Wales is a country that is part of the United Kingdom and the island of Great Britain, bordered by England to its east, the Irish Sea to its north and west, and the Bristol Channel to its south. It had a population in 2011 of 3,063,456 and has a total area of 20,779 km2 (8,023 sq mi). Wales has over 1,680 miles (2,700 km) of coastline and is largely mountainous, with its highest peaks in the north and central areas, including Snowdon (Yr Wyddfa), its highest summit. The country lies within the north temperate zone and has a changeable, maritime climate.
Welsh national identity emerged among the Celtic Britons after the Roman withdrawal from Britain in the 5th century, and Wales is regarded as one of the modern Celtic nations. Llywelyn ap Gruffudd’s death in 1282 marked the completion of Edward I of England’s conquest of Wales, though Owain Glyndŵr briefly restored independence to what was to become modern Wales, in the early 15th century. The whole of Wales was annexed by England and incorporated within the English legal system under the Laws in Wales Acts 1535–1542. Distinctive Welsh politics developed in the 19th century. Welsh Liberalism, exemplified in the early 20th century by Lloyd George, was displaced by the growth of socialism and the Labour Party. Welsh national feeling grew over the century; Plaid Cymru was formed in 1925 and the Welsh Language Society in 1962. Established under the Government of Wales Act 1998, the National Assembly for Wales holds responsibility for a range of devolved policy matters.
The phrase ‘good things come in small packages’ may be a cliché, but in the case of Wales it’s undeniably true.
Hospitality & Hiraeth
Beyond the scenery and the castles, it’s interactions with Welsh people that will remain in your memory the longest. Perhaps you’ll recall the moment when you were sitting in a Caernarfon cafe, listening to the banter in the ancient British tongue dancing around you. Or that time when you were in the pub, screaming along to the rugby with a red-shirted mob. They talk a lot in Wales about hiraeth. A typically Welsh word, it refers to a sense of longing for the green, green grass of home. Even if you’re not from Wales, a feeling of hiraeth may well hit you when you leave, only to be sated when you return.
Compact but geologically diverse, Wales offers myriad opportunities for escaping into nature. It may not be wild in the classic sense – humans have been shaping this land for millennia – but there are plenty of lonely corners to explore, lurking behind mountains, within river valleys and along surf-battered cliffs. An extensive network of paths makes Wales a hiker’s paradise – and thousands of people duck across the border from England each year for that reason alone. Things are even more untamed on the islands scattered just off the coast, some of which are important wildlife sanctuaries.
Stones with Stories
Castles are an inescapable part of the Welsh landscape. They’re absolutely everywhere. You could visit a different one every day for a year and still not see them all. Some watch over mountain passes, while others keep an eye on the city traffic whizzing by; some lie in enigmatic ruins, while others still have families living in them. There’s also an altogether more inscrutable and far older set of stones to discover – the stone circles, dolmens and standing stones erected long before castles were ever dreamt up, before even histories were written.
Just because it’s not exactly tropical doesn’t detract from Wales being a superb beach-holiday destination – and the melanoma risk is considerably lower here! The beauty of the British coast is cruelly underrated, and Wales has some of the very best bits. When the sun is shining the beaches fill up with kids building sandcastles and splashing about in the shallows. And when it’s not? How about a bracing walk instead.
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