244,820 sq km
Population: 59,647,790 (July 2001 est.)
Anglo-Saxons, Scots, Welsh, Irish, West Indians, Pakistanis, Indians.
Church of England, Methodist, Baptist, Catholic and Muslim
EU citizens may live and work free
of any immigration controls. Citizens of the USA, Canada, Australia and
New Zealand are generally allowed to stay six months without a visa.
Health risks: None
Weights & Measures: Metric (except beer, which is measured in
the United Kingdom is composed of the three political divisions within the island
of Great Britain. Bound by Scotland to the north and Wales to the west,
England is no more than 29km (18mi) from France across the narrowest part
of the English Channel. Much of England is flat or low-lying. In the north
is a range of limestone hills, known as the Pennines, to the west are the
Cumbrian Mountains and the Lake District. South of the Pennines is the
heavily-populated Midlands, and in the south-west peninsula, known as the
West country, is a plateau with granite outcrops, good dairy farming and a
rugged coastline. The rest of the country is known as the English
Lowlands, a mixture of farmland, low hills, an industrial belt and the
massive city of London.
national parks cover about 7% of the country and include Dartmoor, Exmoor,
the Lake District, the Peak District, the Yorkshire Dales, the North York
Moors, the New Forest, the Broads and Northumberland. English national
parks are not wilderness areas, but they do include areas of outstanding
national beauty - they also tend to be privately owned.
climate is mild and damp, with temperatures moderated by the light winds
that blow in off its relatively warm seas. Temperatures inland don't get
much below freezing in winter (December to February), or much above 30°C
(86°F) in summer (June to August). The north is the coldest area; London,
the south-east and the West Country are the warmest. Rainfall is greatest
in hilly areas and in the West Country. You can expect cloudy weather and
light drizzle in any part of England at any time.
first-known inhabitants of England were small bands of hunters, but Stone
Age immigrants arrived around 4000 BC and farmed the chalk hills of
Salisbury Plain, constructing the mysterious stone circles at Stonehenge
and Avebury. They were followed by the Bronze Age Celts from Central
Europe who began arriving in 800 BC, bringing the Gaelic and Brythonic
languages (the former is still spoken in Scotland, the latter in Wales).
Romans invaded in 43 AD and took only seven years to quell resistance and
control most of England. The Scottish and Welsh tribes were more of a
problem, resulting in the building of Hadrian's Wall across northern
England to keep out the marauding Scots. The Romans brought stability,
nice and straight paved roads and Christianity; in return, the Brits gave
the Romans a headache and a dent in the empire's expense account. The
Romans were never defeated, they just sort of faded away around 410 AD as
their empire declined.
of heathen Angles, Jutes and Saxons began to move into the vacuum,
absorbing the Celts, and local fiefdoms developed. By the 7th century,
these fiefdoms had grown into a series of Anglo-Saxon kingdoms which had
come to collectively think of themselves as English. By the mid-9th
century, Vikings had invaded northern Scotland, Cumbria and Lancashire and
the Danes were making inroads into eastern England. By 871, only Wessex -
the half-Saxon, half-Celtic country south of the Thames - was under
English control. At this low point, the English managed to neutralize the
Vikings' military superiority and began a process of assimilation.
next invader was William of Normandy (soon to become known as William the
Conqueror), who arrived on the south coast of England in 1066 with a force
of 12,000 men. After victory at the Battle of Hastings, he replaced
English aristocrats with French-speaking Normans. The Normans built
impressive castles, imposed a feudal system, administered a census and,
once again, began to assimilate with the Saxons.
next centuries saw a series of royal tiffs, political intrigues, plague,
unrest and revolt. The Hundred Years War with France blurred into the
domestic War of the Roses and enough Machiavellian backstabbing among
royalty to make the present foibles of the monarchy seem even more
trifling than they already are. In the 16th century, Henry VIII's
matrimonial difficulties led to the split with Catholicism. Henry was
appointed head of the Church of England by the English Parliament and the
Bible was translated into English. In 1536, Henry dissolved the smaller
monasteries and confiscated their land as the relationship between Church
and State hit rocky times.
