English Channel (French: la Manche, "The Sleeve"; German:
Ärmelkanal, "Sleeve Channel"; Breton: Mor Breizh, "Sea of Brittany";
Cornish: Mor Bretannek, "British Sea"), also called simply the
Channel, is the body of water that separates southern
northern France, and links the southern part of the
North Sea to the
Atlantic Ocean. It is the busiest shipping area in the world.
It is about 560 km (350 mi) long and varies in width from
240 km (150 mi) at its widest to 33.3 km (20.7 mi)
Strait of Dover. It is the smallest of the shallow seas
around the continental shelf of Europe, covering an area of some
75,000 km2 (29,000 sq mi).
2.1 Ancient references
2.2 History and etymology
3 Geological origins: giant waterfalls and catastrophic floods
4 Human geography
4.1 Route to Britain
4.2 Norsemen and Normans
England and Britain: Naval superpower
4.4 First World War
4.5 Second World War
5.3 Channel Islands
8.2 Channel Tunnel
10 Culture and languages
11 Channel crossings
11.1 By boat
11.2 By air
11.3 By swimming
11.4 By car
11.5 Other types
12 See also
14 External links
Map of the English Channel
International Hydrographic Organization
International Hydrographic Organization defines the limits of the
English Channel as follows:
On the West.
A line joining
Isle Vierge (48°38′23″N 4°34′13″W /
48.63972°N 4.57028°W / 48.63972; -4.57028) to Lands End
(50°04′N 5°43′W / 50.067°N 5.717°W / 50.067; -5.717).
On the East.
The Southwestern limit of the North Sea.
The IHO defines the southwestern limit of the
North Sea as "a line
joining the Walde Lighthouse (France, 1°55'E) and Leathercoat Point
(England, 51°10'N)". The Walde Lighthouse is 6 km east of
Calais (50°59′06″N 1°55′00″E / 50.98500°N
1.91667°E / 50.98500; 1.91667), and Leathercoat Point is at the
north end of
St Margaret's Bay, Kent
St Margaret's Bay, Kent (51°10′00″N
1°24′00″E / 51.16667°N 1.40000°E / 51.16667; 1.40000).
Strait of Dover
Strait of Dover viewed from France, looking towards England. The
white cliffs of
Dover on the English coast are visible from
a clear day.
Strait of Dover
Strait of Dover (French: Pas de Calais), at the Channel's eastern
end, is its narrowest point, while its widest point lies between Lyme
Bay and the Gulf of Saint Malo, near its midpoint. It is relatively
shallow, with an average depth of about 120 m (390 ft) at
its widest part, reducing to a depth of about 45 m (148 ft)
Dover and Calais. Eastwards from there the adjoining North Sea
reduces to about 26 m (85 ft) in the
Broad Fourteens where
it lies over the watershed of the former land bridge between East
Anglia and the Low Countries. It reaches a maximum depth of 180 m
(590 ft) in the submerged valley of Hurd's Deep, 48 km
(30 mi) west-northwest of Guernsey. The eastern region along
the French coast between
Cherbourg and the mouth of the
Seine river at
Le Havre is frequently referred to as the Bay of the Seine (French:
Baie de Seine).
Three French river mouths. Top to bottom: the Somme, the Authie and
There are several major islands in the Channel, the most notable being
Isle of Wight
Isle of Wight off the English coast, and the Channel Islands,
Crown dependencies off the coast of France. The coastline,
particularly on the French shore, is deeply indented; several small
islands close to the coastline, including
Chausey and Mont
Saint-Michel, are within French jurisdiction. The Cotentin Peninsula
France juts out into the Channel, whilst on the English side there
is a small parallel strait known as the
Solent between the Isle of
Wight and the mainland. The
Celtic Sea is to the west of the Channel.
The Channel acts as a funnel that amplifies the tidal range from less
than a metre as observed at sea[clarification needed] to more than 6
metres as observed in the Channel Islands, the west coast of the
Cotentin Peninsula and the north coast of Brittany. The time
difference of about six hours between high water at the eastern and
western limits of the Channel is indicative of the tidal range being
amplified further by resonance.
