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In the footsteps of… Dylan Thomas

Experience the sheer poetry of the writer’s birthplace, Swansea

In the footsteps of… Dylan Thomas
Dylan Thomas's boathouse, Laugharne, Camarthenshire, Wales. Image: Getty

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Dylan Thomas’s opinion of his birthplace Swansea was as changeable as the Welsh weather. He once described it as an “ugly, lovely town,” before living to see the Blitz rob it of much of its loveliness. This month, the city will mark the 101st anniversary of his birth with its annual Dylan Thomas Festival, running from his birthday of 27 October to 9 November, the date of his death while on tour in New York in 1953.

Thomas was born in the Uplands district of Swansea at 5 Cwmdonkin Drive. This solid semi is now a house-museum; also 101 years old, it would have been a smart house when Thomas’s father, DJ, bought it for £500. Guide Matthew Hughes shows visitors the ‘best bedroom’ where Dylan was born and the tiny room where he slept.

Elsewhere, Cwmdonkin Park, which many will know as the setting for Thomas’s moody poem The Hunchback in the Park, was — and remains — a little patch of wilderness in the otherwise staid suburb.

From here, it’s a 20-minute walk into Swansea proper. On the seafront, in the Maritime Quarter, is the chief cultural shrine for Thomas fans. The Dylan Thomas Centre is the largest exhibition in the world dedicated to the life and work of the poet. The permanent collection features photos, letters, books, worksheets and other memorabilia revealing plenty about Swansea’s literary superstar.

Finally, head to Swansea Bay, where Thomas would look out to the Gower Peninsula and the sea — a motif in many of his finest poems. dylanthomas.com

West is best
While Thomas often commuted east to London to further his writing career, get drunk and meet women, his favourite journeys took him west, to the Gower Peninsula, where he once found himself stranded all night on the tidal tip. His favourite place of all was the ‘legendary lazy little black magical’ township of Laugharne, where he spent his later years and is buried; said to have inspired his verse-play Under Milk Wood, it’s largely unchanged since Thomas’s time. To retrace his steps, visit dylanthomas.com/dylan-thomas-trails/west-wales


Published in the November 2015 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)