Becoming of Great Britain

United Kingdom of Great Britain and North Ireland. Geographical Position of the British Isles. Britannic history. Population of Britain today: The social framework. British political institutions. British national economy. Education in Britain.

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Учреждение образования

Гомельский государственный университет

имени Франциска Скорины




Для студентов

специальности I-020306-01 «Английский язык»

Гомель 2005г.


Л.С. Банникова, доцент, кандидат педагогических наук

C.И. Сокорева, доцент, кандидат педагогических наук

Рекомендовано к изданию научно-методическим советом учреждения образования «Гомельский государственный университет имени Франциска Скорины» «____»_______ 2005 г., протокол № __

Акулич Л.Д.

Курс лекций по страноведению Великобритании для студентов 2-го курса факультета иностранных языков - Гомель; Министерство образования Республики Беларусь; УО "ГГУ им. Ф. Скорины"; авт.-сос. Акулич Л.Д. - 2005.-_____с.

Настоящий курс лекций представляет собой систематическое изложение широкого круга вопросов, входящих в систему социо-культурных знаний о современной Великобритании. Составлен в соответствии с учебной программой курса.

УДК 802. 0 (075. 8)

ББК 81. 432. 1 - 923. 5

© Л.Д. Акулич, 2005

© Учреждение образования

Гомельский государственный университет имени Франциска Скорины, 2005


Geographical Position of the British Isles. Territory and Structure.

Surrounding Seas and Coastline.

Physical Structure and Relief. Highland and Lowland Britain.

Rivers and Lakes.

Climate and Weather.

Position, Territory and Structure

The British Isles are situated on the continental shelf off the north-west coast of Europe and comprise a group of islands lying between latitudes 50o and 60°N and longitudes 1o45, and 8° 10' West, the prime meridian of 0 passing through the old observatory of Greenwich (London). The total area of the British Isles is 322,246 square km.

Britain, formally known as the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, constitutes the greater part of the islands. It comprises the mainland of England, Wales and Scotland (Great Britain) and the northern part of Ireland (Northern Ireland). The southern part of Ireland, the second largest island of the group, is the Irish Republic or Eire. All in all there are over 5,000 islands in the system of the British Isles.

The United Kingdom's area is some 244,100 square km, of which about; 99 per cent is land and the remainder inland water. This is nearly the same size as the Federal Republic of Germany, New Zealand and half the size of France. From south to north it stretches for over 900 km, and is just under 500 km across in the widest part and 60 km in the narrowest. Due to the numerous bays and inlets no place in Britain is as much as 120 km from the sea coast line. The combined population of the British Isles - 59.5 million people (including that of the Republic of Ireland) makes the islands one of the most densely populated parts of the earth's surface and the United Kingdom, at least, one of the most densely populated countries.

With nearly 59 million people, Great Britain ranks about fourteenth in the world in terms of population. The high density of population (about 250 per square kilometre) sets a problem of land use and of livelihood. Within the British Isles it implies a pressure on land, a pressure reflected both in competition for space and in intensive agriculture. The problems of supporting such a large population on such a small land area are obvious. In fact, this became possible with the emergence of Britain as the world,s first industrial nation during the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. It was during this period that Britain acquaired vast overseas colonial territories, ruthlessly robbed and exploited them. This enabled her to become the wealthiest nation on earth.

Off the north-western coast of Great Britain there is a group of islands known as the Hebrides. They are divided into the Inner and Outer Hebrides, the groups of islands, separated from each other by the Sea of the Hebrides and the Little Minch. These groups of islands represent the higher unsubmerged portions of a dissected block broadly similar to the main highland mass.

Life in the Hebrides very much resembles that of the West coast of the mainland. Many of the people are crofters, and farming combined with fishing is the main occupation. The island of Lewis-Harris, the largest and most northerly of the Outer Hebrides, is particularly notable for the traditional domestic Industry of spinning wool from local sheep and the weaving it into tweeds. This Industry is largely concentrated in Storno-way, which is also a minor fishing port. Out of over the total of 500 islands of the Hebrides more than half are inhabitable. Only several families live on some of them.

Separated from the mainland by the stormy seven-mile wide Pentland Firth there are the Orkney Islands, comprising about a hundred islands, though only a third are Inhabited, by about 19,500 people. Most of the people are engaged in dairy- and poultry farming. Bacon, cheese and eggs are exported to Central Scotland.

Situated about 70 miles north of the Orkneys are the Shetland Islands, which provide thin, infertile soils suitable only for rough pasture. The total population is about 18,000. The Shetland farmers are essentially crofters, but during the summer months they are actively engaged in herring-fishing. Apart from fish, the only exports from the islands are Shetland ponies and lace knitted from the wool of local sheep. Lerwick, the chief settlement, contains about 5,000 people, but the Shetlands are far from prosperous, and the population is still steadily decreasing.

