Helmsley Castle an atmospheric ruin in North Yorkshire

An atmospheric ruin Helmsley Castle North Yorkshire was built in the 12th century By Walter Espec. In 1120 Walter built a timber structure. It may have been the site of an earlier castle that was erected after the Norman conquest of 1066.

This castle would have been a ringwork fortification with an earthen ditch and bank topped by a timber palisade. This may have been constructed in an attempt to protect the lands of Helmsley from William the Conqueror’s ‘Harrying of the North in 1069’.

Helmsley Castle an atmospheric ruin in North Yorkshire

The impressive ruins of Helmsley Yorkshire that stands today are all that remains of the stone castle built by Robert de Roos after 1186 which replaced the original timber, Helmsley Castle. Walter Espec also founded Rievaulx Abbey and Kirkham Priory.

Helmsley Castle an atmospheric ruin in North Yorkshire

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Where is Helmsley Castle?

Helmsley Castle and Gardens are located in the historic market town of Helmsley, on the edge of the Yorkshire Moors in Rydale around 50 minutes from the City of York.

Helmsley Castle is on Castlegate, just off the marketplace in the centre of Helmsley. There is a large pay and display car park and English Heritage members are, given free entry to the castle.

Helmsley Castle an atmospheric ruin in North Yorkshire

What are Helmsley Castle opening times?

Helmsley Castle is open all week from 10 am until 6 pm and from November 28th the Castle is only open Friday, Saturday and Sundays.

What is the cost of tickets to Helmsley Castle?

Tickets to visit Helmsley Castle cost per adult £9.00 and you can purchase them online at English Heritage.

Who owns Helmsley castle?

The castle is still legally owned by the Feversham family of Duncombe Park but is cared for by English Heritage. 

The Barbican at Helmsley Castle in stone with iron figures of archers in front of the gates. You can see the tower just over the stone walls.

Is Helmsley castle haunted?

Yes, there are several legends of haunting at Helmsley which you can read about further down.

Helmsley castle history

The first castle at Helmsley in North Yorkshire England was built sometime after 1120. This ringwork-style castle was surrounded by two earthwork ditches and the Castles rectangular shape was a result of the limestone outcrop it was built on.

Helmsley Castle an atmospheric ruin in North Yorkshire

When Walter Espec died in 1154, Helmsley Castle was passed to Peter de Ros, the husband of his sister Adelina. It wasn’t until 30 years later that his grandson Robert rebuilt Helmsley Castle using stone.

Robert had the inner bank levelled and replaced with a stone curtain wall. Two towers were built on the east and west portions of the wall but there was no central keep.

Ditch that used to surround the Helmsley Castle in Yorkshire with the remains of the ancient stone bridge to get to the castle

Robert’s son took over Helmsley when Robert dies and left it much as his father built it. He did build a new chapel within the inner bailey which was consecrated in 1246.

William’s son made additions to the castle during the late 13th century which included the barbicans and he remodelled the South Gate.

He also added domestic buildings and accommodations, for his men at arms. He raised the East Tower by a story with angled turrets and built new rooms for the family including a grand hall and kitchen.

The de Ros family owned Helmsley until 1478 when it was sold to the Duke of Gloucester and the future King of England Richard III. When Richard died at the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485 the Castle reverted back to the de Ros family.

The castle then passed by marriage to the Manners family. Thomas Manners was created Earl of Rutland in 1525. His grandson, Edward, the 3rd Earl, made major changes in the middle years of the 16th century, altering the old hall to a Tudor house now called the West Range.

Helmsley Castle an atmospheric ruin in North Yorkshire

Helmsley Castle did not serve any apparent defence for the North until the English Civil War in the 17th century. At this time the castle served as a garrison for the King.

Between 1642 and 1651, armies loyal to King Charles I and Parliament faced off in three civil wars over longstanding disputes about religious freedom and how the “three kingdoms” of England, Scotland and Ireland should be governed

Helmsley Castle was besieged in 1644 by Parliamentarian forces under Sir Thomas Fairfax. The Castle held out for 3 months but the lack of food forced a surrender. The troops were offered a chance to live if they joined the Parliamentarian army.

Helmsley Castle an atmospheric ruin in North Yorkshire

Sir Thomas Fairfax was told to destroy Helmsley Castle and tore down the East Tower where it fell into the ditch and still lies there today. Only the Tudor house converted from the West Tower survived but it was abandoned in the 18th century.

Interestingly Sir Thomas Fairfax’s daughter married Fairfax’s son and so Helmsley Castle remained in the family so to speak. In 1687 the castle was sold to Charles Duncombe and the family built a large house in the nearby Duncombe Park, leaving Helmsley Castle to fall into ruin.

The castle is owned by the Feversham family of Duncombe Park but is cared for by English Heritage. The Cleveland Way National Trail passes near the site and leads to Rievaulx Abbey, about four miles away.

