Helmsley and Rievaulx Abbey – Short Break

The market town of Helmsley and the ruins of Rievaulx Abbey lie on the south western boundary of the North Yorkshire Moors. An ancient three mile footpath links the two, well-trodden by monks and townspeople many years ago, and popular now with visitors to the area.

Helmsley Castle overlooking the Town
Helmsley Castle overlooking the Town

After my recent Short Break in the seaside resorts of Scarborough and Whitby, I moved 30 miles inland from the Yorkshire Coast to the scenic Rye Valley.

Take care if approaching by car from the A1 as you will need to travel up the 25% incline of Sutton Bank, off limits to caravans. Stop at the car park at the top to take in the sweeping views across the Vale of York, before heading the final few miles into Helmsley.


The town gained a Borough Charter in 1191 establishing a market, which still flourishes today on Fridays. There is plenty to see on all days of the week, but the town centre can get quite busy on summer weekends. As a Senior you can probably choose a weekday visit, with definite advantages when booking accommodation – see below.

There are many attractive buildings around the market square with the River Rye gently flowing in the background. There are the usual collection of novelty shops, including one selling Whitby black jet jewellery, and a wide selection of coffee shops, restaurants and ice cream emporia.

Towering over the town are the remains of the Norman castle which, for me, is the highlight of the town. The site is managed by English Heritage and includes a hands-on exhibition in the mansion house. As usual, Seniors 60+ get a 10% discount on the entry charge, but consider taking out annual membership of English Heritage for a 25-30% discount; particularly worthwhile if also visiting Rievaulx Abbey, another English Heritage site.

Helmsley to Rievaulx Abbey

Footpath from Helmsley to Rievaulx with Wild Garlic
Footpath from Helmsley to Rievaulx with wild garlic

Rievaulx Abbey can be reached by a three mile footpath following the Cleveland Way National Trail; this starts in Helmsley. When I followed this route in early June, the banks at the side of the path were covered in wild flowers including masses of strongly smelling, wild garlic.

The walk is for the most part relatively easy, provided you take the inclines slowly. However, there is a steep set of rough steps down to a gully and then back up.

My return path followed the road out of Rievaulx passed Rievaulx Terrace and then on through the site of the deserted village of Griff, before re-joining the Cleveland Way.

Rievaulx Abbey

Rievaulx Abbey nestling beneath the Terrace
Rievaulx Abbey nestling beneath the Terrace

The Cistercian Abbey of Rievaulx was once one of the wealthiest monasteries in England thriving on mining and sheep rearing. It was dissolved by Henry VIII in 1538.

The well preserved ruins in all their Gothic splendour are now managed by English Heritage. Its peaceful setting in grassy parkland, with the River Rye flowing by, is perfect to relax and enjoy a picnic or some Yorkshire fare in the café.


Duncombe Hall is on the outskirts of Helmsley. The gardens and parkland are open to visitors during the spring and summer (not Saturdays), with a small charge and a 10% discount for Seniors.

Rievaulx Terrace provides spectacular views over the abbey grounds. These small landscaped gardens, containing a couple of temple follies, are managed by the National Trust.

Being on the edge of the North Yorkshire Moors National Park, you are well placed to explore the 500 square miles of attractive, but sometimes bleak, countryside. For refreshments on the way, I strongly recommend the 16th Century Lion Inn, perched in splendid isolation on Blakey Ridge.


You won’t find the large hotel chains represented in this area, but there are ancient inns and bed & breakfast establishments offering good accommodation, many in interesting settings. I stayed in a small inn in the centre of Helmsley booked through trivago. Rooms are more readily available during the week and considerably cheaper than at weekends.