December 3, 2022

thecinematravelers

Inspired By Travel

on the Dylan Thomas trail in Wales

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Even if you know or care nothing about Dylan Thomas, the small town of Laugharne in Wales is an enchanting place to visit, and was part of our tour through Swansea and Carmarthenshire on the Dylan Thomas Trail. In this article, discover some of the best things to do in Laugharne, with its wide skies and seascapes that inspired the poet. You can read my other articles about our visit to Swansea where the poet grew up, and the Dylan Thomas birthplace, his family home in Swansea.

Laugharne in Carmarthenshire Photo Heatheronhertravels.com

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Laugharne and Dylan Thomas

I like to imagine the 19 year old aspiring poet, Dylan Thomas arriving at Laugharne on the ferry, taking in the wide open skies of the Taf estuary, the small boats stranded in the marshy channels and the stark, stone towers of the ruined castle.

Estuary at Laugharne in Carmarthenshire Photo Heatheronhertravels.com
Estuary at Laugharne in Carmarthenshire

He later wrote that it was the sort of place where people like him ” just came, one day, for the day, and never left; got off the bus, and forgot to get on again.” Laugharne in Carmarthenshire is one of the places most connected to Dylan Thomas, where he lived for the last 4 years of his life in The Boathouse, overlooking the estuary which inspired him to write some of his greatest poetry.

Laugharne castle Wales Photo Heatheronhertravels.com
Dyland Thomas statue in Laugharne

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Brown’s Hotel Laugharne – Dylan Thomas’s favourite pub

We’d already spent the Saturday in Swansea, discovering the city that Dylan knew as a young man, before driving to Laugharne where we were booked into Brown’s Hotel. As we pulled up, the evening sun lit up the front of the Georgian pub, a favourite drinking haunt of Dylan Thomas that has now been renovated as a bar and boutique hotel.

Brown's Hotel Laugharne
Brown’s Hotel Laugharne
Brown's Hotel Laugharne
Brown’s Hotel Laugharne

When he lived here, Dylan’s routine was to sit in the window seat of Brown’s in the morning, studying the papers, or dropping in to see his parents Jack and Florence who lived at The Pelican opposite, before going home to the Boathouse for lunch and working in the writing shed in the afternoon, usually returning in the evening with his wife Caitlin for a few more beers.

The Brown's Hotel Laugharne Photo Heatheronhertravels.com
The Brown’s Hotel Laugharne

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Our room was The Laques, named after a part of Laugharne that you can see from the bedroom window where Flemish weavers once settled. Note: the hotel has been renovated and the decor updated since we visited.

Brown’s Hotel in Laugharne

Each of the 14 rooms at Brown’s Hotel is individually designed in rich colours of aubergine, olive and grey, with tactile velvets and soft woollens used in the upholstery and bed throws. All the bedrooms have a natural Welsh wool mattress and are well equipped with digital radios, pod coffee machines and mini fridge. In the bathrooms are eco friendly Anyah toiletries and specially commissioned wall art giving each room its own personality.

Brown's Hotel Laugharne
Brown’s Hotel Laugharne

The bathrooms are stylish and modern with a nod to the retro, vintage feel that carries through the room decor. In addition to the famous bar, the hotel now has Dexter’s steak house and grill, which showcases dry aged beef from the Dexter breed of cattle farmed locally at Llywn Farm. For those who don’t eat red meat there are also some chicken and fish options available.

Brown’s Hotel, King Street, Laugharne, Carmarthenshire.

Stay at Brown’s Hotel in Laugharne – the stylish boutique hotel where we stayed when we visited Laugharne

The Taf estuary – views that inspired Dylan Thomas

Taking advantage of the evening sunshine, we followed signs along the lane towards The Boathouse, where Dylan Thomas lived with his family. From the lane above the house, I caught the beautiful views over the Taf estuary, where the water was gently rippling and glittering in the evening light.

Read about 15 fun things to do in Carmarthenshire, Wales

Laugharne in Carmarthenshire Photo Heatheronhertravels.com
Laugharne in Carmarthenshire

The tide was out with the sandbanks exposed at low tide and some wading seabirds picking their way gingerly through the shallows. It was this view that inspired Dylan to write his Poem in October about his walk from here to St John’s Hill where the wood overlooks the town.

