Ever imagined what it would be like to live in a picture postcard setting?
Helmsley in North Yorkshire is probably as close as you will ever come. It is stunningly beautiful with plenty to see, and all of it packed into a lovely little corner of picturesque England. What more could you want?
Well, we added in a relaxing stay at the Black Swan, which is a four-star hotel with five centuries of tradition behind it.
How could you not admire this stylish combination of top-notch restaurant, tea room, art gallery, Cygnet bar, cosy bedrooms and homely feel. And somehow it is all combined under one roof.
We arrived after a sweltering car journey from the North East to the warmest of Black Swan welcomes.
After dumping our bags - in a room with-a-spectacular-view over the market square - we went wandering. Not that we had far to go to start browsing.
The Black Swan is a perfect vantage point for the inquisitive traveller. It’s right in the middle of Helmsley and overlooks this village’s bustling heart.
Even after a few minutes of observation, it became clear this was a place where the world met. Bikers love it, so do walkers, families, pet owners and quite a substantial number of older visitors who want somewhere to marvel at, all the while knowing a refreshing resting point (cafe, pub, chip shop, tearoom) is never far away.
There’s loads to see, not least the plethora of gift shops, book shops, sweet shops, cafes, pubs and restaurants which seem to occupy every nook and cranny of this amazing little settlement.
Add to that little list a beautiful mix of stylish delis, bakeries and butchers.
In fact, if there is ever an award for the most trading outlets packed into one small space, Helmsley has to be a strong contender for the title.
Admittedly, it’s not the cheapest and it’s not a bad idea to bring a tidy sum with you, but it is worth it.
Helmsley is pristine clean and there’s even more to do once you venture beyond the immediate attractions.
Within a short walk there’s Helmsley Castle, while Duncombe Park is close by for the keen historian, or the five-acre walled garden for the horticulturalist.
The open air pool is the only one of its type in Yorkshire. There’s the National Centre for Birds of Prey close by, or Helmsley Arts Centre.
The secluded Feversham Arms and Verbena Spa is not far away for those wanting to pamper themselves.
And how about the English Heritage-run Rievaulx Abbey, just on Helmsley’s doorstep.
But Helmsley is no standalone attraction in these parts. We jumped back in the car and ventured to Kirkbymoorside and Pickering during our stay and found them just as rurally charming, both within 20 minutes drive.
Go on a Wednesday and Kirkbymoorside has a market with all sorts of edible goodies to savour.
Of course, all that browsing makes you hungry. And back at the Black Swan, the evening meal at The 3AA-rosette Gallery Restaurant is a treat.
By day, the venue is an art haven and home to the Helmsley Galleries. By night, it’s a restaurant and one which oozes style.
The options are mouth-watering.
We plumped for starters of leek and potato soup with truffle oil and chive.
My main was Corn Fed Chicken with Smoked Bacon, Potato Gnocchi, Spring Peas and a Morel Cream sauce while my wife chose Rump of Spring Lamb, Pomme Anna, Turnip, Yorkshire Salt Baked Kohlrabi and a Lamb Jus.
We dined like royalty and loved it, especially the admirable service from an attentive staff.
After a quick tour of Helmsley under a perfect summer’s evening sky, it was back to the room for a blissfully peaceful night’s sleep.
The next morning, we were ready for more and headed back to the Gallery for an excellent breakfast, tucking in to eggs benedict (poached egg, Yorkshire ham, English muffin and Hollandaise sauce) as well as Smoked Salmon with free range Scrambled Eggs – and the toast kept on flowing with plenty of jams to accompany it.
Alternatives included a selection of cereals and fruits such as the prunes and apricots in an Earl Grey syrup, or organic porridge oats with dates marinated in whisky.
There was time for one last look round the village before it was time to go. It’s one of those places where you don’t really want to leave, once you’ve settled in.
But the journey home beckoned – for now. A return trip to Helmsley seems very likely.