In the middle of the Irish Sea there is the Isle of Man (571 square km). The island is administered by its own Manx Parliament and has a population of about 50.000 chiefly engaged in farming, fishing and tourist trade. The only settlement of any size is the holiday resort of Douglas (23,000). Another important island in the Irish Sea is Anglesey, situated off the north coast of Wales. Anglesey contains only 52,000 people, and more of the working population are now engaged in industry than in fishing and agriculture. This is due partly to an increase in the tourist trade and partly to the introduction of several new industries, for example, the construction and eventual operation of the nuclear power station at Wylfa.

The Isle of Wight is in the English Channel. It is diamond-shaped, 40 km from west to east, and about half as much from north to south. The Isle of Wight lies across the southern end of Southampton Water, and is separated from the mainland by the Solent. With its sunny beaches and pleasant varied countryside, the island forms one of the South Coast's most important tourist resorts. It is linked to London by ferry and rail services. The decline of light and other industries has presented serious problems of employment for the island, and at present the population is being reduced by migration to the mainland, where the situation is far from being better.

Off the extreme south-western coast of Great Britain there is a tiny group of the Isles of Scilly.

The Channel Islands lie to the south-west on the French side of the English Channel. They are known to the French as the Isles Normandes, and their position can indeed be best seen from a map of north-west France than southern England.

The Channel Islands form an archipelago, detached by shallow waters from the Cotentin peninsula in Normandy. As part of the Duchy of Normandy, they have been attached to the English Crown since the Norman Conquest (1066).

The population of the Channel Islands (over 133,000) is distributed over a total area of only 194 This results in a high density of population - 686 per sq km - throughout the islands, greatly increased in summer by holiday-makers. Here there is a strict legislation over immigration and the purchase of property.

In the rural areas many of the people speak a French-Norman dialect, but the official languages are English and French, the former gradually becoming, the more important.

The chief industry on the islands Is tourism. Each one has its own coastal attractions, but their main asset, as far as holiday visitors are concerned, la their climate. They enjoy very mild winters compared with the rest of the British Isles. Moreover, the duration of sunshine is high-over five hours per day throughout the year, while rainfall is about the same as that of the Hampshire Basin (southern England) - 700-1000 mm annually. These factors, coupled with a long growing season, give favourable conditions for agriculture as well as holiday-making.

The chief Islands of the group are Jersey and Guernsey. Jersey (76,000) is the largest and most populous island, it occupies 60 per cent of the total area and has almost 60 per cent of the population. Its northern coast is lined with granite cliffs, and the land slopes down to low sandy bays on the north coast. This southerly aspect helps the cultivation of early potatoes and tomatoes in the open air. Jersey also raises and exports the dairy cattle named after it. The chief town of the island, St.Helier, is on the south coast.

Guernsey (53,000) slopes gradually downwards in the opposite direction, the plateau descending from the cliff-lined south coast to the north. Market gardening is largely carried out under glass. Tomatoes and flowers are leading crops. Guernsey is famous for its native breed of cattle. The chief town is St. Peter Port on the east coast.

Smaller islands include Alderney (2,000) and Sark (600)-the islands without motor-cars.

Surrounding Seas and Coastline

The British Isles are of the continental origin. Situated off the north-west coast of Europe, they once formed part of that continent. The only became islands when they were separated from it. The separation took place thousands of years ago, after the last Ice Age. When the ice melted, the level of the oceans rose and drowned the low-lying coastlands round the continents. This was when the English Channel, which was formerly a westward extension of the North European Plain, became a shallow stretch of sea. It was a change which greatly affected the history as well as the geography of these islands.

It seems probable that the last glacial advance was at its maximum about 20,000 years ago. Since then a general warming of the climate has caused the glaciers to shrink, until today they have disappeared entirely from the British Isles. The withdrawal of the ice had an influence on the development of coastal features, for with the melting of the ice much water "locked up" in the glaciers was returned to the sea. As a result, sea-level during the post-glacial period rose by over 60 m. It was during this rise in sea-level that Britain was separated from the continent of Europe by the formation of the Strait of Dover. Other coastal areas suffered "drowning" with various results. In western Scotland glaciated valleys were flooded to form sea-lochs, the smaller islands were separated from Great Britain and Ireland, and in England the lower parts of many river valleys were submerged to form deeply penetrating inlets.

Around the coasts of north-west Europe the land slopes gently down into the sea. At a certain depth of sea the slope becomes steeper, and the sea bed descends to much deeper levels. This change of slope takes place at a sea depth of about 200 m.

The zone of shallow water which at present surrounds the continent thus resembles a shelf above the really deep water of the oceans: it is called the continental shelf. A line joining points at a depth of 200 m shows the approximate boundary of the continental shelf. The British Isles lie entirely on the shelf.

The fact that the British Isles were once part of the European mainland means that their rocks often resemble those of the closest parts of the continent. The ancient hard rocks of the Scottish Highlands, for example, such as granite, are similar to those of Scandinavia. Then there is the chalk of south-east England, seen in the white cliffs of Dover and across the Strait of Dover in northern France. The limestone ridge, or escarpment that crosses England from north-east to south-west also has its counterpart in northern France. And one more important example is the way in which the European Power Belt is continued into Britain.