In the UK
Shipping Forecast the Channel is divided into the following
areas, from the east:
Map with French nomenclature
Mare Britannicum Roman time
Mare Gallicum Roman time
"Sea near Gaul" Roman time
Oceanus Gallicus 6th - 7th century (Isidore of Sevilla)
Sūð-sǣ 11th century (Ælfric)
mare anglicum 12th century (Suger)
Gallico mari 12th century (William of Newburgh)
"arm of the sea south of the country that allows to sail to Gaul"
around 1100 - 1155 (Geoffrey of Monmouth)
"Beyond the sea" End 14th century (Jean Froissart)
Oceanus Britannicus in 1477 (Taddeo Crivelli)
Oceanus Britannicus in 1482 (Nicolaus Germanus)
Britannico Oceano in 1482 (Francesco Berlinghieri)
Mare Anglica in 1540 (Sebastian Münster)
Mer Oceane or mare oceanum in the 16th century on various maps
Britannicus Oceanus and La Grand Mer Occeane in 1570
Oceanus Britannicus 16th century
France & d’Angleterre in 1587
Mare Britannicum 16th century (Jean Jolivet)
Ocean in 1595 (John Norden)
Channel in 1593 (Shakespeare)
mare normandicum, ocean de bretaigne, mer de
France 16th to 17th
The British or Narrow Sea to the 17th century
British Sea or the Chanell 17th century
le Manche (masculine) in 1639 (Nicolas Sanson);
la manche d’Angleterre in 1611 (Cotgrave)
La Mer Britannique, vulgairement la Manche in 1623
British Channel in 1745 (John Renshaw)
English Channel 18th century
History and etymology
Osborne House, the summer retreat of
Queen Victoria on the Isle of
Wight. Starting from the late 18th century, settlements on and around
English Channel coastline in
England grew rapidly into thriving
seaside resorts, bolstered by their association with royalty and the
middle and upper classes.
Until the 18th century, the
English Channel had no fixed name either
in English or in French. It was never defined as a political border,
and the names were more or less descriptive. It was not considered as
the property of a nation. Strangely, before the development of the
modern nations, British scholars very often referred to it as
"Gaulish" (Gallicum in Latin) and French scholars as "British" or
"English". The name "English Channel" has been widely used since
the early 18th century, possibly originating from the designation
Engelse Kanaal in Dutch sea maps from the 16th century onwards. In
modern Dutch, however, it is known as Het Kanaal (with no reference to
the word "English"). Later, it has also been known as the "British
Channel" or the "British Sea". It was called Oceanus Britannicus
by the 2nd-century geographer Ptolemy. The same name is used on an
Italian map of about 1450, which gives the alternative name of
canalites Anglie—possibly the first recorded use of the "Channel"
designation. The Anglo-Saxon texts often call it Sūð-sǣ ("South
Sea") as opposed to Norð-sǣ ("North Sea" = Bristol Channel). The
common word channel was first recorded in Middle English in the 13th
century and was borrowed from Old French chanel, variant form of
The French name la Manche has been in use since at least the 17th
century. The name is usually said to refer to the Channel's sleeve
(French: la manche) shape. Folk etymology has derived it from a Celtic
word meaning channel that is also the source of the name for the Minch
in Scotland, but this name was never mentioned before the 17th
century, and French and British sources of that time are perfectly
clear about its etymology. The name in Breton (Mor Breizh) means
"Breton Sea", and its Cornish name (Mor Bretannek) means "British
Geological origins: giant waterfalls and catastrophic floods
The Channel is of geologically recent origin, having been dry land for
most of the
Pleistocene period. Before the Devensian glaciation
(the most recent ice age, which ended around 10,000 years ago),
Ireland were part of continental Europe, linked by an
unbroken Weald-Artois Anticline, a ridge that acted as a natural dam
holding back a large freshwater pro-glacial lake in the Doggerland
region, now submerged under the North Sea. During this period the
North Sea and almost all of the
British Isles were covered by ice. The
lake was fed by meltwater from the Baltic and from the Caledonian and
Scandinavian ice sheets that joined to the north, blocking its exit.
The sea level was about 120 m (390 ft) lower than it is
today. Then, between 450,000 and 180,000 years ago, at least two
catastrophic glacial lake outburst floods breached the Weald–Artois
The first flood would have lasted for several months, releasing as
much as one million cubic metres of water per second. The
flood started with large but localized waterfalls over the ridge,
which excavated depressions now known as the Fosses Dangeard. The flow
eroded the retaining ridge, causing the rock dam to fail and releasing
lake water into the Atlantic. After multiple episodes of changing sea
level, during which the Fosses Dangeard were largely infilled by
various layers of sediment, another catastrophic flood carved a large
bedrock-floored valley, the Lobourg Channel, some 500 m wide and 25 m
deep, from the southern
North Sea basin through the centre of the
Dover and into the English Channel. It left streamlined
islands, longitudinal erosional grooves, and other features
characteristic of catastrophic megaflood events, still present on the
sea floor and now revealed by high-resolution sonar.
