35 Fun Facts about Wales

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Fun Facts About Wales

It has a green desert, was the original home of Stonehenge, has the oldest record shop in the world, a thirsty tombstone, an elusive underwater monster and it gave the world the equals sign.  Welcome to our selection of 35 fun facts about Wales which will hopefully shed a few rays of light onto this fascinating country.  

It Has The 2nd Longest Place Name In The World 

The Anglesey village of Llanfairpwllgwyngyll needed that extra something to put it on the map, so it was decided to extend its name to make it the longest station name in Britain and, it turned out, the second longest place name in the world. Thus Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch  was born. Its name means ‘the church of St Mary by the pool of the white hazels near the fierce whirlpool and church of St Tysilio and the red cave’.  

See Also:  Things To Do In Anglesey 

Wales Has A Patron Saint Of Lovers  

Image of Llanddwyn Island Anglesey Wales
Llanddwyn Island, where St Dwynwen retreated to live as a hermit

Just when you feel winter is dragging on too long, in Wales you can cheer up your partner with two romantic surprises. St Valentine’s Day has long been popular in Wales, but Dydd Santes Dwynwen – St Dwynwen’s Day has also caught on over the last twenty years or so. St Dwynwen was not fortunate in love, her suitor having been turned into a block of ice, but she prayed that God would look after true lovers and that she would never marry. She went to what is now Llanddwyn Island to live as a hermit, dying in the 5th century. St Dwynwen’s Day is celebrated on January 25th

An Underwater Monster In Llyn Tegid 

Just like at Loch Ness, stories abound of an aquatic monster lurking in the depths of Llyn Tegid, also known as Bala Lake, the largest natural lake in Wales. Its known locally a Teggy or Teggie, but as with the Loch Ness Monster, sightings are rare and fleeting and proof elusive.  However the lake is the only home of the gwyniad, a freshwater fish that’s most likely a relic from the Ice Age, but it’s critically endangered, partly due to the introduction of an invasive species, the ruffe. 

Welsh Isn’t Just Spoken In Wales 

Image of Cofiwch Dryweryn graffti in Welsh
The famous Cofiwch Dryweryn graffiti in Ceredigion, Mid Wales

It’s also spoken in Patagonia, part of Argentina. A group of 153 Welsh settlers arrived in the Chubut region of Patagonia in 1865, overcoming difficult conditions to irrigate the land around the Chubut river and establish themselves.  The community has grown to a few thousand Welsh speakers, all of whom are bilingual and fluent in Spanish. 

The Oldest Record Shop In The World 

Spillers Records in the capital city, Cardiff, is believed to be the oldest record shop in the world. It originally opened in 1894, and has occupied several premises around the city, and is now settled in the lovely Morgan Arcade.  I’ve shopped there for well over thirty years, and many customers go back even further. 

The Smallest City In The UK 

Image of St David's Cathedral Wales
St David’s Cathedral in the smallest city in the UK

Deep in the westernmost corner of Wales lies tiny St Davids (Tyddewi in Welsh), the smallest city in Wales and the UK, and second smallest in Europe after the Vatican City in Rome. Its population is only around 2,000, and it owes its status to its Cathedral, the finest church in Wales. It’s surrounded by glorious coastal scenery, among the best in the UK. Read more about St David’s Cathedral and the nearby beaches in our Things to do in St Davids article. 

The Birthplace Of British Tourism 

The final section of the river Wye forms the border between Wales and England, and in the late18th century it was where modern British tourism was born. Visitors would take a two-day boat excursion from Ross-on-Wye to Chepstow, stopping at several places each day to sketch or paint riverside scenes, including the romantic ruin of Tintern Abbey. This period marked an interest in the Picturesque, and a growth in interest in travelling for pleasure.   

Gower Peninsula – The First Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty In The UK

Image of Rhossili beach Gower Peninsula Wales
The Helvetia shipwreck on Rhossili beach

Many people head to this stunning peninsula to the west of the city of Swansea to explore the many Gower beaches, especially Rhossili Bay and Three Cliffs Bay. It was the first area of the UK to be awarded AONB status in 1956, and as well as its beaches it’s known for its cliff scenery, saltmarshes, sand dunes and coastal heathland. 

