A rough guide to Wales and the United Kingdom.
Map of the World - showing the location of the UK

Wales and The British Isles

Wales is located on the island of Great Britain, situated to the northwest of the Atlantic coast of France. Great Britain is the largest island of the geographical group of islands known as the British Isles.

The British Isles consist of two large islands, Great Britain and Ireland, and a large number of smaller islands.

The island of Ireland is divided into two countries. The Republic of Ireland (Eire) in the south, and Northern Ireland (Ulster) in the north.

The Republic of Ireland (Eire) is a parliamentary democracy, and has an elected President as head of state, and Dublin as its capitol city.

Northern Ireland's capital is Belfast. Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom, or to use its full name the United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland.

The United Kingdom (UK) is a parliamentary democracy with a constitutional monarch as the head of state. It consists of the nations of Wales (Cymru), Scotland, England and Northern Ireland.

The UK Parliament meets in London, the capitol of both England and the United Kingdom. The UK Parliament is responsible for foreign and defence policy for the whole of the UK, all domestic policy for England, and some areas of domestic policy for Scotland and Wales.

The Scottish Parliament sitting in Edinburgh, the capital of Scotland, and the Welsh Assembly meeting in Cardiff, the capital of Wales, are responsible for the key areas of domestic policy within those countries.

Map of the UK - Showing Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and England
Click to view a large scale map of Wales showing the Local Authority boundaries

Wales - Cymru

Two different names for the same country. Names that illustrate the divide created when the Saxons cut the land, now known as Wales, off from the rest of Celtic Britain.

The name Wales is derived from an old Saxon word meaning foreigners or outsiders. Where as the name Cymru is derived from a word meaning friends or companions. Interestingly in France Wales is known as Pays de Galle, a name which reflects it‘s Celtic roots and the historical links between the two countries.

Wales (Cymru) 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 South Wales.

Wales has a coastline of around 1,300 Km (807 miles), 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 are 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 UK.

Wales 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 that have been designated as having outstanding natural beauty cover around one quarter of the country‘s entire land mass.
Cliff Side near Rhossili on the Gower

The climate in Wales is temperate, with May through August usually the warmest months. The nearby Gulf Stream also tends to keep the country warmer than others 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.

Celtic Cross design 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. The Celts brought their language and culture when they settled here around 600 BC. Modern day Welsh is one of only 6 Celtic languages that survive in the world today. whilst Welsh history has always been linked and interwoven with that of its larger neighbour, England.

During the thirteenth and fifteenth centuries Wales briefly achieved 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 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 also have secondary legislative powers.

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 Principality 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.

The Sports Council for Wales is naturally keen to promote participation in sport and outdoor pursuits within the principality. Team sports including Rugby and Football remain very popular. But the wild land and seascape of Wales also makes it an ideal location for outdoor adventure activities like rock climbing, sailing, off roading, canoeing, caving, abseiling, horse riding, hang gliding and paragliding, cycling, and walking, to name but a few.

With so much to do and see in the Principality, Wales is definitely worth a visit.

Useful links

If you‘d like to find out more about Wales, take a look at some of the following sites:

Lonely Planet Wales
Accommodation Wales
Data Wales
Wales Tourist Board
IC Wales

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