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The British Isles: A Land of Enchantment

World  (tags: British Isles, historical places, people, travel )

- 1704 days ago -
Humans have inhabited Britain since long before the British Isles broke away from the European continent. The long history adds to the interest and historical wonders for the visitor.

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JL A (281)
Thursday September 26, 2013, 8:45 am
Thanks for the mini tour Kit!

Kit B (276)
Thursday September 26, 2013, 8:48 am
Map Credit:

Humans have inhabited Britain since long before the British Isles broke away from the European continent. While few written records exist of Britain’s earliest civilizations, remarkable monuments such as Stonehenge, Avebury and Silbury Hill serve as testaments to their rich and sophisticated cultures. Over the centuries, the region has gone through myriad incarnations, evolving from a Roman territory to one of Europe’s mightiest kingdoms to the world’s most far-reaching empire. British history encompasses events that shaped and reshaped the world map, influential figures whose legacy remains with us today and disparate peoples from every corner of the globe.

Geography and some history of Great Britain

Great Britain is an island located within the British Isles and it is the ninth largest island in the world and the largest in Europe. It is located to the northwest of continental Europe and it is home to the United Kingdom which includes Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland (not actually on the island of Great Britain). Great Britain has a total area of 88,745 square miles (229,848 sq km) and a population of about 60 million people (2009 estimate).

The island of Great Britain is known for the global city of London, England as well as smaller cities like Edinburgh, Scotland. In addition, Great Britain is known for its history, historic architecture and natural environment.

The following is a list of ten geographic facts to know about Great Britain:

1) The island of Great Britain has been inhabited by early humans for at least 500,000 years. It is believed that these humans crossed a land bridge from continental Europe at that time. Modern humans have been on Great Britain for about 30,000 years and until the about 12,000 years ago archeological evidence shows that they moved back and forth between the island and continental Europe via a land bridge. This land bridge closed and Great Britain became an island at the end of the last glaciation.

2) Throughout its modern human history, Great Britain was invaded several times. For example in 55 B.C.E., the Romans invaded the region and it became a part of the Roman Empire. The island was also controlled by various tribes and was invaded several times. In 1066 the island was a part of the Norman Conquest and this began the cultural and political development of the area. Throughout the decades following the Norman Conquest, Great Britain was ruled by several different kings and queens and it was also a part of several different treaties between the countries on the island.

3) The use of the name Britain dates back to the time of Aristotle, however the term Great Britain was not officially used until 1474 when a marriage proposal between Edward IV of England's daughter, Cecily, and James IV of Scotland was written. Today the term is used to specifically refer to the largest island within the United Kingdom or to the unit of England, Scotland and Wales.

4) Today in terms of its politics the name Great Britain refers to England, Scotland and Wales because they are on the United Kingdom's largest island. In addition, Great Britain also includes the outlying areas of Isle of Wight, Anglesey, the Isles of Scilly, the Hebrides and the remote island groups of Orkney and Shetland. These outlying areas are considered a part of Great Britain because they are parts of England, Scotland or Wales.

5) Great Britain is located to the northwest of continental Europe and east of Ireland. The North Sea and the English Channel separate it from Europe, however the Channel Tunnel, the longest undersea rail tunnel in the world, connects it with continental Europe. The topography of Great Britain consists mainly of low gently rolling hills in the eastern and southern portions of the island and hills and low mountains in the western and northern regions.

6) The climate of Great Britain is temperate and it is moderated by the Gulf Stream. The region is known for being cool and cloudy during the winter and the western parts of the island are windy and rainy because they are more influenced by the ocean. The eastern parts are drier and less windy. London, the largest city on the island, has an average January low temperature of 36˚F (2.4˚C) and a July average temperature of 73˚F (23˚C).

7) Despite its large size the island of Great Britain has a small amount of fauna. This is because it has been rapidly industrialized in recent decades and this has caused habitat destruction across the island. As a result there are very few large mammal species in Great Britain and rodents like squirrels, mice and beaver make up 40% of the mammal species there. In terms of Great Britain's flora, there is a large variety of trees and 1,500 species of wildflower.