From the European continent the British Isles are separated by the English Channel and the North Sea. The English Channel, in its widest part in the west is 220 km wide, and in the narrowest, what is called the Strait of Dover, only 32 km. The average depth of the Channel is 60 m, and that of the Strait of Dover - 30 m. Here the two opposite coasts of' England and France come so near, that on a clear day the cliffs of each side can be quite well seen from the opposite shore.

There were a number of schemes in the past how to connect the two coasts. Were Napoleaon alive today, he would be gratified that an idea he contemplated almost two centuries ago is to be translated into reality.

Despite the fact that the people in Kent, the south of England, were not enthusiastic about the venture as they feared damage to the environment, the old idea prevailed and major industrial and financial corporations swung into action. The final decision was made. Meeting at Lille, France, on January 20, 1986, the President of France and the Prime Minister of Great Britain chose one of the four projects which had been submitted.

This scheme, put forward by the Anglo--French Channel Tunnel - France Manche consortium, envisaged the construction of two rail tunnels 40 metres under the Channel bed. The tunnels are 7,3 metres in diameter and about 50 km long, of which 37 km are under the Channel. Cars, trucks and coaches drive into specially built flat-cars and high-speed trains (160 km ph) leave every few minutes, reaching the terminal on the opposite side in 30 minutes.

In the west the British Isles are washed by the Atlantic Ocean, in the east - by the North Sea, the average depth of which is 95 m. The two largest islands of the British Archipelago, Great Britain and Ireland, are separated from each other by the Irish Sea and the two straits, the North Channel - 20 km wide, and St.George's Channel - over 100 km wide. The distance between the ports of Liverpool and Dublin is 230 km.

Apart from Britain the territories of six European countries look into the coasts of the North Sea - France, Belgium, the Netherlands, the Federative Republic of Germany, Denmark and Norway and for some of them this sea is the only exit to the World Ocean. The most important sea routes pass through the English Channel and the North Sea linking Europe with the Americas and other continents. The advantageous geographical position of Great Britain created favourable conditions for the development of her shipping, trade and the economy as a whole.

A place on the continental shelf has been of great advantage to the British fishing industry. Edible fish feed largely on plankton, the minute organism which abound in the shallow waters above the continental shelf, so that stretches of water such as the North Sea have long been rich fishing-grounds. Catches have been reduced by over-fishing, but other valuable resources have been discovered and exploited beneath the continental shelf - oil and natural gas.

The North Atlantic Current, the drift of warm water which reaches the islands from across the Atlantic, spreads out over the shelf magnifying its amiIiorating effect on the British Isles. This rather shallow skin of surface water, light because it is warm, is driven north-eastward across the ocean by the westerly winds. It forms part of the Gulf Stream system, which begins where Florida Current pours vast quantities of remarkably warm water into the circulation of the North Atlantic. In its journey across that ocean the water loses part of its heat, but retains enough to keep the ocean surface west of the British Isles warm in winter. During the winter months water which has been heated in far lower latitudes is arriving in the North Atlantic. Furthermore, the ocean surface becomes warmer or cooler, according to season, far more slowly than does a land surface in similar latitudes. The maximum surface temperature off the British coasts is reached in August; or even as late as September. Thus, when winter comes, there is much heat available to warm the air of the westerlies, and the seasonal fall of air temperature over Britain is sIow and slight.

The British Isles are known for their greatly indented coastline. Therefore there are many bays and harbours, peninsulas and capes on the coast, which were formed as a result of the raising and submerging of the land surface in the process of the geological development of the islands. The indentity pattern of the island of Great Britain greatly resembles that of the Norwegian coast abounding in numerous deep and winding, like rivers, fiords. Due to its extreme indentity the coastline of Great Britain despite its relatively modest size, is 8,000 km long.

Very much indented is the western coast, especially the coasts of Scotland and Wales. The highlands here rise quite abruptly from sea level, so that westward - flowing rivers are short end swift. Many long narrow lochs, or lakes, especially in the North-West Highlands, are finger lakes. Along the west coast are many inlets that are called lochs, such as Loch Fyne. These are sea lochs, or fiords: the ends of glaciated valleys which have been submerged by the sea.

The east coast is less lofty and more regular than the west coast, land sloping gradually down to the low sea shore and the coastal lowlands being flooded frequently.

Steep is the English coast of the Strait of Dover, where the chalk ridge comes right up to the sea repeating the chalk break of the French coast on the other side of the English Channel.

The Irish coasts are more like those of England. The west coast is more indented with long rias and peninsulas, while the south coast conforms more with the general run of the relief. The east is relatively smooth with a few major estuaries in the north but it is only in the southeast; that lowland coasts with spite and bars blocking the estuaries are found. Cliffed coasts predominate here, and some are very beautiful.

The majority of the British ports have grown up at the mouths, wide estuaries of rivers which give sheltered water, deep enough to take the comparatively large ships. These sites are usually tidal and, from the eighteenth century onwards it became usual to construct dock basins which could be isolated from the sea or river by closing their gates. This meant that, as the tide ebbed and the water level in the estuary began to fall, the gates could by closed and the water level in the dock could be maintained at a high level, so that loading or unloading could continue regardless of the state of the tide. Many of the dock systems built during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries became too small to handle the larger vessels afloat today and this resulted in the abandonment of old port areas and the building of new docks nearer the open sea, or even the constructions of entirely new ports, called outports. Apart from site, the most important factor in the growth of a port is its accessibility to a large and prosperous area of the country. Such an area, the area served by a port, is called the hinterland and it can vary in size from a few hundred square kilometres in the case of a small local port to virtually the whole of Britain in the case of London.

