Darlington to Dunbar Great British Railway Journeys


Darlington to Dunbar

Michael Portillo continues his journey from London to Edinburgh at a leisurely pace up the East Coast Main Line, testing a state-of-the-art train on the way.


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Transcript


LineFromTo

For Victorian Britons, George Bradshaw was a household name.

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At a time when railways were new,

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Bradshaw's guidebook inspired them to take to the tracks.

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I'm using a Bradshaw's guide to understand how trains transformed Britain,

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its landscape, its industry, society and leisure time.

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As I crisscross the country, 150 years later,

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it helps me to discover the Britain of today.

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My journey towards Edinburgh chugging along the route of the

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Flying Scotsman has brought me to County Durham,

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where I'll look at the rolling stock of today and reflect on a Victorian

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author's view of Wonderland.

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I'll smoke out a fishy story in Northumberland,

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before crossing the border into Scotland to enjoy nature conservancy.

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This trip has taken me up the East Coast Main Line from London's

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King's Cross, through the counties of Hertfordshire,

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Bedfordshire and on via Cambridgeshire to the market town of Newark.

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I visited the former port of Stockton,

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and I'm heading to the coastal towns of Alnmouth and Dunbar before

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finishing at Edinburgh.

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This leg starts in north-east England, calling at Darlington,

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before moving on to the harbour town of Alnmouth.

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I'll end across the Scottish border in Dunbar.

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On this journey I step through the looking glass...

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Michael, are you all right?

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..prove there's no smoke without fire when it comes to Northumbrian delicacies...

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Right, quite enough of that, I think!

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Bye-bye, kippers.

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..and rock the boat over Scottish waters.

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My thoughts on the coracle?

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Possibly the most impractical thing I've ever set eyes on.

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My first stop will be Newton Aycliffe,

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a new town founded in 1947 but Bradshaw's remarks,

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"Passing Aycliffe we reach Shildon, at which place the Stockton and

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"Darlington Company have their locomotive works."

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In railway terms, we are on ancient hallowed ground,

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because the first trains ran between Stockton and Darlington in 1825.

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On the 27th September of that year, the world's first steam train to run

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on a public railway made its maiden journey.

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George Stephenson himself drove Locomotion No 1 and people

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travelled miles to witness the momentous occasion.

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Having witnessed the birth of public railways,

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this area now has a part in their future.

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Two centuries on, Hitachi chose to open a state-of-the-art train factory here.

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Plant manager, Darren Cumner, is showing me around.

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Darren, this is absolutely spectacular.

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Obviously, completely brand-new and masses of exciting railway activity

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going on. When did you join the project?

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So, I joined May 2012.

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It was a green field at that stage.

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It really was a green field, just sort of cows in the field.

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We are here in one of the most modern railway facilities in the world,

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but we're also close to the origin of steam-powered railways.

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Do you have any sense of that railway history?

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Yes, we're close to where the birthplace of the railways was.

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Our test track actually runs by the side of that.

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In Victorian times, the area was a hive of railway activity.

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In their heyday, locomotive works in Shildon and Darlington employed

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thousands of workers building locomotives,

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carriages and wagons for a burgeoning market.

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The last railway wagon works closed in 1983.

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By then, road haulage had overtaken rail freight,

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and the industry was in decline.

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Railway technology has advanced dramatically since the 19th century.

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These trains are shipped as shells from Japan and are fitted out by the

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workforce in Newton Aycliffe.

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They then undergo rigorous testing,

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both on and off track before joining the fleet.

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So what are the types of train that you're making here?

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So, on the left-hand side here is the 8200.

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This is for the Edinburgh to Glasgow improvement programme,

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so it's our commuter train.

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And on the right-hand side is Intercity Express programme

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and these are high-speed trains which are going to run on the

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East Coast Main Line and Great Western Main Line.

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There are presently 600 employees and the plan is for the workforce to

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grow by another 300, mainly local people.

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I can count the number of people who are not from the north-east on one hand.

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We wanted an employee that could work as a team and we've been very,

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very fortunate that people have got a lot of transferable skills and

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we're delighted with the workforce we have.

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-Nicky Bones is one such employee.

-Nice to meet you.

-Good to see you.

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-What is this contraption here?

-This is the traverser.

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So we use this to transfer the train from one production line to another,

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and when the car is finished, to deliver down the track to the test house.

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Thank you very much.

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-Two doors down.

-OK.

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-Shall I do that?

-Yes.

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To the left.

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I have sometimes driven a train before but never sideways.

