Posted by: brigid benson | October 29, 2015

Postcard from: Dylan Thomas Boat House

‘and there is nowhere like it at all’

Dylan Thomas 

Free spirited poet Dylan Thomas and his vivacious wife Caitlin managed a tempestuous marriage within the confines of a modest boat house home on the shore of the Taf estuary in Talacharn, as it is known in Welsh, or Laugharne in the English spelling.

From childhood, the poet’s affection for the ‘timeless, mild, beguiling island of a town’, complete with a castle, was steadfast and after periods of homelessness and short lets, the family home in Laugharne spurred a creatively productive time in the poet’s life, although three quarters of his poetry was written in four years between his 16th and 20th birthdays.

Dylan Thomas Boat House on the Taf estuary

Dylan Thomas Boat House on the Taf estuary

Dylan and Caitlin, a ferocious, fiery, loving warring couple shared their Bohemian existence with their children Aeron, Llewellyn and Colm.

Often broke, often drunk, heaving in and out of infidelities, the couple depended on the support of friends and family; even the boathouse was a gift bought for the family by Margaret, the wife of historian AJP Taylor and a passionate admirer of the poet.

The poet's long johns?

Poetic long johns in the garden 

Having come to the rescue by hosting homeless Dyland and Caitlin in their Oxford garden summerhouse for a month, Margaret went on to purchase the boat house, which the poet had much admired since childhood.  Dylan, Caitlin and their children took up residence from 1949-1953. Many believe that Margaret hoped, in vain, to share the home too.

Today the atmosphere of the boat house is sedate, though if walls could talk there might be some extraordinary recounts of extraordinary events here. Open to the public, the poet’s home is simply furnished in period style. Estuary views inspire. It’s a friendly, lived-in kind of place – I especially liked the witty touch of clean washing – this was a couple renowned for airing their ‘dirty washing’ in public!

The modest writing shed where Dylan Thomas wrote 'Under Milkwood'

The modest writing shed perched on stilts where Dylan Thomas wrote ‘Under Milkwood’

Dylan’s writing place was a shed on stilts, still in situ, clinging to the cliff and floating above the muddy foreshore. Peer through the window to see  scattered scrumpled sheets of paper and Dylan’s blue and white stripy mug on the table with a sea view. It seems as if the poet may return at any moment. Perhaps he’s just at Browns, (where the bar number was his telephone contact) or the Three Mariners;  among his favourite watering holes.

Nipped to the pub perhaps? Dylan Thomas' writing shed

Nipped to the pub perhaps? Dylan Thomas’ writing shed

From the boathouse allow about an hour for the circular walk along a woodland path to a beautiful smallholding and up a steep sunken lane, from here it’s a short way to a small iron gate behind St Martin’s church. Go through the churchyard and over the bridge to discover the couple’s grave, marked by a simple white cross, quite different to the fine Welsh slate headstones all around it.

How may times must Dylan Thomas have strolled this woodland path?

Often Dylan Thomas strolled this woodland path

Dylan died in New York in 1953, Caitlin, who was 39 at the time, died in 1994. Unlike may great poets buried with pomp in Westminster Abbey, Dylan lies at peace on a Welsh hillside, though St Martin’s church has a replica of the poet’s memorial stone in Westminster Abbey.

Visiting the Dylan Thomas Boat House is especially lovely in the low season when you will have time and space to soak up the atmosphere and the views.

At the end of my walk I returned to the basement tearoom to sit outdoors in the sunshine, accompanied by ‘Humpy’ the resident gull. Far from aggressive with humans, Humpy is so named because he arches his back as soon as any other bird glides across his path.  Look out also for the tame timid robin called Dave. As Joyce, one of the lovely kitchen team explained, ‘there was always madness when Dylan lived here and there’s definitely still some of it about today!’

Joyce with Humpy the Gull

Joyce with Humpy the Gull

Humpy gets the hump!

Humpy gets the hump!

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