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If, like me, you've heard of Under Milk Wood and The Boathouse,
but don't know a whole lot more about Dylan Thomas,
then one of our walks today will be a delightful voyage of discovery.
We are going to walk in the footsteps of the poet
around the Carmarthenshire coastline and the lovely town of Laugharne.
But our first walk is up in the foothills of the Cambrian Mountains,
around a 200-year-old tourist playground of woods,
waterfalls and riverside trails.
And our patch of heaven is the Hafod Estate,
just up the road from Devil's Bridge,
slap bang in the middle of Wales.
The Hafod Estate was designed
in what is known as the picturesque style by its owner, Thomas Johnes,
in the late 18th century,
and became a big attraction for early tourists to Wales.
Paths were created with twists and turns,
tunnels and arches, to surprise visitors
with a picture-perfect view of a natural scene.
Sadly, the mansion Thomas Johnes built as a centrepiece
to his rural idyll is gone - all that's left
is a pile of rubble and a ghostly outline in the fields.
But the walks he created have been restored,
allowing today's visitors a glimpse of a special landscape.
'In charge of this landscape is the Hafod Trust's Estate Manager,
'David Newnham, and he's volunteered to guide me around the walk today.
'Originally from Selby in Yorkshire,
'David studied Countryside Management at Aberystwyth
'and first came to Hafod as part of his course.
'He lives in a cottage on the estate, but as a change from being in the countryside,
'he enjoys surfing in Cardigan Bay.'
'Firmly on dry land today, David will be taking me
'along colour-coded routes that guide walkers around
'the 18th-century restored paths.'
Just down the road from the village of Cwmystwyth,
our walk starts from the Forestry Commission car park.
We'll then be calling in at Hafod Church,
before dropping down and following the Ystwyth River
to the site of the old mansion. From there, we cross the valley
to reach a long level section of the Gentleman's Walk.
A short detour takes us to the fascinating Cavern Cascade
before joining the Ystwyth Gorge Walk back to the start.
A five and a half mile walk,
snaking around Thomas Johnes' restored paths.
'Once one of the most visited places in Wales, sadly, by the 1940s,
'Hafod was largely forgotten by the outside world.
'The carefully nurtured landscape and choreographed walks
'had virtually disappeared from view
'after years of neglect which soon followed
'the tragic death of Mariamne, Thomas Johnes' only child.'
This is Hafod Church, which was restored
back in the 1930s after a devastating fire.
So this is where Mariamne was buried,
and subsequently her mother and then her father.
In the 1932 fire, tragically,
a monument inside made of marble which depicted Thomas Johnes
and his wife at their daughter's deathbed was shattered
when the cold water was poured all over the boiling hot marble.
And over here, Derek, is what remains of the marble monument.
As you can see, it's completely destroyed.
-There's not a lot left, is there?
-No, that's right.
You can see Thomas Johnes' face at the bottom right hand side.
With a big crack through the middle of it.
And there is a picture there of two firemen
-standing in front of the monument.
And at the bottom, a photograph of what it looked like originally.
Telling a sad tale, really.
'The tragic loss of their beloved daughter was the beginning of the end
'of Johnes' love affair with Hafod, and the end of his romantic dream.
'These days, the estate is owned by the Forestry Commission,
'who planted these fir trees back in the 1950s.
'But now, they are working with the Hafod Trust to thin out
'the conifers and plant native deciduous trees.
'Their aim is to get the landscape close to how it used to be.'
So this is Peiran Falls,
one of Thomas Johnes' main viewpoints on the Lady's Walk.
If the river was in spate,
if we'd had loads of rain like we did this morning,
the water actually cascades down both sides of this rocky island and it looks stunning.
-You get plenty of rain in this area, don't you?
We'll just head down here, Derek, and I'll show you
where Thomas Johnes intended his visitors to view the falls from.
This stone structure here is the back wall of what
we now refer to as the Rustic Alcove.
What would have been a stone structure,
actually designed intentionally to hide this view from visitors
coming from this direction, until they got to the alcove
and they would be stunned by this magnificent view of the falls.
-His way of bringing this place to life?
-Trying to enhance the experience of the natural scenery.
-Kind of a theme park of the 18th century.
-That's right, yeah.
What have you got there?
This is actually a painting,
and you can see this view that Johnes intended people to see.
Here, the river is in full flood, so it's cascading down both sides.
Looks like us two, looking at the waterfall.
We should get some cowboy hats!
# Keep rollin', rollin', rollin'
# Though the streams are swollen
# Keep them dogies rollin' Rawhide... #
'This path along the banks of the River Ystwyth
'is part of the Lady's Walk -
'created by Johnes as gentler outing suitable for the well-to-do ladies
'in their crinoline dresses.'
This is the Trust's next big restoration project.
This is Jane Johnes' flower garden, Thomas Johnes' wife.