8) Great Britain has a population of about 60 million people (2009 estimate) and a population density of 717 persons per square mile (277 persons per square kilometer). The main ethnic group of Great Britain is British - particularly those who are Cornish, English, Scottish or Welsh.

9) There are several large cities on the island of Great Britain but the largest is London, the capital of England and the United Kingdom. Other large cities include Birmingham, Bristol, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Leeds, Liverpool and Manchester.

10) Great Britain's United Kingdom has the third largest economy in Europe. The majority of the UK's and Great Britain's economy is within the service and industrial sectors but there is also small amount of agriculture. The main industries are machine tools, electric power equipment, automation equipment, railroad equipment, shipbuilding, aircraft, motor vehicles, electronics and communications equipment, metals, chemicals, coal, petroleum, paper products, food processing, textiles and clothing. Agricultural products include are cereals, oilseed, potatoes, vegetables cattle, sheep, poultry and fish.

Today, the British Isles contain two sovereign states: the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom. There are also three Crown dependencies: Guernsey, Jersey and the Isle of Man. The United Kingdom comprises England, Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales, each country having its own history, with all but Northern Ireland having been independent states at one point. The history of the formation of the United Kingdom is very complex.

The British monarch was head of state of all of the countries of the British Isles from the Union of the Crowns in 1603 until the enactment of the Republic of Ireland Act in 1949, although the term "British Isles" was not used in 1603. Additionally, since the independence of Ireland, historians of the region often avoid the term British Isles due to the complexity of relations between the peoples of the archipelago (see: Terminology of the British Isles).

Seven beauties of the British Isles

England: The Cotswolds

For a slice of picture-postcard England, the Cotswolds make an easy excursion from London but feel half a world away. The wool trade boomed in these rolling hills in medieval times and today the region is littered with achingly pretty villages, elegant old mansions, graceful churches and atmospheric pubs, most largely unchanged for centuries. Wander between rows of honey-colored almshouses and thatched cottages, browse the antiques shops or stop for a cream tea and you'll feel transported back in time.

England: Cambridge

Soaked in history and riddled with historic buildings, the university town of Cambridge exudes a dreamy air of Old World sophistication. The august colleges, hushed quadrangles, manicured lawns and cobbled laneways give way to "The Backs," a stretch of picturesque gardens bordering the meandering River Cam. Cambridge is an exclusive kind of place where gowned cyclists ply the streets and the academic elite debate life-changing questions in dimly lit pubs.

You can visit many of the University's 31 colleges, but don't miss the extraordinary King's College Chapel. Its mesmerizing fan-vaulted ceiling is best appreciated during Evensong when you can listen to the college's celebrated choir as you ponder your place in the universe.

England: Lake District

England's largest protected outdoor playground, the Lake District National Park, is a wild and winsome place full of craggy peaks, glittering lakes and moody fells. For walkers and climbers, there's a wealth of routes from which to choose. Try the Langdale Pikes, a chain of rugged hills offering spectacular views or for something less taxing, the Borger Dalr route.

The region provided ample inspiration for some of England's finest writers and poets, and today you can follow the William Wordsworth trail from his childhood home in Cockermouth to tiny Dove Cottage in Grasmere, and the more tranquil Rydal Mount in Ambleside, where you can sit in the house where he once tested his verse. Beatrix Potter's bucolic 17th-century farmhouse, Hill Top, is also here and scenes straight from her books lie around every corner.

Scotland: The Highlands and Islands

Big skies, craggy mountains, steely-gray lochs and cascading falls, the majestic, wild expanses of the Scottish Highlands are every bit as romantic as their celluloid reputation. The grand vistas, lonesome castles and isolated pubs where you can warm yourself by a peat fire, sip a dram of whisky and put the world to right are all just waiting to be explored. You can hike, bike, ski and fish, feast on seafood, dance a jig or even toss a caber (a large wooden pole thrown as a test of strength during the traditional Highland Games). The mercurial landscape of the Cairngorms National Park makes an excellent place to start. Sculpted by glaciers and home to golden eagles, wildcats and red deer, the ancient forests and bleak moorland here are simply spectacular.

