Bob told me the guest book in the Boathouse had been signed that morning by a literary pilgrim. He said she’d put only one word in the comments box: ‘Lonely’. He said he’d found that moving.
Dylan Thomas's Laugharne
I guess, if you’re going to go on holiday to get melancholy, Laugharne in Carmarthenshire is a good place to head to. It’s where Dylan Thomas, Wales’s best ever poet, lived on and off from 1938 until his death in 1953, and where he conjured up his masterpiece ‘Under Milk Wood’. A prose poem titled simply ‘Laugharne’ describes it as a ‘timeless, beguiling island of a town with its seven public houses, one chapel in action, one church, one factory, two billiard tables, one St Bernard (without brandy), one policeman, three rivers, a visiting sea…’ Thomas went on – he always did – but you get the idea. I’d long wanted to see the place and when Bob, an old friend from Cardiff and a Thomas fan, found some time to join me, we made a weekend of it.
The township is at the end of a long, winding road from Swansea that takes you through a string of small villages. When you arrive at Laugharne, it looks prettier than all that’s come before: pastel-hued, compact, idyllic. The famous pub where Dylan caroused, Browns Hotel, is to your left, and further on, rising up to ogle the shimmering Taf estuary, is Seaview (www.seaview-laugharne.co.uk), one of the many local houses he occupied and now a lovely hotel.
But the Boathouse (www.dylanthomasboathouse.com) is where the Dylanites congregate and, as literary museums go, it’s pleasant enough: small, understated and with a tea shop that invites you to sit back and think about him, rather than watching the TV documentary being shown on the first floor. Jutting out above the house-museum is the little shed where Thomas worked, pretty much preserved as he left it after scrunching up one final abandoned poem. From here, you can see that ‘visiting sea’ in all its glory, and it’s entrancing to watch the broad curve of sandy beach emerge and disappear as the tide fills and empties the estuary. What a place to write, what a place to dream, what a reminder of how beautiful South Wales is, at times.
A meandering walk up the main road took us to St Martin’s Church, where we found – after traipsing around a wonderful, multi-tiered graveyard – the simple white cross marking the resting place of Dylan and his wife Caitlin, who died in 1994.
Later that night, between vats of booze, Bob mentioned that maybe the ‘Lonely’ he’d seen in the visitors’ book was actually ‘Lovely’ – and so not a very remarkable comment after all. The romance had made him misty-eyed, just as the drink was doing now. Poetic licence in Laugharne – natural enough.
Nearest train station Carmarthen's station, 13 miles from Laugharne, serves West Wales Line and First Great Western Trains (www.firstgreatwestern.co.uk).
Eat, drink, stay & explore
Laugharne has a lot of lovely little touches that are unrelated to its famous resident. There’s an Anglo-Norman castle ruin, a couple of nice lunchtime pubs, a clutch of smart restaurants, a Spar (in Wales there’s always a Spar) and several back lanes to amble along in tree-dappled sunlight.
In the evening, a great pub – sadly not Browns Hotel, which is known as a hangout for lager-drinkers – is the New Three Mariners Inn (www.newthreemariners.co.uk), which is excellent for rousing live gigs, serves local ales, and gets packed full of serious drinkers of all ages from the township. By the way, never say ‘town’ or ‘village’ to locals – the ‘township’ title was bestowed on Laugharne way back due to its medieval origins and is preserved by all who pass through. Seaview A smart restaurant with rooms, Seaview only opened a couple of months ago. One of Dylan Thomas's former residences, it’s a plain but elegant Grade II-listed Georgian building that rises above all its neighbours, hence the views. Husband and wife team Jan and Gail Milsom run the place with great energy and enthusiasm; Jan, an architect by trade, has done wonders to fit four small en-suite rooms into what was a ruin until 2007. The modern restaurant, which occupies the basement and raised ground floor – plus the terrace when the sun is out – serves great seafood and fish, as well as hearty, locally sourced meat dishes, and the presentation is exquisite. The wines are priced fairly, and all the bread and cakes are freshly baked. Seaview, Market Lane,Laugharne, SA33 4SB (01994 427 030/www.seaview-laugharne.co.uk). Dinner for two with drinks: from £70. B&B £65-£110 per room, per night.