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Visiting Carmarthenshire and Pembrokeshire
In the footsteps of the poet, Dylan Thomas
Over the last four years we have explored many areas in the counties of Gwynedd, Powys and Ceridigion. This past weekend my family and I decided to explore a small part of the counties of Carmarthenshire and Pembrokeshire. The quaint, little fishing village of New Quay was the furthest south we had been up to this point. The countryside heading down to Carmarthenshire becomes much gentler and more rolling and the quality of the roads improve. The once curvy roads have been straightened over the years which makes for a fairly fast and scenic journey into the heart of Carmarthenshire and Pembrokeshire.
In this article I invite you to join us on our travels into new territory. We start our journey just outside Aberystwyth then continue to the Gwili Steam Railway in Bronwydd, on to Llanelli then to Dylan Thomas's inspirational village of Laugharne and ending with a visit to Tenby in Pembrokeshire before returning home to Mid-Wales.
All the pictures are the property of Christine Broster, the author of this article
The Journey Begins
Mid-Wales, Bow Street to Llanelli
The forecast was sun and mild temperatures so it was a bit disappointing to wake up to the pitter patter of rain on our sun room roof. Determined to not let the rain spoil the day we set off early getting to one of our favouirite coffee places just after its opening time at 10 a.m. The Pennau Craft and Coffee Shop in Bow Street has offered a welcome respite on our trips to Aberystwyth from our area in Mid-Wales. Coffee, tea and buttered teacakes sustained us for the next part of the journey.
Don't let the rain get you down.
Never forget that the weather is capricious in Wales.
Wait ten minutes and you could be blessed with blue skies and sunshine (maybe).
Gwili Steam Railway
Going back in time
We decided to make a short detour on the way to see the Gwili Steam Railway which was running a Hunslett Saddletank Steam train as part of its 1940s weekend celebrations. We parked at the Village Hall near the Cricket Grounds in Bronwydd and took advantage of the free 1958 circa bus which was put on especially to shuttle people from the partking area to the train and back again.
We were greeted by soldiers in World War ll uniforms.
As we boarded the bus we were asked if we had seen a man with a little Chaplin moustache wearing a German uniform and the ladies were told to beware of the American soldiers offering chewing chocolate and silk stockings on the platform at the next station
Many of the passengers riding the train got into the spirit of the occasion by dressing in the clothing of the era. It is a lovely trip throught the countryside but decided to forego the trip this time and continue on our way as there was still so much to pack into two days.
Bronwydd Arms, the start of the Gwili Steam Railway journey.
Passenger dressed in 1940s attire. Could that be Sigmund Freud?
Llanelli and the surrounding area
The impressive Millennium Coastal Park
I am glad to say that, after leaving Bronwydd, the sun appeared so after checking into our hotel in Pont Henry, not far from Llanelli, we decided to get some fresh air and stretch our legs at the Millennium Coastal Park in Llanelli. The park, 22 kilometres of parkland, located on the River Loughar (Afon Llwchwr) is tidal. We arrived to see mudflats as far as the eye could see. Sandpipers and gulls foraged in the mud looking for tasty treats.
The sandpipers circled as one in precision performing aerial displays then landed back on the sand to peck once again in the mud. Children were digging with their spades to find little creatures buried in the mud and scooped up little guppies and crabs from the pools. Although the sight of the sea is wonderful there is something very appealing about the mud flats. It is almost like seeing an alien landscape on another planet.
Being a Sunday evening, the town was very quiet and many of the restaurants were closed but we happened upon a lovely Indian restaurant which served a very reasonably-priced Indian buffet. When we returned to the Millennium Coastal Park a few hours later, the landscape had transformed. We came back to a swollen river, waves crashing up on to the shore and people swimming.
We arrived to find mud flats, no water.
St. Martin's Church, Dylan Thomas' grave
Dylan Thomas and his wife, Caitlin, are buried in St. Martin's Churchyard. A simple white cross marks the place where they are buried.
A few hours later - quite a different scene.
Books About Dylan Thomas - His Life, His Poems and More...
In the footsteps of Dylan Thomas - Laugharne and the Dylan Thomas Birthday Walk
It was with great anticipation that, the next morning, we drove to the village of Laugharne, one of the places that inspired Dylan Thomas's greatest works. We were blessed with a beautiful day so after our caffeine fix at the, 'Cafe Culture,' we started down the path from the Grist Car Park (which was free) to Laugharne Castle. Laugharne Castle overlooking the Taf Estuary dates from 1116.