There’s A Footpath The Whole Way Around It 

Imag of a Wales Coast Path sign at Llanbadrig Anglesey Wales
One of the northernmost points of the Wales Coast Path, Llanbadrig

One of the most interesting facts about Wales is that in 2012, it became the first country in the world to have a long-distance footpath running the entire length of its coastline. The Wales Coast Path is 870 miles (1,400 km) long, and its highlights include the sections on Anglesey, Gwynedd including the Llyn Peninsula, Ceredigion, Pembrokeshire and the Gower Peninsula. It’s also possible to complete a full circuit of the country by walking the 177-mile (285 km) Offa’s Dyke Path which takes you from Prestatyn on the north coast to Chepstow on the south. 

It Has A National Vegetable And A National Flower 

The leek has been one of the emblems of Wales as far back as the Middle Ages, and the daffodil was adopted as the national flower of Wales much more recently.  The words are very similar in Welsh – leek is cenhinen and daffodil is cenhinen Pedr. At school we were taught that the two became confused because of their similarity in Welsh, and that both were adopted as national symbols. This probably isn’t the case – it’s more likely that the daffodil was also adopted as it usually flowers around March 1st, the feast day of the patron saint of Wales, St David.  

It Gave The World The Equals Sign 

The equals sign was invented by Robert Recorde, a mathematician and physician from Tenby in Pembrokeshire. At one time he was personal physician to King Edward VI, before falling on hard times and dying in a debtors’ jail in London having been sued for defamation by a rival. His tomb can be seen in St Mary’s Church in Tenby. 

It Was Home To The Largest Copper Mine In The World 

Parys Mountain, in the far north of the Isle of Anglesey, is one of the most unusual landscapes in Wales.  It was once the largest copper mine in the world, and what’s left behind is almost other-worldly. The mountain has been scoured and scarred, leaving a rich multitude of colourful rocks and debris. The walk around the whole site takes around an hour, and the Copper Kingdom attraction in nearby Amlwch tells more of its story.  

Arthur’s Stone – The Thirsty Tombstone 

Image of Arthur's Stone burial chamber Gower PEninsula Wales
Any idea where I can get a drink around here?

Arthur’s Stone – Maen Ceti – is an impressive Neolithic burial chamber on the Cefn Bryn ridge running across the middle of the Gower Peninsula.  It’s believed to be around 4,500 years old, and according to legend it was thrown there by King Arthur from across the water in Carmarthenshire. Another story tells that the stone is prone to wandering down the hill to get a drink from the nearby sea. The stone can be found close to the village of Reynoldston. 

See Also: Things To Do In The Gower 

Saucepans On Rugby Posts 

For many years the town of Llanelli had a large tin-plating industry, and tin-plating saucepans was a big part of this. The Llanelli Scarlets regional rugby team – and their club predecessor, Llanelli RFC – still have saucepans on top of their goalposts. This is also a nod to the famous Welsh folk song Sosban Fach (‘Little Saucepan’), which has always had strong links to the Llanelli area, one of the main Welsh-speaking regions of the country. 

Doctor Who Is Filmed In Wales 

The BBC Doctor Who science fiction series has been produced by BBC Wales since its revival in 2005, with much of it shot in Wales. Capital Cardiff has often doubled as London, coastal locations including Rhossili beach and  Southerndown. The Doctor once managed to bring the Earth back onto its axis after a struggle with arch-enemy the Daleks, emerging at my old local park in Caerphilly, near Cardiff.  

‘The Size Of Wales’  

Wales is a relatively small country, roughly 21,000 square kilometres or 8,190 square miles.  It’s often used as a reference point to help people relate to a news story, as many Brits are vaguely familiar with its size. So whether it’s the US state of Massachusetts, an Australian cattle station or an area of tropical rainforest destroyed by fire, Wales often gets brought out as a point of reference. Belgium is also trotted out for the same purpose from time to time, as is Luxembourg. Incidentally, Wales is roughly eight times the size of Luxembourg, and 1/39 of the size of the Australian state of New South Wales, from where our editor Faye hails. 

