In the Irish author Flann O’Brien’s classic piece of invention, The Third Policeman, (certainly one of my top hundred books) one of the coppers becomes so obsessed by his bicycle that he begins to merge with it. As he sits on the saddle cycle becomes policeman and policeman becomes bicycle. The world changes by osmosis. Some writers view place with similar regard. Walk the rail tracks of Raymond Williams and you’ll access his thought processes. Visit the village of Gillian Clarke and you’ll understand her poetry. Stand where Dylan Thomas did and some of his power may seep into your soul.
This is psychogeography mixed with the sanctity of place. The poet Chris Torrance believed that a ley line ran right through his Pontneddfechan cottage and from it he could somehow channel verse. In the 80s the native American author, Thomas Rain Crowe, somehow got permission to stay at the Laugharne Boathouse for three whole months. The book he wrote there was a US bestseller. The spirit of Dylan infected every syllable. Didn’t do too well here, however.
There is an undeniable fascination with the tracking of places and paths important to the great and the good who have gone before. Seeing the world they saw increases our understanding of what they did. Standing at their desks or in their houses allows us to locate their works.
Visitors come from thousands of miles to visit Shakespeare’s Stratford, Thomas Hardy’s Dorset or Shaw’s Dublin. And those places have certainly capitalised on their associations. Shakespeare baseball hats, Thomas Hardy tracksuits and Oscar Wilde chewing gum sell by the shed load. This is something that Wales has yet to really wake up to. I did hear a rumour that someone was trying to sell Dylan Thomas trousers but found few takers.
This summer Academi are running coach tours which will take travellers into the heartlands of a range of our greatest literary creators. Days out for litterateurs. Anyone can join. We’ve already been to Pembroke in search of Waldo. In June John Pikoulis leads a trip to Talybont-on-Usk following the trails of the poet and historian Roland Mathias. In the same month Archdruid Dic Jones and National Poet Gillian Clarke will show visitors Ceredigion’s Talgarreg and Pisgah. In September there’s a trip to the red valley homelands of Cwmardy’ s author Lewis Jones. And in October there’s a Welsh-medium tour from Aberystwyth in search of Wales’ greatest Bard, Dafydd ap Gwilym.
The tours start from Cardiff, Aberystwyth and Carmarthen and cost £37 to join. Travellers will get talks, walks, readings, visits to significant hills, buildings, desks, windows, trees, streams and fields. Included in the price are lunch, tea, cakes, and numerous coffee stops. Call 02920472266 for a descriptive brochure or check the web site at www.academi.org.
A version of this posting appeared in the Western Mail as The Insider on Saturday 30th May, 2009