Of great importance for the port activity are tides when the rising water reaches its maximum mark (high tide) of 6 m in the lower Thames (London), 8,5 a in the Mersey estuary (Liverpool), 10 m in the Bristol Channel (Cardiff) and 12 m at Bristol. Thanks to the high tides many of the towns which are situated dozens of kilometres from the coast (London-64, Glasgow - 55, Hull - 32, and many others) have become sea ports.

britain geographical political economy


Outline the geographical position of the British lsles in the world.

Examine the territory and structure of the British Isles.

Examine the origin of the British Isles. Define the term "continental shelf" and estimate its importance to the British economy.

4. Discuss the evidence which suggests that Britain is geologically part of the continent of Europe. Outline the scheme of the Channel tunnel.

5. Give the account of the importance of the surrounding seas to Great Britain.

6. Describe the main features of the coastline of Great Britain. Contrast the nature of the eastern and western coasts.

7. Examine the factors which have influenced the growth and activity of ports.

Physical Structure and Relief. Highland and

Lowland Britain.

Highland Britain.

Britain has a great diversity of physical characteristics and, despite its small area, contains rocks of nearly all the main geological periods. There is a contrast between the generally high relief of western and northern Britain and the lowland areas of the south and east. In general, the oldest rocks appear in the highland regions and the youngest in the lowland regions.


Though England cannot be considered as a very hilly country still it is far from being flat everywhere. The most important range of mountains is the Pennine range, regarded as "the backbone of England". It stretches from the Tyne valley in the north to the Trent valley in the south - a distance of about 250 km. The whole range forms a large table-land the highest point of which is Cross Fell (893 m), in east Cumbria above the Eden valley. Being an upland region the Pennines form a watershed separating the westward-flowing from the eastward-flowing rivers of Northern England. They also form a barrier between industrial areas (Lancashire and Yorkshire) on their opposite sides. Both sets of rivers have out valleys into the uplands, two of which have created important gaps - the Tyne Gap and the Aire Gap. They have road and rail routes, which follow the rivers and link West Yorkshire with Lancashire and Cumbria. Some rivers flowing from the central Pennines have cut long open valleys, known as dales, which attract tourists because of their picturesque scenery. Rainfall in the Pennines is abundant, and their swiftly flowing streams used to provide power for woollen mills. Today the area is used for water storage: reservoirs in the uplands supply water to the industrial towns on each side of the Pennines.

Across the north end of the Pennine Range there are the grassy Cheviot Hills. The highest point is The Cheviot (816 m), near the Scottish border. The Cheviot Hills serve as a natural borderland between England and Scotland.

In north-weste England, separated from the Pennines by the valley of the river Eden lie the Cumbrian mountains. These mountains form a ring round the peak of Helvellyn (950 m). Other peaks are Scafell (978 m) and Skiddaw (931 m).

The valleys which separate the various mountains from each other contain some beautiful lakes ( Windermere, Grasmere, Coniston Water, Ennerdale Water, Thirlmere, Ullswater, Hawswater). This is the celebrated Lake District, where many tourists resort every year, and where the famous poets Wordsworth, Coleridge, Southey, Quincey lived and wrote.

Thirlmere and Haws Water are in use as reservoire for the Manchester area, and permission has been granted for Manchester to take water from Ullswater and Windermere. Crummock Water supplies Workington and other towns of West Cumberland.

The region is sparsely populated and sheep rearing is the main occupation of the farmers. A typical lakeland farmhouse is built of stone, quarried locally, and roofed with slate, also obtained in the region. Around it are a number of small fields, separated from one another by dry stone walls.

The Lake Listrict is exposed to the westerly winds and rainfall is exceptionally high. The village of Seathwaite, with an annual average rainfall of 3300 mm, claims to be the wettest inhabited place in the British Isles.

The South-West Peninsula of Great Britain includes the counties of Cornwall, Devon and Somerset. The region is made up of a number of upland masses separated by lowlands, which, apart from the Plain of Somerset, are of limited extent. The uplands of the South-west Peninsula are not ranges of mountains or hills, but areas of high moorland, the most extensive being Dartmoor and Exmooor. On the north side of Dartmoor the land rises to over 600 m (Yes Tor - 619 m. High Willhays - 621 m). These are the highest summits in England south of the Pennines. Much of the area bas been eroded, resulting in a series of platforms between I50 and 300 metres.

The South-West region is essentially an agricultural area. The areas of best soil occur around the southern borders of Dartmoor, in northern Devon and in the Vale of Taunton. On the Lower land between the moors, both in Cornwall and Devon, are fertile river valleys.

