Wales (Welsh: Cymru) is a country that is part of the United Kingdom
and is part of the island of
Great Britain and offshore islands. It is
England to its east, the
Irish Sea to its north and west,
Bristol Channel to its south. It has a total area of 2,064,100
hectares (5,101,000 acres) and is about 170 mi (274 km) from
north to south and at least 60 mi (97 km) wide. It has a
number of offshore islands, by far the largest of which is Anglesey.
The mainland coastline, including Anglesey, is about 1,680 mi
(2,704 km) in length. As of 2014,
Wales had a population of about
Cardiff is the capital and largest city and is situated in
the urbanised area of South East Wales.
Wales has a complex geological history which has left it a largely
mountainous country. The coastal plain is narrow in the north and west
of the country but wider in the south, where the
Vale of Glamorgan
Vale of Glamorgan has
some of the best agricultural land. Exploitation of the South Wales
Coalfield during the
Industrial Revolution resulted in the development
of an urban economy in the
South Wales Valleys, and the expansion of
the port cities of Newport,
Swansea for the export of
coal. The smaller
North Wales Coalfield
North Wales Coalfield was also developed at this
time, but elsewhere in the country, the landscape is rural and
communities are small, the economy being largely dependent on
agriculture and tourism. The climate is influenced by the proximity of
the country to the
Atlantic Ocean and the prevailing westerly winds;
thus it tends to be mild, cloudy, wet and windy.
1 Physical geography
4 Land use
5 Natural resources
6 Political geography
6.1 Border between
Wales and England
6.2 Local government
9 Protected areas
10 See also
The summit of Snowdon, the highest mountain in Wales
Depiction of the Vale of Towy, Carmarthenshire
Wales is located on the western side of central southern Great
Britain. To the north and west is the Irish Sea, and to the south is
the Bristol Channel. The English counties of Cheshire, Shropshire,
Gloucestershire lie to the east. Much of the
England roughly follows the line of the ancient earthwork
known as Offa's Dyke. The large island of
Anglesey lies off the
northwest coast, separated from mainland
Wales by the Menai Strait,
and there are a number of smaller islands.
Wales is mountainous.
Snowdonia (Welsh: Eryri) in the
northwest has the highest mountains, with
Snowdon (Yr Wyddfa) at
1,085 m (3,560 ft) being the highest peak. To the south of
the main range lie the Arenig Group,
Cadair Idris and the Berwyn
Mountains. In the northeast of Wales, between the
Clwyd Valley and the
Dee Estuary, lies the Clwydian Range. The 14 (or possibly 15) peaks
over 3,000 feet (914 m), all in Snowdonia, are known collectively
as the Welsh 3000s.
Cambrian Mountains run from northeast to southwest and occupy most
of the central part of the country. These are more rounded and
undulating, clad in moorland and rough, tussocky grassland. In the
south of the country are the
Brecon Beacons in central Powys, the
Black Mountains (Y Mynyddoedd Duon) spread across parts of Powys and
Monmouthshire in southeast
Wales and, confusingly, Black
Mynydd Du), which lies further west on the border between
Carmarthenshire and Powys.
The Welsh lowland zone consists of the north coastal plain, the island
of Anglesey, part of the Llŷn Peninsula, a narrow strip of coast
along Cardigan Bay, much of
Pembrokeshire and southern
Gower Peninsula and the Vale of Glamorgan. The
main rivers are the River Dee, part of which forms the boundary
Wales and England, the
River Clwyd and the River Conwy, which
all flow northwards into
Liverpool Bay and the Irish Sea. Further
round the coast, the Rivers Mawddach, Dovey, Rheidol, Ystwyth and
Teifi flow westwards into Cardigan Bay, and the rivers Towy, Taff, Usk
and Wye flow southwards into the Bristol Channel. Parts of the River
Severn form the boundary between
Wales and England.
The length of the coast of mainland
Wales is about 1,370 mi
(2,205 km), and adding to this the coasts of the Isle of Anglesey
and Holy Island, the total is about 1,680 mi (2,704 km).
Cardigan Bay is the largest bay in the country and
Bala Lake (Llyn
Tegid) the largest lake at 1.8 sq mi (4.7 km2).
