Attitudes for leisure have been much influenced by the modern love of moving around and by the ease of travel.
Britain is the only country in Europe, except Malta, where driving is on the left. There are 2,500 km of motorway (mostly six lanes) and over 2,500 km of dual carriageway (divided high-way). Since Britain has the highest density of traffic in the world, traffic jams during rush hours and at holiday times are fairly common.
Britain is also the only country in the Common Market whose employers are not forced by law to give their workers paid holidays. However, many employers have written agreements with their workers giving them three or four weeks' holiday a year — not counting the eight days of national holiday.
It was the British who started the fashion for seaside holidays — not surprisingly, since nobody in Britain lives more than one hundred and twenty kilometres from the sea. The coast is the most popular objective of English people for their annual holiday. Few English people rent houses or flats for their holidays, but one of the traditional ways of spending a summer holiday is in a boarding-house, which may have a card in its window advertising 'apartments', or 'bed and breakfast'.
Camping holidays in the proper sense of the word, with tents, are not so developed in England as on the continent. The summer weather too often can be very unpleasant for tent-dwellers. On the other hand, caravans have become exceedingly popular. Some people bring their own caravans, pulling them behind their cars, others hire caravans, already in position.
The British people may be conservative about the times at which they take their holiday, but they have shown themselves very ready to take to new places. Each year more English people become familiar with some part of continental Europe. Many take their cars, often with tents and caravans, crossing the Channel in ferries; others use the travel agents' scheme for group travel and hotel booking, some of them, regrettably, being taken to hotels which have been trained to provide English food. When they get home again they talk endlessly of these things, boasting of their bargains and complaining of what they were asked to pay for cups of tea.
There are holiday camps all round the coast of Great Britain. They are ideal places for people who do not want the effort of looking for entertainment. Trained staff look after the children so that the parents can have time off to enjoy themselves.
There are youth hostels in different parts of Britain. It is possible to arrange a walking or cycling tour, moving from hostel to hostel.
Britain has a number of preservation societies, large and small, and the most important is the National Trust, founded in 1895. The purpose of the organization is to preserve historic buildings and places of natural beauty in Britain. The Trust owns large areas of beautiful scenery all over Britain. Its property includes ancient castles, bird sanctuaries (places where people are not allowed to shoot birds or take eggs from nests), birthplaces and homes of famous people, and fine examples of the architecture of different periods.
Many of the districts are declared National Parks. The land is in private ownership but building is strictly controlled. Owners are encouraged to let visitors walk on their land.
The English are great lovers of competitive sports. The game peculiarly associated with England is cricket. Many other games too are English in origin, but have been adopted with enthusiasm in other countries, but cricket has been seriously and extensively adopted only in the Commonwealth countries, particularly in Australia, New Zealand, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, the West Indies.
First class professional cricket clubs represent counties and play three-day matches against each other. Organized amateur cricket is played between club teams, mainly on Saturday afternoons. As in soccer, there are numerous amateur clubs and school teams, though the game is making no progress in popularity.
For the great mass of the British public the eight months of the football season are more important than the four months of cricket. Football is the most popular team game in Britain. The British invented it and it has spread to every corner of the world. There are plenty of amateur association football (or 'soccer') clubs, but professional football is big business. Every large town has at least one professional football club. The players are bought and sold between the clubs, and 'transfer fees' can be equivalent to dozens of thousands of pounds.
There is no British team. England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland compete separately in European and World Cup matches. The English and Welsh clubs have together formed a League with four divisions. The Scottish League has two divisons. The champions of the English First Divison, and the Scottish Premier Divison qualify to play in the European Cup competition.
Recently there has been violent behaviour on the part of some football supporters, which has earned British football a bad reputation both at home and abroad. Suffice it to say that as a result of violent behaviour of the British football hooligans in 1985 alone about one hundred people died, fifty-five at Bradford and thirty-nine at Brussels.
Rugby football, or 'rugger', is played with an egg-shaped ball, which may be carried and thrown (but not forward). If a player is carrying the ball he may be 'tackled' and made to fall down. Each team has fifteen players, who spend much time lying in the mud or on top of each other and become very dirty.
There are two forms of Rugby — Rugby Union, which is strictly amateur, and Rugby League, which is a professional sport. Rugby Union is played throughout the British Isles. There is an international championship between England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland and France. Rugby has become the national game of Wales, New Zealand, South Africa and the Pacific islands of Fiji and Tonga.
Rugby got its name from the English public school, Rugby, where, about a century ago, a boy picked up a soccer ball and ran with it.
Next to Association Football, the chief spectator sport in English life is horse racing. Partly because of the laws which forbid such activities on Sunday, most horse racing takes place on working days and during working hours.
One of the famous horse race meetings is the Grand National, which takes place at Aintree, near Liverpool, in March or April. It is England's main steeplechase (race over fences). The course is over seven kilometres and includes thirty jumps, of which fourteen are jumped twice. It is a dangerous race. Jockeys have been hurt and horses have been killed. Another important horse race meeting is the Derby, taking place at Epsom, south of London, in May or June. It is England's leading flat race (not over fences). A very fashionable race js Ascot, near Windsor, in June. The Queen always attends.
A popular sporting event in Great Britain is the Open Golf Championship. Golf was invented by the Scots, and its headquarters is at,the Royal and Ancient Golf Club, St Andrews.
The Wimbledon Tennis Tournament, in July, at Wimbledon, south London, is regarded by many tennis players as the most important championship to win. There is great public interest in the tournament. Many tennis fans queue all night outside the grounds in order to get tickets for the finals.
No less popular is the Boat Race between Oxford and Cambridge universities, on the River Thames in London at Easter. The course is over seven kilometres. Oxford have won about sixty times. Cambridge nearly seventy. Henley (Rowing) Regatta takes place at Henley on the Thames (between London and Oxford). It is an international summer event and a fashionable occasion. Cowes Week is another, yachting regatta. Cowes is a small town on the Isle of Wight, opposite Southampton, and a world-famous yachting centre.
When English people use the word 'hunting' they usually mean fox-hunting, a sport which is popular among a small but important minority. There are 'closed seasons', when it is unlawful to shoot or hunt game and certain other animals. These seasons vary, according to the animals. There is no law about hunting foxes, but there is a fox-hunting season — from November to March. In the Scottish Highlands deer are hunted on foot, with a gun. This is called 'deer stalking'. Many of the male hunters wear 'pink' (that is, red coats). On the whole hunting is a sport for the rich.
However, the most popular country sport is fishing, and there are more than 4 million anglers in Britain. Many fish for salmon and trout particularly in the rivers and lochs of Scotland, but in England and Wales the most widely practised form of fishing is for coarse fish such as pike, perch, carp, roach, dace, tench, chub and bream.Angling clubs affiliate to the National Federation of Anglers and many clubs organize angling competitions. Freshwater fishing usually has to be paid for most coarse fishing is let to angling clubs by private owners, while trout and salmon fishermen either rent a stretch or river, join a club, or pay for the right to fish by the day, week or month. Coastal and deep sea fishing are free to all (apart from salmon and sea trout fishing which is by licence only).
Britain was the first home of many of the modern world's most popular sports. The British cannot claim, today, that they have, as a nation, surpassing skill in any form of sport when they engage in international competition. But they care strongly about the 'sporting spirit', the capacity to play with respect for the rules and the opponents, to win with modesty and to lose with good temper.