Where did Big Ben get its name?
Although the name 'Big Ben' is commonly used to refer to the famous clock at the top of St. Stephen's Tower of the Houses of Parliament in London, the nickname is more correctly applied to the bell within the tower. It was named after Sir Benjamin Hall, who was the Chief Commissioner of Works at the time. The original bell, cast in 1856 and weighing some 15 tons, was being tested in Palace Yard when it developed serious cracks and had to be scrapped. The new bell, weighing a mere 13 tons, was installed in 1858. There are also four Quarter bells in the clock tower weighing between 4 tons and 1 ton.
What is the Giant's Causeway?
The Giant's Causeway is an impressive formation on the north coast of Northern Ireland, near Portrush, County Antrim. It consists of some 40,000 basalt columns (basalt is a type of hard, igneous rock) descending like a giant staircase into the sea. The columns are mainly hexagonal in shape, and were formed by lava flows pouring into the sea many millions of years ago. According to legend the columns are the start of a causeway constructed by the terrible Irish Giant Finn MacCool, in an attempt to cross the sea to the Scottish coast!
How old is Stonehenge?
Stonehenge, the most famous prehistoric monument in Britain, is situated on Salisbury Plain in the county of Wiltshire. The first stage - a circular ditch and bank with an entrance flanked by a pair of small standing stones - is believed to have been built around 3000 BC. The site was subsequently abandoned and rebuilt between 2100 and 1800 BC.
There are many mysteries surrounding this ancient site. Some of the stones are thought to have come from the Preseli mountains in Pembrokeshire (Wales). Experts believe they may have been transported for much of the way by water before being dragged overland for the last stage of the journey.
It has been suggested that Stonehenge once operated as a massive astronomical clock. Some even believe it was a landing site for Unidentified Flying Objects (UFOs). A more likely explanation is that Stonehenge was an important centre of worship connected with the sun.
What is Hadrian's Wall?
Hadrian's Wall is a Roman wall running for about 120 kilometres across northern England between Wallsend-on-Tyne in the east and Bowness in the Solway Firth in the west. Begun in 122 AD on the orders of Emperor Hadrian, it was the northernmost frontier defence of Roman Britain. It was hoped that the wall would keep out the unruly Scottish tribes, but it was attacked and overrun in the 2nd and 3rd centuries and finally abandoned in the 4th century.
Originally about 3 metres wide and 4.5 metres high, substantial sections of the wall have been plundered for building materials. The finest surviving stretch is in the Northumberland National Park around the village of Gilsland. One of the best preserved Roman forts can be seen at Housesteads (which the Romans called Vercovicium), about 10 kilometres north-east of Haltwhistle.
How old is the London Underground?
The London Underground, or 'tube', was the world's first urban underground railway. Traffic jams caused by the congestion of horse-drawn vehicles generated complaints and letters to The Times in the mid-nineteenth century. As a result, construction work on the underground began in 1860.
It started operating in 1863, when the Metropolitan Railway opened a line between Paddington and Farringdon. Londoners were originally sceptical about the project, calling it the "sewer railway". The trains were steam-operated and travel must have been murky, sulphurous and grimy compared with today's electrically operated trains. But the service was an immediate success.
What is Speakers' Corner?
Speakers' Corner in the north-east corner of Hyde Park in London is by tradition an area where public speeches can be made by anyone who has anything they want to say - no matter how eccentric or implausible. The area was set aside for such use in 1872, after Hyde Park itself became a popular centre for public speaking.
Speakers talk to the crowds from a soapbox - an improvised platform once made from wooden packing crates used for soap and other items. Individual speakers or representatives of various organisations or special causes deliver their speeches at weekends - to the amusement or bewilderment of passers by. Crowds often gather around a speaker, and generally feel free to make comments on the speech or simply to heckle the speaker if they do not agree with what is being said.
Speakers' Corner is often taken as a symbol of free speech.
Can you drive through the Channel Tunnel?
You cannot drive through the Channel Tunnel. But you can travel on the Eurostar train or Le Shuttle. Those wishing to take their car through the tunnel arrive at the terminal in Folkestone, England, or Calais in France and pay a toll before driving onto Le Shuttle - 800m long rail freight vehicles - the largest purpose designed rail wagons in the world.
There are three different types of shuttle: a doubledecker for carrying cars, motorbikes and bicycles; a single-deck shuttle for carrying coaches, cars with caravans and campers; and another singledeck shuttle for carrying fully loaded freight vehicles up to 44 tonnes in weight.
Tickets for Le Shuttle can be bought in advance, although it is not necessary to book services. Services through the tunnel work on a 'turn up and go' basis so there is no fixed check-in time. Drivers of cars, coaches and heavy goods vehicles can all expect departures up to four times per hour. The journey time from platform to platform is 35 minutes, with 27 minutes in the tunnel.
Where can I find out about train services and times?
All mainline stations have information desks where you can enquire about train services and obtain train timetables. Alternatively, if you are in Britain you can call train information services: Tel: 0345 484950.
Travel agents should also be able to give advice on train timetables, and most public libraries have copies of train timetables in the reference section.
What is the British weather like?
Despite its reputation for grey skies and rain, the climate in Britain is generally mild and temperate.
The weather from day to day is mainly influenced by depressions moving eastwards across the Atlantic. Although the weather changes frequently, the temperature is subject to few extremes - it is rarely above 32 C or below -10 C. Rain is fairly well distributed throughout the year, but, on average, March to June are the driest months and September to January the wettest. If you visit the mountainous areas of the west and north you can expect more rainfall than in central parts of Britain. During May, June and July - the months of longest daylight - the mean daily duration of sunshine varies from five hours in northern Scotland to eight hours in the Isle of Wight on the south coast. November, December and January have the least sunshine - only an hour a day in northern Scotland or two hours a day on the south coast of England.
For general information about tourism in Britain visit the award-winning British Tourist Authority's website: www.visitbritain.com
The texts presented here have been placed with friendly approval of the British embassy on non-commercial basis. You find further information about Great Britain and the UK on the web pages of the British embassy named below.
Contact: British Embassy, Wilhelmstr. 70-71,
10117 Berlin, Germany Tel +49 (0)30 20457-0