You’ve heard of St David’s Day (Dydd Gwyl Dewi Sant in the mother tongue)…but do any of us even know what the legend is all about? Read on to discover some things you never knew you never knew about Wales.
There are many given facts that people know about Wales:
- It’s in the UK
- The Welsh really care about rugby
- There are lots of sheep
- It’s the place where Gavin & Stacey was set
- The Welsh *slang* term for microwave is popty ping
- *’Slang’ because it’s not actually popty ping, its meicrodon but everyone who isn’t Welsh thinks the correct term actually translates to ‘ping oven.’
But today, as we celebrate our patron saint, we’re here to inform you of a few facts about our beloved Cymru. Read on to become a general whizz about The Land of Our Fathers, The Land of Green Green Grass…the land where Tom Jones is king.
1. Wales was once its own country
Wales was first inhabited aeons ago (we’re talking Neanderthals around 230,000 years ago, and they spoke the Welsh language.) After many battles to maintain independence, Wales was annexed by the English in the thirteenth century and politically united with England under the Tudor monarchs.
As a country, Wales began with Henry VIII’s Act of Union in 1536. Before that time Wales had been a loose collection of independent kingdoms and lordships with influxes and incursions from Europe.
2. Snowdon is the highest mountain in Wales (and England!)
At 3560ft tall, Mount Snowdon in North Wales is the highest point in all of England and Wales. It offers 1,497 miles of public footpaths and is home to 9 mountain ranges. 350,000 people take on Snowdon each year – have you ever challenged yourself to the summit on one of its many routes?
3. Wales has its own language
Before you ask – yes, people do still speak Welsh in Wales. Nearly a quarter of the nation does, in fact. The Welsh language (yr iaith Gymraeg) is still spoken today in all parts of Wales, with the highest number of Welsh speakers in Gwynedd and the Isle of Anglesey.
Huge efforts to preserve the Welsh language have permeated the country’s history and culture. The Welsh channel S4C continues to create and broadcast Welsh-medium shows, kid’s shows, documentaries and all sorts. There are over 450 Welsh-medium schools in the country – this means that you get taught everything through the medium of Welsh (sometimes even French if it’s on the syllabus!)
4. Our alphabet is different
The letters K, Q, V and Z aren’t in the Welsh alphabet. Have you ever noticed on road signs these letters don’t appear? That’s because they do not exist in the land of the song. Granted, road signs will often appear as a randomly selected group of vowels on a big sign. But never will you see these letters. Cool eh?!
Another cool insight: the Welsh alphabet has the additional ‘ch’, ‘dd’, ‘ff’, ‘ng’, ‘rh’ ‘th’ and the infamous ‘ll’ (think Llandudno, Llanfairpwllgwyngyll)
5. Yes, Wales is home to that town with the really long name which you can’t pronounce
It’s not the longest place name in the world, as some village in New Zealand stole our thunder. But Llanfairpwllgwyngychgogerychgwyndrobwylllantysilioggogogoch bears the title of the longest name in the UK. Located on the isle of Anglesey, this township (where around 70% of its folk speak Welsh, may we add!) was renamed in the 19th century. It’s also the longest name of a British railway station.
Forget TikTok trends and flash mobs, the coal miners’ old school version of a publicity stunt was to rename the township of Pwllgwyngych (meaning ‘the pool of white hazel’) to something drastic. Translated, the long name with 58 letters (remember, double ‘L and ‘ch’ count as one letter in the mother tongue!) means:
‘The Church of Mary in the Hollow of the White Hazel Near the Fierce Whirlpool and the Church of Tysilio By the Red Cave.’
6. Wales has more sheep than people
It’s true what they say: Wales is scattered with millions of sheep. In fields, on mountain tops, and sometimes on the road (but take it from us that honking at mares in the middle of a B-road will not make them move: they are ultimately deaf to the sound of honking horns. Or they have baaa-baric abilities of selective hearing.)
There are currently more than 10 million sheep in Wales – that’s more than one sheep per resident!
7. We have some cool but kind of weird traditions
This goes beyond leek soup and saying ‘iechyd da‘ before chugging a pint of Brains bitter. We’re talking about an ancient wassailing folk custom called Y Fari Lwyd. The tradition, normally performed around the pagan new year in January, consists of a bunch of people (normally at a plygain or tegeingl folk dance) following a leader while singing in Welsh and banging pots and pans.
The ‘leader’ however, is a symbolic replica of a hobby horse – which is made from a horse’s skull mounted on a pole and carried by an individual hidden under a sackcloth. You’re welcome to dig a little deeper into this custom by clicking here.
8. There are lots of leeks in Welsh culture (our plumbing is fine, thank you very much, we mean the vegetable)
The most notable sighting of the leek as a national symbol is in William Shakespeare’s Henry V. In non-fiction, it is said that the 7th-century King Cadwaladr of Gwynedd ordered his troops to battle with a small leak on their tunics in order to identify his Welshmen. According to the history books, the Tudor dynasty similarly instructed their guards to wear leeks on March 1st – in honour of St David, the patron saint of Wales.
9. There are six cities in Wales
Let’s start with the capital on the south-east coast: Cardiff, with around 363,000 inhabitants. To the east is Newport, and to the west is Swansea. Heading really far west to Pembrokeshire is St David’s, which has a population of only 2000 and is the smallest city in the UK.
Up North, there’s Bangor which overlooks the Menai Strait, and last but not least, St Asaph, where our Lyons Eryl Hall park is situated. This was only awarded city status in 2012 as part of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations.
10. Wales Has Seven Wonders
Have you been to any of these wondrous attractions? Comment below if you have, and let us know what you thought!
Pistyll Rhaeadr and Wrexham steeple
Snowdon’s mountain without its people
Overton yew trees, St Winefride’s well
Llangollen bridge and Gresford bells.”
Pistyll Rhaeadr is the largest waterfall in both England and Wales standing at 74 metres, and gets its water from the Berwyn Mountains. St Giles’ Steeple in Wrexham is a Grade I listed medieval Church and is the largest of its type in the country.
Snowdon gets its own paragraph because its beauty is incomprehensible.
Overton-on-Dee is home to the most beautiful and ancient yew trees. Believed to date back around 2,000 years, this Wrexham wonder is located in the churchyard of St Mary the Virgin.
Attracting thousands of pilgrims each year is St Winefride’s Well Holywell (very aptly named) in the county of Flintshire. Legend has it that Winefride’s head was chopped off and rolled from the top of the hill (Holywell) to the bottom (Greenfield.) The well has healing properties. There’s even a pair of crutches left by a cured pilgrim in the 19th century.
The first stone bridge to span over the River Dee is Llangollen Bridge, built in the 16th century. Gresford church is home to the final seventh wonder – not the church itself, but the bells. 1877 saw the installation of a device that meant that at all eight bells could be chimed by one person.
Share with us your favourite facts about Wales. Or even your favourite stories of day trips and vacations in this beautiful country! Dydd Gwyl Dewi Hapus pawb: happy St David’s Day to all.