington, near York.
In Whitby, we stayed at the excellent Saxonville Hotel. The proprietor treats each guest as an old friend while maintaining efficiency; he has a wealth of stories and a ready laugh. He told us the story of the Endeavour replica’s visit to Whitby a few years ago. He is also the one who laughingly suggested a more fitting term for my husband was “Cook enthusiast” instead of “Cook nut”.
Whitby has many attractions for CCS members, primarily the Captain Cook Memorial Museum, and the harbour from which he sailed as a young man, and where the four ships used on his Pacific voyages were built. There is also the general Whitby Museum at Pannett Park with its dinosaur bones. It also has displays on Yorkshire’s famous Arctic whalers and maritime explorers, William Scoresby Senior and William Scoresby Junior.
John’s research group has studied Arctic whales for many years, and he notes that Scoresby Jr.’s writings on the bowhead whale2 are still of interest to modern scientists. I was impressed that Scoresby Sr. invented the crow’s nest. The museum has many examples of carved petrified wood jet, including an elaborate chess set. Whitby is famous for this jet and many items of jet jewellery can be found in the small stores in the city. We climbed the 199 steps up the east cliff to visit the old Abbey and St. Mary’s Church. And, of course, there is the famous Cook statue (and arch formed by a bowhead whale jaw) on the west cliff ―a wonderful, windy spot with fantastic views.
Marton, where James Cook was born in 1728, has the Captain Cook Birthplace Museum in Stewart Park. In 1736, the Cook family moved to Great Ayton, where we visited the Captain Cook Schoolhouse Museum. While driving around the area, we saw (from a distance) Roseberry Topping and the 51 foot tall Captain Cook Monument on Easby Moor. I recommend reading Captain Cook in Cleveland3 to fully enjoy their significance.
I heartily recommend that other members and family members attend a CCS meeting in the future and allow extra time to tour the area.
Dorothy M. Richardson
All of the photos are by W. John or Dorothy M. Richardson.
Originally published in Cook's Log, page 28, volume 35, number 1 (2012).
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