Our journey through Swansea in search of the celebrated Welsh poet, Dylan Thomas, had brought us past the pubs where he drank, past his school and finally to Cwmdonkin Park where he played as a boy. (At this point you may want to read Part 1 of this story in which we visit the Dylan Thomas Centre and walk the city streets listening to Return Journey, Dylan’s account of the pre-war Swansea he knew.)
The reservoir in the park, where the swans once glided is now a flat stretch of grass with a children’s playground at one end, but I imagine that the bowling green and pavilion looks much as they did in Dylan’s childhood. After the Return Journey performance we stopped at the cafe, which serves home-made lemonade and ice cream, although we stuck to the tea and Welsh cakes.
From here it was just a stroll across the park to our next destination in the search for Dylan Thomas, at the house where he was born, 5 Cwmdonkin Drive. The Dylan Thomas birthplace has been restored and is open to the public, not so much as a museum but as a recreation of the Thomas family home, as if they had just stepped out leaving us to peep into their domestic arrangements.
You can even stay in the house, entertained by books, games and an old gramophone player, but you’ll have to do without the flat screen TV although thankfully there is central heating. We had arranged to meet the owner and curator of the Dylan Thomas Birthplace, Geoff Haden, who kindly gave us a personal tour of the house.
The Thomas family bought 5 Cwmdonkin Drive in August 1914 when it was newly built and Dylan was born in the upstairs front bedroom in the October of that year. It was the sort of house that a bank manager or doctor might have owned and fitted with the aspirations of DJ Thomas who had hoped for higher things than a school master of the grammar school. The house cost £500 and Mrs Thomas was able to contribute £150 that she had inherited from her father.Dylan’s mother Florence was keen to have a modern house with mains drainage to provide a healthy home for her children, 8 year old Nancy and new baby Dylan and the bathroom with plumbing and separate upstairs lavatory would have been considered very genteel at the time.
The Thomas family lived at 5 Cwmdonkin Drive for 23 years and when they retired to Laugharne they were able to rent it out to provide some additional income. After the house was sold, it was over the years a family home, student bedsits and was leased by Swansea Council who eventually gave it up to concentrate on developing the Dylan Thomas Centre in the Marina. Geoff told me how he was passing one day and knocked on the door, “This was the birthplace of the most famous person in Wales and yet it was a student bedsit, and if you were looking for a student house this would be number 10 on your list”. When the council gave up the lease in 2004, Geoff decided to take it over and using his experience as a structural engineer, spent 3 years restoring the house to the condition it might have been when Dylan Thomas was born there in 2014.
In order to bring it back to the appearance of Dylan’s childhood, Geoff enlisted the help of the Thomas family’s former maid Emily, who was just 15, about the same age as Dylan, when she worked there. She had a very happy time working for the family and kept in touch with them after she left their employment to get married. She told stories of having mock fights with Dylan, armed with a fly-swatter and since she was about the same size, was the model for pullovers that his mother knitted for him.
Since the Thomas family left 5 Cwmdonkin Drive, little had been done to modernise the house, so Geoff was able to restore many of the original features. The original paintwork was discovered under layers of wallpaper and colour schemes were recreated with Emily’s help and through reference to letters and stories that Dylan had written. The dark green walls and deep red William Morris curtains of the front sitting room that was only used for ‘best’ recalled the Victorian era and would have been typical of a conservative family of the period.
Dylan features the sitting room in the scene from “A Child’s Christmas in Wales” in which the fat uncles snore in front of the fire after the Christmas Day lunch. Geoff managed to find all the furniture from within 20 miles of the house, from car boot sales, auctions and house clearances, since few people want the kind of furniture their grandparents used.
The front of the house looks towards Cwmdonkin Park and young Dylan would jump over the fence into the field and take a short-cut into the park. We moved upstairs to look at Dylan’s bedroom, which he joked was so small that he had to go outside to think. The single bed along the wall was wedged up against the fireplace, making it unusable, with a small desk in the corner with the pictures and posters that a teenage Dylan might have kept around him. This is a recent addition and the result of extensive research by Matthew Hughes who covers marketing for the house as well as conducting tours. I felt touched that the messy desk with posters covering every spare wall-space reminded me of my own teenage son’s bedroom (minus the beer and cigarettes).
Here was Shakespeare next to Greta Garbo, a bottle of Hancock’s Mild Ale and a packet of Woodbines on the table sharing space on the crowded desk with his notebooks and a copy of the Koran given by his friend Daniel Jones. His tweed jacket and checked shirt were thrown over the back of the chair, with a copy of the Telegraph that his mother would bring him with breakfast in bed. This is where Dylan would have written most of his poems until he left home at the age of 20, including his first book “18 Poems” which was published in 1934. Dylan was doted on by his mother, Florence and perhaps it’s no coincidence that the year his parents moved out of 5 Cwmdonkin Drive was also the year he married his wife Caitlin, replacing the Cwtch (a Welsh word meaning cosy, warm and secure) of his family home with a wife to look after him.
