United Kingdom

United Kingdom

LAST UPDATED 27/02/2008
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More detailed information on geography and history of the UK
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Level of surfing


Quality of surf


Call code


Net code





17,820 km




Very Isolated, Extreme Cold, Severe Storms

Best Months

September - April




Great British Pounds

Time Zone

GMT +0

Special Requirements



UK map; 23 July 2006

The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (commonly known as the United Kingdom, the UK, or Britain) is a country to the north-west of mainland Europe. The United Kingdom, consisting of Great Britain (England, Wales and Scotland) and Northern Island, is twice the size of New York State. England, in the southeast part of the British Isles, is separated from Scotland on the north by the granite Cheviot Hills; from them the Pennine Chain of uplands extends south through the centre of England, reaching its highest point in the Lake District in the northwest. The UK today is a diverse patchwork of native and immigrant cultures, possessing a fascinating history and dynamic modern culture, both of which remain hugely influential in the wider world and it's capital London being one of the most popular travel destinations, attracting tourists from all over the world.



William Sadler (1782-1839): Battle of Waterloo; 1830

Stonehenge and other examples of prehistoric culture are all that remain of the earliest inhabitants of Britain. Celtic peoples followed and Roman invasions of the 1st century B.C. brought Britain into contact with continental Europe. It was not until the 10th century that the country finally became united under the kings of Wessex. Following the death of Edward the Confessor (1066), a dispute about the succession arose, and William, Duke of Normandy, invaded England, defeating the Saxon king, Harold II, at the Battle of Hastings (1066).

The reign of Henry II (1154–1189), first of the Plantagenets, saw an increasing centralization of royal power at the expense of the nobles. During the reign of Henry VIII (1509–1547), the church in England asserted its independence from the Roman Catholic Church and during the reign of Elizabeth I, England became a world power.

Queen Anne's reign (1702–1714) was marked by the Duke of Marlborough's victories over France at Blenheim, Oudenarde, and Malplaquet in the War of the Spanish Succession. England and Scotland meanwhile were joined by the Act of Union (1707). After the defeat of Napoleon in the Napoleonic Wars, Britain became the principal naval power of the 19th century. At its peak the British Empire controlled large amounts of territory in Asia, Africa, Oceania and America. At the same time the country played an important role in the development of parliamentary democracy, partly through the emergence of a multi-party system. The Victorian era, named after Queen Victoria (1837–1901), saw the growth of a democratic system of government that had begun with the Reform Bill of 1832. The two important wars in Victoria's reign were the Crimean War against Russia (1854–1856) and the Boer War (1899–1902), the latter enormously extending Britain's influence in Africa. 

At the end of the Victorian era the United Kingdom lost its industrial leadership, particularly to the German Empire, which surpassed the UK in industrial production and trade in the 1890s, and to the United States. Britain remained an eminent power and its empire expanded to its maximum size by 1921, gaining the League of Nations mandate over former German and Ottoman colonies after World War I. 

After World War I, BBC was created, the world's first large-scale international broadcasting network. In 1924 the country's Labour movement, which had been gaining strength since the late 1890s, formed the first Labour government. Britain fought Nazi Germany in World War II, which left the United Kingdom financially damaged.

The United Kingdom has become a member of the European Union in 1973. The attitude of the present Labour government towards further integration with this organisation is mixed, as the Conservative Party wants a return of some powers and competencies to the state, and the Liberal Democrats supports the current engagement. 


Matt Smith/crystalbluephotography.com; Summer Surf in Britain; 31.07.07

The 21,000 km of shoreline that surrounds Britain and Ireland is as diverse as the landscapes around it. The UK and Ireland have an incredible collection of coastal environments. The flat rock beds of Caithness, Yorkshire and Sligo offer some of the best reefs and points in Europe interspersed with some excellent beaches. England is full of contrasts and offers a whole range of surf destinations and waves to match. The sedimentary rock laid down over the millennia forms a perfect foil for the swells that arrive at regular intervals through the peak surf seasons. Another amazing thing is that England receives swell on its entire coastline, which provides a 360 degree swell angle. And if you look at the UK on the map of the world you will understand why we say that surfing there may be spoiling - no part place in England is more than 80 miles from the coast!

The complex geology and geography of regions such as Sutherland, Devon and Cornwall (the area that most people associate with English surfing, which offers quality conditions for both the beginner and the professional), with their undulating coastline and rocky points, forms a number of excellent beach breaks, but not enough reef breaks. Fistral Beach is one of the most widely known beaches.

