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This is Mudeford Banks in Dorset.
In 2004, hut number five back there sold for a staggering £140,000.
But it's a great location, the sea right on your doorstep.
Maybe it's a price worth paying.
The South West coast of Dorset and Devon is the home of holidaying.
But more and more people are no longer just visiting the coast,
they're buying their own little slice of it.
We want to find out what makes this remarkable stretch of coastline
such a desirable place to live.
At one time or another most of us have built a seaside property.
Alice Roberts uncovers the secret to constructing the perfect sand castle.
Mark Horton discovers how one of the South coast's
most important commuter links is at risk from the sea.
Nick Crane meets a man who's had to wait 40 years to rebuild his family home.
It really will be very emotional. Hmm.
While Dick Strawbridge learns why the villagers of Slapton Sands were forced to abandon their homes.
And I get to visit an icon of coastal construction that
revolutionised the way lighthouses were built around the world.
Welcome to the Property Coast.
This journey takes us from Bournemouth
along the dramatic Jurassic coast of Dorset and Devon to Plymouth.
Bournemouth's roots as a holiday destination stretch back to the early 19th century,
when the enchanting aroma of its pine trees and unspoilt sea air
attracted wealthy city folk to spend their summers here.
By the 1880s, Bournemouth had become a property hotspot
with the population increasing fourfold in just 20 years.
But its reputation for high living was soon to be dwarfed by one of its neighbours.
I'm on my way to visit one of the most expensive places to live in the whole world.
The peninsular of Sandbanks forms one side
of the entrance to Poole harbour.
100 years ago, this stretch of coastline was little
more than a shanty town, but there's not a tin shack in sight today.
In 2002, Sandbanks or 'Moneybanks' as some of the locals have started to call it,
was declared the fourth most expensive place to live on the planet
after London, Tokyo and Hong Kong.
From up here you can catch glimpses of some of the incredible mansions that have sprung up
all over Sandbanks, and every single one of them costs a small fortune.
But how on earth did this unknown bit of headland get to be so exclusive?
One man who played a large part in creating worldwide interest in Sandbanks is entrepreneur Tom Doyle.
In 2002, Tom sold a four-bedroomed apartment in this building for £1 million,
which at a staggering £695 per square foot
shot Sandbanks into the global premier league of property.
But if a sea view apartment costs £1 million,
then what's a house going to cost me?
You are going to need £5 or £6 million, an absolute minimum,
because the chances are
it's worth more as a piece of land than as a house,
because someone would want to knock it down and put a new house up.
So it's all about the property itself and not the house?
It's the land. There's two building blocks there.
That's £11 million.
It's a little bit rich for my blood!
Well, go this side of the road, it's a lot cheaper.
So if it's £5 million on the waterfront, what is it here?
-It could be... £600,000.
What's the most expensive house that's up for sale in Sandbanks today?
-Would you like to go and have a look at it?
In my wildest dreams I couldn't afford a house like this, but for a wee while
I can pretend I've got a few million pounds burning a hole in my pocket.
-Right Neil, this is it.
So this is what a £10 million house looks like in Sandbanks.
Yes, yes, I imagine it is.
Nearly every room in this house has a view of the sea...
even the bathroom.
Oh... Yeah! Now that's a kitchen, isn't it?
It's a kitchen and three-quarters.
Yeah. Triple Aga.
It's got to be the biggest island unit you're ever going to see.
Yeah. I've had kitchens smaller than that granite slab!
-In my younger days I sold flats smaller than this!
The whole place is just dominated by the view, isn't it?
-Yeah, well this is what you're paying for.
-Gosh, you have your own jetty.
Two jetties... of course you'd need two.
What would this house be worth if it wasn't on Sandbanks?
-Half the price.
And with probably more land.
But who'd want more land when you can wake up to 10,000 acres
of stunning harbour at the bottom of your garden?
This looks pretty sophisticated.
-It's all on electronic ramps, so you can actually pull up and open the gates and...
It's an electronic garage door for the sea.
This is what a house like this is really about, isn't it?
It's access to all of... that.
It's a different kind of life, isn't it? It's a different world.
It's a beautiful place and there are people out there prepared to pay the money for this location.
-Do you want it?
-Do I want it?
What, you've only got one boat?
I can think of other things to do with £10 million is the truth of it.
The people who live along this shore
have the second largest natural harbour in the world as their
playground, but they haven't got it all to themselves.
Sharing it are the thrill seekers...
the ferries and cargo ships...
..and those who just want to have fun on the water.
The mammoth task of co-ordinating so much traffic falls to Poole Harbour Commissioner Peter Burt.
To be right at the centre of such a
property phenomenon, it's a remarkably peaceful, quiet place.
That's really the secret of the harbour.
