Written by: Grenville Yeo
SOL, Bridge Chambers Barnstaple, Devon
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Some notes on the images from the CD (Summer 2008)

Firstly, there is a most wonderful website which has been set up by the children and teachers of Woodlands Junior School in Kent.  It gives information on an enormous range of cultural aspects of British life. Seeing it is the only way to believe it!
Check out:


Big Ben
A Famous landmark which IS in all course books!  London taxis too and driving on the left are all familiar aspects of British life.
The London “Gherkin”
Designed by Sir Norman Foster this building is a now famous landmark in London. Built on the site of the old Baltic Exchange which was an organisation which arranged for the ocean transportation of industrial bulk commodities – it was almost 250 years old when it was blown up by an IRA bomb in 1992. The Exchange now operates in another building and this is now occupied by an insurance company.
Gateshead Quays – Millennium Bridge. Sage Centre & Baltic Mill
Newcastle (left bank) and Gateshead (right bank) face each other across the River Tyne.  Once thriving industrial port towns, the area fell into decline in the 1970’s and 1980’s as those industries declined. Today however, Gateshead Quays is being converted into a truly unique arts and cultural space, unparalleled to anything else in Europe. The Sage Music Centre was designed by the world famous architect Norman Foster.  It houses 3 music halls and a music school.  Beyond it is the impressive Baltic Arts Centre, converted from a disused Flour Mill and then linking it to Newcastle is the beautiful Millennium Bridge – the World’s first and only tilting bridge!  Read more at
Ilfracombe Theatre
Modern designs of buildings don’t always please everybody but this theatre has won many awards.   It was built with funding from several sources including the National Lottery.  It took teams of 4 bricklayers 9 months to build the two cones with 600,000 bricks at an angle of 10 degrees (inwards).   This theatre seats 480 people but has other community rooms and facilities as well.
Okehampton Castle
A good example of how a ruin is kept a ruin rather than be renovated into something like it used to be.    It is one of the largest castle ruins in the South West.  It was probably built soon after 1068, and is mentioned in the Doomsday Book (1086).  The castle was abandoned in 1539 after its owner, Henry, Marquis of Exeter, was found guilty of conspiracy and executed by Henry VIII.
The Parish Church
The central church of any local community, especially villages, is the Parish Church (which is Protestant). Parish councils have their origins going back 1000 or more years. Villages used to be ruled by the Lord of the Manor because there was little national control.   Parish priests and sometimes schoolmasters joined the Lord of the Manor to become a kind of ruling clique because in small villages they were the only people who could reason clearly.  These then became the first effective parish councils which, though initially forming part of the church community, are now democratically elected and are the smallest unit of local govt.  There are 11,000 of them in England & Wales.
Unique in Britain – this privately owned village in which there is no motorised transport.  Goods have to be delivered by sledge.   The village has a long history going back as far as Roman times.  It has always been a small fishing port but the kiln down at the harbour used to burn limestone brought in by boat from South Wales – this produced lime which was much needed by local farmers to improve their soil for crops.    Charles Kingsley, who wrote ‘Westward Ho!” was brought up in Clovelly.
Council housing
This estate was built in the 1950s and would have been for Council housing – which was often prefabricated.  In the 1980s the Govt allowed many people in council houses to buy their own homes.  Even in private developments, Most houses in Britain are in an estate where there are only 3 or 4 different house designs.  The intention is to keep the costs down, but it is also because most houses are built by big companies who have a lot of money to pay for the outlay.  Private builders cannot afford to build more than one or two houses at a time, so they tend to be more individualistic.
Terraced houses
28% of houses in Britain are terraced houses, many of which were built in the 19th century.   Because they were usually well built they have lasted well and with careful renovation offer good housing even today.   In some of the larger cities though some areas have been not well looked after (becoming slums) and are being knocked down.
Thatched houses
Most old houses would have had thatched roofs, using material gained from the harvest.  Today some houses still have these roofs, but they are expensive and not easy to maintain.  People do like the quaint look of them though!
The Eden Project
Another project developed with the Millennium Fund, like the Gateshead projects, was the Eden Project in Cornwall. This time it was a (very) large disused clay quarry that was converted.
Eden is all about man’s relationship with and dependence upon plants.  The Eden Project is a showcase for all the questions about them and many of the answers. Eden is about education and communication of the major environmental issues of the day.    The second picture shows bananas growing.
