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
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.]