Roseberry Topping

Coordinates: 54°30′20″N 1°06′26″W / 54.50542°N 1.10736°W / 54.50542; -1.10736
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Roseberry Topping
Roseberry Topping as seen from the north
Highest point
Elevation320 m (1,050 ft)
Prominence81 m (266 ft)
Coordinates54°30′20″N 1°06′26″W / 54.50542°N 1.10736°W / 54.50542; -1.10736
Roseberry Topping is located in North Yorkshire
Roseberry Topping
Roseberry Topping
Roseberry Topping within North Yorkshire
LocationNorth York Moors, England
OS gridNZ579126
Topo mapOS Landranger 193

Roseberry Topping is a distinctive hill in North Yorkshire, England. It is situated near Great Ayton and Newton under Roseberry. Its summit has a distinctive half-cone shape with a jagged cliff, which has led to many comparisons with the much higher Matterhorn in the Swiss-Italian Alps.[1] It forms a symbolic image of the area and features in the logo for the nearby Teesside International Airport.[2][3]

At 1,049 feet (320 m), Roseberry Topping was traditionally thought to be the highest hill on the North York Moors;[4] however, there are 15 higher peaks with the nearby Urra Moor being the highest, at 1,490 feet (450 m). Roseberry Topping offers views of Captain Cook's Monument at Easby Moor and the monument at Eston Nab, previously a beacon.


The hill is an outlier of the North York Moors uplands. It is formed from sandstone laid down in the Middle and Lower Jurassic periods, between 208 and 165 million years ago, which constitutes the youngest sandstone to be found in any of the national parks in England and Wales. Its distinctive conical shape is the result of the hill's hard sandstone cap protecting the underlying shales and clays from erosion by the effects of ice, wind and rain.[citation needed]

Until 1912, the summit resembled a sugarloaf, until a geological fault and possibly nearby alum and ironstone mining caused its collapse.[1] The area immediately below the summit is still extensively pitted and scarred from the former mineworks. The summit has magnificent views across the Cleveland plain as far as the Pennines on a clear day, some 40–50 miles (64–80 km) away.[5][6]


Aerial photo of Roseberry Topping
Replicas of the Bronze Age Roseberry Topping hoard

The Roseberry area has been inhabited for thousands of years and the hill has long attracted attention for its distinctive shape. A Bronze Age hoard was discovered on the slopes of the hill and is now in the Sheffield City Museum. It was occupied during the Iron Age; walled enclosures and the remains of huts dating from the period are still visible in the hill's vicinity. During this period Jet may have been mined in the area around the hill.[7]

The hill was perhaps held in special regard by the Vikings, who settled in Cleveland during the early medieval period and gave the area many of its place names. They gave Roseberry Topping its present name; first attested in 1119 as "Othenesberg", its second element is accepted to derive from Old Norse bjarg (rock); the first element must be an Old Norse personal name, Authunn or Óthinn, giving 'Authunn's/Óthinn's rock'. If the latter, Roseberry Topping is one of only a handful of known pagan names in England, being named after the Norse god Odin and paralleled by the Old English name Wodnesberg, found for example in Woodnesborough.[8] The name changed successively to Othensberg, Ohenseberg, Ounsberry and Ouesberry before finally settling on Roseberry. "Topping" is a Yorkshire dialectal derivation of Old English topp, top (of a hill).[9] The naming of the hill may thus fit a well-established pattern in Continental Europe of hills and mountains being named after Odin or the Germanic equivalent, Wodan. Aelfric of Eynsham, writing in the 10th century, recorded how "the heathens made him into a celebrated god and made offerings to him at crossroads and brought oblations to high hills for him. This god was honoured among all heathens and he is called ... Othon in Danish."[10]

In 1736, explorer James Cook's family moved to Airey Holme Farm at nearby Great Ayton. When he had time off from working on the farm with his father, young James took himself off up Roseberry Topping, which gave him his first taste for adventure and exploration, which was to stay with him for life.

Roseberry Topping can be seen from many miles away and was long used by sailors and farmers as an indicator of impending bad weather. An old rhyme commemorates this usage:

When Roseberry Topping wears a cap, let Cleveland then beware of a clap![11]

The hill was private property for many years, formerly being part of a game estate owned by the Cressy family. In the early 18th century, Dorothea Cressy married Archibald Primrose, who was later made Earl of Rosebery. Roseberry Topping is now managed by the National Trust and is open to the public. It is just within the North York Moors National Park whose border runs along the A173 road below it.[12]

A spur of the Cleveland Way National Trail runs up to the summit. The path has been a sight-seeing excursion route for centuries due to the views of the Cleveland area from the summit; as early as 1700, travellers were recommended to visit the peak to see "the most delightful prospect upon the valleys below to the hills above."[13]

