Thursday, March 11, 2010

Castles in the Air by Judy Corbett

Title: Castles in the Air, The Restoration Adventures of Two Young Optimists and a Crumbling Old Mansion
Author: Judy Corbett
ISBN: 9780091897314, Ebury Press, 2005
Genre: Memoirs
Rating: A

First Line: I have just had to dry the sheets with a hair drier again before getting back into bed.

Judy Corbett and her husband-to-be Peter Welford wanted very much to find an old ruin of a house to restore so they could move out of the rat race of city life. They found their dream ruin tucked away in the foothills of the Snowdonian Mountains in Wales, but they had no real idea the challenges they were agreeing to take on when they signed all that paperwork.

Gwydir Castle was Judy Corbett's favorite type of dwelling: as each successive generation of owners wanted to "smarten up" the place, they just slapped an addition in the current style on one end or the other instead of making the entire building look homogeneous. Parts of Gwydir dated back to the dissolution of the monasteries. When Judy and Peter found it, some of the rooms had been turned into a noisome sort of pub.

As I read Judy's account of the restoration, I swore it must have never stopped raining the entire time:

When it's very dark in the castle and the batteries have run out in the torch [flashlight] and I can't find a dry match to light a candle, the symphony of drips guides me through the rooms. I have learnt to distinguish a coal scuttle from a paint pot and know exactly where I am by the tone of the drip.

Book bloggers from around the world would not be able to fault Corbett on her criteria for her future home: 'The yardstick by which I measured the suitability of any potential house was whether I could imagine myself reading in it."

Naturally the course of restoration did not run smooth, even with the help of workmen with interesting names like "the Scouse git" and the approval of a resident spirit or two. The sheer amount of work and discomfort that those two endured while restoring Gwydir Castle is jaw-dropping. Never in my wildest dreams would I ever undertake anything remotely resembling this gargantuan restoration project, but Corbett loved every minute of it, and her joy and feeling of accomplishment are plain as each small bit is completed.

If you love reading about old houses being brought back to life by people who love what they're doing and have a true sense of adventure, you will love reading Castles in the Air. Corbett not only has a knack for restoration, she's a deft storyteller as well.

[Source: Christmas gift from my husband.]


  1. I stumbled on this one quite by accident many years ago and it started me on the "moving and starting over in a foreign country" jag of reading that continues happily to this day. It's a good one, isn't it? :-)

  2. This sounds fun! Doing something like that has always been my dream but in reality I'd never have the stamina to accomplish it. Reading about someone doing it is as close as I'll ever get!

  3. I would be tempted to pick up this book based on title and cover art alone! The story sounds intriguing and one that I would enjoy. Thank you once again, Cathy, for bringing another book to my attention :)

  4. love the cover...and it sounds interesting. but I have sworn off memoirs. we don't seem to get along. ;-)

  5. I do love a good memoir, so I think I would enjoy this. I would never take on a challenge like that and I could live through those enough brave enough to do it.

  6. Years ago Dave and I bought a little house on a lake cheap because it was in such awful shape. Then we spent the next 7 years restoring it ourselves and keeping the local lumber yard in business. It was great fun; I learned many skills. Our neighbor was entertained by the process and called us the Bozo Construction Co. When Dave was transferred and we had to sell it, I cried - my heart was there.

  7. Yes, I'm one of those people who judges all environments (indoors and out) by whether it would make a great place to read. The book sounds like a great adventure.

  8. Surprised and happy to read this review! A co-worker at my old job recommended this book to me and I put it on my wish list but wasn't so sure it was really for me (I didn't have the same tastes as this co-worker). Now I'm even more interested in reading it.

  9. That is a great first line. It makes me shudder.

  10. Kristen-- Yes, it certainly is!

    Nicola-- It's as close as I want to get, let me tell ya! LOL

    Molly-- You're very welcome. :)

    Caite-- Oooookay! ;)

    Kathy-- Yes. This is definitely one of those instances when I prefer to live vicariously!

    Barbara-- Giving up a place like that would be traumatic!

    Margot JR-- It is a wonderful armchair adventure. My knees are still feeling the damp after reading it! LOL

    Kris-- I certainly hope you give it a try!

    Jeanne-- Yes!


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