A one-day sightseeing guide to Tallinn in Estonia

If you are visiting Tallinn for a short time or perhaps as part of a cruise excursion, you’ll want to use your limited time to make the most of the wonderful attractions available in Tallinn. This guide from our guest author, Brian Schweitzer will give a rundown of the best way to see Tallinn to make the most of your precious time.

The perfect day sightseeing in Talinn, Estonia

What to See in Tallinn

Old Town – This is the best place to start  your day in Tallinn as there are many different attractions located inside Old Town. Tallinn’s Old Town belongs to UNESCO’s World Heritage list since 1997 and is a medieval fantasy land that will take you back in time to the 11th – 15th century.

Sightseeing in Talinn, Estonia

Sightseeing in Talinn, Estonia

Town Hall Square – Also called Raekoja plats, the Town Hall Square has been in existence since 1322. The square is famous for an open air market for souvenirs and the Christmas tree display, which is over 570 years old. This is a great place to buy traditional Estonian souvenirs.

Town Hall Pharmacy – Also called Raeapteek, it is one of the oldest pharmacies in Europe and has been in operation since the 15th century. The strange array of medicines available throughout history includes mummy juice, unicorn horn powder, bat powder, and hedgehog powder. Inside there is a museum displaying medieval medical instruments and chemist tools. This is another place to buy interesting souvenirs.

Town Hall Pharmacy in Talinn, Estonia

Town Hall Pharmacy in Talinn, Estonia

Toompea Hill & Castle – The Estonian parliament is located here and the hill offers visitors several viewing platforms for taking amazing photos with Tallinn in the background. This was one of the first inhabited areas that is now known as Tallinn and the natural hill offered a stronghold that would be used throughout the history of the city.

St Mary’s Church – Located on Toompea Hill, the church is also known as Dome Church and is the oldest church in Estonia. The original wood church was built in 1219 and numerous famous people throughout history have been buried here. It was originally a Roman Catholic Church but in 1561 it became a Lutheran Church.

The Dome church in Talinn, Estonia

The Dome church in Talinn, Estonia

Kiek in de Kök & Bastion Tunnels – Kiek in de Kök was the Baltic’s most powerful cannon tower defense and construction lasted from 1475 to 1483. The name literally means “peek into the kitchen” as the guards could actually peer into the kitchens of the houses below. After viewing the tower defense you can head underground into Bastion Tunnels. Construction started in the 1630’s and with a purpose to secretly flank any enemy trying to take the city. These secret underground passages helped guard the city during the time of Swedish rule.

The Bastion tunnels in Talinn, Estonia

The Bastion tunnels in Talinn, Estonia

St Nicholas’ Church – This church was dedicated to St Nicholas, the saint of sailors and fishermen. Inside the church is a branch of the Art Museum of Estonia which focuses on medieval artwork. The church is also used as a concert hall because of the excellent acoustics inside.

Town Wall – Also known as the Margaret Wall, it was ordered to be constructed by Queen Margaret Sambiria in 1265. Walking along the walls visitors will have another great chance for memorable photos.

Alexander Nevsky Cathedral – This is a beautiful Orthodox church built in Russia style between 1894 and 1900. It is Tallinn’s largest orthodox cupola cathedral and was dedicated to Saint Alexander Nevsky, who was the prince of medieval Rus.

Kadriorg Park & Palace – After leaving Old Town, head out to Kadriorg Park on the outskirts of Tallinn, Kadriorg Park and Kadriorg Palace was founded in the beginning of the 18th by the order of Peter the Great of Russia. The park is a great place to walk in the fresh air and includes several interesting buildings including the Presidential Palace, Kadriorg art Museum, KUMU (one of the largest art museums in the Baltics), and the Peter the Great museum. Kadriorg Park also includes Kadriorg Palace, which was built in baroque style by Peter the Great for Catherine I in 1718.

