The British Isles consist of two main islands: Great Britain and Ireland. These and over five hundred small islands are known collectively as the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Their total area is some 94, 250 square miles. Great Britain proper comprises England, Wales and Scotland. The southern part of the isle of Ireland is the Irish Republic (or Eire).
Britain is comparatively small, but there is hardly a country in the world where such a variety of scenery can be found in so small a compass. There are wild desolate mountains in the northern Highlands of Scotland — the home of the deer and the eagle — that are as lonely as any in Norway. There are flat tulip fields round the Fens — a blaze of colour in spring, that would make you think you were in Holland. Within a few miles of Manchester and Sheffield you can be in glorious heather-covered moors.
Once the. British Isles were part of the mainland of Europe — the nearest point is across the Strait of Dover, where the chalk cliffs of Britain are only twenty-two miles from those of France.
The seas round the British Isles are shallow. The North Sea is nowhere more than 600 feet deep, so that if St. Paul's Cathedral were put down in any part of it some of the cathedral would still be above water. This shallowness is in some ways an advantage. Shallow water is warmer than deep water and helps to keep the shores from extreme cold. It is, too, the home of millions of fish, and more than a million tons are caught every year.
You have noticed on the map how deeply indented the coast line is. This indentation gives a good supply of splendid harbours for ships; and you will note, too, that owing to the shape of the country there is no point in it that is more than seventy miles from the sea — a fact that has greatly facilitated the export of manufactures and has made the English race a sea-loving one.
On the north-west the coasts are broken by high rocky cliffs. This is especially noticeable in north-west Scotland, where you have long winding inlets (called "lochs") and a great many islands. Western Scotland is fringed by the large island chain known as the Hebrides, and to the north east of the Scottish mainland are the Orkney and Shetland Islands.
In Scotland you have three distinct regions. There is, firstly, the Highlands, then there is the central plain or Lowlands. Finally there are the southern uplands, "the Scott country," with their gently rounded hills where the sheep wander. Here there are more sheep to the square mile than anywhere in the British Isles.
In England and Wales all the high land is in the west and north-west. The south-eastern plain reaches the west coast only at one or two places — at the Bristol Channel and by the mouths of the rivers Dee and Mersey.
In the north you find the Cheviots separating England from Scotland, the Pennines going down England like a backbone and the Cumbrian mountains оf thе Lake District, one of the loveliest (and the wettest) parts of England. In the west are the Cambrian mountains which occupy the greater part of Wales.
The south-eastern part of England is a low-lying land with gentle hills and a coast which is regular in outline, sandy or muddy, with occasional chalk cliffs, and inland a lovely pattern of green and gold — for most of England's wheat is grown here — and brown plough-land with pleasant farms and cottages in their midst. Its rich brown soil is deeply cultivated — much of it is under wheat; fruit-growing is extensively carried on. A quarter of the sugar used in the country comes from sugar-beet grown there, but the most important crop is potatoes.
The position of the mountains naturally determined the direction and length of the rivers, and the longest rivers, except the Severn and Clyde, flow into the North Sea, and even the Severn flows eastward or south-east for the greater part of its length.
The rivers of Britain are of no great value as water-ways — the longest, the Thames, is a little over 200 miles— andfew of them are navigable except near the mouth for anything but the smaller vessels.
In the estuaries of the Thames, Mersey, Tyne, Clyde, Tay, Forth and Bristol Avon are some of the greatest ports.
(From "Essential English for Foreign Students" by C. E. Eckersley, Book 3, Lnd., 1997. Adapted)
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