Helmsley is a market town and civil parish in the Ryedale district of North Yorkshire, England, historically part of the North Riding of Yorkshire. The town is situated on the River Wry at the end of the B1257. A picturesque route through the peaceful North York Moors National Park, the B1257 is 20 miles of meandering and undulating road, through breathtaking hills, valleys and forests towards the coast. Biker Magazine describes the B1257 on a sunny Bank Holiday as: 'better than the Isle of Man TT'.
Helmsley is a 'chocolate-box' Yorkshire town of considerable architectural character, whose centre has been designated as a conservation area. The town is associated with the Earls of Feversham, whose ancestral home Duncombe Park was built overlooking Helmsley Castle. The town is a popular tourist centre and has won gold medals in the Large Village category of Yorkshire in Bloom for three years.
The settlement grew around its position at a road junction and river crossing point, which makes it a likely place to see an accident. Helmsley has retained its medieval layout around the marketplace, with more recent development to the north and south of its main thoroughfare, so traffic can get past the gathered Hondas and Kawasakis.
Archaeological discoveries indicate that the area around Helmsley was first settled around 3,000 BC. Communities existed here throughout the Neolithic, Bronze and Iron Ages and into Roman times. Helmsley Design Statement Working Group confirm evidence of high-speed Equine accidents at the junction dating back to the Iron Age. There are also finds of Roman crash helmets and a second century Roman burger van.
By the beginning of the 17th century, the form of Helmsley was largely complete, and many modern buildings date from this period. The town was initially owned by William the Conquerer's half-Brother, then to his heir, the Baron of Ducati. Ducati sold the town to Charles Duncombe (Lord Mayor of the City of London) in about 1689.
On 30 June 2011, the BBC2 programme History Cold Case featured an archaeological forensic investigation into four 2,000-year-old skeletons found in Ryedale Windy Pits caves, concluding that at least one had been the victim of scalping. The findings were revealed at Duncombe Park, to local history experts. The presentation included a facial reconstruction of the victim, described as a male in his fifties, wearing tight leather trousers and jacket at the time of death. Also at a nearby location a similarly aged chequered flag was uncovered, the oldest on record.
The population of Helmsley was recorded by the 2001 Census during a summer bank holiday as being 3,097. North Yorkshire County Council, however, said that the population was closer to 1,500 on a rainy Wednesday in February.
Helmsley's demographic is eclectic. Residents are a mix of professionals, such as neurosurgeons, orthopedic specialists, physiotherapists, insurance brokers and psychologists; and Teesside's turbocharged industrial middle-management, whose obsession with the B1257 has not left them since rolling a stolen Golf GTi there in 1984.
The town is friendly and the open conversation revolves around Yorkshire lifestyle and living. Helmsley residents often compare injuries and bike damage from a poor tyre choice, or vent frustration of discovering the new toaster lacks a setting for panini. Fortunately, the bustling marketplace can fill any lack, from paninis to panniers.
Helmsley is situated on the southern boundary of the North York Moors National Park, approximately 200ft above sea level. The town lies in a hollow in undulating open countryside, flanked by heather moor to the north and the rolling farmland of the Howardian Hills to the south. The approach roads are quite a different experience. Heading south, they are fast, flowing and open with rather adrenaline-surging blind summits; whereas northwards, crests are much more pronounced (enough to get air between both wheels a few times) and some corners are a little hard to call at speed, but great fun so long as one does not push like a lunatic.
Culture, media and sport
During the summer months, Helmsely is the focus of the Yorkshire TT, which takes place every dry summer day, and on bank holidays even when eyes are moist. It is an unfunded, unofficial, unpoliced event where all the racers are enthusiastic amateurs. The TT runs 50 miles from the town to Kirkbymoorside to Stokesley, then back to Helmsley.
No other circuit in the world compares to the 50-mile course, with its never-ending bends, bumps, jumps, stone walls, manhole covers and antique furniture outside tea shops. With speeds of up to 200mph, followed by blind hairpins and into the back end of crawling farm machinery, the Helmsley TT can render the most seasoned veterans rigid with fear.
As you leave Helmsley's pretty market square, the course is relatively easy, with a couple of slow sweeping turns and a grippy mini-roundabout at the Church of all Saints, which is mentioned in the Doomsday Book. Helmsley then gives a taste of things to come. As the rider (and his wife, riding pillion) approaches the pub on the right, they are launched into the air. From this point, bends tighten and crests become more aggressive. The terrain changes as well. After Chopgate village, getting airborne is possible by merely overtaking caravans on a blind crest.
