Wales, also known as Cymru, is part of the United Kingdom and well-known for its rich history and culture. Wales is actually a fascinating country with mysteries around every corner.
Having started as the Celtic nation of Cymru, throughout the centuries it was bullied by the larger powers of the time, including the Romans and the English. Following revolt after revolt including Glyndwr rising in 1400 and the Chartist uprising of 1839, Wales begrudgingly joined with the larger England. However, Wales showed itself to be proud, strong and determined nation, defending its land and its people until it has been given recognition as a country that it is today. Plenty of hidden gems and interesting facts about Wales and its unique culture can be unearthed from its towns and landscapes. Here are top ten fascinating facts you need to know about Wales.
1. The longest official one-word place name in Europe
Location: Isle of Anglesey, Llanfairpwllgwyngyll LL61 5UJ, Wales, UK
Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch boasts the Europe’s longest place name, with 58 letters.
It is also the second longest official one-word place name in the world. The name is pretty descriptive — it basically tells you the town’s exact location, standing for Saint Mary’s Church in the hollow of the white hazel near a rapid whirlpool and the Church of St. Tysilio of the red cave: St. Mary’s Church (Llanfair) in the hollow (pwll) of the white hazel (gwyngyll) near (goger) the rapid whirlpool (y chwyrndrobwll) at the church of St. Tysilio (llantysilio) with a red cave (gogo goch). Apparently, the town originally had a shorter name (and dates back to the Neolithic period; 4,000-2,000BC), but added a ton of syllables to attract tourists.
Interesting fact: Actress Naomi Watts briefly lived their with her grandfather, and can pronounce the name of the town perfectly.
2. The Smallest House in Great Britain
Location: 10 Lower Gate Street, Conwy, LL32 8BE, Wales, UK
(Welsh: Y Tŷ Lleiaf ym Mhrydain Fawr), also known as the Quay House, is a tourist attraction on the quay in Conwy, Wales. The Smallest House in Great Britain is just 72 inches wide by 122 inches high. It was occupied right up until May 1900, and ever since it has been visited and marvelled at by thousands of people from around the world. The last person to live in the house was a local fisherman called Robert Jones (who also happened to be 6 foot 3) – before Mr Jones an elderly couple lived there. The house may be small but it’s extremely practical – there’s just enough room for a single bed, a fireplace and a coal bunker.
3. Bryn Celli Ddu – 5,500-year-old Neolithic tomb
Location: Llanddaniel Fab, Llanfair LL61 6EQ, Wales, UK
Bryn Celli Ddu, a remarkable and mysterious structure continues to fascinate archaeologists and linguists. First explored seriously 1865, the tomb was thoroughly excavated in 1928–29.
It is a large mound containing a passage grave, but it is two monuments, one built upon the other, suggesting a change of beliefs during the Neolithic period. The first monument was a henge, a central stone circle, rarely found in Wales. The second monument, a chamber, cairn, a passage grave, completely covering the first, and was probably one of the last megalithic tombs to be built on Anglesey.
Recent research suggests it was built to not only protect and pay respect to the remains of ancestors, but also as an important socialising point.
4. The largest slate deposit in the world
Slate is formed when mud with high levels of clay was compacted and squeezed at high temperature during continental shifts some 300-400 million years ago. Depending on the specific content and age of the slate, it is assigned grades of quality, and the seams of slate around Dinorwig, Llanberis, Bethesda and Blaenau Ffestiniog are some of the highest quality in the world.
It was the Romans who first took slate from the area to use for buildings at Segontium, or Caernarfon as it’s known today, and the material was also used by the English castle builders of the medieval period.
It was at the end of the 18th century, however, that demand for the material exploded, changing the look and life of North West Wales forever.
Welsh slate was in demand not only in Britain but also in North America and mainland Europe as industrialisation and populations across the world gathered pace. Mines at Dinorwig, Penrhyn, Llanberis, Bethesda and Blaenau Ffestiniog opened or expanded hugely to cater for demand that increased rapidly.
By the 1870s, slate was one of Wales’ major industries and Blaenau Ffestiniog – previously a name for the towering mountains overlooking the beginnings of a small river valley – had become an industrial town. The Dinorwig and Penrhyn quarries were the two largest slate mines in the world, each employing over 3000 people.
The market for Welsh slate contracted as other materials began to be used for roofing, and in the latter half of the 20th century onwards the material has had increasingly specialised uses such as snooker tables and ornaments. Dinorwig closed the day after supplying the dais used for Prince Charles’ investiture as Prince of Wales in 1969.
These days, sites at Llanberis and Blaenau Ffestiniog remain open as tourist attractions, while Penrhyn mine is a going concern.
5. Birthplace of modern medicine
Location: Brecon Beacons National Park, Carmarthenshire, village of Myddfai, Wales, UK
The Carmarthenshire village of Myddfai could perhaps be the birthplace of modern medicine. According to legend, a dynasty of herbalists known as the Physicians of Myddfai lived and worked here in the 11th and 12th centuries. Some believed they had magical powers.
The 14th century Red Book of Hergest, one of the most ancient manuscript volumes in existence, contains a tale set which begins beside Llyn-y-Fan Fach, the lake below the peak of Black Mountain in the west of the Brecon Beacons National Park. The same tale is recorded in Mabinogion, a collection of Welsh folktales that date back to medieval times.