Next door, older sister Nancy’s room was decorated in Edwardian style of pale yellow with tiny floral curtains, Welsh blankets and eiderdowns on the beds. It brought back memories of staying at my own grandparents as a little girl, snuggling up in a big bed with my sisters, in a house with no central heating. Geoff said that many of his visitors feel moved by childhood memories when they visit the house. When Prince Charles came to visit, he couldn’t help stroking the quilted floral eiderdown too, saying it reminded him of his own grandmother’s house. “It took me a moment to realise that he was talking about the Queen Mother” Geoff told me.
In the back bedroom, where Dylan’s parents slept, Geoff had opened up the side window that had been bricked up after bomb damage during the war. From here Dylan could look down the hill towards “the misty sea where ships sailed across the rooftops” and in an early poem he talks of “Leaning from windows over a length of lawns, on tumbling hills admiring the sea.” In DJ Thomas’ downstairs study, Geoff played us a video introduction about the house that President Jimmy Carter, a longtime fan of Dylan Thomas, had recorded when Geoff travelled to visit him in Atlanta.
At the back of the house, the kitchen had been restored with its pantries and cupboards, although a modern cooker has been installed as a concession for guests staying in the house. Beyond is a small garden which Dylan described as “sufficiently large for wash-house, clothes line, deck-chair, and three sparrows”. He uses it as a scene from his short story “Patricia, Edith and Arnold” in which two maids gossiping over the wall in the back garden discover they are both being courted by the same man, who they go to confront in Cwmdonkin Park.
By the end of our tour of 5 Cwmdonkin Drive we’d had a fascinating insight into Dylan Thomas’ family life in Swansea where he wrote two thirds of his published work. Those who met him often commented on how polite and well mannered he was, a result of his loving and stable middle-class upbringing. While he loved to mix with all classes in the pub and in London he lived the Bohemian lifestyle, he was essentially that Grammar School boy and his time in Swansea was one of the most creative in his life.
Visitor Information: You can visit the Dylan Thomas Birthplace at 5 Cwmdonkin Drive, Uplands, Swansea for a guided tour at 11am, 1pm, 3pm but it’s best to ring ahead to confirm as the house sometimes has guests or is used for events. Price £8. If you are passing the house there is an information notice and you can always ring the phone number to check if you can have a tour. The house can also be booked for overnight stays from £150 and there are regular events such as Dinner with Dylan that are ideal for group visits.
Articles and Videos about the house:
Video about 5 Cwmdonkin Drive with music from Osian
Guardian article: House of the rhyming son
South Wales Evening Post: Jimmy Carter records a special message for Dylan Thomas fans
BBC News article: Dylan Thomas’ Swansea Childhood bedroom opens
Swansea’s Maritime Quarter
Geoff kindly gave us a lift back to the Dylan Thomas Centre and Maritime Quarter where we had a final hour or two enjoying the afternoon sunshine. On Saturday afternoon the locals were out in force, strolling around standing in the sun with pints in hand and we joined them sunning ourselves in the cafe of the National Waterfront Museum with tables outside overlooking the Marina. I noticed the Dylan Thomas Theatre nearby with murals of many of his characters on the outside, including blind Captain Cat from Under Milkwood.
Dylan was a keen amateur actor, performing with the Swansea Little Theatre who rehearsed in Mumbles, although Dylan was often distracted by the refreshment offered by the local pubs. I also spotted the statue of Dylan Thomas by John Doubleday and elbowed away drinkers from the nearby pub who were using it to rest their pints, so that I could have my photo taken with Dylan.
By the end of our day in Swansea I was entranced by the stories of the city’s most celebrated poet and felt I had glimpsed the childhood stories behind his work. Swansea may not be the prettiest of towns, but if you’re a Dylan Thomas fan it’s definitely worth a visit to soak up the places and people that inspired him. Read Part 1 of this story, in which we spend the morning visiting the Dylan Thomas Centre and follow the Promenade Performance of Return Journey, stopping at all the places that Dylan Thomas knew.
Coming up next on the Dylan Thomas trail … our visit to Laugharne, the pretty village in Carmarthanshire where Dylan Thomas lived with his family in the last few years of his life.
