Why it’s time to dump North Wales and South Wales and come together as a nation

Where does North Wales end and South Wales begin? Picture by Chris Hadfield/NASA

Craig ab Iago

There are many things that people could claim as being unique to Wales, but perhaps the strongest contender for that claim would be the way we divide our country up with the terms North Wales and South Wales.

The words north and south can be nouns, adjectives or adverbs but when they are used with capital letters as part of a name, as in North and South Wales, it is the noun form that is being used and the words become part of a proper name.

There are plenty of examples of the use of this noun form in place names, North and South Carolina, North America, South Australia, North Yorkshire and South Africa to name a few, but these are all distinct geographic entities with clearly defined borders.

North and South Wales have no such borders; no one knows where North Wales ends and South Wales begins (nor for that matter where West Wales and Mid Wales fit in), they are just vague references to the northern and southern parts of our country.

From what I can tell, there are no other examples, anywhere in the world, of the use of the noun form of north and south to describe non-delineated regions of the same country or place.


The general worldwide rule of thumb seems to be, when you want to refer to the bottom and top parts of a geographical or political entity you use the adjective form of the words with an “of” (as in the south of Spain), or the adjectives northern and southern (as in northern England).

There are many examples that demonstrate how this rule works. Southern Scotland refers to anywhere in the bottom half of Scotland; however, South Scotland is one of the eight electoral regions of the Scottish Parliament.

North Korea is not the northern half of Korea it’s the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, a completely separate entity from the more southerly South Korea.

But perhaps the best way of showing how serious this rule is taken by the rest of the world is with Vietnam. Between 1954 and 1976 Vietnam was divided into two separate countries, North Vietnam and South Vietnam, but since their re-unification at the end of the war with the USA these terms have disappeared.

Now when you want to refer to the top and bottom third of that country you speak about northern and southern Vietnam.


But for some reason, we have decided that we don’t like the inclusivity of “northern Wales” or the solidarity of “the south of Wales”. Instead, we are the worldwide anomaly, the Welsh exception that proves the global rule, the etymological quirk.

And as if this situation wasn’t weird enough, it has even been exported. New South Wales exists in isolation, there’s no New North Wales above it and it’s not part of a greater New Wales; it’s there as if to solidify South Wales’ separateness.

A new Australian state named by an Englishman after a vague geographical concept 10,000 miles away, and for no known reason. But even here, at least the rule was adhered to and New South Wales is a political construct with clearly defined borders.


How has this happened? Well, as far as I see it there are two obvious possible explanations. The first one is that the English terms come from translations of the Welsh Gogledd Cymru and De Cymru.

There are Welsh words for northern (gogleddol) and southern (deheuol) but as far as I know they are never used in conjunction with places, therefore Northern Ireland (another anomaly but one with positive connotations) is Gogledd Iwerddon, the north of England is Gogledd Lloegr, and North Korea is Gogledd Korea.

So whilst Gogledd Cymru could mean North Wales, it could also mean northern Wales or the north of Wales. Perhaps whoever translated it first chose the one that suited them best.

The second option, and in my opinion the one more likely, is that as England’s first colony the terms were deliberately designed to divide Wales.

Rule number one in any aspiring conqueror’s handbook is divide and rule and what better way to do that than by nominally cleaving a country in two? This theory has the advantage of being backed up by England’s long history of “confidence” when it comes to naming places.


The word Wales itself, the name most of us, unfortunately, use for our own country, comes from the other side of Offa’s Dyke, originating in the Anglo Saxon for foreigners.

Then there’s the favourite of the English establishment, “the Principality”, a subtle, pat on the head reminder (made even more subtle by its lack of any basis in fact) of our place in the relationship with our easterly neighbour, and cleverly dressed up as a regal compliment.

The renaming of hundreds of Welsh towns, villages and houses by English speakers to something easier for them to say and more reminiscent of “home”, again indicates a certain subtlety of power.

It doesn’t end with place names either. The English have neatly summed up the Welsh, Scottish and Irish national characters with the names Taffy, Jock and Paddy, terms that, no matter how they are used, are always loaded with an expectation of inferiority; we all know that “Taffy was a Welshman, Taffy was a thief”.