The Kadriorg Park and Palace in Talinn, Estonia

The Kadriorg Park and Palace in Talinn, Estonia

Where to Eat in Tallinn

No day in Tallinn is complete without a medieval feast. Old Hansa restaurant in Old Town offers traditional medieval Estonian cuisine that makes you feel that you have gone back to medieval times. The atmosphere, attendants, music, and menu are all meticulously created to showcase the “Golden Age of Tallinn.”

Souvenirs to Buy in Tallinn

Take something home to remember your Tallinn shore excursion with these recommended souvenirs:

Vana Tallinn – Based on a traditional Estonian recipe this liquor is based on Jamaican rum and includes natural spices including citrus oil, vanilla, and cinnamon.

Juniper – Kitchen items crafted from juniper trees can be found inside the Church of the Holy Spirit and around Old Town. When cooking they emit a sweet, aromatic smell.

Kalev Chocolate – This is the largest chocolate maker in Estonia and includes a large variety of chocolates including some stranger variants such as white chocolate with blueberries.

Wool Clothing – The traditional choice of clothing in medieval Estonia, you will find wool clothing available throughout Old Town with a large selection of items from socks, sweaters, and hats.

About the author: Brian Schweitzer is a travel writer for Travel Guru – A smart travel community dedicated to connecting travelers and saving them time and money on their travels.

For more European adventures:

Cycling by the sea in Istria – in Croatia
Culture and clubbing – my 18 year old daughter hits the town in Budapest
Thermal springs and rubber rings at Hévíz – in Hungary

This article is originally published at Heatheronhertravels.com – Read the original article here

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You’ll also find our sister blog with tips on how to build a successful travel blog at My Blogging Journey

Our weekend break at the Moorland Garden Hotel in Devon – video

What a night for a drive down to Devon! With rain pelting down on the windscreen and leaves blowing across the road, any thoughts we had of stopping at a country pub on the way were abandoned in the hope of just arriving safely at the Moorland Garden Hotel.

Lily of the valley room at Moorland Garden Hotel in Devon

Lily of the valley room at Moorland Garden Hotel in Devon

We’ve arrived at the Moorland Garden Hotel!

Just north of Plymouth we turned off the main road and down a secluded drive to reach the gates of the hotel, a long two-storey building with all the bedrooms overlooking the lawned gardens. Parking the car and running inside to escape the downpour, we were soothed by the warm welcome at reception and the sounds of music and celebration coming from the room at the other end of the corridor. This being rural Devon, the Young Farmers’ annual dinner dance was in full swing with lads in DJs and lasses in full-on evening glamour and tottering heels, wandering in and out of the bar, not a wellie or barbour jacket to be seen.

I hope you enjoy my video below of the Moorland Garden Hotel

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Moorland Garden Hotel in Devon

Moorland Garden Hotel in Devon

Harking back to the hotel’s glamourous heyday

The hotel was built in the 1930s, originally named the Moorland Links Hotel because of the nearby golf club and enjoyed a glamourous reputation in its heyday, attracting celebrities such as David Niven and Rex Harrison. With a large ballroom complete with sprung dance floor and resident orchestra, guests flocked to attend tea dances and balls, while in the 1940s the hotel was popular with army and naval officers stationed at nearby Plymouth. In 2011 the hotel was bought by the current owners Brian and Sonia Meaden who have gradually put the hotel through a complete refurbishment of the 44 bedrooms and public areas. While the swimming pool and tennis courts of the 1930s are no longer there, the hotel has taken on a new character as a welcoming place for guests wanting to combine the wild walks of Dartmoor with the Waterfront attractions of the Ocean City of Plymouth. To celebrate its 80th anniversary this year, the hotel has been drawing on its heritage, with a 1940s themed tea dance, Agatha Christie inspired afternoon teas and summer picnics in the wildflower meadow that adjoins the gardens.