Different environments in the World have been recreated in these huge bio-domes which are made from plastic and steel.  Almost 1.5 million visitors a year visit the Eden Project. See
Royal Crescent BATH
Built in eight years and completed in 1775 this magnificent crescent of 30 houses has no comparison anywhere, particularly in its fantastic setting above the city of Bath, where all the houses built have to be faced with Bath Stone, a local yellowish limestone which has a very special sandy texture.


The Beatles helped change the face of music in Britain and the rest of the World. Very few people’s names are used to name places or streets in Britain, but Liverpool’s John Lennon Airport is a rare but notable exception to this!
Car Boot Sales
Every Sunday morning around the UK there are hundreds of these events. People sell their unwanted things from home and pay the organisers who will be raising money for charity. The sellers otherwise keep all their ‘profit’. It is always a good place to look for bargains!
The Cornish Flag
Many counties in Britain have their own flag, but few are flown with such passion as Cornwall’s. This is because Cornwall has such a strong identity. It even has its own language (Kernewek) which is a direct descendent of that used by the Celtic settlers long before the Roman invasion of Britain. The flag was adopted from the Saint of the tin miners, St. Piran. The black represents the ashes of the smelting fires and the white the colour of the metal. Cornwall used to be a World leader in tin production until the end of the First World war when scrap metal from unwanted weapons flooded the market – tin being one of the metals used in a lot of armaments. The price of tin plummeted making the mines unprofitable.
Strictly speaking county flags cannot be flown without planning permission – only National ones can!
Driving on the Left
One Third of the World’s population drive on the left, so it is not just a British thing! Origins: Riding a horse, one could defend oneself more easily with your (stronger) right arm, so rode on the left. However leading a horse and cart, using the right would be more natural. Most of Europe was LHD before cars came along. Napoleon however made all countries occupied by France in the 19th century switch and other countries occupied by Germany in WW2 , switched then. The Romans drove on the left!!
Read all about it in the fascinating website:
Fruit & Vegetable Stamps
Two years ago the Royal Mail issued its first ’interactive’ stamps featuring 10 popular fruit and vegetables. Together with the pack of stamps was a set of 76 stickers which could be added to the stamp to create a humorous face/character. It was the first time that it was permitted to extend beyond the perforated frame of the stamp. A second interactive stamp set was issued in 2005 illustrating various forms of popular magic. Both sets have proved very popular.
Highland games and the Kilt
A very traditional part of Scottish life are the Highland games, with some unique sports involved. The kilt is an even more significant part of Scottish culture is the kilt, worn by men. More can be found about this at
Morris Dancing
By the end of the 16th Century Morris dancing had become established as a form of entertainment often accompanying the seasonal celebration of the coming of the Spring and Autumn harvests. However the origins are uncertain and it is certainly popular in many other countries including the USA and Canada. Many local communities have a Morris group with their own dress and traditions. A good start for information would be their webring:
Steam Rallies and Steam trains
There are about 50 preserved railway lines in Britain, most of which have been developed from lines which used to form part of the national railway network but which now have been closed. Most of these operate train services for visitors enjoying a day out and wanting to have both a bit of nostalgia (which is very strong in Britain) and also to enjoy some lovely scenery, as most of these lines are set in beautiful rural locations. Volunteer groups who enjoy this as a hobby run them. Those who have an engineering background will be the ones that service and restore the locomotives, many of which are steam. The National Railway Museum in York has more than 100 Locomotives and many of these can be loaned out to interest groups for special occasions.
The website with details and pictures of the railways is:
The first picture shows a gentleman at a steam engine rally which are very popular. No need for railway lines here!
The Christmas Panto
At theatres and village halls all over the country after Christmas the pantomime draws all the families in for some fun and laughter entertainment. Loosely based on well-known children’s stories, they involve a lot of interaction with the audience and each story has to have a happy ending. The male lead is always played by a female! Again Wiki gives you a lot of information:
Even the buses are polite if they are not able to carry passengers! No smoking signs are often put in a similar way “Thank you for not smoking”. (Smoking is now banned in England in all public places)
A very popular children’s game in the autumn played with the seed of the horse chestnut tree. Full details on the Woodlands school website.
Mainly because of the length of each match (An international match can last 5 days!), this is not a serious spectator sport for most people. However it is a popular participatory sport and the image of the village green cricket match is typically English.
