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Guest Post: Channeling Cassandra – Castle-Hopping In Wales

A photo of Cardiff Castle taken by Meg

For months leading up to my trip to the UK, I circled around everything I thought I would need – and want. There was the obvious conundrum of choosing my wardrobe, of course. Being an American with a penchant for sandals, it was hard for me to leave my open-toed shoes at home – but I worried about the constant threat of rain during our April vacation.

I had passport concerns, currency exchange concerns. There was the dilemma of how to charge my devices abroad and how many sweaters to bring. I wondered about postage for sending postcards back, and what sorts of foods I might encounter. Lots of unknowns, basically.

But my reading was set.

A photo of Cardiff Castle taken by Meg

Bookworms know vacations – or holidays, my UK friends – are made for reading. In the weeks leading up to our flight across the Atlantic, I pored through my bookcase searching for the perfect novel to accompany my two weeks traveling through England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales with my family. I knew I wouldn’t have tons of downtime, but had to have something for the rare moments I would fall into my reading.

The top pick? Dodie Smith’s I Capture The Castle.

Recommended by countless blogger friends over the years, Smith’s classic tale of a young woman’s coming-of-age in a moldering castle in the English countryside seemed the perfect choice. I took a gamble by not starting the book until the plane ride over – a dangerous move in case the book turned out to be dull as peeling paint. But in the end, I needn’t have worried for a second.

Smith drew me in immediately. I loved Cassandra Mortmain, the beyond-her-years narrator and diary-writer who experiences the pangs of first love and sibling rivalry. The descriptive language, gorgeous setting and colorful characters completely won me over – and reading I Capture The Castle in the UK enhanced my whole experience.

A photo of Cardiff Castle taken by Meg

Though I didn’t find a castle to wander through in England, I did find one in Wales: Cardiff Castle. The structure is as opulent and beautiful as I’d imagine the Mortmains’ home once was, and I was batty for the gilded ceiling and regal library. My favorite part, however, was the Norman Keep, which exists on the original site of a Roman fort believed to have been constructed around 55 AD. The present structure — the one I walked through, snapping photos like a madwoman — was likely built around 1136. Almost 1,000 years ago.

It’s hard to believe one can stand in a place that old – especially for an American like me, someone whose own local history only extends back to the U.S. Civil War. I felt like Cassandra in those moments, adrift with my own thoughts, and I wondered what it would have been like to grow up in a crumbling place with so much history… and so many problems.

A photo of Cardiff Castle taken by Meg

Crashing at our hotel after a full day of walking and photographing, I’m so glad I had I Capture The Castle to keep me company. Smith’s lovely novel couldn’t have been enjoyed more by a tired bookworm looking for escape.

And now when I think of my trip abroad, I can’t help but feel like Cassandra was along for the journey.

Meg's Twitter picture

Meg is a cupcake-eating, travel-loving writer, photographer and reader from Maryland. When not chatting books, life and love at and tweeting @writemeg, she pens a newspaper column and spends too much time searching for the perfect pumpkin spice latte. The quest is infinite.



November 30, 2012, 2:39 am

What fortune to find the perfect book to accompany you around the UK! I haven’t read I Capture the Castle, but I’ve seen the film and can definitely see the Mortmains wandering around something similar to Cardiff Castle.

Chris Ciolli (@ChrisCiolli)

November 30, 2012, 8:34 am

What a great post! I love visiting Castles when I’m traveling in Europe. For some ancient history in North America, why not visit Cahokia Mounds?


November 30, 2012, 12:27 pm

Wow, love that ceiling. Sounds like a lovely trip – so fun to have a book that paired so well!

Who I am | write meg!

November 30, 2012, 2:39 pm

[…] I’m guest-posting today about my trip to Wales and the experience of reading I Capture the Castle actually in a UK […]


November 30, 2012, 8:53 pm

Eee, Meg, I knew we were bookish kindred souls — I adore this novel and I don’t think it gets nearly the love it ought! Gorgeous pictures — I envy you that trip!


December 6, 2012, 11:41 am

This is so funny: somehow I missed that this was a guest post by Meg, and I’m reading and scrolling through and thinking, wow, she went everywhere “Write Meg” did! LOLOL



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