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 net webbed wall

Follow the Dylan Thomas birthday walk

You can follow the route Dylan described in his Poem in October, on the Dylan Thomas Birthday walk. There are benches and signs along the way so that you can read each line or verse at the place it was written. Visit the Dylan Thomas Birthday Walk Website with all the information you need and an App of the Dylan Thomas Birthday Walk for iPhone and Android.

The Dylan Thomas Grave in Laugharne

On Sunday morning we enjoyed a good cooked breakfast in the bar at Brown’s Hotel, surrounded by memorabilia and mementos of Dylan Thomas and then walked up the main street towards St Martin’s church. Through the main churchyard gate and over the little footbridge across the lane, we found the plain white cross of Dylan and Caitlin Thomas standing out among the grey gravestones.

Dylan Thomas Grave in Laugharne, Wales Photo Heatheronhertravels.com
Grave of Dylan and Caitlin Thomas at St Martin’s church in Laugharne, Wales

In the church there is also a replica of the stone memorial in Poet’s Corner, Westminster Abbey, with Dylan’s lines from the poem Fern Hill ” Time held me green and dying, though I sang in my chains like the sea”.

Dylan Thomas died in 1953 aged only 39, while on a poetry reading tour in New York. The cause of his untimely death has never been fully explained but was probably a combination of pneumonia, morphine overdose and heavy drinking. Caitlin Thomas was buried with him in the same grave, after her death in 1994.

Dylan’s father, Jack had died only the year before Dylan himself and Dylan wrote one of his most popular and moving poems Do not go gentle into that good night about his father’s illness.

Do not go gentle into that good night

Old age should burn and rave at close of day

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

From the peaceful graveyard, we continued up the leafy lane beside the church, fringed by cow parsley and pink campion, taking a shortcut to The Boathouse.

Walk in Laugharne, Wales Photo Heatheronhertravels.com
Walk in Laugharne, Wales Photo Heatheronhertravels.com
Walking in Laugharne, Wales

Stay at Brown’s Hotel in Laugharne – the stylish boutique hotel where we stayed when we visited Laugharne

The Boathouse Laugharne – home of Dylan Thomas

In 1938 Dylan and Caitlin visited their friends the writers Richard and Frances Hughes at Castle House in Laugharne and decided to find their own place nearby. The couple moved into a tiny fisherman’s cottage and then into a grander house at SeaView where they lived until 1940 until the war years intervened and they moved to London.

In 1949, The Boathouse which Dylan described as “my sea shaken house on a breakneck of rocks”, was bought for Dylan by his friend and patron, Margaret Taylor and he lived there with Caitlin and the children until his death in 1953.

Laugharne in Carmarthenshire Photo Heatheronhertravels.com
Laugharne in Carmarthenshire

Walking down the steps to the whitewashed house, the views across the Taf estuary were striking, not only from all the rooms, but from the balcony running around the house and the terrace at the back where there was originally a landing stage for the coal boats.

Dylan Thomas boat shed Laugharne Wales Photo Heatheronhertravels
Dylan Thomas boat shed Laugharne Wales

Under the roof was the main bedroom which is now an exhibition space with mementoes and information about Dylan’s life. Beyond the small shop was a parlour furnished as it would have been by Dylan and Caitlin and kept for ‘best’ as was the custom. I spotted the desk that had belonged to Dylan’s father and had come from his childhood home at 5 Cwmdonkin Park, since Geoff Haden had told me how he really wanted it back!

Dylan Thomas boat shed Laugharne Wales Photo Heatheronhertravels.com
Dylan Thomas boat shed Laugharne Wales

Downstairs where the family would have gathered was now a tea room but we were able to sit on the terrace in the sunshine with fabulous views over the estuary where I had a chat with artist in residence, Cheryl Beer, who was playing her ukulele and making up poems with some of the children visiting.

Cheryl had noticed the strips of paper in the writing shed like shopping lists of words, and was asking people to write a line of poetry or prose on a strip of paper, for her artwork. Having read some of the passionate, tender and angry love letters between Dylan and Caitlin, she also was planning to write a song that told the story from Caitlin’s point of view, “as a woman who was often being apologised to”

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The Dylan Thomas writing shed

After visiting The Boathouse we walked back along the path to Dylan’s writing shed which the staff kindly opened for me to take photos, although you can normally only peer through the window. Inside Dylan’s writing desk was set out as if he had just left, with cigarette stubs, strips of words hanging up and that inspiring view right across the estuary.

