IMAGINE living in a towering castle in the heart of Wales. Peering out of high turrets at the sprawling landscape, entertaining guests in the banqueting hall, getting lost in the many wings.
It’s a dream the great majority of us will never live, no matter how well the property market inflates the value of our houses.
But for Sophie Parkin it could have been all too real. If it hadn’t been for her gambling great-great- grandfather and an unlucky game of cards that is.
Sophie’s relative was a wealthy landowner who, in the 1870s, splashed out £6,000 – a fortune in those days – on Craig-y-nos castle in the Brecon Beacons.
Today the estate is worth around £2.5m but Sophie, 45, will never see a penny of it, nor will she ever live within the castle’s grey, stone walls.
Because, according to Sophie’s grandmother, the wealthy landowner was also a bit of a gambler and it was only a matter of time before the castle slipped out of his hands.
The winner of that fateful game took pity on the poor family and allowed them to stay on in the crofter’s cottage, but private schooling had to be swapped for hard work as their life of privilege disappeared before their eyes.
Today Sophie, daughter of 1960s fashion icon Molly Parkin is a writer of books for teenagers. And she is far from destitute, living in a £480,000 three-bedroom flat in Vauxhall, London with her two teenage children.
But her home is a far cry from the splendour she might have lived in if things had turned out differently at that card game.
“But for my ancestors frittering the money away, my children and I would be ensconced in the beautiful £2.5m castle right now instead of in my flat in London,” she said. “But I’m very glad that I’m not.
“My mother Molly Parkin dated a member of the aristocracy, Lord Hector Binney, during my childhood so we’d spend weekends at his stately pile in Cambridgeshire.
“I surmise that while it may seem outwardly grand to inhabit a vast home, it would actually be a very lonely existence.”
Ah, but what about the lure of picnics in the grounds and port by the fire, long weekends full of house guests and four-poster beds with brocade curtains?
In an age of Changing Rooms, surely a bit of MDF and a lick of paint and the place would have been as good as new?
Except for the ghosts that is.
“Around 13 years ago my mother persuaded the then owners of Craig-y-nos to let her stay for a few days because she’s an artist and wanted to paint pictures of her ancestral home,” said Sophie.
“My children and I joined her for a night and we all bedded down in one room because the place was yet to be renovated. I left after 24 hours, unable to cope after a restless night in which I imagined noises echoing around those vast corridors – it is said to be the most haunted house in Wales.
“It was deeply unsettling and I remember thinking then that the family were actually well rid of the place – though we could have done with the money to be had from selling it.
“Should I meet and marry a man in the future who owns a stately home, I can honestly say I would refuse to move in with him. I’d much rather be here, tucked up in my flat.”