Roch Castle (in Welsh: Castell y Garn) is a 12th-century castle, located at the village of Roch near Haverfordwest, in Pembrokeshire, Wales. Yes, we have all visited castles. Britain is peppered with them, indicating our somewhat turbulent history. They tend to offer two main facets – half museum and half ruin.
But we were going to stay in this one and I was somewhat sceptical. My expectations were modest. There would likely be iffy plumbing installed by Victorian owners. Heating, this being Wales, would probably consist of a sheep as a foot-warmer. Entertainment would be watching heavy floral curtains flapping in the draught from the ill-fitting windows. Plenty of fresh air, though, whistling around replica suits of armour. The reality was far more comfortable, beautiful and tasteful than any other castle I had ever visited. In fact it is, without reservation (although reservations would be recommended), the most characterful hotel in which I have ever stayed.
The castle is perched in imposing fashion on a rocky outcrop on the edge of the village, between St Davids with its stunning cathedral, and Haverfordwest, and just a few minutes’ drive from the spectacular Pembrokeshire coast. As castles go Roch has impeccable historic credentials. It was built by a Norman knight called Adam de Rupe in the second half of the 12th century and was probably one of the outer defences of ‘Little England’ or ‘Landsker’, as it is near the border separating the once-English enclave and the Welsh area of Pembrokeshire.
Roch Castle was taken over in the 17th century by the Walter family. During the English Civil War the Walters sided with King Charles I. The castle was captured by the Parliamentary forces and burned in 1644. It remained mostly in ruins until 1900, when it was bought by John Philipps, 1st Viscount St Davids, who restored it.
The castle was purchased in 2008 by Keith Griffiths for the Griffiths-Roch Foundation and was refurbished to its present luxurious state by the Retreats Group. Completed in 2013 it’s now a six-bedroom 5* hotel. The restoration was designed by Keith Griffiths, who is actually an architect, and Acanthus Holden. It was named Best 5-star Hotel in Wales by Trivago just a couple of years after opening, and it’s easy to see why. Roch Castle is positively uncommon in every way.
Comfort writ large
Roch Castle isn’t a castle-themed castle. It’s the real thing but presented in a contemporary way with light and neutral colours. The original architectural lines are followed, so thick walls are evident, small (but non-draughty) windows with those magnificent views add authentic charm, wooden floors are warm and practical, as are the leather mats. The hotel has been designed as a hypo-allergenic property although it doesn’t have the sterile ambiance of a laboratory. This is comfort writ large and it’s all in the best of taste.
Bathrooms are just as sumptuous as the rooms and some have both bath and shower. A mattress with hypo-allergenic topper, duvet and pillows and 300 thread-count linens may lull the dozer into possibly missing breakfast, although one wouldn’t shouldn’t.
Television offers the best TV package I have come across in any hotel. This might not seem an issue but Wales is lush and green for good reason: it’s the rain. But these rooms offer the opportunity to snuggle in the warm with all mod cons. There is a DVD player, digital radio, iPod dock and wi-fi. This is better than a home from home.
The castle doesn’t have its own restaurant. It only has half a dozen rooms but the hotel staff will arrange transport to their sister hotel where one can enjoy a Two AA Rosette meal at Blas Restaurant in hotel Twr y Felin (review to follow). There’s a help-yourself honesty bar, and free tea and coffee, in the Sun Room extension, with vistas over the countryside to the sea.
The Full Welsh
But one can have a cooked breakfast at Roch Castle and you wouldn’t want to miss it. Try the Full Welsh fried breakfast which uses the best of local ingredients. The bacon is outstanding and there are all the other usual items filling the plate. But the small pot nestled between the black pudding and the sausage might be a bit of a mystery. That’s lavabread which is Welsh seaweed, and I love it. Try the traditional dish of cockles, bacon and lavabread. It’s addictive.
The main sitting room, called The Court Room, tempts with suede sofas, bespoke vases and a tapestry illustrating the history of the castle with the recurring emblems of the salmon and the raven. Both the vases and the wall-hangings have been commissioned for the hotel and give a nod to its past.
Roch Castle Hotel ticks just about every box. Granted, one has to eat out but transport is arranged so that isn’t a big problem. It’s the most thoughtful hotel I have ever reviewed and the most impressive, in subtle ways. No cost has been spared to ensure a memorable visit. Staff are friendly and nothing seems too much trouble. This isn’t a bling-infested hotel with mirrors at every turn and gold bath taps. Roch will be adored by those with an appreciation of genuine charm and unique good taste.
Roch Castle Hotel
Phone: +44 (0)1437 725 566
Hotel review by Chrissie Walker © 2018