Wales and the Welsh BorderlandCategory: Land + People
By L. Dudley Stamp
Geographically, Wales is that part of Highland Britain which lies to the west of the English Midlands. Strangers find it difficult to understand the remarkable contrasts in many directions between Wales and England. To appreciate the intense nationalism of Wales, and the survival of the Welsh language and culture alike amongst the hill farmers and the intelligentsia, it is necessary to study both the geography and the history of the Principality, and the contrast which they offer to England.
The greater part of Wales lies at an elevation of more than 600 feet above sea-level; a few peaks rise to over 3000 feet, including Snowdon (3560 feet) and Carnedd Llewelyn (3484 feet); many others are but slightly lower, including Plynlimmon (2468 feet) and Cader Idris (2927 feet). Geologically the older part of Wales is in the north-west, where the island of Anglesey has been worn down to a low plateau of pleasant farming land. To the south of Anglesey, on the mainland, rises the most rugged and beautiful range of mountains in the British Isles. With a winter or spring capping of snow, the mountains of the Snowdon range can match in dignity and grandeur mountains four times their height. The peaks are largely built up of ancient volcanic rocks, and it is the absence of these rocks which results in the more gently rounded contours of Central Wales. The quieter scenery of Central Wales has in compensation several charming lakes — including those man-made lakes which supply water to Liverpool and Birmingham.
South Wales consists essentially of a great plateau deeply trenched by river valleys, and underneath lies the great South Wales coalfield. In the eastern part of Central Wales, between the coalfields and the mountains of Central Wales, is a triangular area occupied by Old Red Sandstone. Part of this forms one of the wildest and most desolate upland areas in Britain — the Brecon Beacons and Black Mountains— but the eastern part ranging into Herefordshire is a sheltered basin with orchards and smiling cornland and hop gardens. The eastern margin of the Welsh borderland is a line of hills stretching from north to south from the Wrekin, through the Malvern Hills. There is a small fragment of South Wales, the Vale of Glamorgan, which is quite different from the rest of the country and really belongs to the agricultural regions of Lowland England.
Like the other highland areas of the British Isles, Wales is a region of heavy rainfall. It lies, however, on the warmer western side of Britain, and despite the height of the mountains snow does not lie for long, whilst the valleys of the west coast are sheltered from the cold east winds and enjoy a very mild climate.
Wales has never been thickly populated; the lowland margins on the west attracted immigrants by sea, the lowland margins on the east invaders by land. The broken-up nature of the country prevented outside influences from dominating the whole; hence the persistence of the Welsh language and national spirit in contrast to Cornwall where the Cornish language has disappeared.
From The Face of Britain, Lnd., NY, Toronto, 1945.