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REVIEW | The Black Swan, Helmsley

I made myself a promise this year that I would make the effort to get out and explore more of my own country. Venturing North to see what the Yorkshire Moors had to offer was first on my list and with a map in hand, I headed to Helmsley.

Helmsley is a quaint market town, and the only market town in the Yorkshire Moors approximately an hour’s drive north of York itself. Containing a staggering 51 listed buildings, and hosting some beautiful architecture, quaint streets and shops, Helmsley was the idyllic setting for our weekend.

Our trip started at 8am on Friday from London and within four reasonably quick hours we found ourselves heading into the heart of the city of York. If you’re like me and have a love of shopping, particularly when there are discounts involved, then I recommend making a quick stop at the York Designer Outlet. Located on the outskirts of the city, this outlet has a great variety of high street and designer shops and some great bargains to be had. Conveniently,  you can also leave your car in the outlet carpark when you’ve finished and pick up the Park&Ride which takes you straight into the centre. As we only had a couple of hours to spend in York, we decided to drive into the City and parked at Castle Car Park (£2.50 for 2 hours) which is probably one of the most spectacular car parks I’ve ever parked in thanks to the City Wall, Clifford’s Tower and the York Castle Museum which surround it.

Our limited time in York meant that seeing York Minster Cathedral was top on our must-see list. After winding through little cobbled streets and making our way up the in-famous ‘The Shambles’ we arrived at the Cathedral. After a quick nosy at the stunning interior, we continued our trip and found ourselves tucking in to scones and tea at Betty’s Tea Room on Stonegate.  The actual tea room is located upstairs and we found it to be much quieter than its sister tea room in Helen’s Square which has a queue round the corner. After enjoying an indulgent afternoon tea we got back on the road and made the stunning drive North to Helmsley.

If you don’t believe me when I tell you that this was one of the most beautiful drives I’ve had the pleasure of doing, I challenge you to drive it yourself and report back. We took the A64 and the B1257 which I highly recommend as it takes you through the beautiful villages of Hovingham and Stonegrave and past the stunning Castle Howard, all of which are worth stopping for.

Arriving in Helmsley we were pleasantly surprised at how easy it was to find The Black Swan as it is literally in the centre of the village. A historic coaching inn with Tudor origins, The Black Swan is home to 45 charming rooms featuring old beams, nooks and crannies to explore and comfortable lounges with log fires throughout.  After parking up and carrying our belongings through to reception, we were swiftly checked in, given all the information we needed about dinner and breakfast and made our way straight to our room. The first thing that struck me about our room was size; hosting one of the largest beds I’ve ever had the pleasure of sleeping in, a plush sofa for relaxing on, a giant flat screen TV and a shower big enough for a party; it was perfect! Everything was immaculate and beautifully presented with thoughtful finishing touches throughout such as Molton Brown bath and shower goodies, tea coffee and biscuits (which to my delight were restocked daily) and big fluffy dressing gowns and slippers. No stone left unturned!

The foodies among you will not be disappointed either as The Black Swan is home to an acclaimed 3 AA rosette restaurant which offers menus utilising the best seasonal produce and ingredients that are sourced no less than 30 miles from the hotel wherever possible. On night one we dined from the tasting menu which included dishes featuring oysters (and some rather questionable oyster ice cream), duck liver, lamb and my personal favourite, sea bream. Before dinner, we were treated to canapés in the bar featuring the best and only crab donut I’ve ever had. On the second night, we tasted dishes from the A la Carte menu. After a shared started of Brawn with Scallop, my partner went for the steak whilst I opted for the Beef short rib. I was slightly disappointed that the desserts on the menu were the same from the tasting menu that we’d had the night before but fortunately I was incredibly full and the biscuits back at the room kept my sweet tooth satisfied. Everything was absolute perfection and tasted divine. There was also a large selection of drinks to choose from, and making sure I could write the most well-rounded review possible, I had to try the prosecco, the white wine, the red wine and the gin. Again, everything was first class.

People don’t go to the Black Swan just for the food though because with a hotel set in the Yorkshire Moors, there is no way you can stay without going for one of the picturesque walks that the Moors are famous for.  A personal highlight of the trip for me was making the 7 mile round trip from The Black Swan’s front door to visit the beautiful Rievaulx Abbey.  The walk starts as a gentle climb and provides sweeping views of Helmsley Town and Castle before dropping down into bluebell woods and finally reaching the tranquil village of Rievaulx and the jaw-dropping Abbey. On your return, you can either follow the same path back or complete the route by visiting Rievaulx Terrace and Griff Farm which are positioned high above the abbey, providing some spectacular views. Once you’ve finished, make sure you visit the Tea Room at The Black Swan, voted the ‘Top Tea Place 2010’, for some true indulgence or relax in the beautiful gardens with a glass of wine.

For a true taste of the countryside and everything British, a visit to The Black Swan, Helmsley is a must and I would not hesitate in returning.

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