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When people think of Wales, they tend to think of rolling hills, an obsession with rugby and unparalleled numbers of sheep. Wales is often seen as a place of history, a mist-shrouded redoubt of Celtic culture and Arthurian Legend. However, while this undeniably forms part of Wales’ makeup, there’s plenty more for the modern visitor to get their teeth into. Let’s take a quick look.

Wales is more country than city, with mountain ranges, rolling agricultural land and several Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (more on those later) spread across its 8 counties: Gwent, South Glamorgan, Mid Glamorgan, West Glamorgan, Dyfed, Powys, Gwynedd and Clwyd.

This is not to say that Wales lacks major centres – take Cardiff and Swansea, for example – but, with an overall population of only 3.09 million people, Wales is less than 6% as populous as England. Indeed, there are far more people living in jut London than in all of Wales put together (5 million more to be precise!).

Welsh Customs

Wales is not just another geographical region of the UK, it is a separate nation. The Welsh are known for their national pride and famous rivalry with the English.

The Welsh Language

A big component of this separate identity is the fact that the Welsh have their own language – a language spoken on these shores long before a word of English was uttered. And, as anyone who has visited Wales will tell you, Welsh can be incredibly difficult to pronounce, let alone understand. Take the town of Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch, for instance (this is not a joke).

The Annual Population Survey conducted by the ONS in June 2018 suggested that 29.7 per cent of the population of Wales aged 3 and over were able to speak the language, a figure that rises substantially if we head to North West Wales, the heartland of the Welsh language.

Rugby Union

Rugby union is the national sport of Wales and is considered to be a large part of national culture. It’s believed that the sport reached Wales in the 1850s, with the Welsh Rugby Union (WRU) being formed in 1881.  Rugby union has a particular hold on the national psyche of Wales, especially with the Six Nations tournament, which sees the Welsh and English national teams face-off against each other every year in a match that’s much more than just sport.

Hating the English

The Welsh have butted horns with the English over the years and the two countries are known for their hostility towards one another, particularly when it comes to sport.

A major factor historically were concerns regarding the decline of the Welsh language in favour of English. Other factors have included religious differences, industrial disputes, resentment over England’s historical conquests of Wales (more on those below), and the perception that England unfairly benefits from Wales’ natural resources, such as coal and water.

“Look what these b******s have done to Wales. They’ve taken our coal, our water, our steel. They buy our homes and only live in them for a fortnight every year. What have they given us? Absolutely nothing. We’ve been exploited, controlled and punished by the English – and that’s who you are playing this afternoon.”

Phil Bennett, Welsh Rugby International 1969 – 1978

A Bit of Welsh History

That most favoured of Welsh customs – hating on the English – cannot truly be comprehended and appreciated without a quick Welsh history lesson. While the rivalry between Wales and England is nowadays more tongue-in-cheek than anything, it has come to blows in the past.

The Early Years

Originally, Britain was a Celtic land that spoke – wait for it – Old Welsh, and its fundamentally Celtic character outlasted the Roman occupation. It was only with the Anglo-Saxon invasions of the 5th century that today’s distinction between England and Wales emerged, as the native Britons (or at least their language and culture) were pushed West: into today’s Wales, Cornwall (“Horn of the Welsh”) and Cumbria.

This “Greater Wales” is the setting for much Welsh literature, including perhaps the world’s most famous cycle of myths and legends: the story of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. In fact, modern visitors to Wales can visit the apparent resting place of the magical sword Excalibur, the legendary fortress of Camelot and Arthur’s Stone. While the factual truth of these stories is debatable, it does lend Wales a certain mystique. And there are many people, who, to this day, still await the return of the once and future King.

The English Conquests of Wales

Wales was conquered by King Edward I between 1277 and 1283 (Edwardian Conquest of Wales), after which the Welsh principalities became vassals of the King of England. While the initial victory was easy, and the conquest was completed with minimal resistance, Edward and the English had to deal with numerous violent rebellions during the years that followed. None of these were successful but led to a lot of bloodshed and expense.

The last major rebellion against English rule took place from 1400 – 1415, led by Owen Glendower, the last native Welshman to hold the title ‘Prince of Wales’.

