Wales is home to some of the most spectacular scenery in the British Isles and compared to England it’s relatively sparsely populated and uncrowded. Outside of the major centres of the South it’s a nation of small towns and villages, interwoven with high moors, mountains, and farmland. One of the things Wales is most famous for is the rain, and to a degree the reputation as a damp, rainy country is justified. However, the water isn’t wasted. Particularly in the summer months Wales is one of the greenest countries in Europe. For someone like me, who has lived most of their life in a hot, dry country, the Welsh landscape is almost unimaginably rich and lush. The hills are carpeted in green turf and you’re never too far from old growth, broad leaved woodland.
The combination of steep terrain and high rainfall creates fast-flowing streams and waterfalls as well as keeping the country green. Far from being a drawback, the rain has sculpted Wales and without it, it would be a poorer place. And besides- it doesn’t rain every day. In the spring and summer months the country enjoys glorious sunny days made all the brighter by masses of daffodils, primroses, and foxgloves. All three species grow wild on common land and beside roads as well as in parks and gardens. The daffodil is a Welsh icon and if you visit Cardiff in March or April you’ll see why.
There isn’t much flat land in Wales. In the south and centre the landscape is dominated by hilly terrain with villages and towns occupying the valleys. To the north the hills rise into the mountains of Snowdonia- the tiny village of Llanberis is a mecca for rock climbers and mountaineers. Across the whole of the UK rights of way for walkers are protected by law and there are marked walking trails and paths in every Welsh county. Some of them take in hill views, others meander along streams or through woodland, or pass by historic monuments.
The final subjugation of Wales under English rule left behind an impressive network of castles and forts, many of which survive today. Most can be visited for a small fee or at no charge (all state-funded museums in Wales are free). The castles of Harlech, Conwy, and Caernarfon are some of the most famous in Britain, and with very good reason.
There’s no shortage of more ancient history either. Anglesey is well known for figured Celtic stone monuments and the remains of Roman fortifications are quite common. Stone circles and standing stones are scattered throughout the country, particularly in the relatively undisturbed centre.
One of the first things most visitors notice when they cross the border is the language. From near extinction in all but rural areas, Welsh is enjoying an astonishing revival. It’s now one of the fastest growing languages in the world, compulsory in schools and on every road sign and public document. Travel to Scotland or Ireland and you will not hear Gaelic spoken on the streets- sadly, these languages have fallen out of common use and are now the exclusive domain of academics and historians. Not so in Wales- walk down the street in Carmarthen or any town in North Wales and you will hear a living, breathing Celtic language.
This beautiful country is far more than a damp, hilly corner of the UK. It has not just a language but also a culture, a poetry, and a music that is uniquely it’s own. Whether you follow the ancient pilgrimage route to the cathedral at St Davids or walk the mountains of the north and catch a glimpse a of the Irish sea from the top of a 3000ft peak, you’ll find a place like no other on Earth.
Jess Spate lives in Cardiff, the Welsh capital, and wouldn’t trade it for anything, rain or no rain. She edits Outdoor Equipment Online a price comparison website for UK outdoor equipment and also works for Appalachian Outdoors, a US travel gear and outdoor retailer.