power struggle between monarchy and Parliament degenerated into civil war
in the mid-17th century, pitching Charles I's royalists (Catholics,
traditionalists, the gentry and members of the Church of England) against
Cromwell's Protestant parliamentarians. Cromwell's victory segued into a
dictatorship, which included a bloody rampage through Ireland, and by 1660
Parliament was so fed up that it reinstated the monarchy.
period of progressive expansionism followed, as England collected colonies
down the American coast, licensed the East India Company to operate from
Bombay and eventually saw Canada and Australia come within its massive
sphere of influence. At home, England exerted increasing control over the
British Isles. The burgeoning empire's first setback occurred in 1772 when
the American colonies won their independence.
Britain was fast becoming the crucible of the Industrial Revolution as
steam power, steam trains, coal mines and water power began to transform
the means of transport and production. The world's first industrial cities
sprung up in the Midlands, causing severe dislocation of the population.
By the time Queen Victoria took the throne in 1837, Britain had become the
world's greatest power. Its fleet dominated the seas, knitting together
the British empire, while its factories dominated world trade. Under prime
ministers such as Gladstone and Disraeli, the worst excesses of the
Industrial Revolution were addressed; education became universal, trade
unions were legalized and most men were enfranchised - women had to wait
until after WWI.
bumbled into the stalemate of WWI in 1914, resulting in the senseless
slaughter of a million Britons and a widening gulf between the ruling and
working classes. The latter set the stage for 50 years of labor unrest,
beginning with the 1926 Great Strike and growing throughout the 1930s
depression. Britain dithered through the 1920s and '30s, with mediocre and
visionless government, which failed to confront the problems the country
faced - including the rise of Hitler and imperial Germany.
never-say-die character was forged in WWII under the guidance of Winston
Churchill. Britain bounced back from Dunkirk, the relentless Luftwaffe air
raids and the fall of Singapore and Hong Kong to win the Battle of Britain
and play a vital role in the Allied victory. Despite the euphoria,
Britain's resources and influence were exhausted and its new role as a
secondary power became clearer as first India (1947), then Malaysia (1957)
and Kenya (1963) gained independence.
took until the 1960s for wartime recovery to be fully completed, but by
then Britons had supposedly 'never had it so good', according to their
prime minister, Harold Macmillan. The sixties briefly repositioned
swinging London back at the cultural heart of the world, as the Beatles,
the Rolling Stones, Mary Quant, David Bailey, Twiggy, Jean Shrimpton and
Co strutted their stuff on the world stage. But the sixties weren't all
mini skirts and Sergeant Pepper: factionalism in Northern Ireland became
overtly violent, leading to the deployment of British troops in 1969. The
Troubles, as they are euphemistically known, have been dogging the British
and Irish governments and ruining Northern Ireland ever since. The 1970s'
oil crisis, massive inflation, the three-day working week and class
antagonism also brought reality crashing into the party, and in 1979 the
Brits elected matronly Margaret Thatcher to come and mop up their mess for
broke the unions, privatized national industries, established a
meritocracy, sent a flotilla to the Falklands and polarized British
society. She became the longest-serving prime minister this century and
left such a deep mark on the Brits
england's greatest artistic contributions have come in the fields of
theatre, literature and architecture. Although there is not an equivalent
tradition in painting and sculpture, England is a treasure house of
masterpieces from every age and continent thanks to its rapacious past.
Most visitors are overwhelmed by the stately homes of the aristocracy, and
England's fine collection of castles and cathedrals. Unfortunately, this
significant architectural heritage has failed to lead to anything more
inspiring in the 20th century than motorways, high-rise housing and tawdry
suburban development. Anyone who has studied English literature at school
will remember ploughing through Chaucer, Shakespeare, Dickens and
Morrissey, and painful though it might have been at the time, no-one can
deny England's formidable contribution to the Western literary canon.
