Husband had to work on our last morning in Swansea so Son and I decided to spend a day at the museum(s). First up was my pick The Dylan Thomas Centre followed later in the day by his choice which was the National Waterfront Museum. Both completely different and both free of charge – a mixed experience in lots of ways but both were worth a look.
Thomas, the great Welsh writer and poet was born in Swansea and although he moved away, always retained a special affection for this place. The museum featuring his life and times was our first port of call. Finding it was more of a challenge than I anticipated – a distinct lack of signage meant we seemed to cover the same ground in a fruitless search. Hopes were raised when we found a building with his name on the side but we’d gone wrong again – this was the Dylan Thomas Theatre.
Still, not the giving up types we persevered and determination paid off in the end – we eventually found what we were looking for. Tucked away behind Swansea Museum it could be oh so easily missed. The receptionist was blunt and quite unfriendly, verging on rude actually, but we were undeterred and went inside. The centre was opened by Jimmy Carter (big Thomas fan apparently) in the 1990’s. It takes you through the life and times of Thomas – lots of information, archive material, manuscripts and photos galore to browse. Some great sound recordings too – Richard Burton reading was an unexpected delight. The whole place is quite small and we only spent about 40 minutes inside – I managed to read, listen and look at most of the exhibits in that time-frame. Surprised we got through it so fast, a life lived like that of the literary genius should surely take longer to absorb I thought. Still, every cloud – Son finding it all a bit dry and dull was more than happy to be leaving in less than an hour.
No problems locating the National Waterfront Museum – you couldn’t miss this place. Right on the waterfront it is an eye-catching building – half is a 1901 brick style warehouse and the other half a 2005 style warehouse which is all angles, Welsh slate and glass. With four entrances and fifteen themed areas we figured we had our work cut out choosing what to see first.
The museum focuses on the industrial, maritime and social history of Wales. It covers some extremely diverse areas – from steam engines to family trees to the history of money. We entered via the old warehouse and I at once loved the mezzanine bridge linking old to new. We noticed though that something seemed to be missing….. people. Don’t get me wrong, packed museums are not our thing but finding the whole place almost completely empty was a bit disconcerting. Perhaps everyone had got lost – easy to locate this museum, not so easy to find your way around. A lack of signs inside and a very hard to read map meant we gave up picking and choosing what to see and just followed our noses.
The Open Hall housing all manner of machines – from a steam engine to a Sinclair C5 was my favourite part. We wandered and looked.
Upstairs was a maze of corridors, small(ish) rooms and much interactive stuff mainly looking at community and money. Son did enjoy this part – not surprisingly as it involved (in my opinion) an over-reliance on interactive media and linking up to various computers (too many of which didn’t work properly). Too many themes, too many corridors, too many screens – this section left me a bit cold.
We spent a couple of hours inside – not all bad but just maybe not quite what I was expecting.Two entirely different museum visits – definitely glad we made the time to visit both, I just left with a slight tinge of disappointment. Both had lots of promise, but I felt neither quite lived up to their potential and billing. A shame really but maybe the reason that despite free entry and in the peak summer holiday season, both places were virtually empty.