Through the scoured channel passed a river, which drained the combined
Thames westwards to the Atlantic.
The flooding destroyed the ridge that connected Britain to continental
Europe, although a land connection across the southern
North Sea would
have existed intermittently at later times when periods of glaciation
resulted in lowering of sea levels. At the end of the last glacial
period, rising sea levels finally severed the last land connection.
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 1)
The channel, which delayed human reoccupation of
Great Britain for
more than 100,000 years, has in historic times been both an easy
entry for seafaring people and a key natural defence, halting invading
armies while in conjunction with control of the
North Sea allowing
Britain to blockade the continent. The most
significant failed invasion threats came when the Dutch and Belgian
ports were held by a major continental power, e.g. from the Spanish
Armada in 1588, Napoleon during the Napoleonic Wars, and Nazi Germany
during World War II. Successful invasions include the Roman conquest
of Britain and the
Norman Conquest in 1066, while the concentration of
excellent harbours in the Western Channel on Britain's south coast
made possible the largest invasion of all time, the Normandy Landings
in 1944. Channel naval battles include the
Battle of the Downs
Battle of the Downs (1639),
Battle of Goodwin Sands
Battle of Goodwin Sands (1652), the
Battle of Portland
Battle of Portland (1653), the
Battle of La Hougue
Battle of La Hougue (1692) and the engagement between USS Kearsarge
CSS Alabama (1864).
In more peaceful times the Channel served as a link joining shared
cultures and political structures, particularly the huge Angevin
Empire from 1135 to 1217. For nearly a thousand years, the Channel
also provided a link between the Modern Celtic regions and languages
Cornwall and Brittany.
Brittany was founded by Britons who fled
Devon after Anglo-Saxon encroachment. In Brittany, there
is a region known as "Cornouaille" (Cornwall) in French and "Kernev"
in Breton In ancient times there was also a "Domnonia" (Devon) in
Brittany as well.
In February 1684, ice formed on the sea in a belt 3 miles
(4.8 km) wide off the coast of
Kent and 2 miles (3.2 km)
wide on the French side.
Route to Britain
The approximate extent of Old Norse and related languages in the early
10th century around the North Sea. The red area is the distribution of
the dialect Old West Norse, the orange area Old East Norse, and the
green area the other Germanic languages with which Old Norse still
retained some mutual intelligibility.
Remnants of a mesolithic boatyard have been found on the Isle of
Wight. Wheat was traded across the Channel about 8,000 years
ago. "... Sophisticated social networks linked the Neolithic
front in southern
Europe to the
Mesolithic peoples of northern
Europe." The Ferriby Boats, Hanson Log Boats and the later Dover
Bronze Age Boat could carry a substantial cross-Channel cargo.
Diodorus Siculus and Pliny both suggest trade between the rebel
Celtic tribes of
Iron Age Britain flourished. In 55 BC
Julius Caesar invaded, claiming that the Britons had aided the Veneti
against him the previous year. He was more successful in 54 BC, but
Britain was not fully established as part of the Roman Empire until
completion of the invasion by
Aulus Plautius in 43 AD. A brisk and
regular trade began between ports in Roman
Gaul and those in Britain.
This traffic continued until the end of Roman rule in Britain in 410
AD, after which the early Anglo-
Saxons left less clear historical
In the power vacuum left by the retreating Romans, the Germanic
Angles, Saxons, and
Jutes began the next great migration across the
North Sea. Having already been used as mercenaries in Britain by the
Romans, many people from these tribes crossed during the Migration
Period, conquering and perhaps displacing the native Celtic
Norsemen and Normans
The Hermitage of St
Helier lies in the bay off Saint
Helier and is
accessible on foot at low tide.
The attack on
Lindisfarne in 793 is generally considered the beginning
Viking Age. For the next 250 years the Scandinavian
raiders of Norway, Sweden, and Denmark dominated the North Sea,
raiding monasteries, homes, and towns along the coast and along the
rivers that ran inland. According to the
Anglo-Saxon Chronicle they
began to settle in Britain in 851. They continued to settle in the
British Isles and the continent until around 1050.
