Getting Out of Swansea

Leaving Swansea WalesOn my first day in Wales, I spent the afternoon wandering around the second city of Swansea. Dylan Thomas, who had been born there a century ago, famously called the place “an ugly, lovely town.” In the movie Twin Town, when the character comes across a plaque at the train station with Thomas’s clever quote, he dubs Swansea “a pretty shitty city.”


Both men were correct.


Before arriving I had wondered if one afternoon would be enough to take in the city; but I had experienced most of Swansea on my wander down Wind Street, as I made my way from the train station to Morgan’s Hotel. While there were establishments like the No Sign Bar that had nearly as much history as the proximate relics of Swansea Castle, which was back-dropped by cranes auguring some city of the future, at present, Swansea spoke of the past.


The city was largely destroyed during the blitzkrieg of the Second World War and it never truly recovered. The architecture is mundane and tourism is still under construction—places that would appeal to travelers in other cities, like an indoor food market, caters mostly to locals as one would need a kitchen to enjoy the peculiar Welsh foods sold there, like laver bread, which isn’t bread, but a pudding of black seaweed, or faggots, which is a salmagundi of baked offal. (While this is irrelevant, I couldn’t help but note that residents of Swansea, as I’m sure studies could prove, had more epidermis covered with ink than any civilized or tribal nation worldwide.)


Welsh Food


This isn’t to say that Swansea is without its gems. There is a peaceful and picturesque marina, where the famous Swansea Jack, the Welsh Lassie, made his name. (As legend has it, the harbor master’s dog, Jack, rescued many who had gone overboard, earning himself the title and gaining fame across the United Kingdom that was passed on to traveling Welshman from the second city. They were dubbed Swansea Jacks abroad.) But the true gem was leaving the city. I’m not being flippant here; I just happened to get on a bicycle the following morning and pedal from the city’s harbor, along Swansea Bay, through the suburb of Oystermouth, where the infamous Mumbles Mile, a mile-long pub crawl shuttles tipplers toward bosomy rocks called the Mumbles that sit off the headland, begins.


I do not enjoy bicycle riding; but this journey, free of cars, was lovely and served as my primer on Wales. In fact, the bike path extends as a footpath along the entire 870-mile coastline of the country, making Wales the first nation to have a coastal trail running the entire border between land and sea. It was in these areas, along the path, beside the sea, far from the boundary that Wales shares with England, where the country grew incredible. I would eventually learn why Dylan Thomas’s poems about nature became most beautiful after leaving Swansea.


Over the course of my trip I explored—and over the course of the next few weeks on Somewhere Or Bust we will journey through—this sprawling land, where adventure can be eccentric and food can be an adventure; where pubs are of yore and you’re never far from a pub—even on a hiking trail. It’s a land where tides transform place more drastically than man and beaver combined. It’s a country with more castles per capita than anywhere else in the world. It’s a world where dramatic precipices along the sea match with puzzle-piece-shaped farmland.


You just have to leave the city for the shire.




Posted on by Noah Lederman in Europe, Somewhere

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