What you've seen in the property world there behind us is a very, very
small part of what really goes on.
What we have here is the start of the 100 miles
of coastline inside the entrance.
It appears to be deep and there are indeed deep channels but we only have
a roughly two metre rise and fall in the tide
and the water is just circulating without moving very far.
-And because if all this huge basin it absorbs the water in through
all the deep-water channels and then fills some of the shallows.
How shallow is it?
A good idea would be for you to find out really rather directly.
This doesn't seem right. This is in the middle of a harbour. I can see ferries...
Yes, a ferry going up there.
That's not right, surely!
This is a harbour!
We're three-quarters of a mile from land and you're able to walk about.
Well, it's a strange harbour you've got here, Peter.
-It is a curious harbour.
-It's a strange one.
-It's all part of the fascination.
It's not Poole harbour, it's Poole puddle!
Poole's shallow harbour means the huge ferries have to negotiate
specially dredged channels.
But the sheer scale of the harbour leaves plenty of room for everybody.
Poole might be one of the finest harbours in Britain,
but why pay £10 million for a house on Sandbanks...
when a £4.50 bus ticket lets you take in the delights of Studland beach over there?
Much of the sand that makes up the three-mile stretch of Studland beach
was washed down the coast from Sandbanks and Bournemouth.
Suddenly the beach runs out and the cliffs take over.
And what cliffs!
Old Harry Rocks marks the start of the Jurassic coast,
a magnet for sightseers and ramblers,
but some parts of this craggy coastline also appeal
to those seeking something a little more adventurous.
My name's Mike Weeks, I am a rock climber and I deep water solo.
Deep water soloing at its simplest is just climbing rope free with no
hindrance from equipment above the sea and the sea is your safety net.
It's just you, the rock, nature, fighting against gravity and if gravity wins,
obviously you're just going to go for a swim.
This particular stretch of coastline here is one of the best
deep water soloing venues in Britain.
The rock here lends itself to quite an overhanging nature,
so if you fall you're not going to hit anything on the way down.
Also, the sea is very deep here.
There's never a time when I'm pushing myself on the rock
when I'm not at least a little bit scared and if I didn't actually feel fear I probably wouldn't do it.
Equally as important as being able to climb is being able to fall.
People on their first few attempts will often fall so
badly, with arms out, legs spread,
and I've seen people get salt water enemas from landing badly
and having water forced into places they would rather not have them.
For the people who actually want to try it, they have to learn how
to climb properly first with ropes and with safety equipment.
It's just such a real buzz, the feeling and the satisfaction of
what you've just overcome is just so immense and usually you actually just turn around and jump in to celebrate.
The awe-inspiring Jurassic coast is one of the best places in the world
to see 250 million years of the earth's geological history laid bare.
And nowhere is this more apparent
than at the perfectly formed shell-shaped inlet of Lulworth Cove.
And just when you think nothing can match its beauty,
take a short walk around the corner
and you're face to face with another of nature's wonders...
It's no surprise these areas of natural beauty are protected from development.
But if it's building plots you're looking for,
there are thousands of places along the coast where properties are built and demolished every day.
Alice Roberts is in Weymouth to uncover the secret of building the perfect sand castle.
Look on any sandy beach on a sunny day, and you can guarantee
that there will be dozens of aspiring architects at work.
As with any other property
the key to its success is its location.
Many resorts would have you believe that their sand is the best for building sand castles.
So along our journey we've chosen three great holiday spots to put that to the test.
Here in Weymouth, then Lyme Regis and finally Torquay.
With the help of Professor Matthew Bennett of Bournemouth University,
we're going to put the sand from each resort through a series of experiments
to reveal which beach has the best chance of making the ultimate sand castle.
What's the most important thing to look for when you're looking for the perfect sand to make a sand castle?
OK, I think it's probably water, because the water, the right mix of sand and water,
is the thing that's gonna make it stand up or fall down.
So kind of stick the sand together.
Right, so it's this property of cohesion is the posh word
for that stickiness of the water, because it binds the grains together.
Now by lots of experimentation we reckon that the best
ratio of water to sand is eight parts sand to one part water.
-So you've sat there in your lab...
-..mixing different ratios of sand and water and you've come up with the ideal...
-Ratio, that's right.
First we're going to mix up a sample of the Weymouth sand using Matthews's eight to one formula.
Then test it using this strange looking contraption
called a cone penetrometer.
What it does is it drops this little cone with a known weight into the pot
and the further it drops in the weaker it is.
We've put just dry sand in there, focusing now on the cone.
-We press the button and it falls a long way in.
-So now we're going to try with our...
..eight parts sand, one part water.
Just keep it there and you can press the button...
That didn't go anywhere near as far.
-Just about 130 mm compared with over 200 for the dry sand.