Modern-Day Wales

Nowadays, there is no widespread support for an independent Wales. In a YouGov poll from September 2015, 17% of Welsh people indicated that they would vote for independence, while another poll by Face for Business suggests support could be as high as 28 per cent. So, considerably less support than was found for the Scottish Independence Referendum of 2014.

More recently, in the Brexit referendum in 2016, Wales chose the “Leave” option by 53% to 47%.

Job Prospects and the Economy

Modern Wales is a developing and ever-changing place. And, for all that we’ve bigged up the historic and sporting rivalries between the Welsh and the English, Wales is a perfectly safe place to English people – people of all nationalities in fact – to live and to prosper.

The employment landscape in Wales has changed drastically over the last hundred years. Coal, steel and slate mining used to be mainstays of the Welsh economy. But, nowadays, these industries all find themselves in decline.

Tourism and public services have taken over as the main employers in modern Wales. The traditional heavy industries have also given way to lighter manufacturing, such as electronics, parts and technology.

Wales also scores proportionately higher than the rest of the UK for employment in public administration, defence, education & health (which is not the same as the public sector), the production sector and the forestry & fishing sector. The country also has 58,374 people engaged in work on agricultural holdings.

However, despite the steady emergence of new sectors to replace the old, unemployment in Wales remains higher than in both Scotland and England, and average wages are lower. For workers in Wales, median gross weekly earnings for full-time working adults stood at £509 in April 2018, £60 less than the national average for the UK (£569).

While wages in Wales are yet to catch the rest of the UK, the country did have the fastest-growing economy in the UK last year, with an annual growth rate of 1.9% according to figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS). Last year also brought good news for people in Cardiff, whose Gross Value Added (GVA) per head outgrew that of Londoners – 4.5% compared to 3.7%.

This growing economy, at least in the regional centres, alongside the cheap cost of living across Wales, potentially makes it one of the best places to live in the UK from a lifestyle point of view. Add to this the fact that average property prices here sit at £153,000 – much lower than the UK average of £227,000 – and you can see why so many people are moving to Wales.

Cardiff’s financial services sector has been one of the fastest-growing among UK cities over the past 20 years. The Welsh capital is already home to the Admiral insurance group (Wales’ only FTSE 100 Company) and Principality, the UK’s sixth largest building society. In recent years, they’ve been joined by a host of younger companies taking advantage of cheap business rents (at least compared to London) and the cosmopolitan talent pool the city attracts.

As of 2014, just shy of 50,000 people worked in Cardiff’s financial and professional services sector, representing almost a quarter of the city’s total employment. In 2015, the UK government designated South Wales a “financial centre of excellence” – making it one of only eight outside of London.

Beauty Spots of Wales

Wales boasts a number of excellent latterday employment opportunities, but this is not what sets the region apart. What you get from moving to Wales is direct access to the country’s natural beauty and points of touristic interest.

Whether it’s the extreme mountain scenery of Snowdonia, the impressive Pembrokeshire coastline or the dramatic Brecon Beacons, Wales has plenty of jaw-dropping and awe-inspiring landscapes to keep you entertained.

Snowdonia

With wild landscapes and chocolate-box villages steeped in history, the Snowdonia National Park is the perfect destination for holidays, short breaks or days out with family and friends. While the area may be known for its hiking, there are many other things to enjoy and marvel at – like waterfalls, lakes or the vintage steam railway that climbs the highest peak in Wales.

Dominated by the legendary Snowdon, the tallest peak in Wales, and measuring over 800 square miles, Snowdonia is Wales’ largest, highest and oldest national park. With defined trails strewn with gorgeous wildflowers, there are more than 90 peaks for you to explore in the park, 15 of them over 900m in height and seven higher than Scafell Pike, the highest mountain in England.

Pembrokeshire Coast

If the mountains aren’t your thing, the Pembrokeshire Coast should get you going (you guessed it, it’s at sea level). The Pembrokeshire Coast National Park is the UK’s only coastal national park and was recognised by the National Geographic Traveler magazine as the 2nd best coast destination worldwide.