All research concedes that the game derived from a very old, widespread and uncomplicated pastime by which one player served up an object, be it a small piece of wood or a ball, and another hit it with a suitably fashioned club. The rules today are not as complicated as is thought, but the language is, and the ‘Rules’ attached are to be enjoyed – they won’t help you to understand the rules though!
This is perhaps the most physically demanding team sport of all, requiring strength as well as speed and hand co-ordination. There are very few top players who weight less than 90kg, but at school level it has to be less demanding for safety reasons and now even girls are taking it up as they are with other sports which have been over dominated by boys in the past. From a school resource point of view, with 15 players in each team, it is one game which involves the largest number of students in one go!
Rugby was probably the precursor to American Football. As for its own beginnings, legend has it that it was ‘invented’ in 1823 when a certain William Webb Ellis who was studying at Rugby School suddenly picked up a football in a game and ran with it. Well, this may have given the game its name, but there is strong evidence that there was a similar game in Roman times called Harpastum using a leather ball stuffed with feathers.
School uniform
This is something a lot of visitors find strange. In a supposedly free country why are all the children dressed up in the same uniform for school? Well, it is a long standing tradition which developed for two main reasons. Firstly it is felt to give children a feeling for and visible identity with their school – a sort of allegiance which would normally only normally come out in sports matches with other schools (these are very common). Secondly it was a way of making sure that children felt equal with the others – children from richer families would be wearing the same clothes as those from poor families. In practice there are mixed feelings about it. Teachers can waste a lot of time dealing with children who are not in uniform and not all children like it anyway, but for most children it is simply a fact of life! Uniform nowadays is usually quite simple (often black) and can be obtained easily and cheaply from supermarkets. It is a ?1billion a year industry so there is a lot of competition from suppliers to give the best deals. Students over 16 don’t usually have to wear school uniform.


Barnstaple Green Man Festival
Held annually in July it has pagan origins – the Green Man is an ancient symbol of nature and fertility. Pilton was granted a charter to hold an annual market by Edward III in 1330. This is a major feature of the festival and enables craftsmen and women to show and sell their work, and also provides charity workers to raise money for worthy causes, in an atmosphere of fun and spectacle.
Bridgwater Carnival
This is thought to be the biggest illuminated carnival in the World and takes place each year in early November.  It has been going for 150 years.   The floats take months to make and are made by ‘carnival clubs’ which are from all over Britain.   There are some wonderful pictures on the following website: Bridgwater carnival 2006 gallery There is also a link to the Glastonbury Music Festival (which in 2007 was VERY wet!).
Christmas – the cracker
In 1847, almost by accident, Tom Smith invented the cracker. It was a simple idea, which became an integral part of British celebration and tradition, which still continues today, 160 years on.   A cracker is a small cardboard tube covered in a brightly coloured twist of paper.
When the cracker is ‘pulled’ by two people, each holding one end of the twisted paper, the friction creates a small explosive ‘pop’ produced by a narrow strip of chemically impregnated paper. The cardboard tube tumbles a bright paper hat, a small gift, a balloon and a motto or joke.
Maypole Dancing
The site of the maypole is traditionally associated with the English village green and rural customs of ‘olden days’. However, maypoles have been just as important in small towns and in larger cities as well.  For fuller details try:
Remembrance Day
The soldiers who died during battle in any of the wars are remembered in ceremonies all across the country in early November.  11.00 on November 11th is the time when the country falls silent for two minutes. This was the time when the Armistice was signed in 1918 – on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month.    The following Sunday is also a time for reflection and remembrance: small ceremonies are held at war memorials like this one in Barnstaple.  The whole country is tuned in to the Service of Remembrance at the Cenotaph in Whitehall, which is attended by the Royal Family and senior politicians and members of the armed forces and includes a march past of war veterans.
Many people wear a red poppy in the weeks before – the money raised goes to help support those still suffering from injuries suffered in action.   Wreaths of red poppies are laid at the memorials as well.
Shrove Tuesday – Pancake day and races
Lent starts the day after Shrove Tuesday.  To help feed people beforehand, pancakes were traditionally baked and eaten.  Now it is a day when the whole country eats pancakes (but then doesn’t fast!).  There are pancake races in many towns and villages  – the runners have to ‘toss’ their pancake up in the air several times whilst they are running and not let it fall on the ground!    This picture shows a local MP in the race in his constituency, showing how much politicians do get involved in their local communities.