The westernmost point of the English mainland is Land's End, a mass of granite cliffs which plunge with dramatic steep-ness into the sea. The most southerly point of Great Britain Is Lizard Point, a mass of serpentine, greenish metamorphic rock, which people living in the neighbourhood carve and polish into attractive ornaments.

The South-west Peninsula presents numerous attractions for the holiday-makers and the artists, and tourism is one of the most important activities of the region.


Wales is the largest of the peninsulas on the western side of Britain. It consists of a complex of worn down mountain ranges, representing high plateaux. They are called the Cambrian mountains. The highest and most glaciated area occurs in the north, especially around Snowdon (1,085 m), and often the mountains approach close to the sea.

The Cambrians largely comprise the upland areas, generally and collectively described as the Welsh Massif. In the south the massif includes an important coal-field, on which an industrial area has grown. It is the most densely populated part of Wales with some two-thirds of the total population of 2.8 million inhabiting about one-eighth of the area. Two relief divisions may be distinguished in South Wales: a coastal plain which in the south-eastern part around Cardiff becomes up to 16 km wide, and the upland areas of the coalfield proper, which rise between 245 and 380 metres. In recent years the region has experienced very acute problems with the decline in the coal industry and high unemployment rates.

Much of the remainder of Wales consits of bare rock, barren moorland and rough pasture, with only a few people to the square kilometre. But this region constitutes the heartland of Wales, for centered upon the massif is the Welsh culture where the traditions and language of a Celtic people are best preserved.

In the upland areas sheep are the basis of the rural economy, and in the low-lying parts near the coast and in the valley bottoms dairy farming predominates.


Scotland may be divided into three major physical regions: the Highlands, the Southern Uplands and the Central Lowlands.

The Scottish Highlands lie west of a line from Aberdeen to the mouth of the Clyde. They form the most extensive and the most sparsely populated of the three regions. The mountains are separated into two parts by Glen More, or the Great Glen, a long crack in the earth's crust, running from north-east to south-west. To the south are the Grampians, which are generally higher than the North-west highlands, and contain the loftiest summits, including Ben Nevis (1,347 m), the highest peak in the British lsles, and Ben Macdhui (1,309 m). They have also been more deeply cut by the action of glaciers and rivers. Glen More contains three lakes: Loch Ness, Loch Oich and Loch Lochy, and the first is said to be the home of a "monster". In the early nineteenth century the lochs were joined to form the Caledonian Canal which was equipped with 29 lochs and was almost 100 km in total length. Along the west coast the highlands rise quite abruptly from sea level, so that westward-flowing rivers are short and swift. Rivers which flow generally east, such as the Tay and the Dee, have a relatively long course.

Climatically the region has some of the most severe weather experienced in Britain. The highly dissected nature of the landscape means that there are considerable local variations in climate over quite small distances and these variations are important.

The Highlands comprise forty-seven per cent of the land area of Scotland. At the same time, they house less than fifteen per cent of the Scottish population. The population is largely concentrated on the periphery of the massif, and nowhere else in Britain are the problems of depopulation and economic decline seen so clearly.

The economy of the region has traditionally been that of crofting, subsistent farming, in which the farmer (crofter) and his family consume all the produce. The crofter grows crops on a patch of land near his cottage, the main crops being potatoes, oats and hay. His sheep graze on the nearby hill slopes, and be may have one or two cows, to keep the family supplied with milk and some poultry.

The Southern Uplands extend from the Central Valley of Scotland in the north to the Pennine Hills and Lake District in the South. Although for the most part an upland area, the boundaries of the region are not clear-cut in physical terms. The Cheviot Hills, composed largely of volcanic rocks, mark the central part of the boundary between England and Scotland. Upland areas extend into the Central Valley, just as the Cheviots merge into the Pennines and the lowlands on both east and west coasts merge into the lowlands of Northumbria and those that surround the dome of the Lake Distrist.

These uplands form a plateau, which glaciation has eroded into smooth, rounded hills. The general level of this plateau-like surface descends from the higher northern margins in a series of steps. The hills ries to 800-900 m, but for the most part they lie between 450 and 610 metres.

The present-day economy of the region is dominated by agriculture. The region is clearly divided between the sheep pastures of the uplands and the more diversified farming areas of the lowlands. Sheep have been grazed on the uplands for the past six centuries and hard local breeds, such as Cheviot and Black-face have been developed which can withstand the snows of winter and produce excellent mutton as well as wool.

Throughout the uplands population distribution is sparse and limited to isolated farmsteads and occasional villages and towns usually clustered in the valleys on the periphery of the uplands, particularly in Galloway, the name is given to the dales and lowlands of the south-west, and in the Tweed Basin.

The Central Lowlands of Scotland, sometimes known as the Midland Valley, lie between the Highland and the Southern Uplands. For the most part this region is a lower-lying north- east to south-west trending are some eighty kilometres or so wide.

The Central Lowlands are by far the most densely populated of the three main regions of Scotland: they occupy about 15 per cent of its area, but contain about 80 per cent of its people.

Many of the people who left the highlands during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries settled in the Central Lowlands, particularly in the Glasgow region where industrial development as taking place at a rapid rate. The area was one of the major industrial centres of Britain, with important coal, steel, shipbuilding and engineering industries. The twentieth century has seen increasing problems in these industries and there has been a movement of population from the area.

