With a 900 year old castle, a bird of prey centre and fantastic family friendly cafes and restaurants, the picturesque market town of Helmsley in the North York Moors National Park makes for an all around amazing family holiday.
We had a quick weekend staycation in Helmsley earlier this month at the lovely Honeysuckle cottage, and found plenty of family fun all within walking distance.
Our first port of call on our Helmsley weekend away was The National Centre for Birds of Prey, home to the largest collection of birds of prey in the north of England. We arrived just in time for a flying demonstration, something I would highly recommend. The handlers were very knowledgeable and shared information about the birds and conservation efforts with us. It was nice to be able to see the birds of prey fly free as elsewhere they were tethered or in cages.
My almost 6 year old Lily loved the entire demonstration, but her four year old brother Leo got a bit restless after about 15 minutes. He was fresh from a long (for a four year old) car ride which didn’t help.
As the seating for the demonstration is on benches, it was no problem for me to take Leo off for a bit of a run while Lily and her dad stayed to watch. I would suggest trying the demonstration even with younger toddlers as you can always leave if they get too fidgety.
After the demonstration we followed the ink stamp trail around the grounds, stopping to see the birds of prey along the way. We saw all sorts of birds from small barn owls to a sea eagle who looked like he might be able to have Leo for tea.
The cafe was closed for the season but we stopped in the shop on the way out to let the kids pick out some bird related goodies.
It was then time to check in to our home for the weekend, Honeysuckle Cottage. The cottage is just a five minute drive away from The National Centre for Birds of Prey (I reckon about 20 minutes on foot).
Honeysuckle Cottage is right at the edge of the town of Helmsley along the main street. The cottage was originally part of the Duncombe Park Estate and has some lovely features including beamed ceilings and a wood burning stove. The owners, Su and Richard, purchased the property 10 years ago and have remodeled it to be a clean and comfortable while maintaining its character and charm.
Su was there to meet us on arrival and give us a tour. We were also met by a bottle of Prosecco, biscuits for the kids, and fresh flowers on the table. Now that’s hospitality!
Honeysuckle Cottage is a two stories with the kitchen, dining/living room and bedroom on the ground floor (with two 2 foot 6 inch zip & link beds that can be made into a 5 foot double). On the first floor is a double bedroom with a 5 foot bed and a bathroom with a large bath with a shower.
The bedrooms are on two different levels, but the flight of stairs between them is very short. We ended up with an adult in each room as Leo woke up with a tummy ache at night. Tummy aches aside, we all had a very comfortable night’s sleep.
The kitchen comes equipped with everything you need to cook as well as a washing machine and dishwasher.
The back garden is amazing. I was surpised to find such a large garden at the back of a cottage. To top it off, you can see Helmsley Castle looming in the back ground. Even at the beginning of March it is a fantastic, relaxing space to sit and enjoy a drink on the table.
As Honeysuckle cottage is just a few doors away from both a butcher’s shop and a micro-brewery, it’s easy to imagine eating and enjoying a drink outdoors on a warm summer evening.
After unpacking having a quick play in the back yard, it was time for some hot chocolate and a grown up caffeine fix at the cozy Crema Coffee House just a five minute walk away. The staff were lovely and the kids got coloring books while they waited for what could only be described as decadent hot chocolate topped with whipped cream and marshmallows.
We decided to run off the sugar rush at Helmsley Recreation ground afterwords. It took us a bit to find as it is set away from the town centre down a foot path. The play area was small and at the edge of a busy football pitch. The equipment was a little tired looking, but the kids didn’t care. They swung, zipwired, and climbed to their heart’s content. They included playing at the park as one of their favourite activities of the weekend. In the summer there is also an open air pool next to the grounds but it was closed for the season during our visit.
At this point Leo was really flagging, so Bill took him back to the cottage while I introduced Lily to the joys of charity shopping. This backfired a bit as we are now the owners of the world’s most obnoxious barking alarm clock. On the plus side I now have a charity shop partner in crime!
The last outing for the day for the kids was dinner at the award-winning Scotts Fish and Chips. Now, I do like a good fish and chips, but I am not the resident expert being an American and all. However, Bill the Yorkshireman declared the fish and chips to be ‘absolutely top quality’ which from him is high praise indeed.
Both the kids and adult portions were good sized and the restaurant was tidy and welcoming while being relaxed enough to be a comfortable place to bring kids. They also offer gluten free options.
Bill got himself a visit to the Helmsley Brewing Company after dinner in preparation for the tour of the brewery he had booked for the next day.
Being a fan of real ale, I wasn’t going to miss nipping two doors down to visit The Helmsley Brewing Company. Owner and head brewer Kyle kindly gave up his Sunday morning to give me a tour of his brewery and shoot the breeze for a while about all things beer.
Kyle is, himself, as much as anything, an enthusiast and it became soon apparent that his business is a great source of both pleasure and pride for him. Rightly so too; his beers are balanced, superbly crafted and insanely drinkable fusions of English malts and hops with more adventurous New World and West Coast American notes. I had already taken time out of my busy parenting schedule to preemptively nip into the friendly brewery bar the night before to selflessly engage in some research and taste testing so that I would know what I was talking about. The IPA that I had was outstanding.
If you like traditional English beer with a contemporary twist, or you are a craft beer hipster looking to get back to good old fashioned English basics, you’ll love Helmsley Brewery beer.
After an all around fun packed day, what else was there to do but to relax in front of the fire?
The next morning while the kids feasted on Coco Pops the grownups had cheese and bread that I had picked up the day before at the Hunters of Helmsley deli. Charcoal cheese might be my new favourite thing!
After breakfast, it was finally time to visit Helmsley Castle. It was the kids first castle visit and certainly didn’t disappoint (although they were hoping to see a Queen!)
As a part of English Heritage, the castle was very well maintained and had some interactive bits for the kids including a dress up box. I would have liked to take the audio tour but the realist in me knew the kids weren’t up for following me around while I listened to ‘interesting facts’. Instead we explored kid style, meaning we just went wherever we wanted stopping to read plaques along the way.
Helmsley Castle is packed full of history as it transformed from a medieval fortress to a luxurious Tudor mansion, to a Civil War stronghold and finally a romantic Victorian ruin.
We couldn’t leave town without trying a scone at Porters Coffee Shop. We walked in to a roaring fire and took a seat in a giant sofa to enjoy our homemade treats. Porters Coffee Shop is both family and dog friendly, with a lovely patio area complete with a chiminea.
Everything was lovely but scones were hands down the nicest I’ve ever had. I will definitely be trying their gelato when we return in the summer!
Not only was our holiday in Helmsely great fun, it was also relaxing, which isn’t easy to come by on a family holiday! Everyone thoroughly enjoyed the weekend and we are already looking forward to our next visit!
We were invited to stay in Honeysuckle Cottage for the purpose of this review and Visit Helmsely arranged our tours and food.