A warm welcome in Yorkshire
The original premises have expanded, with the 18th century house next door added in 1947, and the former vicarage added in the early 1950s. The hotel is next to a bustling square, where when the sun came out we inveterate townies watched the stir of rural life while drinking coffee at the tables outside the hotel frontage.
Budget or boutique?
This is a tranquil, spacious, upmarket 45-room boutique hotel with a 3AA rosette restaurant and as friendly a group of hospitality staff as I have come across in some time.
You don’t come to a hotel just 30 minutes’ drive from the craggy grandeur of the North Yorkshire moors to stay cooped up indoors, but when you return to your room at the Black Swan it is clear that thought has been applied. Ours was understated, warm chic, with soothing colours and en-suite bathroom, where my wife made a beeline for the Molton Brown toiletries and I switched on the television for the Saturday football. Our room fell in that category of being a comfortable size without being palatial. The bed was lovely and comfy, and the occasional creak of the old building’s floorboards as guests were turning in for the night or heading down to breakfast in the morning added to the atmosphere.
Worth getting up for
To go to North Yorkshire without driving across the stunning moors is akin to going to Agra in India and giving the Taj Mahal a miss. The vistas were stunning; a sea of purple heather in perfect sunshine. We drove to the seaside resort of Whitby, full of late-summer holidaymakers, omnipresent seagulls and the Gothic ruins of Whitby Abbey, the inspiration for Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Beware, though, on a busy Saturday like we experienced you can spend some time navigating the pinch points of Whitby’s town centre and finding a car parking space.
However, there were other attractions we visited on our weekend within a very short drive of Helmsley. We spent a fantastic couple of hours at the National Centre for Birds of Prey in Duncombe Park, with a stunning demonstration by handlers of eagles, falcons and hawks. It is the largest centre for these amazing birds of prey in the north of England, and the handlers have got it off pat, not just the flying techniques, but a pretty amusing commentary on the individual birds’ various “personalities” and quirks.
And the afternoon before we left we visited Rievaulx Abbey, a Cistercian monastery ransacked by Henry VIII in the Reformation, but still a deeply spiritual place in its remarkably well-preserved desolation.
Wine and dine
A treat for the palate is the Black Swan’s hotel restaurant. We plumped for the tasting menu, which included a scrumptious pork and apple beignet; Thai aubergine with mushroom and herbs; Gressingham Duck set off by corn, sweet potato and (nice touch) peanut. The Scottish venison with burnt orange and smoked coconut sauce wasn’t too shabby either. Some palatable cheeses, fruit and chutney rounded off the tasting. If you like your food, you will love the Black Swan.
Breakfast in the same room the following morning was also very pleasant, with the tables decently spaced apart to help what should always be the quietest meal of the day.
Have a coffee in the hotel’s lovely walled garden next to the village church. The garden also has a fairly recently added wooden summerhouse (open to the air and that pervasive Yorkshire rain, but heated).
History, tranquillity and a sybaritic experience all wrapped into one. What’s not to like?
Double rooms start at £115 per night B&B.
The Black Swan Hotel, Market Place, Helmsley, North Yorkshire YO62 5BJ, 01439 770 466, www.blackswan-helmsley.co.uk