UK - the climate & the regions
Lying off the north-west coast of Europe, there are two large islands and several much smaller ones. Collectively, they are known as the British Isles. The largest islands are called Great Britain and Ireland.
The United Kingdom is an abbreviation of "the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland". It is often further abbreviated to "UK", and is the political name of the country, which is made up of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Several islands off the British coast are also part of the United Kingdom (e.g. the Isle of Wight, the Orkneys, Hebrides and Shetlands etc.), although the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man are not. Great Britain (or simply "Britain") is the name of the island, which is made up of England, Scotland and Wales and so, strictly speaking, it does not include Northern Ireland.
The climate of Great Britain is more or less the same as that of the northwestern part of the European mainland. The popular belief that it rains all the time in Britain is simply not true. The image of a wet, foggy land was created two thousand years ago by the invading Romans and has been perpetuated in modern times by Hollywood. In fact, London gets no more rain in a year than most other major European cities.
The amount of rain that falls on a town in Britain depends on where it is. Generally speaking, the further west you go, the more rain you get. The mild winters mean that snow is a regular feature of the higher areas only. Occasionally, a whole winter goes by in lower-lying parts without any snow at all. The winters are in general a bit colder in the east of the country than they are in the west, while in summer, the south ids slightly warmer and sunnier than the north.
Why has Britain's climate got such a bad reputation? Perhaps it is for the same reason that British people always seem to be talking about the weather. This is its changeability. There is a saying that Britain doesn't have a climate, it only has weather. It may not rain very much altogether, but you can never be sure of a dry day; there can be cool (or even cold) days in July and some quite warm days in January.
The lack of extremes is the reason why, on the few occasions when it gets genuinely hot or freezing cold, the country seems to be totally unprepared for it. A bit of snow and a few days of frost and the trains stop working and the roads are blocked; if the thermometer goes above 27 degrees Centigrade, people behave as if they were in the Sahara and the temperature makes front-page headlines. These things happen so rarely that it is not worth organizing life to be ready for them.
The area surrounding the outer suburbs of London has the reputation of being "commuter land". This is the most densely populated area in the UK. It's only 11 percent of the land area of the country, but a third of the population lives here. Because of this, a large part of the region is affected by urban development: housing, factories, offices and a complex network of roads and motorways. However, there is still attractive countryside to be found in all counties outside the influence of London.
The county of Kent, which you pass through when travelling from Dover or the Channel tunnel to London, is known as "the garden of England" because of the many kinds of fruit and vegetables grown there. The downs, a series of hills in a horseshoe shape to the south London, are used for sheep farming. The southern side of the Downs reaches the sea in many places and forms the white cliffs of the south coast. Many retired people live along this coast. Employment in the south-east of England is mainly in trade, the provision of services and light manufacturing. There is little heavy industry. It has therefore not suffered the slow economic decline of many other parts of England.
The region known as "the west country" has an attractive image of rural beauty in British people's minds. There is some industry and one large city (Bristol was once Britain's most important port after London), but farming is more widespread than it is in most other regions. Some parts of the west country are well known for their dairy produce, such as Devonshire cream, and fruit. The south-west peninsula, with it's rocky coast, numerous small bays and wild moorlands such as Exmoor and Dartmoor, is the most popular holiday area in Britain. The winters are so mild in some low-lying parts that it is even possible to grow palm trees, and the tourist industry has coined the phrase "the English Riviera".
East Anglia, to the north-east of London, is also comparatively rural. It is the only region in Britain where there are large expanses of uniformly flat land. This flatness, together with the comparatively dry climate, has made it main area in the country for the growing of wheat and other arable crops. Part of this region, the area known as the Fens, has been reclaimed from the sea, and much of it still has a very watery, misty feel to it. The Norfolk Broads, for example, are criss-crossed by hundreds of waterways but there are no towns here, so this is a popular area for boating holidays.
Birmingham is Britain's second largest city. During the Industrial Revolution, Birmingham, and the surrounding area of the west midlands (sometimes known as the Black Country) developed into the country's major engineering centre. Despite the decline of heavy industry in modern times, factories in this area still convert iron and steel into a vast variety of goods.
There are other industrial areas in the midlands, notably the towns between the Black Country and Manchester known as The Potteries (famous for producing china), and several towns in the east midlands, such as Derby, Leicester and Nottingham. On the east coast, Grimsby, although a comparatively small town, is one of Britains most important fishing ports.
Although the midlands do not have many positive associations in the minds of British people, tourism has flourished in "Shakespeare country" (centred on Stratford-upon-Avon, Shakespeare's birth place), and Nottingham has successfully capitalized on the legend of Robin Hood.