On the fertile sandy soils in the south-west the farmers grow early potatoes. They also cultivate oats and in the sheltered Clyde Valley many are engaged in fruit growing and market gardening. Throughout the region sheep are reared on the hills.


Ireland is predominantly a rural island, with a generally low density of population and indeed few large towns other than those situated on the coast. The regional geography of the island is simpler than that of Great Britain, and especially than the regional geography of England.

The Central Plain of Ireland stretches west-east across the country from coast to coast. Glacial action has created hollows, enlarged by solution of the underlying limestone by rain water, and many shallow lakes have been forced. A large proportion of Ireland's terrain consists of either bleak and uninhabitable mountain masses, or valleys and lowlands containing large loughs, innumerable smaller sheets of water, and great peat bogs that are useless except as a source of fuel. Lough Derg, on the River Shannon, is narrow, irregular, and nearly forty kilometres in length.

Around the plain is a broken rim of mountains. In the extreme north-east is the Antrim Plateau or Mountains of Antrim, which rise above 400 m and are composed of basalt. Off the north coast is the famous Giant's Causeway, where the basalt solidified in remarkable hexagonal columns. In the north and north-west are the Sperrin Mountains and the Ox Mountains, which with several other uplands reach more than 500 m in height. The loftiest mountains of Ireland are in the south-west - the Macgillycuddy Reeks, which contain Carrantuohill (1,041 m), the highest peak on the island. In the south-east the Wicklow Mountains rise to 926 m in Lugnaquillia. They form one of the most extensive masses of granite in the British Isles. And in the north-east there are the Mourne Mountains which rise steeply from Carlingford Lough to reach a height of 852 m in Slieve Donard.

Being geographically an island and a single unit, Ireland is politically divided into the Irish Free State and Northern Ireland, comprising six counties of Ulster, which was one of the four provinces of ancient Ireland: Antrim, Londonderry, Tyrone, Fermanagh, Armagh and Down.

Lowland Britain

Lowland Britain offers a striking contrast in many ways. Though so much less rugged, there are few parts where level land is uninterrupted by hills. One of the most extensive plains in the British Isles is in the English Midlands, consisting of river valleys and plains interspersed with scattered hills. It is the Midland Plain, which is best described as an undulating lowland rarely rising above 100 metres. To the north of it are the Pennines, to the south the Thames Basin, to the east East Anglia and to the West the Welsh Borderlands.

Another important plain in Britain is the London Basin in South East England. The master stream of the basin is Britain's second longest river, the Thames, which enters the region from the west. The Hampshire Basin includes a wide plain area of central southern England.

The geographical region described as the Lancashire and Cheshire Plain, includes the lowlands to the west of the Central and Southern Pennines. The Lowlands themselves are linked to the Midland Plain by a broad gap between the Welsh mountains and the Pennines, known as the Midland Gate. In Yorkshire, along the eastern edge of the Pennines lies the extensive Yorkshire Lowland.

The chief characteristic of East Anglia is its low relief with few hills, the area is mainly founded on chalk.

Rivers and Lakes.

There is a fairly wide network of rivers in the British Isles, though generally short in length and navigable but in their lower reaches, especially during high tides. Mild maritime climate keeps them free of ice throughout the winter months.

In the Middle Ages, river transport played a major role in the British internal transport system, and all the large towns of the time were situated on navigable rivers. But since the beginning of the nineteenth century the waterways, including numerous canals, have steadily declined in importance, and many have fallen into disuse.

The drainage map of the British Isles seems to contain no very clear pattern. The largest river of Great Britain, the Severn (350 km), for example, follows a particularly puzzling course. After rising on the slopes of Plynlimmon, in central Wales, it flows at first north-eastwards, but later turns sharply through the Ironbridge gorge and then runs southwards and south-westwards to the Bristol Channel. The courses of the Trent (274 km) and the upper Thames (346 km) also show many changes of direction. Many of the largest rivers in Scotland, such as the Tweed, Forth, Dee and Spay, drain directly to the North Sea. Scotland's longest river, the River Tay, some 170 km long, also follows this course. Among other important rivers, which flow eastwards, to the North Sea, are the rivers Trent, Tyne, Tees, Humber, Ouse in England.

A number of streams flow down to the west coast, to the Irish Sea, including the Clyde in Scotland, the Eden, Ribble, Mersey and the Severn. A few small rivers flow to the English Channel.

There are many rivers in Ireland. They are short but navigable due to an abundant and even distribution of precipitation throughout the year. The longest river of the British Isles is the River Shannon (384 km), flowing from north to south of Ireland. Among other more or less important rivers are the Foyle, flowing to the north, the Lagan, Boyne.

Liffey, Slaney -to the east, the Barrow and the Blackwater - to the south.

Most of the British lakes are in part the result of glacial erosion and in part due to chemical solution of the underlying limestone. There is a host of small winding lakes in Scotland, in Cumbria and in Ireland.

