The Best things to do in Helmsley
26 May 2022
Helmsley is a stunning ambassador for Yorkshire, with so many “Best Things to Do” that tourists usually find themselves wanting to stay a lot longer than planned. The Fairfax and Favor team fell so in love with the quintessential market town that we decided to throw a stand (store) into the mix and move in for good.
Since we launched, we have been hoping that our Fairfax and Favor store will be one of your Top Reasons to Visit Helmsley. But to be honest, we have quite a lot of competition here and we won’t be embarrassed if we lose out to treasures like Helmsley Castle, or Duncombe Park, or Rievaulx Abbey… or even the National Centre for Birds of Prey!
We have also put these attractions in a very helpful order: if you start at the beginning, and end at the end, you will have completed one large loop back to the centre of Helmsley itself.
Good for: haunting ruins, English Heritage, Civil War enthusiasts, hidden passageways, a wander in the mists or a picnic in the sunshine (season depending).
This castle has had many faces over the centuries. From a fearsome medieval fortress, it became a sumptuous Tudor Mansion, then a Civil War stronghold, and finally a stirring Victorian ruin. Whilst Helmsley Castle was largely destroyed in the aftermath of the English Civil War, it has been lovingly reclaimed by English Heritage and has a modern visitor centre, friendly and knowledgeable staff, a highly recommended audio guide, and interpretive exhibitions and objects within the surviving Tudor-style hall.
Our favourite part of any Helmsley Castle experience must be the bronzed archers posed and ready for battle outside, but most visitors come for the dramatic scenery and because this castle has an incredible view of nearby Dunmore Park. Be sure to bring a picnic if it is a sunny day.
Top Tips: It is worth bringing headphones for the highly recommended audio guide so that you can be hands free. There is a pay and display car park 20 metres from the entrance, but when that is full you will need to park in Helmsley market place.
Accessibility: Not very. There is full ground-level ramping, but due to the nature of a ruin much of the rest is rougher terrain, grass, and stairs. However, there is a virtual tour of the less accessible areas, a tactile model of the whole with braille text, and assistance dogs are welcome around the site (other dos on leads in the grounds only). And there are disabled toilets.
Fairfax & Favor Match: Helmsley Castle isn’t too far away from the main market in Helmsley, so you could get away with dressing for the sunshine! How about combining our new colourway Mango Suede Brancaster sandals and Finsbury cross-body bag… perhaps with a little white summer dress?
Good for: if you’re looking for a dramatic new Instagram pic/ if you despise Instagram and dream of standing on the banks of the river of history in real life/ if you’re sort of in the middle and would just like a nice walk to be honest. Also: unexpected LGBTQ+ history (check out Aelred of Rievaulx).
Did you know that in the Dissolution of the Monasteries Henry VIII destroyed or closed around 800 religious institutions in England, Wales, and Ireland, rendering them uninhabitable, stripping them of valuables, and even destroying their precious libraries?
At the time of its dissolution, Rievaulx Abbey was said to be made up of 72 buildings. Today, although in total ruins, the Abbey still manages to convey a powerful sense of weight and grandeur. If you like to explore, walk from Helmsley. It’s a wonderful path along part of the Cleveland Way, just under an hour if you amble, with views of forests and fields. The Abbey is gorgeous in the spring, but truly unforgettable if it snows and you’re up for a bit of stomping around.
We love a good English Heritage location. You get brilliant audio guides at Rievaulx Abbey, and the team who manage the location are top notch. Plus, the café has a wonderful view and is tasty without breaking the bank.
Top Tips: Be aware the team may try to upsell you English Heritage membership, but they’re so friendly you are unlikely to mind. Dogs on leads are welcome everywhere but at the café counter. There are a lot of picnic tables but the café is also, as we mentioned, marvellous.
Accessibility: The Abbey is technically disabled accessible but it can be a little difficult to get all the way in to some of it. However, nothing is too much trouble for the team so be sure to ask for help or advice. There are disabled and baby changing toilets.
Fairfax & Favor Match: Rievaulx covers quite a lot of ground, but then you’ll also be hoping for that striking Instagram shot… we suggest a cheeky pairing of the Alexandra trainer with jaguar and zebra haircalf, with a long, flowing dress and the Mango Sennowe belt clinched at the waist.
Good for: bold landscaping, counting sheep, the doric and ionic temple, the ‘yew tunnel’, “I’ve always wanted to see a secret garden”, rare insects and fungi.
Duncome Park house is an awe-inspiring Italianate baroque beast of a mansion that was begun in 1711. After WW1, the house lived for a brief period as a girl’s school, but in 1988 it was reclaimed as an elegant private house. Sadly, visiting inside the house itself is almost never possible, but you can still experience it via a screen in Victoria, Parade’s End, The Secret Garden, The Thirteenth Tale, or even Dad’s Army.
Besides, the extensive gardens and surrounds more than make up for not being able to enter the building itself. Not to be overdramatic, but this space was once described by historian Christopher Hussey as “perhaps the most spectacularly beautiful among English landscape conceptions of the 18th century”. Make of that what you will.
Map of Duncombe Park walks.
