Helmsley is an idyllic market town at the edge of the North York Moors. Its picturesque stone buildings and beautiful rural setting are an attraction in themselves, but the town also boasts the English Heritage site of Helmsley Castle, and some lovely boutique accommodation such as the Feversham Arms, an old coaching Inn converted to a luxury hotel and spa. I stayed there a couple of years ago and it was a real treat.
At this time of year it’s all summer fruits, craft fairs, coffee shops and agricultural happenings. We saw several giant loads of hay making their way slowly through the market place off to frustrate a a few drivers who may well get stuck behind it on the winding narrow roads. This year ‘flaming June’ is actually a reality, and not just an old saying of obscure origin. The weather has been uncommonly good, and we headed off in my brother’s Mercedes convertible on the kind of a summer’s day, where it makes perfect sense to have a car where the roof comes down.
Helmsley walled garden has been around for 250 years and originally belonged to the castle estate but it had been neglected for many years until it was revived in the 1980’s as a visitor attraction and a place of healing and tranquility for those in need. It now has a Kitchen garden, apple orchard and lovely walks along colourful flower borders which are planted so that there are always plants and foliage of interest at any time of year. There are also chickens you can feed, as chicken watching is quite a therapeutic activity in itself. There are lots of old fashioned flowers which I love and a stunning wild flower meadow, the sight of which, with its petaled paintwork of poppies and daisies and cornflowers, is enough to raise the lowest mood.
There are secret doors and vegetable patches, and seats sprinkled about the garden so you can take the weight off your feet and just enjoy the view. I loved the Astrantia, a delicate old fashioned cottage flower and there were lots of sweet peas getting ready to spring into scented glory as the summer progresses.
There is a fantastic restaurant at the garden – the Vinehouse cafe – set within three Victorian Glass Houses, which is incredibly popular and is open seven days a week. The glass houses are strewn with real grape vines all along the roof, although everyone was sitting outside in the sunshine as it was such a nice day.
The food is first class – I had a most delicious goat’s cheese salad with wholemeal pita bread and slices of melon, and the menu features fresh seasonal produce from the kitchen garden every day. There were lots of summer cocktails on offer too, but even though it was tempting, a gin fizz in 27 degrees heat would have just sent me off to sleep!
There are plants for sale at the Plant Centre and the blacksmith’s crafts shop has decorative garden accessories for sale. You can even buy a cute caravan style bird box and for the children there is the Wendy house with a pastel coloured kitchen inside, which I would actually quite like recreated at adult size at home!
The Helmsley garden practices horticultural therapy and works with people to improve their mental and physical health through gardening. They also work with people with disabilities and those who are coping with the effects of depression, social isolation and long-term unemployment. It’s well known that working outside with nature can have a beneficial effect on our mental state, and that is one of the reasons why gardening is so perennially popular.
The Helmsley garden has an apple orchard which grows over 92 varieties of apples – far more than you would ever see in the supermarket. Some have great names like Dogsnout, Catshead and Flower of the Town. Every year the apples are harvested and many are pressed into delicious apple juice which is then sold to the public.
As you know apples have been around since the time of Adam and Eve and have their own folklore and stories. Did you know that apples float because they are 25% air? Or that in Ancient Greece tossing an apple to a girl was a proposal of marriage and catching it was a response of ‘yes’?
Helmsley walled garden is a delightful place to visit, nestled in the shadow of the medieval ruins of the old castle up on the hill. What’s more, if you buy a ticket once, you can reuse it again with no extra charge all year round, so why not pay a visit and make sure you support this lovely Yorkshire attraction.