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Once the train has been assembled, it will be able to carry over 600

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passengers, and travel up to 140mph.

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But before being put to use,

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it needs to pass the all-important test drive.

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Michael Tait is at the controls.

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Very good to see you. And you're going to drive us what kind of distance?

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About a kilometre or so down the test track.

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Well, an exciting moment for me to be in this brand-new train.

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-Shall we get in position and go?

-Brilliant.

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Michael, we are inching our way out of the shed,

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will we get up any speed at all?

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Yes, we'll take it around 16mph.

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And is that enough speed for you to test what you need to?

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Yes, we can perform all our tests heading east and west up and down

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the test track.

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We are running along by the Network Rail track and we've

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reached a speed limit of 15mph!

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We can go for it.

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This train will undergo testing over thousands of hours,

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before being released to the mainline.

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I'm leaving the test tracks to resume my journey on the public railway.

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Next stop, Darlington.

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-TANNOY:

-Michael Portillo has joined us for the ride

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He's still working his way through Bradshaw's Guide

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We're going to be on the BBC

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So I hope you're not somewhere you shouldn't be!

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Graham Palmer is the rhyming conductor.

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-Hello!

-Hello, Michael.

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-Nice to see you.

-Thank you for the rhymes.

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You're responsible for poetry in all your announcements, are you?

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Guilty as charged, yes!

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-How long have you been doing that?

-Back in December 2014,

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we were asked to deliver a season's greeting.

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Be an angel this Christmas and be pleasant and nice

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To your fellow passengers and rail staff alike

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So I made up a rhyme till the end of the year

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The passengers loved it, they'd clap and they'd cheer

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Then after that, they asked, we like it in rhyme

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We'd like you to do it all of the time

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But the best thing about working the train as I do

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Is when a customer says, "Nice journey, thank you!"

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So do you always speak in rhyme or do you actually speak in prose as well?

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Well, I do speak in prose as well.

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It would be so easy to say I'm a poet and I didn't know it.

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I say things in rhyme all the time,

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but I assure you, I do speak in prose as well, Michael!

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-And the passengers do love it?

-They do, they really enjoy it.

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One of our drivers said, "I bet you can't make a rhyme for each station."

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I love a challenge so now I've got at least one rhyme for each station.

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What was the most difficult station to make a rhyme out of?

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Newton Aycliffe is difficult for a rhyme, actually.

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Your next station's Newton Aycliffe, that's your next call

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So please take your luggage and children and all.

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I just throw a few things in.

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It doesn't actually need to rhyme with the actual station.

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Well, thank you, Graham.

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-You've cheered my journey up and I'm sure you've cheered many travellers' journeys.

-Thank you, Michael.

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Enjoy the rest of your journey in our beautiful part of the world.

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-TANNOY:

-Thank you for travelling Northern rail,

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have a safe onward journey and join us again.

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I need to alight at Darlington to reach my next destination,

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Croft-on-Tees.

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Located a few miles away, its bridge over the River Tees marks

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the boundary between North Yorkshire and County Durham.

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"Croft-on-Tees, with an old church," says Bradshaw's,

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"is a fashionable place, much frequented by invalids on account of its mineral waters."

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Here, a young man spent his formative years.

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His bubbling imagination produced tales that were surreal,

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which for 150 years have entertained and terrified children in equal

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measure. I should know, I was one of them.

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That young man was Charles Dodgson,

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who became better known under the pen name Lewis Carroll.

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Historian Chris Lloyd takes me through the looking glass.

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Chris, it is a stunning rectory.

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What's the connection with Lewis Carroll?

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Well, he moved here in 1843 when his father became rector of Croft,

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so this became their family home.

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He was 11 years old, a shy, stammering boy.

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Croft, at that time, was actually quite a prosperous place,

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partly because of the railway, because just a couple of years earlier,

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the first section of the East Coast Main Line had opened.

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And was the boy interested in the railway?

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I think he was almost obsessed by it, actually.

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You are suddenly thrust amongst it,

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this great powerful steam-snorting technology.

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He loved it. In fact, in the garden here,

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he had his own little toy railway that he set up.

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It was a wheelbarrow with a big barrow on it and a couple of trucks

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behind it and him and his brothers and sisters used to play here.

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They had stations and refreshment rooms and they had timetables.

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They had a timetable, did they?

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The timetable was very important in the whole proceedings.

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In fact, Bradshaw was very, very important in this whole thing,

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because in 1855, he wrote a three-act mock operatic parody

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of your book, of Bradshaw.

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-Really?

-Yes. He called it, La Guida Di Bragia.

