Helmsley - the North Yorkshire market town is perfect for a day out
PUBLISHED: 14:26 13 June 2012 | UPDATED: 21:29 20 February 2013
The picturesque North Yorkshire market town of Helmsley is just the right size for a perfect day out, says Chris Titley Photographs by Joan Russell
Some people are never satisfied. Helmsley is a North Yorkshire market town with bags of charm, wonderful pubs and shops, not too mention a history that would keep the keenest buff busy.
But for certain American visitors, it wasnt quite enough. Until she retired, Jean Marsden worked in the towns tourist information centre for more than 20 years and she remembers her first day there quite clearly. There were a couple of Americans staying at the Black Swan. They came and said, wed like to see a castle, recalled Jean.
Of course, full of enthusiasm, I said oh yes, weve got a castle just behind us we were in the Market Place at that time, and Helmsley Castle was immediately behind. Oh no, I want a real castle! he said. Fortunately weve got Castle Howard just 10 miles away so I redirected him there.
For those with the biggest-is-best philosophy, Helmsley might not be enough. For the rest of us, Helmsley is a wonderful day out. Take that castle. It may be in ruins, but the Norman fortification has a great history. Originally wooden and rebuilt in stone in about 1200, it was converted into a luxury mansion 350 years later a project you cant help but imagine thrilling a Tudor version of Grand Designs Kevin McCloud.
Sir Thomas Fairfax laid siege to the castle in 1644, and the kings loyal forces inside held out for three months before surrendering. It was then that Parliament ordered it to be slighted or deliberately destroyed.
Luckily for us they only did a partial job. Today the castle is an excellent place to explore try downloading the Step Inside activity pack from English Heritages website if you have kids. Theres often something going on there too. Join the Helmsley Archaeology Store Tour to learn about some of the castles amazing stories on June 27th: its free, but you must book in advance.
Alternatively, enjoy the worlds greatest love story set to the backdrop of the castle. Chapterhouse Theatre Company is staging Romeo and Juliet there on July 12th. Bring chairs and picnics, and settle back to watch those star-crossed lovers on a summers eve; call 0870 333 1183 to book tickets.
The castle may be in ruins, but Helmsley itself couldnt be more spick and span. Thats partly due to the attractiveness of the buildings set around the Market Place, but it has more than a little to do with the hard work put in by the townsfolk.
Jean is active in Helmsley in Bloom, a group which has an enviable track record. Weve won gold the last four years in Yorkshire in Bloom and in 1997 silver gilt in Britain in Bloom.
Rivals can breathe a sigh of relief because this year Helmsley is not entering the competition. Members are taking a well-deserved year off. But that doesnt mean the town will be florally bereft. All the businesses do their own floral arrangements, said Jean. They really do us justice. It is always a lovely show when it gets to summer.
The Helmsley in Bloom team will still be active, working on the strip of land behind the Market Place, helped by both the primary school children and the Brownies. We always have a scarecrow, or a couple of scarecrows and the number of people who stop and look is amazing really. The children like to see the scarecrows and all the men like to look and see what vegetables weve got coming. It keeps it nice and tidy for everyone.
Perhaps because it attracts so many visitors, anxious to see the castle, stroll round the walled garden or venture to nearby Nunnington Hall or Rievaulx Abbey, Helmsley boasts some excellent places to shop, eat and drink, including a new development at Barkers Yard. The legendary Black Swan pub is said to have once hosted William Wordsworth when he was visiting his future wife. And did he take her a bunch of daffodils, I wonder?
If fabulous pubs werent reason enough to visit Helmsley, it is also home to some of Britains best ice cream. This spring Ryeburn of Helmsleys Nutella-flavour was declared the best at the National Ice Cream Competition final in London.
David Otterburn makes the ice cream in small batches in a tiny unit just behind the parlour at Church Farm, Cleveland Way, Helmsley. I love ice cream and will keep on tasting and testing a flavour until it is perfect, he said. Its a tough job
Although Helmsley has a timeless quality, Jean says it has changed in the 49 years shes lived in the town. If you want to see by how much, its worth checking out the Helmsley Archive. Its a collection of more than 5,000 images illustrating the towns development over the last 150 years, viewable at helmsleyarchive.org.uk. It began when the late John Collier bequeathed his collection of more than 3,000 pictures to Helmsley Town Council.
The archive is now being augmented by local residents we have occasional meetings where photographs are brought for scanning and identification, said Paul Harris, of the Helmsley Archaeological and Historical Society.
Images are arranged in albums, like Helmsley town, people, events and schools, and are fully searchable within the website.
Paul said the archive has proved exceptionally popular receiving an average of about 600 hits a day. This is largely due to all text being indexed in Google. Many visitors, frequently from abroad, are interested in genealogy and being able to see images of their ancestors proves irresistible.
Getting there: Helmsley is halfway between Thirsk and Pickering on the A170. There is a direct bus service from York
Where to park: Try the car park in the Market Place
What to do: Visit the castle ruins and the walled garden. Check out the varied programme of events at Helmsley Arts Centre June performances include jazz with the Mardi Gras Band and Mapp and Lucia Ahoy!
The print version of this article appeared in the June 2012 issue of Yorkshire Life
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