I’ve long been curious about the lives of authors. Their writing routines, the writers that inspired them; their quirky habits and the places where they lived, worked and died.
So I thought I’d start a series of posts about the homes that provided shelter, solace possibly, inspiration for some of history’s greatest literary talents.
Let’s kick off with the most famous literary export from Wales – the poet and playwright Dylan Thomas.
From his “wordsplashed hut”, perched on a cliff, Dylan Thomas watched eagles and egrets wheel and cry above the river mouth, and composed what were to be his last poems.
Dylan Thomas Falls In Love
Thomas lived with his family in The Boathouse in the Welsh village of Laugharne for four years. He’d fallen in love with the place when he first saw it on a day’s outing with a friend. He became, he said one of these residents who arrived by bus and simply forgot to leave. And it wasn’t simply because the village had seven pubs!
Rather, it was the “timeless, mild, beguiling” nature of Laugharne that appealed to Thomas.
In one of the prose pieces published the collection Quite Early One Morning he described it as a place:
of herons, cormorants (known here as billy duckers), castle, churchyard, gulls, ghosts, geese, feuds, scares, scandals, cherry trees, mysteries, jackdaws in the chimneys, bats in the belfry, skeletons in the cupboards, pubs, mud, cockles, flatfish, curlews, rain, and human, often all too human, beings.
From The Boathouse (“My seashaken house / On a breakneck of rocks”) he could look across the estuary of the Towy where it flowed into the vast Carmarthen Bay and beyond it to the cliffs of the Gower peninsula.
The four years he lived in Laugharne coincided with a creative surge for the poet. He used a shed a little further along the lane from the house as his study.
A Poet’s Inspiration
It was here that he wrote some of his most famous poems, including Do not go gentle into that good night, and Over St John’s Hill, which depicts hawks swooping over the river mouth in search of prey.
The sounds and sights of the estuary were captured in another poem, written in 1944 to mark a walk he took on his thirtieth birthday to the shoulder of Sir John’s Hill.
Dylan Thomas lived in The Boathouse for four years from 1949. It was from Laugharne that he departed for his ill-fated trip to New York where he died suddenly in 1953.
Follow in Dylan Thomas’ Footsteps
Today visitors to Laugharne can experience both The Boathouse and Thomas’s Writing Shed. They are well worth a visit.
The house is now a museum which contains memorabilia from the family and some of the original furniture, including Dylan’s father’s desk. The interior has been returned to its 1950s appearance, with a recording of Thomas’s voice playing in the background.
When you’ve finished in the house and enjoyed your cream tea, do take a moment to walk around the side of the building from which you get a fantastic view of the estuary. The way the light plays on the water is simply magical and hard to leave behind.
You can’t go into the writing shed itself but you can get a good view just by peering through the window. It’s just one room that has been set as it looked when Dylan Thomas used it – even down to the scrumpled sweet wrappers on the floor amid discarded sheets of paper (early drafts perhaps?)
If a visit to both these places gives you an appetite for more Dylan Thomas connections, you are in luck.
You can re-tread the route Dylan Thomas took on his birthday (celebrated in the Birthday Walk poem). It skirts the castle ruins and runs along the estuary with information boards along the way.
Or you go into the town of Laugharne to visit Brown’s Hotel (one of his favoured watering holes).
You can listen to Thomas reading with almost too much gusto, via this recording for the BBC).