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And the book itself actually appeared in there as a book with

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arms and legs trying to restore law and order to the mayhem.

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Where was this stuff coming from? He had such a vivid imagination.

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He had a vivid imagination but he was bringing in all the things that

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were around him as well, to make it really realistic.

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Of course, in Bradshaw's day, everybody would be wandering around

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looking at their old-fashioned pocket watches going,

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"Oh, no, tyranny of time, I'm late, I'm late, I'm late,"

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which is what the White Rabbit of course does in Alice In Wonderland.

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St Peter's Church stands just across from the rectory garden and

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Lewis Carroll knew it well.

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There are all sorts of strange stories in the stonework.

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Take this, for example, a 13th century carving, but have a look there.

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A wonderful cat face.

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Now, Michael, have a place at the altar and say your prayers.

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-Ooh!

-The faces change.

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Imagine you're an 11-year-old boy so you're much smaller and go and

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see what it's doing now.

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It's the most curious thing, as you said.

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You've just got a grin and not a cat at all.

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It is the Cheshire Cat.

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Carroll was also inspired by a local Saxon legend.

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It was said that the region had once been in the grip of a fearsome

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dragon who ruthlessly burnt its enemies.

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In Alice Through The Looking Glass,

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the Jabberwocky is a story of the dragon who does terrible things and

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needs to be slayed.

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Here it is, here is the stanza of Anglo-Saxon poetry,

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and because it's Through The Looking Glass,

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the first stanza was published back to front,

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so you need a looking glass to read it.

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And in the looking glass I read, "Twas brillig and the slithy toves,

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"Did gyre and gimble in the wabe, All mimsy were the borogoves,

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"And the mome raths outgrabe."

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-Complete nonsense!

-Divine nonsense!

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Outside, hidden away in the bushes,

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there is yet another fount of inspiration for Lewis Carroll.

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-Well, well, well.

-Yes, it's a well, Michael.

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A spa well, actually.

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Erm... In Lewis Carroll's day, gullible people from London would

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come up on the mainline to the train, to the station near his house,

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to come and take these rather foul-scented sulphurous waters.

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They believed that it had magical properties, and when they drank

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them, they would do magical things to their bodies.

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And that, I think, is the real nub of Alice In Wonderland.

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Because Alice tumbles down the rabbit hole,

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and there she finds a bottle with "Drink me" on it.

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And so she drinks the water just like they drank this water,

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and it does magical things to her body.

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Michael, are you all right?

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Ah! I'm late!

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I'm late! I've got a train to catch, I'm late! I'm late!

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Any refreshments?

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Thank you, no.

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Next stop, Alnmouth.

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Bradshaw's tells me that the area has grown up under the protection of

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the Dukes of Northumberland,

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whose noble baronial castle covers a height over the River Aln.

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Below those lofty summits for hundreds of years before the invention of

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tobacco, the ordinary folk were already smoking.

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Alnmouth is a coastal village whose maritime traffic declined with the

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advent of the railways. But what the trains took away in sea trade,

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they substituted with tourism.

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Located on the East Coast Main Line,

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Alnmouth became a popular Victorian seaside destination.

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Today, tourists also come for the magnificent Alnwick Castle.

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A little further north along the coast lies Craster,

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a village renowned for a culinary delicacy on which I'm hooked -

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smoked kipper.

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Neil Robson is the fourth-generation of this smoking family firm.

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Have you any idea, Neil, how long people have been smoking fish?

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Oh, well, these smoke houses were built in 1856.

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But I mean, the smoking of fish has gone on a lot longer than that.

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Vikings smoked fish, Lindisfarne Gospels mentioned the smoking of fish.

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What made people first want to smoke fish?

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Well, originally it was preserve them.

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They would be heavily salted and they would have a lot more smoke on them.

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Not really to enhance the flavour like it is now.

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People like the smoke flavour.

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And then why in Craster?

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Craster was quite a big fishing port at one time.

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The herring that came past this part of the coastline were probably at

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their best. That's how we got our reputation.

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There was a good oil content and they were a nice size.

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So as the herring came innocently around the coast, you nabbed them.

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We did indeed. They'd be brought to shore and we smoked them.

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We sent them down to London by train, actually.

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My grandfather used to have to go to the local station by about

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seven o'clock in the morning to get them down to Billingsgate for the next day market.

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But there haven't been any herring landed in Craster for 30, 40 years.

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So where did this fellow come from?

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That was actually, it started off in the North Sea.

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It was caught by a Scottish boat.

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But it was actually landed in Norway.

