As a small group of islands, the United Kingdom was an obvious target for advancing conquerors. In fact, everyone from the Vikings to the Romans occupied the area at one point. By the 1400’s, however, England began to flex her muscle and dominate the seas as both her trade routes and naval powers increased. In fact, in 1588, their defeat of the pesky Spanish Armada signaled to all that they were officially a world power. Their success years later during the Napoleonic Wars only cemented this image.
For the next few centuries, England expanded her empire through conquest, exploration and colonization. The phrase, “The sun never sets on the British Empire”, was actually a true statement because holdings from Australia, India and North America made it so.
Between the World Wars, times were difficult for Britain due to wartime losses, the Depression and a changing world in general. Her grip on countries within her empire began to loosen. Some countries, like India, became completely independent, others, like Canada, remained in what is called the Commonwealth, a loosely associated group of countries, and others, namely Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland remained part of the United Kingdom.
Constant fighting in the 1990’s led to changes in the status of Ireland when, in 1998, it was divided into two. Northern Ireland, mainly Protestant, remained part of the United Kingdom and the Catholic portion of southern Ireland became the Republic of Ireland. In fact, as recently as 2012, Scotland considered leaving the U.K. as well and will vote on the matter in 2014.
Renewable energy is a growing field and Scotland is capitalizing on harnesses the wind’s energy through numerous wind farms along her shores. In fact, Europe’s largest wind farm is located just outside of Glasgow.
The United Kingdom is a sovereign state consisting of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
There are over 192 island nations in the world and, at almost 138,000 square miles, the United Kingdom is not even in the top 10.
Surrounded by the North Sea, the Celtic Sea and the Atlantic Ocean, the U.K has over 7,700 miles of rugged coastline.
- The ubiquitous English Fish & Chips is not actually English in its origins. The Portuguese were the ones to introduce battered fish to the United Kingdom.
- The subway system in London is nicknamed “The Tube” and is the largest underground transportation system in the world.
- The Irish love horses and racing. In fact, there are 26 race tracks across Ireland, more per capita than any other country.
- Unbeknownst to many, the name Big Ben is the name of the actual bell (which weighs 13 tons), not the entire clock tower. St. Stephen’s Tower is the proper name for the whole structure.
- The first divorce ever in Ireland was granted in 1997. No, that is not a misprint.
- Although the United Kingdom acts as a cohesive unit for political decisions, each home country has its own governing body for professional sports, allowing them to compete against each other on an international level.
- Soccer is fast replacing cricket as the national sport of the United Kingdom and there are many teams throughout the U.K.
- London is the epitome of a modern, urban center with a rich history that dates back thousands of years. From historical sites and the changing of the guard to the Tube and the nightlife, it truly has something for everyone;
- Stonehenge, located in Wilshire, UK, is the ruins of a possible solar or lunar worship site from around 3100 B.C. People have been drawn to the mystical site for centuries;
- St. Andrews in Scotland is the world’s oldest golf course. In fact, the game has been played there since the 1400’s. If you’d like to play on “The Old Course”, you can enter a drawing 2 days prior to your arrival for a chance to play, which would be quite an honor;
- Although not technically a destination, an extremely popular activity for visitors to the British Isles is to have afternoon tea. The practice started in the 19th century, when a Duchess complained of hunger one afternoon and decided to discretely have tea and a light snack. The concept spread and is continued to this day;
- The rugged coast of Cornwall juts out into the Atlantic Ocean and is known for its quaint fishing villages and surfing. Yes, surfing;
- Loch Ness, in the Scottish Highlands, is the largest lake in all of the U.K. In fact, with over 16 million gallons of water, it has more water than all the lakes in the United Kingdom combined, plenty of room for the legendary Loch Ness Monster;
- Cardiff is the capital of Wales and has a rich history that dates back over 2,000 years. A visit can give a great overall view of the tiny country; it is just 8,000 square miles.
How to Get Cash
It is relatively easy to get additional cash in the U.K. should the need arise. Please note that almost all shops and facilities only accept the British pound sterling. Furthermore, most do not accept the 50 pound note because counterfeits are rampant. Dollars, euros and other foreign currency need to be exchanged.
ATMs – this modern convenience is everywhere in the U.K., even small towns. You can use your debit card to withdraw cash as well as to make purchases.
Credit cards – likewise, most major credit cards are accepted throughout the region and can be used at banks and ATMs (also called cash machines) for cash advances and withdrawals.
Traveler’s Checks – these are rarely used any longer, with most travelers using other methods to get funds.
Money Changers – business offices, called bureaus, have been set up to compete with banks for your business and sometimes offer better exchange rates.