Other large lakes include
Llyn Trawsfynydd at 1.8 sq mi
Lake Vyrnwy at 1.7 sq mi
Llyn Brenig at 1.4 sq mi
Llyn Celyn at 1.2 sq mi (3.1 km2)
Llyn Alaw at 1.2 sq mi (3.1 km2). Bala Lake
lies in a glacial valley blocked by a terminal moraine, but the other
lakes are reservoirs created by impounding rivers, to provide drinking
water, hydroelectric schemes or flood defences, and many are also used
Geology of Wales
Geologic map of Wales
The geology of
Wales is complex and varied. The earliest outcropping
rocks are from the
Precambrian era, some 700 Mya, and are found in
Anglesey, the Llŷn peninsula, southwestern
Pembrokeshire and in
places near the English border. During the Lower Palaeozoic, as seas
periodically flooded the land and retreated again, thousands of metres
of sedimentary and volcanic rocks accumulated in a marine basin known
as the Welsh Basin.
During the early and middle
Ordovician period (485 to 460 Mya),
volcanic activity increased. One large volcanic system, which was
centred around what is now Snowdon, emitted an estimated 60 cubic
kilometres (14 cu mi) of debris. Another volcano formed
Rhobell Fawr near Dolgellau. During this period, great accumulations
of sand, gravel and mud were deposited further south in Wales, and
these gradually consolidated. Some of the volcanic ash fell in the sea
and formed great banks, where unstable masses sometimes slid into
deeper water, creating submarine avalanches. This caused great
turbidity in the sea, after which the particles began to settle out
according to particle size. The strata thus formed are called
turbidites, and these are common in central Wales, being particularly
obvious in the sea cliffs around Aberystwyth.
By the beginning of the
Devonian period (400 Mya) the sea was
retreating from the
Welsh Basin as the land was thrust up by the
collision of land masses, forming a new range of mountains, the Welsh
Caledonides. The strata were compressed and deformed, and in places,
the clay minerals recrystallised, developing a grain that allowed
parallel cleavage, making it easy to split the rocks into thin flat
sheets of stone known as slate. In the
Carboniferous period (360 to
300 Mya), erosion of the mountains resulted in the formation of
sandstones and mudstones. A reinvasion of southern and northeastern
Wales by the sea resulted in depositions of limestone, and
extensive swamps in
South Wales gave rise to peat deposits and the
eventual formation of coal measures. Southwestern Wales, in
particular, was affected by the Variscan orogeny, a period when
continental collisions further south caused complex folding and
fracturing of the strata.
During the Permian,
Jurassic (300 to 150 Mya), further
episodes of desertification, subsidence and uplift occurred and Wales
was alternately inundated by the sea and raised above it. By the
Cretaceous (140 to 70 Mya),
Wales was permanently above sea level and
Pleistocene (2.5 Mya to recent), it underwent several
exceptionally cold periods, the ice ages. The mountains we see today
largely assumed their present shape during the last ice age, the
In the mid 19th century, two prominent geologists, Roderick Murchison
and Adam Sedgwick, used their studies of the geology of
establish certain principles of stratigraphy and palaeontology. From
the Latin name for Wales,
Cambria (derived from Cymru), was derived
the name of the earliest geological period of the Paleozoic era, the
Cambrian. After much dispute, the next two periods of the Paleozoic
Ordovician and Silurian, were named after pre-Roman Celtic
tribes of Wales, the
Ordovices and Silures.
Main article: Climate of Wales
Wales has a maritime climate, the predominant winds being
southwesterlies and westerlies blowing in from the Atlantic Ocean.
This means that the weather in
Wales is in general mild, cloudy, wet
and windy. The country's wide geographic variations cause localised
differences in amounts of sunshine, rainfall and temperature. Rainfall
Wales varies widely, with the highest average annual totals in
Snowdonia and the
Brecon Beacons, and the lowest near the coast and in
the east, close to the English border. Throughout Wales, the winter
months are significantly wetter than the summer ones. Snow is
comparatively rare near sea level in Wales, but much more frequent
over the hills, and the uplands experience harsher conditions in
winter than the more low-lying parts.
The mean annual temperatures in
Wales are about 11 °C
(52 °F) on the coast and 9.5 °C (49 °F) in low-lying
inland areas. It becomes cooler at higher altitudes, with a mean
decrease in annual temperatures of approximately 0.5 °C
(0.9 °F) for each 100 metres (330 feet) of increased altitude.
Consequently, the higher parts of
Snowdonia experience mean annual
temperatures of 5 °C (41 °F). At nights, the coldest
conditions occur when there is little wind and no cloud cover,
especially when the ground is snow-clad; the lowest temperature
Wales was in conditions of this sort at
Rhayader on New
Year's Day, 1940, when the temperature fell to −23.3 °C
(−9.9 °F). Occasionally, the coastal area of North Wales
experiences some of the warmest winter conditions in the United
Kingdom, with temperatures up to 18 °C (64 °F); these
result from a Foehn wind, a south-westerly airflow warming up as it
descends from the mountains of Snowdonia.
