And yet again, a visit to “Mae hen Wlad fy’nhadau”– but this time to Abertawe. The Coach arrived on time at the picking-up points and then this joyous crowd of Welsh Supporters, seeking fun and knowledge, enjoyed a trip down the M4 in magnificent sunshine, over the Bridge, paid the entrance fee (no reduction for indigenous natives) and arrived at Porthcawl, much tortured earlier in the year by gigantic waves breaking over the sea wall. There, close to the front, near Rest Bay for the agile, was the Pegler Mansions! How envy poured out from everyone!!
Having received sufficient sustenance, the M4 was re-joined and shortly we arrived at the well-appointed Premier Inn on the Water-front where we met our charismatic and vocally gifted Guide, Annie From Wales.com Haden who introduced herself so well, that we were sure there might be an embarrassing family connection somewhere!!
Up at the crack of dawn after a good night’s rest and a hefty breakfast (for some), it was a walk along the river to view the Old Dock that operated in the 18th Century (1700+!!) and now picturesquely showing its Norwegian Church, an Ice House with landmark Chimney and a rather large Shed! As we cantered along the waterfront to the National Waterfront Museum we passed the Dylan Thomas Museum which was closed!! Undaunted because we knew that Dylan appeared elsewhere on our programme, we lunched in the Waterfront Museum, enjoy-ed its very local exhibits of Welsh Life, and then off to Brangwyn Hall, part of the Guild Hall to be greeted by The Rt Worshipful Lord Mayor of Swansea, Alderman Ceirwen Thomas. As she accompanied us around the building she explained how in the WW2 extensive bombing of the City, Hitler ordered the Luftwaffe to leave the Guild Hall and its tall tower unscathed as he proposed to locate his Welsh head-quarters there!! (Hitler was already taking Welsh lessons in anticipation!). The Mayor showed enormous warmth and charisma towards us and we were treated to a sumptuous tea when all was done.
Close of day saw an exhilarating visit to Dylan’s birth-place at 5 Cwmdonkin Place complete with writing desk. We savoured the place where he met up with his friends. Here he spent 23 years of his short life writing 2/3rds of his works: the house had been beautifully restored by volunteers that included Annie and her ex-husband.
An early rise with a glorious sun the next day saw us being bussed by Lyndon to Swansea railway station where the excellence of our Tour Organiser, Jonathan, ensured that the train to Carmarthen arrived on time. Some people noticed the Customs’ Booth at the station: clearly reserved for English Visitors!
Views from the train as we journeyed along the Towy estuary in such beautiful weather were accompanied by Annie’s witty remarks, her commentary and anecdotes.
At Carmarthen, some of our party left to tour the town and sample Dylan’s tastes at the Boars’ Head Hotel where he was thrown out on many occasions!
The rest went on to the National Botanic garden at Llanarthne to view the excellent plant culture, magic Botanic Dome (largest single span glass Conservatory in the World!), the Tropical House, and a plethora of interesting Buildings(even a lovely “cwtch” for us to cuddle together!!).
Surmounting all was Middleton Hall with magnificent scenery and the ubiquitous Folly (Paxton’s Tower – referring to Lord Nelson and his flirtings – such days of yore!!) built in the distant hills as a constant phallic insult to an annoying neighbour.
Next stop: Laugharne with Dylan’s and Caitlin’s Boat House overlooking the sea and the Towy estuary with the famous Pendine Sands in the distance and a pair of welsh wool long-johns drying on a tree!!.
There was the simple green garden “work” shed perched precipitously perched on the cliff edge where Dylan sat, coat on his chair, with his thoughts of the World whilst watching the waves in the distance. For some of us, there was time for a drink sitting in Dylan’s favourite window seat in Brown’s Inn, and a visit to the Castle.
We left Laugharne in sun-shine and stopped to pay homage to him at his (and Caitlin’s) simple white crossed grave amongst graves.
Next day saw some of us walking the Waterfront, fondly paying obeisance to Dylan’s bronze life size statue by stroking his hand, revisiting the Waterfront Museum to view such exhibits as a splendid WW2 exhibition of Swansea’s involvement. Then all a-board the SkyLark for a trip up the Tawe River to the Liberty Stadium accompanied by a knowledgeable local Guide who described the significant remains of industrial sites preserved on the sides of the River, previously scarred by unseemly deposits from copper smelting but now overgrown with beautiful greenery. As we ate and drank on board the boat munching an excellent buffet organised by our very own ladies, it was intriguing to see in the middle of the river a cascade of bubbles coming from mermaids long lost below us (!!).
After returning to the Waterfront, we re-boarded the bus and were taken over picturesque moors and hills to Rhosili on the Gower: a bay now ranked best in the UK, in the top 3 in Europe and in the top 10 in the World! My, what breath-taking views! Those who ventured so far as the Coast Guard Station overlooking Worms Head saw a Grand Piano being tuned in the open in preparation for an open-air Concert!!!
Having savoured the splendours of the scenery, the bay and the cliff top, we sojourned to The King Arthur Hotel at Reynoldston where we were well received and ate with the evening sun pouring down outside: a fitting end to another magnificent day but not before Annie was thanked profusely for her excellent guiding, extensive local knowledge and banter punctuated on occasions by a few “bloody boyos” and other Welsh unmentionables!
Next day, home! Calling at Neath Abbey and the magnificently restored Cistercian Abbey at Margam, surrounded by a picturesque Country Park surmounted by the 19th century Margam Castle with its spectacular Stone Staircases, reminiscent of Hogwarts. The Castle was built by the Talbot family using fortunes gained from the production of steel at the still profitable Port Talbot works in the Bay. Gone were the skeletons of trees seen 40 years’ ago (the trees poisoned by acid rain) and in their place a magnificent forest of colour.
Our next stop in glorious sunshine was the Prince of Wales pub at Ton Kenfig near Porthcawl, a local for the Jonathan clan! Its Landlord, a certain Gareth Mound, provided an enthusiastic talk on the area, an account of the devastation produced by a Welsh Tsunami, the discovery of a propeller from a long-ago stranded ship, the pub’s local judicial history and sentencing of felons to be hung close by!!
This, accompanied by a super buffet and general Welsh camaraderie engaging all of us, was a more than fitting end to yet another fantastic trip with thanks to Jonathan for its organisation and to Lyndon for his safe driving!! And so to our next visit to the Fatherland to satisfy another feast of Welsh hiraeth!
John Edwards and Barrie Reece