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The Six Regions of Wales
by Peter N. Williams, Ph.D., Editor, Wales on Britannia

The irregular-shaped peninsula that is known as Wales (In Welsh, Cymru: pronounced "Kumree"), is only some 40 miles wide at its narrowest and 100 miles across at its widest. Its maximum length is only 140 miles. Such a tiny country, occupying only a little over 8 percent of the total area of the United Kingdom, it contains a variety of scenery and a wealth of places to visit!

Wales is a hilly country; one quarter of its total land area is over 1,000 feet high; it has 168 summits over 2,000 feet and 15 over 3,000 feet. Wales possesses the highest mountain and the highest waterfall in Britain south of Scotland, the highest sand dunes and the deepest cave in Britain; its National Museum contains the largest sea turtle ever recorded; its Snowdon Mountain is the wettest place in the British Isles; it has the highest January and November temperatures ever recorded in Britain; the growing season in southwest Dyfed is approximately 365 days a year at sea level. Wales contains over 400 natural lakes and over 90 reservoirs; it is the source of three major British rivers; it is home to three National Parks.

The history of this small western peninsular is written in its landscape. Prehistoric man was here and left his mark in the huge burial chambers (Cromlechs) that are found everywhere. Bronze Age man mined for copper; Iron Age man built hilltop forts and dwellings; the Romans built towns, military encampments and amphitheatres; they also mined for gold and other precious metals. Wales was Christian for hundreds of years before the conversion of the English; its Christian centres are the oldest in the British Isles.

In the eighth century, Wales was separated from England by a great embankment and ditch known as Offa's Dyke, much of which is still visible today. The Vikings then left their presence in much of Wales, as the names of many coastal towns and islands testify. Later, huge Norman castles came to dominate much of the landscape, followed in turn by the mighty fortresses of Edward I, built to ring in the Welsh people and to consolidate his hold on the independence-minded nation.

For the visitor, Wales has it all. Its smallness is its virtue; constant change is a special delight. From pre-historic tombs to modern steel and glass buildings; from verdant, wooded vales to rugged, high cloud-shrouded mountains; from industry-scarred, steep-sided crowded valleys (fast being reclaimed) to its vast stretches of empty moorland; and from tiny, ancient villages to vibrant, exciting cities. In Cardiff,it has the world's newest, all-weather sports stadium, built to host the 1999 Rugby World Cup.

The Tour of Wales is divided into six sections: Region one, the Northeast; Region two, the Northwest; Region three, Mid-Wales; Region four, Swansea and the Southwest; Region five, Cardiff and the Valleys; and Region six; the Southeast. Each area is unique and offers constantly changing views; each area provides a fascinating contrast in language, landscape, activities and opportunities for leisure, but all somehow are unmistakably Welsh.

NOTE: The place names are given in English and Welsh. In the phonetic translations, I have tried to convey the local pronunciations. For the sounds of "ll"and "ch", there is no English equivalent. I have used "thl" for "ll" this is probably as close as you can get. The other sound is more problematical. The Welsh "ch" is transcribed as "ck" but the sound is more like the Scottish "ch" in "loch" or the German "ach." The Welsh single "f" represents the English "v." The Welsh "a" is always pronounced as in "cat" never as in "ache." The vowel "y" is pronounced two ways: in many words it is similar to the "y" in the English word "myrrh" as in Dyfed (Duved); in others it is like the "y" in "pretty" as in Ty (Tee). In some words, both sounds are represented, as in the Welsh for hospital: Ysbyty (Usbutty).

N.B.: All antique illustrations are provided courtesy of Steve Bartrick at Antique Maps and Prints. We encourage you to visit his site.

First Stop: The Northeast

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