Rain coming in from the west in Snowdonia
Wales is mostly as a result of the arrival of Atlantic low
pressure systems and is heaviest between October and January over the
whole country. The driest months are usually April, May and June, and
Wales experiences fewer summer thunderstorms than England. Rainfall
varies across the country with the highest records being from the
Snowdonia experiences total annual rainfalls
exceeding 3,000 mm (118 in) whereas coastal regions of Wales
and the English border may have less than 1,000 mm (39 in).
The combination of mountainous areas and Atlantic lows can produce
large quantities of rain and sometimes results in flooding. The
amount of snowfall varies with altitude and enormously from year to
year. In the lowlands, the number of days with lying snow may vary
from zero to thirty or more, with an average of about twenty in
Wales is one of the windier parts of the United Kingdom. The strongest
winds are usually associated with Atlantic depressions; as one of
these arrives, the winds usually start in the southwest, before
veering to the west and then to the northwest as the system passes by.
The southwest of
Pembrokeshire experiences the most gale-force winds.
The highest wind speed ever recorded in
Wales at a lowland site was
gusts of 108 knots (200 km/h; 124 mph) at Rhoose, in the
Vale of Glamorgan, on 28 October 1989.
Main article: Agriculture in Wales
Hill farm with Welsh Black cattle
The total terrestrial surface[clarification needed] of
2,064,100 hectares (5,101,000 acres). The area of land used for
agriculture and forestry in the country in 2013 was 1,712,845 hectares
(4,232,530 acres). Of this 79,461 hectares (196,350 acres) was used
for arable cropping and fallow, 1,449 hectares (3,580 acres) for
horticulture, and 1,405,156 hectares (3,472,220 acres) was used for
grazing. Woodland occupied 63,366 hectares (156,580 acres) and 10,126
hectares (25,020 acres) was unclassified land. In addition, there were
180,305 hectares (445,540 acres) of common rough grazing, giving a
total area of all the land used for agriculture purposes, including
common land, of 1,739,863 hectares (4,299,300 acres).
In order of area planted, the arable crops grown in
Wales were: foods
for stock-feeding, spring barley, wheat, maize, winter barley, other
cereals for combining, oilseed rape, potatoes and other crops. The
grassland was predominantly permanent pasture, with only 10% of the
grassland being under five years old. Compared with other parts of
the United Kingdom,
Wales has the smallest percentage of arable land
(6%), and a considerably smaller area of rough grazing and hill land
than Scotland (27% against 62%).
South Wales Coalfield
South Wales Coalfield extends from parts of
Carmarthenshire in the west, to
Blaenau Gwent and
Torfaen in the
east, and the rather smaller
North Wales Coalfield
North Wales Coalfield underlies parts
Flintshire and Denbighshire. Vast quantities of coal were mined
Wales during the
Industrial Revolution and the earlier part of the
twentieth century, after which coal stocks dwindled and the remaining
pits became uneconomical as foreign coal became available at low
prices. The last deep pit in
Wales closed in 2008.
Ironstone outcrops along the northern edge of the South Wales
Coalfield were extensively worked for the production of iron and were
important in the initiation of the
Industrial Revolution in South
Lead was mined at
Pentre Halkyn in
Flintshire during the
Roman occupation of Britain and there were ore-bearing sites in Clwyd
where lead, silver and sometimes zinc were mined. These metals
were also mined in the upland areas of the Rivers Ystwyth and Rheidol.
Manganese, titanium and numerous other minerals occur in various parts
of Wales. Gold is found in southern
Snowdonia and at Dolaucothi, and
Snowdonia had a flourishing copper industry from the early 1800s.
Although exploited in the past, none of these minerals is mined on a
commercial scale today.
Penrhyn Quarry in about 1900
Stone is quarried in various parts of Wales, and slate quarrying has
been a major industry in North Wales. The Cilgwyn Quarry was being
worked in the 12th century, but later
Blaenau Ffestiniog became the
centre of production. The
Penrhyn Quarry is still producing
slates, though at a reduced capacity compared to its heyday, and the
Slate Caverns have been converted into a visitor
attraction. Several of the railways that used to carry the slates
to the ports have been restored as tourist attractions, including the
Ffestiniog Railway and the Talyllyn Railway.
Wales has some potential for the onshore production of oil and gas.
Shale gas may be obtained by fracking and there is methane in unmined
coal seams that may be extractable. Another potential source of gas is
the underground controlled combustion of coal seams to produce syngas,
a mixture of hydrogen, methane and carbon monoxide.