Thinking where and when to go? Head south to Cornwall or north to Scotland – you won’t be disappointed. The surfing season in the United Kingdom starts from Autumn to Spring, providing consistent surf of 4 to 12ft at times, which at the same time means you should be fully equipped as it is VERY COLD out there. Britain’s long continental shelf drains some power from the swell but it still packs a punch to be reckoned with. Due to the huge tides the sea can rise and fall up to 15ft at times making spots always changeable, always challenging and always exciting. Summer on the whole is much smaller with swells averaging between 1 to 4ft.


Bleiglass: ETunnelhoch (Interior of Eurotunnel shuttle (vehicle train)); 15 May 2007

The United Kingdom is physically linked to two other countries: the Channel Tunnel connects the UK to France, and Northern Ireland has a land border with the Republic of Ireland.

There are many ways to get to UK: by plane (with London Heathrow Airport being the world's busiest international airport), by train from Belgium or France (the main benefit of using the Eurostar services is that it runs between the central zones of its destination cities, removing the necessity of accessing the relevant airports on the outskirts of cities), using a combines tickets for the train and ferry if you travel from the Netherlands (it will take you to the Train Stations in East Anglia, Essex and East London).

If you prefer to go by car, you can also use the Channel Tunnel, as shuttle trains carry cars from Calais, France to Folkestone, the journey taking around 40 minutes. Car ferries also operate to many parts of the UK, so you can continue chasing waves by car. By the way, take note of the differences in signs and road markings when driving in border areas, as road signs in the Republic of Ireland are in Kilometres while those in Northern Ireland are in miles and there are no border controls and only the major roads will display signs stating that you are leaving one country and entering the other.

For those who were enjoying good waves in France and then decided to explore UK, coaches would be the cheapest way to travel there from France and the Benelux. Eurolines offer daily services from Paris, Amsterdam and Brussels to London Victoria coach station.

All options mentioned above, except for the Channel Tunnel, are good to travel inside the country. And sure you can travel by thumb, though the British are very aware of safety, and you may expect a long wait for a ride.

Hitchhiking on Motorways and Motorway junctions is illegal, as well as on certain primary routes, where pedestrians are banned, however, aside from those exceptions, it is not illegal.


WxGopher: Air masses, 9 February 2007

The climate of the United Kingdom (UK), consisting of England, Wales and Scotland is classified as a mid-latitude oceanic climate with warm summers, cool winters and plentiful precipitation throughout the year. The main influences of the weather in the UK are the semi-permanent Azores anticyclone, a large subtropical semi-permanent centre of high atmospheric pressure found near the Azores in the Atlantic Ocean, and the Icelandic low, a semi-permanent centre of low atmospheric pressure found between Iceland and southern Greenland. The strength and position of these systems determine the climate in UK year round, with southerly continental air flow from mainland Europe providing drier and warmer weather while, northerly flow can bring snow and freezing conditions. The Gulf Stream warms the surrounding waters and provides a moderating influence on the weather, though this is not much consolation when you’re pulling on your 6mm wetsuit in winter. In general, the weather can be notoriously changeable where many types of weather can be experienced in a single day, which may see surf conditions go from good to bad to good again quite quickly and inexplicably. As the UK lies between 50° N and 60° N, the length of daylight has a significant variation, depending how North you are, in summer you may experience 5 or 6 hours of daylight, while in winter that increases to 16-18 hours, which means surfing at midnight may be an option.  The UK climate is divided into four northern hemisphere seasons: Winter (December-February), Spring (March-May), Summer (June-August) and Autumn (September-November).

Winter (December-February)
The Icelandic low, and associated low-pressure systems travelling from North of Greenland, Iceland, and Scotland, are at their strongest, while the Azores high is at its weakest and is shrunken southward to its smallest.  As a result, the storm systems sweep over the UK and Europe repeatedly all winter, often four or five in a row, each following a similar track. Extensive cloud cover and precipitation accompany these storms, and means only the extremely keen or those who are part polar bear, hit the water. Rainfall is plentiful throughout the season, though snow is relatively infrequent, however at times you can find snow on the beach in Northern Scotland and Wales. Towards the later part of the season the weather usually stabilises near the coasts mainly due to the fact that the Atlantic ocean is often at its coldest during this time after being cooled throughout the autumn and the winter. Winds mostly from the west and can be brutal, making you look for somewhere to hide. Mean winter temperatures in the UK are most influenced by proximity to the sea and so are not as cold as inland parts. The coastal areas of Wales, Northern England and Scotland, have mean highs of 5 °C to 7 °C, while south England averages 7 °C to 9 °C. Precipitation is plentiful, with rain days averaging 14 per month in England and 17-19 in Scotland and Wales.

