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The United Kingdom
'When people say England, they sometimes mean Great Britain, sometimes the United Kingdom, sometimes the British Isles - but never England.'
From 'How to be an Alien' by George Mikes?

- Can you explain the difference between England, Great Britain, the UK, and the British Isles?
- How are Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, and the Irish Republic related to the previous?
- Without reading the text, try filling in the missing terms on the map.
- Now read the text.

The British Isles consist of two large islands, Great Britain and Ireland, and thousands of smaller islands. Important bodies of water surrounding them are the North Sea in the east, the Atlantic Ocean in the west, the English Channel between England and France, the Irish Sea between Great Britain and Ireland, and the Celtic Sea in the south of Ireland. The topography of Great Britain can be roughly divided into Lowland Britain and Highland Britain. The border between the two goes from the Bristol Channel to the Wash. The coast is deeply indented. Estuaries and inlets break it, so that no place is far from the sea. The terrain of Ireland is mostly a plain surrounded by rugged hills. The climate of the British Isles is mild and damp, moderated by the light winds blowing in off relatively warm seas heated up by the Gulf Stream flowing from the Gulf of Mexico. Temperatures inland don't get much below freezing in winter, or much above 30°C in summer. Expect light drizzle anywhere at any time. Fogs usually develop in winter. The British Isles were once almost entirely covered with forests, but tree cover is now the lowest in Europe. The mighty woodland is now reduced to a few pockets of vegetation.

The Republic of Ireland (the capital of which is Dublin) and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland are two independent countries on the British Isles. The UK is historically divided into four parts: England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Apart from these, the Isle of Man in the Irish Sea and the Channel Islands in the Channel are independent administrative units. The British flag, known as the Union Jack, incorporates the old national flags of England, Scotland, and of Ireland. Wales, politically united with England when the flag was created, is not represented. The British anthem is God Save the Queen. At present the population of the UK is over 57 million. English, Welsh, Scottish Gaelic and Irish are spoken in the UK as it includes the English, the Scots, the Welsh, and the Irish. Moreover, there are many immigrants, above all from Africa, West Indies, India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh.

Though England is generally thought of as freeze-framed in the 1930s, for today's visitors to the UK it is popular with vibrant cities contrasted with green and pleasant countryside. Lowland Britain (the South, London, East Anglia, and the West Country) has many rivers connected by a network of canals. The Thames flows through London, the largest city and the capital of both England and the UK. Just the grand resonance of its very name suggests history and might. Another place to see is Canterbury with its impressive cathedral reflecting a number of architectural styles. The ghosts of saints fill the hallowed air, and not even baying packs of schoolchildren can spoil the atmosphere. After the martyrdom of Archbishop Thomas Becket in 1170, an important medieval pilgrimage, immortalised by Geoffrey Chaucer in The Canterbury Tales annualy took place there. Prehistoric Stonehenge is as a tantalising mystery as a hackneyed experience because tourists are processed through like cans on a conveyor belt. It consists of a ring of enormous stones topped by lintels, an inner horseshoe, an outer circle and a ditch. Although little is known about the site's purpose, nowadays it provides a scene for regular clashes between new age hippies and the police at summer solstice. On the southern holiday coast, since William the Conqueror gave it its name in 1079, New Forest is the largest area of natural vegetation left and not far off the coast there is the Isle of Wight, the smallest county in England. Oxford and Cambridge, famous university towns, are graced by superb college architecture. Yet, don't kid yourself, you wouldn't have studied any harder in such august surroundings. The Midlands and the North are the regions of Highland Britain with the most important English mountain range, the Pennines, extending northwards to the Scottish border. Birmingham, the centre of the Midlands, is the second largest city of the UK. The same way, York has played a central role in the North. Its spectacular Gothic cathedral, a magnificent circuit of thirteenth-century walls, medieval spider's web of narrow streets and glut of teashops and pubs make it a tourist honeypot. The landscapes of the Lake District are almost too perfect for their own good: 10 million visitors can't be wrong, but they can sure cause a few traffic jams. Northumberland is one of the least-spoilt counties with probably more battlefield sites than anywhere else in the country, testifying to the long and bloody struggle with the Scots. The most well-known relic is Hadrian's Wall from the era of the Roman occupation.

