Great Britain is divided into shires, which are regions similar to counties. The term `shires' is frquently used by UK political commentators to describe the more rural areas of England; usually to contrast the political attitudes of the inhabitants with those of the large metropolitan areas.
The exact boundaries of shires have varied considerably over the centuries. When the boundaries of the shires were defined, they often included large areas of land owned by the local Abbeys, resulting in a number of counties having small disconnected outliers entirely surrounded by some other county. After boundary changes in the 1930s, many of these anomalies were resolved and a number of villages were moved to the local government of a more logical county. Any remaining anomalies were removed by the local government reorganisation in 1974.
In the 1974 reorganisation, several new metropolitan counties were created to administer the larger urban areas - an example is the West Midlands County, covering Birmingham, Coventry, Wolverhampton, etc.,taking land from what had been in Worcestershire, Warwickshire and Staffordshire); Tyne and Wear in the North, and Avon, for the Bristol area.
At this time, the smallest county in England, Rutland, ceased to exist, and the counties of Herefordshire and Worcestershire were merged into the new county of Hereford and Worcester. There was some dissatisfaction among the people of these counties about these changes, and a later reorganisation in 1999 restored Rutland and separated Hereford and Worcester back into its previous counties.
Shires in England include:
We don't draw a lot of distinction in the UK between shires and counties, as administrative areas, except the shires are a rather older type of adminitrative area. There's a lot of detail missing here as yet . UK Local boundary reforms have a long and tangled history.
In retrospect, much of the above should perhaps be in a more general page about british counties, with a small explanatory note here pointing to that page.
Shire is also the name for a breed of large draft horse.