One of only two saints’ shrines in the UK can be found in Wales 

The Shrine of St Edward the Confessor is in the chancel of Westminster Abbey in London, while the other one requires a bit more of a search. It’s hidden away in the remote Tanat Valley in the Berwyn Mountains of northern Powys. The hamlet of Pennant Melangell is named after the local saint Melangell, who is the patron saint of hares, having once saved one from a hunt. The shrine, dating from the 12th century, is a remarkable survival, and reputedly contains some of the saint’s bones 

North Wales Once Roofed The World 

Image of the slate quarries and town of Blaenau Ffestiniog North Wales
The slate quarries and town of Blaenau Ffestiniog

While South Wales was transformed by iron and steel, North Wales underwent its own industrialisation in the late 19th century because of the plentiful supply of slate, an excellent material for house roofs. Several quarrying areas grew in Gwynedd, particularly around Blaenau Ffestiniog and the Nantlle Valley to the west of Snowdon.  Only pockets of the industry now survive, but the main quarries and communities have been nominated for UNESCO World Heritage status, with the outcome due later in 2021. 

See Also: Things To Do In Blaenau Ffestiniog 

Capel Curig – The Rainiest Place In Wales  

The east side of the Snowdon range often receives the most rainfall in Wales, and the village that often gains the (slightly dubious!) honour of the wettest place in Wales is Capel Curig, five miles (8 km ) east of the mountain. However, when the weather clears, the view – across Llynnau Mymbyr lakes – to Snowdon and its neighbouring peaks – is one of the best views in Wales. See above.  

You Can Still See The Ancient Border With England 

King Offa of Mercia built a vast earthwork along the border with Wales in the 8th century to keep the querulous Celts off his land.  The Offa’s Dyke Path follows it from Chepstow to Prestatyn, with many sections clearly visible. The best of these is around Hawthorn Hill, two miles (3 km) south of the Mid Wales border town of Knighton. 

‘Outsiders’ Or ‘Our People’ – Wales Or Cymru 

The English and Welsh words for Wales are very different, as is the meaning behind both. Wales is derived from the Old English wealas, meaning ‘outsiders’ or ‘foreigners’. Cymru, on the other hand, can be translated as ‘our people’ or ‘our countrymen’.  

Snowdon  

Snowdon – Yr Wyddfa – is the only mountain in the Snowdonia National Park to have an English name.  Its Welsh name means ‘the resting place’ – supposedly that of Rhitta Gawr, a giant slain by King Arthur.  Its English name is derived from snaw dun, the Old English for snowy hill. The mountain is highly popular, with around 730,000 visitors walking to the summit or riding up on the rack-and-pinion Snowdon Mountain Railway. 

Green Desert of Wales 

Image of the Claerwen river in remote Mid Wales
The Claerwen river runs through the Green Desert of Wales

The Green Desert is the name given to the remote, largely uninhabited heart of Wales. It’s referred to as a desert because of its sparse population, and it’s green because it gets plenty of rainfall – enough to keep replenishing the reservoirs of the Elan Valley, Llyn Clywedog, the Teifi Pools and Nant-y-Moch. The Green Desert extends roughly from Plynlimon (Pen Pumlumon Fawr) in the north to Llanwrtyd Wells in the south, and several of the main rivers in Wales rise there. 

Preseli Hills – Original Site of Stonehenge? 

It has long been known that some of the standing stones of Stonehenge came from the Preseli Hills in West Wales . Recent research now points to an even closer link. A site of a stone circle has been unearthed with precisely the same dimensions and alignment – including for summer and winter solstices – suggesting that Stonehenge may have originally been built there, and somehow later moved to its present site on Salisbury Plain. 

Smallest House in Great Britain, Conwy 

Image of the Smallest House in Great Britain in Conwy Wales
One up, one down. Anyone over 4’6″ need not apply.

This tiny house on Conwy Quay is officially the smallest house in the UK, and between you can visit the ground floor and take a peek upstairs at the bedroom standing on a stepladder. Pity the last poor tenant, who was 6’3” (1.91 metres tall) and couldn’t stand up straight in it. I don’t know if he had a pet feline, but if he did, there certainly wasn’t room to swing it. 