The largest lake in Great Britain and the biggest inland loch in Scotland is Loch Lomond, covering a surface area of 70 square km, although the longest lake is Loch Ness (56 square km) which also has the greatest volume of water. In England the largest lake is Lake Windermere (the Lake District) with a surface area of 15 square km.

The largest fresh water lake in the British Isles is Lough Neagh in Northern Ireland (381 square km).

The Quaternary glaciatlon has further modified the river patterns in many areas. This is especially true of central Ireland, where the uneven surface of the drift cover has led, as in the basin of the Shannon, to much bad drainage, many peat bogs and numerous large lakes, such as Loughs Ree and Derg.


Briefly outline the main features of the physical geography of the British Isles.

Describe the relief features of England, referring to mountainous areas.

Examine the relief features of Wales.

Describe the varied relief features of Scotland.

Describe and account for the main relief characteristics of Ireland.

Describe the major plains of lowland Britain.

Give an account of the drainage features of the British Isles, their chief rivers and lakes.

Climate and Weather

Weather is not the same as climate. The weather at a place is the state of the atmosphere there at a given time or over a short period. The weather of the British Isles is notoriously variable. The climate of a place or region, on the other hand, represents the average weather conditions through the year. In every part of the British Isles obvious changes are taking place as winter passes into spring, spring into summer, and so through autumn to winter.

The position of the British Isles within latitudes 50° to 6I°N is a basic factor in determining the main characteristics of the climate. Within the limits of the general climatic type - maritime, temperate, with no dry season and with summers only moderately warm - there is, however, room for considerable variation between one region and another.

The climate of any place results from the interaction of a number of determining factors, of which the most important are latitude, distance from the sea, relief and the direction of the prevailing winds. These factors must be distinguished from the actual features of the climate such as temperature, precipitation, wind, sunshine, fog, the humidity of the air.

Britain has a generally mild and temperate climate, which is dominated by marine influences and is rainy and equable. Britain's climate is much milder than that in any other country in the same latitudes. This is due partly to the presence of the North Atlantic Drift which begins as the Gulf Stream, in the Gulf of Mexico, crosses the Atlantic Ocean, and so reaches the shores of Europe as a warm current, and partly to the fact that north-west Europe lies in a predominantly westerly wind-belt. This means that not only do marine influences warm the land in winter and cool it in summer, but also that the winds blowing over the Atlantic have a similar effect and at the same time carry large amounts of moisture which is deposited over the land as rain. Britain's climate is generally one of mild winters and cool summers, with rain throughout the year, although there are considerable regional changes.

Latitudes determine the main characteristics of the climate. Temperature, the most important climatic element, depends not only on the angle at which the sun's rays strike the earth's surface, but also on the duration of daylight. The greater the angle of the sun above the horizon, the greater is the heat received and the length of the period between sunrise and sunset. The length of day at London ranges from 16 hours 35 minutes on 21 June to 7 hours 50 minutes on 21 December.

The sea greatly modifies the climate of the British Isles, for their relatively small area and the indented nature of the coastline allow maritime influences to penetrate well inland. The sea, whose waters have a higher specific heat than the rocks of the Land surface, warms up more slowly, but also cools down more slowly than does the land. Consequently, in summer the land tends to be warmer than the sea, and in winter the converse is true. This moderating effect of the sea is, in fact, the cause of the relatively small seasonal contrasts experienced in Britain.

The prevailing winds in the British Isles are westerlies. They are extremely moist, as a result of their long passage over the warm waters of the North Atlantic. On their arrival over Britain, the winds are forced upwards, and as a result large-scale condensation occurs, clouds form and precipitation follows, especially over the mountainous areas.

Relief is the most important factor controlling the distribution of temperature and precipitation within Britain. The actual temperatures experienced in the hilly and mountainous parts are considerably lower than those in the lowlands. The effect of relief on precipitation is even more striking. Average annual rainfall in Britain is about 1,100 mm. But the geographical distribution of rainfall is largely determined by topography, the mountainous areas of the west and north having far more rainfall than the lowlands of the south and east. The western Scottish Highlands, the Lake District, the Welsh uplands and parts of Devon and Cornwall receive more than 2,000 mm of rainfall each year. The greatest annual rainfall recorded in Britain was 6,527 mm at Sprinkling Tarn (Cumbria) in 1954. Much of this precipitation takes the form of snow, and on some of the highest summits of the north a layer of snow may persist for several months of the year.

In contrast, the eastern lowlands, lying in a rain-shadow area, are much drier, and usually receive little precipitation. Much of East Anglia has a rainfall of less than 700 mm run each year, and snow falls on only 15 to 18 days on the average. The lowest annual rainfall was recorded at Margate (Kent) in 1921 (236 MM).

Rainfall is fairly well distributed throughout the year, but, on average, March to June are the driest months and October to January the wettest.

Ireland is in rather a different category, for here the rain-bearing winds have not been deprived of their moisture, and, although low-lying, much of the Irish plain receives up to 1,200 mm of rainfall per year, usually in the form of steady and prolonged drizzle. Snow, on the other hand, is rare, owing to the warming effects of the North Atlantic Drift.


