Short History of Wales

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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 country.

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 rivers.


By land and by sea, race after race has come to make the hills of Wales its home. One race would be short, with dark eyes and black hair; another would be tall, with blue eyes and fair hair. They came from different countries and along different paths, but each race brought some good with it. One brought skill in taming animals, until it had at last tamed even the pig and the bee; another brought iron tools to take the place of stone ones. Another brought the energy of the chase and war, and another a delight in sailing a ship or in building a fortress.

One thing they had in common--they wandered, and they wandered to the west. From the cold wastes and the dark forests of the north and east, they were ever pushing west to more sunny lands. As far back as we can see, the great migration of nations to the west was going on. The islands of Britain were the furthest point they could reach; for beyond it, at that time, no man had dared to sail into the unknown expanse of the ocean of the west. In the islands of Britain, the mountains of Wales were among the most difficult to win, and it was only the bravest and the hardiest that could make their home among them.

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