Great Britain is the main island that makes up the majority of the land mass that is the UK. It is an island comprised of England, Wales and Scotland, each with their own histories, political significance and cultural heritage. Contrary to popular belief, Great Britain is not so named out of any sense of arrogance or narcissism, but rather the ‘Great’ is a prefix designed to distinguish the island, in ancient times, from the smaller Britain or Brittany in northwestern France which was an independent kingdom before becoming a fiefdom to the French throne.
Wales was once an independent territory, though it was never a unified Kingdom, instead it was made up of a number of territories each with their own ruler until the whole of Wales was invaded and occupied by England. Wales was ruled initially as a separate country but is now a fully absorbed part of the UK, though, like Scotland, it retains its own legislative body.
What to see in Wales
Wales is blessed with vast areas of beautiful scenery and this has led to much of the country being designated as a national park. The most notable of these are:
Snowdonia National Park – this national park contains ancient castles, untouched lakes and rivers and vast tracks of pristine wild and rolling hills. There is a vast diversity of flora and fauna here giving the hills a photo-shopped look as they are almost too beautiful to be believed.
Pembrokeshire Coast National Park – this is the UK’s only coastal national park, and is comprised of rugged cliffs and sandy beaches that look out onto the Atlantic, it’s a truly remarkable part of the whole of Great Britain and gives one a sense of freedom to look out over the angry Atlantic from the crest of a battered cliff.
Brecon Beacons National Park – located in Southern Wales, this is an extremely diverse national park in terms of the landscape; it ranges from towering mountains to gorges and moors, and plummeting waterfalls in dramatic valleys. Much of its dramatic scenery is unmatched by anything else in the UK.
Castles – Wales has some of the best castles on the island, with much of the preserved structures from after the 14th century English invasion being compared to the Middle East’s crusader castles. Many of the countries castles have been declared UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
England is the largest and most populated of the four countries that make up the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. This part of the UK is home to around 52 million people, which is the vast majority (90%) of the UK’s population. England is home to range of tourist attractions, from the bustling metropolis of London, to the vast and beautiful countryside of the Lake District, there are a number of attractions to be seen, such as national parks, ancient homes of significance managed by the English and National Trust, historical towns such as Bath and York and iconic landmarks like Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle, Tower Bridge, Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament, one of the biggest parliamentary buildings in the world.
Getting to England
Travelling to England is exceptionally easy from anywhere in the world. There is a direct route from almost every major city to either London, Manchester, Birmingham, Liverpool, York or Newcastle. If travelling from outside Europe it is more likely your point of entry to England will be through London at either Heathrow or Gatwick, while regional flights will offer service to one of the several other major cities. Just about every flag carrier in the world offers flight to London, and those that don’t will do so through a code-share agreement with other airlines. As the national flag carrier of the UK, British Airways maintains a vast and comprehensive service from over 200 countries, feeding the UK with travelers. Most travelers coming to Great Britain will enter through England, though there is also an increasingly comprehensive service from major cities around the world to Glasgow, Aberdeen and Edinburgh in Scotland, and a very limited range of travel options from outside Europe to Cardiff International in Wales.
Places to visit
England is a big and varied country in terms of the attractions it offers. Some of the best ways of exploring the country is to split your holiday up into a several week affairs and spend a few days in several notable locations. Four to five days should be taken to hire a riverboat and explore the flat plains of the Norfolk Broads, there are all manner of charming little towns and ancient churches dotted around this region of England and to explore it in the lazy comfort of a riverboat is the very definition of recreational holidaymaking.
The of course, there is the matter of England’s rich, rich history. The cities of York and Bath must certainly make it onto the itinerary of any serious traveler. York is a city whose roots date all the way back to the days of Roman occupation and it is home to some of the most striking Cathedrals in the country, and Bath, similarly, was once a Roman settlement and houses the famous Roman Baths, a bath house wonderfully maintained and restored. The whole of Bath is actually a World Heritage Site. The serious traveler will also want to visit England’s historical buildings, managed by either the English Trust or the National Trust.
There are over 400 properties under the protection of these institutions, and they range from grand palaces to little cottages and abbeys. There is the iconic Stonehenge, the infamous Hampton Court, the palatial and strikingly beautiful Waddesdon Manor in Buckinghamshire, and the childhood homes of John Lennon and Paul McCartney. The properties that the trust manages are amazing buildings to explore because they give tourists in Britain a physical, tangible representation of the history of one of the most influential countries in the world. England did, after all, weave the very fabric of the modern world. It was England that created half the countries of the world, and England that defeated the Spanish Armada, which changed the landscape of politics in Europe forever.
Hadrians Wall, a stone wall running almost across the entire width of England from the North Sea to the Irish Sea through the counties of Cumbira, Northumberland and Tyne and Wear, for over 87 miles. It is a truly exceptional site in terms of its archeological value, despite that fact that only parts of the wall remain visible.
Walking and hiking is a good way to see the countryside, especially in notable national parks such as the Lake District, New Forest, Peak District and South Downs. These are areas of exceptional beauty and are worthy of a separate holiday in England just to see them.
Not one to ever be outdone, Scotland is a country at the very top of Great Britain that has made its own waves throughout the history of Europe. Scotland was a thorn in the side of England for many centuries. It is a country of proud and strong people, their heritage of resistance of outside rule going as far back as the Romans. Even the greatest military power the world had ever known, a military drawn from all the far flung corners of the Roman Empire, could not defeat the Scottish and the Roman only ever got as far as Hadrian’s Wall. They put up a similar fight with the English, leading to such epic movies as Brave Heart, which, although it was released many centuries after Scotland fell to England, it reignited the embers of the Scottish resistance and just a few years later an agreement had been reached for Scotland to have her own parliament, although the country would remain part of the UK. Such is the tenacity of the Scottish, there hardy stubbornness and pride, their hospitality and humor and their down-to-earth humanity have made them known the world over.
Because of this rich history there are countless castles and historical complexes to explore, as well as Balmoral Castle, which is still a functional residence for the British monarchy. There is also Edinburgh Castle, which overlooks the capital city of Scotland, and the world-famous Scottish Highland known for their rugged beauty and isolated charm. Good website for planning tours of historical sites in Scotland are http://www.historic-scotland.gov.uk/ and The National Trust for Scotland.