This is a scientific way of doing it, but if you're wanting to build
sand castles on the beach you need to know where to look.
-Do you think you can actually spot this consistency on the beach then?
So where shall we start?
Try down with the water first of all.
We'll just demonstrate that if you get it too wet...
You know, it's too wet.
It's not going to work.
There's too much water in it.
I could have told you that!
Try somewhere in the middle. Just a little bit further I think.
-Try and make a sand castle here and see what happens.
This is feeling a lot more like your eight to one mix.
-The key thing is the smoothness of the sides.
It's lovely and smooth.
-Just right there.
-Now if I hadn't met you and I didn't know about
the science of sand, I'd have gone much closer to the sea and got some wetter stuff.
The temptation is to be near the sea, cos you get the water in
the moat, but you want to be a bit further and bring your water in.
So the first thing we've learnt about building sand castles is that
the ratio of eight parts sand to one part water is absolutely crucial.
We've got our perfect formula and we've tested the sand at Weymouth.
Now we're off to Lyme Regis and Torquay in our quest to find
the perfect sand castle sand.
Around the corner from Weymouth is a completely different kind of beach...
At 17 miles tip to toe, it's the longest shingle beach in Britain.
This is one of those places that makes you feel like a puny human in the face of nature.
The shingle bank is constantly on the move.
The waves and currents sort the pebbles according to their size.
The largest end up near Portland and the smallest at the Western end.
Nestling up to the end of Chesil Beach
is the pretty resort of Lyme Regis.
But there's sometimes a price to pay for a sea view.
Here the power of the waves threatens the town's very existence, as Nick Crane is discovering.
Lyme Regis's most famous landmark is the striking harbour wall known as the Cobb.
It inspired writers like Jane Austen and was the setting for the classic
opening scene of The French Lieutenant's Woman.
But this wall has a far more important practical function.
For the last 700 years it's stopped the sea from literally sweeping Lyme Regis away.
The town sits on top of one of the most unstable stretches of coastline in the country.
The sea and the insecure ground underneath the town conspire to create huge landslides.
The residents of Lyme Regis are well aware of the town's fragile foundations.
Over the centuries many buildings have been lost to land slides,
including the family home of Harry May back in 1962.
-And what was this from here?
-This was down two steps and into the dining room.
-All meals here.
-Yeah. There's not much left of it now?
-No, there isn't.
-What did it look like then?
I have a picture of it here.
-Which is your house?
-This one here.
Good heavens. It's absolutely beautiful, isn't it? With a balcony.
Huge pagoda-style roof, looking over the bay and the Cobb.
So what happened to your beautiful house?
On February the 18th 1962, I came back from school
and the whole house was creaking and groaning and wood was splitting.
I left and went to the pictures. And when I came back, Cobb Road was shut,
the fire brigade at the top of the hill and our place moved five inches and that was enough to destroy it.
The building stayed upright, but in a terrible mess.
So where did you live? You'd got no home.
Where did your parents take you?
We couldn't move from this place.
We have 180 degrees of sea view. It's the most spectacular place to live.
My parents put up a mobile home in the back garden here and then a caravan and so it went from there.
Gradually built things up again.
How long have you been living in temporary accommodation yourself?
Since 1962, always on this site.
That's over 40 years!
Yes. It is.
For 44 years, Harry has dreamed of rebuilding his house,
but the land is simply too unstable.
What is it that causes so many landslips in this area?
Some answers, it seems, can be found at nearby Charmouth Beach.
I'm meeting earth scientist Richard Edmonds
who's been studying this coastline's subterranean secrets.
This is the Black Ven landslide, the largest coastal landslide in Europe.
It happened in 1958-1959.
-This great tongue of vegetation reaching out into the channel.
What is it that Lyme Regis, is at such risk, Richard?
It's built on this stuff. Its Lower Jurassic clay.
It dates back from about 195 million years ago and it's very soft.
Even worse is that the hilltops are capped with a sandstone. The sandstone is porous.
The rainwater can soak down through it, but once it reaches these dark clays, it ponds up at the junction
between the two rock types, lubricates the clay surface and
great big chunks of clifftop break off and slide down the cliff face.
Once it gets into the soft mud,
there are a whole series of terraces made by these hard bands of stone.
It works just like a giant penny falls.
The sandstone comes down the back, shunts everything forward over one terrace, the next terrace,
until it arrives on the beach.
These rocks are quite solid once they're in under the ground.
It's here the sea is working away all the time.
If the sea wasn't here, the land would reach a stable angle.
The sea's always taking it away, so more is always coming down.
So, it's a combination of the sea eroding and a peculiar local geology that has threatened Lyme.
That's right, yes.
It wasn't until the late 1990s, that technology became available
to offer Lyme Regis some long-term security.
