Just two hundred miles west of London is the small Welsh village of Laugharne, famous as the inspiration for many of Dylan Thomas’s finest poems. It is a place of quiet beauty and timeless charm, which the poet himself described as “the strangest town in Wales”, an isolated little pocket of English-speaking people set amidst the welsh-speaking farming communities of south-west Wales. It is also the friendliest of towns, which wouldn’t have batted an eyelid at Dylan’s bohemian eccentricities and welcomes its visitors from around the world in its own quiet, hospitable fashion, as unlikely to be changed by them as it would expect them to conform to its ways.
Exploring the town
Drive down the narrow winding road that leads into the town and you can almost breathe in the different atmosphere of the place and imagine at as Dylan would have seen it. There’s his favorite watering hole, Browns Hotel, with its elegant 18th century façade; the poet would wander down here every afternoon and settle in for a pint or two or more after a day’s labor in his writing shed.
Then it’s gone, disappeared around the corner as you enter the town square. Past the little Town Hall with its white-painted clock tower, the view opens up to reveal the center of the town and the hub of activity. Here there are shops, pubs and cafés mixed in with the little houses that surround the square.
To your left, up on the hill, the ruins of the 11th century Laugharne Castle looms huge and forbidding. Directly in front of you, the little River Coran flows through reeds and salt marsh, meandering slowly towards its exit into the estuary of the River Taf below the wooded slopes of Sir John’s Hill.
From the town square you can follow a path out around the marsh and below the hill to the edge of the estuary. The tide comes in fast here, reversing the flow of the river and rushing upstream to quickly cover the mud banks, tugging at the moorings of the dinghies at anchor in the estuary and floating the few modest little fishing boats tied up on the banks of the Coran.
Take another path up river beneath the castle hill and you’ll come to the Boathouse, which was Dylan’s home for the last four years of his life. Before you reach the house, the path takes you up onto the cliff road.
Follow this towards the boathouse and you can peep into the window of Dylan’s little writing shed, which is preserved as he left it: a few old chairs, a shabby carpet, papers scattered on his writing table and all around the floor, an empty beer bottle, an untidy bookshelf, and postcards and photographs pinned up around the walls. Take a tour of the boathouse and the illusion continues: it’s as if Dylan and his family have gone out for the afternoon and will be back for tea.
The Dylan Thomas centenary
As Wales’s greatest cultural icon, the centenary of Dylan Thomas’s birth has been celebrated not only in Wales but all around the world. It has been suggested that the celebration of his life should become an annual event in Britain, and that “Dylan Night” could mark his importance for Welsh people everywhere just as Burns Night is for all Scots.
The new annual celebration is the idea of one Welsh journalist, 52 year old Graham Parker, who has lived across the English border in Bath for many years, but still loves all things Welsh, particularly the poetry of Dylan Thomas. The first “Dylan Night” was held in 2012 to mark the anniversary of Dylan Thomas’s death in New York, November 9, 1953. The proposition of an annual supper night and other events, which would help to raise money for a variety of charities in Wales, has been welcomed by the curator of Dylan Thomas’s birthplace at Cwmdonkin Drive, Swansea, where “Dinner at Dylan’s” events have been successfully held for several years, offering a taste of Welsh food in the Edwardian atmosphere of his childhood home. Dylan Thomas celebrations have also been held in Fitzrovia, London, in the area where he lived as a young man in the 1930s and 40s, and these have raised money to help fund several local projects including the establishment of a new community center and Chapel, and to provide help for wounded soldiers.
Climbing the steps up from the boathouse, you have a sense of the eternal truths contained in Dylan’s work. Coming from the preserved 1950’s world of the house’s interior, out here the landscape is the same, although the modern world and its troubles come to mind as you are drawn into thoughts of times past, of the passage of time, and what Dylan would make of the world today beyond the hills around his town. Although much of his work is about nostalgia for the past, he was a man who lived very much in the world of his time and who embraced the changes he saw around him. When he died, his work had taken a new direction, and would probably have continued to change. He died before his time, but he had already made such a mark on the world that it will never forget him, and his unique vision will be treasured as surely as the tide will still race up the estuary below his window.
Many thanks to Anne Clark for this submission to Blimey! If you would love to write about Britain, please do contact us on our feedback form.