Helmsley North Yorkshire

Exploring North Yorkshire Through a Lens

Introduction

Helmsley North Yorkshire

Today, I’m visiting the exciting and attraction packed market town of Helmsley in North Yorkshire. Helmsley is far from your average market town as it is the only market town situated in the North York Moors National Park. Coming up I will be discovering Helmsley’s market square and finding out more about its two monuments. I also discover the somewhat artistic side of Helmsley with its galleries and Performing Arts venue. I will also be finding out more about the vast parkland belonging to the Duncombe Estate and its impressive house as well as the fascinating Birds of Prey Centre. I will also be discovering Helmsley’s historic castle that casts its shadow over the town below. I’ll also discover the many artisan independent retailers and eateries and the famous outdoor pool that bolstens Helmsley’s appeal to all. I will also be listening to the melodic All Saint’s Church that chimes every quarter of an hour over the market place and discover its attractive wall art inside. And if the town isn’t scenic enough, I am also going to explore the stunning walled garden with its vibrant hot borders, calming aquatic features and even a few chickens! Welcome to Helmsley.


Market Square

Helmsley North Yorkshire


This may come as a surprise to you as it did to me, but Helmsley is the only market town on the North York Moors where this idyllic town resides. So as the only market town, it needs to provide a great deal, and it does so very much and in a surpassing way.


William Duncomb (Second Baron)

Helmsley North Yorkshire


The most eye-catching structure in the middle of the square is the towering statue of William Duncombe or Lord Feversham. He was the second baron who was significant in the Royal Agricultural Society and was even a Tory MP for over a decade. He was even a prize winner for his herd of short horn cattle. Of course, he was very much tied to the Duncombe estate and was the eldest son of Charles Duncombe. He was born however in London, and Duncombe Park was their country seat.

William Duncombe Monument Helmsley North Yorkshire
William Duncombe Monument Helmsley North Yorkshire

The appearance of the monument looks ecclesiastical with the paler figure of William Duncombe encased inside revealing the attire of his time. You can most certainly say that it is the focal point of the square and emphasises the Duncombe family name in a very significant way. However, this is not the only monument in the square, and the adjacent monument is actually very important from a market town perspective.


Market Cross

Helmsley North Yorkshire


Helmsley could not be a market town at all if it hadn’t received permission to do so. A market cross is generally found in most market towns as it symbolised the right to hold a market, approved by a monarch, bishop or baron. Helmsley’s market day is on a Friday and this may date back as far as the 13th century, granted by Robert de Ros. He was a kinsman through marriage and very much associated with Helmsley as well as Wark on Tweed in Northumberland. Many sit underneath its shade and yet not realise how critical the monument was at the time of its construction.

Helmsley Market Cross
Market Cross Helmsley

The Town Hall

Helmsley North Yorkshire


The town hall stands proudly overlooking the market square and is managed by local community volunteers as a registered charity. It was constructed in 1901 in the Queen Anne style and is obviously protected by a Grade II listing. It was designed by Temple Moore who was a well known English architect. By 1958, the Earl of Feversham donated the building to Helmsley Parish as a courtroom and also for community recreational pursuits. Today it serves as a community library and the rooms are available for hire for events. It is also a fitting place to wear the towns awards such as The Great British High Street Market Town Award 2015 as well as to remember those lost in the Great War. It also displays the town’s notices too, evidence of a strong community here. You might want to look out for a stone that was placed by the Duke of York all the way back in 1900 when the town hall was being constructed. This building is a significant building in the square that binds a strong community spirit.

Helmsley Town Hall
Helmsley Town Hall

Independent Retailers

Helmsley North Yorkshire


Helmsley is not solely about its ability to hold a fantastic market, but it also consists of a varied shopping experience owing to its specialist shops that are found throughout the town and these shops are available to all on a daily basis, a respite for those occasional brief Yorkshire showers. The extremely floral Helmsley Bookshop not only adds a splash of colour but has been retailing a large selection of books for over twenty years. Helmsley is the starting point of several walking routes, so it is fitting to find Helmsley Outdoors in the market square who retail outdoor clothing for all ages. Duke and Rose retails not only handmade soaps but also furniture and accessories. One of my favourites, and I have many, is the Hunters of Helmsley delicatessen and it has been awarded as Britains Best Small Shop in 2015 at the House of Commons. One of my favourite bakeries in North Yorkshire is that of Thomas the Baker and they also have a delicatessen butchers here too.