Attached to England, the peninsula of Wales is just what you picture it to be: the Cambrian Mountains deeply cut by narrow rivers, forests, moorlands, glacial valleys and a lovely coastline, as well as Stone and Bronze Age burial chambers, Roman forts, Norman castles, steam railways and relics of the country's mining heritage. Cardiff, the Welsh capital, attracts visitors drawn to the striking city-centre castle. Conwy is a town picturesquely dominated by a castle with massive towers. Huge parts of its medieval walls and gateways remain intact. The best view is from across the river, with mountains providing a dramatic backdrop. A popular seaside resort of Llandudno where Alice Liddell, the inspiration for Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland, spent many summers, owes its unique Victorian air to its architecture recalling the bygone era. Lovers of poetry and romance won't need to be pushed in the direction of Laugharne connected with Dylan Thomas, arguably the most popular Welsh poet. You can see the boathouse where the bard lived and wrote, the pub where he drank and the churchyard where his pickled liver was buried. Snowdonia National Park with Snowdon, the highest peak of Wales, is Britain's second-largest national park after the Lake District. Brecon Beacons National Park is smaller, yet it comprises a varriety of curious sights such as eccentric market-town Hay-on-Wye with the world's largest collection of second-hand bookstores.

Geographically, Scotland can be divided into three areas: the Southern Uplands are the fertile plains and hills bordering England; the Central Lowlands run from Edinburgh to Glasgow and contain the industrial belt and most of the population, while the Highlands are mountain ranges rising to their heights at Ben Nevis, Britain's highest mountain. Island groups include the Hebrides, the Orkneys and the Shetlands. Many islands are inhabited. Almost three-quarters of the country is uncultivated bog, rock and heather, with a lot clothed in acidic peat. There's a plethora of tartan 'n' bagpipe beaten tracks, but even in well-thumbed tourist hubs it's easy to veer off into one-of-a-kind adventures, usually involving extroverted locals. The brutal climate adds an edge to the whole experience. Edinburgh, the capital, is unique among Scotland's cities. Its proximity to England and multicultural population set it apart. Wind your way along the Royal Mile. There are dance clubs in 15th-century buildings and firebreathers outside Georgian mansions: this is a place that knows how to blend ancient and modern. An incorrigibly romantic Edinburgh castle lords it over the city, letting loose a daily blast of cannon to remind you who's boss. Glasgow is the most Scottish of cities, with a unique blend of friendliness and urban chaos boasting excellent museums and a lively arts scene. The Outer and Inner Hebrides, off the western coast, are the country's most accessible islands with lots of single-malt whisky, Celtic crosses, and tourist-baiting tartanish names like 'Mull' and 'Skye'. Just a few miles off the northeast coast, the Orkney Islands are known for their dramatic coastal scenery, abundant marine bird life and prehistoric sites. The climate is surprisingly mild. Far off the northeast coast of Scotland, the Shetland Islands, remote, windswept, and treeless, are the place to be if you like a good yarn and a bit of isolation. Considering its breathtaking natural beauty, it's surprising that Scotland has only just got around to implementing a national parks system - the first, Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park, only opened in 2002. This delay was due to the tradition of unrestricted access to open country. Finally, you can visit Loch Ness for a bit of Nessie-spotting. It's a lovely place and the perfect lair for a monster.

Northern Ireland, also called Ulster, is an integral part of the UK. Situated in the northeast of Ireland, it comprises about one-sixth of the entire island. Lough Neagh, the largest lake in the British Isles, can be found here. Fertile soil and rich pasturelands as well as an abundance of natural waterpower and peat utilized as an important fuel are considered NI's valuable natural resources. The Scottish and English Protestans create the majority of the population, the rest consists of the Irish Catholics, native to Ulster. The official language is English; Irish is not encouraged, although some Catholic schools do teach it. With its large shipyards, Belfast, the NI's capital, was an important shipbuilding centre where aircraft carriers or cruisers were made. Due to this, it was the target of destructive air raids during WWII. The history of NI is very complicated. After Anglo-Irish war, which lasted from 1919 to 1921, 26 Irish counties became independent forming the Irish Republic, and six northern counties were given the choice of opting out. NI became increasingly divided on religious grounds, and discrimination from Protestants against Catholics was rife everywhere. In 1968, peaceful civil rights march was violently broken up and the troubles were under way. British troops were sent to NI initially welcomed by the Catholics, but it soon became clear that they were the tool of the Protestant majority. Peaceful measures had clearly failed and the situation culminated with the introduction of terrorism to mainland Britain as the Irish Republican Army (IRA), which had fought the British during the Anglo-Irish war, re-surfaced.