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Follow in the footsteps of Welsh writers

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Phil Carradice Phil Carradice | 09:14 UK time, Thursday, 1 April 2010

Writers have always been fascinated by people and places. The people who inspired the great writers of the past, who acted as role models for their fictional characters, are long dead and therefore beyond our reach. It is not the same with places.

Dylan Thomas
Poet and writer Dylan Thomas in a BBC studio, November 1948
We can still get in touch with the lives of great writers - and thereby gain greater insight into their literary creations - by visiting locations that meant something to them. It might be a place they wrote about, somewhere they visited or stayed, a landscape that impinged itself in their subconscious. But, in particular, the houses where they lived, either as children or during their adult lives, invariably had a huge effect on their development. In Wales we are lucky. So many of the houses where our literary heroes lived are still in existence and, equally as important, are still accessible.

Dylan Thomas, of course, has several houses. His place of birth and home during the most fertile writing period of his life is Cwmdonkin Drive in Swansea. It sits just opposite Cwmdonkin Park - the park, like the house features in many of his writings, poetry and prose alike, and is easily accessible for those who want to experience a little of the atmosphere that inspired him.

The Boat House in Laugharne is, perhaps, Thomas' most famous residence and is open to the public most days. Yet he lived in this "sea girt" house for only four years, from 1949 until his death in America in 1953. Visitors to Laugharne can also wander past Sea View, another house where Thomas had earlier lived, and stare at the Pelican, in the main street - where his parents stayed and his father died - or enjoy a drink, just like the man himself, in Brown's Hotel, almost directly over the road.

Laugharne was also home to another author, Richard Hughes, who wrote "A High Wind in Jamaica" and, incidentally, the world's first radio play - set in a coalmine. He lived in part of Laugharne Castle where Dylan and Caitlin Thomas would lie waiting for him to leave before helping themselves from his copious wine cellar.

T E Lawrence - Lawrence of Arabia - was born in what is now called Lawrence House in Tremadog, Caernarfonshire while nearby, just outside Porthmadog, is Plas Tan-yr-Allt where the romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley lived from 1812 to 1813. Prohibited from taking the "Grand Tour" in Europe because of the Napoleonic Wars, Shelley decided to settle for a while in mountainous north Wales. The house is now a very up-market guesthouse so you can actually stay there, too, if you wish.

The Welsh language poet Hedd Wyn (real name Ellis Evans) came from Yr Ysgwrn at Trawsfynydd. His nephew will happily show you around the farmhouse where Hedd Wyn's bardic chairs are on display, including the famous Black Chair that he won at the National Eisteddfod of 1917, six weeks after his death at Passchendaele.

There are many other writers who once lived in Wales. And there are questions to be answered. Where, for example, did Dickens stay when he came to write about the Royal Charter wreck off Moelfre in 1859? For literary detectives the Welsh houses of famous writers could be very fertile ground.


  • Comment number 1.

    Sometimes of course a place can actually change its ambience quite markedly after it has been celebrated as the home of a writer. Laugharne, always an intriguing village in itself, has become, since it has been visited by the Dylan industry, the site of a great deal of social eccentricity, notably in its cultivation of American tourists, in a way which must make it a fertile field for the satire of any contemporary writer.I also find it ironic that Brown's Hotel, once the haunt of the poet with the "conscious Woodbine" should have been one of the first to bring in a smoking ban.


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