“This timeless, beautiful, barmy (both spellings) town…….a legendary lazy little black magical bedlam by the sea”
On his first ever visit to Laugharne in 1934 Dylan descried it as ‘the strangest town in Wales’. He kept returning and it has a huge significance in his life and work. It is the most important location on this tour and alongside Swansea, it is the other most influential place in Dylan’s life.
Although set in the midst of a strong Welsh-speaking area, the town, which boasts a Portreeve and some fine, quite grand Georgian buildings was, and still is, largely English-speaking, perhaps due to its Norman heritage and colourful history. It is also a place with a rich literary past. This began in the seventeenth century with Jeremy Taylor, chaplain to Charles I and the author of Holy Living and Holy Dying, and carries on through the centuries with the great feminist Mary Wollstonecraft, and her daughter Mary Shelley, Walter Savage Landor, and Coleridge. In the twentieth century, Edward Thomas and Richard Hughes lived and wrote in Laugharne and more recently Kingsley Amis wrote much of his Booker Prize winning novel ‘The Old Devils‘ in Cliff House, overlooking the Boathouse. And another Booker Prize winner, the Canadian author Margaret Atwood, visited the town and used it as a setting for a short story ‘The Grave of a Famous Poet‘.
It has also always attracted a disproportionate level of eccentricity – in Dylan’s day the ferryman was a deaf mute and the mobile fish and chip van was a converted Rolls Royce!
Pale rain over the dwindling harbour
And over the sea wet church the size of a snail
With its horns through the mist and the castle
Brown as owls………..
‘Poem in October’
Laugharne easily warrants a good half-day or even a full day’s exploration. Immediately as one enters the town, just up on the left is St. Martin’s Church, where Dylan and Caitlin are buried in the same grave.
In a field full of ornate and grand stone and marble memorials, almost central, is the one simple wooden cross that marks their grave. The cross seems to shine, and it stands out as if illuminated, all the more moving for its simplicity. The church itself and the graveyard are a fine example of Welsh Gothic, complete with massive crooked tombstones and huge, ancient yew trees.
Further on into the centre of the High Town, on the left hand side again, is the famous, or should that be infamous, ‘Browns Hotel’ – Dylan’s home from home when he was in Laugharne (he used the pub number as his own telephone number!).
Still very much as it was in Dylan’s day and still a popular pub (although not always open) with a few fading, curled, but never the less atmospheric, photographs and pictures.
Across the road is a tall Georgian terraced house, ‘The Pelican’, where Dylan’s parents had come to live in 1949. Dylan would call on his father every day to do the crossword and chat. In 1951, as his father became sick and his sight began to fail, Dylan was moved to write perhaps his greatest poem, ‘Do not go gentle into that good night’,
‘And you my father, there on the sad height
Curse, bless, me know with your fierce tears I pray.
Do not gentle into that good night,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.’
D.J. Thomas died in 1952 and less than a year later when Dylan’s body came back from America in November of 1953 it was laid out in ‘Pelican’ because of the inaccessibility of the Boathouse.
A few doors along is Corran Books, a bookshop owned by George Tremlett, himself the author of a number of books about the poet.
Further on past the steepled Town Hall and adjacent to the ruined castle is Castle House where the writer Richard Hughes of ‘High Wind in Jamaica‘ fame, lived.