This garden was built for her,
although it was also intended for visitors to see.
So it was a big undertaking.
But making progress, and if I came back here in a couple of years,
-it would be full of flowers and colour again?
I think we are coming to a point, Derek, where if we stop here
and have a look at this painting,
we can see that back in the late 18th century,
how it used to look is actually very similar to what it looks like now.
Which is remarkable, considering ten years ago,
this was another conifer plantation,
which has been cleared and restored to open pasture.
And a few cows in there, as well!
The cows are there to keep the pasture open,
nibble down the scrub and preserve Johnes' landscape.
# Ride 'em in, Rawhide! #
Leaving the river, we now climb up
to the site of Thomas Johnes' grand house.
And this is all that's left of the old Hafod mansion.
The host that Thomas Johnes built here was added to several times
by successive owners and people realised in the end,
it was just too much to maintain. After years of trying to find a buyer,
it was decided they would blow it up with dynamite.
This is all that's left, just a pile of rubble.
Yeah, it's a hell of a shame, really. On the other hand,
there's always a chance it could have fallen into private hands and not been open to public access.
Then we wouldn't have had these wonderful walks to enjoy.
-At least we've got those.
'Now we're off across the Ystwyth River on the way to meet up
'with Des Marshall for the slightly more challenging Gentleman's Walk.
'Originally from Manchester, Des has lived in Mid Wales for many years.
'He's an experienced outdoor pursuits instructor
'and a writer of walking guidebooks to this area.
'He's travelled the world, caving and mountaineering,
'but still enthuses about this particular walk.'
It's the eccentricity of it all.
It's been very sympathetically restored
to Johnes' original format.
At every corner, you have a different view.
You get to a corner, there's no view.
You go down a corner, there's a fantastic panorama. It's marvellous.
Absolutely superb walk. And anybody who is reasonably fit can do this.
We've just come to a panoramic view, Derek. Obviously,
you've got gorgeous views down the Ystwyth Valley,
but more importantly to Thomas Johnes
was a brilliant view of his mansion.
The mansion was described from here by one of his best friends,
but it was also painted from near this location.
You can see how similar the landscape is nowadays.
'But we can also see in this engraving just how impressive
'Johnes' house was. He chose a prime spot
'and framed it with the landscaped grounds.'
'You want to watch your step on the next bit.'
It's a bit slippery along here, isn't it? A big drop down.
Wonderful, airy ledge, this. Very airy!
-It adds to the excitement, walking along here!
-A long way down, though, isn't it?
'The narrow gangway leads us to another of Johnes' surprises -
'a short tunnel with a deliberate kink in it
'which suddenly reveals a view across the valley.'
And from here you can see a monument
on the other side of the valley to the Duke of Bedford.
'The 5th Duke of Bedford was a pal of Johnes -
'a fellow romantic and a kindred spirit.'
-Another glorious view.
-There's so many of them.
We've just come into the ancient beech woodland.
Some of these trees possibly date back 150 or even 200 years.
-Some speculate they were planted during the Johnes era.
What is interesting is, they used to bunch plant these trees
so they grew in a picturesque fashion.
Multiple stems, coming up from the ground.
-It does add to the variety in the woodland.
-It certainly does.
'A branch in the path takes us up
'alongside a cascading stream towards another man-made surprise -
'the Cavern Cascade, which is well worth the effort needed to reach it.
'But take a torch, and be careful where you place your boots.'
Just be careful, the rocks are a little bit slippery but not too bad.
Just take your time, you get round the corner, and it hits you.
-Oh, wow, look at that! That's amazing.
You get the view
at the very last minute - this straight tunnel, kink at the end.
-As you rounded the corner, there was a distinct "wow"!
-A big wow!
So do many people come up to this spot, this far through the cave?
Well, it seems most of our visitors have taken on shorter walks.
But most of them aren't making it up here,
it's mostly local people who come just to see the Cavern Cascade.
It's a bit of a local secret, really.
-Thanks very much, Des.
-My pleasure, Derek.
-Pleasure to meet you.
'As we say farewell to Des,
'David and I head along the Ystwyth Gorge path
'on the last loop of our walk.'
This is what we call the Gothic Arcade.
We don't know when it was built exactly.
The only information they've got is a painting from 1939,
depicting three arches here, which possibly would have had
a covered seat behind it, and it was really making
the most of Johnes' view of his chain bridge, which is fantastic.
Wonderful, isn't it?
The narrow gorge here, the water flowing through it,
and just look at those rocks, how they are being sculpted by the water.
-Well, we're on the final leg of our walk now, David.
-We are, yeah.
-Thanks for showing me around.
-It's been my pleasure.
Well, I may not be the kind of gentleman Thomas Johnes had in mind
when he created these walks for his visitors all those years ago,
but one thing is for sure - I feel very privileged to have
experienced a trip through the Hafod Estate today.
