An iconic Welsh hotel has defended its decision to introduce a £200 membership fee after becoming inundated by social media users looking to take sunset pictures from its clifftop bar.
The Druidstone Hotel, perched on an isolated Pembrokeshire clifftop, is a favourite for visiting holidaymakers in search of sundown drinks and selfies on the terrace.
With its west-facing terrace and 20 acres of grounds, the venue draws beachgoers from the sands below to watch the sun set over the rolling waves of St Brides Bay.
But for non-residents and outsiders, the Druidstone’s magnificent views and cellar bar real ales now come with an additional price tag – with membership of the ‘Dru Crew’ starting at £200 and rising to an eye-watering £400 a year.
The controversial move has been designed to ‘strike the right balance between loyal locals versus the passing trade, temporary campsite and holiday cottage visitors,’ according to the hotel’s website.
And while critics have branded the ploy ‘backward’ and ‘elitist’, owner Angus Bell hit back, saying: ‘When people are whinging about it on Facebook and TripAdvisor, let’s be honest, they’re exactly the sort of people I don’t want to come.’
The Druidstone Hotel, perched on an isolated Pembrokeshire clifftop, is a favourite for visiting holidaymakers in search of sundown drinks and selfies on the terrace
With its west-facing terrace and 20 acres of grounds, the venue draws beachgoers from the sands below to watch the sun set over the rolling waves of St Brides Bay
One Tripadvisor reviewer, ‘a customer for meals and drinks for over 40 years’, lamented the new hospitality model as one ‘that few in Pembrokeshire will recognise – pay £200 a year to come and drink or eat here. So, farewell lovely Druidstone.’
Another, who described the move as ‘utterly elitist and backward’ blasted: ‘So disappointing to have such a lovely place turned into an elitist members only clique where you can only drink if you’re staying there or pay £200+ a year.’
And a third complained: ‘Sadly now it’s a £200 a year members club thus barring people from calling in ad hoc for drinks and food.. And what do you get for £200? I’ll not be recommending you.’
Angus Bell, however, remains defiant.
‘My one luxury in life is now time,’ he says. ‘I’ve got time for my staff, time for my guests – and I’m not stressed. This is my home. I can’t imagine ever living anywhere else.
‘I’ve made my life better – even though someone might be a bit upset that they can’t pop in for a cup of tea.’
The Druidstone is often lauded in guidebooks and by travel writers as one of the most treasured hotels in Wales.
Its restaurant gets a listing on Cool Places, and Rough Guides founder Mark Ellingham named it as one his two favourite hotels in the world, describing the Druidstone as ‘paradise for children, grown-ups, dogs and even teenagers.’
The Druidstone is often lauded in guidebooks and by travel writers as one of the most treasured hotels in Wales
The Victorian pile – a landmark of the Pembrokeshire Coast Path – was a family residence until 1972 when late owners Rod and Jane Bell opened their ten bedrooms to guests.
Art lover Jane brought free music festivals, theatre events and exhibitions to the venue, complementing its frayed looks and captivating, hippy vibe.
The Druidstone’s bohemian charm remained a draw for visitors after Jane’s death from pancreatic cancer in 2012. Husband Rod died two years later, and the hotel is now run by Angus – their son – alongside his partner Beth Wilshaw.
But for Angus, the popularity of his childhood home and his parents’ legacy – fuelled in part by social media – had become a curse.
‘It just got too much,’ he said. ‘I was slowly becoming a Folly Farm for food, pints and sunsets.
‘My guests were having to wait 45 minutes at the bar to get a drink and a lot of the local people would avoid us in the summer because we were too busy.
‘We could have gone down the route of having a second bar, but we don’t want to be a pub and I didn’t like walking into my garden to find 60 people there that I didn’t know.
‘We rolled out the membership thing to control the numbers and make it a nicer place to stay, and a nicer place to live in.
‘There’s so many campsites around here, so many Airbnbs, that I spent more time looking after other people’s guests than I did my own. Our residents totally love it, and it feels like the right thing to do.’
Angus pointed out his parents previously ran the hotel as a members-only club in the eighties and nineties, and said the new £200 membership fee represents value for money.
‘We put on free pizza nights and gigs for our members. Non-members can still book rooms or a table in the restaurant – membership is really about the bar, or the pub as some people refer to it. I hate being called a pub.’
A report published in July revealed tourism brings in 7 million visitors a year to Pembrokeshire, contributing £590m to the local economy.
However pandemic staycationing has meant record visitor numbers for Wales, with its most popular destinations burdened with overcrowding, stoking tension between locals and tourists.