It goes with out saying that if you are a Dylan Thomas fan, the tiny Welsh town of Laugharne is a must. And it doesn’t necessarily have to be Thomas, or just Thomas — literary tourism is not only a thing, it’s a big thing. Wales takes great pride in its native bardic traditions; this is the land that gave us Bertrand Russell’s, Kate Roberts, and Dick Francis. But here in south Wales, you will be hard-pressed to escape the power of Thomas. As the most recent “great” of Welsh literature, if he lived there, walked there, sat there, wrote there, or drank there, it is immortalized. Sometimes it’s a plaque. Other times it is a line of this poetry. And other times still is it a rendition of the portrait of Thomas done by artist Augustus John. The last heralds the Browns Hotel.
And good thing, too, because from the outside, the building is about as nondescript as it gets. At three stories, with a simple beige stucco facade accented by bay windows, it looks a lot like the other buildings lining the main drag of King Street in Laugharne, and indeed, like the other buildings I found in most Welsh villages. Then there is the inside.
In Thomas’s day, the Browns was a pub and that still holds true today. Walk in to the first floor, and it’s a bright, cheerful space with big chairs, big pint glass, big tables to put them on, and a big fireplace to warm the place up on chilly winter evenings. Being a B&B, it’s the breakfast menu that knocks it out of the park (the cockles, laver bread & bacon is delish), but even the simple pub-grub available in the PM is tops; most guests head to the nearby Three Mariner’s Inn for lunch and dinner, or The Cors for fine dining. On Sundays is a “Poems & Pints” shindig, and there is usually live music of some sort other nights.
And it was on one of the bay window seats that Dylan Thomas took his perch and observed. His relationship with the townsfolk was…layered. Certainly he was a part of Laugharne life; there was no way he couldn’t since Laugharne is/was just so dang small and everybody knew everybody. And the whole shebang, town and townies alike, were transmuted into Llareggub, the mythical setting of Thomas’s seminal work, Under Milk Wood. But spell “Llareggub” backwards and you get the idea it wasn’t all rainbows and unicorns. Rather than glossed over, it is actually embraced; Thomas may have been cantankerous, but it is all part of the legend. Many of the rooms at the Browns are, in fact, named after a Thomasian invention.
Then as now, it is the pubs where the people of Wales congregate to unwind after work, and it didn’t take long for me to get chatty with the Browns crowd, including a nice couple from — huh? — York. After a few rounds, the whole room was one big schmooze-fest, interrupted only when the Welsh rugby team scored on the TV. Then it got even shmoozier. Thomas would have loved it.
And he would have been gaga over my bed because it was huge, soft, and with thread counts out the door. The first night I was there involved a lot of booze; I know I must have ended up in my room because I woke up in it. Initially, when I booked a room on the third floor, I had in the back of my mind a vague fear that it might be a tad drafty or cool; it was, after all, an attic at one point.
Nothing could be further from the truth; it was a cold, windy, wet November outside, but my room was the epitome of cozy. I could have snuggled in that bed all day. And, because it was an attic, the ceiling soared above me in a v-shaped vault complete with wooden beams the color of chocolate. True, the windows were at floor-level, but so what? There was even a small library of books on my desk next to the tea kettle, perfect when the cold winds blew.
But while the outdoors might be a little damp and windblown (let’s face it, Britain isn’t known for its balmy beach weather), such has created a firm culture of comfort at the Browns. The bed was as warm and snuggly as it looked, and the tea was juuuust right. My bathroom sparkled right down to the tiles, the little bottles of shampoo and conditioner gleamed like jewels. Aw, man, do I have to leave this place?
Well, if I wanted to get the full Dylan Thomas experience, I did. The Browns is at a midpoint: To one side is the famous Boathouse and Writing Shed, where he lived and worked and are now both museums (and tea house). Go the other way and you’ll find the ancient St. Martin’s Church, where Thomas is buried under a simple white wooden cross. It can all be walked; nothing is too far from anything in Laugharne, and overlooking the town is Sir John’s Hill, where Thomas used to walk to clear his head and be treated with airily vast vistas of the River Tâf, the ancient Norman castle, and the distant headlands of Llanybri jutting into Carmarthen Bay. It’s very primordial.
And then night falls, and its back to the pubs. Laugharne is not London; one does not go there for urban delights. But if pub culture does it for you, and beds the size of a small state, and the ever-present resonance of a literary god, well, then, do I have a place for you…