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Wales measures roughly 225 km from north to south and between 60 and 160 km from west to its east, where it has a border with England. This border region, known as the Marches, is a stretch of pasture land much broken by hills, woods, and twisting rivers. It rises to the Cambrian Mountains, which stretch down the centre of the country. In the south-east are the Brecon Beacons and the former coal mining valleys, and in the south-west the Pembroke Peninsula with its rocky coasts. Snowdonia is in the north-west.
The Welsh have always been lovers of sports, but rugby stands out as by far their favourite.
Welsh people have rugby in their blood; they are born to play and they are born to win.
- Leader of Plaid Cymru (Welsh Political Party), 1995
This is a sentiment with which all Welsh people would agree. While association football has something of a following in Wales, it is eclipsed by the love of rugby, which is a shame, some say, as there is substantial soccer talent in Wales, as the likes of Matthew Jones and Ryan Giggs have proven. Sport in Wales is not just something people like, it is something people love; it is a passion and a part of life. The Welsh are arguably the most competitive country in the UK but to say they were the most talented would be an exaggeration - even the Welsh admit they're not the best in the world, though they do try to be.
Coal-mining and steel production were the main economic activities in Wales until the 1980s, when depletion of the coal seams led to closure of most of the mines. Coal mined in South Wales was of extremely high quality and the region was the world's chief exporter of coal in the 19th Century. The closure of the mines led to a great rise in unemployment in Wales. Farming is, and has for a long time been, a major part of the Welsh economy. After the closure of the mines sheep farming became the main contributor to the economy because the irregular hills and mountains make it incredibly difficult for heavy industry or other large scale developments.
The population of Wales, which is Celtic in origin, resisted the Romans who only penetrated as far as Anglesey in a campaign against the Druids, and when they left, the population was increased in size by British refugees from the Saxon invaders. By the 7th Century, Wales was isolated from the other Celtic lands of Cornwall and Scotland. Christianity gradually spread throughout Wales by such missionaries as St Illtud and St David, but politically the land remained disunited, having many different tribes and kingdoms. Gwynedd, Deheubarth, Powys, and Dyfed emerged as the largest kingdoms.
From the 11th Century, the Normans colonised and feudalised much of Wales and Romanized the Church, but the native Welsh retained their own laws and tribal organisation. There were several uprisings but as each revolt was crushed, the English kings tightened their grip. Although Llywelyn the Great (who ruled from 1194 to 1240) recovered a measure of independence, Edward I's invasion in 1277 ended hopes of a Welsh state. Llywelyn II was killed in 1282, and in 1301 Edward of Caernavon (Edward II) was made Prince of Wales. Thereafter Wales was divided between the Principality, royal lands, and virtually independent marcher lordships. The unsuccessful revolt of Owen Glendower in the early 15th Century revived Welsh aspirations, but Henry VIII, the son of the Welsh Henry VII, united Wales with England in 1536, bringing it within the English legal and parliamentary systems. Welsh culture was eroded as the gentry and church became Anglicised, although most of the population still spoke only Welsh. A Welsh form in the Bible of 1588 brought Christianity into Wales and pushed other Pagan religions out.
The social unrest of rural Wales, voiced in the Rebecca riots, resulted in significant emigration. The Industrial Revolution brought prosperity to South Wales but during the Great Depression in the 1930s many people lost their jobs. Unemployment was exacerbated by the closure of most of the coalfields by the 1980s and remains a problem despite the introduction of a more diversified industry. Political, cultural, and linguistic nationalism survive, and have manifested themselves in the Plaid Cymru Party, the National Eisteddfod, and Welsh-language campaigns. Although a Welsh referendum in 1979 resulted in an overwhelming vote against devolution, this result was reversed in 1997, when a small majority backed the creation of a Welsh assembly.
There can be no other flower which spells the arrival of spring quite so well as the national flower of Wales. The daffodil, botanical name Narcissus amaryllidaceae, is also known as the 'Lent Lily' because it is usually in bloom around that time. It's traditionally worn on St David's Day (1 March) because it is supposed to bloom first on that day.
Nothing makes Wales stand out more, however, than its Language. There have been many attempts to resurrect the language and one of these is a vast educational programme to sustain the language; this includes a nursery school movement, both Welsh-language and bilingual primary and secondary schools, and university degree schemes through the medium of Welsh, as well as facilities for teaching the language to adults. Modern Welsh is very unlike English as it is descended from British, the Brythonic language and the original language of Britain. As England undertook the influence of French and Germanic languages, Welsh developed independently. The spoken language has several dialects but has been declining on the whole since 1485. In Victorian times, children in Wales were punished for speaking Welsh so at present few people speak only Welsh. The Welsh language has an entirely different alphabet:
There are no letters J, K, Q, V, X or Z in the Welsh alphabet though some Welsh letters produce the same sounds as these missing ones - such as 'F' in Welsh, which is pronounced 'V' and 'cs' which is pronounced 'X'. The big difference between English and Welsh is that words are pronounced exactly as they are seen. Although the Welsh alphabet does not posses the letter J it still has the all-famous surname 'Jones'. This is because during his reign Henry VIII Anglicised all really Welsh names, so the Welsh surname 'Sion' was converted into the more English 'Jones' and 'Coch' became 'Gogh' etc.