The town is now in the middle of a £24 million defence scheme - the first of its kind in the world.
There are two elements. There's this massive new beach
and then there's work in the actual hill behind the sea wall, which is prone to landslides to stabilise it.
There are 75,000 tonnes of gravel that have been put onto this beach.
It's really aiming to absorb the wave energy, so the waves, rather than smash against the sea wall,
the wave energy'll be focussed onto the beach.
There's a second really important element which is it's adding weight to the tow
of the landslides behind here, so the landslides are being propped up by this massive weight of shingle.
We're onto the building site now. This is all part of an ancient landslide.
There are a whole series of slip plains running through this slope.
What's happening is the engineers have drilled down
through the split plains and piled them with steel and concrete piles.
They've also added huge amounts of drainage to take the water away.
How long will this last for?
The design life is 50-60 years, so only time will tell.
40 years after Harry May saw his house collapse,
the land has been stabilised.
Harry is now close to realising his dream of finally rebuilding his family home.
What do you think you'll feel when you walk through the front door for the first time?
Mmm, wonderful. Really will be.
Very emotional. Mmm. Very. Yeah.
The shingle shipped into help tackle the landslide problem
is not the only material imported into Lyme Regis.
The golden beach that adorns the sea front is not quite what it seems.
Over the last few months, 30,000 tonnes of sand have been shipped in from a quarry in Normandy.
But how will the French sand stand up to the English stuff in Alice's battle of the sand castles?
Lyme Regis Council put a lot of effort into researching different types of sand for their new beach.
They believe they've found the perfect complement to their sea front,
but is it any good for sand castles?
A bit of French sand.
We'll examine the quality of the French sand grains
to see how it compares to the Weymouth sand we tested earlier.
The first thing that's obvious is that the Weymouth sand is much more homogenous.
-It's similar grains throughout, very fine.
I'll just compare it now with the French sand here at Lyme Regis.
It's got a range of sizes - quite angular.
This helps the French sand bind together a little bit more.
All the different shapes interlock.
Think of a crowd of people.
-If they've got all their arms sticking out, it's like the spikes on the grains.
They lock together with their neighbours and it's strong cos it's locking together.
If they had no spikes on the grains, they're all in like this, they can move past one another.
To make a great sand castle, the ability of dry grains of sand locked together is really important.
One way of testing this is by measuring the angle of internal friction -
the higher the angle, the better.
We need to compare this with the results from the test at Weymouth.
-We need to use this protractor.
If you just move it carefully down, line it up on the pile of sand,
that will give us the angle of internal friction
or the angle or repose and it's 33 degrees.
That's not as good as Weymouth. At Weymouth, it was steeper, it was 40 degrees.
I think that's probably because Weymouth sand is so much finer, it's helping it stand up more,
Which is interesting cos I thought angular grains would've locked it together.
-There are lots of factors at play.
-Until you do the experiments, you don't know what the results are.
The science points to Weymouth sand having the edge, but what do the people
whose opinion really counts think about the new look Lyme Regis sand?
-It's quite grainy, it's quite sharp.
-It holds together well.
You can see you've got nice smooth sides to your sand castles there.
-Any hot tips then for building sand castles?
-Pour water over it.
-Pour water over it?
-Yeah, first, so it gets quite sticky.
So, you've added to the mix. You haven't just used the natural
-stuff, you've added a little bit of water as you go along?
-Yeah, so it keeps it stronger.
Add a bit to the base as well, makes it solid to stick the castles on.
-Right, so you've got to have solid foundations.
So, two beaches down,
just Torquay left, where we'll test all our sand castles to destruction.
Lyme Regis marks the end of our journey along the Dorset coastline
as the white Jurassic rocks give way to the distinctive red Triassic cliffs of Devon.
The quaint, unspoilt town of Sidmouth
has retained its old world charm
by carefully regulating property development on its sea front.
Many of the regency houses are home to growing numbers of people retiring in the town.
More than half the population are over retirement age.
But for some of Sidmouth's older residents, it's not just a question
of retiring to the coast, they've spent their whole lives working on it.
Tucked behind the town but still within sight of the sea
is the home of the largest donkey sanctuary in the world.
Donkeys from all over Britain come to spend their twilight years being pampered.
Their welfare's in the capable hands of Annie Hamer.
Where do donkeys originally come from?
Originally from Asia and Africa. They came over into Europe
on the Silk Route, transporting goods.
-They were the pack animals.
-How many donkeys have you got on this farm?
-On this farm, nearly 400.
-That's amazing. It's quite surreal.
I've never seen so many donkeys in one place.
It's nice they can still see the sea.
-If a lot of these are retired beach donkeys.
Yes, we've got 100 donkeys have retired from the beaches and come into the donkey sanctuary.
