Helmsley is a very pretty town and lies close to the heart of the 500 square mile North York Moors National Park. There are lots of upmarket gift shops, clothing and jewellery outlets, galleries, quaint cafés, and a lovely atmosphere. You are regularly reminded that you are in a rural community as tractors frequently drive through the streets, and the shopkeepers really go to an effort to ensure the place looks beautiful with lots of colour from hanging baskets and window boxes. After exploring the town centre, we went for a wander past Helsmsley Castle and towards Helmsley Walled Garden which was built back in 1758 to provide fruit, vegetables and flowers for the Feversham family. Here you will find a vibrant planting scheme offers a wonderful spectacle of flowers and colour. The garden covers 5 acres and there is a shop on site should you wish to take a few samples home with you. It was then back to The Black Swan for afternoon tea, voted ‘Tearoom of Excellence’ in 2013 for the third consecutive year, and ‘Top Tea Place 2010’, where there are 20 types of tea on the menu. As you can see, afternoon tea here is quite a treat! Pictured here you can see (from left to right); top: banoffee pie, lemon posset with raspberry coulis, chocolate and white chocolate layer cake, rose and strawberry macaroon; bottom: egg mayonnaise sandwich, smoked salmon and cucumber sandwich, avocado, brie and sunblushed tomato sandwich, ham and cream cheese sandwich. And of course afternoon tea wouldn’t be complete without a couple of scones, too! Knowing that we had a 6-course dinner ahead of us in the evening, we’d skipped lunch and had an afternoon tea between us (rather than one each) and then chose to run off the calories in anticipation, with a jog to Rievaulx Abbey and beyond, and back. As well as this beautiful former Cistercian abbey, there are lots of other things to see and do in the area. Nearby is the 18th Century mansion and landscaped gardens of Dunscombe Park, the International Centre for Birds of Prey, Castle Howard at Hovingham, Malton Museum and Rydale Museum to mention a few. Pickering is worth a visit if you’re a railway enthusiast and places such as Thirsk, Whitby and York are within a short drive. For those who enjoy the outdoors, there is clay pigeon shooting and a very popular shooting season. Just half an hour away is Dalby Forest – great for any keen cyclists wanting to explore the route of the UCI Cross Country World Mountain Bike Championship. After our run, we went to the garden for a little liquid refreshment and took the opportunity to delay our dining time by an hour. The gardens are at the rear of the hotel, very secluded and open to residents. Once evening came, it was time for the formal 6-course dinner and we opted also for the optional beverage pairing. I’m going to let the food do the talking here – that, I think it’s fair to say, is the highlight of any stay at The Black Swan – and simply let you browse the descriptions and photographs. Our favourite was the lamb but, for the full experience, you need to go and enjoy a meal there for yourself. Gazpacho??!! – Tomato Consommé, Pepper Confetti, Black Olive, Cucumber, Jerez Vinegar Paired with Greco – Feudo Dei Barone, Calabria 2011 Piggy in a Garden – Pressing of Local Ham Hock, Black Pudding, Baby Vegetables, Quails Egg, Soft Herbs Paired with Riesling – Kreuznacher, Nahe, Germany 2011 Sea Bream Pan Fried, Parmesan Gnocchi, Chervil, Samphire, Baby Leeks, Smoked Chicken Paired with Pinot Gris Rose – Saint Clair, Marlborough 2012 Waterford House Farm Lamb – Rump and Shoulder, Artichoke, Cabbage, Wild Mushroom, Date, Rosemary Paired with St Chinian Gerard Bertrand, Southern France 2010 Pistachio – Flavours and Textures of Pistachio, Cherry Sorbet, Olive Oil Paired with Black Muscat Quady Winery, California 2011 We passed on the cheese course at the end – apparently around 50% of diners do – feeling more than content with what we had already had. The 50% that are able to continue on may be interested to know that, from September, The Black Swan will be offering a new 10 course tasting menu.We had called in at The Black Swan on our last visit to Helmsley – just for a drink – but on a recent visit to this market town had the opportunity to both stay and dine there. There is no mistaking this historic coaching inn at one end of Helmsley’s market place – it is such a distinctive building that the words ‘Black’ and ‘Swan’ need not even feature on the signage. The building has a rich history with elements from Tudor, Eizabethan and Georgian times, but today it has been transformed into a boutique hotel with more than 40 rooms, a restaurant and thriving tearooms. We were staying in Room 43 – a superior room towards the rear of the building. The room was brightly – but tastefully – decorated, with an old style (working!) telephone at the bedside, TV, tea and coffee making facilities, en suite bathroom with Molton Brown toiletries, and ample space to accommodate a sofa and writing desk. This was our wedding anniversary so it was a nice touch to also find a card to recognise the occasion. A highlight of any stay at The Black Swan is the food and so we dined there on two evenings – once enjoying the Daily Dinner Menu and on another night the 6-course Tasting Menu. They suggest you allow at least 2 hours for the latter – but we would recommend at least 3 – and a very light lunch earlier in the day is most definitely in order, too! For those looking for something simpler and a little less formal, there is the option to choose from the Market Menu. The restaurant holds 2 AA Rosettes and is led by Australian-born Head Chef Paul Peters. Pictured here is the Waterford House Farm Beef – beef sirloin, pearl barley, watercress, horseradish, trompette mushrooms, black garlic and a red wine just – to give you an idea of the quality of the dishes and presentation, but I’ll return to the food shortly.
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