Quick trivia, get ready. What do you know about Wales? Perhaps you know that its language is a wee bit bonkers. Or maybe you know its national animal is the dragon (badass). It’s also possible you don’t know anything at all about this country.
Not to worry. That’s what we’re here for.
Being a close neighbour of Wales, we’ve developed a deep appreciation of this country’s rich history and beautiful landscapes. So much so that we journey there on several of our tours. There’s the incredible Snowdonia National Park, 1000 square miles of rugged wilderness perfect for hiking enthusiasts, birdwatchers, and photographers.
Then there’s places like the city of Cardiff, Wales’ capital, with its Dead Man’s Alley, endless indoor arcade centres, and even its very own castle.
Speaking of Cardiff, it was the birthplace of famous children’s author Roald Dahl. And just a short drive from the city is the village of Hay-on-Wye, every booklover’s dream. The little village is world-famous for its number of secondhand and antiquarian bookshops. Founded back in 1961 by Mr Richard Booth, it's now the world's largest secondhand and antiquarian book centre.
We go to these places, and so many more, on our small-group tours. Convinced to join one yet? If so, here are a few things you should know about Wales before you venture there.
Maybe you were a history fanatic during high school. Maybe you couldn’t have cared less. Either way, we think it’s good practice to always know a little bit about the history of the country you’re about to visit.
History tells us that the first settlement of people in Wales was as far back as 230,000 years ago. We all know the Romans were everywhere at one point, and when they left Britain in the 5th century, Britain divided into different cultures, one of which developed into Wales.
During the 15th and 16th centuries, Wales wasn’t happy with England and launched several revolts against them, all of which failed. In 1707, Wales became part of the Kingdom of Great Britain, and then in 1801, they became part of the United Kingdom we know today. Their culture has been maintained and flourished since.
Ah, food. One of the biggest reasons people travel could be pinpointed to the allure of those local delicacies that get your mouth watering from the first mention. Croissant in France, anyone? How about a bowl of pasta and side of gelato in Italy? Or some delicious baked moussaka in Greece.
Wales has its own treats that you should definitely partake in during your visit. Welsh Cakes, a cross between a biscuit and a scone, are at the top of the list in our opinion. Pop into a pub and see if they sell Welsh Cawl, a hearty stew of meat and vegetables that apparently dates back to the 11th century when farming families would leave it to cook all day while they were out in the fields working.
Then there’s Welsh Rarebit which is described as “almost like cheese on toast but not” ... colour us intrigued.
For you vegetarians out there, give a Glamorgan sausage a go. This dish is unique to Wales and is a combination of cheese, eggs, and breadcrumbs in the shape of a sausage.
As we mentioned earlier, Wales has three national symbols. The first (and most well-known) is the red dragon which can be found on the Welsh flag. It’s because of this powerful image that the Welsh flag is one of the most recognisable in the world.
The reason the dragon became a symbol of Wales dates back to the 5th century. The legend goes that a red dragon (or “the Celtic people”) won a fight against a white dragon (“the Saxons”).
Another symbol is a daffodil. This native flower blooms around the 1st of March each year, just in time for St David’s Day, Wales’ national day. In 1911, British Prime Minister David Llyod George (who was of Welsh descent and whose first language was Welsh, not English) advocated their use in ceremonies.
And, finally, the leek. Why is this strangely shaped (but delicious) vegetable a symbol of Wales? Well, there are two stories and they both relate to battles. The first story goes that the leek became an emblem when St David advised the King to have his men wear a leek in the battle against the Saxons so that they could recognise each other. St David loved leeks, so this is why he chose the vegetable.
Seems a bit unlikely, but we’re all for a quirky story.
The other story goes that back in 1346, English and Welsh soldiers were attacked by the French, in a battle known as the Battle of Crécy in Northern France. Records state that it was predominately thanks to the Welsh archers that this battle was won. And it was said that, during this battle, these Welsh archers fought against foot soldiers in a leek field. Then, later on, Welsh people wore leeks in their caps as a way to remember the bravery of those who fought in the battle. We kind of love this story.
Like any good Celtic country, Wales has enough legends and myths to fill a thick tome. Knowing a few of the legends before you visit the country will help you understand a bit more about what makes Wales Wales. Take the legend of Dinas Emrys, for example.
We’ve spoken previously about Wales’ flag proudly displaying the heroic outline of a great red dragon. Well, the tale goes that a Celtic king built a castle on a dramatic little mountain known as Dinas Emrys. But each night the walls crumbled, and the castle’s very existence was threatened.
Enter the wizard Merlin (yep, that Merlin), who advised the king that his castle was crumbling because two dragons slept in the mountain beneath. Eventually, these two dragons awoke and fought. The red dragon prevailed over the white, which is why it’s now the symbol of Wales.
The next legend is a little sad, so prepare yourselves. Back in the 13th century, a prince named Llywelyn the Great left his baby in the care of his favourite dog Gelert. When he returned, the heir was missing and Gelert was covered in blood. Yep, you see where this is going. After Llywelyn-the-not-so-great killed his dog as punishment, he found the body of a mighty wolf and his son safe behind it.
It’s alright. You can cry if you want to. We certainly are.
Filled with remorse (rightly so), Llywelyn buried his faithful hound by the river. Eventually, Gelert was immortalised in the name of the village nearby, known as Beddgelert, which translates to ‘Gelert’s grave’.
We’ll leave the legends there for now, but it’s safe to say there are plenty more where they came from. If you love hearing these stories, then you might consider joining us on one of our tours of Wales. Our driver-guides will regale you with more than just facts and figures about Wales, they’ll also share with you the history, myths, and legends of this mystical region.
There are so many things to do in Wales and if you need a bit of inspiration, check out our blog 13 Things to Do in Wales to kick-start your planning. And why stop the adventure in Wales. Keep the excitement going by venturing further east to England or north to Scotland. With so much to offer, the United Kingdom truly is your oyster.