Dartmoor bar at Moorland Garden Hotel in Devon

Dartmoor bar at Moorland Garden Hotel in Devon

Relaxing the Dartmoor Bar and Lounge

Having left the cases in our bedroom (more about that later) we settled into the comfortable Dartmoor lounge for a warming bowl of haddock and sweetcorn chowder and chilli Exe river mussels from the bar menu. The decor was cosy and traditional with some modern touches and looked as if it had benefited from the recent refurbishment with an inviting air of fresh paint and new carpets. We settled into the oversized patchwork armchairs by the fireplace, which would be a favourite spot in winter when the fire is lit, admiring the striped tapestry, brocade and velvet fabrics with gilt mirrors and glowing red glass lamps. The walls were covered with artistic photos of Dartmoor, reminding us of the wild landscapes, granite tors and mossy covered river boulders that we had explored on previous visits to Devon. In one corner was a desk covered with useful information leaflets of local attractions and on the shelves were games and jigsaws to while away an autumn evening.

Dartmoor bar at Moorland Garden Hotel in Devon

Dartmoor bar at Moorland Garden Hotel in Devon

The adjoining Dartmoor bar had been similarly refurbished with plenty of comfortable seating areas, leather sofas and velvet banquettes by the wall. The wild landscapes of nearby Dartmoor were referenced in the black and white photos of moorland miniature ponies and twisted oaks, with metal stag heads on the wall and stag motifs on the cushions. Guy was keen to try a pint of the Dartmoor Best ale although we discovered from the barman that it actually comes from St Austell in Cornwall.

Lily of the valley room at Moorland Garden Hotel in Devon

Lily of the valley room at Moorland Garden Hotel in Devon

Settling into the Lily of the Valley Suite

After recovering from our windswept Friday night drive, we were able to enjoy our spacious Lily of the Valley Suite on the first floor, where home-made biscuits had been laid out for us. All the rooms in the hotel have been individually redecorated with the help of West Country designer Nadine Judd, drawing on a garden theme to bring the natural beauty of the moor into the hotel. Like all the bedrooms, ours overlooked the garden and so when we awoke we had delightful views over the lawns and down to the Tamar valley beyond.

I had a peep in a few of the other bedrooms and found the decorative style was colourful and modern, often using patterned feature walls, bright floral prints and striking pieces of furniture. Our Lily of the Valley suite took up the fresh floral theme, with leaf green walls, pretty cream linen curtains with a delicate floral sprig and a feature wall covered with hand-printed lily of the valley paper on a dark background. We sat eating our warm biscuits on the green crushed velvet sofa with pastel floral cushions and flicked through the books and magazines that had been thoughtfully left under the glass of the coffee table. The overall effect was very pleasing although there was the odd item that seemed more high street than high end – a metal garden chair at the desk and a strange IKEA style metal shelf on the wall beside the bed. The en suite bathroom was clean and fresh with pale grey tiles and a shower above the bath although I suspect that this was one of the few remaining bathrooms in the hotel that was due for refurbishment, since I saw other rooms with more modern bathrooms.

Wildflower restaurant at Moorland Garden Hotel in Devon

Wildflower restaurant at Moorland Garden Hotel in Devon

Elegant Dining in the Wildflower Restaurant

On Saturday night we planned to eat in the Wildflower restaurant, having heard great things about the restaurant which won a Gold in the 2013 West Country Taste of the West awards and was named Best Restaurant in the South West. The Head Chef, Bruce Cole has been at the hotel for 18 months now and has created new menus that feature locally sourced and seasonal produce from nearby farms and food producers. After dinner we had a chance to chat with Bruce and he told us “When I arrived much of the food came from the freezer and the menu changed twice a year. Now everything is freshly made including the bread and pastries, we use the best local produce and we change the menu every 4 to 6 weeks with the seasons”

The Wildflower restaurant has large French windows that overlook the gardens which open in summer leading out onto the terrace. There is an elegant silver and turquoise theme with patterned turquoise velvet chairs, silver leaf wall decorations and a striking private dining area with silver and turquoise floral wallpaper and silver mirrors. I’d love to visit the restaurant in summer to enjoy a cream tea overlooking the gardens or to be there in September when the hotel hosts the Delicious Drake’s trail that ends on those lawns.

