I wrote this in 2013. As you can see my exploration and thinking about Wales lasted several years. In the process, forming ideas about the differences of place....
After walking in Wales quite extensively for about six years I’m still evaluating, comparing, and coming to terms with the place. I don’t feel familiar with Wales as I do with the Lake District, which is partly based on experience of the towns and guest houses where I stayed before I started camping. I got to know a few people, especially in the Eskdale valley where I stayed at a farm house, the daughter worked in the pub where I ate, I knew who she married (an instructor at the outdoors centre) and where they lived (Sellafield) and why they lived there: because there were no houses in the valley. In the pub, Caroline once told me a shopping visit to Whitehaven was bad enough and she could never live in a big city. I found this refreshing because young(er) people usually want to escape the countryside for bright lights and loud music – literally and otherwise – in the cities. The last I heard she was managing a pet shop at Gosforth.
This background undoubtedly gives me a particular feeling for the Lakes; a cache of memories I don’t have with Wales. Nor does Wales have the tourism base evident at places like Ambleside, Grasmere, and Keswick. Instead you have little places like Capel Curig and the lovely village of Dolweddylan. I never go into Lllanberis; there’s no need to and it’s not particularly attractive. I visited Caernarvon once or twice and I’ve driven through Dolgellau two or three times on my way to Cader Idris, or back from the Rhinogs and Cregennen Lakes. I quite like Barmouth but I have a sense of visiting there not returning. Similarly with the hills, Wales doesn’t feel as homely to me as the Lakes. This does however have its advantages, namely that you feel a sense of relative wildness and escape.
Wales is no Scotland. You can’t beat Scotland for wildness, escape, and superior scenery. But Wales isn’t the Lake District either. Beddgelert is probably the closest I’ve had in Wales to a sense of familiarity. I stayed there once at a guest house, I’ve eaten in the pubs and pizza parlour, stayed at the nearby Cae Du camp site five or six times, the Llyn Gwynant site several times, and I've wild camped at Moel Hebog and in the Moelwyns.
I won't feel the same joy in Wales as I have in the Lake District or have the same thrill as I feel in Scotland. It is however a place to discover in its own right. For me, this is about the nebulous but tangible feeling of atmosphere. I like Snowdonia scenery but more than that, I like the feeling of the place.