While we were in the UK in December, the Brit and I spent a few days road tripping through Wales. As I’d never been before, I did a bit of research, and I learned a lot about the country while we were there. So in honour of St. David’s Day (the Welsh national holiday), here are 13 fun and random facts about Wales!
1. March 1st is St. David’s Day
The difficult to date (not romantically, just in birth and death) St. David apparently went to heaven on March 1 in either 589 or 601 A.D. Like his death, his year of birth is also disputed. He was born at some point between 462 and 512 A.D., but we do know his emblem was the dove, and he apparently caused his village to rise on a hill during a sermon. Huh. In more recent centuries, March 1 became the Welsh national holiday in his name, and overall record keeping in Wales has made significant leaps and bounds. Also, leeks seem to be a thing.
2. The dragon is the national animal of Wales
The Welsh take their dragons seriously. I attempted to learn some Welsh before we visited, and one of the first phrases Duolingo had me learn was “draich dw i” (I am a dragon), and the dragon is prominently featured on the flag, and all over Cardiff.
Did you know?
Scotland’s national animal is the unicorn, so between the Welsh and Scots, I detect a theme that I am absolutely on board with. If you read or saw any Harry Potter, we are on the same page and can still be friends. England’s animal is the non-mythical, but still impressive, lion; and Northern Ireland seems to not have a official animal mascot. Ireland can’t seem to decide, but it’s a tie between the hare and the red deer.
3. Songbirds and thespians
The Welsh are well known as sportspeople, but are also historically renowned and portrayed as bards and lyricists. Wales is even known as the ‘land of the song’. (Tangent: Do you remember how Claire thought the travelling Welsh singer was her ticket out of Lioch in Outlander, before Collum squashed that idea?) So it’s no surprise that Tom Jones and opera singer Katherine Jenkins are from Wales. Oscar-winner Catherine Zeta-Jones is from Swansea, and the handsome actors that are Ioan Gruffudd, Tom Ellis, Matthew Rhys, and Luke Evans are also Welsh. Vogue icon Grace Coddington is from Wales, and the late actor Richard Burton, and poet Dylan Thomas were Welsh.
And let’s not forget the man whose books expanded our imaginations to believe in BFGs, Willy Wonka, giant peaches, and telekinesis: Roal Dahl. (The beautiful plaza in Cardiff Bay bears his name. )
4. Wales is a bilingual country
Like Canada, Wales has two national languages, which are English and Welsh. But they take it a step further in that it’s not just the government related buildings and signage that are also listed in Welsh; it’s everything. Even in the grocery stores. A fair percentage of the population speaks Welsh, and I used to work with someone a bit younger than me who took his exams in Welsh.
5. Cwtch is the word
I’ve expressed my love of the Danish concept of hygge in many an occasion and I loved finding out that the Welsh have a similar way of things. Pronounced like “hutch”, there is no one English word to translate it to. It’s more of a feeling of love, warmth, comfort, and/or coziness.
6. You can go underground
Much to the Brit’s delight, we visited the Big Pit National Coal Museum while we were on our road trip. My love’s profession is based in geology, so this was his candy store as we go to underground, into the depths of the mine. (No pictures came from the meat of our tour as they take your electronics from you to prevent any sparks that could cause an explosion. Eek.)
7. Excellent vino
I’m incredibly sad to say that we didn’t get to try any of said vino most of the tasting rooms were closed over the holidays, but the Welsh wine industry is a prosperous one with several award-winning vineyards like Glyndŵr and Ancre Hill. Their jam seems to be sparkling wines and all the vineyards have a b’n’b attached to them. Next time!
8. That village with the longest name
You may have heard of of the train station with the very long name that is Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch. Roughly translated, it means: “St Mary’s Church in the Hollow of the White Hazel near a Rapid Whirlpool and the Church of St. Tysilio near the Red Cave”. Phew! Locals call it (and the village with the same name) Llanfair PG (“Hlan-var Pee Gee”), which is a bit easier to pronounce. But check out this guy nailing it in his weather forecast.
9. They have a hockey team
And by hockey, I should specify that I mean ice hockey. (Hockey there is what we would call field hockey.) Actually, they have two. There is a Women’s national team, but the team that I’ve heard much about is the Cardiff Devils of the UK Elite League. We didn’t get a chance to catch a game while we were in Cardiff, but I’d really love to see one the next time we go back to the UK.
10. Cardiff Castle has a history (obvs)
Though it used to be a Roman fort where I’m sure many important decisions were made, Cardiff Castle was used as an air raid shelter during World War II. Cardiff Castle’s current iteration includes the more romantic fairytale-ish Norman castle and mote that have been there for 2000(!) years, and the Victorian mansion that used to be the residence of the very rich Marquess of Bute. Should you go to Cardiff (and you should), make sure to take the house tour at the castle!
Did you know?
There are apparently more castles per square mile in Wales than anywhere else in the world. The count is at 600+!
11. You can travel the world under a dome
The National Botanical Garden of Wales in Carmarthenshire is home to the world’s largest single-span glasshouse, which features horticulture from all over the world. Every few steps is like stepping into another country. So, if it’s cold and rainy, step into the glasshouse and walk to Australia or South America for a little warmth.
12. Surf’s up
When I think of Wales, rugby, Tom Jones, dragons, and gorgeous coastline. Not surfing. But like Tofino on Vancouver Island, people travel to the Pembrokeshire (west) coast town of Newgale to surf. No joke. It was the beginning of January, and these crazy people were out there having the time of their lives in the cold water. Surfing, kayaking, swimming, fishing. I was so cold on their behalf! But they were having a grand time.
13. Stadium stats
Cardiff’s Principality Stadium boasts the UK’s largest fully-retractable roof, which takes just 20 minutes to open or close. All at the touch of a button. Similar to Vancouver’s BC Place, this was clearly a sporting venue built for the unpredictable elements!
Do you have any random fun facts about where you’ve travelled or where you live? I’d love to hear them!
Meistr pob gwaith yw ymarfer
(The achievement of all work is practice.)