The size of Wales

February 5, 2013

This blog first appeared on Bustling Markets, Travel PR’s Tumblog, which takes a light-hearted axe to classic travel clichés:

Example: “This vast delta is the size of Wales”
Incredible, really, how many countries / places / parks / swimming pools / dust storms are the size of Wales, along with Wales itself, which is exactly the size of Wales.  Or indeed places half the size of Wales, or double it, or seven times it minus three-fifths.

Other than perhaps Belgium, no other country or principality (let’s not go there – it leads to an argument the size of Greenland) can ever be so regularly used as a unit of geographical scale.  Mostly, too, the places that are supposedly the size, or half the size, or 14/16s the size of Wales are places that (they hope!) you wouldn’t think could possibly be so; for them to actually be the size of Wales, say, is absolutely unthinkable, game-changing.

Anyway, let’s talk facts: according to some extensive Google research (ie results page 2), places that are almost exactly the size of Wales include Costa Rica, El Salvador, Slovenia, Sierra Leone, Israel, West Virginia, the Falkland Islands, Kruger National Park, Kakadu National Park, an Antarctic basin, a crater on Mars and, of course, Wales itself.  Meanwhile, Montenegro, Beirut and Cyprus are half the size of Wales, while Arizona is 14 times bigger and Sicily is a very-specific “one and a quarter times the size” of poor Plaid Cymru.  That’s only the tip of the iceberg too, and this particular iceberg’s 36.4 times the size of Texas.

In some cases, these comparisons are entirely reasonable: Wales is precisely 20,779km² (as opposed to the far-too-vague ‘two-million hectares’), and El Salvador, for example, is 21,041km² – just over the size of Wales.  Israel’s even more Wales-like at 20,770 km².  But Sierra Leone is a whopping 71,740km².  That’s really not the size of Wales; if anything, it’s the size of Ireland (70,273km²).

Statistical nit-picking aside, the real question is this: just why has Wales become such an established arbiter of size?  No-one knows.  Well, someone must know, but no-one’s telling.  All we can think is that it comes down to envy – Wales must be the perfect, optimum size, the size every country wants to be: not too fat, not too thin, a model of contentment.  Just like Israel.  And El Salvador.  But not Sierra Leone.

(Richard Mellor)