England Excursion

When Victoria was queen, the sun never set on England’s vast empire. Fueled by the Industrial Revolution, Great Britain extended its reach into every continent, every sea, nearly every port. In this century, the British have been forced down from their imperial heights, but England and its people still retain their distinctive charm. To this day, social climbers the world over imitate English habits, from the cut of their Savile Row suits to the scones and clotted cream that adorn their tea tables. Indeed, the peculiarly English combination of emotional reserve and buttoned-down elegance define what it means to be upper-class.

England itself seems a small country to command such a formidable reputation, but within its borders are a dramatic range of natural and cultural differences. The wild country of the far north, where accents become nearly incomprehensible, contrasts sharply with the green hedgerows and genteel charm of the Home Counties in the south, where most visitors’ impressions of England are formed. The fens and flats of East Anglia suggest a Dutch landscape worlds apart from the dark hills and valleys of the West Country. Most of all, England preserves its past. Travelers can find Roman ruins at York and Bath, but an even older age claims the visitor’s attention at the gigantic monoliths of Stonehenge. Undergraduates in cap and gown still scurry about the quadrangles of Cambridge and Oxford, but the somber pre-Reformation cathedrals of Canterbury and Durham now preside over a country that must come to grips with its new status and new responsibilities.

The center of English life remains London. Despite the traditional nature of British society, the capital’s cultural life is increasingly dominated by immigrants from its former colonies, and you are more likely to hear steel drums in its street than a symphony by Handel. Theater, always an English strength, thrives in London, while the music scene makes it one of the world’s cutting-edge cities. However, real Anglophiles prefer to leave town on the weekends and head for Kent or Surrey, with their rolling green fields ideal for cricket and old-fashioned tearooms. Other frequently visited sites include Canterbury and its Cathedral, Stonehenge, the Roman ruins at York and Bath, and the university towns of Oxford and Cambridge.

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