The Pennine Mountains run up the middle of northern England like a spine. On either side, the large deposits of coal (used to provide power) or iron ore (used to make machinery) enabled these areas to lead the Industrial Revolution in the 18th century. On the western side, the Manchester area (connected to the port of Liverpool by canal) became, in the 19th century the world's leading producer of cotton goods; on the eastern side, towns such as Bradford and Leeds became the world's leading producers of woollen goods. Many other towns sprang up on both sides of Pennines at this time, as a result of the growth of certain auxiliary industries and of coal mining. Further south, Sheffield became a centre for the production of steel goods. Further north, around Newcastle, shipbuilding was the major industry.
In the minds of British people the prototype of the noisy, dirty factory that symbolizes the industrial Revolution is found in the industrial north. But the achievements of these new industrial towns also introduced in a feeling of civic pride in their inhabitants and an energetic realism, epitomized by the saying: "where there's muck there is brass" (wherever there is dirt, there is money to be made).
The towns on either side of the Pennines are flanked by steep slopes, on which it is difficult to build and are surrounded by land, which is relatively unusable for agricultural purposes. Therefore, the pattern of settlement in the north of England is often different from that in the south. Open uninhabited countryside is never far away from its cities and towns. The typically industrial landscape and the very rural landscape interlock. The wild, windswept moors which are the setting for Emily Bronte's famous novel "Wuthering Heights" seem a world away from the smoke and grime of urban life - in fact, they are just up the road (about 15 kilometres) from Bradford!
Further away from the main industrial areas, the north of England is sparsely populated. In the north-western corner of the country called Cumbria is the Lake District. The romantic poets of the 19th century, Wordsworth, Coleridge and Southey (the "Lake Poets"), lived here and wrote about its beauty. A small, gleaming emerald in a crown of natural treasures, the Cumbrian heartland is the domain of sky-lacquered lakes, glacial valleys, and chiselled peaks - including England's highest mountain, 3,210-foot Scafell Pike. It is the favourite destination of people who enjoy walking holidays and the whole area is classified as a National Park (the largest in England)
Scotland has three fairly clearly marked regions. Just north of the border with England are the southern uplands, an area of small towns, quite far apart from each other, whose economy depends to a large extent on sheep farming. Further north there is the central plain. Finally there are the highlands, consisting of mountains and deep valleys and including numerous small islands off the west coast. This area of spectacular natural beauty occupies the same land area as southern England but fewer than a million people live there. Tourism is important in the local economy, and so is the production of whisky.
It is in the central plain and the strip of east coast extending northwards from it that more than 80% of the population of Scotland lives. In recent times this region has had many of the same difficulties as the industrial north of England, although the North Sea oil industry has helped to keep unemployment down.
Scotland's two major cities have very different reputations.
Glasgow is the third largest city in Britain. It is associated with heavy industry and some of the worst housing conditions in the UK (the district called the Gorbals, although now rebuilt, was famous in this respect). However, this image is one sided. Glasgow has a strong artistic heritage. At the turn of the last century the work of the Glasgow School (led by Mackintosh) put the city at the forefront of European design and architecture. In 1990, it was the European City of Culture. Over the centuries, Glasgow has received many immigrants from Ireland and in some ways it reflects the divisions in the community that exist in Northern Ireland. For example, of its two rival football teams, one is Catholic and other is Protestant.
Edinburgh, which is half size of Glasgow, has a comparatively middle-class image (although class differences between the two cities are not really very great). It is the capital of Scotland and is associated with scholarship, the law and administration. This reputation together with its many fine historic buildings has led to its being called "the Athens of the north". The annual Edinburgh Festival of the arts is internationally famous.
As in Scotland, most people in wales live in one small part of it. In the welsh case, it is the south east of the country that is most heavily populated. Coal has been mined in many parts of Britain, but just as British people would locate the prototype factory of the industrial revolution in the north of England, so they would locate its prototype coal mine in south Wales. Despite its industry, no really large cities have grown up in this area (Cardiff, the capital of Wales, has a population of about a quarter million). It is the only part of Britain with a high proportion of industrial villages. Coal mining in the south wales has now almost entirely ceased and, as elsewhere, the transition to other forms of employment has been slow and painful.
Most of the rest of Wales is mountainous. Because of this, communication between south and north is very difficult. As a result, each part of Wales has closer contact with its neighbouring part of England than it does with other parts of Wales: the north with Liverpool, and the mid-Wales with the English west midlands. The area around Mount Snowdon in the north-west of the country is very beautiful and is the largest National Park in Britain.
With the exception of Belfast, which is famous for the manufacture of linen (and which is still a shipbuilding city), this region is, like the rest of Ireland, largely agricultural. It has several areas of spectacular natural beauty. One of these is the Giant's Causeway on its north coast, so-called because the rocks in the area form what looks like enormous stepping stones.
1. Bearing in mind its climate and general character, which part of Britain would you choose to live in? Why? Is this the same part that you would like to visit for a holiday? Why (not)?
2. Does the capital city of your country stand in the same relation to the rest of the country as London does in Britain?
3. The two big television news organizations in Britain, the BBC and ITN, both have "North of England" correspondents. But neither has a "South of England" correspondent. Why do you think this is? What is it an example of?