A Glimpse at Literary Wales
With such literary sites as Dylan Thomas’s Boathouse, the National Library of Wales, the bookshops of Hay-on-Wye, and the ruins of Tintern Abbey, Wales is sure to inspire all lit-loving travelers.
Dylan Thomas’s Boathouse
Perched on a short cliff above the Taf Estuary on the outskirts of Laugharne village, Dylan Thomas’s Boathouse offers a unique glimpse into the celebrated writer’s life. Home to Thomas and his family from 1949 until his death in 1953, the boathouse is open year round as a museum, bookshop, and tearoom.
Arriving at the two-story boathouse via the cliff walk, my husband Erik and I took in wide-angle views of the tranquil estuary. After viewing several audio visual presentations, along with original furnishings and the writer’s memorabilia, we headed back outside to peer into Thomas’s writing shed. This is where he penned some of his most celebrated works, from the poem Over Sir John’s Hill to his well-known novel, Under Milk Wood. Inside, the desk is littered with crinkled paper and books, as if Thomas may return at any moment.
If time permits, stop for a drink at Thomas’s old watering hole in town, Brown’s Hotel, newly renovated for his centennial celebration in 2014. Craving more Dylan Thomas? Head forty miles southeast to Swansea, home of Thomas’ birthplace, the Dylan Thomas Centre, and the annual Dylan Thomas Festival.
The National Library of Wales
With thousands of books, manuscripts, and archives, as well as exhibits, displays, and reading rooms, the National Library of Wales is a lit-lover’s dream. Open daily throughout the year, the library is housed in a stately Edwardian building overlooking the lively university town of Aberystwyth. Guided tours of the collections are offered twice a week, be sure to book tickets ahead of time.
Once in the library, Erik and I headed to the Hengwrt Room. As a historian, I was thrilled to see the 13th century Black Book of Carmarthen, the oldest Welsh manuscript in existence, as well as a 13th century copy of The Laws of Hywel Dda. Exhibits change regularly, offering visitors an impressive array of rare historical texts.
Interested in more contemporary literature? As one of Britain’s repositories, the library holds copies of every new book published in the United Kingdom.
A market town on the English-Welsh border, about one hour north of Cardiff, Hay-on-Wye’s literary aspirations began in 1961 when Richard Booth opened his secondhand bookshop in town. Now, over fifty years later, the town is home to over 30 used and antiquarian bookshops as well as an internationally acclaimed literary festival.
The first bookshop on our must-see list is where it all started – Richard Booth’s Bookshop. Still the largest in Hay-on-Wye, Booth’s stocks over 400,000 new, used, and rare books. While Erik explored the shop, I happily perused its excellent selection on Anglo-Welsh history. Next we walked a few blocks to Hay Castle Bookshop, located on the grounds of a 900-year-old castle. Inside the converted rooms, thousands of books line tall bookcases and tables. We strolled and browsed the stacks, enjoying the castle’s charming archways and large windows.
Every year from late May to early June, thousands of literati descend on the town for the annual Hay Festival of Literature and the Arts . Founded in 1987, the Hay Festival is a 10-day literary event, with workshops, readings, guest speakers, and book signings. Note: For lesser crowds, visit early May or late June.
An hour southeast of Hay-on-Wye and six miles north of Chepstow, travelers will find Tintern Abbey. These spectacular Gothic ruins and the surrounding Wye Valley have inspired writers and artists for centuries, including painter J.M.W. Turner and poet Allen Ginsberg. But arguably the most famous of these works is William Wordsworth’s poem, Lines Composed a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey. Wordsworth penned this free-flowing poem in 1798, after his scenic ramble around the ruins and countryside.
We arrived at Tintern Abbey shortly after opening, avoiding the mid-day crowds. One of the most prosperous and influential Cistercian monasteries in medieval Wales, the abbey sprawls alongside the River Wye. It’s ringed by dense woodlands, pastures dotted with woolly sheep, and rolling green hills.
As we stood in the center of the enormous church, dwarfed by the roughly 150-foot walls, I imagined the abbey in its heyday: a kaleidoscope of stained glass illuminating the ornate white-washed walls with hundreds of monks and clerics bustling about. Yet, even now, the abbey and its valley were as quiet and haunting as Wordsworth found it over two hundred years ago.
For more information: Visit Wales (www.visitwales.com)
Best months to visit: May, June and September because it’s warmer and drier, but less crowded.
Transportation to Wales: For North Wales, Birmingham International Airport and Manchester International Airport are closest. For South Wales, Cardiff International Airport is most convenient.
Where to Eat While Visiting these Sights
In Laugharne, the quirky and romantic Cors Restaurant serves delicious Welsh dinners. For more casual dining, try the Castle View Fish Bar. In Aberystywth, the popular Spanish deli Ultracomida offers sandwiches, tapas, and other delicacies. For more traditional fare, try The Treehouse , an organic café and foodshop. In Hay-on-Wye, the charming Three Tuns Pub offers tasty local fare. In Tintern, the cozy tearoom Old Station (01291 689566) is open in the summer, or for a heartier meal try Kingstone Brewery, located across the street.
Places to Stay In Wales
In Laugharne, the Brown’s Hotel offers 14 stylish yet comfortable rooms. In Aberystwyth, enjoy spacious en-suite rooms with great castle views at the Yr Hafod Guesthouse. In Hay-on-Wye, cozy rooms await at the Old Black Lion. In Tintern, the casual yet modern Royal George is walking distance from the abbey.
Written by Carrie Uffindell for EuropeUpClose.com