From Thursday 8th to Sunday 11th June, the breathtakingly beautiful village of Llansteffan in Carmarthenshire, West Wales will open its doors to excited festival goers from far and wide. The writer and publisher Richard Davies has recently moved to the area and is encouraging lovers of words to come and discover the hidden literary secrets of the Llansteffan Peninsula.
Llansteffan is “Wales’ best kept secret” – well until now at least – “a sort of Never Never land known only to locals”. The vibrant and colourful community is made up of many artists and writers and Llansteffan Literary Festival plans to celebrate this, as well as the village’s rich cultural history.
A medieval castle overlooks the mouth of the River Tywi and is a prominent symbol that Llansteffan has an intriguing past and it stands tall as it proudly protects the village below. I’m told that the large expanse of bright yellow sand has been a welcome haven for sun worshippers (it never rains in Wales you see!) who stretch out ‘lizard-like’ while being zigzagged by hardworking men and women painstakingly gathering cockles galore.
Ethel Ross photo©Hilly Janes
Having been captivated and entranced by the peaceful surroundings and the picturesque views, Llansteffan became home to the artists Sir Christopher Williams and Stanley Lewis, as well as the poets Keidrych Rhys and Lynette Roberts. Another famous resident was Sir John Williams, the doctor that delivered a few of Queen Victoria’s children. His books and manuscripts formed the foundation collection for the National Library of Wales. The novelist Glyn Jones adored the tranquil location so much that his remains are buried in the local church.
And then there is Dylan Thomas. He is rooted in the county of Carmarthenshire that was imprinted on him as a child. It was a place that consistently provided him with a sanctuary to write. The family cottages at Blaen Cwm were the perfect retreat as he escaped from the flying bombs in London completing Poem in October and contemplating his “thirtieth year to heaven.”
Dylan visited from an early age staying in Rose Cottage in Llansteffan, and later on, spending long summer holidays with his aunt Annie at Fernhill. Relatives owned the neighbouring farmland as well so he could run freely and was “happy as the grass was green”. As war ended in 1945 and the horrors of the Nazi atrocities were becoming clear, Dylan looked back nostalgically at more innocent times and wrote his famous poem. Fern Hill was also the setting for his humorous short story, The Peaches.
Ethel Ross photo©Hilly Janes
It was, Dylan once said, my true childhood and this might explain why the peninsula, so alive with his welsh-speaking and chapel going relations, appears regularly in his work. The area flows through his writing. We see the River Tywi in the second half of Eli Jenkin’s morning prayer from Under Milk Wood and it glides quietly through Dylan’s story, A Visit to Grandpa’s. It even makes an unexpected entrance in his poem Over Sir John’s Hill.
The area was a rich concentration of relatives, family history and memories and it gave Dylan a true sense of place when other parts of his life were in chaos. From 1937 to his death in 1953 he lived in twelve different places, as well as several addresses in London. The Llansteffan Peninsula was somewhere he felt he belonged – a place of safety.
Dylan Thomas eventually settled in Laugharne, which is across the water from Llansteffan. Dylan’s wife Caitlin installed windows in his writing shed so he could look out over the estuary at the family farms, which filled Dylan’s views with happy memories of his upbringing. Caitlin described it as, “… the background from which he had sprung, and he needed that background all his life, like a tree needs roots”.
©Carmarthenshire County Council
Dylan would also frequently take the ferry trip between Laugharne and Black Scar Point. He would picnic there or walk into Llansteffan and visit the village pub the Edwinsford Arms – sitting in his usual cosy corner and writing notes on cigarette packages. For years, Laugharne has taken the glory and accepted Dylan as one of their own – the Boathouse was his final home after all. But how different things may have been had Miss Griffiths in Llansteffan been willing to rent him a house!
Click twice to see the Llansteffan Literary Festival flyer.
To find out more about Llansteffan click here.
Featured image – ©discovercarmarthenshire.com
You can see more of Ethel Ross’s photos of Dylan Thomas’s places in ‘Ugly, Lovely’ edited by Hilly Janes.
Hannah Ellis – 4th June 2017.
Hannah is a teacher, writer and consultant. You can learn more about her by visiting the website – www.hannahellisconsultancy.com