Friday, 24 January 2014

THE GAFF ON THE TAF: DYLAN THOMAS AND HIS LAUGHARNE HIDEAWAY



I first visited the estuary town of Laugharne - pronounced Larne - a few years ago on the way home from a weekend in Tenby with my husband.  I must confess I had never heard of it before, but the landlady of our bed and breakfast recommended it, so we decided to look in on it.  After wandering around the town we decided to go for a walk along the path by the west bank of the estuary of the River Taf, on which the town is situated, and after a short distance we came across a sweet little building, barely more than a hut.  Peering through the window, it became apparent that what we were looking at was the 'Writing Shed' used by Dylan Thomas during his time living in Laugharne.  Thomas and his family spent the last four years of his tragically short life living in the Boat House on the shore of the estuary, and the shed was perched just above it.  It was a lovely Sunday morning when we visited, and as we gazed out at the stunning views of the estuary and of the majestic Gower Peninsula away in the distance, it was easy to imagine what a source of inspiration this spot must have been for the most famous Welsh poet.
The Boathouse

The first poem written by Dylan Thomas in his Writing Shed was 'Over St John's Hill', which describes the view - "Crystal harbour vale//Where the sea cobbles sail", "wharves of water where the walls dance and the white cranes stilt" - and the wildlife - "the hawk on fire hangs still" and "the elegiac fisherbird stabs and paddles".  Other works borne from Thomas' time in the shed include 'Do Not Go Gentle into that Good Night' about his dying father and 'Poem on his Birthday'.  The characters in 'Under Milkwood' are believed to have been inspired by the people of Laugharne, although the location is thought to be based on New Quay in Cardigan Bay.  




The Taf Estuary

For visitors who want to follow a 'Dylan trail' there are a number of sites around Laugharne with connections to the poet.  Brown's Hotel was where he would retreat to after a bout of poetry-writing in order to indulge his other great passion in life: drinking.  The sign outside the hotel shows an image of the poet.  There are two former homes which were occupied by the poet and his family before they settled in the Boat House: Eros, a fisherman's cottage on Gosport Street and Sea View behind the castle.  The castle, dating from Norman times and now a ruin, was a favourite haunt of Thomas when seeking peace and solitude.  The hillside cemetery of St Martin's Church harbours the graves of both Dylan and his beloved wife Caitlin.  Nature lovers will find plenty of birdlife down at the estuary, with egrets, lapwings, herons, oystercatchers, seals and even the occasional otter making an appearance.

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Sign outside Brown's Hotel. Photo by Tony in Devon, via Wikimedia Commons
The Boat House is open to visitors from May to October, and offers memorabilia devoted to Thomas as well as a tea room and art gallery.

This year marks the centenary of the birth of Dylan Thomas, who was born on 27 October 1914.  For the centenary a pop-up replica of the Writing Shed will be touring throughout Wales.

Map of the area.

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