The fiefdom of Normandy was created for the
Viking leader Rollo (also
known as Robert of Normandy). Rollo had besieged Paris but in 911
entered vassalage to the king of the West
Franks Charles the Simple
through the Treaty of St.-Claire-sur-Epte. In exchange for his homage
and fealty, Rollo legally gained the territory he and his Viking
allies had previously conquered. The name "Normandy" reflects Rollo's
Viking (i.e. "Northman") origins.
The descendants of Rollo and his followers adopted the local
Gallo-Romance language and intermarried with the area's inhabitants
and became the
Normans – a Norman French-speaking mixture of
Scandinavians, Hiberno-Norse, Orcadians, Anglo-Danish, and indigenous
Franks and Gauls.
Rollo's descendant William, Duke of Normandy became king of
1066 in the
Norman Conquest beginning with the Battle of Hastings,
while retaining the fiefdom of Normandy for himself and his
descendants. In 1204, during the reign of King John, mainland Normandy
was taken from
France under Philip II, while insular
Normandy (the Channel Islands) remained under English control. In
1259, Henry III of
England recognised the legality of French
possession of mainland Normandy under the Treaty of Paris. His
successors, however, often fought to regain control of mainland
With the rise of
William the Conqueror
William the Conqueror the
North Sea and Channel began
to lose some of their importance. The new order oriented most of
England and Scandinavia's trade south, toward the
Although the British surrendered claims to mainland Normandy and other
French possessions in 1801, the monarch of the
United Kingdom retains
the title Duke of Normandy in respect to the Channel Islands. The
Channel Islands (except for Chausey) are
Crown dependencies of the
British Crown. Thus the
Loyal toast in the
Channel Islands is La
Reine, notre Duc ("The Queen, our Duke"). The British monarch is
understood to not be the Duke of Normandy in regards of the French
region of Normandy described herein, by virtue of the Treaty of Paris
of 1259, the surrender of French possessions in 1801, and the belief
that the rights of succession to that title are subject to Salic Law
which excludes inheritance through female heirs.
French Normandy was occupied by English forces during the Hundred
Years' War in 1346–1360 and again in 1415–1450.
England and Britain: Naval superpower
From the reign of Elizabeth I, English foreign policy concentrated on
preventing invasion across the Channel by ensuring no major European
power controlled the potential Dutch and Flemish invasion ports. Her
climb to the pre-eminent sea power of the world began in 1588 as the
attempted invasion of the
Spanish Armada was defeated by the
combination of outstanding naval tactics by the English and the Dutch
under command of
Charles Howard, 1st Earl of Nottingham
Charles Howard, 1st Earl of Nottingham with Sir
Francis Drake second in command, and the following stormy weather.
Over the centuries the
Royal Navy slowly grew to be the most powerful
in the world.
The building of the
British Empire was possible only because the Royal
Navy eventually managed to exercise unquestioned control over the seas
around Europe, especially the Channel and the North Sea. During the
Seven Years' War,
France attempted to launch an invasion of Britain.
To achieve this
France needed to gain control of the Channel for
several weeks, but was thwarted following the British naval victory at
Battle of Quiberon Bay
Battle of Quiberon Bay in 1759.
Another significant challenge to British domination of the seas came
during the Napoleonic Wars. The
Battle of Trafalgar
Battle of Trafalgar took place off the
coast of Spain against a combined French and Spanish fleet and was won
by Admiral Horatio Nelson, ending Napoleon's plans for a cross-Channel
invasion and securing British dominance of the seas for over a
First World War
The exceptional strategic importance of the Channel as a tool for
blockade was recognised by the First Sea Lord Admiral Fisher in the
years before World War I. "Five keys lock up the world! Singapore, the
Cape, Alexandria, Gibraltar, Dover." However, on 25 July 1909
Louis Blériot made the first Channel crossing from
an aeroplane. Blériot's crossing signalled the end of the Channel as
a barrier-moat for
England against foreign enemies.
Kaiserliche Marine surface fleet could not match the
British Grand Fleet, the Germans developed submarine warfare, which
was to become a far greater threat to Britain. The
Dover Patrol was
set up just before the war started to escort cross-Channel troopships
and to prevent submarines from sailing in the Channel, obliging them
to travel to the Atlantic via the much longer route around Scotland.