What to see at Helmsley Castle

The major highlights at Helmsley Castle include the Tudor Mansion and its displays, the ruined east tower and the incredible dry moat. 

Helmsley Castle an atmospheric ruin in North Yorkshire

The West Range

This extraordinary Tudor residence was built between 1563 and 1587 by the Manners family. The interior of the house has large mullioned windows, oak panelling and some finely detailed plasterwork.

Helmsley Castle an atmospheric ruin in North Yorkshire

The Lord’s private apartments are replete with incredible panelling, a stunning fireplace with an overmantel and painted friezes.

Helmsley Castle an atmospheric ruin in North Yorkshire

Inside the house, you will find an exhibition that tells the story of Helmsley and the Civil War siege. You will see swords, daggers, arrowheads, cannonballs and a massive unexploded bomb and the Chatelaines Keys to Helmsley.

Helmsley Castle an atmospheric ruin in North Yorkshire

Helmsley Archaeology Store

If you are interested in seeing the archaeological finds from Yorkshire and in particular Helmsley Castle you can take a free guided tour of the Helmsley Archaeology Store which holds the extensive archaeological collections and paper-based archives from English Heritage guardianship sites from the North of England including the counties of Northumberland, County Durham, Cumbria, Lancashire, Yorkshire, North Lincolnshire, Cheshire.

Helmsley Castle an atmospheric ruin in North Yorkshire

The range of collections spans English history from Prehistory to the modern day, from flint, and architectural stonework to ceramics and small artefacts.

The collections may be accessed by researchers by appointment, please contact the Curator on 01439 770008. 

Helmsley Castle an atmospheric ruin in North Yorkshire

Bailey and East Tower

In the 12th century, the double bailey was combined into one and the East Tower was heightened to serve as a focal point for the Castle. Historians believe that the East Tower might have been heightened for the visit of King Edward III who stayed at Helmsley for 45 days in 1333. 

Helmsley Castle an atmospheric ruin in North Yorkshire

Ghosts of Helmsley Castle

Legends of Helmsley Castle talk of a haunting by a soldier who died of starvation at the Castle during the siege of the Civil War. They also tell of the ghost of the Green Lady who has been seen both outside and inside the Castle. Nobody seems to know however who or why the Green Lady is haunting Helmsley.

Then there are the weird pixie-like creatures wandering the castle grounds, as well as the surrounding countryside that locals talk about in hushed voices.

Helmsley is a Yorkshire Market Town that I simply had to visit repeatedly I loved its quirky ambience the lovely town square and the one of a kind shops that you can find up and down the small cobbled streets.

Helmsley Castle an atmospheric ruin in North Yorkshire

Where to stay in Helmsley

A must is a meal at the Black Swan Pub once the main stop off for weary travellers on a stagecoach route linking Leeds to York, The Black Swan dates back to the 15th century. With an Elizabethan building on one end, a Tudor one to the other and a Georgian House in the middle, the Black Swan is wonderfully higgledly-piggledy, with bags of character.

You can also book a stay at the Black Swan just watch out for the ghosts. Book your stay here.

Helmsley Castle an atmospheric ruin in North Yorkshire

The Feathers opened for business early in 1959 having previously been two private houses, both owned by the local Duncombe Park Estate and each with very different, but equally fascinating, histories. The Feathers offers great dining and their Chefs concentrate on locally sourced ingredients. You can dine in the pub or the dining room and then rest upstairs in the gorgeous boutique rooms.

Book your stay at The Feathers here.

Helmsley Castle an atmospheric ruin in North Yorkshire

The Feversham Arms has a long history of hospitality, stretching back over 150 years. It exquisitely blends the traditional comforts of its Victorian heritage with an irresistible boutique design.

Originally an old coaching inn, the hotel was rebuilt and renamed in 1855 by the Earl of Feversham on the site of an older hostelry. It was previously known as The Guest House, The Board Inn and latterly The Bay Horse where beer and candles were made for sale.

In 1967 the hotel was bought by Charrington’s Brewery before being bought by Mr. and Mrs. de Aragues in 1977. The de Aragues then purchased the three cottages to extend the hotel and added the swimming pool and gardens. The Feversham Arms Hotel & Verbena Spa, as it is known today, was born.

Book your stay at the Feversham Arms here

Helmsley Castle an atmospheric ruin in North Yorkshire

I loved Helmsley Castle and village and would happily live there – have you visited yet?

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Helmsley Castle an atmospheric ruin in North Yorkshire


  • Faith was born in Ireland raised in Canada and has lived in over 10 countries in Europe including England, Ireland, Scotland, France, Spain, Northern Ireland, Wales, along with Mexico, Antigua, the US and has slow travelled to over 40 countries around the world. Graduating with a degree in Anthropology and Women's Studies Faith is a student of history, culture, community and food and has written about these topics for over 40 years.

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