Spalding Flower Parade
The Spalding Flower Parade weekend in Spring has been held annually since 1958. The event is organised by a Flower Parade Committee using the waste product of the tulip industry – the tulip heads. The growers of tulips remove the head when in flower to promote the growth of a good sturdy bulb for sale in the autumn. A company or organisation sponsors each float, which is decorated with these heads.
Trooping the Colour
On the ‘Official’ Birthday of the Queen in early June and ceremonies are held on Horseguards Parade in London.  It has been part of the Royal calendar for more than 200 years.  The Queen’s Colour (or flag of her battalion), is ‘Trooped’ by the Household Division today, wearing full dress, in honour of her Birthday.  The Queen, now she over 80, does not sit side-saddle as in this picture any more.
Well Dressings
There is a lovely website, which gives more details on these ceremonies that are almost unique to the county of Derbyshire and the Peak District. .The origins are believed to have been as a result of the village of Eyam surviving the terrible plague of 1665 whilst thousands died across the country.  This was put down to the purity of the water from the wells, and as a result they were ‘dressed’ as a thanksgiving.    The dressings have now spread across the county and are held at different times through the Spring and Summer and are spectacular sights as well as being tremendous works of art.
The well dressing is constructed on a wooden tray onto which a layer of wet clay is pressed. Usually the tray has lines of nails on its base to keep the clay in place. A design is drawn and its outline pricked out onto the surface of the clay. The design is then realised by pressing thousands of flower petals into the clay, using different coloured petals for the various sections of the design.  Blue hydrangeas are used for the sky, for example.  The whole village may be involved in the making up of the displays as they can only last for a few days so they have to be put together quickly immediately prior to the event.


The two taps!
Frustrating to visitors who are used to mixer taps are the two taps so often used in the UK. The bowl is filled with a mix of hot and cold and then it is safe! The hot water comes from a tank upstairs, which is fed from a storage tank in the loft.   It means the pressure of the hot water is a lot less than the cold, which is supplied directly from the incoming mains, which makes mixing them in the pipes difficult.
Door Furniture
Most homes in Britain open onto the street rather than behind closed locked gates.  Door knockers and letter boxes are then part of the door itself.    Houses are normally numbered alternately up each side of the street, evens on one side, odds on the other, starting at the end nearest the town centre.   This photo shows houses numbered consecutively on the same side!
Double decker buses
Originally introduced to save road space they also give great views on a journey, these traditional British icons have made a tremendous return in the last 10 years.   From 1950 as cars became more popular so less people used public transport and in the 1980’s bus companies decided to replace their big buses with small minibuses but run them more often, in the hope that the service would seem better.    It turned out to be a mistake, as the small vehicles could not cope with the peak hours of travel when so many wanted to make journeys.     With government subsidies and now free travel to older people the big double deckers have returned in their hundreds in the last 10 years.
The open tops are very popular for tourists either by the sea or in cities like London and Edinburgh where the buildings can be seen so much more easily without a roof on the bus.
Farming – pigs
8 million pigs are in the UK at any one time.  Increasingly they are being given more space to breed and develop as in this farm with each small arc house housing a small number of pigs.
The Doorstep ‘Pinta’ And Milk Float
Something that is fast disappearing from the British scene is the early morning delivery of milk.   Now less than 1 in 10 households have this delivery, whereas before the advent of the big supermarkets, it was nearly everyone who had their milk (and often bread and eggs) delivered this way before breakfast.
The Milk float was electrically driven so as to be as quiet as possible in the early hours of the morning.
Old People’s Flats
Old people in Britain are less likely to be looked after by their children than in many countries.  However it doesn’t mean to say that they are not cared for.   One solution that has become quite popular is to buy or rent a flat in a block like this where there is a permanent warden in one of the flats who is on call if they are needed.  It means that they can retain their independence, which is so important to so many older people.
Phone box and Letterbox
Two images of very traditional aspects of British streets.  However times are changing for the telephone boxes which are being replaced by lighter modern units.   Nevertheless some authorities particularly in rural locations have designated the phone box a listed building which means that it cannot be removed or replaced!   Other people have bought them to put up in their garden as a reminder of days gone by.    Nostalgia is strong!
The Policeman
Friendly, helpful and human, but firm when he has to be – that is the typical image of the British ‘Bobby’.  People like to see them around on the streets and not just in their cars.  Filling out lengthy reports back in the police station does take a lot of time and concerns many people.  The traditional helmet though is now less common than it was – the cap with the black and white chequered band is becoming more popular.