For pure romance, head to Eilean Donan Castle. Perched on a rocky islet on the edge of Loch Duich, it is one of Scotland's most iconic sights. Nearby is the glorious Isle of Skye or head for the Hebrides to marvel at the mysterious standing stones at Callanish and dip your toes in the azure waters off Lewis and Harris. Possibly Scotland's most spectacular setting though is on far-flung Orkney, where you'll find the wonderfully preserved Skara Brae. The village, which predates the Egyptian pyramids, remains a testament to the ingenuity of the people of the day.

Wales: Snowdonia and North Wales

North Wales is one of the country's most spectacular and traditional regions.

Its high mountains and rough terrain deterred waves of invaders over the years, and its finest landscapes are protected as part of Snowdonia National Park. Snow-capped mountains, tumbling rivers, Stone Age burial chambers and Roman forts all lurk here. It's an excellent spot for gentle hiking or challenging climbs but rather than tackle the busy Mount Snowdon, head instead for Cader Idris, a legendary peak said to be an entrance to the underworld. Capel Curig makes a good base for walkers and climbers, but history buffs should head to one of the magnificent medieval castles that dot the area.

The intimidating fortresses at Harlech, Beaumaris, Conwy and Caernarfon jointly form a UNESCO World Heritage Site and are intriguing places to explore. Alternatively, catch the dramatic Ffestiniog Railway to the slate mines at Blaenau Ffestiniog to learn about the human side of Wales' industrial heritage. A short trip south and you enter an entirely different world at the whimsical Italianate village of Portmeirion. Set on a tranquil peninsula, this bizarre enclave was the brainchild of Welsh architect Sir Bertram Clough Williams-Ellis.

Ireland: Kerry

Gorgeously green and incredibly friendly, the lush scenery and unique atmosphere of Kerry have made it one of Ireland's most popular regions.

Here, emerald forests drip with moss, dramatic peaks lie shrouded in mist and water trickles everywhere. Head out from the tourist honeypot of Killarney around the Ring of Kerry with its glorious views, sandy beaches and ancient ruins.

It's a busy route in summer and the best way to leave the crowds behind is to take a trip to the early Christian monastery of Skellig Michael. Seven miles offshore and up 600 steep steps, you'll find the 6th-century beehive huts of what was once one of Europe's most remote religious communities. The sense of isolation here is humbling, and the views are nothing short of spectacular. Alternatively, you could take a trip in a pony and trap across the beautiful Gap of Dunloe which is flanked by Ireland's highest mountains, the McGillycuddy's Reeks.

Whatever you do, don't miss the Dingle Peninsula with its vast stretch of golden sand at Inch, scenic Conor Pass and beguiling eponymous town where you can down a pint in the wonderfully atmospheric Dick Mack's pub/hardware store.

Northern Ireland: the Causeway Coast

Northern Ireland's troubled reputation has been hard to shake off, but wander this way and you'll be rewarded with the peace and tranquility of a place the world has yet to discover. Beyond Belfast's black taxi tours, urban regeneration and stunning new Titanic experience, the biggest draw is the otherworldly Giant's Causeway.

Here, more than 38,000 interlocking basalt columns form a patchwork of stepping stones that stretch out into the sea. This extraordinary landscape marks the start of the legendary Finn McCool's bridge to Scotland, although a rival theory suggests it's merely a geological phenomenon formed 50 million to 60 million years ago.

