English Channel

English Channel between France and England

The English Channel is the body of water that separates England and France. It runs between the Atlantic Ocean and the North Sea, and is about 350 miles long and from 22 to about 100 miles wide. On the English side of the Channel are such cities as Plymouth, Portsmouth, and Southampton. French channel cities include the big seaports of Calais Le Havre and Cherbourg.

The English Channel (French: La Manche (IPA: [mɑ̃ʃ]), “the sleeve”) 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. It is about 563 km (350 mi) long and at its widest is 240 km (150 mi). The Strait of Dover is the narrowest part of the channel, being only 34 km (21 mi) from Dover to Cap Gris Nez, and is located at the eastern end of the English Channel, where it meets the North Sea. During the period of ancient Roman hegemony the channel was known in Latin as the Oceanus Britannicus and up until around 1549 it was known as the British Sea.

The channel is relatively shallow, with an average depth of about 120 m at its widest part, reducing to about 45 m between Dover and Calais. From there eastwards the sea continues to shallow to about 26 m in the Broad Fourteens where it lies over the watershed of the former land bridge between East Anglia and the Low Countries. The Channel Islands lie in the channel, close to the French side. The Isles of Scilly in the United Kingdom and Ushant in France mark the western end of the Channel. The French département of Manche, which incorporates the Cotentin Peninsula that juts out into the channel, takes its name from the surrounding seaway.

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.
—William Shakespeare, Richard II (Act II, Scene 2)
The channel has been a key natural defence for Britain, allowing the nation to intervene but rarely be dangerously threatened in European conflicts, mostly notable in the fight against Napoleon during the Napoleonic Wars, and Nazi Germany during the World War II. Nevertheless, the channel has been the scene of many invasions and attempted invasions, including the Roman conquest of Britain, the Norman Conquest in 1066, the Spanish Armada in 1588, and the Normandy landings in 1944. The channel has been the scene of many naval battles, including the Battle of Goodwin Sands (1652), the Battle of Portland (1653), the Battle of La Hougue (1692) and the engagement between USS Kearsarge and CSS Alabama (1864).

At times the channel has served as a link joining shared cultures and political structures, from pre-Roman Celtic society, the Roman culture, and the foundation of Brittany by settlers from Great Britain, to the Anglo-Norman state.

Crossing and Trade
View over the English Channel, Strait of Dover: The ‘White Cliffs of Dover’ seen from Cap Gris-Nez (France)
Worlds Busiest Seaway
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 the busiest seaway in the world [citation needed], accounting for a large share of global maritime trade.

Cross-channel trade has been a significant factor for societies on both sides of the Channel from prehistoric times, and a number of important seaports and ferry locations have developed in both England (Dover, Southampton, Plymouth, Weymouth, Portsmouth, Poole, Newhaven) and France (Calais, Caen (Ouistreham), Dieppe, Le Havre, Cherbourg-Octeville, Roscoff, Saint Malo).

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