According to legend, Rhiwallon, the farmer of Blaensawdde, met a beautiful water fairy beside the waters of Llyn y Fan Fach. She promised to become his wife on the condition that she would return to the water if he struck three causeless blows. They married and raised three sons before Rhiwallon broke his pledge. Thereafter the lady of the lake vanished back to the water. The story does not end there, however. Many years later her sons succeeded in finding her and she reappeared to teach them herbal cures, enabling them to become the first in the long line of physicians from Myddfai, a tradition that lasted until the 18th century. A number of their medical formulae remain in the Welsh manuscripts.
6. World’s most beautiful beaches
Wales has a gorgeous coastline, complete with more than 150 beautiful beaches. Surfers, swimmers and rockpoolers love spending weekends and holidays in Wales, chilling out with family and friends. And walkers adore it too. When the Wales Coastal Path opened in 2012, Lonely Planet named Welsh coast the top region to visit in the world.
Barafundle Bay beach in Wales has been named as one of the best in the world. In a list of the top 25 beaches across the globe, published by Passport Magazine – an online magazine which covers travel, culture, style and adventure – is the remote Barafundle Bay in Pembrokeshire. In a list of the top 25 beaches across the globe, published by Passport Magazine – an online magazine which covers travel, culture, style and adventure – is the remote Barafundle Bay in Pembrokeshire.
7. Caerleon Amphitheatre
Location: High Street, Caerleon, Gwent, NP18 1AE, Wales, UK
Famed in the Middle Ages as ‘King Arthur’s Round Table’, the amphitheatre at Caerleon was built to serve the Roman legionary fortress of Isca around AD 90. The building of the amphitheatre outside the fort walls shows that this area of south Wales must have been fully under Roman control, only 16 years after the fort was built.
The amphitheatre is huge, with sloped banks for seating over 6000 spectator. It was not used solely for blood-sports; it was also used by the military as a parade ground. Running along the field boundary to the north of the amphitheatre is a very well-preserved section of the original fort wall.
8. King Arthur’s Labyrinth
Location: Corris Craft Centre, A487, Machynlleth SY20 9RF, Wales
Snowdonia links to Arthurian mythology are deeply rooted in Welsh history, dating back to the dark ages. Much of the stories come from generations of local folklore, and many of the places mentioned in the tales are located right here in Wales.
Killing the giant
Legend says that the summit of Mount Snowdon, Wales’s tallest mountain was the home of Rhitta Gawr, a giant and a tyrant who wore a cape made from beards of his enemies. When Arthur refuses to part with his facial hair, the monster challenged Arthur to a battle. Arthur overcame the giant with a blow that cut the giant in two. Arthur’s knights then buried Rhitta, constructing a burial chamber over the body right on the top of the mountain. The area then became known as Yr Wyddfa Fawr, translated as ‘The Great Tomb’. Eventually it became just Yr Wyddfa which is the Welsh name for Snowdon.
King’s Arthur final battle
It is said that Arthur’s final battle took place on Mount Snowdon. Some stories describe how Mordred, Arthur’s nephew is given control of the kingdom while he is away at war in Rome. Mordred usurps the throne in his absence and forges a relationship with Arthur’s wife Gwenhwyfar (Guinevere). News reached Arthur and he returns home to fight at the Battle of Camlann. A huge battle took place where Arthur and his knights fought Mordred and were brought down by enemy arrows. This area is now known as Bwlch y Saethau or the Pass of the Arrows. Mordred was ultimately killed, but Arthur was said to have been mortally wounded. Legend says that Arthur’s body was was covered with stones, which to this day is still known as still known as Carnedd Arthur (Arthur’s Cairn).After his death, his knights were said to have buried themselves in a cave on the top of the nearby mountain Y Lliwedd where they lie in slumber ready to fight for Wales against their enemies, led by King Arthur. Another tale describes how Arthur was taken to Avalon, a magical island, to recover from his wounds.
9. The oldest copper mine in the world
Location: Pyllau Rd, Llandudno LL30 2XG, Wales, UK
Uncovered in 1987 during a scheme to landscape an area of the Great Orme, the copper mines discovered represent one of the most astounding archaeological discoveries of recent times. Dating back 4,000 years to the Bronze Age they change our views about the ancient people of Britain and their civilized and structured society 2,000 years before the Roman invasion.
Over the past 28 years mining engineers, cavers and archaeologists have been slowly uncovering more tunnels and large areas of the surface landscape to reveal what is now thought to be the largest prehistoric mine, so far discovered in the world.
In 2005 it was awarded the title of ‘The Largest Prehistoric Copper Mines in the World’ by the Guinness World Records Team.
10. Welsh Highland Railway
The greatest, many say, of the “Great Little Trains of Wales” this 25 mile, 1ft 11½in line through the beautiful Snowdonia National Park is Britain’s longest narrow gauge line. Built for slate traffic and closed in 1937, the line has risen from the dead as hundreds of volunteers have toiled to rebuild the tracks, snaking through a varied countryside of rivers, forests, almost Swiss-style gradients. Not just for the muddy boots brigade, enjoy “Club Class” style with freshly cooked food in one of the dinky Pullman cars.
featured image © Gurcan Sarisoy