On land, the German army attempted to capture Channel ports in the
Race to the Sea
Race to the Sea but although the trenches are often said to have
stretched "from the frontier of Switzerland to the English Channel",
they reached the coast at the North Sea. Much of the British war
Flanders was a bloody but successful strategy to prevent the
Germans reaching the Channel coast.
At the outset of the war, an attempt was made to block the path of
U-boats through the
Strait with naval minefields. By February
1915, this had been augmented by a 25 kilometres (16 mi) stretch
of light steel netting called the
Dover Barrage, which it was hoped
would ensnare submerged submarines. After initial success, the Germans
learned how to pass through the barrage, aided by the unreliability of
British mines. On 31 January 1917, the Germans restarted
unrestricted submarine warfare leading to dire Admiralty predictions
that submarines would defeat Britain by November, the most
dangerous situation Britain faced in either world war.
Battle of Passchendaele
Battle of Passchendaele in 1917 was fought to reduce the threat by
capturing the submarine bases on the Belgian coast, though it was the
introduction of convoys and not capture of the bases that averted
defeat. In April 1918 the
Dover Patrol carried out the famous
Zeebrugge Raid against the
U-boat bases. During 1917, the Dover
Barrage was re-sited with improved mines and more effective nets,
aided by regular patrols by small warships equipped with powerful
searchlights. A German attack on these vessels resulted in the Battle
Strait in 1917. A much more ambitious attempt to improve
the barrage, by installing eight massive concrete towers across the
strait was called the
Admiralty M-N Scheme
Admiralty M-N Scheme but only two towers were
nearing completion at the end of the war and the project was
The naval blockade in the Channel and
North Sea was one of the
decisive factors in the German defeat in 1918.
Second World War
British radar facilities during the
Battle of Britain
Battle of Britain 1940
During the Second World War, naval activity in the European theatre
was primarily limited to the Atlantic. During the Battle of
May 1940, the German forces succeeded in capturing both Boulogne and
Calais, thereby threatening the line of retreat for the British
Expeditionary Force. By a combination of hard fighting and German
indecision, the port of
Dunkirk was kept open allowing 338,000 Allied
troops to be evacuated in Operation Dynamo. More than 11,000 were
Le Havre during Operation Cycle and a further
192,000 were evacuated from ports further down the coast in Operation
Ariel in June 1940. The early stages of the Battle of Britain
featured air attacks on Channel shipping and ports, and until the
Normandy Landings (with the exception of the Channel Dash) the narrow
waters were too dangerous for major warships. Despite these early
successes against shipping, the Germans did not win the air supremacy
necessary for Operation Sealion, the projected cross-Channel invasion.
The Channel subsequently became the stage for an intensive coastal
war, featuring submarines, minesweepers, and Fast Attack Craft.
Second World War
Second World War German gun emplacement in Normandy
As part of the Atlantic Wall, between 1940 and 1945 the occupying
German forces and the
Organisation Todt constructed fortifications
round the coasts of the Channel Islands, such as this observation
tower at Les Landes, Jersey.
Dieppe was the site of an ill-fated
Dieppe Raid by Canadian and
British armed forces. More successful was the later Operation Overlord
(D-Day), a massive invasion of German-occupied
France by Allied
troops. Caen, Cherbourg, Carentan, Falaise and other Norman towns
endured many casualties in the fight for the province, which continued
until the closing of the so-called Falaise gap between Chambois and
Montormel, then liberation of Le Havre.
Channel Islands were the only part of the British Commonwealth
Germany (excepting the part of
Egypt occupied by the
Afrika Korps at the time of the Second Battle of El Alamein, which was
a protectorate and not part of the Commonwealth). The German
occupation of 1940–1945 was harsh, with some island residents being
taken for slave labour on the Continent; native Jews sent to
concentration camps; partisan resistance and retribution; accusations
of collaboration; and slave labour (primarily Russians and eastern
Europeans) being brought to the islands to build
fortifications. The
Royal Navy blockaded the islands
from time to time, particularly following the liberation of mainland
Normandy in 1944. Intense negotiations resulted in some Red Cross
humanitarian aid, but there was considerable hunger and privation
during the occupation, particularly in the final months, when the
population was close to starvation. The German troops on the islands
surrendered on 9 May 1945, a day after the final surrender in mainland
English Channel coast is far more densely populated on the English
shore. The most significant towns and cities along both the English
and French sides of the Channel (each with more than 20,000
inhabitants, ranked in descending order; populations are the urban
area populations from the 1999 French census, 2001 UK census, and 2001
Jersey census) are as follows:
The Spinnaker Tower,
Brighton–Worthing–Littlehampton: 461,181 inhabitants, made up of:
Portsmouth: 442,252, including
Bournemouth & Poole: 383,713
Torbay (Torquay): 129,702
Bognor Regis: 62,141
St Austell: 22,658
The walled city of
Saint-Malo was a former stronghold of corsairs.