The Policewoman
Now becoming almost as common as policemen in many areas, but with the same qualities and duties.   The Head of Devon and Cornwall Police is a woman.
The staple lunch time meal for millions of British people!    Whether bought in a shop or made at home, most people who are working take a relatively light lunch in the form of a sandwich or two and wait for their main cooked meal of the day when they get home.  Fillings are usually quite simple, such as cheese, cold meat, egg or jam.  Another popular lunch-time choice is the hot filled baked potato – often known as a ‘jacket potato’ because the skin is still left on (well, it is the part of the potato with the most goodness!).   These can have quite varied filings but are always a relatively cheap and filling meal.
Shop mobility
In many towns there are push and motorised wheelchairs and other helps for people with handicaps, for hire.  Situated at the bus station, it means that anyone coming into the town needing a wheelchair for shopping doesn’t need to bring one with them.  When they return home they simply return the wheelchair to the place they hired it from.  The scheme is sponsored so in many places it is a free service
Speed Cameras
Rarely do you see police with cameras doing a speed check on the roads.   Instead, at thousands of places across the country there are fixed speed cameras which are activated if a vehicle goes past too fast.  Two photos are taken one second apart and the lines on the road provide firm proof of the speed of the car.  Motorists are fined and have 3 points set against their driving licence. (if you get 12, then you are banned for a year).  The speed cameras are usually placed in places where there have been accidents before or where there is a special need for slower driving.  They are also painted fluorescent yellow so that they can be seen!   The theory is that they are intended to slow traffic down, not catch people!!!  Road maps of Britain now even have the speed cameras marked on them!
The Walking Bus
A simple idea to save parents of young children time as well as to develop good road safety habits has resulted in the setting up of hundreds of walking buses across the country in the last few years.   The schemes are run by the local authorities and involve groups of up to 16 children being met on a regular route each morning by a registered ‘driver’ and walked to school.   Another adult acts as the ‘conductor’ and brings up the rear of the ‘bus’.  Both adults and all children wear reflective jackets, the adults must have a licence and the children all must have a ‘bus pass’. More on the Devon County website, including being able to print off the Walking Bus leaflet at:


Christmas Pudding
Perhaps this is the most traditional of all things associated with Christmas.  A rich pudding full of fruits and nuts, and sometimes alcohol (for the adults) and small coins (for the children), served with brandy sauce after it has been set fire to and a sprig of holly added for decoration.  Whole families used to be involved in the mixing of the ingredients, often 6 weeks beforehand
Cornish Pasty
The Cornish tin miners used to work down the tin mines for 12 or more hours at a time.   Their food was the Pasty – a big (25cm long) pie filled with cooked meat and vegetables and with a pastry ‘handle’ down the length of it.  Sometimes one end of the pasty was filled with fruit as a dessert.
Crabs, Seafood, Lobsterpots
This is a baby crab which children love to search for in the rock pools at low tide when they are on the beach in summer.   Larger crabs are a popular food though which along with lobster are regarded as a bit of a speciality.  Of course, being by the sea, fish forms a popular food and the variety is enormous.   The fishmonger is becoming less common though with the growth of the supermarkets.   In addition many people like to eat shellfish, like cockles and mussels, though these are less popular generally.
Devon Cream Tea
Very popular and very fattening! Scones are thick sweet and soft, a sort of cross between a roll and a biscuit.  Served with jam and thick clotted cream this makes a very popular ‘Cream Tea’.  Heating rich fat milk (like the cows in Devon produce) over boiling water for several hours makes clotted cream.  The thick skin that forms is clotted cream.
This is a Scottish speciality!  Here you see it served with mashed potato (tatties) and swede (neeps) which is the traditional way on Burns Night which is January 25th, the birthday of Robert Burns – the most famous of Scottish poets.   Burns night has been celebrated for over 200 years.  Haggis is made from the minced heart, lungs and liver of a lamb cooked together with oatmeal and chopped onions and herbs in the lining of a sheep’s stomach.  After three hours cooking in boiling water this is cut and the meat spooned out.
Hot Cross Buns
These are traditionally served on Good Friday, but are actually available almost throughout the year.   Hot cross buns at Easter are a metaphor for the resurrection of Christ – flour comes to life and transforms itself to bread. But hot cross buns actually pre-date Christianity and have at times been seen as pagan.  Elizabeth the 1st brought in the law permitting them to be eaten at festivals such as Easter.   The buns are served hot with butter.  Their high fruit and spice content gives them a very special (and popular) flavour.