Food in History of the British Isles, Scotland and Ireland

Romans in England

British food has had a poor reputation for generations, it’s heavy, tasteless and uninspired, or at least so we are led to believe. Throughout most of history this was an agricultural land with ups and downs. When the Romans invaded and ruled England, agriculture flourished to the point that every day a ship left England for the troops Rome had stationed in Gaul. Those ships were loaded with British wheat because the farms were so productive. At the time the wealthier natives in England were trying to observe a Roman diet as best they could. England was still on the far reaches of the Roman Empire, so all of the foods available in Rome were not to be found not even in the best English villas.


Scotland offers us a few important dishes that still exist in the lexicon of well versed chefs and at least one that possibly you have to be born into to appreciate.

Cock-a-Leekie is a famed Scottish soup and quite simple to prepare. Take a whole (Organic, see why here!) chicken and cut it into 8 pieces, put them in a large soup pot with a pound of beef shins cut into 1 inch pieces (or just beef for stew, not as flavorful but more available) Add 6 cups of chicken stock (canned is ok) a Bay leaf and a tsp of thyme and 3 slices of chopped bacon. Cook at a simmer for 30 minutes or more. Remove the chicken and beef from the broth and remove all bones and skin, chop the meat roughly and return to the broth. Add 1+1/2 cups of cleaned sliced leeks and ¾ cup of pearl barley, return to a simmer and cook until the barley is tender, about another half hour. Season to taste and serve.

Bannocks Another well known dish from Scotland are these oatcakes
¼ lb medium oatmeal, 2 teaspoons melted bacon fat (or vegetable oil if need be) 1 teaspoon of baking soda
Pinch of salt, 3/4 tablespoons hot water, Additional oatmeal for kneading
Mix the oatmeal with the salt and baking soda next pour the melted fat into the centre of the mixture. Stir well, and add enough water to make into a stiff paste. Cover a surface in oatmeal and turn the mixture onto this board.
Work quickly, divide the dough into two and roll each half into a ball. Knead with hands covered in oatmeal to stop it sticking. Use a rolling pin and roll out to a quarter inch thick. Use a plate which is slightly smaller than the size of your pan to guide you into cutting a circular oatcake. Cut into quarters and place in a heated pan which has been lightly greased. Cook for about 3 minutes per side until the edges curl slightly. This will make two dinner plate sized Bannocks. Serve Bannock as you might serve biscuits, butter and jam, honey, chutney or even cheeses. Bannocks also make a nice dumpling cooked in a stew.

We can’t leave Scotland without mentioning Haggis, this delightful dish is made with sheep innards, windpipe, heart, lungs and liver mixed with oatmeal, salt and black pepper which are stuffed in a sheep’s stomach or in a cow’s intestines (called beef bungs, very descriptive!). The authentic version has been illegal in the US for quite some time. It seems that someone in the FDA doesn’t approve of us eating sheep’s lungs, go figure! Nevertheless on Robert Burns night celebration the Scots will always serve a bit of Haggis. Haggis has very early roots in history, before the introduction of iron pots, cooking in animal skins was common and Haggis has derived from that very tradition. Perhaps when you have a local Scotch distillery you can wash anything down.
****Just a note here to toast the finest of alcoholic beverages - Single Malt from that wondrous country of Scotland.


Ireland shares England’s reputation for bland heavy food but they are possibly best known for the potato famine of 1845 > 1852. The potato blight spread across Ireland destroying the crop which most of Ireland depended upon. Great Britain did nothing to help and allowed the Irish to starve leading to the Irish Diaspora. If you think of corned beef and cabbage as the traditional Irish dish you’re quite mistaken. Only the wealthy could afford any kind of meat in Ireland while the peasantry subsisted on a diet of potatoes and milk. Before the English were in charge in Ireland the people had a much more diversified diet based on local foods. Mead, a wine made from honey is in very early records and fulacht fiadh is in several sources, this was a place to cook venison, in holes in the ground, filled with water and with hot rocks being added to provide the heat. In other archaeological sites there is evidence of beef, mutton and pork, poultry and geese as well as fish and shellfish all being part of the diet. Later on oats and barley became the major grains both for animals and people. When the English took control they gradually installed laws that forbade Catholics from passing property to their heirs, thus farms became ever smaller, small farms led the people to rely on potatoes for sustenance because this was the only crop productive enough to feed a family with little land for crops. Relying on a single crop for food is always dangerous and the potato blight led to famine.