Dinner in the Wildflower restaurant at Moorland Garden Hotel in Devon

Dinner in the Wildflower restaurant at Moorland Garden Hotel in Devon

We had invited a friend who lives in Plymouth to join us for dinner and we were all wow’ed by the dishes which were beautifully presented and above all delicious. I started with a crab mille feille, a soft crab pate piled into a tower with crispy biscuits and a  piquant mango garnish. To follow I ordered the sliced breast of duck which was well cooked with a ring of crispy fat, served with vegetables and a prune puree that gave a fruity piquancy. My desert was a perfectly creamy crème brullee with a crisp caramel topping and ball of lemon sorbet in a brandy snap basket. Guy tried a board of delicious West Country cheeses and our friend had the Langage Farm lemon and lime sorbet on a creamy jelly with pretty edible pansies. I thought that the three course dinner which included coffee was incredible value at £28.95 considering the elegant surroundings, friendly and attentive service and of course the delicious food.

The next morning we were back at our window table for breakfast to enjoy the garden views in daylight and of course I had to have the English cooked breakfast while Guy ordered a kipper from the breakfast menu. There was the usual range of hot toast with jam and marmalade, croissants, fruit and yoghurts, a choice of packet cereals, although the selection was fairly limited and I thought the breakfast didn’t quite live up to the magnificence of the dinner the previous evening.

Crystal room at Moorland Garden Hotel in Devon

Crystal room at Moorland Garden Hotel in Devon

You can get married here too!

After the Young Farmers’ party on Friday night I noticed that the ballroom was being laid out for a wedding on Saturday and went to have a nose around while the staff were setting out the tables. The large Crystal room at the far end of the hotel is on two levels, the first of which was being set out with chairs for the marriage ceremony while the ballroom area was arranged with tables for the dinner-dance that followed. The room lived up to its name, with sparkling chandeliers and mirrors, and would be the perfect setting for a summer wedding when guests can walk out onto the lawn. In the gardens I spotted the wrought iron rose arbour which was designed and made by local blacksmith Matt Dingle and is popular for wedding photos or even for the wedding ceremony itself. Although the wedding reception was in full swing on the Saturday night when we were dining in the Wildflower restaurant, I was impressed that the staff managed to keep everything running very smoothly, accommodating both groups of guests, although I probably wouldn’t want to be sleeping in the bedrooms immediately above the ballroom when a major event like this is being held in the hotel.

Gardens of Moorland Garden Hotel in Devon

The morning market at Tavistock

On Saturday morning we ventured out from the Moorland Garden Hotel to explore the nearby market town of Tavistock, which sits on the western edge of Dartmoor. The town became prosperous in the Middle Ages from the wool trade and was one of the “Stannary Towns” around Dartmoor that controlled the local tin mining that took place on the moor.

Market in Tavistock, Devon

Market in Tavistock, Devon

In front of the impressive stone Guildhall we chatted to the owner of the fruit and veg stall and wandered through the covered craft market. Through an archway we found the Pannier Market, a historic covered market that was given its charter 900 years ago and houses an eclectic mix of different stalls that change daily, with antiques, crafts and daily necessities. On the Saturday it seemed to be a bustling general market of everything you could hope to find in a Devon town, from birdseed to fishing bait, tweed hats to moleskin trousers and country fudge to old books and antique costume jewellery.

Around the courtyard that enclosed the Pannier market there were a number of small specialist shops, including de la Torre’s selling a huge variety of olives and Mediterranean foods like houmous, olive oils and jars of condiments. Right next door was the Country Cheese shop where the staff were only too happy to let us try a sliver of this or that before we decided which of the many West Country cheeses to buy, deliberating between the delightfully named Miss Muffett, Tilly Whim and other Devon specialities.

Market at Tavistock, Devon

Market at Tavistock, Devon

The Garden House at Buckland Monachorum

On the way back from Tavistock that afternoon we stopped in at The Garden House, a privately owned gardens in a secluded Devon valley, set around a Georgian vicarage. The garden was bought in the 1940s by Lionel and Katharine Fortescue who moved to live in the vicarage and started planting the 10 acres of garden which was further developed in the 1960s by head gardener Keith Wiley who introduced the naturalistic landscapes of the cottage garden, wildflower meadow and Acer glade.

