A Guide to Wales, It's Not Just Castles and Choirs
A GUIDE TO THE WALES
Because there's so much more to Wales than just castles and choirs, I would like to use this article to point out some of the many attractions on offer for anyone considering a visit to the Principality of Wales.
From it's 1,207 kms of stunning, award winning coastline, that surrounds the fertile mountains and valleys of it's interior, to it's cosmopolitan and vibrant modern cities. Wales is a land of surprising contrasts.
The smallest of the four kingdoms that make up the United Kingdom of Great Britain, Wales is borne of a rich culture, an ancient history, unparrelled natural beauty and even a language, all of it's own.
For a tiny country of only 20,779 sq km Wales plays host to over 400 castles, 5 areas of outstanding natural beauty, 3 national parks, vast sandy beaches, miles of mountain wilderness and lush fertile valleys, and a multitude of stone clad villages and coastal fishing harbours.
Add all this to it's distinctive and traditional culture, you would never believe you were only a few miles away from it's border with England.
Generally classified as North, South or Mid Wales, for three such small regions they all have a unique heritage and scenery that sets them quite apart from one another, even the language differs from within the borders of it's 22 counties.
The gateway to Wales can be accessed from any of the English towns that nestle along the rolling hills and lush riverbanks of their 257 km mutual border, from the River Dee estuary in the north to the River Severn estuary in the south.
One can take a pick of any of the roads heading west from the ancient walled city of Chester in the northern Cheshire Greenbelt, it's equally ancient sister of Shrewsbury in the heart of the English Midlands, any of the traditional market towns of the counties of Worcester or Hereford, or take to the skies along the 1000 meter long, 136 meter high Severn Bridge from the picturesque county of Gloucestershire, that will take you into South Wales across the vast expanse of the River Severn Estuary and the rushing waters of the River Wye.
The River Severn Bridge.
South Wales was once the home of the Welsh industrial heartland, with it's coal mines and dockyards, and is the home to the country's two largest cities, Cardiff and Swansea.
Today although still associated with industry at Newport and Port Talbot, the area is more importantly associated with tourism.
From the graceful, treelined, wide streets of it's cosmopolitan capital with prominent views across the River Severn estuary,situated in the Wye Valley area of outstanding natural beauty, towards it's second city of Swansea, heavilly bombed during World War II becouse of it's important docks, it has received a massive facelift, turning the city into one of the most prominent and vibrant cities in the U.K.
Situated on the coast of the Bristol Channel, it commands glorious views over towards the British Riviera counties of Devon and Cornwall.
Five miles down the road is the location of the second of the country's five areas of outstanding natural beauty, at the Gower Peninsula, a magical place that hosts miles of sandy beaches and unusual pre - historic coastal rock formations.
Three Cliffs Bay, Gower, South Wales.
The coastline between Cardiff, Swansea and on to the Pembrokeshire Coast is dotted with small towns that have become famous over the years to the British holiday maker, through it's resorts at Barry Island and Tenby and the smallest city in the U.K, St David's, famous for it's beautiful cathedral that totally dominates the tiny city.
Inland, South Wales is home to the stereo typical Welsh notion of valleys and choirs, with it's high peaks, low valleys and rolling, green country side, which has been sculptured by the Black Mountains and former coalmines, and immortalised by it's mining villages, churches and chapels.
Where South Wales meets Mid Wales is the first of the country's two national parks, at the Brecon Beacons.
Flanked by historical market towns, this vast National Park has a primeval quality with a wild and rugged scenery, flanked by the Black mountains.
The park is a haven for walkers and nature lovers, and is easily accessible by road and mountain railway for the less energetic.
St David's Cathedral.
Mid Wales with it's myriad of market towns and lush, rolling countryside is the home of Welsh tradition and culture.