At the moment, there's nearly 900 donkeys working on beaches in Britain.
What do you think about donkey rides? Are you happy about the idea or is it cruel?
Some of the healthiest working donkeys are the ones working on the beach,
cos the sand is really good for their feet.
It's equivalent to their natural environment, where they were originated from, on the desert.
The sand works like a natural emery board and helps to keep their feet in a nice shape.
When a donkey comes here, does it stay here for the rest of its natural life?
Yeah, we never turn a donkey away.
Usually they come to us in their late twenties or early thirties
and then some of the donkeys we've got are in their early fifties.
They can live another 20 years after that.
-A little donkey paradise.
Around six million of the UK population live within one kilometre of the coast.
But not every coastal property is made of bricks and mortar,
just as popular are homes of a more mobile nature.
Some of the best views of this coastline are found
on this magnificent stretch of The Great Western Railway as it slinks along the seafront towards Dawlish.
Today, only a handful of coastal railways are left in Britain.
This one flirts a little too dangerously with the sea at times.
Now its existence is under real threat.
Mark Horton is exploring the troubled life of this historic railway.
The train line that connects Exeter to Plymouth is a vital commuter lifeline,
but for a few weekends a year, there's a chance to experience the majestic views in style.
A smoky rise, the smell of the steam.
This must be one of the most glorious railways journeys in the world.
It was the first glimpse holidaymakers have of the sea as they go to the West Country.
This wonderful view of the south coast.
The genius behind this route was Isambard Kingdom Brunel
who, in 1843, was commissioned to build an extension to the Great Western Railway,
down along the South Devon coast to Plymouth.
On the face of it, this is a ridiculous place to build a railway line.
Even on a calm day like today,
passing trains are at risk of a soaking from waves, crashing onto the sea wall.
So, what made Brunel build his line here?
To find out, I'm meeting railway historian Peter Kay.
It's impossible to have a direct route because of the range of hills.
He had to choose between either coming right along the coast
as he did or having a route right behind Dawlish and Tynmouth through very long tunnels.
Surely, to build a railway here was an incredibly risky operation.
The storms would have come in and smashed over his railway.
I think the local people tried to point that out to him.
There were several petitions to Parliament
and the Exeter Corporation said the line would be a danger
to Her Majesty's subjects, because of the risk from sudden storms.
Brunel was convinced there would be no problems caused
by the sea to his railway, because he was such a confident engineer.
Brunel's original route was several yards further out.
He wanted to go round this headland on the outside without a tunnel here.
Of course, had the line been built further out,
it would have been even more exposed to the ravages of the sea.
Fortunately, he was opposed by the local people who did not want to lose their beach.
This was the gentlemen's bathing beach
and would have been lost entirely had Brunel got his original route.
So, he had to build a system of tunnels through the cliffs.
Yes, there was only one tunnel intended originally and he ended up with five.
It wasn't just the tunnels.
We seem to have this huge sea wall for about four miles, from one headland to the other.
That was quite a substantial construction job.
The stone came from Torbay by ship, was landed on the beaches.
This is a period of the great heroic era of Victorian engineering,
in which they thought they could go anywhere.
One of Brunel's famous quotes was, "Nothing is impossible for an engineer."
But Brunel's engineering bravado didn't always guarantee success.
When the line opened in 1847, Brunel had taken the bold decision
to use a new means of propulsion called the "atmospheric system".
Huge pumping houses like this one at Starcross were constructed to create
a vacuum in a pipe laid between the rails which sucked the trains along.
Although the system worked, it was too expensive to maintain
so steam locomotives took over after just 12 months.
So, how has the railway fared since Brunel's time?
Well, I'm afraid the pessimists were quickly proved right.
This section we're walking on now was rebuilt totally in the 1860s.
The real ongoing problem was that the sea wall often got undermined by the weight.
So, it's not just the storm smashing against the wall,
but the continual erosion at the base that's the problem.
The base of the wall is the normal problem.
The bedrock underneath the foundations is very poor stuff.
The waves break it up and suck out the infill behind,
make a hole in the bottom of the wall and then the line collapses.
Now we've got global warming and sea level rises,
are we going to lose the line for good in the next 50 years?
Well, who knows?
Who knows indeed?!
When Brunel built this line, he insisted that it would be
no more expensive to maintain than any other stretch of railway.
£9 million has been spent since 2004 trying to shore up the line,
prompting calls for a replacement to be built inland.
But such a line could never compete with the amazing coastal scenery
that makes this one of Britain's most stunning railway journeys.
Many of the towns along this coast might never have developed into
the flourishing seaside resorts they are today without Brunel's railway.
One of its biggest benefactors was the town which calls itself The English Rivera - Torquay.
