Opened in 1874, Cwmdonkin Park will forever be remembered as Dylan Thomas' Park. His presence has even been felt in the park in ghostly form:
"This sea town was my world ...
And the park itself was a world within the world of the sea town;
quite near where I live,
so near that on summer evenings I could listen on my bed,
to the voices of other children playing ball on the sloping paper-littered banks;
the park was full of terrors and treasure."
- Dylan Thomas, 'Reminiscences of Childhood'
Using the main entrance off Park Drive, the first delight offered by the park are the landscaped water gardens. Making use of the natural spring that flows here from Townhill, the water gardens were opened in 1974 to mark the Centenary of Cwmdonkin Park, and offers a home to a host of fascinating animal life, including frogs, newts and toads, water voles, weasels and a variety of dragonflies.
Dylan Thomas Memorial Stone
Also finding its home here is the Dylan Thomas Memorial Stone. The stone, a carved block of Pennant Sandstone, was paid for by two elderly ladies who ran Caedman Press in America. Upon Dylan Thomas' death, they sent £50 to Vernon Watkins for him to choose a suitable monument to honour the poet and author in his home town.
The block of stone was purchased (from Cwmrhydyceirw Quarry) and carried by local sculptor Ronald Cour, whilst the lines inscribed upon its face were chosen by Vernon Watkins from Dylan Thomas' poem "Fern Hill".
A little beyond the water garden is an old drinking fountain that was mentioned in Dylan Thomas' poem 'The Hunchback in the Park':
"The hunchback in the park
A Solitary Mister ...
Eating bread from a newspaper
Drinking water from the chained cup
That the children filled with gravel
In the fountain basin where I sailed my ship."
Unfortunately, this chained cup has long since vanished.
Dylan Thomas Memorial Shelter
Deeper within the park is the Dylan Thomas Memorial Shelter, opened in 1977. The shelter overlooks a large play area which was once a reservoir.
During the Three Nights' Blitz of February 1941, this reservoir found service by providing water to extinguish the blazing town centre that burnt at its feet. After the war, considered dangerous to the children who played in the park, the reservoir was drained and refilled with the rubble from the blitzed town.
Another interesting feature of Cwmdonkin Park is that it is planted with trees from around the world, amongst them Palm trees from the Mediterranean, a Monkey puzzle from South America, a Tulip Tree from North America and a Handkerchief Tree from China.
Further botanical interest can be found in the park's Ornamental Garden where each spring and summer as many as 60,000 bedding plants are introduced to the surroundings, whilst those of an athletic ilk might wish to hire one of the tennis courts situated near the bowling green.
If possible, try to remain in the park until its closing time, as the evenings often bring owls and foxes into the gardens.
In living history, there once was a cherished anachronistic moment to be had in listening to the sound of the bell that was rung at each close of the day at the park - the same bell commemorated in the writings of both Dylan Thomas:
"Soon the bell would ring for the closing of the gates"
- Dylan Thomas, 'Return Journey'
and Vernon Watkins:
"Stone-runged streets ascending to that crow's nest
Swinging East and West over Swansea Bay
Guard in their walls Cwmdonkin's
Gates of light for a bell to close"
- Vernon Watkins, 'Ode to Swansea'
Swansea Council stopped this tradition.