It is called La Manche, in
French and The Channel (or English Channel), of course
in English. It is the arm of the Atlantic Ocean, which
separates the southern coast of England from the
northern coast of France. The French name, which means
"The Sleeve", is a reference to the shape of the arm.
The English Channel is the smallest of the shallow
seas covering the continental shelf of Europe. It
measures five hundred and sixty kilometers in width in
the west, where it meets the Atlantic Ocean and
narrows down to thirty-four kilometers in the east, at
the Strait of Dover where it meets the North Sea. Its
average depth naturally decreases from four hundred
feet to about one hundred and fifty feet, as it flows
Important ports and islands
Cherbourg and Le Havre in France and Southampton in
Great Britain are the chief ports along the Channel.
Other ports include Dover, Plymouth, and Portsmouth in
Great Britain and Calais, Dunkerque, Boulogne-sur-Mer,
and Dieppe in France. There are regular ferry services
between these. There also runs a thirty minute
hovercraft service between Dover and Calais. The
Channel Islands and the Isle of Wight and the Channel
Islands are the chief islands on the channel route.
There are many seaside resorts on both French and
The seabed of the Channel has fascinated people for
centuries. Researchers say it was formed forty million
The seafloor dips steep near the coast and is
generally flat in the west and undulating in the east.
A French engineer, who studied the chalk floor of the
English Channel, first envisaged the possibilities of
a tunnel crossing through the Channel, in the year
1802. Napoleon seemed interested in the project, but
it took a back seat when wars took his primary
Abort, Cancel, Retry
In later nineteenth century, the idea was repeatedly
considered. In the early 1880s, some private companies
began the project by digging a railroad tunnel near
Folkestone, England and Santerre, France. A pilot
tunnel, measuring six thousand feet in length was
bored from the English side. However, fear about the
threat of land invasion from Europe triggered off a
panic wave. Until then, the English Channel proved a
good barrier and protection for England against land
invasion from any kingdom or race in Europe. The press
rose in revolt and the British government put a stop
to any further activities.
Interest in the project was renewed in the twentieth
century and in the mid-1960s, both the governments
(French and British) came to a decision about building
a rail tunnel under the Channel, through the chalk
layer. The first stretch of two kilometers of
preliminary digging on the western and the eastern
side commenced. At that point of time, the British
government backtracked considering the cost involved,
although it was a public finance project.
Yet again, in 1987, the project was revived and
construction begun in full earnestness. This time, it
was privately financed by French and British
companies. A double rail tunnel connecting Folkestone
in England and Calais, in France was completed in 1994
and thrown open to the public in May.
The Channel Tunnel, also known as Eurotunnel is
fifty-one kilometers long. There are three tunnels,
two for rail traffic and one for services and
security. Trains travel at a speed of hundred and
sixty kilometers per hour. The traveling time is
around thirty-five minutes each way. Passengers may
opt to travel in the rail coach or have their cars
loaded onto special coaches.
The first person to swim the English Channel was the
British athlete Matthew Webb.