During a recent weekend away in Laugharne we stayed at Brown's Hotel where Dylan Thomas drank when he lived in the village. His presence still permeates the place. Brown's Hotel has been renovated and now provides accommodation in designer style rooms with copies of his works on the bedside tables and photographs of him drinking there on the wall in the bar. But it is down along the shore of the tidal inlet from Carmarthen Bay that the poems come alive. The 'Boat House' where he lived and his writing shed just down the lane - both also now renovated as a museum to his life - overlook the inlet from above the estuary of the River Tâf. The estuary of the River Towy runs into the same inlet from the other side of the headland opposite. When the tide is out seabirds gather on the shellfish-rich sandbanks and herons explore the gullies on the saltmarsh. St John's Hill rises as a forested outcrop above the inlet between the ruins of the castle and the sand dunes stretching along the coast towards the Pembrokeshire resorts of Saundersfoot and Tenby.
Glyn Jones, an early friend and fellow writer, has given an account of a visit by Dylan before he settled in Laugharne. Both poets had family connections around Llanstephan on the headland opposite. They visited the area together and then crossed by ferry to Laugharne:
"In the thirties the ferryman was Jack Roberts, a well-known character in the Laugharne, Llanybri and Llanstephan area. As he rowed Dylan and me across the wide river mouth we could see before us on the red cliff that "patch/Work ark", that "sea shaken house/On a breakneck of rocks", the Boat House …..
We landed, explored the township and had tea at Brown's, surely his first visit to an hotel he has since made known on both sides of the Atlantic. We went through the graveyard and into the ancient parish church of St Martin. It is in that graveyard, under the simplest of wooden crosses, that Dylan is now buried."
from The Dragon Has Two Tongues by Glyn Jones (Dent, 1968)
A 'Birthday Walk' has been devised around the village and across St John's Hill based on 'Poem in October'. We did this walk and also strolled each evening by the tidal shore and watched a heron by the waters' edge. For me it was the poem 'Over St Johns Hill' that most resonated during these evening strolls. The poem develops a conceit around a heron with whom the poet seeks to make common cause in lamenting the fate of the prey of the "hawk on fire" above the hill:
"We grieve as blithe birds, never again, leave shingle and elm,
The heron and I"
'Poem in October' recounts a walk taken by the poet on 'My thirtieth year to Heaven" and the 'Birthday Walk' takes its followers around and beyond the village to recall the views evoked in the poem (though the later 'Poem on my Birthday' also supplies good copy for the experience). The "heron/Priested shore", the "green chapels" in the woods of St John's Hill and the transformative power of memory to make visionary sense of both weather and landscape are all aspects of 'Poem in October' that provide significance for the walk. Though in this inlet, if anywhere, the land- and sea-scapes are sufficient in themselves to inspire as the words of the poet have done.