10 Things to Love About Helmsley

Nestled at the foot of the North York Moors, less than 30 miles from York, Helmsley is the only market town in the National Park. Its timeless elegance and chocolate box good looks have been a magnet to day trippers and holidaymakers for decades – so what makes this little town in North Yorkshire so appealing?

#1 The Architecture

With its babbling brook, old sandstone buildings, grand country houses and medieval castle, Helmsley is real picture-postcard stuff.

At the heart of the pocket-sized town square is a statue of Lord Feversham, a former resident of the Duncombe Park Estate which sits on the edge of town. The house on the estate, a breath-taking Italianate baroque mansion, dates back to the early 1700s and is one of Yorkshire’s finest historic houses. The parkland and gardens are open to the public on selected dates throughout the year and offer beautiful walks along the River Rye and beyond. Walk uphill towards the folly for a birds eye view of Helmsley Castle, a 900 year old English Heritage site offering a fascinating glimpse into past life.

Just a few miles away is Castle Howard, a magnificent house and gardens. It was the setting for the lavish TV Series & film ‘Brideshead Revisited’ and is open to the public for most of the year.

#2 Cafe Culture

As you would expect with a tourist hot spot, Helmsley isn’t short of a cafe or two. There are lots of traditional options serving up scrummy home baked treats and most are happy to welcome walkers and dogs too.

We have a particular soft spot for Mannion & Co, a gorgeous little cafe/bistro with a seriously impressive menu. The Yorkshire Rarebit (do go for the optional bacon) is obscenely good, as are the enormous scones.

The Vinehouse Cafe at Helmsley Walled Garden is also a must-visit with its beautiful setting and fresh seasonal menu. Housed within the spectacular Victorian glass houses diners enjoy views over the gardens and castle beyond. They’ve recently launched a two-course cosy candlelit lunch in their Orchid House, a real feast for the senses.

#3 Fine Dining

Punching well about its weight for a small town in North Yorkshire, Helmsley and the surrounding area happens to be a real foodie hot spot.

In the neighbouring hamlet of Harome is the iconic Star Inn. Following a devastating fire a few years ago, Andrew Pern and his team have rebuilt and refurbished this 14th Century Inn bringing it back to its very best. The ‘modern Yorkshire’ menu focuses on food from locally sourced seasonal ingredients with game, North Sea fish and fresh herbs from its own kitchen garden. It’s many awards over the years include a Michelin Star and the title of UK’s Best Gastro pub.

Just a stone’s throw away is The Pheasant. Set within a country house hotel the restaurant has a lovely relaxed feel with a menu which has built a well-deserved reputation for some of the best fine dining in Yorkshire, including a superb tasting menu.

The Hare Inn at Scawton is on the other side of town, just a few miles past Rievaulx Abbey. This exquisite 12th Century Inn is under the stewardship of Paul Jackson, a multi-award winning Head Chef serving an exceptional tasting menu in an intimate and welcoming setting.

If you don’t want to jump in a taxi there are several good options in town, including The Weathervane at The Feversham Arms and The Black Swan Hotel.

#4 Mooching Mornings

That quintessential holiday activity, mooching. If you feel like nothing more than a pleasant wander looking at pretty things take a dander around Helmsley.

There are a handful of little art galleries showcasing an eclectic mix of interesting and affordable local art; Saltbox Gallery and Look Gallery a few doors up on Church Street are a good place to start.

You’ll find some high street names – Fairfax and Favour have recently opened a store here – as well as several smaller independent stores with everything from country wear and books, to antiques, vintage homeware and traditional sweets.

#5 Artisan producers

If you’re staying self-catering and want to pick up some nice foodie bits you can’t beat Hunters. This top notch store is a true Helmsley institution and has been serving Helmsley locals and visitors for 30 years. You’ll find a deli counter with award-winning home made pies, cakes and pastries as well as a treasure trove of pantry cupboard items and a good selection of wines.

Just along the market square there’s Thomas the Baker which offers more of the same and is ever popular with folk looking for freshly baked goods and bread. They also have an excellent butcher’s counter at the rear of the store.

