IT’S FAIR to say that if you are on a trip that will take you to locations associated with the great Welsh poet Dylan Thomas then you don’t expect one of the first shrines you come across to be a character from
I’ve just booked into the St David’s Hotel & Spa in the Welsh capital of Cardiff and I’m taking advantage of a very early flight to have a look around the hugely impressive Bay area.
Here there is a Wetlands Reserve, where mudflats have been transformed into freshwater marshland and a beautiful 500-acre lake.
The view from the hotel over breakfast is not at all a bad way to start the day; and if anything it’s even better.
The Welsh have done a great job on the entire Bay area, with no shortage of interesting places to visit. Yes, including the Dr Who Experience, which is a must for fans.
As to that shrine to a character called Ianto Jones, five minutes’ walk from the hotel on Mermaid Quay, it seems from the letters and photographs left there that enthusiasts come from all over the world to see it.
Odd. Then again, I like odd’. Which is just as well, because the Harbour Authority has erected’ close to the hotel front what looks like Wales’s biggest phallic symbol. No kidding, it appears to have escaped from a Ken Russell movie.
An afternoon trip to Cardiff Castle reveals several more layers of odd’.
Although the original Roman foundations have been added to over the course of nearly 2,000 years, it was really when the third Marquess of Bute came into his enormous inheritance in 1868, that the castle began to assume the shape it holds today.
He seems to have just let loose an architect by the name of William Burges, who had hitherto gone over budget on anything he worked on. Here there was no budget and the result is an eyeball-searing explosion of colour from the moment that you enter the first room.
This is medieval life, Jim, but not as we know it. It is fantasy medieval, a riot produced by two imaginations in tandem and with so many stories being laid out in symbols that it would take multiple visits to achieve anything approaching the full benefit of it.
The following day we set off to Swansea to look for the remains of Dylan Thomas’s world, in this his centenary of his birth; and where better to begin than with his childhood home at No 5 Cwmdonkin Drive? This has been lovingly, meticulously restored by Geoff Haden and his ex-wife Annie, two hardcore Thomas admirers. Geoff is highly entertaining as he shows us around and does a wonderful impression of Prince Charles on his visit there.
(“Is that eiderdown? I love eiderdown; reminds me of Grandmother’s bed…”). It is also possible to rent the house to stay in for the night. Again, odd; or perhaps not. It depends on how Dylan-obsessed you are.
Annie stays with us for the rest of the trip and it is fair to say that it wouldn’t have been the same without her. Almost a force of nature, her enthusiasm is contagious as she shows us around Cwmdonkin Park, so prominent in Dylan’s work. Annie herself has a rather poetic way of speaking.
“The land hasn’t forgotten that it was once swamp…” she says at one point; and then again: “Dylan was a Time Lord, plucking things from the past when he wrote and settling them down 20 years later.”
There’s no escaping Dr Who on this trip. Despite this and a moving visit to the Dylan Thomas Centre I feel it’s fair to say little remains in Swansea that the ghost of the poet would recognize. Much of that atmosphere is kept alive through sheer force of will from people like Annie and Geoff.
Then it was on to Laugharne, where Dylan spent his last four years, living in his famous Boathouse’ and drinking in Browns Hotel. The trip there makes Wales come alive for me, as Annie regales us with anecdotes on the small towns that we are passing through. I feel saturated by the past and find myself thinking of the short distance between Christianity and Paganism.
Laugharne itself is just lovely and a visit to Dylan’s grave and cross is a must and I must confess to a personal preference here: despite the excellence of the St David’s Hotel the previous night, I preferred the more earthy charms of an evening in Browns.
Be warned, though: this is very much a pub with rooms, no matter how nice those rooms are. It is likely that when the bar is full you might find it too noisy. , But I feel, though, that if you want to evoke the spirit of Dylan Thomas, then a visit to Laugharne is essential.