Britain is very small compared with many other countries in the world, yet it is a surprisingly varied land in many different ways, for example, the diversity of landscape in different parts of the country, a long history that is rich in significant events and multicultural heritage, centuries-old customs and traditions, a unique blend of people, and the great cities of London, Edinburgh, Oxford and Stratford. Together they make the image of Britain fascinating and exciting.
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, with an area of some 244,000 square miles, is situated on the British Isles which are separated from the European continent by the North Sea, the Strait of Dover and the English Channel. Britain’s population is over 57 million. Four out of every five people live in towns.
The UK is a constitutional monarchy, and the head of the state is a king or a queen. In practice, the Sovereign reigns, but doesn’t rule. The UK is governed by the government, which is comprised of a body of ministers who are the leading members of the political party in power and who are responsible for Parliament. The present Sovereign is Queen Elisabeth II.
The territory of Great Britain is small. Yet the country has a wide variety of scenery. Britain is divided into four parts: England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. England is often subdivided into three parts: the South, the Midlands and the North.
In the south, the landscape is wide-ranging. The climate is warmer than in other areas. There are hundreds of miles of sea coast which range from flat, sandy or stony beaches to high rocky cliffs. The mild and sunny climate makes the south coast popular with holiday-makers. Some coastal resorts are famous, Brighton being among them. Somerset, Devon, and Cornwall are rural counties, tucked away with hidden fishing hamlets and are known for Britain’s warmest winter weather. There are high bare hills, rock and deep wooded
valleys. Inland, the landscape is gentle and green, and is famous for its countryside. One of the most beautiful counties in the South of England is certainly Kent. It is known as the Garden of England, because of its picturesque orchards which produce a lot of fruit and vegetables. Another area, which has some of the richest farmland in the country, is known as the Fens and lies to the east of Cambridge. This land was cleared and now Fen Country consists of miles of flat land with almost no trees or hedges. In general, the South is wealthier than other areas of Britain. Work of all kinds is provided by the land, in trade and industry. British Aerospace has airplane-building factories in several parts of the South. Lots of people are involved in service industries including financial, business and government services, computer services and information systems. There are science-based companies and research organizations.
The Midlands Region has much farming land, but this part of the country is better known as an industrial area, and is one of the England’s most productive regions. Derby is an engineering centre. Rolls Royce make aero engines and cars there. Birmingham, which is often called “the Big Heart of England”, is the most important city of the Midlands. It is the second largest city in the UK. It’s famous for engineering, especially car production. The Potteries is another industrial area in the midlands. It lies around the city of Stoke-on-Trent and produces china, crockery and all kinds of ceramics, some of which are famous worldwide, Wedgwood among them.
In the north, the weather is considerably colder. There is almost always snow in winter. This is a region of great natural beauty although industry of some kind has existed here for hundreds of years. There is a stark contrast in the north between the beautiful open, hilly countryside and the industrial towns and mining villages. In parts of the north, in Yorkshire particularly, there are gentle wooded valleys, green pastures and excellent farming land. West Yorkshire is an ideal county for sheep-farming, and it has long been Britain’s most important area for the wool industry. Coal is one of the few natural resources found in the north of England. Some famous northern industrial cities are Manchester, Sheffield, Leeds and Newcastle-on-Tyne.
The national symbol of England is the red rose. Wales is the most westerly part of the UK, bordered on the east by England. It is the smallest land of the United Kingdom, but has considerable variety, ranging from the picturesque mountains of the north, to the mining and industrial areas of the south. The main areas of settlement are in the southern and coastal areas, where two thirds of the population live. The chief cities are Cardiff, Swansea and Newport. In 1955, Cardiff was declared the capital of Wales. Wales is a principality, which is a country ruled by a prince, or from which he takes his title. The title of’ Prince of Wales is traditionally given by the British sovereign to his or her eldest son, who is heir to the throne.
Wales is geographically divided into the industrial south, the central plateau and lakes, and the mountainous north.
In South Wales, the economy is based on coal, iron, and steel, which are traditional industries in this region of the United Kingdom. The valleys to the north of Cardiff are the heart of the Welsh coal and steel industries. South Wales remains the principal industrial area. Today Wales is developing as an important centre for IT, and several new high technology businesses in electronics and related industries have been established. Agriculture occupies about 80 per cent of the land area, with the main activities being sheep and cattle raising in the hill regions, and dairy farming in the lowland. North Wales is renowned for the wild beauty of its mountains, lakes and waterfalls. In addition, Wales has good coastal resorts, that are famous for their sandy beaches, it has three national parks (Snowdonia, The Brecon Beacons and Pembrokeshire Coast), as well as other areas of picturesque hill, lake and mountain country. Wales is very attractive and popular, especially for outdoor holidays. The national symbol of Wales is a leek or daffodil.
The ocean surrounds Scotland on all sides except for its southern, sixty mile long border with England. Most of the country is within forty miles of salt water. On the west coast there are a lot of sea lochs and islands. Most of Scotland’s 787 islands are off the northwest coast. The country is divided into the Highlands and the Lowlands. However, not all of the Lowlands are really ‘low’. The highest peak in the Highlands and in all Britain is Ben Nevis (4406 feet = 1343 m) with its summit in cloud and snow towering above the little town of Fort William. No month has an average temperature below freezing. During the winter months there is usually sufficient snow for skiing. The east coast is drier that the west, where even in the summer rains are frequent. Scotland is famous the world over as a land of beautiful scenery, with hills and valleys, misty lochs and tumbling rivers, unspoilt beaches and charming fishing villages. Fishing remains an important activity in Scotland. More than half of the total catch of fish in Britain is received and registered at Scottish ports. Scotland has about one-third of Britain’s total agricultural land, but 71 per cent of it consists of hill grazing for cattle and sheep. But modern Scotland is also a land of steel and ship, coal and iron. Some of the traditional Scottish industries, such as coal, steel, and shipbuilding, are declining. Other traditional manufacturing, such as high quality tweeds, textiles, and food and drink products, remain important. Much is being done to modernize Scotland industry. The electronics sector has greatly contributed to the country’s development. The national symbol of Scotland is a thistle.
The landscape of Northern Ireland is gentle. It is green because it rains a lot. But the rain showers quickly change to sunshine, and back to rain again. The mountains roll down to
the sea. Northern Ireland is a land of lakes, rivers and diverse sea coast. It is a great place for tourism. Population and industry are concentrated on the eastern seaboard, while the majority of Northern Ireland remains predominantly rural and relies mainly upon agriculture for its livelihood. The traditional important industries are shipbuilding and linen. Other industrial activities include the manufacture of textile machinery and a wide range of engineering products, tobacco and clothing. There has also been extensive development in oilwell equipment, electronics, telecommunications equipment, and carpets.
Britain lives a complex modern life in which traditional values and love of the past dwell side by side with a desire for change. Today’s Britain has a reputation for scientific innovations, for business, commerce and trade. It plays an important role in the political life of the world. However, the end of the 20th century was a time of transition for Britain, because her past position in the world as a political and economic power was being challenged by other countries. The question for the future is to find a new role in the world for herself. This new era has given rise to various economic and social issues, some of which still remain, into the 21st century.