Stepping into Helmsley is like stepping back 200-years. Its houses and shops are all built in this beautiful light stone that really brightens up the whole village. Although it’s a pretty small place, there’s a surprising amount to do here.
One of the reasons we were so keen to visit Helmsley, is it has so many tourist spots in such a short distance. On our radar for the day was Helmsley Castle, Helmsley Walled Gardens and the National Centre for Birds of Prey. All four of these were within easy walking distance, so we wanted to see if we could manage it.
It was really easy getting into Helmsley. Once you’ve dodged the cyclists on the A170 (coming from York), the village is easy to drive around. Road signs lead you straight to the long stay car park (Google Maps). This car park is right on the doorstep to Helmsley Castle, along the route of the Cleaveland Way. That means it can be quite busy, but there is an overflow car park a little further up.
It seems finding the car park was the easy part, paying for parking seemed a little trickier. There were two parking meters, one was out of the order and the other only accepted coins and contactless. The contactless, however, did not work. Sadly, because the car park is run by the local authority and not English Heritage, there was nothing they could do. So a short trek to the newsagents around the corner and one chocolate bar later, we’d finally paid the £5 for 6 hours of parking.
The Castle is actually quite picturesque. The main tower stands tall as you make your way towards the South Barbican entrance. One of the things that can make or break heritage sites like this is it’s information boards. I’d say Helmsley Castle’s were average. They gave some good information, but there were a few times we were looking at something with absolutely no idea what it was.
Inside the slightly “newer”, 16th-century Mansion house there was a two-floor display of artefacts that were found here. This was really interesting and we spent quite a bit of time reading about the Castle here. It actually played an important role in the civil war.
Including stopping for a picnic, we probably spent about 1 and a half to 2-hours at Helmsley Castle. We definitely could have spent longer here, but we wanted to head off and see a couple of other bits around Helmsley. I would definitely recommend coming to visit if you’re local or happen to be passing through Helmsley or visiting the local area.
Helmsley Walled Garden
In all honesty, a walled garden isn’t our usual cup of tea. From Helmsley Castle, you can see parts of Helmsley Walled Garden and you could see it was quite nice. We’d planned to go, so we went along anyway. It’s right next door to Helmsley Castle, so it wasn’t out of our way at all.
We only spent around 30-45 minutes here. Taking a slow walk around was really peaceful. The mixture of flowers, fruit trees and vegetables planted around looked wonderful and did actually make me want to start growing veg in our own garden, but we’ll see about that…
If you’re looking for a way to pass an hour or so, this could be a nice spot. If you’re really into your gardening and you can appreciate the work that goes into it and the design of the garden, then I’m sure you’d get a lot more out of it than we did. We just enjoyed the pretty colours, relaxing atmosphere and, to be honest, having a bit of a sit-down.
National Centre for Birds of Prey
Our third and final stop of the day was the National Centre for Birds of Prey. We Googled the location whilst sitting in Helmsley Walled Garden and found out it was only around a 25-minute walk. We decided to walk it instead of taking the car.
To get there, you end up walking back through the long stay car park, so this is a good time to drop off any bags/rubbish that you don’t want to carry with you.
So, off we went. After winding through quaint streets, we found ourselves on the long drive up to the Duncombe Park Estate. The National Centre for Birds of Prey sits right at the beginning of the estate and entrance to the estate is included in your ticket.
Because we’d already done quite a bit of walking and time was pressing on, we went straight into the National Centre for Birds of Prey. We’d seen that there was a 45-minute flying show at 14:00. We’d just missed that, but there was another at 16:15, so we only had to pass about an hour and a half. We quickly learnt that wouldn’t be an issue.
From the cutest little burrowing owl to the massive vultures, we were kept really engaged throughout the centre. Right in the centre, there’s an area with a small wooden fence with some of the birds of prey tethered up. This offered a much better opportunity for some pictures, compared to those behind the mesh fences.
Other than a short 15-minute sit down in the cafe to get a drink and look at some of the photos we’d taken, we spent the entire time looking through all the different aviaries. After our drinks break at around 16:00 we went searching for the flying zone. To say we’d spent an hour walking around, everything was actually really close together. It didn’t take us long to find the show at all.
We loved the show. It was fun and informative. After each bird was flown, the trainers had to take them away from the area whilst the next trainer came down with another bird. This broke the show up in a weird way. It may have just been us, but we enjoyed the show nonetheless. The birds fly so close to you, with one landing on a table right next to one of the visitors.
This is a place I would definitely recommend. It would be especially fun for children, I think, but adults will enjoy it, too.
Helmsley Three In One Day
I think fitting all three of these attractions into one day worked really well. It would be perfect if you’re trying to please a group who all had slightly different interests, although adding up the cost of all the attractions, you might not be able to justify it.
We had a pretty great day, but there is maybe one thing I would change. The National Centre for Birds of Prey has its own car park for visitors. I would maybe consider putting the NCBP first on the agenda, parking there, then walking down to the other attractions to save £5 on parking.