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The United Kingdom is a union of four constituent countries: Scotland, England, Wales (these three together make up Great Britain) and Northern Ireland. Each of these is to a certain extent distinctive and has its own culture.
|Country||Area (km2)||Population||Density (per km2)||Capital|
As the above table shows, England is the largest and by far the most populous of the four constituent countries. In most areas it is very densely populated, though there are also more rural, quieter areas, such as Cornwall and Lincolnshire. England is officially divided into nine regions, though these are not well known. Informally, there are three regions in England: North, Midlands and South.
The North of England contains many former great industrial cities, such as Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield and Newcastle. Of these, Manchester has been the most successful in diversifying its economy, and is now the second most important UK business centre after London. Liverpool is the UK’s second largest port and is culturally important. Leeds is important for finance, and Sheffield is up-and-coming for business. Newcastle is the leading city of the North-West. The North also includes some beautiful rural areas, such as western Northumberland, and three National Parks: the Lake District, the Yorkshire Dales and the Peak District.
The largest city in the Midlands is Birmingham. As it is more central than London, certain UK-wide national buildings and events are in Birmingham, for example the National Exhibition Centre. Other cities in the area include Coventry, Derby, Nottingham, Stoke-on-Trent and Leicester. Some of these cities have held on to their industrial heritage, and manufacturing still counts for a reasonable percentage of the jobs here, especially in the East Midlands.
London is the largest and most celebrated city in the whole of the UK, and it dominates the South. London contains one of the world’s most important financial districts, is extremely popular with tourists and is also a major port. The South’s other major cities are Bristol, Plymouth, Southampton and Portsmouth. The last two of these are still major ports. Additionally there are the cities of Oxford and Cambridge, world-renowned for their universities, and many seaside resorts, such as Bournemouth and Brighton. The county of Cornwall, in the extreme south-west, is culturally distinct from the rest of England.
Scotland can be divided into the Highlands, the Central Belt and the Southern Uplands. Around 70% of Scotland’s people are concentrated in a ‘belt’, runs from the outlying suburbs of Glasgow on the Firth (estuary) of Clyde to Edinburgh on the Firth of Forth. Glasgow has successfully reinvented itself and has a thriving culture, and Edinburgh, Scotland’s capital, has fine architecture and is a popular tourist destination. The other major city in the area is Dundee, a regional centre for east central Scotland.
The other regions of Scotland contain many areas of outstanding national beauty. The Southern Uplands is an area of gentle slopes and empty moorland. The largest town is Dumfries (population 43,600) and the economy is based on agriculture and forestry. North of the Central Belt, the only city of any size is Aberdeen in the north-east, an entrepôt for the North Sea oil industry. Elsewhere in this region are the Highlands, barely populated and with terrain on an epic scale. To the west and north of the Highlands are many islands, abutting Scotland’s rugged coastline.
Wales in generally divided into north and south. North Wales is thinly populated except on the north coast and contains much mountainous terrain, particularly in the Snowdonia National Park. This area, especially in Gwynedd in the north-west, is where you are most likely to encounter Welsh spoken as an everyday language. It is a very different language from English.
South Wales is less mountainous, and features the Valleys, a densely populated area of steep river valleys which used to be a centre of the coal-mining industry. To the south of the Valleys are Cardiff, the capital of Wales and site of many summer festivals, and Swansea, the second largest city, which is also a seaside resort.
Northern Ireland is a province that consists of the six north-easternmost counties of Ireland. It chose to remain in the United Kingdom after the Irish Free State was formed in 1921. The province is dominated by Belfast, the capital, which has a rapidly resurgent economy. The second largest city, Derry (or Londonderry), is a regional centre for the west of Northern Ireland and nearby areas of the Republic of Ireland. Ssocial divisions between Catholics and Protestants persist, though there are elements of culture that unite these two groups.
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