For more information about Dylan Thomas on the official Dylan Thomas Website and about the events happening for the Dylan Thomas centenary year on the Dylan Thomas 100 website. For more information about things to do in and around Swansea including the Dylan Thomas attractions visit the Visit Swansea Bay website
Our thanks to Visit Wales who hosted our weekend in Wales discovering Dylan Thomas
We stayed at Morgans Hotel in Swansea
While in Swansea we stayed at Morgans Hotel, that has been converted from the Harbour Trust Office. The building was completed in 1902 and is a grand reflection of the confident Edwardian era when Britain ruled the waves and Swansea was a great port and industrial powerhouse, known as “Copperopolis” due to the large amount of Copper smelted there. Our large corner bedroom looked as if it had once been an executive office with high ceilings and plaster mouldings and was named Sketty Belle after one of the Swansea ships of the period.
Heavy mahogany doors and arched windows were complemented by a pale green colour scheme with cream brocade curtains. The bedroom was well equiped with fridge, kettle and trouser press and an enormous dark wood TV stand. The bathroom was full of marble and limestone, with a brilliant rainforest shower over the bath, although the glass shower screens made it a bit awkward to lie down in the bath. Lots of nice Molton Brown toiletries made us feel very pampered.
Downstairs at the entrance was a very stylish bar area with leather sofas, ideal for a cocktail or pre-dinner drink. The restaurant upstairs where we had breakfast was in a magnificent room, formerly the banking hall of the Harbour Port Office, with original maritime mural over the entrance and copper globe lamps which recalled Swansea’s industrial heyday.
I’d highly recommend Morgans Hotel as a place to stay if you’re looking for a luxurious hotel as a base for exploring Swansea and the Dylan Thomas trail.
Morgans Hotel, Somerset Place, Swansea, SA1 1RR. Book online or phone 01792 484848. The Sketty Belle room £175 per night, other rooms from £125 or from £90 in the adjoining townhouse
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Most people have childhood memories of going to a beach, building sandcastles and eating ice-creams and fish and chips by the sea. If you fancy re-igniting your memories and starting some new ones for your family then head to the beautiful beaches of St Ives in Cornwall.
Beautiful beaches abound
There are a number of coastal resorts in Cornwall but St Ives is one of the most popular, being voted the “Seaside town of the Year” by Guardian readers. St Ives is nestled on the northern Cornish coast that keeps its traditional fishing roots but blends them seamlessly with modernity. It is somewhere that will be able to entertain the whole family whether you want relaxation or adventure.
One of a major attraction with any coastal resort is the beach. St Ives has various beautiful sand beaches all of which are close to the town centre. St Ives Harbour beach is sheltered due to its proximity to the harbour and has sand even at high tide. Its central location is ideal if you want to combine being at the beach to being close to shops and eateries. If sitting watching the boats come into or leave the harbour isn’t enough you could always embark on a boat tour.
Water sports from passive to active
Porthemor beach is also very popular. If you fancy taking your four legged friend on holiday then Porthemor is ideal as it is dog friendly for part of the year and allows plenty of opportunities for long walks. If you fancy venturing beyond the sand and into the surf then there are life guards on hand throughout the summer. Perhaps a little paddle isn’t enough and you fancy doing some water sports? Surfing, kayaking, paddle boarding and coasteering are all on offer at St Ives.
Cornwall is renowned for its surfing and with lessons ranging from a beginner’s taster session to advanced classes you will have every opportunity to catch a wave. Sea Kayaking is a fun alternative to surfing and you’re likely to spot local wildlife such as seals, dolphins and sea birds. Some companies may even take snorkels so you can explore the clear waters fully. Paddle boarding is increasing in popularity thanks to celebrities such as Pierce Brosnan and Rihanna who have been snapped completing the activity. Coasteering will appeal to adrenaline junkies everywhere as it combines climbing rocks, jumping into the sea and swimming into and exploring caves and gullies.
Culture from theatre to art galleries
If you can drag yourself away from the beach and all the fantastic water sports on offer, there are a variety of activities in St Ives town itself. If you fancy an evening activity (whatever the weather) there is a quaint little cinema or alternatively see what plays are showing at St Ives Theatre. If the weather is good you could visit The Minack Theatre which is one of the most famous outdoor theatres in the UK and well worth a visit.
If museums or art galleries are where your interests lie then you may be surprised to learn that there is a Tate Gallery at St Ives. As well as showcasing a variety of modern art it also houses the Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Gardens. Due to its popularity the gallery is being extended in 2014 so even more works of art can be brought to visitors. The St Ives museum will help you better understand the local area with exhibitions on local subjects such as mining and boat building. The museum has excellent reviews so is worth a visit if you want to better understand the local culture.
People watching and cafe life
To complete your relaxation you could enjoy a relaxing drink in one of the various cafes or book a table at one of the beachfront restaurants like the Porthmeor Beach cafe and watch the stunning sunsets that the area is famous for.