Spring (March-May)

The Icelandic low weakens while the Azores high intensifies and moves north and east.  As a result, storm systems out of the Icelandic low are shifted farther north and weaken.  However, storms still cross the UK fairly regularly and continue to pump swell in. Compared to winter though, Spring is generally a calmer, particularly because the Atlantic has lost much of its heat throughout the autumn and winter. However, generally winter-like storms continue through April, with only May giving a hint of transition to summer. The prevailing winds come from the south or southwest early in the season but can tend east or northeast by May. Mean temperatures in Spring are heavily influenced by latitude. Most of coastal Scotland, Wales and Northern England remain cool with average high temperatures ranging from 7 °C to 12 °C. The southern half of England experiences the warmest spring temperatures of between 13 °C to 14 °C and hitting a balmy 16°C in May, which means surfers venture out to catch any lasting winter swells without turning into too much of an ice block.

Summer (June-August)

The Icelandic low is weakest while the Azores high is strongest and largest Storm systems out of the Icelandic low are relatively weak and short lived, and often the high pressure systems from the Azores dominate. As a result, nearly anyone who wants a beach experience in England heads for the southern coasts, which makes the trek to Scotland and Wales option. Summer can often be a dry season, but rainfall still has a wide local variation. The pressure gradient at this time of year is much weaker than in winter and southwest winds prevail.  Fewer, less intense storms come out of the Icelandic low and cross the area, so long flat spells are common. Winds can be quite variable but the perfect set up sees a blocking high anchor over England directing a light Northwesterly.  Climatic differences at this time of year are more influenced by latitude and temperatures are highest in southern coastal areas and lowest in the north. Scotland and northern England have the coolest summers with mean highs 15 °C to 17 °C, while Wales and the southern England have warmer summers with mean highs 19 °C to 22 °C and may see a couple of 30 °C days.  Though summer, rain still happens with average rain days 9-10 per month in England increasing to 12 in Wales and Scotland.

The Icelandic low intensifies and the Azores high weakens and moves southwest. North Atlantic storms intensify and sweep through the region more and more often as the season progresses, and by November, the winter pattern returns full force.  Autumn brings quite unsettled weather as cool polar air moves southwards with the sun. However the combination of warmest ocean temperatures due to heating throughout the spring and summer, and lows to the north deepening and sending plenty of swell, makes this an ideal time to explore all coasts. The UK often experiences an 'Indian Summer', where temperatures particularly by night can be on the warm side. The prevailing winds return from the southwest with more regularity. Coastal areas in the southern half of England have on average the warmest autumns, with mean highs of 15 °C to 17 °C. Coastal areas of Wales and northern England, and Scotland, experience mean highs between 10 °C and 14 °C. Average rain days per month increase to 12-13 in England, 14 in Wales and 14-16 in Scotland.   

where to stay

Umair Shuaib: Canary Wharf, London; 4 October 2007

As in all European countries, there are a lot of options for accommodation in UK. You can go for something luxurious like Marriott Hotel in London and Hervey Bay Resort to ultra cheap in hostels and university residences off season and everything in between. Hotels in London are expensive, but there are still bargains to be found sometimes. Bed and Breakfast and small hotels are generally good value and include a full English breakfast.

Sometimes you can get very good deals calling hotels directly and asking for any special offers. Some people advise when you see a deal online, and there are restrictions like paying a deposit or booking fee, to call the hotel directly and mention the website. They may match the price and you don't have to pay until you check out. Anyway, it’s worth checking.  

what to pack

Parts of an Umbrella; 24 May 2007

It shouldn’t be a big question for anybody – of course something against rain and cold even if you go in summer. If you taking a tent, check its waterproofness first and it applies to almost all the gear you taking with you (ex. water-resistant bagpack and boots). Nothing special required as pretty much everything you can by there.

A wheeled bag is usually the best unless you're backpacking, the distances you have to carry your luggage at some of the train stations and airports can be quite far.

Remember to take a voltage adapter that has the different plugs with it.

If you are travelling up north in Scotland during the summer try to have long sleeves and long trousers to wear - particularly at dusk when the dreaded midges come out. These are very small flies that fly around in huge packs and give you lots of itchy red dots.

…Nearly forgot! Waterproof camerabag! You don’t want to lose your pictures of that great surf, do you?..

dangers and warnings

London Cab

As a general rule, the further north you travel, the better quality the drinking water. However, tap water is safe to drink everywhere, unless otherwise stated. If you are taking some special medicines, bring it with you, otherwise you’ll be able to buy everything on the spot.

In city centres, for example in London, be aware of a petty crime such as pickpocketing, but it’s usually a nuisance more than a threat. Just in case, avoid looking like a rich target, hide your Rolex and numerous diamonds, don’t be lazy, put your brand new camera back in a case after you took a photo. Try not to get too drunk, if it still happened then get a taxi home. Park in well lit places with no cover around the car and keep all valuables out of sight.