Roast Beef
The most traditional and still one of the most common meals in Britain is the Roast Dinner, usually served on Sundays at about 13.00 when all the family are together.  Here we see roast beef served with roast potatoes, a Yorkshire pudding and cabbage, with gravy (a sort of meat flavoured sauce) poured on top.  Beef is also usually served with either mustard (which is hot!) or horseradish sauce.  Roast lamb is also popular but is served with mint sauce instead of mustard or horseradish.  Roast pork is served with apple sauce instead.   The other very popular roast dinner (which is really lunch!) is roast chicken.  The whole chicken is roasted and then carved and served this time with bread sauce (made with bread milk and a few herbs – delicious!).
Roast Turkey
At Christmas it is roast turkey.  This is roasted whole, even if it weighs 7 kg, and then carved and served with all sorts of vegetables but usually sprouts, and also little sweet sausages called chipolatas.  In this picture there are roast parsnips on the plate as well.     The turkey usually lasts a family for several days afterwards when it is often served cold with ham and salad.


This magazine is a free magazine which deals with all aspects of complementary medicine in the South West of England.   It is typical of the way society is becoming more and more information led.  The articles in this magazine are very informative and give information about both the techniques themselves as well as where practitioners and interest groups can be found.  Its website is:

Free publications
There are many other free publications about too, including ‘real’ newspapers like Metro, but also free newspapers at hospital published by the local Healthcare Trust about key medical issues.  The local authorities also publish a regular newspaper delivered to each home to explain how their council tax is being spent and what and how public services are being funded or developed.
Evening courses
There is also a prospectus of all the evening and weekend courses available to the general public in the local area.  On any one evening there will be dozens of different classes ranging from creative topics like flower arranging to language classes to more academic classes on examination courses.  The courses are not usually free, but they are popular.  There are also subsidised courses for adults who find reading and writing difficult.
Private Eye
This fortnightly magazine reflects a number of aspects of British culture.  It has been published for over 40 years.  It has as its main mission to expose all forms of corruption or unfair practices at political or business level, and in doing so has frequently been sued by various bodies – though rarely has it been found guilty.  It also has a strong element of humour in its cartoons and some articles, not minding making jokes about politicians especially! for more.
The BIG Issue
This magazine covers all sorts of topics or current interest.  The one thing that makes it different is that it is only sold on the streets and by homeless people.  The commission they get on the sale of each copy helps with their low income.  Current UK sales are 130,000 per month, but in recent years it has expanded to 27 other countries both in Europe and elsewhere and gross sales are now over 2 million copies per month


There has been and still is no greater influence on British life than the fact that Britain is surrounded by the sea.  Course books never recognise this, and any reference is usually limited to one chapter and then usually in what it offers in leisure terms, for holidays etc.   Apart from the weather which is totally dominated by the Atlantic and the Gulf Stream, the historical explorations, the natural defence from invaders, the ability to travel the World (and colonise), and the ease of trading across the sea all impact enormously on British History and Life today.
Cliff and Coast Path
This is part of the South West Coast Path which is the longest trail in Britain and is just over 1000 km long.  Much of this is owned by the National Trust which ensures that it is preserved and not developed.   The National Trust is a charity which also preserves old houses and castles.  It has thousands of members whose donations help it to purchase areas of land or buildings for preservation.   Two websites to check: SW Coast Path, National Trust.
This harbour at Brixham in South Devon serves several purposes.    It is firstly a major fishing port (there are some 250 around the coast).  It also provides shelter for local people who enjoy sailing in the bay.   It is also a major attraction for tourists.  In Britain millions of people take their holiday in the South West of England because of its good weather and because spending time by the sea is such an enjoyable holiday experience.   Tourism is a very big industry in Britain and whilst London attracts the foreign tourists, this part of the country attracts the British.
Lifeboats, Sea rescue
The sea is a dangerous place.  With so many people on the water, whether is large ships or small boats, or even airbeds at the beach, safety is a very high priority.    Around the coast there are 232 lifeboat stations run by the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI).  These are maintained by volunteers who all have to have jobs which enable them to reach their lifeboat station within 5 minutes.   Not only are they run by volunteers but the lifeboats are paid for from the donations received by the RNLI, which is a charity.   In 2004, more than 7,500 lives were saved by lifeboat crews.  The lifeboat shown here cost more than ? million Pounds  a few years ago.  Nowadays there are also 57 beaches patrolled by the RNLI as well.