And of course, there is no equivalent name for the English character. The appropriation of our country’s name by the playboy princes Willy and Harry Wales, despite them being born, brought up and living in England, voraciously supporting England, being walking definitions of quintessential Englishness, and having no link to Wales at all, is evidence that the name game is not a thing of the past; these things don’t just happen by accident.


Furthermore when you look at a map of Britain the terminology used is incredibly Anglo-centric and doesn’t tend to fit the actual geography of the island.

“The North” refers to anywhere between Sheffield and Newcastle, and a man from London would automatically expect someone from Thurso, a Scottish town 500 miles north of Sheffield, to understand where he was talking about when he spoke about “up north”.

Similarly, The Midlands means the English midlands and not the geographical midlands of Britain which is somewhere up by Middlesbrough. And you’ve got to love the self-belief of the term The Home Counties!

Places and people were named from an English perspective and according to an English agenda. This is understandable in its context; England made history, Wales had history forced upon it.

But part of that agenda has been, and I submit still is, control of Wales and the best way to achieve that is a North Wales and South Wales forever apart; capitalised, confused and squabbling over minuscule differences.


Granted this might not be the biggest, most obvious of Wales’ present problems, but it just might lie at the root of them all.

In any abusive relationship, control is gained in very small, subtle increments and is complete once the victim starts to think and talk like the oppressor and self-regulate the required behaviour.

Until we stop using terms that have been directly or indirectly designed to divide, deride or denigrate us, we run the risk of never having the self-belief and self-esteem to ever really solve any of our problems.

No doubt some people will tell me to lighten up and not take it all so seriously (another common control tactic) but a north/south rule that the rest of the world adheres to instinctively doesn’t get broken accidentally, and being unique in this respect is not something we should aspire to.

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  1. Interesting idea. I’m not sure it’ll make a massive difference though.

    Scotland refers to the Borders, Lowlands and Highlands for example, and Lowlands and Highlands are just a more complicated way of saying bottom and top or south and north.

    I live in Cardiff and get irritated when non Welsh people assume everything in South Wales is the Valleys.

    We will always use geographic terms to help us describe an area (even the USA happily use the East and West Coast as geographic terms and Engalnd has the North East and North West etc)

  2. The northern most part of Ireland is in the South. Totally agree there is one Wales. Beware of these Labour government looms who think the capital of the north is Manchester and the south Bristol.

  3. Further to my comment I’d also say I don’t think any normal people or indeed any govt dept views it as North or South / Black or White here’s a line on the ground etc.

    Talking to Keith – Manchester is not the ‘Capital of North Wales’ but we mustn’t ignore the economic benefits that are brought to north east Wales (capitalize the N & E if you want) from it’s close proximity to Chester, Liverpool and yes Manchester.

    • Had investment historically been made in towns and industries in the north of Wales, the economic benefits of Chester, Liverpool and Manchester would not be necessary.

      • Yes, but why should we want to build a metaphorical wall between England and Wales and stop moment and trade between the two? One area will always be richer, more prosperous or dare I say it more popular than the other – let’s embrace it and take advantage of it.

        • Cantre'r Gwaelod

          We’re disadvantaged from the outset – being part of the englandandwales jurisdiction is a huge disadvantage to Cymru. The we have situations where Cardiff Airport is not allowed to control APD tax, because it might disadvantage Bristol! Only an insane, weak country would allow this. If we had the control and powers, I’d happily share your view – because we could start getting to work on changing a pattern that has lasted 800 years. If we’d been in a league formation with other parts of the uk over the past 800 years, Cymru would’ve been relegated every single year (hopefully no league below). If we made the rules, we would see the full potential of our people and country.

        • no is building a wall or a strict border…..jeez…please…too much fear and smearing…I want a connected world…but empowered in all communities…not london etc

    • liverpool is much more a capital to many in north wales than Manchester anyway….although the Welsh assembly is trying to force us to think manchester is our economic capital

    • We have had collaborations and shared strategic plans with Manchester Merseyside etc for 20 + years,through the Mersey Dee alliance and others. Can you explain what are the perceived economic benefits have been and what do you perceive have been the overall outcomes in terms of quality of life ,and general well being for our part of Wales?

  4. Our son, yrs ago, told me that he’d studied this very topic when at school in Birmingham. He found that there was a deliberate government policy to divide Wales making north Wales a part of the midlands and south Wales attached to south England.

