You wait for ages for a decent hotel in a lovely little market town in North Yorkshire, then two come along at once…
Actually, that’s a little misleading as the Feversham Arms Hotel and the Black Swan Hotel are officially sisters. However, as you might expect from two related hotels some 400 yards apart, stylistically they are very different albeit while maintaining similar high standards for warmth, friendliness and culinary ability. Perhaps “half-sister” hotels is more accurate…
The Black Swan is the more “traditional” location, and its market place setting overlooks much of Helmsley’s town centre. And it’s a very “handsome” town, with shops that hint of the moderate wealth of the region – very smart clothing, delis, antiques – and a quite remarkable number of cafes. Seriously, you could spend a week in Helmsley, visit somewhere different for lunch and breakfast every day and still not cover them all.
The hotel itself sprawls across a variety of ages. The central building, the old Tudor coaching inn, dates back over 500 years, although over time it’s absorbed neighbouring buildings (and spawned a more modern extension to the rear), resulting in the charmingly higgledy-piggledy, low-beamed interior and an impressive 45 bedrooms. Decoration is traditional but comfortable, with lots of wood, big sofas and the sort of armchairs that lend themselves well to post- cream tea and supper naps.
The bedrooms too are classically cosy – even in the modern “wing”, where most of the rooms are now located. Big beds, relaxing walls, and occasional flashes of colour are the defining qualities, making for a soothing, comfortable stay.
Facilities are a little limited – historical buildings and all that – but the modern extension has helped create a walled garden within the property, and those seeking spa and pool-themed fun can use the facilities at The Feversham Arms. There is, however, a gun room as, unsurprisingly, the region and the hotel are popular with shooting parties.
As for the food… don’t let that Tudor (and then some) exterior fool you. Three AA Rosettes are always reasonable evidence of talent and ambition and, while there’s a hint of smart gastropub to some of the dishes to be found in the Gallery Restaurant – know your audience, after all – there are some fine twists, tweaks and sourcing to be found too. After all, if you’re going to offer a rib eye, why not aim for a 48-day aged hunk of Galloway? Similarly if you have access to Yorkshire ham, Whitby crab and sole, why wouldn’t you use them? The same logic most definitely applies to the local beers that add depth and brilliance to stand out dessert, Sticky Date and Stout Pudding with Black Sheep Ice Cream. Prices are a little spendy but then the quality of the ingredients and the calibre of cooking go some way to justify them.
With plenty to do in the area – castles, National Trust properties, an abbey are a short drive, while the National Centre for Birds of Prey is a short stroll – The Black Swan is a fine, relaxing base to explore a very pretty part of the UK.
Black Swan at Helmsley