Helmsley post lockdown

Living in Helmsley on the edge of the North York Moors, I’ve always been impressed by our many cafés, restaurants and tearooms. This is tearoom territory and visitors are drawn here by the prospect of eating something delicious just as much as the promise of delightful countryside. The town’s business owners have always risen to the challenge of delivering great hospitality with aplomb. 

 How have they fared with the consequences of the pandemic? The answer is, they have taken a huge hit financially, but Helmsley’s eateries are displaying grit in the face of adversity. It does, of course, help that many have outside space, in very pretty surroundings, and are well used to serving outdoors. This is dog country, after all. 

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 Take Mannion & Co. One warm August Sunday my boyfriend Ben and I settled ourselves at a table outside this much-loved little bistro café with his Labrador, Arlo, and enjoyed a wonderful brunch. If you’re looking for a twee afternoon tea, you won’t find it here. Mannion (or Mannion’s as it’s commonly known) does do scones, and tea, and extremely good they are, too. A more unusual menu best described as Yorkshire gourmet with Spanish, French and Italian influences has proved a great success. 

 Both suffering the after effects of a boozy and boisterous Saturday night barbecue in the nearby village of Hovingham, we were in need of some serious hangover food. I had Portobello mushrooms, Ben had Yorkshire rarebit with bacon and Arlo had a selection of various titbits fed under the table. My succulent mushrooms came with spring greens, hot Sriracha sauce and a perfectly fried hen’s egg. Combined with a frothy cappuccino it was just the cure for one too many Bellinis. 

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 People watching, it was clear from the crowds of people – and every different size and breed of dog – that businesses were doing a roaring weekend trade. Walking or cycling around the centre of Helmsley in June was a completely different experience. Out for my daily exercise, with the streets and marketplace eerily empty, it was as though some sort of zombie apocalypse had taken hold. Then, gradually as restrictions were lifted, the bikers returned, followed by cyclists, walkers and day trippers to the coast. 

 Now that things are feeling markedly more normal, it’s heartening to see our town’s cafés full again. Summer is on its way out, and soon the luxury of dining outside will be done. Everyone hopes that ongoing trade will sustain Ryedale’s hospitality industry. If recent scenes are an indicator, visitors will continue to be drawn to this market town like bees to purple heather.