What’s so special about Laugharne? The poet, Dylan Thomas, lived here during the last years of his life, and is buried in the churchyard. The rest of the world seems to know this (including many of my fellow coastal walkers), but it was news to me!
Below is a photo of the Boat House, where Dylan and his family stayed. They would have enjoyed the unspoilt and wonderful view across the River Taf. It’s a familiar landscape to me, being the route of my walk yesterday.
[Later I learn of a controversial proposal to erect a wind turbine on the hill across the water. The plans are currently on hold, following a judicial review. You can read the current position here: www.dylanthomaswindturbine.co.uk . I’m usually in favour of wind turbines, but I agree it would be a terrible shame to spoil this particular vista.]
On the lane above the Boat House is a shed. This was once a small garage, but Dylan Thomas converted it into a writing room. It’s almost directly above the Boat House and enjoys the same view. What an inspiring place for a poet! Through a glass door, you can see his table, littered underneath with discarded pages of writing, his coat draped casually over the chair. I’m not sure how much of the furnishings are original, but it has a nice authentic feel to it.
After taking photographs of the writing shed, I notice a concrete promenade running just above the beach, and so I leave the cliff-side path and go down to walk along the shore and into Laugharne.
The concrete promenade ends in a grassy common, lying just under the ruined castle’s walls. There are lots of people about, walking and sitting in the sunshine.
After crossing a stream (you can choose to use the ford or the bridge), I find myself in the middle of a car-boot sale. But, more importantly, I see a café straight ahead.
I stop for lunch and enjoy watching the bustle of people. A coach pulls up, and more tourists get off. I’ve not seen so many visitors invading a Welsh village before. It must be the lure of Dylan Thomas.
Then I wonder how many of these tourists have actually read his work? I have a hazy recollection of being bored by an amateur production of Under Milk Wood many years ago. But most people will know the poem ‘Do not go gentle into that good night’, and its famous refrain: ‘Rage, rage against the dying of the light’. I’m ashamed to say that’s the only line I can remember of Dylan Thomas’s work.
After lunch I walk along the Wales Coast Path as it follows the shore around the little bay and then along the wooded slope of Sir John’s Hill. Up on higher ground I stop to take a photograph of Laugharne’s meandering river and its castle walls.
The path I’m following was originally built to allow cockle pickers access to the shore. It’s now rechristened as ‘Dylan Thomas’s Birthday Walk’, because this is where the poet walked on his 30th birthday and wrote a poem about the experience.
I enjoy the views, just as he would have enjoyed them. I take a photograph looking up the River Taf, which clearly shows the flat valley below Mwche Farm, (This was the valley with the causeway, the one that I considered crossing but was glad I didn’t try, because I later found out the path was closed.)
And I can’t resist another photo looking back across the bay. Dylan Thomas’s boathouse is the white building at the bottom, right on the edge of the water. It looks tiny.
The walk ends with a notice board that displays the stanzas from Dylan Thomas’s birthday poem, and encourages visitors to make a birthday pilgrimage to this spot to mark their own birthdays. I wonder how many people do this?
And, from here, there is a fantastic view across the Laugharne marshes, a vast sage-green pancake, furrowed with watercourses. At the far end of the marsh are watch towers, marking yet another military range. And across a blue band of sea – which looks ridiculously narrow from this perspective – are the bright sands and green trees of Pembrey Forest.
I feel an immense sense of achievement. It’s taken me 5 days of slow walking since leaving the beach at Pembrey, but I’ve finally navigated my way around the estuaries of the River Towy and the River Taf. I’m back on the coast again.
Beside the path, I spot another plaque. This one is metal, set into concrete, and I assume it’s marking an important historical event. ‘The Gathering at the Llareggub’. It talks about the flattening of a hill under the feet of a great army. And talks of a natural causeway running all the way to Greater Rockall.
I’ve never heard of this great military gathering. And I feel dizzy thinking of an enormously long, 850km, causeway connecting this area to a place called Rockall.
Amazed by the depth of my ignorance about historical events, I walk on.
The Wales Coast Path leads down off Sir John’s Hill and joins a track, winding around the edge of the marsh.
This area has been reclaimed as farmland. I pass meadows, and this rather lovely group of young cattle.
Ahead is an area I can remember seeing from the other side of the estuary. What I thought were striking cliffs, turn out to be the edges of a quarry.
A loud bang makes me jump.
Are they blasting the rock face of the quarry?
But the noise seems to be coming from behind me.
I turn and look across the fields in the direction of the marshes. A puff of smoke is rising from behind a hedge. The bang was a blast, a military blast.
I continue my walk expecting to hear further explosions, but that was the only one.
The track joins a road and this leads me up a hill and away from the marsh. I soon find myself back on the A4066.
My map shows the Wales Coast Path follows the road for the next 4 miles, all the way from here to the village of Pendine. My heart sinks. Despite having expected this, and despite the road not being terribly busy, I’m not looking forward to 4 miles of tarmac walking and traffic dodging.
But I needn’t have worried. The Coast Path dives off to the left, and I walk across fields on the other side of the hedge. It’s pleasant in the sunshine, and great to be separated from the traffic, even though I seem to be several miles away from the sea!
For the last couple of miles, I walk alongside an MoD fence. I always find it odd to see signs saying that our military establishments are being guarded by a civilian force (QinetiQ in this case). It seems weird to me.
The countryside on the other side of the fence doesn’t look very military. Rolling meadows, filled with tall grasses and wild flowers, including sunny yellow flag irises.
A sign says I’m walking alongside one of the largest dune systems in Wales. Shame I can’t see it. The military took over the dunes during the second world war.
I walk past caravan parks and static holiday homes. Another sign tells me that Pendine is home to the world land speed record. (That was back in the 1920’s of course.)
I’m on the outskirts of Pendine and can smell the sea in the air. Leaving the road, I take a shortcut through a car park and – at long last – arrive on the beach.
I walk to the end of the promenade and buy a cold drink in a shop. I can’t see a bus stop sign, so I ask the man in the shop if he knows where the bus stops.
‘Yes,’ he says, and leaves me hanging for a moment. ‘Do you want me to tell you?’
I’m a little too tired – and worried about catching the one and only afternoon bus – to appreciate his humour. But it turns out the bus stops right outside his shop. With half an hour to kill, I take my drink to the beach and sit on the steps.
Looking out to sea, I realise I can see The Gower! There’s Llanmadoc Hill, Rhossili Down and the knobbly outline of Worms Head. I’ve walked so far… and yet I’m still in sight of those landmarks.
Back at the unmarked bus stop, and time passes. Nobody else is around. I begin to panic. Perhaps the shopkeeper was joking – and there isn’t a bus after all?
It arrives, eventually, 20 minutes late.
You can read more about the Dylan Thomas Walk: www.dylanthomasbirthdaywalk.co.uk
And if you want to find out more about the mysterious ‘Gathering at the Llareggub’, this is the place to start: http://www.kcymaerxthaere.com The truth is out there. Or is it?
Distance today = 12 miles
Along Wales Coast = 289 miles
Total distance = 1,896 miles