Welcome to the 5th part of our unexpectedly long road trip to find Barometers in Devon, via just about everywhere else in the UK. Read parts 1 to 4 here, here, here and here.
After driving from London to Scotland via Northumberland, we had come to south Wales via The Lake District and now we were going to visit Dylan Thomas. Way back when we had first decided to go to Barometer World, we had wondered if we could squeeze in some other offbeat destinations as well, and Erica came up with Laugharne, where Dylan Thomas once kept a home. I didn't ask questions. After all, she had accepted without question my burning desire to visit a whole exhibition of air pressure measuring devices. And as someone with an English Literature A Level and degree in Drama and Theatre Studies, of course I knew all about Dylan Thomas.
Well never mind, because Erica knew.
'I don't know anything about him' Erica said in offhand tones, on our first morning in Wales. 'I just know his house is there. I think I went on holiday there when I was young'.
A phone call to her Dad revealed that this may not have actually been the case.
We shrugged and decided to go anyway. After all, we had travelled all the way here and were staying in a B&B only about 13 miles away. The day dawned bright and sunny (it was not raining. I repeat: IT WAS NOT RAINING IN WALES) and after several choruses of 'haven't we been lucky with the weather?' like true Brits, we set off to learn about the poet and playwright who kept a home in a small town on the south coast of Wales - and wrote plays in an old boathouse on a hill (YOU SEE, I HAVE LEARNED ALL ABOUT HIM NOW).
We arrived in Paradise, or so it seemed. The sun was beaming down on us as if it wasn't a day in late September on the British Isles, and a thousand sparkles bounced off the still waters in front of us. We parked in a car park that I was later told became submerged under water at high tide. We arrived in Laugharne early, before the bus loads of pensioners descended. We were greeted with a castle, a statue of Dylan Thomas and a row of quaint looking pubs and corner shops, some of which sold gifts, and which I could hear calling out to me ('Christina! You need to buy seven tea towels and a book of Welsh recipes!')
By the calm, marshy water was an information board with a poem on it. It turns out that one October day in 1944, Thomas went on a walk up a hill in Laugharne (it was his 30th birthday) and looked out over the calm of the sea and the land and wrote Poem in October about getting older. It is now very famous. I had never heard of it. I can also now exclusively bring you the news that it's a lot of waffle. So maybe read something else instead, like Heat Magazine. Anyway, you can retrace his steps by going on the Dylan Thomas Birthday Walk which is a 2km walk all around Laugharne. If it is actually your birthday when you do it, and you can prove it, then you get some sort of prize (probably the chance to write a better poem). It was neither of our birthdays so we contented ourselves with walking up a hill to the boat house where he did his writing and looking out over the water. It was a peaceful experiences and we felt, once again, very lucky to be here, viewing this part of the landscape of the island we live on for the first time.
Just down the hill from the boat house was the actual house, and peering over the railings, we could see it was full of people spilling out of the front door or artfully reading poetry on the balcony while wearing berets (yes really). We wondered if we should go in, but a sign post telling us the cost made up our mind for us. We wandered back into town and went to the pub instead, where we toasted our new favourite drunken literary figure with gin, and had lunch. Then we retired next door to the gift shop where true to form, I spent next month's rent money on souvenirs. Among these was a book of the Great Works of Dylan Thomas. I can safely assure you that 2 months later, I am yet to open it. Although I am sure it is very very good.
Then Erica went to guard the car from the incoming tide while I trekked up a hill for about a mile and a half to the edge of town to find the man himself. Because, fan of his work or not, if he was buried here then I was not going to leave without seeing his grave.
I found him on the side of a valley, decked out in heather and standing out from the crowd by sporting a bright white cross bearing his name and the name of his wife. Up here, as down by the water, all was calm, and I thought as I often do when visiting a grave that is pleasantly situated - 'what a lovely place to spend all eternity'. I stayed on the hill for a bit, refusing to apologise to Dylan for not liking his work, then some other people came trekking up the road towards him and I left them to it.
When I got back to the car, I discovered that Erica was also pretty unmoved by poetry about herons and winged trees, but was enjoying the town very much. We were glad to have seen it. The Stagbeetle had by this time been joined in the car park by approximately seven coaches, and the waterfront was teeming with retired people eating sandwiches. We decided it was time to go.
One more night in Wales and then we would be off to Barometer World! There had been some question over whether it would be open for our visit, but I had received an e-mail during the early part of our trip stating that they would certainly permit us to go in and look round. I could hardly wait. Now an expert on Hadrian's Wall, The Loch Ness Monster and Welsh writers of the 1940's, I was looking forward to becoming an expert in weather too.
Stay tuned for the final part of our magnificent UK road trip adventure!
All photographs Copyright Christina Owen 2016.
Click the links throughout the post if you would actually like to learn something proper about Dylan Thomas or Laugharne.