The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland(commonly known as the United Kingdom, the UK, or Britain) is a sovereign state located off the north-western coast of continental Europe. It spans an archipelago including Great Britain, the northeastern part of the island of Ireland, and many smaller islands. Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK with a land border with another sovereign state, sharing it with the Republic of Ireland. Apart from this land border, the UK is surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean, the North Sea, the English Channel, and the Irish Sea.
The United Kingdom is a constitutional monarchy and unitary state. It is a countryconsisting of four countries: England, Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales. It is governed by a parliamentary system with its seat of government in the capital city of London. There are three devolved national administrations, with varying powers in Belfast, Cardiff and Edinburgh, the capitals of Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland respectively. There are three Crown Dependencies and fourteen overseas territories that are not constitutionally part of the UK. These territories are remnants of the British Empire, which at its height in 1922 encompassed almost a quarter of the world’s land surface, the largest empire in history. As a result, British influence can still be observed in the language, culture and legal systems of many of its former territories.
The UK is a developed country, with the world’s sixth largest economy by nominal GDP and eighth largest economy by purchasing power parity. It was the world’s first industrialised country and the world’s foremost power during the 19th and early 20th centuries, but the economic and social cost of two world wars and the decline of its empire in the latter half of the 20th century diminished its leading role in global affairs. The UK nevertheless remains a great power with leading economic, cultural, military, scientific and political influence. It is a recognised nuclear weapons state while its military expenditure ranks third or fourth in the world, depending on the method of calculation. It is a Member State of the European Union, a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, and a member of the Commonwealth of Nations, G8, G20, NATO, OECD, the Council of Europe and the World Trade Organization.
Stonehenge is a prehistoric monument located in the English county of Wiltshire, about 3.2 kilometres (2.0 mi) west of Amesbury and 13 kilometres (8.1 mi) north of Salisbury. One of the most famous sites in the world, Stonehenge is composed of earthworks surrounding a circular setting of large standing stones. It is at the centre of the most dense complex of Neolithic and Bronze Age monuments in England, including several hundred burial mounds.
Archaeologists have believed that the iconic stone monument was erected around 2500 BC, as described in the chronology below. One recent theory however, has suggested that the first stones were not erected until 2400-2200 BC, whilst another suggests that bluestones may have been erected at the site as early as 3000 BC (see phase 1 below). The surrounding circular earth bank and ditch, which constitute the earliest phase of the monument, have been dated to about 3100 BC. The site and its surroundings were added to the UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites in 1986 in a co-listing with Avebury Henge monument. It is a national legally protected Scheduled Ancient Monument. Stonehenge is owned by the Crown and managed by English Heritage, while the surrounding land is owned by the National Trust.
Archaeological evidence found by the Stonehenge Riverside Project in 2008 indicates that Stonehenge served as a burial ground from its earliest beginnings.The dating of cremated remains found on the site indicate burials from as early as 3000 BC, when the initial ditch and bank were first dug. Burials continued at Stonehenge for at least another 500 years.
York Minster is a Gothic cathedral in York, England and is one of the largest of its kind in Northern Europe alongside Cologne Cathedral. The minster is the seat of the Archbishop of York, the second-highest office of the Church of England, and is the cathedral for the Diocese of York; it is run by a dean and chapter under the Dean of York. The formal title of York Minster is The Cathedral and Metropolitical Church of St Peter in York. The title “Minster” is attributed to churches established in the Anglo Saxon period as missionary teaching churches, and serves now as an honorific title. Services in the minster are sometimes regarded as on the High Church or Anglo-Catholic end of the Anglican continuum.
The minster has a very wide Decorated Gothic nave and chapter house, a Perpendicular Gothic choir and east end and Early English north and south transepts. The nave contains the West Window, constructed in 1338, and over the Lady Chapel in the east end is the Great East Window, (finished in 1408), the largest expanse of medieval stained glass in the world. In the north transept is the Five Sisters Window, each lancet being over 16 metres (52 ft) high. The south transept contains a famous rose window.
York has had a Christian presence from the fourth century. The first church on the site was a wooden structure built hurriedly in 627 to provide a place to baptise Edwin, King of Northumbria. Moves toward a more substantial building began in the 630s. A stone structure was completed in 637 by Oswald and was dedicated to Saint Peter. The church soon fell into disrepair and was dilapidated by 670 when Saint Wilfrid ascended to the see of York. He repaired and renewed the structure. The attached school and library were established and by the 8th century were some of the most substantial in northern Europe.
In 741 the church was destroyed in a fire. It was rebuilt as a more impressive structure containing thirty altars. The church and the entire area then passed through the hands of numerous invaders, and its history is obscure until the 10th century. There was a series of Benedictine archbishops, including Saint Oswald, Wulfstan, and Ealdred, who travelled to Westminster to crown William in 1066. Ealdred died in 1069 and was buried in the church.
Portmeirion is a popular tourist village in Gwynedd, North Wales. It was designed and built by Sir Clough Williams-Ellis between 1925 and 1975 in the style of an Italian village and is now owned by a charitable trust.
Portmeirion has served as the location for numerous films and television shows, most famously serving as The Village in the 1960s television show The Prisoner.
Despite repeated claims that it was based on the town of Portofino, Italy, Sir Clough Williams-Ellis, Portmeirion’s designer, denied this, stating only that he wanted to pay tribute to the atmosphere of the Mediterranean. He did, however, draw from a love of the Italian village stating, “How should I not have fallen for Portofino? Indeed its image remained with me as an almost perfect example of the man-made adornment and use of an exquisite site…”
Williams-Ellis designed and constructed the village between 1925 and 1975. He incorporated fragments of demolished buildings, including works by a number of other architects. Portmeirion’s architectural bricolage and deliberately fanciful nostalgia have been noted as an influence on the development of postmodernism in architecture in the late 20th century.