See Also: Things To Do In Conwy 

A Touch Of Portofino In North Wales 

Image of Portmeirion village North Wales
Pastels and shades of Portofino – Portmeirion

The Italianate fantasy village of Portmeirion was created by the architect Clough Williams-Ellis, with a mixture of his own and ‘rescued’ buildings. He meant it to evoke Portofino, on the Italian Riviera, and it’s a stunning sight, overlooking the Dwyryd estuary. The village has two hotels and you can stay in most of the other buildings, which serve as holiday cottages and apartments, and savour the silence after the visitors have headed home. 

See Also: Things To Do In Portmeirion

10% Of The World’s Gannets Live On One Tiny Welsh Island 

As you approach from the mainland, you can make out a prominent white speck on the horizon, and it’s only when you draw close that you see what makes up the white mass. Around 39,000 breeding pairs of gannets – one-tenth of the world population – live on Grassholm (Ynys Gwales), one of the most remote Welsh islands off the Pembrokeshire coast. These seabirds dive for fish in the waters around the island. It’s an amazing place, and one of the most fascinating islands in Wales. 

The First Radio Signal Across Water Was Sent In Wales 

In 1897 Italian inventor Guglielmo Marconi sent the first wireless signal across open water. The message ‘Are You Ready’ and ‘Can You Hear Me’ were sent from Lavernock Point on the Vale of Glamorgan coast near Penarth. They were received a few miles across the Bristol Channel on the island of Flat Holm by George Kemp, who replied, ‘Yes Loud And Clear’.  

One Small Town – Three Famous Actors 

The small coastal steelworks town of Port Talbot has a phenomenal record for producing world-famous actors. The first, Richard Burton, was from the nearby village of Pontrhydyfen, and he was followed by Anthony Hopkins, perhaps best known for his portrayal of serial killer Hannibal Lecter. Hopkins has recently won his second Oscar for Best Actor for his role in The Father.  Over the last 20 years or so Michael Sheen has also risen to prominence, and is best-known for his wide range of character portrayals, including Tony Blair, actor Kenneth Williams and football manager Brian Clough. 

Wales Is Home To The Oldest Tree In The UK 

The ancient yew tree in the churchyard in Llangernyw, Conwy County, is believed to be 4,500 years old. It’s believed to be the oldest tree in Great Britain, and possibly the oldest in Europe as well, dating back to the Bronze Age. 

It’s Home To The Smallest Chapel In The UK 

Tiny St Trillo’s Chapel, in the village of Rhos-on-Sea, is the smallest chapel in Great Britain. The simple stone building dates from the 16th century, and may have been built by monks from nearby Aberconwy Abbey. It’s at the northern end of Rhos-on-Sea beach, just off the A55 North Wales Expressway.   

What Is A Llan? 

When you visit Wales, it won’t be long before you start seeing places beginning with ‘Llan’ on signposts. It’s one of the hardest words to pronounce in Welsh, with a soft ‘hll’ sound that takes a lot of practice, and it bamboozles a great many visitors! A llan is a settlement around a church – an early llan would have a wall around it, and the best example of this is the church at Llanfaglan near Caernarfon in North Wales. For pronunciation practice, this two-minute tutorial is perfect. The sound – a voiceless alveolar lateral fricative – isn’t unique to Welsh, and is used in languages as diverse as Navajo and Zulu. 

The Most-Visited Waterfall In The UK 

The most popular waterfall in Great Britain is Swallow Falls, or Rhaeadr Ewynnol, a thundering, frothing mass of water from the Afon Llugwy as it roars along its short journey to its confluence with the river Conwy, a few miles downstream.  It’s one of the most popular things to do in Betws-y-Coed, the gateway to Snowdonia 2 miles away down the main A5 road. 

The Welsh Alphabet Has 29 Letters 

The Welsh alphabet differs markedly from its English cousin. It has seven characters consisting of two Latin letters – ch, dd, ng, ll, ph, rh, th – and there is no k, q, v, x or z in the Welsh alphabet. 

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David Angel
David Angel is a British writer and photographer who has been travelling and photographing Europe for over 25 years.  His work is regularly featured in worldwide media including the BBC, the Guardian, the Times and the Sunday Times.