Because of the North Atlantic Drift and the predominantly maritime air masses that effect the British Isles, the range in temperature throughout the year is never very great. The annual mean temperature in England and Wales is about 10°C, in Scotland and Northern Ireland about 9°C. The mean January temperature for London is 4°C, and the mean July temperature 17°C.

Near sea level in the west the mean annual temperature ranges from 8°C in the Hebrides to 11°C in the extreme south-west of England. July and August are the warmest months of the year on average and January and February the coldest. The mean summer temperatures throughout Britain increase from north to south.

The mean monthly temperature in the extreme north (the Shetlands) ranges from 3°C during the winter (December, January and February) to I2°C during the summer (June, July and August). The corresponding figures for the Isle of Wight, in the extreme south, are 5°C and I60C.

During a normal summer the temperature may occasionally rise above 30°C in the south. The highest shade temperature ever recorded in Britain was about 37°C in August 1911 in Northampton-shire, Surrey and Kent. Minimum temperature of - 10°C may occur on a still, clear winter's night in inland arear. Lower temperatures are rare. The lowest temperature (-27.2°C) was recorded at Braemar (the Grampians) in February 1895 and January 1982.

The distribution of sunshine shows a general decrease from south to north, a decrease from the coast inland and a decrease with latitude. During the months of longest daylight (May, June and July) the mean daily duration of sunshine varies from five hours in northern Scotland to eight hours in the Isle of Wight. During November, December and January (the months of shortest daylight) sunshine is at minimum, with an average of half an hour a day in some parts of the Scottish Highlands and two hours a day on the south coast of England. Generally the coasts are everywhere sunnier than neighbouring inland districts. Ireland is subject to frequent cloud and records little sunshine.


In direct contrast with climate, in which short-term variations disappear with the calculation of averages, the weather of the British Isles is notoriously variable. Not only is it liable to day-to-day changes- some whole seasons are markedly wet, markedly dry, unusually cold, or unusually warm.

Spring is normally Britain's driest season, even though April is by tradition showery. Cold weather usually lasts no later than mid-April, and there are frequently some very warm days during the second half of the month. By late spring daytime temperature rises considerably, and the thermometer may even reach 2I-24°C over a wide area.

June is the brightest month of the year for Britain in general. Rainfall tends to increase during July and August, partly because Atlantic depressions some nearer to the coast during these months and partly also because air, as it becomes warmed, is capable of holding more moisture. Late summer is often noted for vary warm weather, and this way continue into September.

North and north-west winds often bring heavy falls of snow to north Britain during late October and November, but they are usually short-lived.

Continental air sometimes reaches the British Isles in summer as a warm, dry air-stream, but it is more frequently experienced in winter when it crosses the North Sea and brings bitter weather to eastern and inland districts of Great Britain.

In fine, still weather there is occasionally haze in summer and mist and fog in winter.


The present vegetation of great Britain owes much of its character to the influence of man. Only in the more remote parts of Ireland and the Scottish Highlands do remnants of the natural vegetation still exist. The " natural vegetation" in the true sense of the term has practically disappeared from Britain, and most of the present cover is loosely known as semi-natural in the unfenced rough, grazing and in the woodland.

With its mild climate, a wide variety of relief and soils Britain once had a diverse pattern of vegetation. The original natural vegetation consisted of forest, fen and marsh in the wet lowlands, especially where the drainage was poor, and shrub, heath and moorland on the uplands where soils were thin. In the lowland areas the oak forest must have bean the natural vegetation.

Over the centuries, however, the forests have had to make way for agriculture and settlement. But a systematic and barbaric destruction of the forests took place in the 16-18th centuries with the construction of factories and roads, the development of mineral resources, the production of char-coal for iron-smelting, as well as to provide timber for shipbuilding and constructional purpose generally.

Apart from oak other trees of the wooded lowlands were ash, maple, elm and hazel. Today only a few scattered areas of extensive woodland remain, such as the New Forest in Hampshire and Sherwood Forest in Nottinghamshire, which owe their survival largely to the fact that in the Middle Ages they were set aside "Royal Forests" for hunting. The greatest density of woodland occurs in the north and the east of Scotland, in some parts of south-east England and on the Welsh border. Throughout most of England and parts of Wales and Scotland, where temperatures are high enough to permit trees to complete their annual cycle of growth between spring and autumn, deciduous varieties (such as oak, birch, beech and ash) are more numerous. In the north and on higher ground in the west these are replaced by coniferous species, pine, fir and spruce.

By the beginning of the twentieth century Britain's timber reserves had been so seriously depleted that in 1919 the Government set up a permanent Forestry Commission charged with the task of improving the position. It carries out a programme of planting in places which are not now forested, and of improving existing woodland, mainly on the acquired land in Scotland, Wales, the English Lake district and East Anglia. Today forest and woodland occupy only about 9 per cent of the surface of the country (out of the total 43 per cent in England, 43 in Scotland, II per cent in Wales and the remainder in Northern Ireland). Fifty-six per cent of forest and woodland belong to private landowners. Over 90 per cent of the timber used in the United Kingdom is imported.

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