Introductoin || 2: The Wandering Nations >>
Wales is a row of hills, rising between the Irish Sea on the west and
the English plains on the east. If you come from the west along the
sea, or if you cross the Severn or the Dee from the east, you will
see that Wales is a country all by itself. It rises grandly and
proudly. If you are a stranger, you will think of it as "Wales"—a
strange country; if you are Welsh, you will think of it as "Cymru"—a
land of brothers.
The geologist will tell you how Wales was made; the geographer will
tell you what it is like now; the historian will tell you what its
people have done and what they are. All three will tell you that it
is a very interesting country.
The rocks of Wales are older and harder than the rocks of the plains;
and as you travel from the south to the north, the older and harder
they become. The highest mountains of Wales, and some of its hills,
have crests of the very oldest and hardest rock—granite, porphyry,
and basalt; and these rocks are given their form by fire. But the
greater part of the country is made of rocks formed by water—still
the oldest of their kind. In the north-west, centre, and west—about
two-thirds of the whole country,—the rocks are chiefly slate and
shale; in the south-east they are chiefly old red sandstone; in the
north-east, but chiefly in the south, they are limestone and coal.
Its rocks give Wales its famous scenery—its rugged peaks, its
romantic glens, its rushing rivers. They are also its chief wealth—
granite, slate, limestone, coal; and lodes of still more precious
metals—iron, lead, silver, and gold—run through them.
The highest mountain in Wales is Snowdon, which is 3,570 feet above
the level of the sea. For every 300 feet we go up, the temperature
becomes one degree cooler. At about 1,000 feet it becomes too cold
for wheat; at about 1,500 it becomes too cold for corn; at about
2,000 it is too cold for cattle; mountain ponies graze still higher;
the bleak upper slopes are left to the small and valuable Welsh
There are three belts of soil around the hills—arable, pasture, and
sheep-run—one above the other. The arable land forms about a third
of the country; it lies along the sea border, on the slopes above the
Dee and the Severn, and in the deep valleys of the rivers which
pierce far inland,—the Severn, Wye, Usk, Towy, Teivy, Dovey, Conway,
and Clwyd. The pasture land, the land of small mountain farms, forms
the middle third; it is a land of tiny valleys and small plains, ever
fostered by the warm, moist west wind. Above it, the remaining third
is stormy sheep-run, wide green slopes and wild moors, steep glens
and rocky heights.
From north-west to south-east the line of high hills runs. In the
north-west corner, Snowdon towers among a number of heights over
3,000 feet. At its feet, to the north-west, the isle of Anglesey
lies. The peninsula of Lleyn, with a central ridge of rock, and
slopes of pasture lands, runs to the south-west. To the east, beyond
the Conway, lie the Hiraethog mountains, with lower heights and wider
reaches; further east again, over the Clwyd, are the still lower
hills of Flint.
To the south, 30 miles as the crow flies, over the slate country, the
Berwyns are seen clearly. From a peak among these—Cader Vronwen
(2,573 feet), or the Aran (2,970 feet), or Cader Idris (2,929 feet)—
we look east and south, over the hilly slopes of the upper Severn
Another 30 miles to the south rises green Plinlimmon (2,469 feet);
from it we see the high moorlands of central Wales, sloping to
Cardigan Bay on the west and to the valley of the Severn, now a
lordly English river, on the east.
Forty miles south the Black Mountain (2,630 feet) rises beyond the
Wye, and the Brecon Beacons (2,910 feet) beyond the Usk. West of
these the hills fade away into the broad peninsula of Dyved.
Southwards we look over hills of coal and iron to the pleasant sea-
fringed plain of Gwent.
On the north and the west the sea is shallow; in some places it is
under 10 fathoms for 10 miles from the shore, and under 20 fathoms
for 20 miles. Tales of drowned lands are told—of the sands of
Lavan, of the feast of drunken Seithenyn, and of the bells of
Aberdovey. But the sea is a kind neighbour. Its soft, warm winds
bathe the hills with life; and the great sweep of the big Atlantic
waves into the river mouths help our commerce. Holyhead, Milford
Haven, Swansea, Newport, Barry, and Cardiff—now one of the chief
ports of the world—can welcome the largest vessels afloat. The
herring is plentiful on the west coast, and trout and salmon in the
Introductoin || 2: The Wandering Nations >>