Wales’s most famous literary figure Dylan Thomas referred to Carmarthenshire as the 'fields of praise' which so filled him with inspiration. His family roots were here and it is Carmarthenshire which stirred him to write some of his greatest works including Under Milk Wood and Fern Hill.
Dylan lived and worked at his Boathouse with its clifftop writing shed and spectacular views in the sleepy seaside town of Laugharne on the sandy fringes of Carmarthen Bay.
The town is enjoying a resurgence of interest brought on by the success of the film The Edge of Love which tells the story of Dylan through the eyes of the two women he loves. Many of the scenes starring Keira Knightley and Sienna Miller with Matthew Rhys as Dylan, are set in the stunning Carmarthenshire countryside around Laugharne, which many say has changed little since the great man lived there in the late 1940s and early 50's.
It’s not difficult to get a sense of what inspired Dylan. Laugharne has a placid, timeless charm - helped along by sand, sea and even a castle. The Boathouse where the poet lived for the last four years of his life is now a heritage centre containing audio visual presentations, original furnishings and memorabilia, a themed bookshop, tea room, viewing platform and terrace.
One of Wales’s greatest writers, Dylan Thomas (1914-53) has become an iconic figure for aspiring poets and anyone who loves literature.
Born in Swansea but with his family roots firmly in Carmarthenshire, Dylan drew his inspiration from the beautiful Carmarthenshire countryside, most notably Laugharne where he spent the last years of his life. Dylan’s passionate and turbulent marriage to Caitlin produced three children, Aeronwy, Llewelyn and Colm. The family lived together at the Boathouse in Laugharne during the last four years of Dylan’s life.
The main themes of Dylan’s poetry are nostalgia, life, death, and himself as a boy or as a young man. Also Wales, its people and landscapes have an undeniable influence on all his work. Dylan spent many happy holidays on Fernhill Farm in Llangain with his Uncle Jack and Aunt Annie, which he immortalised in his eponymous poem.
The seaside village of Llansteffan was another childhood favourite of Dylan’s and the setting for his short story, 'The Outing'. Carmarthenshire inspired him to write some of his greatest works but many were also penned while away from Wales, in London and America.
Dylan first visited Laugharne in 1934 and although he described it as 'the strangest town in Wales', it was to become more commonly associated with the poet than his birthplace Swansea.
In the 1930s Laugharne was unusual in that it was an isolated English-speaking town set in Welsh-speaking countryside and was known affectionately for the eccentricity of its inhabitants.
Laugharne held great emotional significance for Dylan. It was here his relationship with Caitlin was to flourish and where the couple set up their first home. The pair are believed to have caused quite a stir. According to Dylan Thomas’s biographer Paul Ferris: "Neighbours peeked through the curtains to catch glimpses of young Mrs Thomas in a flowing purple housecoat, or watch her husband, who was thought to be a writer of some kind, trotting down the hill to fetch water from the public tap, dressed in pyjamas and an overcoat".
The family left Laugharne shortly after the birth of their son Llewelyn in 1940 but returned to the 'timeless, mild, beguiling island of a town' nine years later when one of Dylan’s benefactors bought the Boathouse for them for £3,000. It was perfect and Dylan penned some of his greatest work here - including Under Milk Wood. At the time they moved in Caitlin was expecting their third child Colm.
Laugharne was to become Dylan’s final resting place. After his death in New York the poet’s body was returned to Britain and buried in the grounds of St Martin's Church in Laugharne. Caitlin was also buried in the same plot following her death in 1994.
The Boathouse is now a popular tourist attraction. It underwent a refurbishment in 2003 to coincide with the 50th anniversary of Dylan’s death and has been restored to the state it was in when the Thomases lived there.
Laugharne Castle was once owned by the writer Richard Hughes. Dylan often stayed with Hughes and used the gazebo in the grounds when writing. The castle is now in the care of CADW, the Welsh Historic Monuments, and is perfect for a visit. Look out for Dylan’s favourite pub Brown’s Hotel on the main street in Laugharne.