Your Visit to England
Welcome to the
Country and the People
Home of the English language, hundreds of castles, hundreds of stately homes, the land of King Arthur, Robin Hood and Shakespeare and one Royal Family. Eighteen UNESCO World Heritage Sites, rolling hills, green valleys, modern vibrant cities, 38 medieval cathedrals, picturesque villages and around 2,500 museums including many that are world class and free to enter.
England has a depth of history that pervades throughout the land, cities have grown organically over centuries often within medieval or even Roman walls that may still stand in part today amongst dreaming spires and ancient bridges. Towns and villages often feature stone-built or half timbered buildings that have their own history.
The landscape is comfortable and calming, distances are never too far, and there's always a traditional pub, tea-room, bed and breakfast or hotel with a ready welcome for the tired traveller in search of rest and refreshment.
British culture is well known across the world and many aspects will be familiar to visitors from music, film, literature and TV. Accents may prove a little difficult at times, but are all part of the rich tapestry of this fascinating country where all manner of things can and do change over a distance of 50 miles or less.
A Brief History
- About 800,000 years ago - Norfolk, oldest human footprints found outside Africa.
- About 41,000 years ago - Devon, Earliest evidence of modern humans in North West Europe.
- About 13,000 years ago - Glaciers retreat, continuous human habitation begins.
- 3,000 - 2,000 BC - Stonehenge constructed, the earliest relics on the site may be as old as 8,000 BC.
- 55 and 54 BC - Julius Caesar leads a Roman invasion, Britannia becomes part of the Roman Empire until 410 AD.
- 5th and 6th centuries - Seven kingdoms established by Anglo-Saxon invaders.
- 900 AD - England established as a single kingdom.
- 1066 AD - Norman conquest, the last successful invasion of England.
- 1215 AD - Magna Carta, establishes that everyone is subject to the law, even kings, guarantees the rights of individuals, the right to justice, and the right to a fair trial.
Be not afeard. The isle is full of noises, sounds, and sweet airs that give delight and hurt not. Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments will hum about mine ears, and sometime voices that, if I then had waked after long sleep, will make me sleep again. And then, in dreaming, the clouds methought would open and show riches ready to drop upon me, that when I waked I cried to dream again.
“What can the England of 1940 have in common with the England of 1840? But then, what have you in common with the child of five whose photograph your mother keeps on the mantelpiece? Nothing, except that you happen to be the same person.” .
1: The Countryside - Britain is expert at the art of countryside, much of the landscape has been under the custody and husbandry of the people for hundreds or thousands of years. Gentle rolling hills with neatly divided fields separated by stone walls or hedges that themselves can be several hundred years old, some going back to the Romans or earlier. Nestled in valley bottoms are villages and towns, connected with each other via a transport network with easy access options. The hymn "Jerusalem" refers to this "green and pleasant land" and almost wherever you go, green is the overwhelmingly prevalent colour. Only 5.9% of the land is built on, it may seem more than this if you spend your time in towns an cities, but the great majority of the UK is farmland or natural countryside. There is something for every visitor, natural landscapes such as the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland to mountains in Snowdonia in Wales, the English Lake District and the Scottish Highlands. There is over 7,700 miles (12,400 km) of coastline and the furthest you can get from the sea is just 70 miles, Britain's island status and maritime history figure highly in its history and the national psyche.
2: Culture - British culture is known widely across the world so there will be some aspects of it that you are familiar with before you come. It has some of the most visited museums in the world many of which are conveniently located close together in the city of London. The British Museum (free entry) houses 8 million objects related to human history, art and culture, out of which grew the Natural History Museum (free entry) which now houses 80 million specimens while the National Gallery (free entry) holds an internationally important collection of over 2,300 paintings including many masterpieces such as Van Gogh's Sunflowers.
London's theatres are vibrant and thriving where many famous British actors you may know from big budget movies can be found in a range of plays and musicals that change regularly. Shakespearean plays are performed at their original thatched-roof home the Globe Theatre, in London on the banks of the Thames. If your interest lies with the written word, you can visit the places that inspired Wordsworth, Jane Austen, Agatha Christie or any number of writers. One of my favourite parts of travelling is to take some books that are set in the place I am visiting, something probably easier to do in the UK than any other place in the world. Movie scenes abound too if you are a fan of Harry Potter or Game of Thrones or any number of others.
3: The Welcome - The British are a friendly and polite race who are welcoming to visitors, they will be as much a part of your experience in Britain as the places you visit, a sense of humour is fundamental to a Brit, expect jokes and levity. Of course in the larger and busier tourist areas you are less of a novelty and so will receive less interest, though the further afield you go and especially in smaller towns and villages you could be figure of some fascination, but only if you wish to be so, we are quite good at not requiring that people leave their comfort zone.
