If you’re looking for an interesting place to visit this summer, I can recommend Helmsley, a lovely historic market town in North Yorkshire. Hubcap and I recently had a splendid day out there, especially because as soon as we left arid, parched West Yorkshire and hit the Thirsk area, the countryside became refreshingly green and lush – so contrary to the weather maps we’d seen, the north of the county must have had substantially more rainfall than our neck of the woods. This was particularly good news for us because our first objective was Helmsley Walled Garden; formerly the garden for the nearby mansion Duncombe Park, it had fallen into disuse and dereliction after World War I, but was lovingly restored in the 1990’s as a site for therapeutic horticultural programmes. It was a great relief to see that the garden hadn’t been too badly affected by this summer’s terrible drought, and although we’d just missed the best time to see the wildflower areas, the six acres of herbaceous borders, herbs, fruits and vegetables, all overlooked by the picturesque ruins of Helmsley Castle, were truly glorious, as you can see from the pictures (view towards the wall planted with espalier fruit trees, Mick and monster rhubarb, and looking from the central walk towards the Vine House).
There's also a wonderful café in the old Vine House, where we lunched on coronation chicken salad and gorgeous gluten-free cakes (orange and polenta for me, and a chocolate brownie with cream for Hubcap); and a gift-shop/nursery with many unusual plants for sale, both of which are accessible free of charge. But we didn’t begrudge the £7.50 entrance fee for the grounds (free for under-16’s) - proceeds go towards maintaining the garden, we can go back as often as we like for a full calendar year without further charge, and it was excellent value for the three very enjoyable hours we spent there. What’s not to like?
After lunch we popped next door to Helmsley Castle, founded in the 12th century by Walter Espec. All that remains of the earliest castle are the massive earthworks (illustrated), whose original timber breastworks were replaced in stone from 1190 – 1200, with north and south barbicans added in the mid-13th century, while in the ownership of the de Roos family. Among the most impressive standing remains are those pictured: the West Tower, blown literally in half after the English Civil War, and the Old Hall, converted into a mansion in the Elizabethan period by Edward Manners, third earl of Rutland, and used as a residence by his descendants until the castle was acquired by the Duncombe family, who abandoned it in favour of their newly-built mansion in the adjacent park. The Old Hall contains some fine Tudor panelling and painted plaster frieze featuring the arms of the third Earl and his wife Isabel Holcroft, together with an interesting exhibition on the castle's history. Again, it's well worth the £7.50 admission fee (free to English Heritage members), and in combination with the garden, makes for a fascinating day's sight-seeing. Highly recommended!