Helmsley, a Georgian market town in North Yorkshire – on the edge of the North York Moors National Park – is filled with honey-hued cottages. It is a gateway to walks and a popular culinary scene. As well as cosy pubs and cafés, the town has 12th-century castle ruins and a walled garden that was a filming location for the 2020 remake of The Secret Garden.
Helmsley itself is becoming a destination for food, with Bantam among the restaurants to gain a Michelin listing in the guide’s 2023 edition. Five minutes’ drive from Helmsley, The Star Inn at Harome is a Michelin-starred pub.
For visitors who bring a car, there are several Yorkshire highlights within easy reach, including the stately home Castle Howard (23 minutes’ drive), the seaside resort of Whitby (just under an hour) and the 8,500-acre Dalby Forest (45 minutes).
The North York Moors National Park was designated an International Dark Sky Reserve in 2020. It hosts a Dark Skies Festival each year (9–25 February next year), with events such as starlight runs, stargazing safaris and art workshops.
Getting there and around
Helmsley does not have a railway station. From York railway station, which is served by several operators, take the 31X bus to Helmsley (75 minutes). Or, from Malton railway station, served by TransPennine Express, it is around 30 minutes’ drive to Helmsley.
Drop your bags
The Partridge at The Old Bank is an apartment in the centre of Helmsley. The converted building is decorated with original, Yorkshire-inspired artworks and looks out over the market square. Sleeps four, from £185 a night, beautifulescapes.co.uk.
The Pheasant Hotel in Harome is a country house property two-and-a-half miles outside of Helmsley. It has a heated swimming pool and restaurant. Doubles from £200 a night, including breakfast, thepheasanthotel.com.
Angram Cottage, a converted barn in Coxwold, sits on a woodland track, next to a brook. The village is 15 minutes’ drive from Helmsley or 33 minutes on the 31X bus. Sleeps four, from £200 a night, beautifulescapes.co.uk.
Browse the shops
Browns department store was established in 1890 and has a Helmsley branch.
Agnus & Co is a useful stop for Christmas presents. Among its stock are embroidery, knitted jumpers and hats, scarves and crockery.
Hunters of Helmsley delicatessen has a selection of breads, cheeses, ham, jams and chutney. On The Helmsley Bookshop’s shelves you will find fiction, non-fiction and children’s books.
Helmsley market is held each Friday. Traders sprawl across the Market Place selling fruit and vegetables, gifts, household goods, clothing and flowers.
Twig & Twine offers colourful cottage-garden, hand-tied bouquets.
Helmsley’s collection of tearooms includes The Vinehouse Café. Its menu, which changes daily, features ingredients from the café’s walled garden. It also serves freshly baked scones and cakes. Open 10am–4pm, Tues–Sun, vinehousecafehelmsley.co.uk.
Porters Coffee Shop (facebook.com/PortersCoffeeShopHelmsley) has a selection of tea and cakes, while Mannion & Co serves deli sandwiches.
Rainy day refuges
Helmsley Arts Centre has a year-round calendar of performances and arts and crafts events.
A 10-minute drive from Helmsley, the National Trust-run Nunnington Hall has collections including miniature furniture, antiques and art. Open on select days in December, £11 adults, £5.50 children, nationaltrust.org.uk.
The Yorkshire Spa Retreat in Nawton (six minutes’ drive, 20 minutes if you take 128 bus, then walk), has a hydrotherapy pool, herbal steam room, Himalayan salt sauna and wild swimming pond. Winter warmer spa days from £145 (book in advance).
A drink by the fire
There are several options in town. The Feversham Arms Hotel, originally a coaching inn, includes a snug bar. The Black Swan dates to the 15th century, with a mix of Tudor and Georgian architecture. And The Feathers Hotel has plenty of heritage under its low-slung ceilings.
Bantam restaurant is a casual bistro dishing up Mediterranean-inspired meals. The menu might include smoked cod roe and crisps to start (£5) followed by a sharing plate of roast monkfish, courgettes and lobster bisque (£19), (bantamrestaurant.co.uk).
The Star Inn at Harome is a place for a blowout treat – try the suckling pig or halibut roasted with seaweed butter – as is the Michelin-starred The Black Swan at Oldstead. The latter is 15-minutes’ drive from Helmsley. Newcomer Mýse in Hovingham (also 15 minutes by car) focuses on locally sourced ingredients.
With the North York Moors National Park on the doorstep, there are plenty of picturesque routes for all abilities.
Kilburn White Horse, a 318ft long, 200ft high figure of a horse cut in the hillside, is a 15-minute drive away. A stroll across the hill figure offers views of the surrounding countryside.
Helmsley is also the start of The Cleveland Way National Trail walking route. The full walk is 109 miles and takes in moorland and coast. Keen ramblers might try the 10-mile section to Sutton Bank, passing the ruins of Rievaulx Abbey and finishing at an escarpment. Its view over the Vale of York was described as “the finest in England” by James Herriot.
Three things you might not know about Helmsley…
1) In medieval times, the town was known as Elmeslac, which meant “Helm’s forest-clearing”. This suggests that it was surrounded by woodland.
2) After the Norman Conquest, the town was granted to Robert, Count of Mortain, half-brother of William the Conqueror.
3) All Creatures Great and Small fans can visit the World of James Herriot in Thirsk, 25 minutes’ drive away.