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In the land of RS Thomas

Back from a scorching hot week in North Wales, to which we took waterproofs, heavy duty walking boots and woollies, none of which we needed. Thankfully we also took shorts and sunscreen!

The Llyn peninsula is a long way to go, further than Land’s End (I looked it up!) but it was worth it. What a beautiful, unspoilt part of the British Isles. Here’s the view that greeted us at dawn, taken from the door of the cottage.

Tan y Bwlch cottage on the Llyn

It would make an excellent place for a writing retreat. Quiet, surrounded by nature and with a very poor phone signal.

While we were there I started reading Byron Rogers’ compelling life of RS Thomas, The Man who went into the West, which I’ve nearly finished. He was clearly a puzzling and contradictory man. Although I knew the name, I’ve never made an effort to read his work, which I’m a bit ashamed about now. Especially after Gillian Clarke, on a course at Ty Newydd, exhorted all of us to go away and read him. My podcasting poet pal Peter says he met RS when he was a student, and was struck by his presence.

At Aberdaron, in the little church where RS preached for some years, they’ve made a sort of shrine to him, with newspaper articles, copies of poems and other material. Lovely!

RS Thomas poem The Moon in Llyn

While we were there we walked from Aberdaron along the coastal path. It has more ups and downs than the Seven Sisters cliff walk here in Sussex, and very narrow in places. Here’s the view looking back to Aberdaron. You can just see the church graveyard creeping up the hill in the distance.View of Aberdaron

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  1. We studied RS Thomas at school for O Level, though at the time I was far more taken by Ted Hughes and Wilfred Owen. What a beautiful poem you’ve highlighted, and the views – breathtakingly lovely.

    • Robin Houghton Robin Houghton

      Hi Claire, yes I remember being mad about Ted Hughes at school. I don’t think we touched on RS Thomas. I think it was as much to do with the teacher’s preferences as the syllabus in those days.

  2. Jennifer Page Jennifer Page

    R S Thomas poetry is so full of acute observation. It taught me the poetic pleasure to be gained by really looking with a thinking eye. North Wales is undiscovered heaven and property prices reflect this.

    • Robin Houghton Robin Houghton

      Well we weren’t looking at property prices, but it was certainly beautiful and unspoiled!

  3. R S Thomas is probably rather out of fashion now, but is well worth reading. I acquired my copy of his “Song at the Year’s Turning” collection in 1963! His son, Gwydion, who has since died, was a contemporary of mine at university and was pretty odd, which was scarcely surprising, given his father’s rather gloomy and introverted cast of mind.

    • Robin Houghton Robin Houghton

      Someone else with a connection to RS Thomas! Fascinating stuff…

  4. Did my post grad biographical study on RS. Absolutely one of my all time favourites. I bless the person who introduced me to him. And the Lleyn Peninsula a great favourite place too! A lot less crowded than Cornwall.

    • Robin Houghton Robin Houghton

      I agree Sally, a bit like Cornwall in the ‘Old days’ 🙂

  5. Estelle Price Estelle Price

    So glad you enjoyed the Llyn. We go very often and it is a beautiful land, remote with echoes of many pasts. Each year there is a RSThomas festival which usually includes a poetry workshop day and readings at Felin Uchaf, a roundhouse in the middle of Pen Llyn. The year before last Philip Gross ran the workshop and before that Menna Elfyn. Perhaps go back?! Here’s the link (And thank you so much for the submissions spreadsheet!)

    • Robin Houghton Robin Houghton

      Thanks for that info, Estelle. An RS Thomas festival! I did get the impression that the Welsh take poetry seriously.

  6. Hilaire Hilaire

    Thanks for sharing those photos, and the poem, which I like very much.

    • Robin Houghton Robin Houghton

      Thanks Hilaire 🙂

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Robin Houghton 2021