Travel: On the trail of Dylan Thomas
Adam Jacot de Boinod
- Credit: Ryan Wicks
From Central London to South-West Wales can and should take four and a bit hours, but these days what with road works, accidents and simply too many of us at the wheel, there’s no guarantee of complying with a sat nav’s predictions. So sometimes it’s best to start the holiday en route, to break up the journey by treating yourself to somewhere special and pampering. So a mere 10 minutes off the M4 (junction 17) outside Chippenham I came for a night to Lucknam Park (lucknampark.co.uk).
The interior is rich with Venetian mirrors, candelabra and swooping, draped and framed, circular French doors. The décor in my room was in keeping with the era with swagging curtains in opulent fabric and old black telephones from which to reach reception. And breakfast was sublime looking out to the avenue with excellently chosen classical 'music from a further room' and horses trotting from the equestrian centre.
But onwards to my main destination of Laugharne in Carmarthenshire to stay at The Dylan Coastal Resort (luxurylodges.com/dylan-coastal-resort). It’s only a year old, and a creation that benefits both from its vantage point up on the cliffs overlooking the wide expanse of the Taff estuary, and from the pilgrimage of and homage to Dylan Thomas, Wales’s most celebrated poet who lived here for much of his working life.
My lodge was brand new and fully equipped with all I could need. Super comfy beds and a tasteful, stylish décor, depicted in neutral greys across the main room which tripled as a kitchen, eating area and lounge. With the car parked bang outside the design had a flow making everything very easy. I simply had to turn up to have a lovely holiday. The relaxing, zen-like simplicity has been done to a very high standard and carries a hotel style with its dressing gowns and a phone direct to reception.
Down the slope at Milk Wood House there’s the restaurant where I enjoyed the chilled melon gazpacho with crispy Carmarthen ham, and a sauteed cauliflower steak. I sat before a spaciously-set marble table and beneath statement lights that echoed the large copper angle-poises in the reception and emitted a golden light which reflected infinitely at night. The décor comprised a harmonious yet eclectic mix of textures that gave a vibrant ambiance.
Before bedtime I was transported from my outside balcony by the inspiring atmosphere that Dylan Thomas found across the estuary. I let the orchestra of ducks and birds perform at dawn and dusk and into the moonlit hours. Sheer blissful silence and so meditative. So romantic under the full moon and what a link to Dylan Thomas’s writing hut directly below.
One morning I took advantage of the spa at the resort which is brilliantly designed with its lengthy infinity pool overlooking the water beyond and kitted out with classy golden mosaic recess harbouring contemporary cold-water buckets and ice scoops. All good for inflammation I was told and in line with the latest health trends. As for the treatments I went for a ‘top-to-toe option’ which felt like I had been in there for twice as long as my allotted hour. Impressive in every sense.
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I walked beneath the resort to Thomas’s writing shed and boathouse, down beside the estuary of the river Taff too shallow for navigation but broad and ever-changing in its strands of colour of sands and waters to appeal to his poetic imagination. The town of Laugharne is the supposed setting for his most famous work Under Milk Wood, which is rich in rhythm and characters and best heard narrated by fellow Welshman Richard Burton in the 1954 version.
For a break, I descended the cliff down a cobbled street with the wood burning atmospherically in the early autumn light to eat one evening at The Portreeves (portreevesrestaurantlaugharne.co.uk ) - a homely concern and ever-popular with the locals which is always a good sign. The celadon and teal green walls enveloping the oak floor and the many characterful artefacts and inviting fireplace was the perfect setting for a lovely supper.
I needed to savour more of Dylan Thomas’s legacy so I ate at Dexters at Browns too (browns.wales/food-drink/dextersatbrowns). Formerly just a pub it was where Thomas famously frequented and there are original portraits and photographs of him throughout. It’s now chiefly a steak house though I settled for a three cheese and chive souffle before roasted cod loin with sauce vierge, samphire and potato purée. The food was very well-presented and I loved my cheese on its circular slate.
For my away-day I took off west along the coast to Pembrokeshire and specifically to Tenby. It’s an unspoilt delight of a holiday town with a façade of four and five--storey houses punctuating the top like wonky teeth. It was a lovely trip down a memorable lane for I had come here as a child in the late 1960s for a classic bucket-and-spade holiday and how heartening and refreshing it was for it still to seem the same with two sandy beaches either side of the harbour and castle.
To experience more of the town I popped in at The Grist, the main square of the town, to the Owl and the Pussy Cat, a tea house obliging my new-found delight: the bara brith - a local fruit cake made with tea leaf, sultanas and currants. This charming, atmospheric eaterie was filled with locals, garrulous and gesticular, sitting beneath pictures of both cats and owls and amidst the tea cakes and pots of jam for sale. Myth has Laugharne as one of the possible settings for the story and it’s easy to see how with the estuary so suggestive of romance and escape.
Next door and later that evening to sample Arthur’s, a restaurant offering both lunch and dinner with the extra option of indoor and outdoor seating. I sat outside from where I looked out at the dilapidated and crenellated castle home now to a parliament of rooks. I was well-looked after and the portions were generous and good value for money. My time at Laugharne was the perfect break, having escaped before returning for now to my own second home for now.