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Be inspired every day with Living North
Looking up at Roseberry Topping
Places to go
March 2022
Reading time 8 Minutes

There are many much-loved local landmarks that you’ll pass regularly in your various comings and goings, sparking admiration for their creator, or a sense of wonder as to how they came to be there at all, we take a look at Roseberry Topping

This applies to manmade landmarks, as well as those crafted by nature. In most instances, the latter’s efforts are infinitely more appealing than even the finest construction crafted by human hands. One especially distinctive example of nature at work is Roseberry Topping. It’s something of an iconic local landmark which dominates the horizon for miles.
bird perched on a tree

In the Tees Valley, near Great Ayton, Roseberry Topping’s rather peculiar shape adds to its appeal. Hugely popular with walkers, this geological gem also boasts a very different character with every season. Formed from sandstone laid down in the Middle and Lower Jurassic periods, between an eye-watering 208 and 165 million years ago, it has a prominent conical shape which is a result of the hill’s hard sandstone cap protecting its shales and clays from the erosion of the elements over time. Just over 100 years ago, the summit looked very different, resembling a sugarloaf, until a collapse in 1912, caused by a geographical fault and nearby mining, resulted in its current, rather striking outline. The jagged cliff has led to many a comparison with the Matterhorn in the Swiss-Italian Alps (mind you, at 4,478 metres and being one of Europe’s highest mountains, our less lofty hill is somewhat outdone when it comes to height, weighing in at a somewhat paltry 320m), however what Roseberry Topping lacks in height it more than makes up for in terms of charm and spirit.  

The Roseberry area has been inhabited for centuries, and there are recorded occupations in both the Bronze Age and the Iron Age. The Vikings, who settled in the area of Cleveland in the medieval period, held the place in special regard. Legend has it if you listen hard you can still hear their voices on the breeze.

Another distinguished visitor who regularly enjoyed climbing to the top of the Topping was none other than our own esteemed explorer Captain James Cook. His father farmed at Aireyholme, which lies in the shadow of the hill, and it is thought he helped out on the farm too. When he was young he would make regular expeditions to the summit, and in so doing, it is thought he got a taste for the explorations and adventures for which he was to become celebrated. As he enjoyed the expansive views from the summit, he surely contemplated what lay beyond? A monument to the explorer, a 16-metre-high obelisk, was erected in his honour on nearby Easby Moor, and appropriately it can be seen to the south from the top of Roseberry Topping.

Now in the safe care of the National Trust and lying just within the North York Moors National Park, a spur of the Cleveland Way National Trail runs to the top of Roseberry Topping itself, and it has been a popular walking trail for many for centuries.When, and if, you reach the top, you will appreciate why.

Grouse sitting in Heather

The way in which this mystical place changes with the seasons is one of its many attractions. As winter ends the trees are bare, except for the occasional splash of rowan or hawthorn, but the birdlife is busy adding flashes of colour, even in this bleak time. Winter’s quiet is forgotten by the time spring arrives, and with it an influx of migrant warblers such as chiffchaff, willow warbler and blackcap, each having completed their extraordinary migration from Africa (an epic journey Captain James Cook himself would be proud of). These newcomers, together with year-round residents, bring a euphony of song to the air as they search for a mate. On the lower slopes, the sparse trees hide shy garden warblers and whitethroats while tree pipits perform their parachuting display, whilst higher up you may be luck enough to spot flocks of ring ouzels newly returned from their wintering grounds, and wheat eaters foraging beside the many dry stone walls.

By late spring the woods are awash with a variety of wildflowers. Bluebells take centre stage, interspersed from time to time with the white flowers of greater stitchwort. In damper areas the scent of wild garlic fills the air with its unmistakable aroma. In summer, the warmer days see the arrival of butterflies, while foxglove and willow herb compete for space amongst the bracken. Early morning walkers may be lucky enough to catch sight of a deer or two and by late summer the heather is out on the moorland, and red grouse can be glimpsed by the eagle-eyed amidst a sea of purple heather.

The arrival of autumn sees the trees in Newton and Cliff Ridge woods turning colour, with the oak, ash and sycamore all donning differing shades of red, yellow and gold. Watch out for the shy green woodpeckers as you climb through the wood and emerge onto the heather-clad moorland above.

With a timelessness, yet ever-changing beauty, Roseberry Topping is one of nature’s special landmarks that will lift your spirits as you stand at the summit and take in the views across the Cleveland plain, over to the sea, and as far as the Pennines on a clear day, a distance of some 50 miles.

Head To The Hills
Teesdale Teesdale

Robbery Topping is a popular walk, but at 320 metres is certainly not the highest hill to climb in the region. If you want to get a little higher why not try Northumberland’s Hedgehope Hill at 714 metres, or the mighty Cheviot at 815 metres? You might also consider James Hill, the most easterly of the Teesdale hills with a summit of 455 metres, or the whale-back Meldon Hill which looms above Cow Green Reservoir and which rises to 538 metres.

Teesdale is a hugely popular walking area, extolled by Wainwright in his book on the Pennine Way for its ’sylvan beauty’. As the River Tees makes its way to the sea from its source high up on the slopes of Cross Fell, it passes eight distinct hills, each one above the 2,000 foot mark, which gives the mountain status. But they’re distinctly different from say the Lakeland mountains, their summits are rounded not rocky escarpments and are ideal walking terrain, and unlike in the Lakes, they are areas of solitude where you are unlikely to pass many other walkers.

North Northumberland’s skyline is dominated by the Cheviots, a hill range straddling the Borders. The highest is Cheviot itself, where on a clear day at the summit you can see as far as the Lake District, and even some say, to Edinburgh. Its plateau summit is peat bog and heather, and the millstone slabbed pathway which takes you safely to the trig point across very boggy ground is part of the Pennine Way. Because of Cheviot’s rounded summit, the views from the slightly lower Hedgehope Hill, which looms over Harthope Valley, are meant to be better.

‘North Northumberland’s skyline is dominated by the Cheviots, a hill range straddling the Borders. The highest is Cheviot itself, where on a clear day at the summit you can see as far as the Lake District, and even some say, to Edinburgh’
View towards Hedgehope
View towards Hedgehope
Dear grazing in long grass
blubells under Roseberry Topping

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