The Garden House in Yelverton, Devon

The Garden House in Yelverton, Devon

Walking past the house where I made a mental note of the tea-room, we started our tour of the garden at the small lake where the water lilies and sculptural gunnera made a picturesque setting with the half submerged blue rowing boat that was moored to the bank, but not going anywhere. Most beautiful at the end of summer was the walled garden where the long herbaceous borders were filled with hostas turning to yellow and decaying brown, with fraying silver thistles and the bright spots of dahlias blazing pink and pumpkin orange. In the middle of the walled garden was a small stone thatched cottage, perhaps the gardner’s cottage making a backdrop for the dusty pink hydrangeas and pink penstomen.

At the furthest end of the garden we enjoyed the rhododendron walk which was now full of autumn colour with golden maples and acers lighting up the dark rhododendron foliage. The path led us gradually up hill through the Acer glade beside a small stream trickling over shale which had been cut into the grassy bank. Having completed the circuit of the garden we hurried back to the tea-room in the house before it closed, to have a Devon Cream tea and a slice of home-made fruit cake. Please note the Garden House is now closed for the winter and will re-open again in March.

The Garden House in Yelverton, Devon

The Garden House in Yelverton, Devon

Buckland Abbey, home of Sir Frances Drake and a Rembrandt self-portrait

On Sunday before we headed for home, we drove the short distance to Buckland Abbey, a medieval abbey which later became home to the Elizabethan sailor, Sir Francis Drake and is now run by the National Trust. We spent a few hours here, enjoying the great barn, medieval house, the Rembrandt exhibition and had lunch at the cafe before driving back to Bristol, although it would be very easy to stay a whole day here if the weather was fine.

Buckland Abbey at Yelverton, Devon

Buckland Abbey at Yelverton, Devon

The Cistercian Abbey was founded here in the 13th century, but after Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries, the abbey was sold to Sir Richard Grenville who demolished some of the monastic buildings and converted it to a family home. In 1582 Sir Francis Drake bought the property with the proceeds of his bucaneering raids on the Spanish fleet in the Americas and it remained in the hands of his heirs until earlier this century. This year Buckland was in the news due the Rembrandt Portrait which came to Buckland Abbey in 2010 and after a 2 year investigation by art experts has now been confirmed as a genuine painting by the master himself. We enjoyed looking around the special Rembrandt exhibition within the house showing the portrait and details of all the ways they had confirmed it was genuine, as well as other museum exhibits such as Drake’s Drum which accompanied him on his voyages and is said to sound when England is in danger.

Buckland Abbey at Yelverton, Devon

Buckland Abbey at Yelverton, Devon

There are no shortage of things to see in this part of Devon and another time we might enjoy a walk up to one of the Tors on the moor or drive into Plymouth where the waterfront is being developed with new restaurants and museums. If you’re looking for a comfortable and welcoming hotel with an excellent restaurant to use as a base for exploring the area I’d certainly recommend the Moorland Garden Hotel and would love to come back in summer to enjoy the gardens and sit out on the terrace, perhaps enjoying a Devon cream tea.

The Moorland Garden Hotel, Yelverton, Devon. Rooms for a weekend stay range from £100-125 based on B & B for 2 people sharing or £125-155 for a suite. Check the hotel website for information on special breaks such as 3 nights for the price of 2, Sunday night stays or breaks that include dinner and afternoon tea. Dogs are welcome in the hotel and can stay in certain rooms. My tip would be to check whether there is a wedding or function taking place in the hotel when you book and if so request a room at the opposite end of the hotel where you won’t be disturbed.

This article is originally published at Heatheronhertravels.com – Read the original article here

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You’ll also find our sister blog with tips on how to build a successful travel blog at My Blogging Journey

Lovely Laugharne – on the Dylan Thomas trail in South Wales

I like to imagine the 19 year old aspiring poet, Dylan Thomas arriving at Laugharne on the ferry, taking in the wide open skies of the Taf estuary, the small boats stranded in the marshy channels and the stark, stone towers of the ruined castle, and thinking “YES!, this is where I want to be.”