The helicopter crew are members of the Royal Air Force and they help in a great number of sea rescues.  In addition there are air ambulances which are also maintained by public donations.
Rough seas
Many ships are crushed against the rocks if their engines fail and they drift towards land.  The sea can be an immense force.
Sunsets over the sea are often very special.   The whole of the western side of the UK has this privilege.  Because most of the weather of the UK comes from the Atlantic, the colour of the sunset often can be used to predict the weather for the following day.  A yellow or watery sunset indicates rain is on the way.  A red sunset indicates a dry atmosphere to the west so it is likely to be a fine day to follow.
Surf and surfing
The beaches of North Devon and Cornwall face the Atlantic – rarely a quiet ocean!   Many of the beaches are flat and sandy and so the waves, which at sea may not be so noticeable; when they come ashore they break in long lines of surf.   On a quiet day these may be very gentle waves, but if there is a storm further out in the Atlantic a lot more energy is transferred to the waves and they can then form waves up to 2 metres high when they reach the beach.    With more modest waves this is a wonderful time to be at the beach as even the most inexperienced surfer can ride in on their tummy on a board for some 50 metres or more – quite an exhilarating experience!   For the more experienced, the bigger waves are what they want and as the storms are more likely in winter, their surfing is best done then – wearing ‘wet suits’ to keep them at least a bit warm.    The sea temperature though only varies between 8C(winter) to 17C (summer).
Coastal erosion
This is a very big problem where the cliffs are soft, but it is also a problem with long beaches as storms and everyday currents can move tons of material away in a very short time.   These groynes are there to stabilise the beach – they don’t look nice but they do save the beach.
The tides
The tides in North Devon vary between about 3 and 8 metres between high and low tide.  The variation depends on the position of the sun and moon which are the heavenly bodies which exert gravitational attraction on the ocean waters to create the tide.  When they are pulling against each other, there are the neap tides, and when their effect is cumulative there are the Spring tides.  It is the latter, which occur around the equinox that can cause most worry about flooding on tidal rivers like the Taw at Barnstaple if there has been heavy rain and the rivers are full or there is a heavy weather at sea which is causing big waves or a strong on-shore wind.
At the beach the tides create huge expanses of sand at low tide – it can be up to 500 metres to walk out to the sea – but at high tide there may only be a narrow strip of sand left for all the beachgoers.
Boats in the harbour cannot be used when the tide is out, so fishing or pleasure trips have to be planned with the tide tables in mind.   High and low tides are in a cycle which is about 24? hours long so it varies each day.  More on tides at:
This is on another part of the South West Coastal path and shows another reason why so many people opt for a walking holiday around this wonderful coastline.
Trading by sea
The first picture shows a trading schooner built in 1900 which has been preserved and is one of the only ones of its type remaining.  This used to carry coal, minerals, grain and fertilisers between South Wales, and Irish and English ports right up to 1960.   It could carry 250 tons, about double its own weight.
Contrast that with a modern container ship capable of carrying hundreds of containers for transfer direct to lorries on arrival in port.   Being able to transport such enormous quantities of goods is a huge advantage to a country like Britain and means that our roads are not so crowded with other countries’ lorries. More than 99% of lorries on British roads are doing business in Britain.  Compare that to a land-locked country which has other lorries passing through it and also has to bring everything in by road rather than ship.  Almost 40% of lorries on German motorways are foreign.
Seagulls are a definite part of life by the sea.  Their familiar screech call is a real seaside sound!!    Gulls live up to 20 years and as they start breeding after three years, there is a lot of concern in some places that they are becoming too common especially in towns where there is a lot of spare (waste) food around.  The common form of gull is actually regarded as a pest and the local authority can control the numbers if there are too many complaints or the numbers get out of hand.


Despite the trend amongst a lot of young people Britain remains a big meat-eating country.   Supermarkets are changing the face of the high street but the local butcher selling local meat is still popular.   This street in Barnstaple is called “Butcher’s Row” because it used to contain a whole line of butchers shops – it was the usual thing in medieval times to have shops selling the same thing next to each other.  Now some have become grocers but there are still several still there.
Charity Shop
These are an important part of every town centre in Britain and they are very popular.   Most national charities run shops throughout the country.  In Barnstaple there are 12 such shops.   They are given a lot of the goods that they sell so there are a lot of second hand clothes in them.   Oxfam, which is one of the biggest UK charities, also imports a lot of craft goods from the countries that its aid workers are working in – thus providing a trade for those people s well as income for the charity.