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You're a well travelled fish, aren't you?

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A well travelled fish, yeah.

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You've been in the industry a while.

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Do you remember supplying the railways?

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I mean, my memory is that no self-respecting gentleman could board the

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Flying Scotsman and not order kippers for breakfast.

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Well, we probably didn't supply the Flying Scotsman,

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but certainly kippers were always an integral part of the breakfast menu

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in the old British railway days.

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I think they ought to bring them back.

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Kippers remain a British favourite,

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and the company supplies leading supermarkets across the country.

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As a continuing tradition, the smoking of herring requires new

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generations of workers to be trained.

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And I get hauled in.

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This is the first stage of the process, Michael.

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We need to split the fish.

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So, we need to load the wheel...

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-..just by pushing the fish gently into the grips there.

-Right.

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We'll miss every other one.

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-Aha.

-Just because you're with your first time on the machine.

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OK, then.

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Apart from the use of machines to split the herring,

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not much has changed in the curing process.

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The fish is placed in a solution of water and salt.

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Another 20 kilos of fish into the brine.

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And then just arrange them so they're flesh down, flatten them out.

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Fleshy side down.

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That's so they're in contact with the brine.

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-There we are!

-Thank you.

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And hung in smoke houses where a combination of white wood shavings

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and oak sawdust is lit to smoulder for hours.

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Right, quite enough of that, I think.

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Bye-bye, kippers.

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The kippers spend up to 16 hours in the smokehouse.

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Of course, I have a train to catch,

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but fortunately there's a batch ready to eat.

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Handsome rack of kippers.

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Smelling divine.

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I have appreciated this is a thoroughly manual process.

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What's your tip? How long will it be before I don't smell of kipper?

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Oh, 48 hours, I would imagine.

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A kipper in a bun with a view of Dunstanburgh Castle,

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which was built in the 14th century.

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They were already smoking herrings by then.

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But my guess is that when all the buildings of the 21st century are

0:21:150:21:19

remembered only in history books, they'll be smoking them still.

0:21:190:21:22

My train tracks hug the Northumberland coast.

0:21:490:21:51

I pursue my journey across the Scottish border.

0:21:530:21:55

My next stop will be Dunbar.

0:21:560:21:58

The guidebook tells me it's a seaport town situated at the mouth

0:21:580:22:03

of the Firth of Forth on a gentle eminence.

0:22:030:22:06

The appearance of the country in every direction is striking and

0:22:060:22:10

picturesque. Long before my Bradshaw's,

0:22:100:22:13

the mind of a young Dunbar boy had been shaped by the place's natural

0:22:130:22:18

beauty in a way that would transform a far-off land.

0:22:180:22:23

Dunbar can thank its location for some of Scotland's sunniest weather,

0:22:370:22:42

but it has also made it a repeated battleground.

0:22:420:22:46

Its castle was once one of the most important fortresses in the country,

0:22:480:22:53

but by the time of my Bradshaw's, it was already in ruins.

0:22:530:22:56

Here lived John Muir,

0:23:000:23:02

a man of vision who went on to play a pivotal role in protecting the

0:23:020:23:07

natural wonders of the United States.

0:23:070:23:09

Jo Moulin is a museum officer at John Muir's birthplace.

0:23:120:23:16

So what impact did this beautiful,

0:23:180:23:21

craggy environment have on the young Muir?

0:23:210:23:23

It certainly gave him his passion for wild places.

0:23:230:23:26

Several books of his have been published and there was a wonderful

0:23:260:23:30

book called The Story Of My Boyhood And Youth, and the first chapter

0:23:300:23:33

of that really sets the scene for his childhood in Dunbar.

0:23:330:23:36

And it goes along the lines of, "When I was a boy in Scotland,

0:23:360:23:40

"I was fond of everything that was wild,

0:23:400:23:43

"and all my life I've been growing fonder and fonder of wild places and

0:23:430:23:47

-"wild creatures."

-Beautiful.

0:23:470:23:48

In 1849, John Muir's family moved to a farm in the United States.

0:23:510:23:56

It was only a matter of time before he would explore his new country's

0:23:560:24:00

vast wilderness.

0:24:000:24:02

He went on an incredible 1,000 mile walk from Indiana to the

0:24:020:24:06

Gulf of Mexico, and then from there ended up in California.

0:24:060:24:10

And his arrival in California saw him in Yosemite Valley,

0:24:100:24:14

and that was really where he was based for a lot of his life.

