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(2015 - Spring/Summer Issue)


Quaffing an ale in a corner of the No Sign Bar, the oldest pub in Swansea, I made a silent toast to Dylan Thomas, who often caroused here with his literary friends.

How could I not admire a man whose ambition was to be a “roistering, drunken and doomed poet,” especially since he was so successful? I was travelling around south Wales, exploring the man and the countryside that inspired him. Secretly hoping some of his talent might rub off, I ordered another pint.

In the City of Laughter

As I discovered, memories of Dylan’s turbulent and roistering life are found in many corners of Swansea, this “city of laughter,” where Thomas was born and grew up. Not surprising, for when Dylan died at the too-young age of 39, he was considered the greatest Welsh poet of the 20th century. I visited the Dylan Thomas Centre and viewed his original notebooks, learned about his life, and, spellbound, listened to recordings of Dylan reading his poetry. I was happy to be part of the year-long binge of readings, festivals, talks and performances.

At the family home at 5 Cwmdonkin Drive, I sat at Dylan’s desk, where a cigarette pack and beer bottle were crammed between poetry books. Geoff Haden, who restored the house with his wife, Anne, described that from an early age Thomas was driven to become a poet and he worked hard to achieve his goal. Although an indifferent student who left school at 16, he developed an ability to conjure the most amazing images from words. He wrote many poems while still a teenager and about two thirds of his published work was written here. Thomas was stimulated by the surrounding area, Haden explained, playing in the adjacent Cwmdonkin Park and frequently visiting “the rather nice village”of Mumbles and the Gower Peninsula, “one of the loveliest sea-coast stretches in the whole of Britain.” Dylanites take note: you can rent the house and sleep where the ghost of the great poet creaks in every corner.

Later, I walked the Dylan Thomas Trail along the Swansea waterfront. At the Captain Cat statue I recalled lines from Under Milk Wood, probably Thomas’s best-known work. “The houses are...blind as Captain Cat.” Nearby, a statue shows Thomas twisted round in a chair gazing over the docks, bleary eyed but alive and cantankerous.

The Dylan Thomas Trail

Driving westward toward New Quay was slow because I stopped at every castle, and there was one around every corner. Churches also attracted me and I spent hours wandering in the shadow of glorious old stone walls inspecting weathered tombstones.

Winding narrow roads took me to St. David’s where Saint David, the patron saint of Wales, and whose name has been bestowed on innumerable Welshmen, is buried. This charming sea-coast hamlet has a mere 1,800 inhabitants, but, graced by a cathedral, has bragging rights as a city.

Dylan Thomas and his wife, Caitlin, stayed only briefly in New Quay but it was a productive, albeit turbulent, time, which included shots being fired at the Thomas home. Dylan described his favourite hotel, The Black Lion, as “waiting for Saturday night as an over-jolly girl waits for sailors.”I sipped an ale gazing at the photos on the pub walls and wondered which of the locals formed the basis for characters in Under Milk Wood. New Quay, along with Laugharne, lays claim to be the fictional village Llareggub. I strolled along the Dylan Thomas Trail, visiting the cottage where Thomas lived and seeing many places that echoed those in the play.

Driving on, I often detoured to the recently completed Coastal Path, the world’s first hiking trail along an entire national coast, to watch waves pounding in from the far reaches of the Atlantic.

My next stop was Laugharne, “a legendary, lazy little black magical bedlam by the sea” where I downed a pint or two at Brown’s Hotel in the same corner where Thomas used to sit. I imagined the laughter in the dusky premises, for Dylan was always the life of the party and had a sonorous voice with a subtle Welsh lilt. His public readings, particularly in America, became almost as famous as his written works.

At dusk I strolled to the Boathouse where Dylan lived stormily with wife Caitlin and children for the last four years of his life. I passed the weather-vaned tower of the small town hall, the looming walls of the castle and then came onto the vast sweep of the Taf estuary with a rising moon reflected in the still waters. I could imagine Dylan writing in his boat shed, a beer bottle on the table and discarded, crunched up sheets of paper littering the floor.

Next morning, Bob Stevens, the mayor of Laugharne, led me along the Dylan Thomas Birthday Trail. “Dylan had a close connection to this land,”he said, as we strolled from sign to sign, reading the October Poem, which Dylan wrote on his “ 30th year toward heaven” while on this same walk.

Late in the afternoon, I visited the cemetery where Dylan and Caitlin are buried under a simple wooden white cross, which contrasts with the solid, stone monuments all around. Sadly, Dylan died in poverty, in spite of the monumental legacy of work he created and the many he inspired, including Bob Dylan and John Lennon.

I returned to Brown’s Hotel, Dylan’s words resonating in my mind.

“Do not go gentle into that good night.

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

He was a great poet, inspired by a marvellous country.

Travel Planner

For more information, visit:

Welsh Government: visitwales.com

Brown’s Hotel, Laugharne: browns-hotel.co.uk

Dylan Thomas Centenary Site: dylanthomas100.org

Morgans Hotel, Swansea: morganshotel.co.uk

The Coach House, Brecon: coachhousebrecon.com 

Warpool Court Hotel, St. Davids: warpoolcourthotel.com

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