Dylan Thomas writing shed Laugharne Wales Photo Heatheronhertravels.com
Dylan Thomas writing shed Laugharne Wales
Laugharne in Carmarthenshire Photo Heatheronhertravels.com
Laugharne in Carmarthenshire

The first poem he wrote there was Over Sir John’s Hill, in which he describes the birds stalking their prey and bringing death in the midst of this beauty.

Over Sir John’s hill

The hawk on fire hangs still

In a hoisted cloud, at drop of dusk, he pulls to his claws

And gallows, up the rays of his eyes the small birds of the bay

This is also where Dylan wrote his most famous play for voices, Under Milkwood, inspired in part by the people of Laugharne. Dylan described his work in a letter as “a play, an impression for voices, an entertainment out of the darkness, of the town I live in .. (so that) you come to know the town as an inhabitant of it.. utterly familiar with the places and the people.”

Dylan  Thomas writing shed Laugharne Wales Photo Heatheronhertravels.com
Dylan Thomas writing shed Laugharne Wales

From the writing shed we dropped down a path to the level of the estuary where we walked back along the paved causeway with the marshland ahead of us until Laugharne castle came into view.

The Dylan Thomas Boathouse, Dylan’s Walk, Laugharne, Carmarthenshire, SA33 4SD

Stay at Brown’s Hotel in Laugharne – the stylish boutique hotel where we stayed when we visited Laugharne

Laugharne castle, Brown as owls

The final stop of the day was the ruined Laugharne castle which overlooks the marsh and the estuary. The castle was built in the 13th century, probably on top of an earlier Norman castle and it came under siege in the English Civil War and was partly dismantled.

Laugharne castle Wales Photo Heatheronhertravels.com
Laugharne castle Wales

When Dylan first came to Laugharne, the castle and its grounds were in the gardens of Castle House next door, owned by writers Richard and Frances Hughes. Laugharne Castle was described by Dylan in his Poem in October.

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.

Dylan was allowed the use of the gazebo in the garden which overlooks the estuary and it was here that he wrote the short stories Portrait of the artist as a Young Dog. A nice touch is that there is a writing desk and old typewriter within the gazebo to recreate how it would have looked when Dylan wrote there.

Laugharne castle Wales Photo Heatheronhertravels.com
Laugharne castle Wales

The castle is now open to the public, although it’s really just a picturesque shell of the castle that the Welsh Lords used to dominate the estuary and port at Laugharne before it silted up. You can climb the tower for views over the estuary, and there’s a Victorian Rose garden which is a pleasant place to sit on a summer afternoon.

Laugharne castle Wales Photo Heatheronhertravels.com
Laugharne castle Wales

Laugharne Castle is run by CADW and is open April-October 10am-5pm Adults £3.80

Laugharne in Carmarthenshire Photo Heatheronhertravels.com
Laugharne in Carmarthenshire

Plan your visit to Laugharne

Whether you are a Dylan Thomas fan or not, Laugharne is an enchanting place to visit, for the views of the estuary, the walks up to St John’s Hill, for the Brown as Owls castle, and of course for the fascinating Dylan Thomas connections. Follow where Dylan walked, drink where he drank and be inspired by the beauty of the place and the poetry. In a place like this we might all have a literary masterpiece in us!

Stay at Brown’s Hotel in Laugharne – the stylish boutique hotel where we stayed when we visited Laugharne

Visit Wales – the official website for everything to see and do in Wales
Visit Carmarthenshire – discover places to see and stay around Laugharne in South Wales
Brown’s Hotel – Dylan’s favourite pub where you can now drink and stay the night
The Dylan Thomas Boathouse – where Dylan lived from 1949-1953
Dylan Thomas Birthday Walk – take a walk inspired by Dylan Thomas’ Poem in October
Laugharne Castle – where Dylan wrote in the gazebo owned by his friends the Hughes

Read next

Read about all the other things to do in Carmarthenshire, Wales

Things to do in Carmarthenshire Wales

Read my other articles about the Dylan Thomas Trail in Wales

An ugly, lovely town Part 1 – a Return Journey to Swansea with Dylan Thomas
An ugly, lovely town Part 2 – the Dylan Thomas Birthplace in Swansea

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Laugharne Wales - on the Dylan Thomas trail

Note: we originally visited Laugharne in 2014 but this article has been updated to reflect another recent visit to Carmarthenshire.

My thanks to Visit Wales who hosted* our visit and provided some of the accommodation and experiences mentioned

* More info on my policies page

This article is originally published at Heatheronhertravels.com

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