For a small country Wales makes a big impression. With three National Parks, five Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, over 200 golf courses, dramatic mountains, spectacular seashores, tumbling rivers and fresh green valleys, it’s a real gem. Wales has one of Europe’s largest concentrations of medieval fortresses with over 400 castles dotted around the country. Wales’ personality springs from its own rich Celtic heritage and history and a living language that is still spoken by approximately 25% of the population alongside English. Market towns and villages brim with charm and character and cosmopolitan Cardiff, Wales’ waterside capital city has a real 21st century buzz to it. All this is within easy reach of the main gateways into Britain and Ireland – just two hours from London, an hour from Manchester Airport or 90 minutes by ferry from Dublin, Wales is very easy to get to.
What a marvellous backdrop to an inspirational visit!
â€¢ Wales is the smallest of the three countries that make up mainland Britain. 160 miles north to south and 50 miles East to West, an area of approximately 8,000 square miles.
â€¢ The population of Wales is around 2.9 million, 60% of this total occupy the South East corner. Cardiff the capital has a population of 300,000, and its near neighbor Swansea the second largest city 190,000 people.
â€¢ Wales is officially a bilingual nation â€“ around a quarter of the population speak Welsh, which is the strongest survivor of the Celtic languages. It is predominantly spoken in the Northern and Western areas of the country.
â€¢ The patron saint of Wales is St David. March 1st, St Davids Day (Dydd Gwyl Dewi Sant) â€“ is now the traditional day of the Welsh. This is celebrated by Welsh people all over the world by the wearing of either of the national emblems, the leek, or daffodil.
â€¢ The lovespoon is an important part of Welsh culture. Traditionally, was a wooden spoon carved by a young man and presented to his sweetheart as a token of his affection. The earliest surviving lovespoon dates back to 1667. The spoon may be plain or intricately designed with various symbols â€“ birds, hearts, wheels â€“ each representing a different meaning. Nowadays as well as a token of affection, many are bought as souvenirs of visits to Wales.
â€¢ The Welsh flag comprises of a red dragon passant on a green and white field. It is not really known where the dragon originated, but the dragon has become a striking symbol identified with Wales, and in 1959 at the command of The Queen became the official flag of Wales.
July 1st 1999 saw the birth of the National Assembly for Wales. This meant a wide range of domestic Welsh affairs such as economic development, health and education were now controlled by the Welsh Assembly in Cardiff. However laws passed in Parliament in Westminster still apply to Wales.
Wales lies to the west of England it and is about half the size of Massachusetts in the USA. It is a country of vast geographical variation with its stunning mountain ranges, rugged coastline, lush valleys and quaint towns and villages, providing the visitor with a country of great contrasts, and breathtaking scenery.
â€¢ North Wales is dominated by the rugged Snowdonia mountain range. Itâ€™s highest point is Mount Snowdon, the highest mountain in England and Wales at 3,560ft. It attracts walkers and climbers from all over the world. The countryside to the north east is a patchwork of forest, open moorlands and wooded valleys dotted with old market towns
â€¢ The scenery of Mid-Wales is an area of rolling hills, remote uplands, unspoilt mountain roads, and long sweeping bays with small resorts and coastal villages.
â€¢ South and West Wales is an area of contrasts: ranging from the mountains of The Brecon Beacons National Park, the sandy beaches of the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park, the balmy breezy Gower Peninsular (Britainâ€™s first area of outstanding Natural beauty), to the leafy Wye Valley, and of course Cardiff the capital city of Wales.
The climate is fairly temperate throughout the year with average winter temperatures of 5 degrees and pleasantly warm summer temperatures of 18 degrees, predominately around coastal areas. Conditions in upland areas however can be very changeable at all times of the year due to the altitude levels.
The M4/M25 motorway connects Wales with London-Heathrow, and London Gatwick airports(only 2 hours from Cardiff). The motorway extends deep into South West Wales – the scenic Pembrokeshire coast in the far west is now an easy drive of no more than a few hours. In the north is the excellent A55 Expressway, connecting Snowdonia, and the North Wales Coast with Manchester airport (only 45 minutes), and the rest of the UK motorway network. The Mid Wales countryside is easily reached via the M54 from the M5/M6, connecting the heart of Wales with Birmingham Airport and Central England.
Two main lines provide frequent fast services to Wales from London. The South Wales Line from London Paddington via Reading onto Newport, Cardiff and Swansea, and the north coast line to Bangor and Holyhead from Northern England and Scotland. For all National Rail enquires Tel: (01144 ) (0)8457 484950 or www.nationalrail.co.uk.
Eurostar is the high-speed passenger service that operates between Paris, Brussels, Lille, Calais and London Waterloo. Journey time from Paris to London is 3 hours, and Brussels to London is 2hours 40 minutes. On arrival in London rail connections operate from London Waterloo/Paddington to South Wales, and Euston for Mid/North Wales.
By far the biggest bus operator is National Express, which has an extensive network throughout England and Wales. Its main routes into Wales depart from London, Birmingham, Glasgow and Edinburgh. They cover a huge geographical area including Cardiff, Swansea and West Wales, Wrexham Bangor and Holyhead in North Wales, and Aberystwyth in Mid Wales, all of which make various stops en route.
They provide the Flight link service, which operates from Londonâ€™s major airports to locations throughout Wales. For all national Express enquires Tel: 01144 (0)870 808080 or www.gobycoach.com. Traveline Cymru â€“ Tel: 01144 (0)870 6082608 www.traveline-cymru.org.uk. Arriva Cymru Tel: 01144 (0)0871 200 22 33 www.arriva.co.uk
Cardiff Wales Airport is situated in Rhoose 12 miles west of Cardiff city centre junction 33 of the M4. Most key European and Intercontinental centres are linked to the airport via the following gateway airports â€“ Amsterdam, Brussels, Paris and Dublin. Most airlines fly into London Heathrow or London Gatwick, but more recently Birmingham and Manchester have developed into important points of entry for travellers from all over the world. Cardiff International Airport Tel: 01144 1446 711111 www.cial.co.uk
Swansea Airport is located approx 6 miles west of the city center. This airport is only suitable for small aircrafts. The carrier Air Wales operates regular services to Dublin, Cork and Jersey.
Air Wales Reservations Tel: 01144 1792 200250 www.airwales.co.uk
Direct scheduled flights to/from Cardiff include:
Alicante â€“ bmibaby Amsterdam â€“ KLM Belfast â€“ bmibaby & Air Wales
Cork â€“ bmibaby & Air Wales Dublin â€“ Air Wales & Ryanair Edinburgh â€“ bmibaby
Geneva â€“ bmibaby Glasgow â€“ bmibaby Jersey â€“ bmibaby
London City â€“ Air Wales Malaga â€“ bmibaby Milan â€“ bmibaby
Palma â€“ bmibaby Paris â€“ bmibaby Prague â€“ bmibaby
Toulouse – bmibaby
Brittany Ferries Reservations Tel: 08705 360360 www.brittany-ferries.com
DFDS Seaways Reservations Tel: 08705 333000 www.dfdsseaways.co.uk
Hoverspeed Reservations Tel: 0870 240 8070 www.hoverspeed.co.uk
Irish Ferries Reservations Tel: 0870 171717 www.irishferries.com
Fjord Line Reservations Tel: 0191 296 1313 www.fjordline.com
P&O Reservations Tel: 08705 202020 www.poferries.com
Stena Line Reservations Tel: 08705 707070 www.stenaline.com
Swansea â€“ Cork Ferries Reservations Tel: 01792 456116 www.swansea-cork.ie
For more on Wales at ITKT