England has a fascinating and colourful history, a rich culture, great cities and varied landscapes, yet it’s also small and compact – perfect for a rewarding visit.
Everyone has their own idea of England – this blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England (a quote from Shakespeare, of course). Many think of red double-decker buses, thatched cottages and country houses, village pubs and cream teas, cheery Liverpudlians and eccentric aristocrats. Others focus on England’s fast-moving contemporary art scene, its world-class football teams or its passion for shopping (Napoleon memorably referred to England as a nation of shopkeepers). Most visitors will admit at least to being intrigued about the cult of the Royal Family in England – while a few seem almost obsessed by it. Certainly, among her own heterogeneous subjects the Queen remains an almost mythical figure and a popular institution.
In reality, there’s some truth to most of the popular images of England. The steel-and-glass offices of the City of London do seem to reek of money just like in the newsreels. Meanwhile, if you go looking for it, you really can find the grim tower blocks and rusting factories of post-industrial decay. Then again, the green valleys and romantic vistas of the Lake District do match the impossibly perfect picture-postcards, and some of the country’s beach resorts really do seem to be stuck in a 1950s time warp, or go further back where the stately homes are redolent of the life depicted in television’s Downton Abbey.
Whatever your expectations, as a visitor you are unlikely to be disappointed. There really is something to cater to every taste and personality crammed into this small country. Even so, perhaps some will be surprised to find that there is no longer smog in London, that it doesn’t rain as much as they had expected and that Indian restaurants far outnumber fish-and-chip shops. On the other hand, most visitors will be delighted to find that the countryside often does look remarkably green and enticing, and that in spite of motorway madness and urban sprawl, there are still corners that match up to the most fanciful of idylls.