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In Rejuvenated Wales
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Next Door and a World Away

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By Simon Worrall Photographs by Vincent J. Musi

Pride in its ancient—and tongue-twisting—language and an economy on the rise are powering the new Cymru.

Get a taste of what awaits you in print from this compelling excerpt.

“Simon, do you want to try the first one?” asked our teacher, Carole Bradley, on the first morning of a three-day crash course in the Welsh language at Cardiff University. Carole, a shy woman with frizzy blond hair, couldn’t have been nicer. But as I stared at the words Betws y Coed, I began to get that sweaty feeling I remember from school when Mr. Crawshaw, the choleric chemistry teacher, would quiz us about the periodic table.

“Bet-woos-ee-co-ed,” I stammered.

“Betus-uh-coyd,” corrected Carole, rhyming the first word with lettuce.

Her students, nine of us in all, were a heterogeneous bunch. Andrew, whose shoulder-length hair made him look like a character from Wayne’s World, was here because his Welsh-speaking girlfriend wanted to talk to him in her native tongue. Bleddyn, an intern at Friends of the Earth, wanted to improve his job prospects.

“Beware of false bedfellows,” warned Carole, “Welsh words that look like familiar English words but are pronounced completely differently.” Take the word gallu, for instance. I had assumed that it would be pronounced something like those famous winemaking brothers in California. I was wrong.

“Gackley!” squawked Carole, making a noise like the gears crashing in my old Volvo. Welsh is a guttural language, and for us it meant doing things with our uvulas we had never done before. “You need to drink lots of coffee,” Carole added encouragingly, “to get the spit going in your mouth.”

For three days we hacked through the dense undergrowth of this arcane language, growling like Tigger, crunching consonants as though chewing on gravel. It was fun saying gwin gwyn, Welsh for white wine, or sgod a sglod, a colloquialism for fish and chips. My favorite was the wonderfully onomatopoeic word for the game of squash, sboncen, from the verb “to bounce.” By day two we could ask, “Dych chi’n gallu chwarae rygbi?" "Can you play rugby?” By day three we were ready for the ultimate tongue twister, the name of a village in north Wales: Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch.

The language has always been the ultimate marker of Welsh identity, but a generation ago it looked as if Welsh would go the way of Manx, once widely spoken on the Isle of Man but now extinct. Government financing and central planning, however, have helped reverse the decline of Welsh. Road signs and official public documents are written in both Welsh and English, and schoolchildren are required to learn both languages. Welsh is now one of the most successful of Europe’s regional languages, spoken by more than a half million of the country’s three million people.

Get the whole story in the pages of National Geographic magazine.

Missed the Press
Foot-and-mouth disease strikes the Davies-family livestock. Learn more in this late-breaking update.

Hear National Geographic staffer Aled Greville demonstrate the multisyllabic tongue twisters of his native language as he reads text from the excerpt at left.

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Online Extra
Author Simon Worrall relates how the Welsh add their own style and flavor to the United States. Get a taste of that flavor with a recipe for Welsh cakes. Then hear the sounds of Wales from native singer Iona Jones.

In More to Explore the National Geographic magazine team shares some of its best sources and other information. Special thanks to the Research Division.

The Welsh language is experiencing a revival among young people not only in Wales but also in Patagonia: The Argentine province of Chubut, some 700 miles (1,125 kilometers) south of Buenos Aires, is home to the largest group of Welsh speakers outside Wales. Welsh influence in Patagonia dates from May 1865, when 153 emigrants—most of them from the coalfields of south Wales—sailed from Liverpool aboard the ship Mimosa. They had a model Welsh state in mind, a society entirely Welsh in language, culture, and religion. The Argentine government welcomed settlers to the largely unexplored territory, but hunger and disease took an early toll: By 1867 only 90 settlers remained in what the Welsh called Y Wladfa, The Colony. They persevered and eventually thrived, raising a surplus of wheat and building a strong community. By 1914, when a series of migrations came to an end, about 3,000 Welsh people had come to Patagonia. Today their descendants number about 25,000. Argentina imposed governmental control early on, and Spanish gradually replaced Welsh as the main language, but many continue to nurture their traditions. Since the early 1990s, when retired teachers began giving Welsh lessons, the language has staged a comeback, becoming fashionable even among the non-Welsh.
For more information on the Welsh settlement in Patagonia, see the reading list posted by the National Library of Wales at

—Kathy B. Maher

For more about Patagonia, see this month’s online feature Chile’s Wild Coast.

