The English Channel is the part of the Atlantic Ocean that separates the island of Great Britain from northern France, and joins the North Sea to the Atlantic. In French it is called La Manche ("the sleeve"). In German it is called Der Ärmelkanal ("the sleeve canal" or "the sleeve channel"). It is about 350 miles long and at its widest is 240 km (150 miles). The Strait of Dover is the narrowest point, only 34 km (21 miles), from Dover to Cape Gris-Nez.
Formation of the Channel
As the ice sheet melted, a large fresh-water lake formed in the southern part of what is now the North Sea. The outflow channel from the lake entered the Atlantic Ocean in the region of Dover and Calais.
At some point around 6500 BC, catastrophic erosion swept away the chalk to create the English Channel, which has since been further widened by wave action on the soft, chalk cliffs. The same mechanism continues to widen the English Channel today.
This precious stone set in the silver sea,
Which serves it in the office of a wall
Or as a moat defensive to a house,
Against the envy of less happier lands
- –Richard II. Act 2, Scene 1.
It has allowed Britain to intervene but rarely be dangerously threatened in European conflicts. Without the gap Napoleon and Hitler would have been able to overcome the powerful enemy that the British state represented.
However, at times the Channel has served as a link joining shared cultures and political structures, from pre-Roman Celtic society, the Roman imperial culture, the foundation of Brittany by settlers from Great Britain, to the Anglo-Norman state.
Cross-Channel trade has been a significant factor for societies on both sides of the Channel from prehistoric times, and a number of important ports have developed in England and in France:
Important ferry routes are
- Censored page-Dieppe
- Portsmouth-Caen (Ouistreham)
- Portsmouth-Le Havre
- Poole-Saint Malo
- Weymouth-Saint Malo
Adding to the high level of cross-Channel traffic is the very significant traffic passing through the Channel, linking the economies of northern Europe with the rest of the world. Combined, this maritime traffic makes the Channel one of the busiest seaways in the world, accounting for a large share of global maritime trade (some sources place this at up to one quarter).
The coastal resorts of the Channel, such as Brighton and Deauville, inaugurated an era of aristocratic tourism in the early 19th century which developed into the democratic seaside tourism that has shaped resorts around the world.
The Channel Tunnel
Nowadays, many travelers cross the English Channel from below, by way of the Channel tunnel or "Chunnel". This grand engineering feat, first proposed in the time of Napoleon, connects England and France via rail.
Notable Channel crossings
In 1979, a 75-pound airplane called the Gossamer Albatross won the £100,000 Kremer prize for being the first human-powered airplane to fly over the Channel. The pilot Bryan Allen pedaled for 3 hours to accomplish this feat.
On 31 July 2003, Austrian skydiver Felix Baumgartner , wearing high-tech carbon wings, jumped out of a plane 30,000 feet above Dover, England, freefalled over the Channel, and opened his parachute above Calais, France.
On 14 June 2004, Sir Richard Branson broke the World Record for crossing the Channel in an amphibious vehicle. The Gibbs Aquada , a two seater, open top sports car, in which he did it, broke the record by some 6 hours or so.