The most prominently Welsh speaking area of the country, it has a fierce pride in it's heritage, made obvious by it's multitude of museums and visitor centres,that portray vivid accounts of bold Welsh Princes and their fight for independence and mythical legends of saints and rebels, that can be found in the smallest of towns in this most patriotic area.
Home to some of the country's most dramatic scenery,which is dominated by misty, hill topped castles and rolling farm land.
The entire coast of the Mid Wales counties of Pembroke and Ceridigion have been designated a National Park, becouse of it's beautiful beaches, stunning views and rich wildlife.
Dolphins are regularly seen in the sea along this coast, and inland the area is a haven to the rare Red Kite.
It's largest town of Lampeter is dominated by the country's oldest University, and reknowned for it's fishing along the banks of the fast flowing waters of the River Teifi, ancient Celtic monestaries and gold mines,an area immortalised by poet Dylan Thomas.
Here the coastline is dotted with quaint fishing harbours and sandy beaches, even a grass research centre, with unusual views of grass growing right up to the seashore.
It's major resort is that of the elegant Victorian town of Aberwrystwyth, home to the national Library of Wales, which houses some of the most important books and manuscripts of the Welsh Language, a university and world reknowned vernacular railway, the first ever cliff railway in the world, operated by means of rope pulleys, which is still in use today.
Inland the area between Mid Wales and North Wales is pure Celtic, with miles of rolling farmland and high topped mountains, all flanked by rocky crevasses sporting waterfalls, caves and deep canyons.
The Mount Snowdon massif.
The Llyn peninsula, another of the country's areas of outstanding natural beauty, is situated just in the environs of North Wales and is home to many of the country's finest holiday villages, the town of Portmadog, once a famous slate producing town, now the site of the country's sailing fraternity, and the world famous Portmierion, made famous by the 1970's T.V programme The Prisoner.
Originally built in the 1930's by architect Sir Clough Williams - Ellis, it has an Italinate look to it and an ethereal feel about it, making it one of the north's most visited tourist locations.
At the end of the peninsula a few metres from the coast lies Bardsey Island, once home to a monastic community of seventh century monks and saints.
The country's largest island is Anglesey or Ynys Mon, which means ' mother island ' so called because of the flat landscape enabling the only arable farming community in the country, and also designated an area of outstanding natural beauty.
It's coast is dotted with picturesque fishing harbours and it's interior with windswept farmland.
The isle lies on the Menai Straits which is accessible by the elegant road bridge built by Thomas Telford, which is located just outside the university and market town of Bangor.
Inland this area is dominated by the Snowdonia National Park, famous for the country's highest mountain, Mount Snowdon.
This world famous park is reknowned for it's mountain climbing and nature walks, both during it's Summer months and it's Winter months, when the mountain is permanently snow capped.
Also popular in this area is the Snowdonia Mountain Railway and Bala Lake, the largest lake in Wales, situated on the parks exterior boundary.
The coasline here is flanked by the famous castle dominated towns of Caernarvon and Conway, the country's largest and only year round holiday resort of Llandudno, and the popular holiday towns of Ross, Rhyl and Prestatyn.
Inland the hilly scenery is lush and green in the Conway Valley, made so by the waters of the majestic River Conway, that winds it's way around the area for over 50 miles.
This area is best known by the two inland resorts of, Betwys Coed , a heavilly forested area of hills and valleys favoured by walkers and nature lovers,and Llangollen, famed for it's railway, canal barges, waterfalls and home of the world famous Eisteddfod cultural music festival, held annually to commemorate traditional music, dance and poetry from all over the world.
These towns are accessed via the majestic Horseshoe Pass, a winding mountain road with stunning views, so high that it is often covered in cloud and made inpassable during the Winter months, due to snow.
OTHER ARTICLES ABOUT WALES BY THE SAME AUTHOR.
VISIT WALES' OFFICIAL TOURISM WEBSITE.
READ ALL ABOUT WALES' NATIONAL SYMBOL, THE RED DRAGON.
Images courtesy of wikimedia commons.