Sain Recording Company
For rock to religious, classical to country, check out the latest in Welsh music from Wales’ leading record company. You’ll also get photos and bios of your favorite Welsh artists, samples of their recent tracks, and updates on new releases.

Leite’s Culinaria
Got a craving for fish cakes or lemon pudding—Welsh style? Chef David Leite scoured Wales in search of a few culinary delights. Read about his search and recreate his recipes.

Wales Tourist Board
Before traveling to Wales, check out the official website of the Wales Tourist Board for information on places to stay and things to do.

Welsh Culture
Welsh words have you tongue-tied? “Britannia’s Guide to Wales” relates the fascinating story of the Welsh language and includes a language guide that will give you confidence in no time! This comprehensive site also offers a wealth of information on Welsh culture, traditions, and history.

BBC Online Wales
Check the latest news bulletins, find out what song tops the Welsh pop chart, and see if it’s raining in Cardiff on this British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) site.

National Assembly for Wales
Interested in learning more about the new Welsh Assembly? This site can give you the basics.

Welsh Development Agency
Check out the business climate in Wales with this informative site.

National Eisteddfod
Among the rich cultural traditions in Wales, the National Eisteddfod is one of the most ancient and certainly the most popular, drawing crowds from all over the world each year to Wales in early August. Held entirely in Welsh (and enjoyed by all in attendance), the competitive festival features all aspects of Welsh culture: music, dance, drama, literature, and art. Get more background—and the latest news about Eisteddfod 2001—at this site.

Welsh Rugby Union
Founded in 1881, the Welsh Rugby Union gives avid fans of the Llanelli Scarlets and other Welsh rugby teams the latest news online.

Royal Commission on the Ancient & Historical Monuments of Wales
The Royal Commission on the Ancient & Historical Monuments of Wales (RCAHMW) has compiled extensive historical, archaeological, and geographic databases relating to Welsh landmarks.


Davies, John. A History of Wales. Penguin Books, 1995.

Llewellyn, Richard. How Green Was My Valley. Scribner, 1997.

Morris, Jan. The Matter of Wales: Epic Views of a Small Country. Penguin Books, 1998.

Parker, Mike, and Paul Whitfield. Wales: The Rough Guide. Rough Guides, 2000.

Sager, Peter. Wales, trans. David Henry Wilson. Pallas Athene, 1998.

Thomas, Dylan. Under Milk Wood. W.W. Norton and Company, 1984.


Somerville, Christopher. The National Geographic Traveler: Great Britain. National Geographic Books, 1999.

St. Maur Sheil, Michael. “Wales: A Journey to the Heart,” National Geographic Traveler (July/August 1993), 24-43.

Bryson, Bill. “Britain’s Hedgerows,” National Geographic (September 1993), 94-117.

Shrapnel, Norman. “Britain’s Castles: Grim Haunts, Glorious Homes,” National Geographic Traveler (January/February 1992), 58-71.

Ogburn, Charlton. “Broad Vistas on Narrow Gauge—Riding the Little Trains of Wales,” National Geographic Traveler (Summer 1985), 62-73.

Hodgson, Bryan. “Wales, the Lyric Land,” National Geographic (July 1983), 36-63.

Fisher, Allen C. “The Investiture of Great Britain’s Prince of Wales,” National Geographic (November 1969), 698-715.

Villiers, Alan. “Wales, Land of Bards,” National Geographic (June 1965), 727-769.

Nolan, John E. H. “Caldy, the Monks’ Island,” National Geographic (October 1955), 564-578.

Wilkinson, Norman. “British Castles, History in Stone,” National Geographic (July 1947), 111-129.

Hutchison, Isobel Wylie. “Wales in Wartime,” National Geographic (June 1944), 751-768.

Lockley, R. M. “We Live Alone, and Like It—On an Island,” National Geographic (August 1938), 252-278.

Graves, Ralph A. “A Short Visit to Wales: Historic Associations and Scenic Beauties Contend for Interest in the Little Land Behind the Hills,” National Geographic (December 1923), 635-675.


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