St Ives truly does cater for everyone as all these options are available without even getting in your car. If you want a relaxed beach holiday with the perfect blend of activities and culture then you really need look no further. St Ives will provide a memorable holiday for everyone involved and give memories to cherish in years to come.
This article was brought to you by Aspects Holidays who provide self-catering accommodation throughout Cornwall and have a large selection of stunning properties in St Ives ranging from traditional cottages to modern beach front apartments.
Photo Credits: St Ives harbour by RStacker, St Ives beach by UncleBucko, Sea kayaking by www.stivessurfschool.co.uk , The Minack Theatre by Martin Hartland, Barbara Hepworth Museum by Matt Brown, Porthmeor Beach Cafe by David Bleasdale
More things to see in Devon and Cornwall
Primroses and Daffodils – a spring weekend in North Devon with Premier Cottages – video
Is this the perfect sea view? Our luxury weekend at St Mawes in Cornwall – video
Take an Autumn break in Cornwall – Coastal walks, surfing and you might see a basking shark
You’ll also find our sister blog with tips on how to build a successful travel blog at My Blogging Journey
Covent Garden always appears on the “must visit” list of tourists to London and is also popular with the locals who are drawn there by its great variety of leisure activities. There are so many things to do in the area that we have compiled a list of the top things to do within the vicinity of Covent Garden.
The Covent Garden Markets
Covent Garden is possibly most famous for its market which has reputedly been in existence since around since 1654. The original fruit and vegetable market (New Covent Garden Market) has now moved out of the area and relocated to an area called Nine Elms but it has been replaced with the Covent Garden market we have today. Apple Market is housed in a stunning nineteenth century, colonnaded piazza and stocks a wide variety of items from jewellery and toys to stationary and ties. Many of the items will provide something a little different to what you can get on the high street so you are bound to find a quirky gift to take home.
Jubilee Market in the South Piazza sells items that fall more into the antique category. If antiques are your thing then head there on a Monday for the antiques market. Saturdays and Sundays sees around 200 stalls open which are generally aimed at arts and crafts. The Real Food Market occurs every Thursday where you can get your hands on treats such as homemade cakes and macaroons, fresh olives and specialty breads.
Shopping in Covent Garden
Covent Garden is also famous for its shops. Although there are high street brands there they are generally higher end suppliers and fit with the hip image that surrounds the area. For fans of designer ware you will be spoilt for choice. Brands such as Chanel, Paul Smith, Mulberry and Burberry sit alongside more regular high street favourites such as Reiss and Jigsaw. For the more adventurous out there you can peruse outdoor shops such as Cotswold Outdoor and Field & Trek. If you fancy a mid-afternoon snack then you could treat yourself to some macaroons from Laudrée. You could get a box to take away but why not sit in and take advantage of their champagne or savoury snacks.
Museums near Covent Garden
The British Museum is one of the top museum attractions and it is only a short walk from Covent Garden. In a world dominated by money you might be pleased to hear that it is free to get in and there are free tours and talks during the day. This makes it an ideal choice if you are travelling with a large family as individual entrance prices quickly add up. The museum houses a variety of artefacts from a range of locations and eras and often has exhibitions on which you may be required to pay extra for. Recent exhibitions include the Vikings and some beautiful Egyptian mummies. Due to the popularity of some exhibitions it might be worth pre-booking tickets rather than being disappointed on the day. If you are visiting with children they will often put free events on such as object handling, art tasks and museum trails. This is bound to spark the interest of any little explorer!!! If transport is more your thing then head to the London Transport Museum which has buses, trams and railway carriages on display.
See a show in the Theatres near Covent Garden
Covent Garden is bursting at the seams with theatres so it is hard to choose which one to go to. The Theatre Royal is one of the largest theatres in Covent Garden and has hosted some of the most famous shows. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory or Matilda might appeal to children (and adults!) or perhaps a tear jerker such as The Bodyguard or War Horse would be preferable. No matter what you choose to see you will be amazed and with two Royal boxes you never know who you might see there! The Aldwych Theatre is worth visiting just to see its stunning façade and was home to The Royal Shakespeare Company for a number of years. If there is a certain show that you would like to see then it is probably best to research the show and find out which theatre it will be on at as there are so many theatres in the area that it would be a shame to miss out on your favourite show.
Your theatre visit might keep you up late so what could be better than staying in your own luxury apartment in the vicinity of Covent Garden so you don’t need to worry about getting a bus or the underground. Rather than stressing about heading “home” you could enjoy a few post theatre drinks or even head to a club completing your weekend.
If you fancy a trip to London be sure not to miss out on the delights of Covent Garden just be prepared for a positive assault on all your senses!
This article was brought to you by London Serviced Apartments who provide luxury serviced apartments in a variety of prestigious locations across London, including Covent Garden.
More London Attractions
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