The attractive village of Great Ayton (population 5000) is centred on the banks of the River Leven. It is ancient in origin, having several Neolithic sites within the parish boundary, and is mentioned in the Domesday Book. In former times its industries included linen making, tanning and brewing; and the mining industries of whinstone (a hard igneous rock used in roadmaking), ironstone, alum and jet were important locally. Nowadays most of its residents work outside the parish boundary while farming remains an important local industry.
Great Ayton has two village greens. The High Green is the centre of the village while the Low Green, with the river running alongside, is a popular picnic place in the summer months. To the north of the village the view is dominated by the 330 metre high Roseberry Topping. This hill, and the adjacent whinstone outcrop, are of geological importance.
The navigator and explorer, Captain James Cook spent his boyhood in the village. He attended the Postgate School, now converted into the Captain Cook Schoolroom Museum (open April - October). He worshipped in the 12th Century All Saints Church (open afternoons April - October). The cottage formerly occupied and probably built by Captain Cook’s father was dismantled in 1934 and now stands in Fitzroy Park, Melbourne, Australia. In its place is an obelisk built of stone taken from Point Hicks, Australia. A monument to Captain Cook stands in a prominent position on Easby Moor.
Around the village there are several interesting walks. The village is also an excellent base for the more adventurous walker wishing to explore the nearby North Yorks Moors, especially in the summer months when the moors turn purple with the blooming heather.
There is a Tourist Information Centre situated in the High Street car park which provides information on local holiday accommodation. A good range of shops mostly situated in the High Street, which together with restaurants, cafes and public houses cater for residents’ and visitors’ usual requirements. Suggitt's Ices and Petch's Pork Pies are particularly well known.
Leisure amenities include tennis courts and a bowling green. There are also cricket and football fields.
village fete is held in June every two years on the High Green starting
with decorated floats parading from Low to High Green.