Updated: Dec 2, 2022
Last week we took a look at five things we're missing about Cardiff this Springtime, focusing primarily around nature, sunshine and architecture, all things that we can all very much appreciate about the Welsh capital. This week, let's look at some of the more fun and wacky historical facts and anecdotes relating to Wales, its people, landscape and history, that may come as a surprise to some.
From running hundreds of walking tours of Cardiff, and Swansea, over the last two years, many of these nuggets of information are the facts that visitors take home with them. As much as we love the industrial heritage and Victorian architecture of south Wales, it is the humble fun fact that anyone can enjoy and appreciate, regardless of their tastes and interests.
There of dozens of examples of course, but here are five of our personal favourite fun facts about Wales that you may not be aware of....
The Welsh language has crossed into English more than you might imagine, and a great example is the word penguin. A merger of the Welsh words Pen (head) and Gwyn (white) gives us the name one of the planet's favourite creatures. There are other examples of course, such as corgi or bard, but penguin remains the most popular and fun example.
2. Mount Everest
Earth's tallest peak is named after Sir George Everest, of Crickhowell. He was a British surveyor and geographer who served as Surveyor General of India in the 1830s. Everest never even saw the mountain that now bears his name, but he was responsible for hiring Andrew Scott Waugh and Radhanath Sikdar, who discovered that it may be the tallest mountain in the world. Waugh subsequently proposed that it be named "after my illustrious predecessor". Wales is responsible for many discoveries in everyday life today, like the equals sign (=) or radio messaging, but Everest is our favourite.
Bonus fun fact: Mount Everest contains an area named the Western Cwm, a glacial valley.
3. The World's First Passenger Railway
Railways had been common in UK in the late 1700s as a means of transporting coal and limestone, for example. However it was not until 25th March 1807 that people started to use railways as a means of transporting themselves, and that first occurred in Swansea! The Swansea and Mumbles Railway, or The Mumbles Train as we more commonly refer to it, carried 12 lucky people on the five mile journey from Mumbles to central Swansea on a horse-drawn carriage upon a railway track. Over the following 153 years steam powered trains and electric trams took over, before closing for the final time in 1960.
*To see a replica of the world's first passenger railway (left), as well as the last surviving piece of the final tramcar, you can visit them at Swansea Museum. The tramcar shed is closed, of course, at the moment, but thankfully you can still see clearly through the window in Swansea Marina, between the Waterfront Museum and the Dylan Thomas Theatre.
4. 600 Castles
Wales has more castles per square mile than any other country in the world, with 600. The castles of Wales can be found in different states of repair these days, but Wales' history has left a landscape scattered with Iron Age hill forts, Roman ruins and castles from Medieval Welsh princes and English kings. Some of the finest examples include the castles of Conwy, Caernarvon, Cardiff and Caerphilly, which is incidentally the second biggest in the whole of the UK.
5. A Welshman brought Christianity to Korea
Robert Jermaine Thomas, from Rhayader, Radnorshire, was a protestant missionary based in China in the 1860s. He brought Chinese versions of the Bible to Korea on his first visit in 1865, learning Korean and earning the trust of the locals. He achieved his desire to return for a second time in 1866, by hitching a lift as an interpreter with an armed American trading ship. The ship, the General Sherman, was attacked and destroyed by the Koreans at the mouth of the Taedong River, but Thomas managed to toss bibles onto the river bank before he was killed. Today, Thomas is revered in Korea and is a more well known figure there than in his native Wales. Over a quarter of South Koreans today are Christian.
There are dozens of further examples of facts and stories like this but these are five of our current favourites. These five alone cover language, geography, architecture, religion and the natural world, so they offer a good representation of Wales at home and further afield. Perhaps we will have to do another list like this is the future as the possibilities are endless.
What are some of your favourite facts about Wales and its people? Feel free to tell us in the comments.
*Fogo's Free Tours offers tours of Cardiff & Swansea all year round. However, due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic we are in a unusual scenario in the tourism industry. As a result, all tours are suspended indefinitely and will return as soon as is possible. Keep and eye on the homepage (fogosfreetours.com), for the most up to date tour information.*
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