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English Channel

The English Channel is the part of the Atlantic Ocean that separates the island of Great Britain from northern France, and the North Sea from the rest of the Atlantic. In French it is called La Manche ("the sleeve"). It is about 350 miles long and at its widest is 240 km (150 miles). The narrowest point is only 34 km (21 miles), from Dover to Cape Gris-Nez.

The Channel has been extremely significant for the defence of Britain, a fact that is referred to in William Shakespeare's play Richard II:

 This royal throne of kings, this sceptred isle,
 This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars,
 This other Eden, demi-paradise,
 This fortress built by Nature for herself
 Against infection and the hand of war,
 This happy breed of men, this little world,
 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,?
 This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England.

 King 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 may well have had more successful careers.

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.

The English and French actually began a tunnel as long ago as 1881, but the British aborted it for fear it could serve the French as an invasion route. The British attempted to build another tunnel in the late 1970s, but were forced to abandon it for lack of money.

In the end, England and France put their concerns aside and completed the joint Channel Tunnel in 1994. To build the tunnel, they drilled two main train tunnels, with a smaller access tunnel between them, through the chalk marl beneath the water. The French drilled their tunnels out from Calais, the British from Folkestone. The two efforts met roughly halfway, and were linked to form a continuous passage. Enormous drilling machines used to dig the tunnels were driven aside and remain entombed beneath the seabed, abandoned to future archeologists.

It is now routine to travel between Paris and London on the Eurostar train.

Unusual Channel crossings

On January 7, 1785 Frenchman Jean-Pierre Blanchard[?] and American John Jeffries[?] traveled from Dover, England to Calais, France in a gas balloon, becoming the first to cross the English Channel by air.

The first person to swim the channel was Matthew Webb in 1875. In 1926, Gertrude Ederle[?] became the first woman to accomplish this feat, breaking the men's record of the time by two hours.

In 1909, Louis Bleriot from France was the first person to fly over the English Channel in a heavier-than-air aircraft.

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.

See also: Channel Islands



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