He later wrote that it was the sort of place where people like him ” just came, one day, for the day, and never left; got off the bus, and forgot to get on again.” Laugharne in Camarthanshire is one of the places that Dylan Thomas is most connected to, living for the last 4 years of his life in The Boathouse overlooking the estuary which inspired him to write some of his greatest poetry.

Even if you know or care nothing about Dylan Thomas, Laugharne is an enchanting place to spend a day, as we did as part of our weekend following the Dylan Thomas Trail, in honour of the centenary of the Poet’s birth.

View of the Taf estuary from Laugharne Castle

View of the Taf estuary from Laugharne Castle

Staying at Brown’s Hotel – Dylan’s favourite pub

We’d spent the Saturday in Swansea, discovering the city that Dylan knew as a young man and wrote about in Return Journey as well as visiting the Dylan Thomas Birthplace, before driving on to Laugharne to stay at Brown’s Hotel. As we pulled up, the evening sun lit up the front of the Georgian pub, a favourite drinking haunt of Dylan that has now been renovated as a bar with boutique style guest rooms.

When he lived here, Dylan’s routine was to sit in the window seat of Brown’s in the morning, studying the papers, or dropping in to see his parents Jack and Florence who lived at The Pelican opposite, before going home to the Boathouse for lunch and working in the writing shed in the afternoon, usually returning in the evening with his wife Caitlin for a few more beers.

Browns Hotel in  Laugharne

Browns Hotel in Laugharne

Our room was The Laques, named after a part of Laugharne that you can see from the bedroom window where Flemish weavers once settled. The style was very much boutique retro, with a stripy carpet, those chalky Farrow and Ball tones of beige on the walls and modern oak furniture with a 1950s air. The double bed had coverings and cushions in similarly muted shades of grey and purple and from the bed we could gaze at the photo-mural opposite – a soft-focus shot of the estuary with waving grasses in the foreground.

The room was small but thoughtfully kitted out with tea and coffee, bottled water, a few old books including a Dylan Thomas selected works and a bedside radio. The adjoining loo and bathroom featured those rectangular white tiles that were popular in the 1930s when a plumbed-in bathroom was a novelty, a bath with white waffle shower curtain and shower above and some delicious Warm Ginger toiletries. As the hotel isn’t really a hotel but a bar with rooms and only does bar snacks, we stuck our noses into the Three Mariners pub next door, but the place looked packed and the music was Saturday-night-loud, so we ended up having dinner at Cafe Culture, a pleasant Italian down the road.

Brown’s Hotel, King Street, Laugharne, Carmarthenshire. Tel: 01994 427 688 E-mail: info@browns-hotel.co.uk Rooms are £75-140 based on 2 people including breakfast. Heather and Guy stayed in The Lacques, a Classic King Room which costs £105/ night for weekend stays. Twitter @BrownsLaugharne | Facebook Page | YouTube

Browns Hotel in Laugharne

Browns Hotel in Laugharne

Evening light on the Taf estuary

I took advantage of the evening sunshine to go and explore, following signs along the lane towards The Boathouse, where Dylan Thomas lived with his family. From the lane above the house, now known as the Dylan Thomas Birthday Walk, I caught the beautiful views over the Taf estuary, where the water was gently rippling and glittering in the evening light. The tide was out with the sandbanks exposed at low tide and some wading seabirds picking their way gingerly through the shallows. It was this view that inspired Dylan to write his Poem in October about his walk from here to St John’s Hill where the wood overlooks the town.

It was my thirtieth year to heaven Woke to my hearing from harbour and neighbour wood And the mussel pooled and the heron Priested shore The morning beckon With water praying and call of seagull and rook And the knock of sailing boats on the net webbed wall

Taf Estuary at Laugharne in Wales

Taf Estuary at Laugharne in Wales

You can follow the Dylan Thomas Birthday walk yourself, on the route Dylan described in his Poem in October, where there are benches and signs along the way so that you can read each line or verse at the place it was written. There’s a Dylan Thomas Birthday Walk Website with all the information you need and an App of the Dylan Thomas Birthday Walk for iPhone and Android.