Browns is an historic department store that began in York in 1890 before reaching out to Helmsley, Beverley and Gainsborough. Helmsley has a wider range of home and cookshop products not found in other stores. Fatface is a clothing and footwear store for all that amusingly began in the French Alps when two friends sold printed tee and sweatshirts at night and skied during the day! The buildings was once The Crown Inn public house which is why you find the crown upon its wall and it began as a coaching inn in the 16th century. Helmsley is not short of antique shops including Bondgate Antiques which is family run and their expertise includes jewellery, collectable silverware, coins and decorative antiques. Something else that Helmsley is well noted for are its fine art galleries including William Sissons Gallery featuring art, pottery and enamels. This is fitting as you could positively say that Helmsley is a work of art in itself.


Food and Drink

Helmsley North Yorkshire


If you enjoy the traditional public house then the Market Place is great place to start. The Feathers Hotel Eatery and Coffee House not only has a well stocked bar but also a mouth-watering food menu and also serves as a relaxing place to stay. In fact, Helmsley is a great place to base yourself for a holiday exploring the North York Moors. Standing on the opposite side of the square is The Royal Oak is also a hotel and provides traditional pub food as well as wide range of drinks in a relaxing atmosphere. Both hotels are sympathetically decorated to the style of the building and the market town they reside in. The Black Swan is currently being refurbished at the time of filming so I’m looking forward to visiting next year to see the end result.

Without any doubt whatsoever, Helmsley is not short of somewhere to enjoy a tea or coffee with its many cafe’s including the Cafe on the Square and Porters Coffee and Bakery. La Trattoria is an Italian Bistro situated close the the town hall and Helmsley Spice takes us to another continent with its mouthwatering Indian cuisine. The Market Place isn’t just a place to eat, but a place of option and culture.


Barkers Yard

Helmsley North Yorkshire


Helmsley has a small and enticing shopping area just astride from Borogate known as Barkers Yard. There is also the popular Barkers Cafe Bar here too. The Ginger Bear is located in the old fire station and provides a wide variety of gifts for all occasions. Homeworks was established in 1987 and is a very positively reviewed hardware store. If you have a sweet tooth, then you are going to be captivated by Helmsley’s Traditional Sweet Shop, and they serve sweets in a striped paper-bag! Agnus & Co retails some amazing gifts either for yourself or family and friends. Health Matters not only retails health foods and supplements but refills household products to reduce impact on the environment. Holme Lea Country Interiors retail fantastic home accessories that are handpicked by the proprietor. Beauty Galore Flowers offers something hand-picked in a different sense providing bouquets, buttonholes and custom made arrangements. You can even visit Helmsley and boost your appearance with one of Viva’s five professional stylists. N Galleries (or Nunnington Galleries) features the work of Louise Dwyer, Jonathan Pomroy, Phil Reynolds, Lucy Saggers, Patrick Smith, Justine Warner and Steve Williams. You can also receive a great view over Castlegate from here too.

Barkers Yard Helmsley
Barkers Yard Helmsley

Castlegate

Helmsley North Yorkshire


Castlegate, the Norse term for Castle Street, was the original route to the castle and today it sits side by side with Borough Beck that cuts through the town. Today it is like a bustling extension to the market square with access between the Royal Oak and the Town Hall. My term for Castlegate is coffeegate because there are so many invitations for refreshments here at both sides of the road. There is also an inviting bakery nearby too. You will also find retail here as Duncombe Park Sawmill presents its garden furniture, fences and gates. You will find another antiques shop here, Castlegate Antiques and the word Bank above the door gives you a substantial clue as to what the building was originally used for. The Look Gallery provides some amazing works of art in various styles by many artists, certainly too many to name. The Saltbox is a further gallery showcasing contemporary arts and craft. It might not be the first thing you associate Helmsley with but you soon realise just how closely associated the town is with fine art and creativity. On the same subject, Peter Silk’s Craftsman Creating Interiors began in 1985 with its bespoke upholstery, curtains, blinds and fabric walling.

Borough Beck alongside Castlegate (Castle Street) Helmsley
Borough Beck alongside Castlegate (Castle Street) Helmsley

Borough Beck is quite narrow at this point but gently trickles its way via Castlegate to meet its rendezvous with the more dynamic River Rye.

The junction on the left takes you via a pedestrian area towards the castle entrance. However, you cannot help but be distracted by the smell of coffee presented by the roadside cafe’s contained in their attractive stone dwellings. It’s these creamy stone structures as well as the food and drink that give these cafe’s a resounding wow factor. Just tucked in at the end is the large boutique featuring Frank Lyman Design, Pennita.


Bridge Street

Helmsley North Yorkshire


On Bridge Street you will find further retail temptations as well as tantalising eateries and food and drink retailers. Helmsley also has its own brewery employing traditional techniques in producing craft beers and you can even tour the brewery and find out more about their processes. Helmsley also has a family run independent wine shop too specialising in fine wines for all occasions.