    • And what policy is that? Genuine question, I would genuinely like to learn more about it. Please could you share it with us.

    • Muddy Valley

      Hi, It would be very interesting to know the source(s) of this if is is possible. How long ago was you son taught this?

  5. This is a very good article but I think there’s another historical reason for North and South Wales, which is also linked to colonial exploitation – Wales as a modern country largely built up around the raiilroads that were used to extract goods from the south of Wales (coal and iron) and the north of Wales (coal, slate and goods from Ireland). While the west-east transport links were very good (and still are) the north-south transport links never really developed. As a result, national newspapers never really developed – you had n. wales newspapers and s. wales newspapers. They in turn created a feeling of sub-national north and south Wales identities. The answer is to use the internet to bridge the gap between north and south, as Nation.Cymru is doing!

    • Dafydd Huw Rees

      And I think, there, you’ve summed up the structural problem of modern Wales. No national transport infrastructure – no internal market – no public sphere – and here we are. But identifying the problem is a step towards solving it.

    • Cantre'r Gwaelod

      I think Euro 2016 helped with this…! It was great drinking beers with people from all corners of the Country.

    • Cantre’r Gwaelod

      Dim o’r sylwadau nes i wedi ymddangos..?

    • That’s the region/area known as West Wales and the Valleys – basically a dog eared gerrymandered map so lump poorer parts of Wales together to qualify for EU Objective 1 funding.

      There is nothing else those areas have in common, not culturally, not socially, not politically etc, it was designed to gain extra cash – nothing more nothing less.

  6. As Ifan says above, it’s all to do with transport links but it goes back long before the ‘extractive industries’ of the Industrial Revolution; the main trade routes ran East-West even when the main goods were wool and lamb.

    Bear in mind also that Wales was rarely a single political entity even before there was an ‘England’ as we know it today. The physical geography of Wales is a sparsely populated upland ‘spine’ alongside which there are a number of isolated areas of habitable farming land – Llyn and Eifionydd, Anglesey, the Vale of Clwyd, the Dee and Severn valleys, Ceredigion, South Pemrokeshire, Camarthenshire and the Vale of Glamorgan- which in turn formed the nucleii of the early mediaeval Welsh Kingdoms and later the old counties. They were rarely united under one polity for more than a generation, by kings such as Hywel Dda and the Llywelyns.

    We’re here because we want the future to be different from the past, and while the internet has a place the only real answer is to improve the transport infrastructure, which means road and rail. This ought to have been the Welsh Government’s first priority from its inception, and it’s an indictment that 20 years on the only tangible change has been the introduction of Von Ieuan’s Express tearing down via Chester, Shrewsbury and Hereford to get people down from the North coast to Cardiff a bit quicker (there was Ieuanair as well, of course, but the last thing I heard that had gone bankrupt).



    P.s. sorry for shouting, just passionate 😉

  8. On the A470 going north there is a sign just as you get to Merthyr which advises drivers on the best route to Canolbarth Lloegr / The Midlands. This, to me, exemplifies the issue. In the English language we tend see things from an English cultural point of view. “The Midlands” should, to the people of Wales, mean Powys, Ceredigion and maybe Meirionnydd, but it doesn’t. It means the bit of England between Stoke and Oxford.
    In Welsh, we all know what we mean when we refer to ‘y Gogledd’ because, culturally, we speak Welsh almost invariably in a Welsh cultural context. In English, it’s much more ambiguous, and the qualifier ‘Wales’ is subconsciously and traditionally applied when we talk about ‘the North’.
    I’ve been conscious of this for some time and have been deliberately referring to the North and the South without qualification, and I have to admit that it occasionally causes confusion. I’m also painfully aware that references to ‘the Midlands’ are substantially more likely to be ambiguous, and confess that through cowardice I tend to refer to ‘the Middle’.
    I suspect that until there has been a hard political border down the east of our country for some years, this will continue to be an issue.

    • But surely ‘The Midlands’ refers to the land in the middle of GB? It is often then divided into East and West (never north and south) It goes right up to the Welsh border on England’s western boundary, where the eastern edge is I don’t know – but I don’t think anyone would class places such as Boston, Skegness or King’s Lynn on England’s east coast as the Midlands would they?

