Not being much of a Welsh nationalist, Dylan Thomas wouldn’t have minded that the tableware in the Dylan Coastal Resort is Scottish slate and the unctions in west Wales’ new Milk Wood Spa are made by Ishaga in Stornoway.
Anyway, if the famously boozy poet were alive today, you can hardly imagine him knocking off from the versifying and arresting imagery to climb the hill and have his cuticles conditioned or undergo a Hebridean seaweed foot experience. He would have avoided the treadmills in the Technogym. Strenously.
The Welsh poet Dylan Thomas was in love with words as well as, in his own words, “being at the mercy of them”.
But he would have despaired of fitting “complimentary Wi-Fi”, “deluxe bolthole”, “pedicure station”, “mezzanine relaxation zone”, “outside infinity hydrotherapy pool” , “theatre pizza oven” and “flexible finance options” into his poems. And struggled for an internal rhyme, let alone any lyrical alliteration, for crab baguette or a three-scoop Oreo crumb ice cream cone.
The famously addled, Swansea-born master of chiming consonantal correspondences, who asked his readers to taste and savour his words, never mentions hot tubs. His canon and poetic evocations of lost childhood holidays conspicuously exclude any reference to heavy petting being prohibited along the south Carmarthenshire coastline.
The hard-drinking, doomed poet,who died in 1954 , was unversed in modern hot tub etiquette.
But that is Laugharne today and private hot tubs with strict rules of usage are just some of the attractions and irresistible plus-points of the fabulous £27m Dylan Coastal Resort, a former clifftop caravan park on the old Glan y Mor “Seaside” estate, cut out of Milk Wood above the old boathouse and former Ferryside Inn and now a museum and tea shop and “sea-shaken” garage writing shed which belonged to Dylan Thomas and his family four years before his death in 1953 in New York at the age of thirty-nine.
Luxury Lodges also has properties in Cornwall (Clowance and the Burn Coastal Retreat near Bude) and the Lake District (Whitbarrow). In south west Wales, in the place which Thomas described when her first visited it in 1934 as “the strangest town in Wales”, you have your pick of 58 classy, self-catering, large-kitchened, stylish slate grey, family-friendly four to six people clifftop lodges with views of the “mussel-pooled and heron-priested “ Taf estuary over to the Gower, Whalley Point, Clover Black Scarr ferry on the Tregeffan peninsula, home of Thomas’s auntie Annie at Fern Hill, near Llangain.
Along with famous poems for “tears and the evening”, Thomas wrote Under Milk Wood – his lilting plotless “play for voices” – in Laugharne (he also lived at Sea View and Eros in Gosport Street) as well as New Quay in Cardiganshire which inspired “the crowblack, fishingboat-bobbing sea”, Camden in London, South Leigh near Oxford, Rio Marina on the Italian island of Elba, Prague, New York and perhaps even Persia. Thomas visited Iran in 1951 to write a filmscript for the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (later B.P.).
The Dylan Thomas industry is still thriving. As well as bara-brith fruit cakes and tradtional Welsh “cawl” soap, the Boathouse gift shop at Laugharne stocks books, CDs, prints, Dylan tea mugs, Dylan fridge magnets, “Boathouse cufflinks” and Dylan Thomas non-alcoholic jams. And even Dylan ponchos.
In the front room he recites his poems from a period wireless. There is small doodle of a boat, a toy boat he brought back from the US for his children, his father’s desk and a slatted chair. There are also a pair of crutches.
“They belonged to his mother Florrie”, a seamstress, explained Helen in the shop. She is a former psychiatric nurse from Dorset.
“Apparently Florrie, a little worse for wear, fell into the garage inspection pit at Pelican House where she lived. She broke her thigh bone.” Dylan’s father was a teacher.
The Dylan Thomas Trail begins in Swansea. You can stay at his birthplace and childhood home, Glanrhyd, 5 Cwmdonkin Drive in the seaside town’s Uplands district. He described it as “Near the top of the hill. A small, not very well painted gateless house. “The sea half a mile off and lunatic asylum a mile away.” “Very nice. Very respectable. Not much traffic.”
It was considered very desirable as it had an upstairs toilet. As well as electricity points.
Thomas composed two thirds of his published poetry in the house. His archives are held in Texas.
Dylan described his bedroom as being “so small you had to go out of it to turn around. Big enough for a bed, a desk and a chair with a view of the plain wall opposite.” And the back garden as “small, but big enough for a washing line, three sparrows and a deckchair.”
In the shed there is the original commemorative glass plaque donated by friend and fellow Welsh broadcaster Wynford Vaughan-Thomas. On the front wall of the house is a blue plaque dedicated to the Man of Words 1914-1953.
Local walking tours of the seaside town take in pubs like The Bar with No Sign in Wind Street, the site of Swansea Evening Post newspaper where he worked and Salubrious Passage (Paradise Alley in his story in “The Followers”).
There is also The Dylan Thomas Centre , opened by ex-US President Jimmy Carter, a Thomas fan. It has footage of Thomas’s funeral and exhibits include an ink-stained tweed suit and the original door to the writing shed in Laugharne. which many believe is Llareggub where “Under Milk Wood” is set.
These days, holidaymakers, spa short breakers and lodge owners meet in the glass-fronted Milkwood House for swims, saunas and pedicures. Carmarthen is 13 miles away and Tenby 20. The nearby five mile clifftop walk from Amroth to Pendine is one of the finest in Wales. The eight-mile long Pendine sands was used for land speed motor racing in the 1920s. Thomas described the local seascape as “mostly mud”.
Other local attractions include The Blue Lagoon Water Park, Gwili steam railway, the National Botanic Gardens with the world’s largest single-spanned glasshouse, the world’s largest dinosaur park at the National Showcaves Centre, Bosherton lily ponds and the gardens of Aberglasyne.
In Laugharne, there is a two-mile “Birthday Walk” past the Norman castle (“as brown as bats”) up through the woods of St John’s Hill to the old cockle beds and salt marshes. Benches bear lines taken from “A Poem In Octomer”, written around Thomas’s thirtieth birthday. If you can prove it’s your birthday you qualify for free chips in the chippie in the square and a free pint in The Cross Inn. If it’s open.
You must pay the obligatory pilgrimage to Brown’s Hotel which has recently opened a pricey restaurant. Here Thomas held court, cadged drinks, ran up a huge unpaid tab and spent hours “mouldering” in the bay window. His grave is up the road in St Martin’s church which, appropriately, has a large bottle bank in its car park.
After your open-air exertions, you can lounge on the MilkWood spa’s underwater bed or wallow in your lodge’s private hot tub , watching the tides and listening to the “palaver of birds” and maybe spot a British Lion and his pride. Wales and Lions rugby captain, Alan Wyn Jones, has a property at the resort and is its modern ambassador.
Thomas believed that “the world is never the same again once a good poem has been added to it.” Carmarthenshire will never be the same again now Dylan Coastal Resort has been been added to its dramatic shoreline – that “black-magical bedlam by the sea… timeless, beautiful, barm… there is nowhere like it anywhere at all.”
For information on Luxury Lodges, please visit: www.luxurylodges.com, with prices for three night breaks starting at £1,550.
Kevin Pilley is a former professional cricketer and chief staff writer of PUNCH magazine. His humour, travel, food and drink work appears worldwide and he has been published in over 800 titles.
Photographs courtesy of Discover Carmarthenshire and Luxury Lodges