There are three sheep for every human, and in winter it's the wettest place in Britain. But today Wales, the most maligned member of the union, can hold its head up as the mightiest after becoming the only British country to secure a place in the semi-finals of the rugby World Cup.
Welsh rugby fans last night were celebrating a clinically executed 22-10 victory over Ireland in the quarter-finals, the first time Wales will play a semi-final in 24 years. And across the rest of the United Kingdom, the feeling was that we're all happy to be Welsh now.
Yesterday's triumph caps a run of recent sporting victories for Wales, which included a 2-0 win over the Swiss football team earlier last week, and last month's 2-1 defeat of Montenegro, the team that England failed to beat on Friday.
But it's not just in sport that Wales is excelling. In food, literature and music, the country plagued by clichés of miners and male voice choirs is proving itself to be more than a match for its neighbours over the dyke.
Pontypridd actress Kimberley Nixon is the best thing about the new Channel 4 comedy Fresh Meat and Alex Jones is a semi-permanent fixture on BBC TV, appearing every day of the week on The One Show and Strictly Come Dancing. On radio, Cerys Matthews maintains a high profile on Radio 6.
While not previously a destination for gourmets, Wales won its fourth Michelin star last Thursday when the 2012 Michelin guide was published. The Checkers in Montgomery, which opened only in 2008, now joins The Walnut Tree in Abergavenny, The Crown at Whitebrook and Tyddyn Llan in Llan-drillo in boasting the most sought-after international culinary garland. The Checkers is part of a growing foodie scene centred on Abergavenny, home of an annual food festival, which one paper has described as being "to food what Cannes is to film".
While the film scene is still nothing to give England or Scotland too much cause for concern, in books, the Welsh are on a roll. They already lay claim to Kingsley and Martin Amis, Roald Dahl and Jan Morris, but can now boast such names as Joe Dunthorne, whose debut coming-of-age novel Submarine has been made into a hit film, and Owen Sheers, whose first novel, Resistance, has been translated into 10 languages.
In music, Wales is recognised as home to some of the most original young talents. Yes, it did produce Shirley Bassey and Tom Jones, who both continue to entertain millions on worldwide tours, despite being in their seventies. But a new generation of artists can now be added to a list that includes Manic Street Preachers and Super Furry Animals: there's Marina and the Diamonds, currently polishing off a second album with Katy Perry's producers, and The Joy Formidable gearing up for a tour with Foo Fighters.
Cardiff-born Radio 1 DJ Huw Stephens, who is fluent in Welsh, says his country is enjoying a golden age. "The slightly hysterical vibe that came with the whole Cool Cymru thing 10 years ago, when people were really pushing being Welsh, that has faded away," he says. "All that promise is paying off. There's a lot of talent here – as there always has been – but it has become a lot more usual to take that talent, whether it's for music or sports or art or whatever, outside the borders of Wales."
Stephens points to TV presenter Steve Jones as another significant Welsh export. "You've got a Rhondda accent presenting the American version of The X Factor – that's a big deal however you cut it. And people are bringing their good fortune and success home. Michael Sheen put on the massive Passion Play in Port Talbot this year and Manic Street Preachers have con-sistently made sure their success has benefited the communities they came from and the mu-sic scene in Wales in general. Yeah, it's a pretty good time to be Welsh."Reuse content