Dylan and Caitlin – in life and death

On Sunday morning we enjoyed a good cooked breakfast in the bar at Brown’s Hotel, surrounded by memorabilia and mementos of Dylan Thomas and then walked up the main street towards St Martin’s church. Through the main churchyard gate and over the little footbridge across the lane, we found the plain white cross of Dylan and Caitlin Thomas standing out among the grey gravestones.

In the church there is also a replica of the stone memorial in Poet’s Corner, Westminster Abbey, with Dylan’s lines from the poem Fernhill ” Time held me green and dying, though I sang in my chains like the sea”. Dylan Thomas died in 1953 aged only 39, while on a poetry reading tour in New York, of causes which have not been fully explained but were probably a combination of pneumonia, morphine overdose and heavy drinking, while Caitlin was also buried with him after her death in 1994. Dylan’s father, Jack had died only the year before Dylan himself and Dylan wrote one of his most popular and moving poems Do not go gentle into that good night about his father’s illness.

Do not go gentle into that good night, Old age should burn and rave at close of day; Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

It felt a little voyeuristic taking a picture of the gravestone, so we continued up the leafy lane beside the church, fringed by cow parsley and pink campion, taking a short cut to The Boathouse.

Grave of Dylan and Caitlin Thomas at St Martin's church in Laugharne, Wales

Grave of Dylan and Caitlin Thomas at St Martin’s church in Laugharne, Wales

The Boathouse – my sea-shaken house

In 1938 Dylan and Caitlin visited their friends the writers Richard and Frances Hughes at Castle House in Laugharne and decided to find their own place nearby. The couple moved into a tiny fisherman’s cottage and then into a grander house at SeaView where they lived until 1940 until the war years intervened and they moved to London. In 1949, The Boathouse which Dylan described as “my sea shaken house on a breakneck of rocks”, was bought for Dylan by his friend and patron, Margaret Taylor and he lived there with Caitlin and the children until his death in 1953.

Walking down the steps to the whitewashed house, the views across the Taf estuary were striking, not only from all the rooms, but from the balcony running around the house and the terrace at the back where there was originally a landing stage for the coal boats. Under the roof was the main bedroom which is now an exhibition space with mementoes and information about Dylan’s life, while through the small shop was a parlour furnished as it would have been by Dylan and Caitlin and kept for ‘best’ as was the custom. I spotted the desk that had belonged to Dylan’s father and had come from his childhood home at 5 Cwmdonkin Park, since Geoff Haden had told me how he really wanted it back!

Downstairs where the family would have gathered was now a tea room but we were able to sit on the terrace in the sunshine with fabulous views over the estuary where I had a chat with artist in residence, Cheryl Beer, who was playing her ukelele and making up poems with some of the children visiting. Cheryl told me that she was one of 12 different artists who had been invited for a month to create a work related to Dylan Thomas – you can see some of the photos from her month in residence on her blog here. She had noticed the strips of paper in the writing shed like shopping lists of the words that he planned to use, and was asking people to write a line of poetry or prose on a strip of paper, which she could incorporate into one large digital work. Having read some of the passionate, tender and angry love letters between Dylan and Caitlin, she also was planning to write a song that told the story from Caitlin’s point of view, “as a woman who was often being apologised to”

Dylan Thomas Boathouse at Laugharne

Dylan Thomas Boathouse at Laugharne

The Dylan Thomas writing shed

After visiting The Boathouse we walked back along the path to Dylan’s writing shed which the staff kindly opened for me to take photos, although you can normally only peer through the window. Inside Dylan’s writing desk was set out as if he had just left, with cigarette stubs, strips of words hanging up and that inspiring view right across the estuary. The first poem he wrote there was Over Sir John’s Hill, in which he describes the birds stalking their prey and bringing death in the midst of this beauty.