Spirit of the Garden has stores in Helmsley and St Andrews and they retail quirky and out of the ordinary garden items, and as you soon find out, Helmsley is very centred on attractive gardens and displays. Bridge street also has that useful post office and two small supermarkets currently a Costcutter and Coop at the time of filming.

The Log Room is a newly established grill restaurant just waiting to try. Just beside Porters however, is an archway which you shouldn’t miss as it contains some hidden gems. Firstly, there is Helmsley Arts Centre.

The Duncombe Park shop is also a fantastic gift shop as well as home accessories, found in the heart of the town.


Helmsley Arts Centre

Helmsley North Yorkshire


Despite a devastating fire back in 2000, Helmsley Arts Centre is still a popular venue for live entertainment. The original building was a Friends Meeting House but the structure we see today was largely thanks to local voluntary effort and the arts centre was rebuilt within 8 months. If this isn’t amazing enough, the venue is managed by volunteers today and provides entertainment such as theatre, music, dance, talks, cinema and live broadcasts, exhibitions, classes and a range of creative activities for youngsters.

Helmsley Arts Centre that is managed by volunteers
Helmsley Arts Centre that is managed by volunteers

In the same vicinity you will discover another gallery and picture framers, Court House Framers.

The Duncombe Park Shop that opened in 1996 retails individual gifts and cards as well as stunning home accessories.


High Street

Helmsley North Yorkshire


Woodward House is now residential but in 1773 the existing town house was enlarged to form a workhouse where those unable to support themselves financially would have accommodation and employment. The workhouse formally closed in 1924.

St Mary’s RC church was opened by the Ampleforth Benedictines in 1894 although it met with strong opposition from a powerful Anglican, Vicar Gray.

Borough Beck gently passes some very historic cottages, the majority grade II listed along the high street. It is interesting how these snugly placed cottages stand shoulder to shoulder in the same way as Helmsley’s strong community who come together and take pride in keeping the market town well maintained. One of my favourite properties is the timber framed cottage with a pantile roof.

Woodward House is a former workhouse in Helmsley
Woodward House is a former workhouse in Helmsley

Independent retailers stand side by side. Clardiges have been trading for over 50 years and feature local guides to art materials, cards to educational books and toys. The Twig and Twine however, retails stunning floristry as well fresh plants for the home and garden. It’s a successful newcomer only established in summer 2019. You will also find another gift shop Bowley & Jackson as well as the 42nd East Bakehouse.

Across the road is the Feversham Arms and Verbena Spa which is a very popular and highly reviewed hotel with free wifi and a swimming pool. However, what I like about the Feversham Arms are the cosy wood fires. It began as a coaching inn but in 1855 it was rebuilt into a hotel by the Earl of Feversham. At a later date, properties were purchased beside the hotel to extend it. If you walk up beside the church you get a better understanding how large the hotel is.

Opposite is the walking route to Rievaulx Abbey, but more specifically the Cleveland Way. Before taking the 3 mile walk to Rievaulx Abbey, you might want to stop for an Ice-cream at Ryeburn’s. It was established by accident by the Otterburn family when they prepared ice-cream to use up their milk quotas from the family herd. Today, it serves ice-cream to visitors and residents alike with some tantalising flavours.

The Cleveland Way is a 109 mile walk beginning at Helmsley that heads as far as Saltburn and follows the shores south as far as Filey. The first 3 miles takes you to Rievaulx via the site of a medieval village, Griff.


Walking Trails

Helmsley North Yorkshire


On the subject of Walking Trails, Helmsley is a ramblers paradise. A short and easy walk to accomplish I recommend to do in May is to follow the beck along the footpath that takes you away from the main road. Crossing over a bridge, you meet a track that takes you through a woodland valley, and during May you get to admire the many Bluebells out on display. Colonies of bluebell take between 5-7 years to accomplish and they are illegal to pick in the UK. There are two kinds of bluebell, the English and the Spanish varieties and the Spanish is more hardy.

One of the main three is the 70 mile route from Helmsley to Ilkley known as the Ebor Way. I nice section to achieve is between Helmsley, Sproxton and Oswaldkirk that takes you via the River Rye and up to Oswaldkirk Bank where you receive some stunning views of the North York Moors and Tabular Hills in the distance. The Tablular Hills route takes you from Helmsley eastwards to Scarborough on a 48 mile trail. Interestingly, it is almost like a shortcut as it meets up with the Cleveland Way once again just North of Scarborough. You wouldn’t acheive these trails in a day but Helmsley is where these stunning walks begin.