Most of the beautiful white villas and terraces overlooking Torbay
date back to Victorian times,
when the gentry flocked to Torquay
to enjoy its remarkably mild climate.
It's also the birthplace of Agatha Christie.
The very modern Miss Marple, Alice Roberts,
is still on the trail of the Secret of the Perfect Sand Castle.
-It's a completely different colour sand here.
-That's the red Triassic sandstone.
'Torquay recently boasted that it had the best sand castle sand in Britain.
'It's a claim we're going to put to the test in the final stage of our sand castle quest.
'After putting Torquay's sand through the same experiments as Lyme Regis and Weymouth,
'we have discovered that Torquay and Weymouth are
'neck and neck in terms of grain size and the angle of internal friction,
'but Lyme Regis is not far behind.
'To find a winner, we need to commence the final experiment - the strength test.'
-A bit more sand in there I think.
-'Using samples from all our test beaches, we're making three
'perfect sand castle mixtures using Matthew's magic eight parts sand to one part water formula.'
Weymouth was the finest of our sands. It's had a high angle of internal friction.
It's got lots of fine grains in there. Make a good sand castle.
Right, come on Weymouth! Ah!
-That is a good one.
-That is perfect.
'Weymouth's fine grains makes it Matthew's favourite to win.
'Lyme Regis looks good, but I don't know, I really like the texture of Torquay.
'It's the one I'm putting my money on.
'Now for the ultimate battle of strength.
'We're using measured amounts of water to increase the weight on top of our sand castles.
'Which one will crumble first? The last castle standing will be the winner.'
They're all doing ever so well.
This is amazing!
It's the perfect mix.
This is the third kilo.
There's definitely a crack there.
This is going to be the fourth kilo.
-I told you.
-Lyme Regis, look at that!
'The French and Lyme Regis have been knocked out already.
'With only my Torquay and Matthew's Weymouth sand castles left,
'it's down to a straight shootout between the two of us.'
Let's see how many more Torquay can take.
Eight kilos. Torquay is the out and out winner.
It took eight kilos.
Eight kilos. Well, I was wrong.
It doesn't matter what beach you're on as long as you get the ratio right.
That's right, you can have fun with a bucket and spade.
-You can build a good sand castle.
-What a mess!
Standing over Torbay is Berry Head.
Today, it's a national nature reserve, but 200 years ago,
it was used to defend British Naval ships from potential French attack.
Remnants from past hostilities are a reminder that Britain's coast
has always been our first line of defence against potential invaders.
During the Second World War,
people all over Britain were evacuated and displaced.
But around Slapton Sands,
entire communities were suddenly forced to leave their homes.
Unearthing the full story of these mass evictions
has taken over 50 years as Dick Strawbridge is finding out.
By 1943 the civilian population of Britain were well accustomed to sacrifice.
The inhabitants around Slapton Sands were about
to pay the price for living near this stretch of coastline.
In November 1943, the tranquil atmosphere of villages surrounding Slapton Sands was shattered.
3,000 residents received official notification that their homes
were to be requisitioned for 'military purposes'.
They were given just six weeks to pack up and move out.
There were no exceptions.
John Hannaford was only 17 at the time.
His family have owned and run the local butchers near Slapton Sands for four generations.
He can remember that before the evacuation announcement
there was a feeling something strange was going on.
Well there were these odd rumours going around...
but when you're a teenager it's over your head.
You don't think about these things,
-it's never going to happen to you!
Then they got more serious, that they were going to commandeer this area
and people weren't very happy, it was such a big upheaval for them.
You see, an awful lot of them,
I suppose they'd never been away from their home, you know?
-It was a situation, there was a war on.
That was the back of everybody's mind, you know? There was a war on.
You had to do these things.
Everybody living in an area covering 46 square miles,
and including 180 farms, had to leave their properties
taking whatever they could manage,
not knowing when, if ever, they would be able to return.
Did you actually know what was going to happen here?
Did you have a feeling for what was happening?
Well of course you had an idea what was going on, we knew it was a battle training area.
We knew what it was going to be.
You prepared yourself for the worst.
Would it be here when you came back or would it be here for you to come back to?
What kind of battle training could possibly justify evacuating such an enormous area?
What the residents didn't know was that for months the military
had been planning the most important offensive of the Second World War,
the landing on the beaches of Normandy
to begin the long awaited liberation of Europe.
If the allied forces were to be successful,
it was crucial they found somewhere suitable to practise.
The allies had spent a long time planning for D-Day.
One of the main beaches to be assaulted was Utah.
At Utah you've got the sea,
you've got the beach, and dunes with the coastal road on it and inland of that,
in the hinterland, the Germans had flooded that area as an obstacle
which meant that the infantry in vehicles would have a real problem.