Perhaps England's greatest cultural export has been the English language,
the current lingua franca of the international community. There are
astonishing regional variations in accents, and it is not unusual to find
those in southern England claiming to need an interpreter to speak to
anyone living north of Oxford.
the least appealing aspect of English culture is the food, which is
stodgy, uninspiring and expensive. Although London is experiencing a
renaissance in quality, creative cuisine, travellers in the provinces or
those on a budget should be prepared for uninventive, overcooked
meat-and-two-veg and an assortment of fish 'n' chips, eggs and bacon, and
mashed potatoes and sausages.
is extremely expensive and London is horrific. While in London you will
need to budget about US$35 for bare survival (dorm accommodation, a
one-day travel card and the most basic sustenance). Even moderate
sightseeing or nightlife can easily add another US$25 to this. If you stay
in a hotel and eat restaurant meals you could easily spend US$90 a day
without being extravagant. Once you get out of the big smoke the costs
will drop, particularly if you have a transport pass and if you cook your
own meals. You'll still need at least US$30 a day, and if you stay in
B&Bs, eat one sit-down meal a day and don't stint on entry fees,
you'll need about US$65 a day.
cheques are widely accepted in English banks and you might as well buy
them in pounds sterling to avoid changing currencies twice. Change bureaus
in London frequently levy outrageous commissions and fees, so make sure
you establish any deductions in advance. The bureaus at the international
airports are exceptions to the rule, charging less than most banks and
cashing sterling travelers' cheques for free. Cash points (ATMs) are very
common in Britain: most are linked to major credit cards as well as the
Cirrus, Maestro and Plus cash networks, but if a machine swallows your
card it can be a nightmare. Most banks insist on chopping it in half and
sending it back to your home branch.
you eat in an English restaurant you should leave a tip of at least 10%
unless the service was unsatisfactory. Waiting staff are often paid
derisory wages on the assumption that the money will be supplemented by
tips. Some restaurants include a service charge on the bill, in which case
a gratuity is unnecessary. Taxi drivers expect to be tipped about 10%,
especially in London.
who spends any extended period of time in England will sympathise with the
locals' obsession with the weather, although in relative terms the climate
is mild and the rainfall is not spectacular. The least hospitable months
for visitors are November to February - it's cold and the days are short.
March and October are marginal - there's more daylight but it can still be
very cold. April to September are undoubtedly the best months, and this
is, unsurprisingly, when most sights are open, and when most people visit.
July and August are the busiest months, and best avoided if at all
possible. The crowds on the coast, at the national parks, in London and
popular towns like Oxford, Bath and York have to be seen to be believed.
is a cosmopolitan mixture of the Third and First worlds, of chauffeurs and
beggars, of the establishment, the avowedly working class and the
avant-garde. Unlike comparable European cities, much of London looks
unplanned and grubby, but that is part of its appeal. Visiting London is
like being let loose on a giant-sized Monopoly board clogged with traffic.
Even though you probably won't know where the hell you are, at least the
names will look reassuringly familiar. The city is so enormous, visitors
will need to make maximum use of the underground train system:
unfortunately, this dislocates the city's geography and makes it hard to
get your bearings.
