The United Kingdom is a densely-populated Western European state run by unitary parliamentary constitutional monarchy with devolved legislatures. Say that five times fast! Four countries make up the UKÔÇöEngland, Scotland, Wales, and Northern IrelandÔÇöand there are still 14 overseas territories. The official language is English but regional languages include Scots, Ulster-Scots, Welsh, Cornish, Irish, and Scottish Gaelic. Speech patterns and ethnic backgrounds vary considerably, although racial variation is less. Generally, each country has its own national church and form of Christianity, i.e. the Church of England or the Presbyterian Church of Scotland. Soccer is one of the most popular diversions, but the British call it football (or footy) and they play it on a pitch. Americans can humor them on these points; since professional players across the pond are so far superior at the game, they might be onto something.
The terrain of the UK includes mountains, waterways, lowlands, and highlands. Overall the climate is temperate and generally rainy. Native animal species include the red squirrel, the Scottish reindeer, and the puffin. The UK was the first industrialized country, and its military expenses are the fourth-highest in the world. Mainstays of the economy include finances and other services, pharmaceuticals, aerospace, the automotive industry, and construction.
One could spend an entire vacation touring just the castles or the cathedrals. There is the Victorian Cardiff Castle in Wales, and Stirling Castle and its ancient fortress in Scotland. The Gloucester Cathedral, some distance west of London, houses the rermains of Edward II, while St. Anne’s Cathedral in Belfast (which represents the Church of Ireland) has mosaics, one of the largest pipe organs in Ireland, and the largest Celtic cross in Ireland. You can learn about Scottish prehistory at Skara Brae, a Stone Age site. Traipse around Braich-y-Pwll, a rocky promontory rising out of the sea at the end of the Ll┼Àn Peninsula in Wales, and keep an eye open for rare, interesting birds and flowers. A tour of the Plymouth Gin Distillery could be a good time. Take the Master Distiller’s Private Tour, and you’ll bottle up and take home your own recipe. They’ll provide the botanicals and everything else you need.
Potatoes and oats are popular starchy staples. Rice and flatbreads are very common in the South Asian cuisines that have become prevalent in Britain. Typical vegetables include cabbage, turnips (called neeps in Scotland), peas, asparagus, and parsnips. English websites and cookbooks also frequently mention beetroot (beets), courgette (zucchini), and aubergine (eggplant). Beef, lamb, and fish are frequently eaten. The image of British cuisine tends to be of bland, monotonous food, but pungent and spicy ingredients like garlic and curry are more popular than outsiders would think.
Bubble and squeak is a simple yet tasty fry-up of leftover vegetables such as cabbage and carrots, always mashed potatoes, and optional bacon. It is traditionally served on Boxing Day (the day after Christmas) as well as the rest of the year. Try fish pie, a casserole-type dish with both smoked and poached fish, milk, potatoes, parsley, eggs, spices, and other ingredients. The Scots can claim the rich trifle dessert, a decadent mishmosh of custard, fruit, cake, and whipped cream. Afternoon tea is a ritualistic 4:00 PM mini-meal. Drink some tea and eat some sultana (golden raisin) scones. Have some clotted cream, and keep your pinky with the rest of your hand. Cheers!