The River Rye beside the Ebor Way Walking Trail near Helmsley
The River Rye beside the Ebor Way Walking Trail near Helmsley

However, my walk today can only be considered as lame as I am taking a short stroll to one of my favourite attractions in Helmsley, the walled garden. The short stroll takes you through a very cosy picnic area under the shade of mature trees. En-route you will discover some craft workshops including The Stick Man. The Stick Man, Keith Pickering, creates amazing handmade walking and hiking sticks, first starting out as a hobby.


Borogate

Helmsley North Yorkshire

Borogate contains some public toilets as well as a popular fish and chip restaurant and takeaway currently known as Deep Blue Fish and Chips. Whereas Veneto retails quality bags and shoes without that hefty price tag.


Helmsley Walled Garden

Helmsley North Yorkshire

The Helmsley Walled Garden is a stunning attraction in all weathers. Walled Gardens or Kitchen Gardens are not uncommon in England as they were to provide food to the families who owned them, protected by a surrounding high wall to prevent theft from paupers. This particular walled garden came about in 1758 to service the needs of the Feversham family at Duncombe Park. After the First World War, the need for such gardens diminished, and Helmsley walled garden became derelict until 1994 when Alison Ticehurst began to restore it. Sadly, she died before she got to see the end result, but today it stands as a very popular attraction for both visitors as well as for people who would benefit from therapeutic horticulture.

The Entertaining Fountain at Helmsley Walled Garden
The Entertaining Fountain at Helmsley Walled Garden

Duncombe Park

Helmsley North Yorkshire

Charles Duncombe who was one of the richest commoners in England, purchased the Helmsley estate in 1694 which was a 40,000 acre or 16,000 ha expanse, and as the house hadn’t been built yet, he occasionally stayed at the castle. When he died in 1711, the property was passed on to his sister Ursula and later to her son Thomas Brown who eventually changed his name to Thomas Duncombe. He commissioned the house that you find in Duncombe Park today. After he died, he then passed it to his son Thomas Duncombe II who then included nearby Rievaulx Terrace. The drive takes you to the house and parkland that occupies 300 acres of land.

On your right you will get to see some very stunning views of Helmsley Castle.


Helmsley Castle

Helmsley North Yorkshire


The castle is possibly the most conspicuous landmark in Helmsley that is open to the public. The castle is wrapped in idyllic scenery, overlooking some stunning parkland. Although it’s assumed that it was originally built in wood less than two miles from Rievaulx by Walter Espec, the castle we see today dates back to the 12th century. However, the Barbican dates back to the 13th century. Also connected with Walter Espec is nearby Rievaulx Abbey as well as Kirkham Priory. The castle was later in possession of the De Roos family as Espec had no children and it was handed to his sister married to Peter De Roos. A further phase to the construction of Helmsley Castle is the unusual D shaped east tower and the Barbican gates. The castle changed ownership several times until 1695 when it was sold to William Duncombe. Prior to this in 1644, the castle was besieged by Sir Thomas Fairfax during the English Civil War. However, William purchased the castle prior to him becoming the Lord Mayor of London in 1708.

Helmsley Castle from Duncombe Park
Helmsley Castle from Duncombe Park

This vista is a great place to see Helmsley Castle but it is recommended to pay a visit to see more. You get some fantastic views in the grounds of Helmsley Walled Garden too as the hot borders provide a vibrant foreground and the castle provides an interesting background. The entrance to the castle is found behind Castlegate and close to the Cleveland Way Car Park.

As you walk further along the drive the castle becomes smaller behind you but not in the least less prominent on the landscape. However, there is almost a familiar feel to Duncombe Park as it almost resembles Castle Howard especially when you see the stunning Howardian Hills and occasional structures like the Ionic Temple that captures our attention. In fact, Duncombe Park was considered for Downton Abbey, and Castle Howard is well known for Brideshead Revisited. Of course, Castle Howard is where the Howardian Hills get its name from.

The house was completed in 1713 for Thomas Duncombe but was later remodelled by Sir Charles Barry, changing the appearance that was designed by architect William Wakefield. Sadly in 1879 it was gutted with fire and remained dormant until 1895 when it was reconstructed by William Young. The Rievaulx Terrace and temples were purchased by the National Trust in 1972 whereas the house was established as a family home again by the 6th Baron Feversham as the building was used as a girls school between 1914 and 1980. It remains a grade I listed building today.