      If your question is why are there no road signs in the north or south of Wales that say ‘Mid Wales’ I don’t know. Maybe ask the local council/Welsh Government.

  9. An Aberystwyth-Carmarthen railway would basically fix this. But it will always be seen as a nationalist project so Labour nor Tories will touch it.

  10. Nicholas Stradling

    When Anthony Hopkins read out the nominees for the Best Foreign Language film at the 1994 Academy Awards he said “and from South Wales my home country, Hedd Wyn”

    The article could also touch on transport links. A big part of the divide and conquer.

  11. I agree with the need of good transport links between all parts of Cymru. We already have the A470 north south link.
    What we really need is good rail links, and will only get that from a Cymru state railways.
    That should have been one of the first policies of the Cymru/Wales government, instead of building a domestic rail industry we let the UK put our railways under Duetsche-bahn, Did they become modernised and efficient like the German domestic railway? No, they just took the profits when they were there and go.
    Now even another non-domestic company could take over. It is time that the Government here took over our nations railways from England’s network rail. If the Labour party in government is incapable to do that…..

    Perhaps those members of the Labour party that want an economy based here in CYMRU and particularly those that supported the meeting last month in Carmarthen (Labour for independence) should stop deluding themselves about the nature of the Labour party and support PLAID CYMRU for an INDEPENDENT CYMRU/WALES.

  12. The author talks about divisions foisted upon Wales.

    What about divisions foisted upon Welsh-speaking areas by the adoption of a Local Development Plan which will mean some 8,000 additional houses for Ynys Mon and Gwynedd?

    And who adopted this plan- dividing nationalist councillors completely in Gwynedd?

    Well none other than Plaid Cymru, including one Cabinet member called Craig ap Iago( our author).

    An erstwhile fierce opponent of the Local Development Plan, he somehow contrived to change his mind overnight to become a passionate advocate of the plan.

    Could that have been anything to do with his elevation to the Plaid Cymru Cabinet( and an addtiional £10,000 to his normal £12,000 salary as an ordinary concillor ) I wonder??

    • So basically, any Welsh language campaigning Welsh nationalist who doesnt agree with you on the answers to our housing and language problems is a traitor, one who’d ditch all his principles for the sake of £10,000! There cant possibly be another answer.

      The Local Development Plan was a huge issue that many people, including myself, felt very passionate and emotional about. Most of the people opposing it (including the ones from Felinheli) are people i respect and admire for the stances they have taken on this and many other issues.

      The truth is (well at least my truth), is that i became a councillor and then a cabinet member because i desperately want to make sure my children can grow up living in a healthy, happy and Welsh Gwynedd. I did not do it for the the money; that would have been a spectacularly badly thought out plan.

      I have tried lots of other ways of achieving that future for my children; i’ve been arrested on numerous occasions, i have organised Welsh language events, run Welsh language projects, and have bored people to tears with my unrelenting passion for the subject. I have also done an MA in Language Planning and Policy. In the year before the Local Development Plan vote i wrote my 20,000 word MA dissertation on the link between housing and the Welsh language.

      Now that doesnt make me any more of an expert on the language or housing than anybody else. But it does mean i probably based my decision on how to vote on a little more than a £10,000 pay rise.

      Im now the cabinet member for housing in Gwynedd, and my belief is that every citizen of this county deserves a home, not just the people who already have one. Achieve that and we wont need to worry about the language anymore. I want to get there in colaboration with the people who feel as passionate about the subject as i do, regardless of whether they agree with me on everything. I’ll leave the creation of foistered divisions to others.

  13. Rhywle de o Machynlleth yn y de a rhywle gogledd o Gorris Ucha yn y gogledd.Hawdd!!!

  14. Mi ges gen I loris efo cyfeiriad fel Rhyl,North Wales neu Bridgend South Wales ymlaen.Lle arall Mae Rhyl neu Bridgend!!! Pam ddim Cod Post yn unig?!!

  15. I have a good friend in Pen-yr-Groes, Gwynedd, Gareth who jokingly describes De Cymru as anything beyond – pont afon Llyfni – the next village: saying that’s the line which seperates Cymru from those, tu hwnt . Good read though, Graig – Diolch yn Fawr!

  16. Cantre'r Gwaelod

    Whilst we’re on pet hates….