Over Sir John’s hill, The hawk on fire hangs still; In a hoisted cloud, at drop of dusk, he pulls to his claws And gallows, up the rays of his eyes the small birds of the bay

This is also where Dylan wrote his most famous play for voices, Under Milkwood, inspired in part by the people of Laugharne. Dylan described his work in a letter as “a play, an impression for voices, an entertainment out of the darkness, of the town I live in .. (so that) you come to know the town as an inhabitant of it.. utterly familiar with the places and the people.” From the writing shed we dropped down a path to the level of the estuary where we walked back along the paved causeway with the marshland ahead of us until Laugharne castle came into view.

The Dylan Thomas Boathouse, Dylan’s Walk, Laugharne, Carmarthenshire, SA33 4SD |Twitter @DTBoathouse | Facebook Page | Open daily 10am-5.30pm in summer, 10am-3.30 in winter Adults £4.20/ Children £2.00. There is a pop-up Dylan Thomas shed, a replica of the original which is on display in various festivals and places around Wales.

Dylan Thomas writing shed at Laugharne

Dylan Thomas writing shed at Laugharne

Laugharne castle, Brown as owls

The final stop on our day in Laugharne was the ruined castle which overlooks the marsh and the estuary, described by Dylan in his Poem in October.

Pale rain over the dwindling harbour And over the sea wet church the size of a snail With its horns through mist and the castle Brown as owls But all the gardens Of spring and summer were blooming in the tall tales Beyond the border and under the lark full cloud.

Laugharne Castle was built in the 13th century, probably on top of an earlier Norman castle and it came under siege in the English Civil War and was partly dismantled. When Dylan first came to Laugharne, the castle and its grounds were in the gardens of Castle House next door, owned by writers Richard and Frances Hughes. Dylan was allowed the use of the gazebo in the garden which overlooks the estuary and it was here that he wrote the short stories “Portrait of the artist as a Young Dog”.

A nice touch is that there is a writing desk and old typewriter within the gazebo to recreate how it would have looked when Dylan wrote there. The castle is now open to the public, although it’s really just a picturesque shell of the castle that the Welsh Lords used to dominate the estuary and port at Laugharne before it silted up. You can climb the tower for views over the estuary, and there’s a Victorian Rose garden which is a pleasant place to sit on a summer afternoon.

Laugharne Castle is run by CADW and is open April-October 10am-5pm Adults £3.80

Laugharne Castle  in Wales

Laugharne Castle in Wales

Whether you are a Dylan Thomas fan or not, Laugharne is an enchanting place to visit, for the views of the estuary, the walks up to St John’s Hill, for the Brown as Owls castle, and of course for the fascinating Dylan Thomas connections. Follow where Dylan walked, drink where he drank and be inspired by the beauty of the place and the poetry. In a place like this we might all have a literary masterpiece in us.

For more information to help you connect with Dylan Thomas in Laugharne;

Visit Wales – the official website for everything to see and do in Wales – also on Twitter @VisitWales and Facebook
Visit Carmarthenshire – discover places to see and stay around Laugharne in South Wales
Dylan Thomas 100 – everything that’s going on for the 2014 Dylan Thomas Centenary year
Brown’s Hotel – Dylan’s favourite pub where you can now drink and stay the night
The Dylan Thomas Boathouse – where Dylan lived from 1949-1953
Dylan Thomas Birthday Walk – take a walk inspired by Dylan Thomas’ Poem in October
Laugharne Castle – where Dylan wrote in the gazebo owned by his friends the Hughes

My thanks to Visit Wales for arranging this weekend and allowing me to discover Dylan Thomas in Wales

Read my other articles about the Dylan Thomas Trail in Wales

An ugly, lovely town Part 1 – a Return Journey to Swansea with Dylan Thomas
An ugly, lovely town Part 2 – the Dylan Thomas Birthplace in Swansea

Follow Heather on her travels’s board Welsh Wales on Pinterest.

This article by Heather Cowper is originally published at Heatheronhertravels.com – Read the original article here

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