Le Havre: 248,547 inhabitants
Étaples–Le Touquet-Paris-Plage: 23,994
Eu–Le Tréport: 22,019
Saint Helier, Jersey: 28,310 inhabitants
Saint Peter Port, Guernsey: 16,488 inhabitants
Saint Anne, Alderney: 2,200 inhabitants
Sark: 600 inhabitants
Herm: 60 inhabitants
Automatic Identification System
Automatic Identification System display showing traffic in the Channel
The Channel has traffic on both the UK-
Europe and North Sea-Atlantic
routes, and is the world's busiest seaway, with over 500 ships per
day. Following an accident in January 1971 and a series of
disastrous collisions with wreckage in February, the
the world's first radar-controlled
Traffic Separation Scheme
Traffic Separation Scheme was set
up by the International Maritime Organization. The scheme mandates
that vessels travelling north must use the French side, travelling
south the English side. There is a separation zone between the two
In December 2002 the MV Tricolor, carrying £30m of luxury cars sank
32 km (20 mi) northwest of
Dunkirk after collision in fog
with the container ship Kariba. The cargo ship Nicola ran into the
wreckage the next day. There was no loss of life.
The shore-based long range traffic control system was updated in 2003
and there is a series of Traffic Separation Systems in operation.
Though the system is inherently incapable of reaching the levels of
safety obtained from aviation systems such as the Traffic Collision
Avoidance System, it has reduced accidents to one or two per
GPS systems allow ships to be preprogrammed to follow
navigational channels accurately and automatically, further avoiding
risk of running aground, but following the fatal collision between
Dutch Aquamarine and Ash in October 2001, Britain's Marine Accident
Investigation Branch (MAIB) issued a safety bulletin saying it
believed that in these most unusual circumstances
GPS use had actually
contributed to the collision. The ships were maintaining a very
precise automated course, one directly behind the other, rather than
making use of the full width of the traffic lanes as a human navigator
A combination of radar difficulties in monitoring areas near cliffs, a
failure of a CCTV system, incorrect operation of the anchor, the
inability of the crew to follow standard procedures of using a
provide early warning of the ship dragging the anchor and reluctance
to admit the mistake and start the engine led to the MV Willy running
aground in Cawsand bay,
Cornwall in January 2002. The MAIB report
makes it clear that the harbour controllers were informed of impending
disaster by shore observers before the crew were themselves aware.
The village of
Kingsand was evacuated for three days because of the
risk of explosion, and the ship was stranded for 11 days.
As a busy shipping lane, the Channel experiences environmental
problems following accidents involving ships with toxic cargo and oil
spills. Indeed, over 40% of the UK incidents threatening pollution
occur in or very near the Channel. One of the recent occurrences
was the MSC Napoli, which on 18 January 2007 was beached with nearly
1700 tonnes of dangerous cargo in Lyme Bay, a protected World
Heritage Site coastline. The ship had been damaged and was en
route to Portland Harbour.
The beach of
Le Havre and a part of the rebuilt city
Main article: Channel Ports
The number of ferry routes crossing the
Strait of Dover
Strait of Dover has reduced
Channel Tunnel opened. Current cross-channel ferry routes
Jersey and Guernsey
Main article: Channel Tunnel
Many travellers cross beneath the Channel using the Channel Tunnel,
first proposed in the early 19th century and finally opened in 1994,
connecting the UK and
France by rail. It is now routine to travel
between Paris or
Brussels and London on the
Eurostar train. Freight
trains also use the tunnel. Cars, coaches and lorries are carried on
Eurotunnel Shuttle trains between
Folkestone and Calais.
Mont Saint-Michel is one of the most visited and recognisable
landmarks on the English Channel.
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 seaside tourism that has shaped resorts
around the world. Short trips across the Channel for
leisure purposes are often referred to as Channel Hopping.
