Saints and Sinners in a Land of Legends
A rich legacy of early Christianity remains in Captain Cook Country, along with remnants of even earlier religious beliefs.
Abbeys and Priories, ancient Parish Churches and numerous standing stones and moorland crosses stand witness to Christianity through the ages. High on the North York Moors, above Rosedale, stands Ralph Cross an isolated and haunting monument and a powerful symbol of an age in which many early Christian Orders left their mark on this land.
This heritage lives on at Whitby Abbey, the remains of the earliest monastery in the region. Here in AD664 St. Hilda presided over the Great Synod of Whitby took place when the date of Easter was fixed. A new visitor centre tells of the abbey's unfolding history and other Whitby characters of the past.
At the edge of the moors, Guisborough's Augustinian Priory was founded by Robert De Brus in 1119. Whilst its buildings are now reduced to fragments, its impressive arched east window still stands overlooking the peaceful Priory Gardens in the town centre.
Mount Grace Priory is the only Carthusian monastery in the area and the best preserved in England. It lies just to the west of Captain Cook Country in a beautiful and tranquil woodland setting. Founded in 1398 the monks there lived in virtual silence and isolation, and a superbly reconstructed two-storey monk's cell is the centrepiece here.
Superstition & Folklore
As dusk begins to fall across the lonely moors, you soon get a feeling of the centuries-old superstitions of a land with a wealth of legends and folklore, often so embedded in the fabric of everyday life that they become reality itself.
Doubtless Bram Stoker experienced this feeling too, as he stood among the graves in the windswept clifftop churchyard at Whitby in the 1890's and found dark inspiration for Dracula. How many dare stand here alone at night with only the light of the moon and the graves of pirates for company and say that Dracula does not exist?
Far out on the moors you'll discover ancient burial mounds, eerie stone crosses and markers which guided ancient travellers safely through the bogs and across the wild heather. Here people still believe in tales of hobs or hobgoblins, elf-like creatures who fell into two groups, the helpful and the mischievous. Also beware of the fearsome 'barguests' - heralds of death - the source of many a superstition in these parts.
Legends & Landmarks
Legends abound amongst the farmers and fishermen - it's said that the Black Monk of Guisborough's Priory returns with the first full moon of the year to inspect the ruins. You should also tread softly as you pass Freeborough Hill on the moor road out of the town, where King Arthur is said to be sleeping.
Prominent landmark, Roseberry Topping is said to be the site of the death of prince Oswy the son of King Osmund of Northumbria. The king's wise men told him that Oswy would drown on his second birthday. Osmund instructed his queen to take Oswy to the highest part of the land, Roseberry, but here on his second birthday he drowned in a well.
Here is the home of hermits and superstition, and when its summit is covered by a gentle 'roak' or mist this extraordinary peak exudes mystery and magic.