People can spectate from both sides of the road but viewing is best from the Churchyard if they don't want to risk losing their head. The high-speed section at the ancient and beautiful Rievaulx Abbey has good facilities and is also a radio commentary point. As well as being able to view from the roadside entrance, the public are also permitted to spectate from behind the small wall up to the wooden fence, provided they have reasonably quick reactions. Another popular spot is in the wooded area above for a view of riders taking a break in the layby to empty their stomachs or file for divorce.
The B1257 has many panoramic picnic areas where the public can enjoy locally made sandwiches and ice cream watching, free of charge, Middlesborough's senior foremen and safety officers pull huge wheelies, as they miss judge the steep crest and end up in Fangdale Beck.
Helmsley Arts Centre has a 140-seat auditorium and 40-seat studio/exhibition space with wheelchair access. It provides live screenings from London West End shows, live music, theatre performances and art exhibitions. The Arts Centre also conducts many craft-workshops including molding plaster of Paris, jewellery making from tail-lights, switches and carbon fibre, elementary first-aid and crowd handling.
During the busy summer months the Arts Centre provides free daytime performances of The Nutcracker, as well as a therapeutic five day basket-weaving course, sponsored by the NHS. As a spin-off from the Arts Centre, Helmsley has an exceptional number of high-spec jewellery, art and gift shops, giving the visitor a good chance of finding the perfect replacement engine part.
Cafe and food culture
Hundreds of motorcycists often gather in the town square, looking pale, wide-eyed and shaking with fear and adrenaline after completing Yorkshire's “Kessel Run”. Helmsley provides a perfect sanctuary for contemplation on their new perspective of 'life on the edge'. Cowed and pacified by the mighty B1257, bikers are considered harmless by townsfolk, as they sit silently on a bench, dribbling Victoria sponge cake into their helmet.
With a plethora of pretty tea and cake shops available to those in an extreme state of mind, those of a greater constitution can visit the famous Hunters of Helmsley delicatessen. Hunters sells everything a normal delicatessen sells, but are unique in their desire to put 'Yorkshire' in front of every product name. You can get a wide variety of top quality food including bags of Yorkshire salt and vinegar crisps, locally sourced Yorkshire Lancashire Hot Pot, and even a few bottles of draft Yorkshire Yorkshire Bitter.
Tourism plays an important role in the area's economy. The national park receives around 9 million day-visits each year. Day visitors make up 40%, with people staying within the park making up 31% and people arriving on stretchers from outside the park making up 29% after giving it 120% on the B1257. The town has many antique shops and fine art traders. It has a quaint arcade with country clothing outlets and local gift shops.
The town has several pubs, including the Crown and the Feathers on the market square. The Black Swan offers award winning food as well as somewhere to lie down, and the Feversham Arms offers half-price fine dining and afternoon tea to anyone setting a decent lap time.
There is a glamping site for those currently unable to put up a tent and each plot has a personal hot tub available for customers wishing to relax or progress their hydrotherapy.
Helmsley has many charity shops that have become famous for selling only the best quality designer clothing. The shop owners and staff are very accommodating and willing to share their expertise on bloodstain removal and repair. Alongside clothing, books, doilies and painted porcelain cats, second hand hands and other high-quality replacement human appendages are also on sale for a bargain price, making it a great way for the disabled to support the disabled.
Helmsley also boasts some of the most successful florists in Yorkshire, specialising in arrangements of pretty, but rugged flowers designed for the roadside. Chop Gate village is often mistakenly awarded the annual "Village in Bloom" despite the residents, quite understandably, not being into flowers as their significance is somewhat different in the locality. The fruit and veg shop often expects to sell several hundred kilos of grapes, a couple of days after an unexpected sudden downpour.
Helmsley was voted top 20 of best rural places to live in Britain in 2015 and 2016 by the Sunday Times. With its famous delicatessen, funky Arts Centre, pretty gift shops, and abundance of middle-aged couples dressed as Carl Fogarty, Helmsley represents the Sunday Times reader's Disneyland.
In March 2015, Hunters of Helmsley was voted “Most Yorkshire Delicatessen in Yorkshire”.
Helmsley also had recognition for being Sportsbike's “number one perfect place to relax, after the most lethal and insane eighteen minutes of your life.”
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