Dylan Thomas and Laugharne: 100 things to do in Wales 14

A quick weekend stay at Pembray gave us the chance to visit Laugharne as a follow on from our visit to the National Library in Aberystwyth. The weather forecast was for a day with sunshine and clouds. After a morning dodging the rain we arrived at Laugharne in time for lunch. And where else is there to go but Brown’s Hotel on the Main Street. Dylan Thomas spent a fair number of evenings here when staying in Laugharne. I would recommend the Cawl and a pint of Brown’s beer.

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Laugharn was originally known as Abercorran, but this was changed to Laugharne after the Civil War, in honour of Major-General Rowland Laugharne, a renowned local army officer, who had commanded a Parliamentarian army, before rebelling in 1648.

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As well as the small cottages, the street are lined with fine Georgian town houses. One of which has had the windows painted with scenes including Dylan Thomas and wife Caitlin.

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Dylan Thomas lived in Laugharne for the last years of his life from 1949 to 1953. He lived in a number of house in the town, but his favourite was the Boathouse down on the estuary shore.

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It was here he wrote some of his most popular work, including Under Milk Wood. In the mornings he would go to his parents house to complete the crossword with his father, before having a coffee, then moving on to a converted garage which he called his Writing House. This has inspiring views over the estuary.

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The Writing House has now been restored and decked out to appear as it would have done when Dylan Thomas was in residence.

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Dylan Thomas is buried in the local church along with his wife Caitlin. The grave is marked with a simple white cross. The lack of a large headstone seems to mark the grave out even more in the graveyard.

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Laugharne Castel stands right on the shore line guarding the estuary and access up river. It is one of a cluster of coastal strongholds built by the Normans to protect the conquered lands. In the 12th century Henry II of England met with the Prince of Deuheubarth, the Lord Rhys and sealed a treaty making Rhys Prince of South Wales. Following Henry’s death, his successor Richard I decided to ignore the treaty, setting of a period of warfare. Rhys attacked and took castles at Laugharne, Llansteffan and St Clears. Although recaptured and rebuilt by the Normans, their control over the area remained precarious. Llewelyn ap Iorwerth captured the castle again in 1215, before it fell to William Marshall, Earl of Pembroke. Today’s it stands proof to the skills of the builders, still guarding the town and the estuary.

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It seems fitting to finish with a poem by Dylan Thomas as we visited in October.

POEM IN OCTOBER

It was my thirtieth year to heaven
Woke to my hearing from harbour and neighbour wood
And the mussel pooled and the heron
Priested shore
The morning beckon
With water praying and call of seagull and rook
And the knock of sailing boats on the webbed wall
Myself to set foot
That second
In the still sleeping town and set forth.

My birthday began with the water-
Birds and the birds of the winged trees flying my name
Above the farms and the white horses
And I rose
In a rainy autumn
And walked abroad in shower of all my days
High tide and the heron dived when I took the road
Over the border
And the gates
Of the town closed as the town awoke.

A springful of larks in a rolling
Cloud and the roadside bushes brimming with whistling
Blackbirds and the sun of October
Summery
On the hill’s shoulder,
Here were fond climates and sweet singers suddenly
Come in the morning where I wandered and listened
To the rain wringing
Wind blow cold
In the wood faraway under me.

Pale rain over the dwindling harbour
And over the sea wet church the size of a snail
With its horns through mist and the castle
Brown as owls
But all the gardens
Of spring and summer were blooming in the tall tales
Beyond the border and under the lark full cloud.
There could I marvel
My birthday
Away but the weather turned around.

It turned away from the blithe country
And down the other air and the blue altered sky
Streamed again a wonder of summer
With apples
Pears and red currants
And I saw in the turning so clearly a child’s
Forgotten mornings when he walked with his mother
Through the parables
Of sunlight
And the legends of the green chapels

And the twice told fields of infancy
That his tears burned my cheeks and his heart moved in mine.
These were the woods the river and the sea
Where a boy
In the listening
Summertime of the dead whispered the truth of his joy
To the trees and the stones and the fish in the tide.
And the mystery
Sang alive
Still in the water and singing birds.

And there could I marvel my birthday
Away but the weather turned around. And the true
Joy of the long dead child sang burning
In the sun.
It was my thirtieth
Year to heaven stood there then in the summer noon
Though the town below lay leaved with October blood.
O may my heart’s truth
Still be sung
On this high hill in a year’s turning.

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