National Birds of Prey Centre

Helmsley North Yorkshire

Just astride from the house stands the popular National Birds of Prey Centre. As a sidenote, you do not need to book to come here as there is plenty of space, but they are currently operating cash free, so a debit card is required. It features the largest collection of birds of prey in the North of England and you get to see many in flight during demonstrations. There is even a work experience and volunteer programme too. In true Helmsley style, there is an opportunity for tea, coffee and cakes made on the premises in the Owl House Cafe.


The Church of All Saints

Helmsley North Yorkshire


It’s not every day I get to explore the spiritual side of North Yorkshire, but All Saint’s Church is a striking landmark if you pardon the pun. The church however, is not as old as you might imagine it to be owing to its restoration. It is constructed on Norman foundations, but the current structure was dedicated in 1838. So you could say that the church is almost Victorian as the stained glass and murals date back to this period after major restoration. A Christian church has existed in Helmsley since AD 200 and the current parish serves Helmsley, the East Moors, Sproxton as well as Rievaulx. What I like about this church is the melodic quarterly hour chime of which I shall now demonstrate.

The Church of All Saints is open to the public. The church has one of the widest chancel arches in Yorkshire which dates back to the 12th century. What is impressive are the wall paintings that reveals information about the history dating back to AD 200. A church existed here at the time of the Norman Conquest and it also has a mention in the Domesday Book which was a kind of census carried out by William the Conqueror. For me however, this is probably one of the most colourful churches I have ever encountered which stands to reason in vibrant Helmsley. The organ is a Harrison and Harrison pipe organ from 1931 and replaced a Walker Organ Company instrument from 1868. The restoration during the Victorian period was paid for by the Earl of Feversham at a cost of £16000 which is a huge amount in today’s money which would be £1.5m.

Around the back of the church yard you will see a black and white timber framed building which is the old vicarage. The churchyard was used as a market place during the Anglo-Saxon period. Another similar building beside the church is part of the Black Swan currently being refurbished. Incidentally, although the hotel has lots of historic character, it is also known to be haunted. Apparently both guests and staff have encountered experiences including a blonde woman and a well dressed chap. Paranormal goings on or paranoidal goings on? Well, there’s only one way to find out and to book a room when it reopens!

As Helmsley is on the foot of the North York Moors where Ryedale meets the Vale of Pickering, it is a fitting place for the headquarters of the North York Moors National Park Authority. They help to maintain the moors as well as assist in cultivating an appreciation for it by visitors.


Recreation in Helmsley

Helmsley North Yorkshire


Helmsley has many things that make this market town unique, but what makes it truly unique is its fantastic outdoor swimming pool. There are very few public outdoor pools in North Yorkshire, if not in England in general, so this really is quite something. It’s a great place to swim in warm weather, and if you are wondering about the cold climate, don’t worry as this pool is heated. Just beside Helmsley Open Air Pool is a large sports field with a play area. In the interests of privacy, I’m here early, but if you come to visit Helmsley you might decide to enjoy the water here.

Don’t be fooled into believing that Helmsley is all about enjoying the many eateries as there are opportunities to burn off the calories you’ve accumulated. I mean’t that more for me than you. Also in the vicinity are some memorial trees too as well as a basketball court.


Motorcycles and Parking

Helmsley North Yorkshire


You don’t need me to tell you that Helmsley is situated in a very scenic area what with the North York Moors and the Howardian Hills as well as the Vale of Pickering. The road from Stokesley, the B1257, also makes it way through stunning Bilsdale nearby. So it stands to reason that motorcyclist enjoy this area and make a pitstop in the market square to enjoy refreshments and banter with other motorcyclists. You often see classic and vintage cars here too.

Parking is available in the sizeable Cleveland Way Car Park which has space for coaches and even motorhomes. There are also toilets available here too. You can also park in the market square on non market days and there are even some free short stay spaces available if you intend on being brief.

There are bus services operated by East Yorkshire Buses that run between Helmsley and Scarborough via Kirbymoorside, Pickering and Thornton le Dale. The moors bus also stops here as well as buses to Thirsk. The Reliance 31X bus takes you via Oswaldkirk, Ampleforth Abbey, Byland Abbey and Coxwold to Easingwold and York too which is a scenic route. So Helmsley is a great place to base yourself if you intend to explore the area by bus. As I live along this route, I’m going to reluctantly head home.

On reflection however, Helmsley is a very special and unique market town. It’s full of colours, its full of flavours, it’s a place were people come from near and far to enjoy, its about the independent talented artisans, its about fascinating landmarks and parkland, its about families, friends and even strangers strengthening their bonds, its a place where people like to escape, its about a place to stay, its about a place to come and live, its town full of activity and positivity and its above all, a place where there is a strong community that cares about where they live and the visitors they receive. Until next time.