The site was notified as a geological Site of Special Scientific Interest in 1954, with a boundary extension in 1986 bringing the designated area to 10.86 hectares. The site is listed as being of national importance in the Geological Conservation Review.[14]

During the Napoleonic Wars, the Wensleydale volunteers responded to a false alarm when the beacon on Penhill in North Yorkshire was lit in response to a supposed lit beacon on Roseberry Topping, 40 miles distant. This turned out to be burning heather.[15]

In popular culture[edit]

In Joseph Reed's 1761 farce, The Register-Office, the character Margery Moorpout, who hails from 'Yatton', sings the praises of 'Roseberry', which she claims to be a mile and a half high:

Certainly God! ye knaw Roseberry? I thought ony Fule had knawn Roseberry!—It's t' biggest Hill in oll Yorkshire—It's aboun a Mile an a hofe high, an as coad as Ice at' top on't i't hettest Summer's Day—that it's.[16]

In 1783, Thomas Pierson, a blacksmith, a watchmaker and schoolmaster from the nearby town of Stokesley wrote an eponymous poem about the hill. Pierson's work was much-admired locally and it was re-published in 1847.[17]

Roseberry Topping has also featured in popular music. It is mentioned in a song by the folk-rock group America on their Hat Trick album. Chris Rea also dedicated the song "Chisel Hill" from the album Shamrock Diaries to Roseberry Topping. The guitarist Gordon Giltrap released an instrumental track named "Roseberry Topping" on his 2010 album Shining Morn.[citation needed]

The hill also appears in the 2018 videogame Forza Horizon 4 although it is referred to as ‘The Great Ridge'.[citation needed]


  1. ^ a b Howard Peach, Curious Tales of Old North Yorkshire, p. 39 (Sigma Leisure, 2004)
  2. ^ "Teesside Airport gets its name back - and connections to London, Dublin and Belfast could be next". Teesside Live Website. 25 July 2019. Retrieved 31 January 2020.
  3. ^ "Welcome to Tees Valley". Teesside International Airport Website. Retrieved 31 January 2020.
  4. ^ See e.g. J. J. Sheahan and T. Whellan, History and Topography of the City of York; the Ainsty Wapentake; and the East Riding of Yorkshire, p. 10. 1855.
  5. ^ "The '˜Yorkshire Matterhorn' that inspired Cook". Yorkshire Evening Post. 15 May 2016. Retrieved 12 August 2022.
  6. ^ Johnstone, Charlotte (22 August 2018). "Why you must visit the picturesque Yorkshire village where Captain Cook grew up". The Telegraph. Retrieved 12 August 2022.
  7. ^ Muller, Helen (1987). Jet. Butterworths. p. 11. ISBN 0408031107.
  8. ^ Victor Watts (ed.), The Cambridge Dictionary of English Place-Names Based on the Collections of the English Place-Name Society (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), s.v. ROSEBERRY TOPPING; Peter Godfrey Foote, Hans Bekker-Nielsen, Olaf Olsen. Proceedings of the Eighth Viking Congress: Århus 24–31 August 1977, p. 135. Odense University Press, 1981. ISBN 87-7492-339-0
  9. ^ A. H. Smith, English Place-Name Elements, 2 vols, English Place-Name Society, 25–26 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1956), s.v. topping.
  10. ^ Ken Dowden, European Paganism: The Realities of Cult from Antiquity to the Middle Ages, p. 80. Routledge, 2000. ISBN 0-415-12034-9
  11. ^ G. F. Northall, English Folk Rhymes 1892, p. 91
  12. ^ Pearce, Ian, ed. (2006). "17: Roseberry on historic maps". Roseberry Topping. Great Ayton: Great Ayton Community Archaeology Project. p. 141. ISBN 978-0-9554153-0-2.
  13. ^ Brome's Travels, vol. 8. London, 1700
  14. ^ "SSSI citation sheet for Roseberry Topping" (PDF). English Nature. Retrieved 15 February 2007.
  15. ^ Pontefract, Ella (1936). Wensleydale. London: Dent. p. 176.
  16. ^ Joseph Reed (1771), The register-office: a farce of two acts. Acted at the Theatre-Royal in Drury-Lane. By Joseph Reed. A new edition. London: T. Davies and T. Becket and Co. ECCO Print Editions. ESTCID: T064222 [Reproduction from British Library], p. 14
  17. ^ Pierson, Thomas (18 June 1847). Roseberry Topping: A Poem. (Originally Pub. 1783). With Notes, and Also a Notice of the Author and a Memoir of the Late Thomas Jennett. Jennett – via Google Books.

External links[edit]