Mosey a little further to find Ryeburn Ice-cream Parlour. Twice-named the best ice-cream in the country this family run business serves up delicious ice-cream with unique and surprising flavours.

Helmsley Wines on Bridge Street is an independent wine merchant / importer offering local and national delivery if you want to stock up.

#6 Outdoor Bathing

When you’re all shopped out make a beeline for one of the local Spas for a little R & R.

The Verbena Spa at The Feversham Arms Hotel in town has a gorgeous (heated) outdoor pool as well as host of other Spa facilities and treatments on offer. Or keep your hair dry and just enjoy a cocktail on the terrace – it’s such a lovely setting.

Tucked away in the countryside just outside of the town is the Yorkshire Spa Retreat. It’s set around a large wild swimming pond allowing you to experience the benefits of wild swimming in a not so wild environment. There’s also a range of thermal therapies including a Hydrotherapy Pool, Himalayan Salt Sauna, Herbal Steam Room and Herbal Lounge.

And if you just fancy a good old swim, the Helmsley Open Air Swimming Pool on the outskirts of town is absolutely charming. Open season starts around the end of May.

#7 Helmsley Walled Garden

We’ve already touched on Helmsley Walled Garden and its fantastic cafe above, but this magical place deserves its own mention.

There has been a walled garden here since the mid 1700s when it was built to provide the Feversham Estate with fruit and vegetables. It was left to dereliction after the first World War until a local practice nurse acted on her conviction that it could once again be a productive and beautiful garden.

The ethos of the garden is to provide a natural space to tap into the healing power of horticulture. Its the most peaceful of places and a real joy to discover throughout the seasons. Open Wednesday to Sunday from March all the way through to December.

#8 Perfect Pubs

Always a priority for us on holiday – the proximity of a good pub. Or even better several for those long lazy pub lunches which only breaks away afford the time for.

You’re spoilt for choice in Helmsley, both in the town and dotted around the nearby villages. We love the Helmsley Brewing Co., a dinky micro brewery and pub which crafts its own beers on site. A recent addition – a tiny speakeasy style cocktail bar called The Angel’s Share – can be found upstairs. Try the Mary Pickford…

Other pubs in town include The Feathers (wisteria-clad entrance and roaring fire), The Royal Oak and The Black Swan Bar. Venture a little further out into the moors and Howardian Hills to discover more glorious old pubs; The Crown in Hutton Le Hole, The Lion Inn at the top of Blakey Ridge, The Royal Oak in Gillamoor and The Grapes at Slingsby are worth hunting out.

#9 The North York Moors National Park

This vast expanse of heather-clad wilderness is right on Helmsley’s doorstep and demands to be seen. You might spot its headquarters here in town.

We recommend taking the route up through Hutton Le Hole to Blakey Ridge. Just a few miles drive will reward you with some of the best scenery in UK. Stop a while at the Ryedale Folk Museum, a 6 acre open-air living museum bringing to life the people and businesses of times past.

Or head North to Great Ayton for a clamber up the ancient peak of Roseberry Topping. Derived from ‘Othenesburg’ an old Viking name for Odin’s Hill, this was a sacred monument in ancient times and there remains a tangible sense of this magic today. 

If you want to set out on foot the iconic Cleveland Way actually starts from Helmsley, just by the Walled Garden. This well-marked path takes you through some amazing countryside and vistas, starting with the breath-taking Rievaulx Abbey a few miles away.

#10 York

Helmsley is the perfect base from which to explore the best of North Yorkshire. There are so many options for day trips its hard to narrow it down, but if you’re staying here for a week or more you really shouldn’t miss a trip to York.

Less than 30 miles from Helmsley, this ancient walled city has been the north’s spiritual capital for 2000 years. History seeps out of every cobbled street and crooked old building – it really has to be seen to be believed. Walk the walls, climb the steps to the top of York Minster and sup a pint in one of the city’s many old pubs – there’s said to be one for every day of the year.