After thoroughly enjoying the first of two Dylan Thomas-themed episodes of Weatherman Walking, we were eager to catch up with Derek Brockway as he travelled still farther west.
As I’ve explained, we were particularly interested in this programme because the first ebook camau published was Dylan’s Welsh Walks. BBC Wales’s emphasis is on visiting all the landmarks associated with Dylan Thomas in his lifetime, whereas our own focus was to produce a great book of scenic walks in the landscapes that influenced the Welsh poet. So similar but with a slightly different emphasis.
Derek’s last two walks saw him in New Quay and Laugharne. From comments he makes, it sounds as though he completed the Laugharne walk (at least) sometime in October; we were in New Quay on October 10 for Harri’s birthday so it’s quite possible we were all following in Dylan’s footsteps at the same time.
The interesting thing about New Quay and Laugharne is that both towns claim to be the inspiration for Llareggub (read it backwards), the fictional small Welsh fishing village in Dylan’s most famous work Under Milk Wood.
Dylan Thomas expert Jeff Towns (apparently known as ‘The Dylan Thomas Guy‘) was Derek’s guide in New Quay and as he held Dylan’s map of Llareggub up to the camera; the geography of the fictional and real villages are undeniably alike.
Dylan lived in New Quay with Caitlin and baby Aeronwy for a little under year, from September 1944 until the early summer of 1945. It was here, at Majoda, that the infamous shooting incident took place (as portrayed in the 2008 film The Edge of Love).
Again, Derek’s celebrity status gained him access to places that we’d only been able to gaze at from the pavement or path… Majoda itself (now completely rebuilt) and the Apple House at Plas Llanina (in this special year, open days are planned from 10am-3pm on June 18, September 18 and October 10). Neither really seemed to hold any sense of Dylan’s presence, certainly nothing like his Laugharne writing shed.
Derek and Jeff’s 5.7 mile walk followed the blue plaques of the Dylan Thomas Trail around New Quay before climbing the cliffs on the other side of the village to walk the coast path to Bird’s Rock (we’ve taken shelter in the lookout for elevensies on more than one occasion).
In Dylan’s Welsh Walks, Harri chose to include two separate walks from New Quay, one heading to Aberaeron further up the coast and the other walking back from Llangrannog, a pretty little coastal village whose pubs Dylan was known to visit.
The second walk of the episode was the highlight for me. Derek arrived in Laugharne by boat in stunning sunshine… and he calls this work? As we always seem to be in Laugharne on dull, drizzly days it was nice to see what the estuary looked like when you could see for miles. My verdict: absolutely stunning.
But what really made this section so enjoyable was Derek’s companion. Though clearly unused to the limelight (she came across as diffident and self-deprecating), Dylan’s grand-daughter Hannah Lewis was full of anecdotes about her grandmother, Caitlin, and her life with the great man. She looked like Dylan too… the dark curly hairs, the nose, the mouth. She really was a great choice of guide for Derek… and seemed a lovely woman.
Their 5.5 mile walk was very similar to ours but, as Harri pointed out, Laugharne isn’t the biggest of places and any Dylan Thomas-themed route has to pass certain key landmarks – Seaview, the writing shed and Boathouse, Brown’s Hotel and the simple white cross that marks his grave.
There was a great scene when Derek falls over as the two are starting to climb a steep section though the woods back to Laugharne. I’d probably have laughed but Hannah is more restrained.
It was so nice to watch the two of them walking and enjoying each other’s company. And this, I believe, is the reason Weatherman Walking (and the weatherman himself) is so popular. Derek’s love of the outdoors and his interest in people and their stories is 100% authentic. It’s just nice watching someone so… well, nice.