The main building of the hotel, and the cottages called “White Horses”, “Mermaid” and “The Salutation” had been a private estate called Aber Iâ (Welsh: Ice estuary), developed in the 1850s, itself on the site of a foundry and boatyard which was active in the late 18th century. Williams-Ellis changed the name, which he interpreted as “frozen mouth”, to Portmeirion – Port to place it on the coast, Meirion from the county of Merioneth / Meirionydd, in which it then lay.. The very minor remains of a mediaeval castle (known variously as Castell Deudraeth, Castell Gwain Goch and Castell Aber Iâ) are in the woods just outside the village, recorded by Giraldus Cambrensis (Gerald of Wales) in 1188.
Stratford-upon-Avon is a market town and civil parish in south Warwickshire, England. It lies on the River Avon, 22 miles (35 km) south east of Birmingham and 8 miles (13 km) south west of the county town, Warwick. It is the main town of the District of Stratford-on-Avon, which uses the term “on” to indicate that it covers a much larger area than the town itself. Four electoral wards make up the urban town of Stratford; Alveston, Avenue and New Town, Mount Pleasant and Guild and Hathaway. The estimated total population for those wards in 2007 was 25,505.
The town is a popular tourist destination owing to its status as birthplace of the playwright and poet William Shakespeare, receiving about three million visitors a year from all over the world.The Royal Shakespeare Company resides in Stratford’s Royal Shakespeare Theatre, one of Britain’s most important cultural venues.
The regular large influx of tourists and sightseers is recognised by most of the town’s business operators as being the major source of prosperity. The District Council in 2010 allocated a budget of £298,000 to tourist promotion and supports an official open-top tour bus service. However, in March 2010, the District Council withdrew funding of the Tourist Information Centre, causing it and its parent company; South Warwickshire Tourism Ltd to cease trading. The operation had been jointly funded by the Warwick District Council. Negotiations for the appointment of a liquidator were expected to clear the way for a restructured service.
Stratford is close to the UK’s second largest city, Birmingham, and is easily accessible from junction 15 of the M40 motorway. The 7 miles (11 km) £12 million Stratford Northern Bypass opened in June 1987 as the A422.
Stratford-upon-Avon railway station has good rail links from Birmingham (Snow Hill station, Moor Street station) and from London, with up to seven direct trains a day from London Marylebone.
There are plans for a new railway station north of the town, adjacent to the A46 bypass. It will be called Stratford Parkway railway station.
Tower of London
Her Majesty’s Royal Palace and Fortress, more commonly known as the Tower of London, is a historic castle on the north bank of the River Thames in central London, England. It lies within the London Borough of Tower Hamlets, separated from the eastern edge of the City of London by the open space known as Tower Hill. It was founded towards the end of 1066 as part of the Norman Conquest of England. The White Tower, which gives the entire castle its name, was built by William the Conqueror in 1078, and was a resented symbol of oppression, inflicted upon London by the new ruling elite. The castle was used as a prison since at least 1100, although that was not its primary purpose. A grand palace early in its history, it served as a royal residence. As a whole, the Tower is a complex of several buildings set within two concentric rings of defensive walls and a moat. There were several phases of expansion, mainly under Kings Richard the Lionheart, Henry III, and Edward I in the 12th and 13th centuries. The general layout established by the late 13th century remains despite later activity on the site.
The Tower of London has played a prominent role in English history. It was besieged several times and controlling it has been important to controlling the country. The Tower has served variously as an armoury, a treasury, a menagerie, the home of the Royal Mint, a public records office, and the home of the Crown Jewels of the United Kingdom. From the early 14th century until the reign of Charles II, a procession would be led from the Tower to Westminster Abbey on the coronation of a monarch. In the absence of the monarch, the Constable of the Tower is in charge of the castle. This was a powerful and trusted position in the medieval period. In the late 15th century the castle was the prison of the Princes in the Tower. Under the Tudors, the Tower became used less as a royal residence, and despite attempts to refortify and repair the castle its defences lagged behind developments to deal with artillery.
Edinburgh Castle is a castle fortress which dominates the skyline of the city of Edinburgh, Scotland, from its position atop the volcanic Castle Rock. Human habitation of the site is dated back as far as the 9th century BC, although the nature of early settlement is unclear. There has been a royal castle here since at least the reign of David I in the 12th century, and the site continued to be a royal residence until the Union of the Crowns in 1603. As one of the most important fortresses in the Kingdom of Scotland, Edinburgh Castle has been involved in many historical conflicts, from the Wars of Scottish Independence in the 14th century, up to the Jacobite Rising of 1745, and has been besieged, both successfully and unsuccessfully, on several occasions. From the later 17th century, the castle became a military base, with a large garrison. Its importance as a historic monument was recognised from the 19th century, and various restoration programmes have been carried out since.
Few of the present buildings pre-date the Lang Siege of the 16th century, when the medieval fortifications were largely destroyed by artillery bombardment. The notable exception is St Margaret’s Chapel, the oldest surviving building in Edinburgh, which dates from the early 12th century. Among other significant buildings of the castle are the Royal Palace, and the early-16th-century Great Hall. The castle also houses the Scottish National War Memorial, and National War Museum of Scotland.
Although formally owned by the Ministry of Defence, most of the castle is now in the care of Historic Scotland, and it is Scotland’s most-visited tourist attraction. Although the garrison left in the 1920s, there is still a military presence at the castle, largely ceremonial and administrative, and including a number of regimental museums. It is also the backdrop to the annual Edinburgh Military Tattoo, and has become a recognisable symbol of Edinburgh and of Scotland.