Irish whiskey does not have the same reputation as Scotch but they may make up for it with Stout beer. Stout is a dark beer made with malted barley, hops, water, and yeast. Stouts were traditionally the generic term for the strongest or stoutest porters, produced by a brewery.

My thanks to Guinness for the only decent Ale or beer- like drink.

I wish I could include pictures here. We all know that the British Isles deserve more than one journey and that you shall have.

Kit B (276)
Thursday September 26, 2013, 8:49 am

Sure it's a lot to read but hey, it's the British Isles. Read, watch the video and enjoy your trip.

Ben O (170)
Thursday September 26, 2013, 9:52 am
Thanks Kit. And, now from The Department of absolutely useless info:
-So far I've been to Liverpool, Southampton and London...
(And Dublin, does that count...?)

Kit B (276)
Thursday September 26, 2013, 10:14 am

I'm an avid follower of the department of useless information, do tell more. Thanks Ben.

Pat B (356)
Thursday September 26, 2013, 10:45 am
If I have the time, I'd like to sign up for the Cambridge, Lake District, and Kerry tours. As there is so much to see, I may have to go back. I'd also like to try the Bannocks recipe, sounds good. Thanks, Kit for the awesome tour. ;-)

pam w (139)
Thursday September 26, 2013, 10:52 am
AND....if you're in London and you don't give AT LEAST an entire day to the British're cheating yourself!

AND....see the jewels in the Tower. STUNNING. (I imagine Princess Diana or Princess Kate sneaking in there at night & trying them on!) can take the train out to Stonehenge, through the countryside....very lovely way to get there.

Consider using trains all over the don't have to drive on the ''wrong'' side of the car on the ''wrong'' side of the road in places where SHEEP are commonly crowding cars aside!

Kerrie G (116)
Thursday September 26, 2013, 10:57 am
Shared, thanks. :)

Angelika R (143)
Thursday September 26, 2013, 12:14 pm
I've traveled almost all of GB and did like it. Favorites: Devon + Cornwall. Thx Kit

Nicole W (646)
Thursday September 26, 2013, 12:28 pm
always a pleasure to take an escapade with your dear Kit!

Wolfgang W (235)
Thursday September 26, 2013, 12:29 pm
I guess the Republic of Ireland is not a British isle, but I leave that up to the Irish to define.Anyway the y both make superb music.

Kathleen R (192)
Thursday September 26, 2013, 12:37 pm
I wanted to add something interesting. .In Ireland there is a place called Newgrange. It's older than Stonehenge and the pyramids of Giza, Egypt. It has a very interesting history which is available on the internet. I've visited it on one of my trips to Ireland, and it was amazing and mystical.

Craig Pittman (52)
Thursday September 26, 2013, 1:54 pm
In hiking through the highlands I was delighted to find parts as rugged and remote as parts of Canada. A top map and compass were a necessity. (pre GPS days). Beautiful country - Scotland.
Thanks for the tour and facts Kit.

Sheryl G (360)
Thursday September 26, 2013, 2:59 pm
Thanks for the tour, a lot of territory was covered. Phew I'm beat, this tour ran me ragged. lol

Louise D (44)
Thursday September 26, 2013, 3:06 pm
I notice there was no mention of the Welsh which is a shame though their culinary achievement, Welsh rarebit is best appreciated when you come home soaking wet and you need something quick to eat. As for Scottish actually I would of gone for Cullen Skink and Scotch broth rather than cock a leekie and you have never tasted fish until you have had an Arbroath Smokie.

