Review: The Castle Inn, Castle Combe
Review: The Castle Inn, Castle Combe
Jenny Booth finds a rural idyll tucked away in a picture-perfect Cotswolds village
There are few sights as welcome on a cold February night when it is blowing a gale as a warm glow of light spilling out onto the pavement from an ancient country pub. The Castle Inn in the Wiltshire village of Castle Combe has been welcoming in weary travellers from nasty weather for centuries. As you open the door, out waft the gentle warmth and scent of a log fire in an open fireplace. The fire glow gleams off polished oak, and glints enticingly from bottles and glasses. The surroundings enfold you with rural charm. The bar and dining areas are a higgledy piggledy series of rooms and nooks. There are leaded light windows, low doorways and wooden beams black with age – parts of the building reportedly date back to the 12th century. After a two hour drive from London all we wanted to do was to freshen up and come back down to relax in front of that lovely fire.
The bedroom corridor is twisty with uneven floors and sudden corners. Our room was spacious and double-aspect, with antique furniture rubbing shoulders with delightfully 21st century amenities, like the powerful walk-in shower (with bath robes and spa quality toiletries) and a sleek coffee machine. Thoughtful touches included the ‘Do Not Disturb’ teddy bear, a complimentary miniature of artisan gin, and some delicious shortbread that was, miraculously, gluten-free. The Castle Inn’s owners have recently renovated, creating 12 comfortable bedrooms, many of them with four-poster beds. It’s a perfect spot for a romantic weekend.
The Castle Inn has been recognised as No.37 in the Estrella Damm Top 50 Gastropubs 2022, with talented chef Jamie Barnett (Lucknam Park, Lygon Arms, Bowood) at the helm. Soon we were seated on an oak settle, scoffing marinated olives and perusing Barnett’s short and skilfully chosen gastropub menu that majors on high quality, locally sourced ingredients.
We both chose the seared Orkney scallop, sticky pork cheek, parsley and nettle veloute starter (our amiable waiter said it was the best) and revelled in the dark, sumptuous texture of the meat, the sweetness of scallop and the earthy chlorophyll kick of the greens. I liked how most wines are sold by the glass as well as the bottle, and the gently oaked La Serre Chardonnay, Vin de Pays d’Oc was a great pairing. At the waiter’s suggestion I switched to Petite Ronde Picpoul de Pinet 2020 with my main course of roasted stone bass, brown shrimp, and hazelnuts, and found its structured acidity perfect with the sophisticated combination of toasted nut, chewy shrimp, scrunchy, buttery hash brown and softly flaking stone bass. To finish we had a salted caramel tart – meltingly short pastry filled with an unctuous custard of Dulce de Leche – and a board of four flavoursome English cheeses with pear and walnut chutney and a glass of LBV port. It was a fantastic dinner, light and well cooked. We slept extremely soundly after that.
Morning light brought the revelation that we were in the middle in one of the most beautiful, unspoilt villages in England. The streets of Castle Combe are lined with ancient cottages and townhouses in honey-coloured Bath stone – no wonder the place is in demand from TV- and film-makers, with Robert de Niro and Ricky Gervais among the visitors. A short walk past the 14th century market cross brings you to the impossibly photogenic Water Lane. The valley may be a rural time capsule, but there is plenty to do: the Castle Inn’s sister hotel next door boasts a luxury spa and an 18 hole golf course, and the Castle Combe racing circuit is at the top of the hill, with an off-road 4×4 centre nearby. The shopping and sights of Bath and Bristol are only a short drive away. Alternatively, if the sun comes out you could just sit in the Castle Inn’s courtyard garden and revel in the cream tea, the rural views and the peace.
Single rooms are from £95 and doubles from £165.