    One I’ve developed is the naming of time period’s for the reigns of english monarchs – I always wonder, what would the Cymry call those era’s?

  17. Nicely argued Craig.

    I think that the small linguistic correction you seek is actually much more important for the possibility of an independent Wales than the transport links that several commenters above would prefer to talk about. If a new rail line does connect ‘North’ and ‘South’ Wales in the next few years, the media coverage, signage and timetables will all use the capitalised forms by default.

    This is how nations get imagined into being – or not being.

    The split that’s come from this linguistic division is, demonstrably, a big one – contrary to Gareth’s claim above. In the present day it is perfectly normal for people in the south of Wales to refer disparagingly to ‘North Wales’, whilst Kim Erswell’s comment clearly demonstrates that the reverse also applies – even if these things are said ‘jokingly’. Historically, Cymru Fydd was destroyed at an 1895 meeting in Newport by people labelling themselves as ‘the Englishmen’ of ‘South Wales’. And George Thomas (may a special chamber in hell always be kept open for him) referred to the mountains that protected ‘the North, not just from the English, but from the South Welsh as well!’

  18. The BBC refers to a parliamentary constitutency called “Cornwall North” on their website. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/politics/constituencies/E14000837 however it seems to be officially called “North Cornwall”: https://constituencyfinder.digiminster.com/Search?searchTerm=cornwall
    North Cornwall used to be a district council, but is now defunct since Cornwall became a single unitary authority in 2009. If the parliamentary boundary review is implemented in its current form, the constituency would disappear to be replaced with a cross-border constituency. North Cornwall would then become an obsolete but possibly still used name like East Germany and Czechoslovakia.

    North Devon is another example similar to the way North Wales is used, there is a North Devon District Council, but North Devon is often used to refer to a wider area also including the Torridge District and the actual southern limit may be a bit vague. South Devon doesn’t correspond to a single council or parliamentary entity but may be what ever hasn’t been included in North Devon, unless there is a separately defined Mid Devon.

    Notice that the “constitutency finder” on http://www.parliament.uk/about/how/elections-and-voting/constituencies/ still says “As Parliament has been dissolved, there are no MPs.”

  19. “The word Wales itself, the name most of us, unfortunately, use for our own country, comes from the other side of Offa’s Dyke, originating in the Anglo Saxon for foreigners.”
    I disagree and possibly Owain Glyndŵr and his wife Marred ferch Dafydd would have disagreed. Many Cymro have lived East of Offa’s Dyke.
    One of the most significant villages in all of Cymru is East of Offa’s Dyke. Rhiwabon.
    Please check even the modern day boundary of Cymru.

    • Indeed. The border has never been hard, and was created in such a way as to put English on the Welsh side and vice versa. Many on the eastern side of the border have very strong Welsh identities especially in towns like Oswestry and Hereford. Indeed, I know of many in Hereford who would be very happy to join Wales.

      We’ve never been a clear-cut people, and I think it’s important to remember that. The look on actor Ioan Gruffudd’s face when he discovered he was directly descended from Edward I proves that in Wales, no matter how pure we think we are, nothing is du a gwyn.

  20. References to “North Wales” are, like the “Principality”, anachronisms. “North Wales” was the term used by English kings in the High Middle Ages for Gwynedd, the lands ruled over by Llywelyn the Great and others. When used in that context, it did refer to a defined political unit. At the same time, it no doubt reinforced the sustained diplomatic effort by English kings to sow divisions between the preeminent Welsh ruler and the princely dynasties of the South.

  21. Not sure what Cymru, Cymro, Cymraes, Cymraeg illustrates if not emphatic Welsh. Is it lack of use or deference to English, in which case the answer is conditioning. The solution to that is reconditioning. It’s possible to achieve through greater use of our language, its familiarity, association and assimilation into our psyche. A dominant Welsh nationalism.
    One that’s confident about the future of the Welsh language, it’s future as an independent Nation in control of its means of production and politics. These should go together as a base for establishing identity with self, and goals we set ourselves as a progressive Country that recognises liberalism, democratic socialism, and tolerance, within the context of one state nationalism. No exclusions, or exemptions. Whether a north, south, east or west calculation. To separate Wales on grounds of use of language or a large immigrant presence in defined areas particularly East side, is to metaphorically move boundaries until Cymru become unrecognisable.