Culture and languages
Kelham's Dictionary of the Norman or Old French Language (1779),
defining Law French, a language historically used in English law
The two dominant cultures are English on the north shore of the
Channel, French on the south. However, there are also a number of
minority languages that are or were found on the shores and islands of
the English Channel, which are listed here, with the Channel's name
Breton – "Mor Breizh" (Sea of Brittany)
Cornish – "Mor Bretannek"
Irish: Muir nIocht – "Merciful Sea"
Dutch – "het Kanaal" (the Channel)
Dutch previously had a larger range, and extended into parts of
modern-day France. For more information, please see French Flemish.
French – "La Manche"
Gallo – "Manche", "Grand-Mè", "Mè Bertone"
Norman, including the Channel Island vernaculars:
Anglo-Norman (extinct, but fossilised in certain English law phrases)
Cotentinais – "Maunche"
Guernesiais – "Ch'nal"
Jèrriais – "Ch'na"
Most other languages tend towards variants of the French and English
forms, but notably Welsh has "Môr Udd".
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As one of the narrowest and most well-known international waterways
lacking dangerous currents, the Channel has been the first objective
of numerous innovative sea, air, and human powered crossing
technologies. Pre-historic people sailed from the
England for millennia. At the end of the last Ice Age,
lower sea levels even permitted walking across.
The French paddle steamer Élise (ex Scottish-built Margery or
Margory) was the first steamer to cross the Channel.
9 May 1816
Paddle steamer Defiance, Captain William Wager, was the first steamer
to cross the Channel to Holland
10 June 1821
Paddle steamer Rob Roy, first passenger ferry to cross channel
The steamer was purchased subsequently by the French postal
administration and renamed Henri IV.
First ferry connection through Folkestone-Boulogne
Commanding officer Captain Hayward
25 July 1959
Hovercraft crossing (
Calais to Dover, 2 hours 3 minutes)
Christopher Cockerell was on board
First crossing by water ski.
An annual cross-channel ski race was run from the Varne Boat Club from
the 1960s onwards. The race was from the Varne club in Greatstone on
Sea to Cap Gris Nez / Boulogne (latter years) and back. Many
waterskiers have made this return crossing non-stop since this
time. Youngest known waterskier to cross the Channel
was John Clements aged 10, from the Varne Boat Club on 22 August 1974
who made the crossing from Littlestone to Boulogne and back without
22 August 1972
First solo hovercraft crossing (same route as SR-N1; 2 hours
Nigel Beale (UK)
Coracle (13 and a half hours)
Bernard Thomas (UK)
As part of a publicity stunt, the journey was undertaken to
demonstrate how the Bull Boats of the
Mandan Indians of North Dakota
could have been copied from Welsh coracles introduced by Prince Madog
in the 12th century.
14 September 1995
Fastest crossing by hovercraft, 22 minutes by Princess Anne
MCH SR-N4 MkIII
Craft was designed as a ferry
First vessel to complete a solar-powered crossing using photovoltaic
14 June 2004
New record time for crossing in amphibious vehicle (the Gibbs Aquada,
three-seater open-top sports car)
Richard Branson (UK)
Completed crossing in 1 hour 40 minutes 6 seconds – previous record
was 6 hours.
26 July 2006
New record time for crossing in hydrofoil car (the Rinspeed Splash,
two-seater open-top sports car)
Frank M. Rinderknecht (Switzerland)
Completed crossing in 3 hours 14 minutes
25 September 2006
First crossing on a towed inflatable object (not a powered inflatable
Stephen Preston (UK)
Completed crossing in 180 min
BBC Top Gear presenters "drive" to
France in amphibious cars
Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond,
James May (UK)
Completed the crossing in a 1996 Nissan D21 pick-up (the "Nissank"),
fitted with a Honda outboard engine.
20 August 2011
First Crossing by Sea Scooters
A four-man relay team from Scarborough, North Yorkshire, headed by
Heath Samples, crossed from
Shakespeare Beach to Wissant.[citation
It took 12 hours 26 minutes 39 seconds and set a new Guinness World
Pierre Andriel crossed the
English Channel aboard the Élise, ex the
Scottish p.s. "Margery" in March 1816, one of the earliest seagoing
voyages by steam ship.
The paddle steamer Defiance, Captain William Wager, was the first
steamer to cross the Channel to Holland, arriving there on 9 May
On 10 June 1821, English-built paddle steamer Rob Roy was the first
passenger ferry to cross channel. The steamer was purchased
subsequently by the French postal administration and renamed Henri IV
and put into regular passenger service a year later. It was able to
make the journey across the Straits of
Dover in around three
In June 1843, because of difficulties with
Dover harbour, the South
Eastern Railway company developed the Boulogne-sur-Mer-Folkestone
route as an alternative to Calais-Dover. The first ferry crossed under
the command of Captain Hayward.