If I turn this around,
we've got the sea, we've got sand,
we've got dunes, a coastal road and inland here we've got Slapton Lee
which is a flooded marshy area which would allow people to train in exactly the same conditions.
The War Office had found the perfect spot.
All they had to do now was turn into a little bit of Normandy.
By Christmas 1943, the last of the residents had left their homes.
With the streets deserted,
the American forces, who would be attacking Utah beach,
moved in to start training for the impending invasion.
On Slapton Sands, the training exercises were deadly serious.
In an attempt to re-create the intense hostility of a battlefield,
live ammunition was used.
Today, a rusted Sherman tank stands as a memorial to one particular
exercise that went disastrously wrong and cost hundreds of lives.
One of the few survivors of the tragedy is Steve Sadlon.
In 1944 he was a 19-year-old radio operator in the US Navy.
On the 23rd of April 1944,
Steve was one of the 23,000 allied troops
involved in the biggest practice exercise to date,
a full scale simulation of the D-Day landings, codenamed Exercise Tiger.
Out in the English Channel,
Steve's assault craft was making its way towards Slapton Sands.
This was a dry run.
Exercise Tiger was just like the real thing.
When we were going towards Slapton Sands,
I heard a scrape underneath the ship.
And the next thing you know, I heard GQ
and I thought to myself, my gosh, they're making things pretty real.
The next thing you know, I got hit.
I got torpedoed.
Auxiliary engine room, that's right below me.
Suddenly, it was no longer an exercise.
Steve's ship was at war, under attack by German torpedo boats.
The enemy boats had been spotted by the British fleet,
but due to a simple administrative error
the radio warnings never made it to the convoy.
We were on a wrong frequency.
They knew that these E-boats were approaching us
and they never let us know
that we were in danger.
I staggered into the wheelhouse
and here the fire was already approaching the wheelhouse.
The skipper was still there. He was...
he said, "Well, we can't do anything so we'd better abandon ship."
I jumped in there, it was cold.
And the signal man says, "Steve,
"I'm not going in that water.
"It's too cold."
So I said to him, "OK, take your choice."
So I pointed to the water. I said, "Are you going to freeze to death?"
and I pointed at the fire, and I said, "You're going to burn to death."
He burned to death.
He took that choice.
Before I passed out,
I just remembered my mother cradling me in my arms.
I had this care and everything else...
and then I thought about the green grass...
I said, "If I ever get there," I said "I'm going to kiss that grass,
"and I'm going to hug my mother." I said, "Boy, this is..."
That's the last I remember.
I passed out,
The rest of the convoy were immediately ordered back to port,
but the captain of one of the ships disobeyed the order
and returned to pick up 132 survivors including Steve,
who'd been in the freezing sea for over four hours.
When I woke up, a sailor, he was...
shaking me, waking me up and he says, "You know,
"you're a lucky person."
"You were piled with the dead."
He said, "You were frothing at the mouth and we took you off the pile and we worked on you."
The official death toll for 28th April 1944 was 749,
but despite the loss of life, the training at Slapton continued
and the disaster was kept secret
until after the successful D-Day invasions.
In spite of his horrific experience, Steve still took part in the landings on Utah beach.
Ironically, more soldiers were killed during Exercise Tiger
than died on D-Day attacking the very beach they'd trained for.
It was 43 years before this memorial was built on Slapton Sands
to commemorate the US servicemen who lost their lives that night on Exercise Tiger.
Further down the beach the Americans left their own memorial,
dedicated to the 3000 evacuees like John Hannaford,
who were finally allowed back home after 12 months away.
John feels that the hardship he suffered was a small price to pay,
especially in comparison to the tragic loss of life that took place on Exercise Tiger.
The sad truth is that without the sacrifices of the people
who lived and trained around Slapton Sands,
the casualties at D-Day may have been far higher.
Devon's most southerly town is the holiday resort of Salcombe.
The town's wealth was originally founded on shipbuilding,
but today it's a haven for second homes.
Half of Salcombe's properties are owned by people who don't live here full-time.
An even more exclusive location lies just around the coast,
the 26 rocky acres of Burgh Island.
At times, calling this an island can be misleading,
but for six hours each day the holidaymakers
on the neighbouring beach are rudely interrupted
as the tide returns to restore Burgh Island's independence.
This is one of the charms that's attracted distinguished guests
to the curious hotel on the island for decades.
This bizarre and incredibly noisy contraption is a sea tractor
and it's reputed to be the only one of its kind in the whole world.
It takes guests over to Burgh Island at high tide.
Now, BBC budgets being what they are, I don't think I'll be staying the night,
but I should be OK for a good nosey round.
The hotel dates back to 1929, when the flamboyant industrialist
Archie Nettlefold built a sumptuous retreat to entertain his friends.
