Silver Travel is celebrating its third birthday and as its most prolific reviewer, I was treated to a couple of nights in the Black Swan in Helmsley. This is an area we always enjoy visiting, so I jumped at the opportunity. The maps came out and I began to plan.
It had been a cold and windy drive with temperatures barely climbing into double figures. We arrived tired, cold and jaded, not the best of starts. We parked in front of the hotel and then saw the council sign that parking was limited to ten minutes with no return within an hour. We drove to the car park at the back of the hotel and used the back entrance. It was a very long walk along what seemed like a never ending corridor with plenty of steps to reception.
Things then began to look up. We got a very warm welcome from the receptionist and someone arrived to take our suitcase to our room; much appreciated as we were on the second floor, with no lift.
We had been allocated a room in the front part of the hotel, the 400 year old coaching inn. This has great character with narrow, uneven corridors and creaking floorboards, as well as two flights of stairs.
Our room overlooked the back of the hotel rather than the Market Place. We didn’t need to check on fire escape, it was from our room. We’d be first out in the rare event of a fire.
It was a pleasant, comfortable room with magnolia walls, deep plum, dark purple and grey furnishings. With the curtains drawn, it was a warm and cosy room; almost too warm and we needed to turn down the radiator. Sloping ceilings added character and fortunately were high enough not to bump heads.
The bed was large – you could sleep a family in it – with a very comfortable mattress. We had two very good nights sleep, once we got rid of all the cushions. I’m afraid we didn’t adopt the bear left on the bed.
There was a two seater settee under the flat screen TV with a coffee table beside it. The dressing table doubled up as working area. Unfortunately this just has a stool to sit on and Michael’s legs didn’t fit in the hole, so it quickly became uncomfortable. There was free wi-fi to the room, although the internet was slow.
Lighting in the room was good and bedside lamps let us read in bed.
There was a large shelf for our suitcase and small wardrobe with hangers. The kettle, tea and coffee tray were hidden away in here. As well as the usual tea bags and sachets of instant coffee, there was real coffee and herbal tea bags plus two packets of biscuits. On the dressing table was a box of Black Swan Tea Company Cygnet Tea, but it wasn’t clear if this was to buy or to use.
The bathroom was excellent with a large bath if you wanted a soak, with had held and wall shower. The wall shower had plenty of power but was only shoulder height and I'm only average height. There was a good supply of toiletries, flannels, bath mats and large and very absorbent bath towels. There were lashings of hot water, once we worked out which way round the hot and cold taps were as they weren’t marked. The bathroom tiles can also be slippery with wet feet.
Having settled in, we went to explore the hotel with tea room, comfortable lounge with open log fire and bar on the ground floor, with Theakston’s bitter on draught. Unfortunately we were never around during the afternoon to sample what I have been told is an excellent afternoon tea.
The Gallery Restaurant is behind, with steps up into it. It is an attractive room with pale green walls and tables with crisp white table cloths and joy of joys, proper linen serviettes at breakfast time. We checked the evening menu but it was a bit too pretentious for our tastes. Instead we headed to the Royal Oak in the Market Place for a good honest steak pie.
Breakfasts are excellent with plenty of choice. We appreciated the selection of fresh fruit and yogurt to start with. Michael had the full Yorkshire both mornings; a big plateful with bacon, sausage, black pudding, fried egg, mushroom, tomato and baked beans. He felt it needed fried bread and asked for this next morning. Served with two pieces of crisp fried bread, this was perfection.
I had the York ham and Wensleydale cheese with poached eggs on the second morning, a tasty combination. I was also tempted by the Whitby kippers or smoked haddock and poached egg. You need to stop several nights to work you way through the different options on the menu. Breakfast is a meal to be eaten leisurely and enjoyed. Staff are good, attentive but not pushy.
Tea is made using proper tea leaves, a luxury these days and brewed up strong and tasty. It also came with a pot of hot water without us having to ask.
This is a very comfortable place to stop with great character. Guests were all in the Silver Traveller category. Before booking you do need to be aware that most of the hotel is not suitable for wheelchair users. Corridors are narrow with stairs and there are no lifts. There is level access to the tea room, lounge and bar but there are a couple of steps up into the restaurant. You can park outside the door by getting a permit from reception.
Room 1 was comfortable, but do check the door of the fire escape door is securely shut. It wasn’t when we arrived. We would have appreciated an arm chair as well as settee. The only way to watch TV was on the bed. Using the dressing table for working was uncomfortable.
Looking out at the back of the hotel, the room was quiet except on the second morning when a van arrived at 7.30am with deliveries for the kitchen below.
The Black Swan is given an AA 4* rating on the board outside and it certainly merits this. The hotel is expensive and issues already mentioned stop me from giving it more.
We enjoyed our stay and came back feeling refreshed. Helmsley is a great base to explore the North York Moors and there was more than enough to fill our days. It is on the list for a repeat visit.