Duncombe Park is extremely close to Rievaulx Abbey. In fact, the Rievaulx Terrace was built in 1758 by Thomas Duncombe on land previously owned by Rievaulx Abbey. Thomas built two neo-classical temple ‘follies’ on this terrace, and even used tiles from the Abbey itself to pave one of the floors.
Be warned: both the Dionic and Ionic Temple are the sort of place that will make you wish you were wearing a long floaty dress and a fancy hat. They just have this effect.
Top Tips: Be sure to park at the Birds of Prey Centre, which is where you can buy your tickets. Due to the pandemic or events, the park is sometimes closed without warning. To avoid disappointment, do check their Facebook page which seems to hold the most up to date information. And keep any dogs on a lead, in case they decide to chase the unsuspecting livestock or fall into the ha-ha.
Accessibility: Guide dogs are welcome. The paths, however, are gravel, so pushchairs and wheelchairs are not possible.
Fairfax & Favor Match: Something about the park seems to create a special kind of super-mud when it rains, but luckily our Fairfax and Favor customers know that the Explorer is up for anything… and it just relaunched!
National Centre for Birds of Prey
Good for: animal lovers, thrill seekers, photographers, entertaining pre-teens (a difficult task at the best of times, and we won’t bother to try to guess what might entertain actual teenagers).
How often do you really get to see a bird of prey? Sure, when you’re on a long walk in the country somewhere and you spot a shadow circling you may spend a couple of minutes guessing, “Hawk? No… Maybe an eagle? Do we get eagles in England?” But how often will you really see this apex predator of the sky up close, and get to watch them in action? Pretty much never.
Luckily, the National Centre for Birds of Prey houses the largest collection of birds of prey in the north of England. The centre provides outstanding flying demonstrations, with the birds coming so close that sometimes the audience feels the need to duck out of the way. There is a reason why this experience is the Number One on TripAdvisor for Things to Do in Helmsley. Seeing the relationship between the birds and their handlers is said to be quite magical, and many of the birds are also a part of vital breeding projects.
They offer multiple experiences as well as their normal flying shows, including the chance to handle and fly some of the birds yourself. Hawks, owls, falcon and kites… you too can hold a shaky, gloved hand out in the awe-inspiring location of Duncombe Park and have a majestic bird of prey come to you.
Keep an eye out for the Burrowing Owl – it's the star of the show for the obvious reason that it is the most adorable!
Top Tips: You only really need to book if you would like to do the Raptor, Owl, or Hawk Experiences, as they do get booked up in advance. If you struggle to find a free space, see if you can get five other friends together as 6 people counts as a private booking. Children need to be 10 or over, and with a participating adult. Be sure to listen very carefully to instructions regarding how to interact with the birds.
Accessibility: Blue badge parking. Everything is pretty accessible with only a few displays found raised on a steeper section. There are accessible toilets. Most importantly, the staff will go above and beyond.
Fairfax & Favor Match: For the drama of a photo with the rulers of the sky, surely this is the perfect moment to whip out those Tan Suede Reginas! Combine them with the Jaguar haircalf Sennowe belt for a little extra texture, and the lucky few who caught a Jaguar haircalf limited edition tassel before they sold out can make it a matching set.
All Saints Church
Good for: The Viking “hogback” gravestone (we are not joking), storytelling wall murals, the Christmas tree festival, fans of extremely random glimpses into history, a peaceful moment.
The most common description given to this stunning church has to be that it is ‘peaceful’. And there are worse ways to end your Helmsley experience than with a little tranquillity and perhaps a little history.
All Saints Church stands just off the Helmsley marketplace (which happens to be where our Fairfax and Favor store is, hint hint), and nobody seems sure exactly when this spot was chosen for religious practices. Legend claims that St Aidan preached here in the 7th Century, and the church’s not-to-be-missed carved Viking gravestone proves some sort of 10th-century link. The early building itself was built in the Romanesque style and so the first architectural evidence we have is from the 12th century, but only two arches remain from that first church.
There are some truly wonderful painted murals on the walls, which tell the story of how Christianity came to Helmsley via paintings of trees where the branches are each diocese and parish.
Basically… the Church is a glorious hodgepodge of England’s history, and a very pretty one to boot.
Top Tips: There is no parking outside, but there is a pay and display in the market square very nearby, but you may need to park elsewhere on Fridays (market day). If you’re free around Christmas, don’t miss the Christmas tree festival where the church is filled with trees of all styles and décor. There is a Choral Evensong held on the first Sunday of every month.
Accessibility: There are a few stairs up to the church via the Lynch Gate and the outdoors can be slippery. There is however an accessible door and bathroom, and baby-changing facilities.
Fairfax & Favor Match: This gorgeous church has remained relevant despite the ages, so we feel it deserves modern elegance and subtlety. We love the idea of combining a pair of Thornham sandals in cornflower blue with a pair of white jeans and a Highbury clutch, also in cornflower blue.
But that’s not all…
We have included perhaps seventeen percent of our favourite things to do in Helmsley. What else would you like to know?
Options include: The Best Places to Eat, The Best Places to Stay, the Best “Secret” Experiences. Be sure to drop us a message if you have a blog request, or vote on our Club page.
And otherwise, do come and see the best things to do in Helmsley for yourself.