Use licensed black cabs when hailing from the roadside, or alternatively private taxis (minicabs) can be pre-booked. Do Not hail a minicab from the street as it is illegal under licensing laws, and the driver will charge you as high a price as he can.

restaurants, shops and nightlife

The famous Harrods in London; 7 October 2005

Despite jokes and stereotypes, British cuisine has improved greatly over the past few decades and the choice of international dishes is the best in Europe. However, British eating culture is still in the middle of a transition phase.
The UK can be an expensive place to eat out if you compare it to the more southern European countries, but at the same time it is relatively cheap in comparison with Switzerland and Norway.
Many restaurants in city centres tend to be a little more expensive then ones say, in the suburbs, and pubs do tend to be slightly more expensive in the countryside, but generally, a three-course meal without drinks will cost the traveller anywhere between.
For those who surf - little Chef is a restaurant everywhere to be found in Cornwall, the food there is typically English: steak, sausages, white beans in tomato sauce, potatoes/french fries, toast with bacon.
London as the major city can satisfy even the most sophisticated eaters – there you will find restaurants serving food from every corner of the world, Tudor-beamed pubs with menus from Dickens' day, Chefs offering cutting edge Modern British Cuisine.
Larger towns have a range of restaurants to suit most tastes and you will find a very broad range of different cuisines, including India, China, Thailand, France and Italy.
Important: Smoking is now banned in all restaurants, cafés, bars and pubs - there are no exceptions.

Although shopping in Britain can be expensive, especially in London, it is generally regarded as a world-class destination for shoppers. You can count on the variety and quality of products, depending on where and what you buy. Fierce competition, that takes place pretty much in all countries with the developed market, has brought prices down considerably in the food, clothing and electronic sectors. Prices do vary and it is always worth visiting the various retail stores as bargains can often be found, especially in the sale season. The general rule would be to avoid buying from the tourist areas as it is always more expensive and to stick to the High Street shops or the many 'out-of-town' retail parks where prices will be considerably cheaper.

You can find traditional pubs everywhere, especially in London, so if you want a pint, you don't have to look far. Most of them close at eleven though. If you want to stay all night, go to the club. The rule is simple – the closer to the city you get, the more and the better clubs you see. London has the best nightlife in the whole England and Glasgow has the best nightlife in the whole of Scotland. With pubs lining every street and hundreds of clubs, what more can you ask for.

what to do when it's flat

Sikosm: Will Smith; 6 September 2006

United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland are the World Heritage Sites. You will be absolutely sweet it terms of activities whether you travel alone, with a mate or family. There are places in UK, which you’d love to see to satisfy your curiosity, for education purposes and just for fun.

f you happen to be in London, apart from the brief sightseeing (Westminster Palace, Royal Botanic Gardens, Tower of London,  Westminster Abbey and Saint Margaret's Church), which can take a couple of days (yes, there’s definitely a lot to see there!), visit Madame Tussaud’s Museum and Natural History Museum, it’s a great fun no matter what age you are!
If you want to look at London from the above, take a ride on the London Eye, it is especially beautiful at night when the city is just lit up by the thousands of lights.

Here follows the list of places you definitely should visit at some stage of your trip: Stonehenge, Studley Royal Park including the Ruins of Fountains Abbey (Yorkshire), Giant's Causeway and Causeway Coast (Northern Ireland), St. Kilda (Island West of Scotland), Ironbridge Gorge (Shropshire), Castles and Town Walls of King Edward in Gwynedd (NW Wales), Durham Castle and Cathedral (NE England), City of Bath (Avon, SW England), St Augustine's Abbey, and St Martin's Church (Kent, SE England), Blenheim Palace (Oxfordshire), Dorset and East Devon Coast (SW England), Hadrian's Wall (N England), Canterbury Cathedral, Old and New Towns of Edinburgh (Scotland), Heart of Neolithic Orkney (Islands, N Scotland), Liverpool - Maritime Mercantile City (NW England). Definitely there are more places to see, so make sure you plan your trip before you go.

useful phrase guide

Diliff: Tower Bridge London; February 2006

Aye - yes (some parts of Scotland, Wales N. Ireland and North England)
Biscuits - cookies
Chips - fries, which may be "french fries" or thick-cut traditional English chips
Crisps - potato chips
Cymru (which English-speakers may pronounce as 'Sim-roo' but some attempt more accurately as 'Cum-ree') - Wales
Downing Street - used to refer to the Government
Football - soccer
Jam - jelly
Jelly - jello
Loch - lake (Scotland)
Nappy - diaper
Pavement - sidewalk
Poke - ice cream served in a wafer cone (Northern Ireland)
Rubbish - trash
Trousers - pants
Wee - small (Scotland, Northern Ireland, some elderly English people)


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We Wish England Were Australia
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