most impressive and evocative, if not the most beautiful, cathedral in
England is the seat of the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Primate of All
England. Like most cathedrals, it evolved in stages and reflects a number
of architectural styles, but the final result is one of the world's great
buildings. The ghosts of saints, soldiers and pilgrims fill the hallowed
air, and not even baying packs of French children can completely destroy
the atmosphere. After the martyrdom of Archbishop Thomas à Becket in
1170, the cathedral became the center of one of the most important
medieval pilgrimages in Europe, a pilgrimage that was immortalized by
Geoffrey Chaucer in the Canterbury Tales. Canterbury itself was
severely damaged by bombing in WW II and parts of the town have been
insensitively rebuilt, but it still attracts flocks of tourists, just as
it has for the past 800 years - though numbers may decrease now pilgrims
are charged a US$5 fee to enter the cathedral
Stonehenge is the most famous prehistoric site in Europe, but it remains
both a tantalising mystery and a hackneyed tourist experience. It consists
of a ring of enormous stones topped by lintels, an inner horseshoe, an
outer circle and a ditch. Although aligned to the movements of the
celestial bodies, little is known about the site's purpose. What leaves
most visitors gobsmacked is not the site's religious significance but the
tenacity of the people who brought some of the stones all the way from
South Wales. It's estimated that it would take 600 people to drag one of
these 50-ton monsters more than half an inch. The downside of Stonehenge
is that it's fenced off like a dog compound; there are two main roads
slicing past the site; entry is via an incongruous underpass; and clashes
between new age hippies and police at summer solstice have become a
regular feature of the British calendar.
limestone escarpment, 18 miles north-east of Bristol, overlooking the
Severn Vale, is an upland region of stunningly pretty, gilded stone
villages and remarkable views. Unfortunately, the soft, mellow stone and
the picturesque Agatha Christie charm have resulted in some villages being
overrun by coach tourists and commercialism. Renowned villages include
Bibury (claimed to be the most beautiful village in England); the
chocolate-box town of Bourton-on-the-Water; and the breathtakingly pretty
Chipping Camden. The best way to explore the Cotswolds is to walk; the
100-mile Cotswold Way is a gem of a hike, full of history and interesting
terrain that make the abundance of quaintness easier to swallow.
the world's most famous university town, Oxford is graced by superb
college architecture and oozes questing youthfulness, scholarship and
bizarre high jinks. The views across the meadows to the city's golden
spires are guaranteed to appear in three out of 10 English period dramas,
but they manage to remain one of the most beautiful and inspiring of
sights. Back in the real world, Oxford is not just the turf of toffs and
boffs, it was a major car-manufacturing centre until the terminal decline
of the British car industry and is now a thriving centre of service
industries. The pick of the colleges are Christ Church, Merton and
Magdalen, but nearly all the colleges are drenched in atmosphere, history,
privilege and tradition. Don't kid yourself you would have studied any
harder in such august surroundings.
proud city attracts millions of visitors, but it's too old, too impressive
and too convinced of its own importance to be overwhelmed by mere
tourists. For nearly 2000 years it has been the capital of the north, and
played a central role in British history under the Romans, Saxons and
Vikings. Its spectacular Gothic cathedral, medieval city walls, tangle of
historic streets and glut of teashops and pubs make it a great city for
ambling around. York Minster is the largest cathedral in Europe, and right
up there with the world's great buildings. The city's Museum Gardens are
amongst the most beautiful in Britain and include a number of picturesque
ruins and buildings.
most green and pleasant corner of a green and pleasant land, the
landscapes of the Lake District are almost too perfect for their own good:
10 million visitors can't be wrong, but they can sure cause a few traffic
jams. The area is a combination of luxuriant green dales, modest but
precipitous mountains and multitudinous lakes. Each of the lakes has its
own distinct character: wisdom holds that Ullswater, Grasmere and
Windermere are the prettiest, but Wast Water, Crummock Water and
Buttermere are equally spectacular and far less crowded. Be prepared to
hike into the hills, or visit on weekdays out of season if you have any
desire to emulate the bard and wander lonely as cloud.
is the most dramatic cathedral city in Britain. It straddles a bluff
surrounded on three sides by the River Wear and is dominated by the
massive Norman cathedral which sits on a wooded promontory, looking more
like a time-worn cliff than a house of worship. The cathedral may not be
the most refined in the land, but no other British cathedral has the same
impact. The cathedral shares the dramatic top of the bluff with a Norman
castle and the University College, while the rest of the picturesque
'city' (population 38,000) huddles into the remaining space on the