Dinorwig Power Station
Dinorwig Power Station lower reservoir, a 1,800 MW pumped-storage
hydroelectric scheme, one of the largest such schemes in Europe
With its mountainous terrain and ample rainfall, water is one of
Wales' most abundant resources. The country has many man-made
reservoirs and supplies water to
England as well as generating power
through hydroelectric schemes. The largest reservoirs, such as the
Claerwen, are in the Elan Valley, and other notable bodies of water
include Lake Vyrnwy, Talybont
Reservoir and Llyn Brianne. Some of
these are popular resorts for outdoor activities such as sailing,
kayaking, cycling, fishing and bird-watching.
Wind is another resource that
Wales has in abundance. The Gwynt y Môr
is one of several offshore wind farms off the coast of North
Anglesey, and is the second largest such wind farm in the world.
Other wind farms are found on inland, mostly upland sites, but there
are none in the
Brecon Beacons national parks.
Wales and England
Main article: England–
The modern border between
England was largely defined by the
Wales Acts 1535 and 1542, based on the boundaries of medieval
Marcher lordships. According to the Welsh historian John Davies:
Thus was created the border between
Wales and England, a border which
has survived until today. It did not follow the old line of Offa's
Dyke nor the eastern boundary of the Welsh dioceses; it excluded
districts such as Oswestry and Ewias, where the
Welsh language would
continue to be spoken for centuries, districts which it would not be
wholly fanciful to consider as
Cambria irredenta. Yet, as the purpose
of the statute was to incorporate
Wales into England, the location of
the Welsh border was irrelevant to the purposes of its framers.
The boundary has never been confirmed by referendum or reviewed by a
Boundary Commission. The boundary line very roughly follows Offa's
Dyke from south to north as far as a point about 40 miles (64 km)
from the northern coast, but then swings further east. It has a
number of anomalies, but some were ironed out by the Counties
(Detached Parts) Act 1844. For instance, it separates Knighton
from its railway station, and divides the village of Llanymynech
where a pub straddles the line.
See also: Local government in Wales
Wales is divided into 22 unitary authorities, which are responsible
for the provision of all local government services, including
education, social work, environmental and road services. Below these
in some areas there are community councils, which cover specific areas
within a council area. The unitary authority areas are known as
"principal areas". The Queen appoints Lords Lieutenant to
represent her in the eight preserved counties of Wales.
Office for National Statistics
Office for National Statistics Area Classification, local
authorities are clustered into groups based in the six main census
dimensions (demographic, household composition, housing,
socio-economic, employment and industry sector). Most of the local
authorities in mid and west
Wales are classified as part of the
'Coastal and Countryside' supergroup. Most of the south Wales
Wrexham are in the 'Mining and
Cardiff is part of the 'Cities and
Services' supergroup and the
Vale of Glamorgan
Vale of Glamorgan is part of 'Prospering
Cardiff is the most densely populated area in Wales
The population of
Wales in 2014 was about 3,092,000, an increase of
9,600 (0.31%) on the previous year, which was the slowest growth rate
for any country in the United Kingdom. The main population and
industrial areas in
Wales are in South Wales, specifically Cardiff,
Swansea and Newport and the adjoining
South Wales Valleys.
the capital city and had a population of around 346,000 at the 2011
census. This was followed by the unitary authorities of Swansea
(239,000), Rhondda Cynon Taf (234,400),
Flintshire (152,500), Newport (145,700), Neath
Port Talbot (139,800), Bridgend (139,200) and
Cardiff was the most heavily populated area in
Wales with 2,482 people
per square kilometre (6,428 per sq mile) while Powys had just 26.
A high proportion of the Welsh population lives in smaller
settlements: nearly 20% live in villages of less than 1,500 persons
compared with 10% in England.
Wales also has a relatively low
proportion of its population in large settlements: only 26% live in
urban areas with a population over 100,000; in comparison, nearly 40%
of the English population live in urban areas larger than the largest
in Wales. Another feature of the settlement pattern in
Wales is the
share of the population living in the sparsest rural areas: 15%
compared with only 1.5% in England.
Wales are influenced by the topography and the
mountainous nature of the country: the main rail and road routes
between South and North
Wales loop to the east and pass largely
through England. The only motorway in
Wales is the
M4 motorway from
London to South Wales, entering the country over the Second Severn
Crossing, passing close to Newport,
Swansea and extending
as far west as the
Pont Abraham services
Pont Abraham services before continuing northwest
as the A48 to Carmarthen. The A40 is a major trunk road connecting
Brecon and Carmarthen. The A487 coast road
links Cardigan with Aberystwyth, and the A44 links
Leominster and Worcester. The main trunk road in North
Wales is the A55 dual carriageway road from
St Asaph and
Abergele, continuing along the coast to Bangor, crossing
terminating at Holyhead.
