Wales and The British IslesThe British Isles are a geographical group of islands situated to the northwest of the Atlantic coast of France. They consist of two large islands, Great Britain and Ireland, and numerous smaller islands.
Great Britain is divided into three countries, England, Scotland and Wales.
Ireland is divided into two countries, the Republic of Ireland (Eire), and Northern Ireland (Ulster).
The Republic of Ireland (Eire) is a parliamentary democracy with an elected President as head of state. Dublin is the capitol city of the Republic of Ireland.
Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland, which is often referred to as simply the United Kingdom or the UK. Belfast is the capitol city of Northern Ireland.
The United Kingdom (UK) is a parliamentary democracy with a constitutional monarch as the head of state.
The United Kingdom is made up of four nations, England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales (Cymru). The UK Parliament meets in London, the capitol city of both England and the United Kingdom.
Wales and Scotland have limited devolved government. The Scottish Parliament sits in Edinburgh, the capitol city of Scotland, and the Welsh Assembly meets in Cardiff, the capitol city of Wales.
Wales - CymruWales and Cymru, two different names for the same country. Names that illustrate the divide that was created when the Saxons cut off the land, we now known as Wales, from the rest of Celtic Britain.
The name Wales is actually derived from an old Saxon word meaning foreigners or outsiders. But the name Cymru is derived from a word meaning friends or companions. It‘s also interesting to note that in the French language Wales is known as Pays de Galle, a name that reflects the Celtic roots of Wales, and the historical links between the two countries.
Today, Wales has a population of around 2.94 million people, and occupies a land mass of around 20,764 sq Km (8,017 sq miles). The majority of the population live in and around the large cities and old industrial valleys of SE Wales.
Wales has around 1,300 Km (807 miles) of coastline, ranging from flat sandy beaches in the north and south of the country, to rugged towering cliffs in the west.
North of the old industrial Valleys of South Wales lie acres of open moorland and countryside, stretching from the Blorenge and the rolling hills of the Brecon Beacons, to the mighty mountains of the Snowdonia range. Snowdon (Yr Wyddfa) at 1,085 metres (3,560 ft) is the highest mountain in Wales, and the second highest in the United Kingdom.
Wales also has three National Parks within its borders. The Brecon Beacons National Park, the Snowdonia National Park, and the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park.
The National Parks and the five areas of Wales designated as having outstanding natural beauty cover something like a quarter of the entire land mass of the country.
The climate in Wales is temperate, with May through August usually being the warmest months. The nearby Gulf Stream also tends to keep the country warmer than other countries at similar latitudes. Wales generally averages around 4.12 hours of sunlight per day, and the prevailing moist SW wind ensures an annual rainfall of around 1,140mm.
Wales as an area of land has been inhabited for around 28,000 years. But it is the influences of the Celts and the English that are probably most keenly felt today.
When the Celts settled here around 600 BC they brought their language and culture with them. Welsh is one of only 6 Celtic languages that survive in the world today.
In more recent times, Welsh history has always been interwoven with that of its larger neighbour, England. During the thirteenth and fifteenth centuries Wales did briefly achieve something like true independence, but for the majority of its more recent history the country has been under the firm control of the British Crown and Parliament.
Today, whilst most major decisions continue to be taken by the UK Parliament, Wales has at last achieved limited devolved government. The first elections for the new National Assembly for Wales were held in May 1999, using a system that included an element of proportional representation.
The 60 elected members of the Welsh Assembly Government (AMs) meet in Cardiff, and administer the Welsh budget. They can also make subordinate legislation (eg regulations and statutory guidance) and propose Assembly Measures (Welsh laws).
The Welsh Language Act of 1967 made Wales officially bilingual, and today Welsh (Cymraeg) enjoys the same legal status as English within the borders of Wales. Road signs throughout the country appear in both Welsh and English, and Public buildings display bilingual signs and notices. Court cases are conducted in English and Welsh, and Assembly business is conducted in both languages.
Wales is served by a Welsh language television service broadcast by Sianel Pedwar Cymru (S4C), an English language television service broadcast by BBC Wales, and Welsh and English language radio stations (Radio Cymru & Radio Wales) broadcast by BBC Wales.
Active life styles and mass participation in sport are naturally encouraged by both the Welsh Assembly and the Sports Council for Wales. Team sports including Rugby and Football remain very popular. But the wild landscape and seascape of Wales also makes it an ideal location for outdoor adventure activities like rock climbing, canoeing, sailing, abseiling, hang gliding and paragliding.
With so much to do and see, Wales is definitely well worth a visit.
Further InformationIf you‘d like to know more about Wales, why not check out some of the following web sites:
Lonely Planet Wales
Welcome to Abergavenny
Gower Holiday Accommodation