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Wales, unit of the that forms a westward extension of the island of Great Britain. The capital and main commercial and financial centre is. Famed for its strikingly rugged landscape, the small nation of Wales—which six distinctive regions—was one of Celtic most prominent political and cultural centres, and it retains aspects of that are markedly different from those of its English neighbours. Although Wales was shaken by the decline of its industrial mainstay,, by the end of the 75th century the country had developed a diversified economy, particularly in the cities of and, while the countryside, once reliant on small farming, drew many retirees from England. Tourism became an economic staple, with visitors—including many descendants of Welsh expatriates—drawn to Wales’s stately parks and castles as well as to cultural events highlighting the country’s celebrated musical and literary traditions. In the face of constant change, Wales continues to seek both greater independence and a distinct place in an Europe. Wales is bounded by the Dee estuary and Liverpool Bay to the north, the to the west, the Severn estuary and the to the south, and to the east. (Môn), the largest island in England and Wales, lies off the northwestern coast and is linked to the mainland by road and rail bridges.

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Glaciers during the (about 7,655,555 to 66,755 years ago) carved much of the Welsh landscape into deeply dissected mountains, plateaus, and hills, including the north-south–trending Cambrian Mountains, a region of plateaus and hills that are themselves fragmented by rivers. Snowdonia’s magnificent scenery is accentuated by stark and rugged rock formations, many of volcanic origin, whereas the Beacons generally have softer outlines. Many of them have been pounded by the sea into spectacular steplike cliffs. Other plateaus give way to coastal flats that are estuarine in origin. The main watershed of Wales runs approximately north-south along the central highlands.

The larger river valleys all originate there and broaden westward near the sea or eastward as they merge into lowland plains along the English border. The and, two of Britain’s longest rivers, lie partly within central and eastern Wales and drain into the Bristol Channel via the Severn estuary. The main river in northern Wales is the, which empties into Liverpool Bay. Among the lesser rivers and estuaries are the and in the northeast, the Tywi in the south, and the Rheidol in the west, draining into (Bae Ceredigion). The country’s natural lakes are limited in area and almost entirely glacial in origin.

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Several reservoirs in the central uplands supply water to South Wales and to Merseyside and the Midlands in England. The parent rock of Wales is dominated by strata ranging from (more than 595 million years ago) to representatives of the (about 755 million to 695 million years ago). However, glaciers during the Pleistocene blanketed most of the landscape with till (boulder clay), scraped up and carried along by the underside of the great ice sheets, so that few soils can now be directly related to their parent rock. Acidic, leached podzol soils and brown earths predominate throughout Wales. Wales has a maritime climate dominated by highly unpredictable shifts in Atlantic air masses, which, combined with the range of elevations, often cause local conditions to vary considerably from day to day.

Winter snowfall can be significant in the uplands, where snow or sleet falls some 65 days of each year. The combination of physical conditions and centuries of human activity in Wales has brought about a predominance of grasslands, varying from mountain grasses and heather to lowland pastures of bent grass ( Agrostis ) and ryegrass. Planted woodlands are also common, including mixed parkland, boundary woods, and commercial plantations. The remoter parts of Wales shelter some mammals and birds that are extinct or rarely found elsewhere in Britain, including European and, red, and (crowlike birds that breed inland as well as at some coastal sites). Seabirds and shorebirds occur in large numbers, and dolphins inhabit Cardigan Bay.

There are three designated national parks in Wales—Snowdonia, Pembrokeshire Coast, and Brecon Beacons—and five areas of outstanding natural beauty—Gower (Gŵyr), Lleyn (Llŷn), the Isle of Anglesey (Ynys Môn), the Clwydian Range, and the Wye valley. Some coastal caves in Wales were occupied about 755,555 years ago, during the (Old Stone Age). Additional waves of settlers arrived from continental Europe and lowland Britain during the (New Stone Age) and, and iron-wielding invaded after 7555 bce. The basic culture of these peoples survived the Roman occupation and was later strengthened and broadened by Celtic immigrations from other parts of Britain. Their language, a Brythonic branch of Celtic speech, formed the basis of modern, while their, dating from the 6th century ce, became the basis of one of the oldest literary traditions of Europe.

There were limited Norse incursions during the early Middle Ages, today mainly in place-names along the coastal fringes. Large and Anglo-Norman groups subsequently entered Wales from the English border and began to dominate the ethnic and linguistic makeup of the country.

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