Approaching the art deco entrance,
I feel a bit like Hercule Poirot on the trail of a murder mystery.
While Monsieur Poirot was fictitious, his creator Agatha Christie
was a frequent visitor here, along other celebrities of the '30s
such as Edward and Mrs Simpson, Noel Coward and Amy Johnson,
who would all come here to escape the public gaze and enjoy complete privacy.
Burgh Island soon became a haven for the rich, the famous and the slightly disreputable.
Hidden away from the prying paparazzi of the day,
here they could be as decadent as they wished.
It's said that Noel Coward wrote some of his most lovely songs here
over cocktails... and winks at the waiters.
Whatever went on, Burgh Island's seclusion meant that the outside world seemed a million miles away.
Constructing a property on an island with only limited access to
the mainland would present builders with a few headaches even today.
But imagine trying to build a house 14 miles out at sea 300 years ago.
A house that would be responsible for saving thousands of lives.
I love lighthouses.
In fact I'm an honorary member of the Association of Lighthouse Keepers.
And get this. I'm now on my way to visit the location of the world's first offshore lighthouse.
We've only got a very short weather window.
It's going to be pretty tricky to get out there.
That is fantastic!
Right on the horizon there, there's the faintest grey line just sticking up a few millimetres as it were.
That is the Eddystone lighthouse.
It's all very well from our 21st century perspective.
We know you can build lighthouses on rocks.
But put yourself in the shoes of people 300 years ago
when that idea was as outlandish as building a tower on the moon.
When this lighthouse was opened in 1882 it was hailed as a miracle of engineering, and so it was.
But believe it or not it's not that lighthouse I've come to see.
It's the ones that were here before it.
For centuries these rocks have sunk countless ships bound for Plymouth.
With the great interest in maritime trade in the late 17th century,
a way had to be found to protect ships from these foreboding rocks.
Today, the strong south-easterly winds are making the approach to the lighthouse a wee bit tricky.
But imagine having the nerve to build a lighthouse out here
300 years ago with only flimsy wooden rowing boats
to transport tonnes of material and teams of builders.
The man who did have the nerve to try this was one Henry Winstanley.
He started building in 1696 and by 1699 he had completed his masterpiece.
It had a stone foundation but it was mostly a wooden structure.
Imagine a wooden tower out here in the face of these gales!
After three years of struggle and one failure,
in 1699 Winstanley was finally happy with his design.
It was an amazing spectacle.
The 120 foot structure was finished with ornate engravings
and extravagant wrought iron details.
Many people questioned the lighthouse's sturdiness.
Would it be able to stand up to the unrelenting gales and ferocious seas?
Winstanley's confidence in his tower was unshakeable.
He boasted, "I only wish that I may be in the lighthouse
"in circumstances that will test its strength to the utmost."
On the 26th November 1703, Winstanley's wish came true.
That night, the biggest recorded storm to hit Britain
devastated the entire country claiming at least 8,000 lives.
When people came out to this rock to see how he had fared, there was not a trace.
Not of Winstanley, not of the lighthouse crew and not of the lighthouse.
All they found was some twisted metal.
Winstanley was gone.
His light had kept sailors safe for over four years,
but just two days after the lighthouse collapsed
a ship struck the rock and sank with the loss of all hands.
Another lighthouse was built, but it burnt down.
So, the maritime authorities commissioned Yorkshireman
John Smeaton to build a structure that would stand the test of time.
And its stump still remains here.
Now this was a huge step forward in lighthouse design.
These blocks of granite are dovetailed together.
They are like three dimensional jigsaw pieces that all lock together.
Smeaton had used the shape of an English oak tree as inspiration for his lighthouse.
He wanted it to be sturdy, but also flexible enough to sway slightly in the wind.
It entered service in October 1759.
So effective was Smeaton's innovative design that it became the standard for lighthouses world wide,
and is still a template for today's lighthouse builders.
Smeaton's lighthouse stood for 120 years before cracks appeared.
Not in the tower, but on the rock below it.
The lighthouse had proved to be tougher than the very rock it stood on.
That is the best day at work I've ever had!
Diving into the sea off lighthouses doesn't get any better. Fantastic!
Such was the significance of Smeaton's lighthouse
that the people of Plymouth paid for it
to be taken down block by block and rebuilt on Plymouth Hoe as a memorial to its designer.
It stands there today as Plymouth's most famous landmark,
a testament not only to Smeaton
but to all of the pioneering lighthouse builders
who gave their lives to save the lives of others.
I've travelled around 120 miles along this property coast and I've seen all kinds of places.
I've seen luxury. I've seen opulence. I've even see decadence, but you know,
you can't help but be reminded that this landscape and these views are free and also priceless.
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