Having become a national park in 1952, the Pembrokeshire Coast invites visitors to enjoy weatherworn cliffs, crystal-clear waters and excellent wildlife-spotting locations. While it’s undoubtedly at its best in the spring and summer months – when the bluebells are in blossom and the butterflies a-dance – the coastline is also the perfect place to blow off the cobwebs in the winter.

Brecon Beacons

A visit to Wales wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the Brecon Beacons. Whether it’s the limestone caves or the Pen y Fan and Cribynn peaks, the Brecon Beacons has so much to offer visitors that it’s hard to put it in writing.

With stunning green landscapes, numerous waterfalls and an abundance of charming towns and hearty pubs, the Brecon Beacons is the type of place that you can easily get lost in. The scenery of the Brecon Beacons was moulded during the Ice Age, and there are plenty of prehistoric monuments to explore for the curious visitor. And, if you’re something of a night owl, the National Park – the only International Dark Sky Reserve in Wales – offers some of the best star-gazing opportunities in the UK.

The Wye Valley

The last area of incredible beauty to mention, and the place to be awarded the first “food tourism destination” award in Wales, is Wye Valley and Vale of Usk. With Roman forts, gorgeous canals and a short but mesmerising mountain range, Wye Valley has something for every type of visitor.

It’s not all about the scenery though. The Wye Valley is also popular on account of the Abergavenny Food Festival. With over 200 stalls, the festival showcases the best of Welsh cooking to the world and features master classes, tasting sessions and celebrity-chef demonstrations. The festival takes place within ancient castle grounds and offers up a real festival atmosphere – this is a weekend that you can’t afford to miss!

Welsh Delicacies

Speaking of cooking, Wales has produced its fair share of delicious delicacies, many of which have achieved worldwide renown.

Welsh Rarebit

While Welsh rarebit is served all around the world, what we have here, essentially, is jazzed-up cheese on toast. Recipes for rarebit can include ale, mustard, cayenne pepper, paprika and Worcestershire sauce. You can either make the cheese sauce separately and pour it onto the toast, or you can mix the ingredients together and place them directly onto the bread before grilling. Either way, it’s delicious, hearty, traditional food.

Bara Brith

If you’re after a sweet treat, Bara Brith, also known as “speckled bread”, is the perfect solution. Bara Birth is a sweet bread enriched with dried fruit and flavoured with tea and mixed spices. It tends to be served sliced and buttered at tea time, and such has been its popularity that it has spawned a whole new culinary category, including Bara Brith chocolate and Bara Brith ice cream.

Welsh Lamb

Wales, home to more sheep than people, is, unsurprisingly, known for having some of the finest lamb around. The relationship between Welsh people and sheep is older than time and the butt of many jokes (no, we won’t go there), but there’s no denying that their lamb is some of the finest on the planet.

This meat is the product of a uniquely beautiful landscape that has been blessed for centuries with the best of natural ingredients available: clean air, sweet spring water, fresh grass and fragrant heather. Not only that. Such is its excellence that Welsh lamb has been awarded Protected Geographical Indication status – the European Commission’s food name scheme aimed at preserving and promoting special foods that are unique to their terrain.

Moving to South West England? Top Locations

It’s easy to see why so many people love Wales: its beautiful terrain, delicious food and the endless list of things to do. And, with rising salaries and low house prices, Wales is becoming more appealing as a place to live than ever before. It’s this perfect mixture that makes Wales one of the best places to live in the UK right now.

Cardiff

Capital and largest city in Wales, Cardiff is famous for its castle, the Millennium Stadium and the Great British Cheese Festival.

Newport

A cathedral and university city in south east Wales, Newport is well located for commuting into Cardiff and Swansea. The city remains a significant manufacturing and engineering centre, with a regenerated city centre.

Swansea

Wales’ second city, Swansea was once a key centre of the copper industry. Now the economy is based largely on transport, public services, tourism and leisure.

It’s easy to see why so many people love Wales: its beautiful terrain, delicious food and the endless list of things to do. And, with rising salaries and low house prices, Wales is becoming more appealing as a place to live than ever before. It’s this perfect mixture that makes Wales one of the best places to live in the UK right now.

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