I’d never heard of this book before I picked it up a few months ago. Nobody I know has read it, and I hadn’t seen any online reviews about it. I just saw it in a Bargain Bin in a second-hand bookshop and was taken in by the blurb on the back cover.
Blurbs are funny things, aren’t they? I love them: a browser like me relies heavily on them to persuade me to buy the book (and I am also swayed by a beautiful cover… I’m only human). A bad or misleading blurb can be fatal for me, as was almost the case with One Day. On the flip-side, I know people who refuse to ever read blurbs, preferring to be surprised by the content of a recommended book.
The blurb for Castles in the Air, a non-fiction read about a couple who buy a derelict Welsh castle and lovingly renovate it, made me stop for a moment and long to be a part of their adventure. When I started reading the book itself, I wasn’t expecting an action-packed adventure; I anticipated a slow-paced, romantic (in the traditional sense) tale of a historical building, its inhabitants and the surrounding countryside.
I was not disappointed. I’m a bit of a history fan, so I was delighted by the accounts of the castle’s past, which is just as integral to the story as Judy and Peter’s personal background. The historical anecdotes and asides are dispersed throughout the text without becoming tedious, and the author’s passion for her beloved home is obvious.
I also must confess that one of my guilty pleasures is watching episodes of Escape to the Country, so spending time with a beautiful house hidden away in a Welsh valley encouraged all sorts of fantasies about retreating to the middle of nowhere. (For any readers unfamiliar with the programme, Escape to the Country is a BBC show where the presenter guides couples round gorgeous country houses in an area they’re thinking of moving to, which they’ve never seen before and which sometimes they love and sometimes they hate… it’s pure indulgence.)
Along with the bonus of the couple’s own love story intermingled with a ghost story, plus cameos from various local bird and animal residents, this book, in a way, has it all. It’s not an exciting read as such – it chugs along cheerfully while throwing in occasional highs and lows (after all, when you take on a project like a castle and have to rebuild it with no money, while actually living within its crumbling walls, there are bound to be a few obstacles) – but there’s no high drama to be found here. So I can appreciate that this book would not suit everyone.
However, I came away from the book feeling inspired and happier having read it. Judy and Peter are truly “living the dream” and while they clearly work extremely hard and make many sacrifices to keep their castle, their energies are paying off. It’s likely that the work on the house will never be completely finished, but the renovations they have managed to make in just the first five years since they bought it are astounding. It goes to show that sometimes you really can make your own luck, if you work hard enough.