It's still truly magical!
If you fancy trying one of the walks from the series,
go to bbc.co.uk/weathermanwalking
and take a look at our all-singing, all-dancing website.
It has everything you need, from detailed route information for each walk,
photographs we took along the way
and walking maps for you to print off and follow.
For the next walk in this programme we head to coastal Carmarthenshire
for a poetic walk in and around lovely Laugharne.
Dylan Thomas's boathouse is world famous,
attracting people here to Laugharne from all around the globe.
But there's a lot more to this place than a house,
which is now a museum, and a gob-smacking view.
'To show me the walk and tell me about the place is Bob Stevens.
'Originally from Carmarthen, Bob breeds Welsh Cobs
'here in Laugharne, where he's lived and farmed for the past 25 years.'
He's passionate about encouraging others to discover the place
that captivated Dylan Thomas,
and recently established a waymarked route called Dylan's Birthday Walk.
Six miles from St Clears,
Laugharne sits on the edge of the beautiful unspoilt Taf Estuary
on the Carmarthenshire coast.
Starting near the castle, we head off on the first of two loops,
up through the town to St Martin's church
before joining the coastal path along the estuary.
Then past the castle again, up onto Sir John's Hill
and back down to the start.
A four-and a half mile walk through both town and country.
-Hello, Bob, nice to meet you.
-Welcome to Laugharne,
-Dylan Thomas country.
-Yes, I know this guy here,
but there's a lot more to Laugharne, isn't there?
-Yes. Let's explore it, let's begin at the beginning.
Cue Richard Burton!
-To begin at the beginning.
It is Spring, moonless night in the small town,
starless and bible-black,
the cobblestreets silent and the hunched, courters'-and-rabbits' wood
limping invisible down to the sloeblack, slow, black,
crowblack, fishingboat-bobbing sea.
We're coming up to Laugharne Castle, on the right.
Originally known as Abercorran Castle.
'Most visitors to Laugharne probably know about its links
'with Dylan Thomas, but the sight of this rather impressive castle
'may be a bit of a surprise.
'The towering walls you can see today have been rebuilt over the centuries
'and consist of a 13th-century Norman castle
'later converted to a Tudor mansion.
'Laugharne is one of the oldest self-governing townships in Britain,
'with Laugharne Corporation being one of only two surviving from mediaeval times.
'The institution goes back over 700 years,
'to a charter granted to the town in 1297.
'The inhabitants still benefit from the land and property
'owned by the Corporation.
'The head is called the Portreeve.
'Meet the current man at the top, Terry O'Toole -
'the Boris Johnson of the Corporation.'
-Good morning, sir.
-Pleased to meet you.
So what does it mean to the town to have the corporation,
to have you, the Portreeve, as the head?
I think the town are very fortunate
and they see themselves as very fortunate having the corporation.
Having me personally as the head, I'm not sure,
but having a Portreeve is important as well.
Because it's all part of the corporation, part of the tradition
and customs of the town.
I've got to ask about the wonderful chain you're wearing.
It's made of gold, and seashells.
They're cockle shells.
Laugharne is based on the cockle industry.
It was a staple industry in Laugharne for a good many years in the past.
And in a lot of cases, it was a staple diet for people.
So we're very proud of our heritage in the cockle industry.
-It must take a lot of polishing!
-That, not you!
As we walk on through the town,
it feels like we're following in Dylan's footsteps.
He spent so much time in this hotel
he gave out its phone number as his own.
We're coming up here to the famous Browns Hotel,
which is associated with Dylan Thomas in a big way.
It's covered in scaffolding at the moment.
It's being renovated,
it'll be done up for the centenary of Dylan's birth in 2014.
-Hopefully it'll be open well before then.
-He used to come here, did he?
Yeah, he lived in the boathouse in 1949 and onwards.
And he would wander up here from the writing shed in the mornings.
And he'd sit in that window there with the landlady,
and he'd watch all the people going by.
And it was the influences that he saw there
and the gossip he learnt of that he put in Under Milk Wood.
'The ship's clock in the bar says half past 11.
'Half past 11 is opening time. The hands of the clock
'have stayed still at half past eleven for 50 years.
'It is always opening time in the Sailors Arms.'
'Each year in the spring, Laugharne hosts a three-day arts festival.
'It's deliberately small-scale, which is just as well
'because so are some of its venues.
'Like this surprising old 1930s garage, run by Simon Pugh Jones.'
-I wasn't expecting this, Simon!
-No, not many people do.
The idea behind the tin shed was that when we decided to build a museum,
we were going to keep the outside looking as it was in 1933.
-You've got loads of stuff here.
-Mainly 1940s, and mainly military.
But as the project's developed,
initially it was just going to be a building full of World War II items.
But the project's developed now,
and it's become very much more about the community.
