Questions About Wales
An Antipodean travel company serving World Travellers since 1983.
Odyssey Traveller specialises in crafting unforgettable experiences for mature-aged travellers, providing adventure and educational programs to small groups since 1983. Odyssey has built up a reasonable knowledge bank to answer questions about Wales that travellers are likely to ask, as they make their plans to tour independently, or with us as part of a small group tour. We hope that this list of frequently asked questions and the answers we provide will help you with planning your next holiday.
Read on, but please do not hesitate to contact us via the website, or through email or chat if you have more questions about Wales or our other tours.
Wales is a constituent unit of the United Kingdom, bordered by England to the east, the Irish Sea to the north, and the Bristol Channel to the south. St George’s Channel separates it from Ireland in the west.
Cardiff is the capital of Wales and its largest city, and a popular tourist destination due to its archaeological and modern sights.
In 1284, England annexed Wales under the Statute of Wales, turning it into an English colony.
Prior to this, Wales had enjoyed a cultural and political autonomy ever since the 8th century Offa’s Dyke geographically separated the Britons of the west (Wales) from the Germanic tribes of the east (England). Wales itself consisted of several kingdoms at the time of the Norman Conquest in 1066.
In 1216, Llewelyn ap Iorwerth of the Welsh kingdom of Gwynedd was recognised as overlord by the other Welsh rulers, and in 1218 he was acknowledged by the English crown. In Welsh chronicles, he is described as the “Prince of Wales”. His grandson, Llywelyn ap Gruffudd, who marched into the lands controlled by Norman barons, was also recognised as such.
They would be the last Princes of Wales, as England’s Edward I decided to go to war. Before and after annexation, Edward I had castles built to guard his new territories, but to also clearly communicate the power of English rule. These castles in Wales formed Edward’s chain of fortifications called the Ring of Iron, which included Caernarfon Castle, Beaumaris Castle, and Conwy Castle.
In fact, “Wales” and “Welsh” were names imposed by the invaders. According to Jon Gower in his book The Story of Wales (Penguin Random House, 2012), the terms come from Old English and translates to “foreign land” and “foreigners”. As Gower says, “The Welsh had their own name for themselves, the Cymry“–derived from the Celtic which means “fellow countryman”–“but it was the Norman label that stuck in the end” (p. 83). Read more about it in our article History of Wales.
Both Welsh and English are official languages in Wales. Welsh is the only language legally recognised as “official” in the United Kingdom other than the de facto official language, English.
A fifth of the population speaks Welsh, particularly concentrated in Y Fro Gymraeg (“Welsh-Speaking Region”) to the north and west, and diminishing as you go further south. In South Wales, English is the majority language, with Welsh spoken by less than 10 percent of the population.
The Welsh Language Act of 1993 legally established the equality of Welsh and English in Wales. A 2011 Act established Welsh as an official language.
There are several airlines that fly to Wales, as Cardiff Airport is a major hub with over 50 direct routes and more than 900 connecting destinations globally. You can also fly to London and continue your journey by land, or fly to Ireland and travel by ferry to North or West Wales.
You can travel by train from London to Cardiff on a fast and frequent service from London Paddington. This will take about two (2) hours.
The Welsh fiercely protect their customs and traditions, and this is reflected in their cuisine, too. There remains a proud passion for sharing Wales’s signature dishes, and it is well worth seeking them out on your travels.
Welsh lamb and beef feature prominently in this cuisine, along with local caught seafood including salmon, brown trout and lobster. A very traditional dish is cawl, a soup from a base of bacon, leek and cabbage that varies according to region and season.
There is an abundance of soft cheeses made with goats’ and sheep’s milk from local farms. Welsh rarebit is “posh cheese on toast”.
Traditional spiced Welsh cakes are similar to scones, but cooked on griddle plates and served with just a dusting of sugar, hot or cold.
Wales’ rich history leaves a landscape dotted with architectural gems that survive to this day, and its rugged landscape makes it a favourite destination for outdoor enthusiasts.
You can visit the many castles in northern Wales. Caernarfon Castle became witness to a long history of conflict, sacked several times during the Welsh rebellions against the English. Caernarfon Castle was also the site of the investiture of Prince Charles, who currently holds the title of Prince of Wales.
Caernarfon Castle is grouped with Conwy Castle, Harlech Castle, and Beaumaris Castle as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It has two towered gates and seven octagonal towers, each tower connected by a curtain wall.
Cardiff Castle is situated within beautiful parkland and was originally a Roman fort, expanded by rulers through the centuries.
You can see the Gower Peninsula, designated as the UK’s first Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty back in 1956, and remains breathtaking to this day.
Head to Llanelli, once the world’s centre of tinplate production, home to the Llanelly Steel Works (later Duport), established in 1898 and which closed its doors in 1981 following nationalisation and changing owners. It is now part of a nature reserve and the starting point of the incredible Millennium Coastal Path that cuts through the Millennium Coastal Park.
Within the park is Pembrey Forest, a fascinating combination of predominantly Corsican pine forest and sand dunes. You might also stumble upon bunkers, as the area used to be an ordnance factory (a factory that makes military weapons and ammunition). It is home to many wildlife, including several species of butterfly. You can spot flora and fauna, go on a picnic, or head back into the sun. As this forest is by the sea, you’re also never too far from the beach!
More than half (52%) of Wales’ Snowdonia National Park or Eryri (“highlands”) in the western coast is covered by mountain ranges. In total, the park covers more than 2,000 square kilometres of diverse landscapes and beautiful scenery, perfect for those seeking an idyllic escape.
The oldest and largest of the three national parks in Wales, Snowdonia is home to Mt Snowdon, the highest peak in the British Isles outside of Scotland, standing at 1,085 metres; Llyn Tegid (Bala Lake, “Lake of Serenity”), the largest natural lake in Wales; as well as tens of thousands of residents who live within the park in beautiful villages.
Snowdon’s summit can be reached by riding the Snowdon Mountain Railway from the station in Llanberis. Travellers have been going to Llanberis since 1896 to experience this railway journey. A return ticket allows you 30 minutes at the summit to enjoy the views. Trains run to the summit beginning in May; between mid-March and May, the train would only take you as far as Clogwyn. From Clogwyn, it is an hour’s walk to the top.
Wales’s climate is above all distinguished by its changeability and variation. Because of its geography, the mountains can shape the weather in swift and unexpected ways. Travelling in Wales, you’ll always need to be prepared for rain and wind, especially in the autumn and the early winter months, and whenever you’re walking hilly areas. In winter, the temperature averages around six degrees Celsius, but can head up to 24 degrees in summer!
Wales has several independent shops that are quirky and interesting alternatives to the store chains and high street luxury shops you may find in other cities. You can buy locally made products such as strong cheddar cheese, laverbread (made from seaweed), Welsh cakes, and beer. For something shiny to treasure, you can buy traditional jewellery made from Welsh gold.