It has been inhabited since prehistoric times, and has been settled by Neolithic nomads since the end of the Ice Age around 10,000 BCE, when the land bridge with the European continent was still intact. By 3500 BCE established tribal Bronze Age farming communities had cleared the forests, were producing manufactured goods, and building chambered tombs like Bryn Celli Dhu, and were trading by sea across vast distances.
By the middle of the first century Roman legions were advancing into Wales, and despite strong resistance from the ruling tribes the country was subdued within three decades. Although the south coast of Wales was assimilated into Roman society, with the construction of the two Roman civitates of Carmarthen and Caerwent, the rest of the country remained very much a frontier area with locals still speaking Brythonic. The wealthy mineral seams were extensively mined by the invaders, producing gold, silver, copper and lead, which was shipped to the south east of England for processing.
After the Romans left Britain in the 5th century the history of Wales began and lasted until the death of Llywelyn ap Gruffydd in 1282 and the conquest of Wales by Edward I, although Owain Glyndwr’s resistance in the 15th century gave a brief respite. Wales was united with England in the mid 16th century.
When the Romans left Britain in 410 CE, the vacuum left was filled by invading Anglo Saxons who conquered and assimilated into all eastern England. The independent Welsh Brythonic tribes resisted the spread although their borders were pushed westwards towards today’s border by the Mercians. There was still Welsh resistance and to guard the border of the Marches in the mid 8th century King Aethelbald of Mercia built Wat’s Dyke a forty mile long earthwork stretching from the River Dee southwards to Maesbury, but placing the town of Oswestry at the Welsh side. Well constructed the bank and ditch defences protecting the English lands took advantage of local features and terrain to best optimise the position. Aethelbald’s successor, King Offa, continued building the dyke (Offa’s Dyke) which, although not up to the same quality, did encompass the full border with Wales and passing Oswestry to the west brought the town into English lands, but built on the eastern side of the River Wye did give use of the river to the Kingdom of Gwent.
Following the initial fighting between the Welsh and the Vikings who invaded Anglesey in 853, a truce was made between the protagonists, and the Welsh king, Anarawd ap Rhodri, went to York to form an alliance with the Norsemen of Northumbria against the Mercians who continually threatened the Welsh borders. Anarawd was a bit fickle however and, breaking the treaty, he allied himself with King Alfred of Wessex to fight against the West Welsh (Cornish).
The name Wales comes from the Anglo Saxon word for foreigner, Waelisc, and the prefix “wal” found in many place and peoples names usually refers to the Celtic peoples encountered by the invaders from the continent. The Welsh however call themselves Brythonic or British but by the 10th century the name Cymry or Cambrian had come into use.
For the next 200 years there was a lot of fighting between the various Welsh Kingdoms until 1039 when Gruffydd ap Llywelyn having eliminated all his foes and relations became the first and only ruler of all Wales. Having failed to capture Gruffydd at his court at Rhuddlan in 1062, the following year Harold Godwinson sailed an invasion fleet into south Wales whilst his brother Tostig advanced from the north east. Gruffydd fled into the mountains of Snowdonia only to be murdered by his own men, and his head sent to Harold. As seems fashionable at the time Harold married Gruffydd’s widow, only for her to be widowed again in 1066 when Harold was killed at Hastings. Once again Wales reverted to individual tribal kingdoms.
By 1070 the Normans were in complete control of England, but the Welsh border was a problem to them. William gave all the adjoining lands to his most powerful barons, who along with English lords holding land on the Welsh side of the border, became known as the Marcher Lords, who were a law unto themselves. The Welsh Marches continued until 1536 when the union was formed between Wales and England. Llywelyn ap Gruffydd acquired the title of Prince of Wales from Henry III, but by 1282 Edward I had invaded and conquered Wales, and having constructed great castles at Conwy, Caernarfon and Beaumaris, he made his Welsh born son the first “English” Prince of Wales. Before the formal Union in 1536 there were two more uprisings, that of Madog ap Llywelyn in 1295 and Owain Glyndwr in 1404, both to no avail.
Having been mainly reliable on agriculture, since the 18th century Wales has been a big player in the British industrial scene. A tradition of mining and quarrying paid dividends when the access of local coal enabled them to engage in copper and steel production and slate quarrying, which along with coal exports made them world leaders until the 20th century.
Great Orme and Conwy Estuary
Llandudno Pier and Little Orme
Quarry Men's Cottages Nantile Village
Cottages, Gower Peninsular