0:24:140:24:17

He travelled to every major continent around the world,

0:24:170:24:20

but he devoted a lot of his life and his studies to Yosemite Valley.

0:24:200:24:24

During his time in the Yosemite Valley, Muir became

0:24:260:24:29

concerned about the effect on the environment of felling the

0:24:290:24:32

magnificent giant redwood trees.

0:24:320:24:35

He became an ardent defender of the forest.

0:24:350:24:38

What did he do with this passion?

0:24:390:24:41

He wrote. He wrote a series of newspaper articles,

0:24:410:24:44

and those writings rose awareness of the issues and resulted in a letter

0:24:440:24:50

from the President of the United States,

0:24:500:24:52

from President Theodore Roosevelt, who said,

0:24:520:24:54

"I'd like you to take me camping in Yosemite on my own,

0:24:540:24:58

"with nobody else around us."

0:24:580:25:00

What an extraordinary thing.

0:25:000:25:02

President of the United States asks a Scotsman from Dunbar to go camping

0:25:020:25:05

with him. What was the result of that?

0:25:050:25:07

The result was a bill that was passed in Congress that set in

0:25:070:25:11

motions the creation of the US National Park Service.

0:25:110:25:14

His legacy lives on.

0:25:170:25:19

A new generation of nature lovers is exploring the river in coracles,

0:25:190:25:23

a traditional basket-like craft.

0:25:230:25:26

These have been made locally for the John Muir awards.

0:25:260:25:29

East Lothian junior rangers Rachel and Fraser have invited me to join them...

0:25:320:25:37

..provided I can get afloat, of course.

0:25:400:25:43

LAUGHTER

0:25:550:25:56

My thoughts on the coracle?

0:25:580:26:00

Possibly the most impractical thing I've ever set eyes on.

0:26:000:26:04

Almost impossible to paddle.

0:26:040:26:06

If you tilt your head, you're likely to capsize.

0:26:060:26:09

Like a fairground ride, and therefore, lots of fun.

0:26:110:26:15

Rachel, you're a junior ranger. What does that mean?

0:26:230:26:26

We help the ranger service do different things.

0:26:260:26:30

So we do quite a lot of conservation stuff to do with the plants.

0:26:300:26:35

So we cut back different species of gorse at beaches to help different

0:26:350:26:41

plants regrow, and do quite a lot of hedge clearing as well.

0:26:410:26:44

Ah! And do you enjoy it?

0:26:440:26:47

Yeah. I love going to the beaches here, they're so nice.

0:26:470:26:51

Tell me honestly, do you think we're going to survive this horrible ride?

0:26:510:26:55

Maybe. Hopefully!

0:26:550:26:58

I'd say about 50-50.

0:26:580:26:59

Although the Industrial Revolution brought pollution to the countryside,

0:27:100:27:13

the railways enabled people to visit places of natural beauty.

0:27:130:27:18

Whether in John Muir's native Scotland or in the United States,

0:27:180:27:23

where he inspired the National Parks.

0:27:230:27:26

Even the highly imaginative rail enthusiast, Lewis Carroll, could not

0:27:260:27:31

have conceived the sleek high-speed trains of today.

0:27:310:27:35

Though I think he would have shared my disappointment that in the

0:27:350:27:39

restaurant cars, they are unlikely to be serving Craster kippers.

0:27:390:27:43

'Next time, I'll need plenty of brawn...'

0:27:510:27:54

Go! Oh!

0:27:550:27:57

-It's quite heavy, isn't it?

-It's very heavy.

0:27:570:28:00

'..a strong stomach...'

0:28:000:28:02

Here we have a book made from the skin of a murderer.

0:28:020:28:06

My goodness.

0:28:060:28:07

'..and a musical ear.'

0:28:070:28:09

Here goes, everybody.

0:28:090:28:11

After his epic trip north on the Flying Scotsman, Michael Portillo continues his journey from London to Edinburgh at a leisurely pace up the East Coast Main Line.

In Newton Aycliffe, he tests a state-of-the-art passenger train on tracks which follow the route taken by George Stephenson's steam engine on its historic journey in 1825. Through the looking glass at Croft-on-Tees he discovers a curious potion at the childhood home of Victorian writer Charles Dodgson, better known as Lewis Carroll, and finds the author was also a fan of Bradshaw.

In the coastal village of Craster, Michael discovers the Victorian smokehouses of a family firm still active today and learns how to smoke a kipper. Crossing the Scottish border he reaches Dunbar, birthplace of a visionary Scot who made his mark on the landscape of America. Michael ends this leg rocking the boat on the River Tyne in a coracle.