I confess, this isn’t a part of the country I know well. OK, it’s true, I am a city sort but I am increasingly charmed by our beautiful towns and rolling hills. I have even bought a pair of green wellies for kicking through leafy forests and dewy dells.
Hereford is a city, as it boasts a cathedral. A cathedral has stood in Hereford since Saxon times. The building we see today is a fine example of the mason’s craft, culminating in the twentieth-century New Library Building which houses the celebrated Chained Library. The oldest and most important book is the eighth-century Hereford Gospels. It’s one of a couple of hundred medieval manuscripts which now occupy two sections of the Chained Library, a truly unique and thought-provoking area which takes one back to an era when books were rare and libraries even rarer. I wonder if we are coming full circle with that issue.
The world-famous Mappa Mundi is on display at the cathedral. The Hereford Mappa Mundi is a map of the world, dating from around 1300 and is the largest medieval map known to still exist. It is drawn on a single sheet of vellum (animal skin). A must-see when you visit Hereford.
The Wye Valley countryside around Hereford is some of the loveliest in Britain. It’s designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The River Wye runs through the valley creating tranquil and picturesque vistas. The landscape typifies Chocolate-box-top England with fields, hedges and grazing sheep. Yes, it does still exist.
Castle House stands in a calm and classy corner of Hereford, but eight or nine hundred years ago the site was a busy crossroads in the old Saxon city, near to the ancient Hereford Castle. Now the traffic is mostly children heading down Castle Street to school. It’s a privately-owned townhouse hotel and rumoured to be most luxurious in Hereford. That’s a lie. No, not the bit about it being the best hotel in Hereford, but it is not one but two townhouses merged together to make a single architectural stunner.
In the early 18th century, a local businessman built a pair of fine Georgian villas in what was then the middle of the road. The two houses looked directly down Castle Street towards the cathedral at the end. The rear of the building was added in the second half of the 19th century when the then-owner Frederick Boulton was granted permission to remove the party wall to make one magnificent house. There is little evidence of the conversion apart from the wide and imposing front door and the striking staircase in the hall.
From the 1920s Castle House was a boarding house then in the1940s it became a hotel for gentlefolk. It’s now been renovated with taste and sympathy. This Grade II listed building is privately-owned by local farmer David Watkins, whose produce features on the hotel menu and whose daughter now works at the hotel. Original features remain, whilst the hotel offers discerning guests high-end comfort in both public rooms and private suites.
The suites here are sumptuous. Ours had high ceilings, tall windows with a view towards the cathedral. The sitting area will likely be larger than your lounge at home. The oval desk sported a decanter of sherry but the guest need not worry that old-fashioned charm was maintained at the expense of 21st century technology. Every room has broadband access, TV and music facilities. One can work and play.
The four-poster bed was a delight and the linen was turned down each evening. The bathroom was well appointed with a selection of pampering toiletries that would have one lingering in steamy bliss. My advice would be to leave such soaking till after dinner or you might just miss a culinary treat.
The Castle Restaurant is one of the finest in Herefordshire. The kitchen might be small but chef Claire Nicholls presents food that has visual impact as well as being delicious. Claire trained at Hereford Technical College and then at the Birmingham College of Food. She lived in Hong Kong for two years and fell in love with Asian gastronomy, and that has had an influence on her choice of ingredients and presentation, which is delicate and thoughtful. She is a local girl but it’s her mum who noticed the vacancy at the hotel and thought that her talented daughter would enjoy returning home. Claire has been with Castle House for more than eight years and has worked as Head Chef for three. The restaurant has twice been awarded 3 AA Rosettes and Claire is one of the very few female head chefs in the UK to have achieved that. She has a quiet manner, but is well able to handle the rigours of a professional kitchen.
She takes pride in sourcing fresh ingredients from local producers and it’s no surprise that one of those suppliers is the owner of the hotel, who also owns Ballingham Farm. It’s only eight miles from Hereford and has been in David’s family for 120 years. They have a 100-strong pedigree Hereford herd, the meat from which is used in Claire’s recipes whenever it’s available.
My guest ordered the Warm Salad of Wood Pigeon, Caramelised Apples, Quail Eggs and Black Pudding. These birds are a good introduction to game. This pigeon was mild flavoured, moist and tender.
I had already perused the menu and decided on my main course, so opted for a light starter of Warm Salad of Beetroot, Lentils, Walnuts and Quail Eggs. A tapestry of texture and taste.
Pan-fried Seabass was my companion’s choice for main course. The fish was perched atop a mound of Lime and Vanilla Mash which was a unique and excellent accompaniment to the sweet fish. Pakchoi was the very Asian element here and the consumer of the above was a contented diner.
I was bound to pick the Rib Eye of Herefordshire Beef. Whilst I can’t swear that this cut came from David’s farm I should say that it was succulent and full of bovine flavour. I am not a great meat eater but it’s no surprise even to me that this is one of the most popular dishes here. Several American guests ordered the same and all appreciated the substantial plate. Yes, dear US visitors, we do have excellent food in the UK. Please spread the word to the folks back home.
Save a little space for dessert. We both enjoyed Sticky Banana and Date Pudding, Butterscotch Sauce, Roast Bananas, Vanilla Ice. Don’t rush. Order a pudding wine or some coffee and relax in candlelight and the gentle buzz of convivial conversation.
Our stay was too short. We will be tempted back in summer. Perhaps we will sit by the old moat and watch the ducks, take a stroll around the old town, but we will be sure to be back for lunch. No, this isn’t a cheap hotel option but it is value for money. You get what you pay for, and the memories are priceless.
Breakfast is served from 7am – 10am
Lunch from 12 noon – 2pm
Dinner from 7pm – 10pm
(9pm on Sundays and Bank Holidays)
Castle House Hotel
Hereford, HR1 2NW
Phone: +44 (0) 1432 356321
Fax us on: +44 (0) 1432 365909
Visit Castle House here
Hotel review by Chrissie Walker © 2018