4: Sport - For football fans there is the Premier League (and others), one of the most closely followed sporting tournaments in the world. You can get tickets to a choice of matches in London or any one of the Premier League grounds across the country during your visit, maybe Wembley Stadium (London) or Old Trafford (Manchester United). Lord’s cricket ground, the ‘Home of Cricket’ is also in London as is Wimbledon where the "Grand Slam" or "Major" tennis tournament is held in June/July each year. Golf is a major attraction for many with some legendary courses including St. Andrews in Scotland home to many fine links courses. As the inventor of many of the world's most widely played sports, you should be able to find a place in Britain to indulge your interest whatever it is and with major cities generally no more than a few hours apart, you will probably be able to find a competition taking place in your chosen sport within reach in the appropriate season.
5: Family Friendliness - There are lots of attractions and entertainments in the UK for visitors of all ages, children are welcome everywhere and there are some of the world's best children’s venues, such as Alton Towers, many zoos, Legoland, the Natural History Museum’s dinosaur exhibition, and my eldest son's favourite which was running around the outside of a castle waving a plastic sword and having some epic adventure in his head.
6: Heritage - Britain is packed with historical treasures and is reigned over by the world’s longest serving Queen. The British do pomp and ceremony at a world class level and there are a number of annual events where they can be seen doing this to the best advantage. On a daily basis uniformed guards wearing red coats and huge bearskin hats can be seen outside royal palaces. There are world class historical buildings and relics including 27 World Heritage Sites along with countless other historical buildings and sites throughout the country. Preserving the material aspects of the past and continuing to use them wherever possible is important to the British. The Tower of London, Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle, Edinburgh Castle in Scotland, Caernarfon Castle in Wales, and Henry VIII’s Hampton Court Palace are a few of the better known and more extravagant buildings. Stonehenge was built around the same time as the Egyptian pyramids on a site that already had a history going back thousands of years. The island was invaded by Romans, Vikings and Normans all of whom left their mark, relics and important sites that can be seen today. History and heritage in the UK is multi-layered, it's not a theme park but can come close to what some theme parks are trying to look like.
7: Eccentricities - Britain is a place where eccentrics are accepted and often admired, in a milder form this comes across as individualism, not deliberately doing things differently, but doing things the way you want and no-one else being much bothered by it. This extends to events, unusual pass-times and even the history. These things are worth a look at if you find them or something similar nearby if only for the obligatory bemused selfie standing next to the entrance sign. Odd museums include: The Cumberland Pencil Museum, Pen Museum, Mustard Museum, Museum of Witchcraft, Lawnmower Museum, Pram Museum, Dog Collar Museum, Bakelite Museum, Gnome Garden, House of Marbles and Teapot Island. Spectator events or where you can take part include but are not limited to bog-snorkeling, cheese-rolling (down a very hazardous steep hill), wassailing, pancake races, maypole dancing, Morris dancing, nettle eating and mummers plays.
Summer or winter solstice at Stonehenge (dawn on June 21st and December 21st, give or take a day - check if you're going), Bonfire Night - 5th of November - firework displays across the country, Flower shows of various sizes and prestige from late spring to autumn, the British take gardening very seriously, Festivals - summer is festival season, music or otherwise, many towns and cities have their own, as famously does Edinburgh in August when it hosts the world's largest arts festival.
8: Shopping - Whether you want small independent shops or dependable quality chains, there is plenty of choice in the UK. The chains tend to be found in shopping centers or malls while the most interesting small independent shops are often found in the older picturesque buildings in historic towns and cities. As of 2017, the top 3 shopping areas were voted: Cambridge, Westfield London and Knightsbridge London.
9: Food and Drink - British food is varied and of good quality. The traditional dishes can have some odd names such as spotted dick, toad in the hole, and bangers and mash or names that make more sense such as the Full English Breakfast, Roast (meat) dinners, sweet or savoury pies and puddings, afternoon tea and fish and chips. Fresh fruit and vegetables are plentiful and affordable, and organic produce is readily available. There are over 700 named regional cheeses and more breweries per head of population than anywhere else in the world. Vegetarians will find restaurants that cater to them and vegetarian options are available in almost all restaurants. British chefs are world class, there are 174 Michelin starred restaurants. Britain is also home to the widest and best range of South Asian food outside South Asia, Camellia Punjabi, who introduced regional Indian cuisine to the UK, said that the best Indian food in the world is now served in London. British pubs are a cultural phenomenon all of their own and the best place to sample the array of beers and other drinks with friends, gin is undergoing something of a renaissance at the moment and all the kinds of whisky can provide a life-time of drinking variety all on their own.