So it's not just a museum, then?
No, it's become a venue as well.
We had Under Milk Wood here back in April, which was fantastic.
We had a cast of 18 and an audience of 100,
and the atmosphere was absolutely electric.
-It was a superb place to have our first event.
-Thanks very much, Simon.
-I'll have to come back in April for the festival.
'Dylan Thomas died in New York in 1953.
'His body, however, was brought home to Laugharne
'and buried here in St Martin's cemetery.'
This is Dylan's resting place.
-The white cross.
-And his wife is buried there as well.
If you were here in 1953, this whole area would have been covered
with crowds of people, as he was buried in November,
brought back from America.
So do many people come here now and visit his grave?
Yeah, they tend to go to visit the boathouse first of all,
then they meander through the township.
You tend to get a lot more Americans, I've noticed, over the years.
-They come all this way to pay their respects?
-Well, that's a sign summer's over, Derek.
Yeah, it looks like they're getting ready to go south. Can't blame them.
'Heading out of town and over the hill,
'our route drops down to the beautiful Taf Estuary,
'along a section that will be part of the Wales Coast Path,
'an 850-mile continuous trail around the entire Welsh coastline.
'When it's officially opened, there'll be no excuse
'for not taking a walk in a beautiful place like this.
'Further along the estuary, we come to Laugharne's iconic landmark.'
We're just coming over the top of the world-famous boathouse,
Dylan's last home.
He lived here from 1949, to when he sadly died in '53.
Great place to live.
Yeah, it inspired him, definitely, in the later poems,
because he wrote about what he's looking at there.
-Would you like to look inside?
-I think we should.
Hey, Bob, nice place to write a poem.
The house on stilts, as he called it.
We're coming up now to Dylan's writing shed.
This is where he wrote most of his later poems.
It's very cosy in there, isn't it?
There's a lovely little fire, you can see one of the empty bottles,
and you can see the beautiful views
that are through the windows.
It's very inspirational spot.
Well, if you look, it's going out on the estuary,
over to St John's Hill where we will be going later.
-And I'd like to take you now in his footsteps.
'Now we're going on the route Bob's set up
'as Dylan's Birthday Walk,
'a walk that Dylan Thomas describes taking
'on his 30th birthday in Poem In October.
'The information boards along the way give you extracts from the poem
'and tell you a bit about Dylan's life.'
He begins down in the harbour, with "the mussel pooled and heron priested shore".
And I found an old photograph back in 1850
of how this harbour looked at that time.
It's amazing the difference, isn't it?
Amazing how much altered over 100 years.
-It's full of reeds now.
The photograph is of Dylan when he was in his...18 to 20 years old.
Because the poem tends to talk about getting older, and your mortality,
as we walk along, you will see how he ages, photographs of how he ages,
-along the panels.
-Like we all do.
Like we all do. Even you, Derek!
'It was my thirtieth year to heaven
'Woke to my hearing from harbour and neighbour wood
'And the mussel pooled and the heron
'The morning beckon
'With water praying and call of seagull and rook
'And the knock of sailing boats on the net-webbed wall
'Myself to set foot That second
'In the still sleeping town and set forth.'
This is the second section of the poem.
As you can see, it's placed opposite the castle,
because it refers in the text, "And the castle as brown as owls."
And there it is, straight in front of you.
'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...'
We're coming now to the shoulder of the hill,
and the third panel, his text about the boathouse.
You can see Dylan, how he's altered, as he's getting older.
Yeah, he's changed quite a bit compared to the other photograph.
Well, he was in his 20s then, this was probably taken in 1949, 1950.
So he's nearer 40 there.
'It was my thirtieth
'Year to heaven stood there then in the summer noon
'Though the town below lay leaved with October blood.'
"O may my heart's truth Still be sung
"On this high hill in a year's turning."
What he's on about is, "I hope to God
"I'm still going to be alive and kicking in a year's time."
It's a fundamental feeling for all of us, getting older.
And that's what they're saying there.
There's something about saying the words out loud,
it's almost a spiritual feeling,
hoping you're going to still be alive in a year's turning.
That's what I'm hoping to achieve with these panels.
'It's called the Birthday Walk, and if you come here on your birthday,
'do the walk and recite a verse of the poem out loud,
'Bob says he's arranged a bag of chips and a free drink at some local hostelries.
'Now there's an offer you can't refuse!
'The last leg of our walk takes us "Over Sir John's Hill"
'and with such fabulous views in every direction,
'even I could be moved to pen a few lines up here.'
Well, walking in Dylan Thomas's footsteps
really does bring his poetry to life.
I now have a better understanding of his work
and the place that inspired him.
I'm definitely going to come back on my birthday, do the walk again,
and also claim my free pint and a bag of chips.
# These boots are made for walking
# And that's just what they'll do... #
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