“Great Britain” has several different names. Some people say “Britain”, or “the United Kingdom”, or just “the UK”. There are four different countries in the United Kingdom: England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland.
Altogether more than 56 million people live in Britain, many of them in big industrial cities like London, Liverpool and Manchester, but people are often surprised by how much of Britain is open country, with lonely hills and woods, quiet rivers, lakes and farmlands.
Many people think that the weather is cold and wet in Britain all year round. But it isn’t! True, it sometimes rains and even snows for days and days, but every year there are weeks of beautiful sunny weather, when the British take off their sweaters and go out to sunbathe.
Britain is only a small country, but every part is different. Scotland is a land of mountains, lakes and romantic castles. The winters are cold, with plenty of snow, but the summers are often warm and sunny. Most farmers keep sheep, and there are many small factories, which make fine sweaters from their wool. In some parts of Scotland, there are very few people. Deer live in the hills, and the rivers are full of salmon. But Glasgow and Edinburgh are both large and busy, with all that is good (and bad) in modern cities.
Northern Ireland has it problems, but it has beauty, too. In its warm, wet climate, the grass grows a brilliant green, and much of the land is farming country. Belfast is a large industrial city with many fine buildings and a big port from which ships come and go to Scotland and England. But Belfast has had many difficult years, and it is not the busy place it once was.
A hundred years ago the north of England was the industrial heart of the country. From the factories came cloth, wool, machines, engines and china. The old factories have gone now and the workers have to look for jobs in the new “high-tech” industries.
Outside the towns, much of this part of England is beautiful countryside, with green hills, lakes and sandy beaches. Fishing is still a big industry in the northeast, and every night (except Sunday) the fishing boats go out to sea.
The centre of England (the “Midlands”) is also an important industrial area, especially near the huge cities of Coventry and Birmingham, the centre of the car industry. But everywhere, even in the heart of the modern city, there are buildings from older Britain, such as cathedrals, castles, and houses built hundreds of years ago.
Wales is a special place, a country of high mountains and pretty valleys. But Wales has plenty of industry, too, with many factories and coal mines.
The west of England is rich farming country. It produces milk, cream, butter, cheese and apples, which are used to make apple cider, a popular drink. In the villages, country people often grow their own fruit, vegetables and flowers.
Some areas of Britain are very crowded. Around Manchester, in northwest England, and Glasgow, in Scotland, are large city areas of houses and factories. The southeast of England, too, has many towns and cities, including London, the giant capital. But quite near London there are still some quiet villages and peaceful farms.
Britain is an island, of course, and you are never far from the sea. Some of the coast, especially in the west, is wild and rocky, with small, sandy beaches, and romantic old harbours. Other parts are industrial. The east coast of Scotland, for example, is busy with oil rigs and fishing boats. The most popular beaches are near the many holiday towns on the south coast, where the weather is usually warmer. It is here that Londoners come to relax.