And another two-quid trundle, thanks to the 31X York to Helmsley bus and folding bike. This one featured a mighty ruined abbey, a Michelin-star restaurant, and a local brewery-bar gem. Star quality for all budgets, from £175 tasting menus down to £1.55 pork pies. You can probably guess which end I’m at.
The run up from York is lovely, especially north of Easingwold: you run up and down the edge of the North York Moors and get pleasant glimpses of handsome villages such as Husthwaite and Wass, and of Ampleforth College. You also see the White Horse of Kilburn, which I cycled to in a previous post. For me today it was more of a grey horse: the bus windows were due a wash.
That 31X has a limited service – it’s really a school-run bus – but I had plenty of time to explore between arriving at Helmsley’s splendid market square at half eleven and getting my return at four.
Well, I say market square. Like most Yorkshire towns it’s actually a car park.
The first box on the tick-list was the Star Inn at Harome, a village a couple of miles southeast. The restaurant there is one of Britain’s most notable fine-dining experiences. It’s earned a star from the Michelin man, who stands there pneumatically in one of the classy, characterful eating spaces.
The Star was devastated by fire in 2021, and reopened in November 2022 after a great deal of challenging restoration. Some tough old oak timbers are still there, despite being burnt: ‘they’re like rock’, said Nicola, who showed me round. Most of the plasterwork, drenched by fire brigade hoses, has dried out, but there are still some stained areas that haven’t desiccated fully yet.
A feature of the restored furniture is the mascot of Robert Thompson’s Kilburn workshop: figures of mice carved into the woodwork. One wonders how many unwitting diners have been spooked by the comments of fellow eaters that there are mice everywhere.
The food is, of course, ultra-high-class, brilliantly conceived, locally-sourced, superbly prepared, and doesn’t come cheap, though your PA probably will take care of the payment stuff.
For those of us on slightly smaller budgets – £2.50 rather than £250 per head, for instance – there’s the ever-reliable Thomas the Baker in Helmsley square (I had a pork pie and chocolate flapjack which may not have earned a Michelin star, but I don’t need a sausage roll that corners well).
But you can enjoy the Star without the formal dining experience, and at more familiar prices. The pub part of the restaurant is a delight, a Yorkshire-flavoured bar with superbly-kept Black Sheep cask ale, reading matter that stretches via the Yorkshire Post from the Shooting Times to the Beano, and well-curated decor celebrating the county’s illustrious cricket heritage. They also (usually) do bar food, a cut above your normal gastropub, and their knives are clearly very sharp.
After a pint of nicely-conditioned Black Sheep Respire (4%, citrussy IPA-style; light, zingy, fresh, well-bodied and impeccably kept, so not like me; but well-balanced with a hint of fudge, so a bit like me) I headed back to Helmsley and on to Rievaulx Abbey.
The Cistercian masterpiece was one of England’s grandest abbeys until 1538, when Henry VIII did his own version of Brexit. Now it’s a mighty shell that dominates the quiet pocket of flat land by the River Rye, surrounded by hills.
It’s also £18 to get in, which would have got me a rather nice meal back in the Star Inn. So I made do with admiring it from the lanes that run through Rievalux village and back up the steep hill to the main road back to Helmsley.
After a quick jaunt to Duncombe Park by the edge of town – a grand stately home and grounds that has the national Birds of Prey centre, alas closed today – I still had an hour before my bus back.
Hmm – I cycled past the Helmsley Brewery, a small but perfectly formed operation with its own on-premises pub. Obviously I was wary about having a pint, as it would be a ninety-minute journey back home without a loo on board.
Then I saw that a pint of Yorkshire Legend was £3.50, so I stopped being wary. And enjoyed sipping one in the convivial bar. It had been a well-starred day.