(Click the map above to see tour route)
After leaving Ireland, we entered Wales, a part of The United Kingdom. Let's get some common terms straight before we proceed. People speak of 'the British," and "the English." What's the difference, and what is the "UK"? OK, the English live in England, and the British include everyone living in "Great Britain," which is made up of England, Scotland and Wales. The United Kingdom is composed of Great Britain and the six counties that make up Northern Ireland. Are we confused yet? Then consider that The United Kingdom is itself an abbreviation for the official name, which is "The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland." Enough! We are now in Wales.
Facts (and a few fancies) about Wales
I made some interesting discoveries about Wales while cruising the Internet. It seems the Welsh invented and discovered even more than the Russians! If one can believe some of the stories I ran across, Welsh folk may have settled America before Columbus, and in fact, America may have been named for a Welshman. For the stories behind these, and other fascinating tidbits, check out http://www.britannia.com/celtic/wales/facts/.
The early history of Wales is not a lot different from that of Ireland - a country settled by Celts, and subsequently invaded by Vikings and Normans. But Wales also was invaded by the Romans, who had left Ireland pretty much alone. Later, the English kings took over rule of the country at about the same period in history that they took control in Ireland. But Wales is very different from Ireland in some other respects. The native Welsh language, though also of Celtic origins, is different from Irish Gaelic, and the religious heritage has been Protestant, at least since the time of Henry VIII.
Wales, like Ireland, has had a long history of rebellion against English domination. However, the rebels in Wales were seldom violent, as they were in Ireland, and therefore did not gain international notoriety. Wales is still a part of the United Kingdom, but the country finally gained its own national assembly in 1997. There are still areas of Wales where Welsh is spoken as a first language, and many signs are printed using both Welsh and English. The country has a population of not quite 3 million. (By the way, the entire UK is slightly smaller than the State of Oregon.)
We had crossed the sea from Ireland to an island called Anglesy, off the coast of Wales. After a short stop in Holyhead for lunch, we headed across a bridge connecting the island to the mainland, and proceeded through Snowdonia National Park and through spectacular and rugged mountain scenery to the town of Llangollen. (Don't try to pronounce Welsh names. They are real tongue-twisters.)
Here are some photos I took crossing Llanberis Pass in the mountains, and in Llangollen, where we spent the night. Can you spot the mountain climbers in the fourth picture?
We had a treat at the Hand hotel in Llangollen. A Welsh choir showed up to serenade us in the hotel bar. The Welsh are renowned for their male choirs, (and their love of singing in general) and these fellows were great! There were about 15 of them, and as the evening progressed, and they consumed more beer, they got even better.
The next morning, we headed into England for a stop in Chester, before proceeding north into the lowland hills of Scotland. Here are a few pictures I took in Chester, including the cathedral and some distinctive half-timbered buildings.
So now we were off to Scotland.