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  Rambler's Top100

Wales, part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, forming administratively a part of England and occupying a broad peninsula on the western side of the island of Great Britain. Wales also includes the island of Anglesey, which is separated from the mainland by the narrow Menai Strait. Wales is bounded on the north by the Irish Sea; on the east by the English counties of Cheshire, Shropshire, Hereford and Worcester, and Gloucester; on the south by Bristol Channel; and on the west by Saint Georges Channel and Cardigan Bay. The maximum north-south extent of the Welsh mainland is about 220 km (about 137 mi); in an east-west direction the distance varies between 60 and 155 km (36 and 96 mi). The total area of Wales is 20,768 sq km (8019 sq mi). Cardiff is the capital, principal seaport, and shipbuilding center.

Land and Resources

Wales has an irregular coastline with many bays, the largest of which is Cardigan Bay. Except for narrow, low-lying coastal regions, mainly in the south and west, Wales is almost entirely mountainous. The principal range is the Cambrian Mountains, which extend north and south through central Wales. Other major highland areas are the Brecon Beacons in the southeast and the Snowdon massif, in the northwest, which reaches an elevation of 1085 m (3560 ft), the greatest in England and Wales. The Dee River, which rises in Bala Lake, the largest natural lake in Wales, and flows through northern Wales and England, is the principal river. In the south numerous rivers flow through steep valleys, including the Usk, Wye, Teifi, and Towy.

Plants and Animals

Most plant and animal life is similar to that of England. Wales has abundant ferns and mosses in low-lying, wet areas. Grasslands predominate at higher elevations. Some wooded areas, including stands of mountain ash, oak, and various coniferous species, are found in the mountains at elevations up to 305 m (1000 ft). At higher elevations chiefly small shrubs, coarse grasses, and alpine flora subsist. Among the few animals found in Wales but not in England are the pine marten and the polecat.


The climate of Wales, like that of England, is mild and moist. The average daily temperature in July is 15.6° C (60° F), and in January it is 5.6° C (42° F). Annual rainfall varies with elevation, ranging from about 762 mm (about 30 in) in certain coastal regions to more than 2540 mm (more than 100 in) in the Snowdon massif.

Natural Resources

Coal is the most valuable mineral resource of Wales; deposits are located mainly in the south. Falling demand for coal since the 1940s has resulted in the closure of many Welsh mines. Some high-grade anthracite is found, but output consists principally of bituminous coal. Slate and limestone are also commercially important, and limited amounts of manganese, gold, lead, uranium, copper, zinc, and fireclays are also found. Much of the soil of Wales is of infertile rocky or leached types. The most fertile soils are in the southeast and in a few coastal areas. Much of the electricity generated by the country's large waterpower resources is exported to England.


The people of Wales, like those of Great Britain in general, are descendants of various stocks, including Celts, Scandinavians, and Romans.

According to preliminary 1991 census data, the population of Wales was 2,798,200. The population density was approximately 135 people per sq km (348 per sq mi). About three-quarters of the population is concentrated in the mining centers in the south.

Principal Cities

The major cities of Wales are Cardiff (population, 1991 preliminary, 272,600), the capital, principal seaport, and shipbuilding center; Swansea (182,100), a seaport and center of the tin-plate industry; Newport (129,900), an industrial center; and Rhondda (76,300), a center of the Welsh coal-mining region.

Political Divisions

Local government in Wales was reorganized in 1974, when the former counties and boroughs were abolished and replaced by eight new counties. The counties are divided into a total of 37 districts, which are further divided into communities. Administration at all three local levels is the function of popularly elected councils. The new and the former counties of Wales, all of which are described in separate articles, are listed in the accompanying table.


The Church of England was the established church of Wales and England until 1920, when it was disestablished in Wales. The Welsh branch of the Church of England is the faith of about 110,000 Welsh. The next largest religious body, with about 72,800 adherents, is the Calvinistic Methodist church, known as the Presbyterian Church of Wales.


Both English and Welsh are official languages. English is spoken by most of the population. A small percentage of the people speak Welsh only; more than one-quarter of the population speak both Welsh and English (see Celtic Languages). As part of an effort to preserve Welsh culture, the government supports Welsh language books, plays, and other artworks.


The educational system of Wales is similar to that of England. In 1970 education was made bilingual, and in some districts instruction is given in Welsh, and English is taught as a second language. See England.

The principal institution of higher education is the University of Wales (1893). The university is composed of the University College of Wales in Aberystwyth, the University College of North Wales in Bangor, University College in Cardiff, Saint David's University College in Lampeter, the University College of Swansea, the University of Wales College of Medicine in Cardiff, and the University of Wales Institute of Science and Technology in Cardiff. In the mid-1980s the University of Wales had an annual enrollment of about 19,500 students.


Somewhat isolated by a rugged, mountainous terrain, the Welsh have retained more of the culture of their Celtic forebears than have either the Scots or the English. A strong feeling of national solidarity exists in Wales, and a nationalist revival has received some political support, to the point that representatives of the Welsh Nationalist Party serve in the House of Commons in London.

The Welsh are well known for their love of singing, and their hymns and folk songs are widely known throughout the world. Music plays a large part in the annual festival, the Royal National Eisteddfod, at which poetry reading and Welsh folk arts are also featured. The Eisteddfod is held each year in a different locality, and Welsh natives and those of Welsh descent from all over the world attend. The International Music Eisteddfod is also held annually in Llangollen.

Cultural Institutions

Principal libraries include the National Library of Wales in Aberystwyth, and the Library of the National Museum of Wales in Cardiff. Some major museums are the National Museum in Cardiff, the Museum of Welsh Antiquities of the University College of North Wales in Bangor, and the Welsh Folk Museum in Saint Fagans. Notable performing companies are the Welsh National Opera Company and the Welsh Theatre Company.

Art and Music

Wales has had few famous painters, but Richard Wilson and Augustus John are world-famous Welsh artists.

Until recent years conditions and opportunities for musical composition, in the modern sense, did not exist in Wales. The long and rich folk tradition, however, has been maintained throughout the rural districts especially, and, since 1906, the Welsh Folk Song Society has done valuable work in collecting and publishing this material. Choral singing, stemming from the religious revival of the late 18th century, is an extremely popular and characteristic part of Welsh musical life. Traditional instruments, especially the harp, are still played. Local and national music festivals play an important role in the cultural life of the region.


Mining is a chief economic activity of Wales and one of the largest single sources of employment. The economy is largely integrated into that of Great Britain.

Agriculture, Forestry, and Fishing

In general the raising of livestock, mainly beef and dairy cattle and sheep, is more important than crop cultivation. Crops include barley, oats, potatoes, and hay. Less than 10 percent of the land is under cultivation, and about 40 percent is in grazing land. Forests cover only about 4 percent of the land, but government reforestation programs are gradually increasing the area. The fishing industry is concentrated along the Bristol Channel.


Coal is the most valuable mineral resource of Wales. The main coalfield is in the southeastern counties. The mines of Wales produce about 10 percent of the total coal output of Great Britain. Limestone and slate are also produced.


The refining of metal ore, much of which is imported, is the major manufacturing industry. Almost all the tin plate and much of the aluminum of the sheet steel produced in Britain is made in the Welsh plants. Since the 1940s many new industries have been established. These include oil refining and the manufacture of plastics, electronic equipment, synthetic fibers, and automotive parts. Milford Haven, in southwestern Wales, has been developed as a major petroleum-importing port and refining center.


Wales is governed as an integral part of England; for the governmental system, see Great Britain. The secretary of state for Wales is responsible for matters relating specifically to Wales.