The A55 running alongside the North
Wales Coast Line
South Wales Main Line links London Paddington with Swansea,
Wales through the Severn Tunnel. Other main line services
from the Midlands and the North of
England join this at Newport.
Branch lines serve the
South Wales Valleys, Barry, and destinations
Swansea which include the ferry terminals at
Pembroke Dock. The
Heart of Wales Line
Heart of Wales Line links
Llanelli with Craven Arms
in Shropshire. The
Cambrian Line crosses the centre of Wales, with
Shrewsbury to Welshpool,
Aberystwyth and Pwllheli. The
North Wales Coast Line
North Wales Coast Line links
Chester to Bangor and Holyhead,
from where there is a ferry service to Ireland. Passengers can change
at Shotton for the Borderlands Line, which links
Wrexham with Bidston
on the Wirral Peninsula, and at Conwy for the
Conwy Valley Line
Conwy Valley Line to
Cardiff Airport is the only airport in
Wales which offers
international scheduled flights. Destinations available include other
parts of the United Kingdom, Ireland and parts of continental Europe.
The airport is also used for charter flights on a seasonal basis. In
2015, around 1.2 million passengers used the airport. Several
ferry services operate between Welsh ports and Ireland:
Fishguard to Rosslare; Pembroke Dock to Rosslare; and
Swansea to Cork.
Main article: Protected areas of Wales
Pembrokeshire Coast Path near Ceibwr Bay
Wales has three designated national parks.
Snowdonia National Park in
Wales was established in 1951 as the third national park
in Britain, following the
Peak District and the Lake District. It
covers 827 square miles (2,140 km2) of the mountains of Snowdonia
and has 37 miles (60 km) of coastline. The Pembrokeshire
Coast National Park was established the following year to protect the
spectacular coastal scenery of West Wales. It includes Caldey Island,
the Daugleddau estuary and the Preseli Hills, as well as the entire
length of the
Pembrokeshire Coast Path. The
National Park was established five years later and extends across the
southern part of Powys, the northwestern part of Monmouthshire and
parts of eastern Carmarthenshire. In each case, the park authority
acts as a special purpose local authority and exercises planning
control over residential and industrial development in the park. The
authorities have a duty to conserve the natural beauty of the area,
and to promote opportunities for members of the public to enjoy and
appreciate the park's special qualities.
Wales also has five Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty. These differ
from National Parks in that the authorities have a duty to conserve
and enhance the natural beauty of the landscape but do not have an
obligation to promote the enjoyment of the public and additionally,
they have no control over planning. In 1956, the Gower Peninsula
became the first designated AONB in Britain. Other AONBs are: the
whole of Anglesey; the Llŷn Peninsula; the
Clwydian Range and Dee
Valley; and the Wye Valley, part of which is in England.
Wales has many waterfalls, including some of the most striking in the
United Kingdom. One such is the 240 ft (73 m) Pistyll
Rhaeadr near the village of Llanrhaeadr-ym-Mochnant. It is formed as a
mountain stream drops over a cliff and changes character to a lowland
river, the Afon Rhaeadr. The site has been designated by the
Countryside Council for Wales as the 1000th Site of
Interest in Wales, because of its importance to an understanding of
Welsh geomorphology. The 19th-century English author George Borrow
remarked of the waterfall, "I never saw water falling so gracefully,
so much like thin, beautiful threads, as here."
Geology of Wales
List of Blue Flag Beaches of Wales
Geography of the United Kingdom
Geography of England
Geography of Scotland
Geography of Ireland
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^ "Gower Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty". City and County of
Swansea. Retrieved 23 April 2016.
^ "Llŷn Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty". Gwynedd County Council.
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Early Middle Ages
Kingdom of Gwynedd
Kingdom of Powys
Medieval Welsh law
Late Middle Ages
Statute of Rhuddlan
Wales Acts 1535 and 1542
Mountains and hills
Secretary of State
Modern Welsh law
Agriculture (Sheep farming)
Literature in Welsh / in English
Men's 7s team
Women's 7s team
1904–1905 Welsh Revival
Church in Wales
Islam in Wales
Presbyterian Church of Wales
Welsh Methodist revival
Prince of Wales's feathers
Geography of Europe
Bosnia and Herzegovina
States with limited
Isle of Man