In 1974 a Welsh coracle piloted by Bernard Thomas of Llechryd crossed
English Channel to
France in 13½ hours. The journey was
undertaken to demonstrate how the Bull Boats of the
Mandan Indians of
North Dakota could have been copied from coracles introduced by Prince
Madog in the 12th century.
Mountbatten class hovercraft
Mountbatten class hovercraft (MCH) entered commercial service in
August 1968, initially between
Dover and Boulogne but later also
Ramsgate (Pegwell Bay) to Calais. The journey time
Dover to Boulogne
was roughly 35 minutes, with six trips per day at peak times. The
fastest crossing of the
English Channel by a commercial car-carrying
hovercraft was 22 minutes, recorded by the Princess Anne MCH
SR-N4 Mk3 on 14 September 1995,
Main article: List of
English Channel crossings by air
The first aircraft to cross the Channel was a balloon in 1785, piloted
by Jean Pierre François Blanchard (France) and John Jeffries
Louis Blériot (France) piloted the first airplane to cross in 1909.
Main article: List of successful
English Channel swimmers
The sport of Channel swimming traces its origins to the latter part of
the 19th century when Captain
Matthew Webb made the first observed and
unassisted swim across the
Strait of Dover, swimming from
France on 24–25 August 1875 in 21 hours 45 minutes.
In 1927, at a time when fewer than ten swimmers (including the first
Gertrude Ederle in 1926) had managed to emulate the feat and
many dubious claims were being made, the Channel Swimming Association
(CSA) was founded to authenticate and ratify swimmers' claims to have
swum the Channel and to verify crossing times. The CSA was dissolved
in 1999 and was succeeded by two separate organisations: CSA (Ltd) and
the Channel Swimming and Piloting Federation (CSPF). Both observe and
authenticate cross-Channel swims in the
Strait of Dover. The Channel
Crossing Association was set up at about this time to cater for
The team with the most number of Channel swims to its credit is the
Serpentine Swimming Club in London, followed by the International
Sri Chinmoy Marathon Team.
By the end of 2005, 811 people had completed 1,185 verified crossings
under the rules of the CSA, the CSA (Ltd), the CSPF and Butlins.
The number of swims conducted under and ratified by the Channel
Swimming Association to 2005 was 982 by 665 people. This includes 24
two-way crossings and three three-way crossings.
The number of ratified swims to 2004 was 948 by 675 people (456 men,
214 women). There have been 16 two-way crossings (9 by men and 7 by
women). There have been three three-way crossings (2 by men and 1 by a
woman). (It is unclear whether this last set of data is comprehensive
or CSA only.)
Strait of Dover
Strait of Dover is the busiest stretch of water in the world. It
is governed by International Law as described in Unorthodox Crossing
Strait Traffic Separation Scheme. It states: "[In]
exceptional cases the French Maritime Authorities may grant authority
for unorthodox craft to cross French territorial waters within the
Traffic Separation Scheme
Traffic Separation Scheme when these craft set off from the British
coast, on condition that the request for authorisation is sent to them
with the opinion of the British Maritime Authorities."
The CCA, CSA, and CS&PF are the organisations escorting channel
swims, because their pilots have the experience, qualifications, and
equipment to guarantee the safety of the swimmers they escort.
The fastest verified swim of the Channel was by the Australian Trent
Grimsey on 8 September 2012, in 6 hours 55 minutes, beating
the previous record set in 2007 by Bulgarian swimmer Petar Stoychev.
There may have been some unreported swims of the Channel, by people
intent on entering Britain in circumvention of immigration controls. A
failed attempt to cross the Channel by two Syrian refugees in October
2014 only came to light when their bodies were later discovered on the
shores of the
North Sea in Norway and the Netherlands.
On 16 September 1965, two Amphicars crossed from
Dover to Calais.
27 March 1899
First radio transmission across the Channel (from
Wimereux to South
Guglielmo Marconi (Italy)
List of firsts in aviation
List of successful
English Channel swimmers
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Wikivoyage has a travel guide for Ferry routes to British Mainland.
Wikimedia Commons has media related to English Channel.
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Archives of long distance swimming
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World War II Eye Witness Account – Audio Recording Air Battle over
English Channel (1940)
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