Pet Shop
Britain IS a nation of animal lovers as this shop shows!  Well, the percentage of homes with a pet in has fallen from 55% 50 years ago to 48% now, but that is still high.  The reason for the drop is probably because there are less children per family now and things like computers and computer games has taken up a lot of leisure time.  Pets almost without exception live IN the house with the family.
Estate Agent
British people move around more than in many countries.  In 2004 almost 2 million homes were bought/sold.  People move for several reasons: to find new jobs, to take a promotion, to begin retirement, to find a less expensive house if their family is getting bigger or simply to change their environment for whatever reason.   All this is good business for Estate Agents who are the businesses who sell houses between people.    Most people buy and sell their house this way – but you still need to have a lawyer to help you with the contracts.  It costs a lot of money to move house for these commission costs alone.
Fish and Chips
There are 8,100 of these shops in the UK (8 times as many as there are McDonald’s!).  They have been part of the British way of life for 150 years and despite the growth of fast food outlets they are just as popular as ever because they give excellent value for a nourishing and tasty meal.  They are open throughout the evening but only limited hours during the day unless they are in a tourist area.
Another part of British life that is fast disappearing as the supermarket changes our shopping habits.   Fresh fish is brought overnight to the fishmonger who keeps the fish out on a marble slab often covered in ice (though chilled cabinets are now common).   He will fillet the fish if you want it.   You’ll never see tanks of fish struggling to stay alive so that they can be called ‘fresh’ when taken out for a customer.


The British love signs!!
Alcohol Free Zone
One of the downsides of British life at present is the narrow and drink-related culture that exists amongst a high proportion of young people.  This has made many towns unpleasant places to go in the evenings and when holidaying abroad the reputation of Britain in many resorts in Spain and Greece has sunk to an all-time low.   It is now against the law to drink alcohol in many public places and these signs say where.
Car share schemes
Devon County Council launched this car share scheme 2 years ago and more than 2000 people have registered.  The idea is that people who don’t know that others are doing a similar journey to them on a regular basis can save money and reduce traffic and pollution by being put in touch.
Railway Sign
Railway tracks are regarded as definite no-go areas for people except at clearly designated crossings.  The fines are severe, though perhaps not often needed, as there is not much opportunity to get onto a track as they are always well fenced off.   Even so there are several deaths a year of children who do play on them.
Think Bike
This is another example – cars approaching this roundabout will be slowing down for cars going round the roundabout, but a cycle route also crosses at that point and this is a warning.    The number of child cyclists killed on Britain’s roads has halved (from 48 to 22) in the past 10 years and the number of adult cyclists killed has fallen by 50% (from 168 to 104) through careful campaigning and education – and signs like this.


Wind Turbines
These are beginning to change the landscape of parts of Britain.  There is a proposal current in discussion for a wind farm near Ilfracombe which will have 22 turbines each about 100 metres high.  Protesters say that it will spoil the landscape, but others in favour say it will help reduce our reliance on nuclear and carbon fuels and be good for the environment.    Less controversial is an experimental turbine now off the coast of Lynmouth which is driven by the tides.  It cannot be seen as it is underwater and doesn’t harm fish as it rotates fairly slowly.  It produces 300 Kilowatts of electricity but if successful bigger schemes can be developed.   Tides are more consistent than the wind.
Windswept tree
The most significant factor in the British weather is the wind – especially on the western side of the country as that is where most of our weather comes from.     Rainfall is not as high as people think.  London has just 13% more rain than Budapest, but it has almost twice as many days with rain (2 in 5 instead of 1 in 5) since each period of rain lasts for a much shorter time in Britain – thanks to the wind.
The other big factor on the weather is due to being surrounded by the sea.  In winter the sea drops to 8C and in summer rises to 17C, so it helps things stay mild in winter, especially near the coasts and cool in summer where 30C is about the top temperature.


These  5 cartoons, which are part of a collection of 32, can be bought for £5.95 from Foyles Bookshop in London.   The title is : “How to be British” and is written by Martyn Alexander Ford and Peter Christopher Legon.  The Foyles website is:  (the place to go for any book in fact!).    They do send books by post.
Also included in the CD:
The Walking Bus Leaflet (pdf)
101 facts about London (2005) (pdf)