Dylan first came here late in 1936, driven down by his friend Fred Janes in hot pursuit of Caitlin Macnamara. When Dylan and Caitlin first settled in Laugharne they became good friends with Hughes, they visited often and also stayed during 1941, helping themselves to his well-stocked wine cellar and joining in local dramatics.
Dylan was allowed to use the gazebo set in the castle walls as a writing room (Hughes had written his fine novel ‘In Hazard‘ in the same room.) Dylan wrote some of the stories for ‘Portrait of the Artist as a Young Dog‘ here. The castle has recently been restored by CADW and is open to the public.
Dylan lived in three locations around the town. On his first stay in 1938 he lived in a little cottage rather grandly named ‘Eros’, at 2 Gosport Street in the lower part of the town. In reality it was primitive and barely habitable and after a few months they moved from there to ‘Sea View’, the much grander detached four-storey house near to the castle. Dylan was very pleased with the move and wrote to his friend Charlie Fisher;
‘We’ve moved house and tilted our noses. Our previous house,
once a palace, is now that cottage. How we existed there is
beyond us. Here we could have two bedrooms each, which
is quite useless’
‘Sea View’, which at the time of writing is sadly in a very dilapidated state, provided Dylan and Caitlin with some of their happiest times. They were away visiting Caitlin’s mother in Hampshire at the end of the January in 1939, when their first child Llewelyn was born, but back in Laugharne two months later he was christened in St Martins Church with Augustus John, Vernon Watkins and Richard Hughes as his godfathers.
Dylan settled into a cosy existence, friends visited, poems got written and years later Caitlin agreed with Vernon Watkins’ observation that the two years at Sea View had been ‘the happiest period of our lives together’. But by the end of 1940 the pre-war tensions and an even more pressing, ever-growing, burden of debt to local businesses forced them to leave Laugharne. They did not return until 1949 when one of Dylan’s major benefactors, Margaret Taylor, (wife of historian A.J.P. Taylor), bought The Boathouse for them.
‘My seashaken house
On a breakneck of rocks’
This is how Dylan described his new and final home in his poem ‘Prologue‘. He was thrilled with the place and he wrote excitedly to his benefactor Margaret Taylor, ‘this is it, the place, the house, the workroom, the time‘. With its estuary location, cliff top writing shed and idyllic views it was as good a house as any poet could hope for. You can approach the boathouse across the beach at low tide, but most visitors come along the cliff-top path, renamed ‘Dylan’s Walk’. This way you encounter Dylan’s writing shed first, originally a humble corrugated garage for Laugharne’s first motor car, it later served as the poet’s refuge and haven.
Hidden away from his family and friends, he could come here daily and work at his last great poems, many of which were directly inspired by the views and vistas Dylan enjoyed through the shed windows. And it was here that he would struggle to finish ‘Under Milk Wood‘.
You can peer in through the window in the door and see a pleasing, if somewhat staged, recreation of the workplace as it was – complete with empty beer bottles, Woodbine fag packets, and discarded crumpled faux manuscripts.
Further on, and down steep steps, the Boathouse sits on its stilt like supports in a setting of great tranquillity and beauty – a beauty that changes with the prevailing weather but which is always awe inspiring. Inside friendly and welcoming staff dispense information, tea, coffee, welshcakes, books and lashings of the Welsh equivalent of the Irish ‘craic’.
The Dylan Thomas Centre Collection has the original doors from Dylan’s writing shack and a good group of early photographs of Laugharne and other related materials including the original black and white BBC newsreel of Dylan’s funeral which is shown on an integrated screen.
A good little guidebook to the Boathouse is available.
Leave Laugharne back on the A4066. At St. Clears take the A40 towards Carmarthen. About half a mile before Carmarthen turn left on the slip road and follow the signs for Johnstown and Llansteffan on the B4312 towards Llangain and Fernhill.