Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Welsh Soulmates

While doing some research for our next trip, I ran across a recommendation for a book called "Castles in the Air" , by Judy Corbett-- the story of a young couple who bought Gwydir Castle in Wales and have worked to restore it. The castle was a partial ruin, roof-less, invaded by bats and rats, and horribly 'renovated" in the 60s to be a sort of "rave club".

I've always fantasized about living in a castle -- so I sat down and devoured this book in one sitting. Her writing style is a bit florid and overly precious, but the story really resonated with me. Almost penniless, unemployed , they ran across this dilapidated pile and instantly fell in love. ALmost two years later, they moved in -- sleeping on cots, cooking on a camp stove, no hot water, and sharing the place with the creepy crawlies, birds, various rodents, and (if the author is to believed) ghosts.
"I was so saddened that such a venerable old house had been brought to its nknees in this way. I wanted to wrap my arms around it and comfort it as you would a small child. The more I saw, the angrier I became, angry with the people and the authorities who had allowed this to happen. And with that anger came another, fiercer emotion which took me completely by surprise. I know as I ran my fingers over the damaged walls and as I picked up the broken shards of stained glass which lay scattered across the floorboards, that I would be prepared to anything to save this house."
Now, it's not my dream to live in a historically-accurate restoration sans electricity and running water, but the idea of bringing back a ruined house appeals to me tremendously. I'd prefer not to do it while living in squalor, but I absolutely understand that first, strong, emotional tie to the house. While the two are hardly comparable, that's exactly how I felt when we bought our first house -- a run-down, much-abused Folk Victorian with sagging porches, a leaking roof, and the full measure of dirt and grime from its hundred-year life. Houses have a sense, a personality, if you will, that really speaks to someone. Not every "gets it", I guess, but for the Adorable Husband and I, our two house purchases have been made on the basis of "yes, this is the RIGHT HOUSE. This one feels right." I doubt we would buy a house and move if we didn't have that instant and immediate connection.

We bought our current house after walking through it ONE time, and we weren't even looking to move. (As a matter of fact, when we had seriously discussed moving, the idea of leaving my old house made me so sad that I cried for hours) We were walking through the neighborhood and looking into all the open houses, just as entertainment for a Saturday afternoon. We walked into our current house, and within fifteen minutes, met in the living room and announced, rather dramatically, 'Well, crap. Now we have to move." We made an offer on the house the next day.

So, Judy Corbett and her husband Peter having that instant "click" with the run-down Gwydir Castle, I knew the feeling. The book follows the first five years of their restoration -- cleaning out the detritus of a century of neglect and trying to restore the house to its former glory as accurately as possible. Not always an easy task, especially when they were on the brink of penury each month just trying to keep themselves fed and warm.

Gwydir is currently open as a bed and breakfast, and work is ongoing. I can't help but feel a strong urge to go wandering the countryside in Scotland and find a decrepit pile to try my hand at it.

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