Gabriela Baldaia (104)
Thursday September 26, 2013, 3:45 pm
Thank you, Kit , for the enchanting tour.
Thank you, Kathleen R. for something new to me - NewGrange, Ireland .
Interesting comments - thank you all.

marie C (163)
Thursday September 26, 2013, 5:06 pm
Thanks Kit Obviously I have been all over as I was born in the North of England then my family moved to London when I was 16
My first husband was English and my second was Irish born in England the Irish refer to them as plastic paddies
I guess I better look for a Welsh or Scot next haha
Ireland is so wild and beautiful Scotland is just breathtaking and North Wales just so different again
This tour showed a very good picture

marie C (163)
Thursday September 26, 2013, 5:12 pm
Kathleen R Dingle is another amazing place in Ireland
Kit your tours always bring back such wonderful memories for me
Thank you
In England we have Welsh rarebit also we have elegant rarebit (with bacon) and buck rarebit (with poached egg) all variations from Wales some of their cakes are wonderful also

marie C (163)
Thursday September 26, 2013, 5:13 pm
My last comment was to say a thank you to Louise for reminding me now my mouth is watering

Lindsey O (19)
Thursday September 26, 2013, 5:35 pm
Beautiful. Beautiful.

Vallee R (280)
Thursday September 26, 2013, 6:23 pm
You're funny Dandelion - and I always thought New Meico was the land of Enchantment.

Kit B (276)
Thursday September 26, 2013, 6:32 pm

Louise and others better informed about the foods, I bow to your knowledge. I have had had Welsh Rarebit and it was lovely, even had a bit of Haggis, can't say I felt in love. Many foods we call American food are just variations on foods from other lands, particularly from England.

Emma S (239)
Friday September 27, 2013, 4:01 am
Thank you, Kit - and the sun's even out here today!

Jonathan Harper (0)
Friday September 27, 2013, 4:24 am
Scotland the Brave

Marija M (29)
Friday September 27, 2013, 6:17 am
Nice, very nice, and I am lucky to see a little peace of that, years ago. Kit, hope you come to Slovenia some day!

Marija M (29)
Friday September 27, 2013, 6:19 am
you caanot send a green star to Kit as you...

Jane H (139)
Friday September 27, 2013, 8:26 am
After a trip to Scotland I believe in fairies, brownies and all the little people---the Highlands are magnificent.

Arielle S (313)
Friday September 27, 2013, 9:48 am
I love the feel of England - so much greenery, so many friendly, polite people, such history. Lovely - thank you, Kit!

Bob hardly here P (394)
Friday September 27, 2013, 7:27 pm
thanks Kit

Syd H (48)
Saturday September 28, 2013, 3:34 am
Wow, I'm here now. :)

London is one of the largest cities in the world and at 12 to 15 million is 1/5th to 1/4th the population (the Tube is quite a wonder and is celebrating 150 years currently). Considering England is about the size of Oregon (population 3.5 million) it's amazing where they put everyone but yet, as I've noticed each time I've flown in, it's very green. Very green.

I guess I would also put the Brits down for tea and crumpets with a myriad of jams (including orange marmalade which apparently comes from Spain), and cucumber sandwiches, perhaps with watercress. Oh, and puddings. So many puddings! But that comes from their sugar past.

And it's quite easy to get good vegan and also gluten-free foods. It's the birthplace of Vegan actually. :)

Syd H (48)
Saturday September 28, 2013, 3:36 am

Also, it wasn't just that potatoes produced a lot so could feed a family in Ireland but that the Brits not only took everything else as rental payment (even during the famine so there was lots of food but not for those growing it) but the Brits would not take the potatoes believing them to be animal fodder not fit for human consumption.

But also, the woods belonged to the nobles so anyone caught hunting in them would have their hands struck off and/or be blinded. =(

Have to say, I really enjoyed York even though I was only there for a short time in a bitterly cold March. It is the birthplace of Guy Fawkes. :)

Staying this time for Bonfire night which is also called Guy Fawkes night. :) :)

Hoping it will be a major Occupy day.

Past Member (0)
Monday September 30, 2013, 6:40 pm
WOW that was quite the trip! Thanks Kit
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