Destination #1 “The strangest town in Wales” Laugharne, Carmarthenshire
Embarrassingly, I’d never heard of this place until I read a profile in House & Garden magazine (see, getting older…) last year. In it Kate Quill wrote “there are few places in the world where landscape and art are so inextricably linked.” I was immediately hooked.
When I told my Dad where I was going, the first thing he asked was “Ah, so you’re going to the tin shed, then?”
…Had I made a mistake?
Certainly not. After getting lost in the beautiful, almost melancholy geography of this antiquated hidden gem I can understand its pull. And I’m in stellar company – Mick Jagger, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, Peter O Toole, President Carter and, er, Pearce Brosnan have all made the pilgrimage to Laugharne in order to explore the town’s links with literature. Most notably, the celebrated poet Dylan Thomas.
Dylan’s relationship with Laugharne began when he visited aged 19, in 1934. Pronouncing it ‘the strangest town in Wales’, he clearly felt a connection to this unusual place, with its lively locals, situation on the mouth of the Taf estuary… and its 14 pubs.
Laugharne became the inspiration for the fictional town of Llareggub in his play for voices Under Milk Wood, and Dylan called the town home at several points over his life, although his returns were fractured by the Second World War.
He eventually moved into the Boathouse – now open to the public as an intimate little museum – in 1949, thanks to help from the American actress, Margaret Taylor. The best thing about the Boathouse, aside from the majestic views over the estuary and marshland, are the displays of letters penned by the writer – he wrote more than a thousand over the course of his life.
The Birthday Walk, inspired by Poem in October, written by Dylan on his 30th birthday, offers a chance to ponder life and death and nature etc (you’ll find yourself doing a lot of that in Laugharne), as you follow in the footsteps of the poet. The route, stretching up a woody hill that looks down over the estuary and beyond, was originally created to provide access to the cockle beds on the marshes.
This was actually my first visit not only to Laugharne, but also to an estuary – and I was struck by the detached, still mood it created. Almost silent, the peace is very conducive to quiet contemplation, perhaps over a bag of chips – which you’ll need after your hefty walk.
For those readers who admit to being Twitchers, there is much birdlife to ogle in Laugharne, which is home to many curlews, egrets and other birds I can’t remember the names of.
Being new to bird watching and armed not with knowledge but with a slightly dubious app, we saw none of the above, regrettably. Potentially a grey-headed gull…but who knows.
Literary heritage aside, there are a number of other quirky jewels in Laugharne’s crown.
On the subject of crowns, Laugharne has a Castle. Built in 1116 by the invading Normans, it’s another opportunity to climb up high and enjoy the expansive views of that serene landscape. There’s not much else to it, to be honest – the information provided on what ruins remain is a little light.
But this gives you more time spare to spend in what must be the most curious and memorable World War attractions I’ve been to - the infamous Tin Shed Experience. Founders Andrew Isaacs and Seimon Pugh-Jones have created a unique, broad collection of artifacts and memorabilia from 1914 to 1945, all housed in a tin shed.
Once you knock on the door and enter into their world, the passion for history and nostalgia really shines through. This is a museum with a difference – cast off any dusty pre-conceptions you may have! The Tin Shed is very much the ‘experience’ it promises to be – we were treated to a personal tour through the collection by Seimon, and were encouraged to interact and pick up items on display, asking questions about things we had a particular interest in.
He also took us through the story of how the place came about, and it was a breath of fresh air to have such an intimate insight, making the visit special. Other establishments could learn a lot from this innovative enterprise.
My Dad wouldn’t have been disappointed.
Not purely an attraction for bookish nature lovers, Laugharne also caters for romantics, young and old.
Browns, described as a pub with rooms, provided a chic and rather luxurious base for our trip – complete with fluffy flannel robes, sumptuous bed linens and a prime view out on to the main street from a gorgeous bay window.
You won’t be surprised when I tell you there is another Dylan Thomas connection here – Browns was the favourite watering hole of the poet, and this is evident in the photographs and books that populate the bar area
And as we’re talking romance, I really must mention The Cors - a charming restaurant set in magical surroundings. It’s only a shame the food isn’t served out in the garden! Once a bog (translated as cors, in Welsh), this breathtaking space is now home to trees, ponds, sculptures and some sensational gunnera. We were gutted that we couldn’t explore fully in the rain we met with on the night of our meal – fortunately the scenery inside matched up. Flickering candlelight, attentive service and a gently bustling atmosphere accompanied the delicious local food. I could live there.
They say the people make the place, don’t they? What made Laugharne special, for me, was it’s friendly residents. Greeting you with big smiles, throwing delicious cake at you left, right and centre and relaxing convivially in the many pubs still left in town (not quite 14).
Recommended on a Saturday night is The New Three Mariners, boasting a brilliant atmosphere fuelled by a jolly local crowd letting their hair down. Literally – on our last night one long-haired crooner joined the live band in a number of rowdy Rolling Stones renditions. It’s like Jagger was back in town...
Hours later, we polished the whole experience off in the more sedate surroundings of the Browns bar with a special edition ‘Dylan Thomas’ single malt whiskey – unashamed of the cliché, it was a real treat - gutsy, warm and timeless. Just like Laugharne.