A very Welsh poet
Dylan Thomas was born in Swansea, South Wales and is considered by many to be one of the great writers of the 20th century. He lived in several different places but always returned to his beloved Wales, particularly Carmarthenshire, which gave him his inspiration. Dylan, rather than putting himself on a pedestal beyond the locals, he mingled with them and gave them a voice. 'Under Milk Wood', his most famous work a play for voices, is constructed from characters he met in the various places he lived in Wales, particularly Laugharne.
Dylan Thomas, like Dickens, went on many speaking tours particularly in the U.S. to promote his writing. We are fortunate enough to hear Dylan Thomas' reading his works in his rich, dramatic Welsh voice due to recordings he made. See the video below.
Dylan Thomas Reading 'Fern Hill' - His mesmerizing voice captured forever
The poem, published in 1945, is a remembrance of happy days in the 1920s at his Aunt Annie's and Uncle Jim's farm just outside of Llangain in Carmarthenshire.
Laugharne Castle, a Norman Castle, overlooking the Taf Estuary.
The Boat House and Writing Shed
Where Dylan Thomas found inspiration in the seascape beyond
Dylan Thomas lived in the Boat House on and off for many years and spent the final four years of his life here with his wife, Caitlin and their children, Aeron, Llewellyn and Colm. The house is set in a cliff . His Writing Shed is built on stilts and is located above the Boat House. He must have spent many hours here scribbling lines for his poems then scrunching up the sheets of paper containing lines that didn't come up to his expectation. There is evidence of that kind of activity when you peer through the window of the shed. It is set in such a beautiful, inspiring location it must have been difficult for him to leave on his many speaking tours. He left the Boat House in the autumn of 1953 for just this kind of tour never to return. He died in New York in November of 1953.
Dylan Thomas's boathouse in Laugharne on the Taf Estuary.
A walk around Laugharne and environs
Remember to wear sensible, waterproof footwear for this walk. One member of the family, naming no names, found out the hard way and had very wet socks!!
The walk continues
The Town Hall, The Clock Tower and Brown's Hotel
Our walk continued past the 18th Century Town Hall and the Clock Tower then to Brown's Hotel, Dylan's favourite drinking establishment. He spent hours here, not only drinking, but gathering the material for his poems by observing and talking with the locals. I wonder how many of these characters appear in his famous work, 'Under Milk Wood'? Of course, we had to go in and get a pint of the exceptional Brown's Hotel Ale and soak in the ambiance.
Links to interesting resources - Carmarthenshire and Pembrokeshire
Links to the Gwili Railway, A Dylan Thomas site and information about Carmarthenshire and Pembrokeshire.
- Gwili Steam Railway
A standard gauge preserved railway part of the former line which ran from Carmarthen to Aberystwyth.
- Dylan Thomas homepage
The official Dylan Thomas website with contributions by Aeronwy Thomas, (1943-2009), Dylan's daughter.
- Dylan Thomas Birthday Walk
The Dylan Thomas Birthday Walk created by Bob Stevens.
- Visit Pembrokeshire
All the information to help you plan a trip to Pembrokeshire.
- Discover Carmarthenshire
A website to help you plan a journey to Carmarthenshire.
The Birthday Walk
Fit and feisty at 30!
On October 27, 1944 on Dylan's 30th birthday he walked along the estuary then up to Sir John's Hill, where you can get some wonderful views of the estuary and even as far as Devon and Tenby. As mentioned, it can be a little muddy if there has been a spell of rain and the climb is steep in places. Dylan was obviously a fitter and slimmer man in those days.
Tenby (Dinbych-y-Pysgod) - 'Little Town Of the Fishes'
To end off our trip we decided to visit Tenby, a walled seaside town, in Pembrokeshire. I had avoided visiting Tenby in the past because of its reputation as a prime tourist hot spot. Yes, there are the bucket and spade shops, ice creams on the beach, the smell of fish and chips but I was pleasantly surprised to find a superb sandy strand, St. Catherine's Island with the fortress only accessible at low tide and the beautiful, colourful, Georgian Houses. I discovered that the famous Welsh painter, Augustus John, was born here. Dylan Thomas visited Augustus John, his good friend, on many occasions.
I have made a note that Tenby is truly a place that needs further looking into and we will return but, for now, it is time to get on the road for our trip back home taking along many pictures and a host of memories of a grand weekend in Carmarthenshire and Pembrokeshire.