    This is a cultural issue that needs defining and addressing urgently.

    The lack of a Welsh identity is bound up in changing traditional Welsh names of buildings, naming new roads or streets, and many other identifiers of historically Welsh heritage.
    No other self respecting country would so easily relinquish such momuments of its history and identity.
    The fight has just begun. The tide needs turning. Our Government needs to be more active in protection our birthright. Not to do so is a flagrant abuse of its remit to make Cymru a better, more prosperous, and culturally balanced Nation, bilingually free. With nationals and those living here the centre of its mission.

    To minimise the policies and development needed now, is irresponsible. All in government at Cardiff must become partners in a new message of hope and transparency in making us United as one powerful Nation with shared prosperity, cooperation and self belief.

    It can be so.

  22. james humphreys

    Living in Scandia and corresponding with others, we always use Wales only. Just Do It.
    And power? Look at how the EU are humiliating Westminster.
    We should spend a few years elsewhere, as it really changes the perspective.

  23. Roddy Walters

    Changing the terminology from ‘North Wales’ and ‘South Wales’ to ‘northern Wales’ and ‘southern Wales’ might help, but as long as rail and road communications between north and south are poor with the principal arteries in the north and south, the A55 & M4, leading out to England and economic growth being concentrated along them, separation between northern Wales and southern Wales will remain.

    • nailed it / i’r dim

    • Don’t the A55 and the M4 lead in to Wales rather than out of it? My own research tends to indicate that the A55 brings a lot of economic benefits to Northern Wales that would otherwise remain within the M6/M56/M62/M61 corridor etc? Sadly simple geography is the real issue. I read recently that the good folk of the Shetlands were pretty ambiguous about Holy-rood or Westminster rule as neither offered an option they felt would truly represent them and their interests. I guess the issue is one of what brings Southern, Northern and mid(?) Wales together, are economic ties more valid than the heavily lauded cultural ones?

  24. Darn sydd yn peri meddwl – diolch.

    Ond onid ydyw’r termau’n deillio o’r hen deyrnasau: Deheubarth, Powys, Gwynedd? Dwi’n cofio gweld cyfeiriadau o hen lyfrau lle mae termau fel Nortwaliae yn bodoli fel cyfieithiad i Gwynedd.

    Yn anffodus, mae dau gysyniad am y tir ein bod ni’n byw arno: yr un cynhenid – Cymru; a’r un a ddaeth efo’r gomeswyr yr Eingliaid – Wales – gwlad y ceithweision, yr estroniaid, yr untermenschen, ‘pacis’ celtaidd os hoffech chi.

    Ein dyletswydd ninau ydy i sicrhau parhad y draddodiad cynhenid.

  25. Wow, so many comments. Fy mheniwyrth i …. Wrecsam is the capital of northern Wales. Chester benefits from the big pool of cheap trained labour in Clwyd ex Brymbo and Shotton skilled workers. And is the main cause of much new housing beyond the Chester greenbelt.
    It is high time we had a Wrecsam Cardiff motorway and a direct rail link via Brecon. Much bigger populations than the proposed Caerfyrddin Aberystwyth link.
    Oh, and Colwyn Bay FC and Merthyr FC need to join the welsh league instead of being aliens in Englands minor glue based leagues.

    Petroc – Gwersyllt

  26. Hooray, Petroc! Positive thinking.

  27. Are there alternatives to the hideous 3\4 lane motorways concreting its way through the green and pleasant lands of Wales. Once dug and the very charm that makes this land special will yield to access to the largesse of others who are normadic, settle nowhere, bring chaos of road use, be outdated in 20 years and bring nothing but housing estates and popcorn. And lucrative spill from the more prosperous areas of the UK. At least Wales is not a tax haven.

    I have serious doubts about any radical infrastructure. We had a perfectly super transport system in the valleys until Beeching axed it. Two separate train networks, high and low level each with two rail tracks.
    A national red and white bus service and a fast service to Cardiff. The need for a motor car was secondary.

    Transport needs careful planning. A major new roadway is out dated and environmentally damaging.
    The investment is needed, without doubt. But please not a monster road that will damage further the social and cultural heritage of Wales and induce further depletion of a rural communities already under threat from an uncertain future under Brexit

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