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This is just incredible.
500 feet below me on one side is the Irish Sea, and on the other -
the shifting sands of Formby Point near Liverpool.
I'm on the brink of a journey along the north-west coast of England.
This coast is famous as the playground of the industrial North.
But it's also got many connections abroad.
A cosmopolitan streak runs right through it, like the lettering in a stick of rock.
Here to help me explore are the Coast team.
Alice Roberts discovers the holiday hotels that housed enemy aliens.
Mark Horton opens the door on Europe's biggest engineering project.
comes face-to-face with the largest sharks in UK waters.
Hermione Cockburn explores a vanishing coastline with the people who map Britain.
And yours truly savours the fruits of the Irish Sea.
-It doesn't get any better than that.
The first challenge is to land on the beach, because this is Coast.
Today's journey takes me from Southport,
just north of Liverpool, via the Isle of Man, to Whitehaven.
And the first thing that strikes me here are these amazing beaches.
Where else would you land planes next to the sea? And I mean right next to the sea.
Thanks, Richard, that was brilliant.
Now, it's not every day that you land on a beach.
But when you think about it, it does kind of makes sense because
here at Southport the sands are very flat and very compact.
And you can see them
from miles away - a relief when you're coming into land on a flying motorbike.
So it's possibly no surprise to find out I'm not the first person to use this as an airstrip.
In 1910, just seven years after the Wright brothers' maiden flight,
Claude Grahame-White landed a Farman biplane near the pier at Southport.
The appearance of a flying machine on the sands caused a sensation.
Southport's broad beaches quickly became home to some of Britain's pioneer aviators.
John Mulliner, a former pilot, has studied this astonishing history.
How perilous or dangerous
was the early flight that was happening here?
I don't think it was very dangerous at all,
from what we read of the records.
One must bear in mind that aircraft in those days didn't fly very fast,
35-37 miles an hour maximum.
If we've got a 10-15 mile-an-hour headwind, you're not going much faster than someone can actually run.
OK, they had their early prangs, of course, but they tended to walk away from them unhurt.
They were, though, real pioneers, flight was so new.
Oh, absolutely. There were... At the time in 1910, there were only 15 qualified pilots in the country.
Five of them were actually flying here on this coast.
John Gaunt, our own pioneer, who, like the Wright brothers in America, was a bicycle maker.
How extraordinary that something as world-changing as flight was pioneered by men who made bikes!
Yes. It is extraordinary.
The Wright brothers flew at Kitty Hawk in America, and they had sand dunes on the beach.
And very similar to what we've got here.
The antics of the early pioneers soon gave way to pleasure flights, which peaked in the 1950s.
But with the coming of affordable flights abroad, demand declined, until Southport Sands fell silent.
So, has beach aviation been grounded forever?
Well, no, not quite yet.
Because on a strip of virgin, pristine Southport sand, plans are afoot.
Local enthusiasts are determined to bring aeroplanes back to Southport's beaches.
Today sees the inaugural flight.
Everything's in place.
There's a plane, a pilot, an airstrip.
All we need is a passenger.
What sort of a plane is this?
Well, Neil, it's a DH83 Fox Moth, it was de Havilland's first attempt at building an airliner.
They were built for starters,
for small airlines which then progressed into bigger planes.
Would this sort of plane have flown around here?
Yes, this is one of the two aircraft that actually flew here on the beach from the mid-1930s to 1950.
ACEJ spent its working life here.
In its pleasure-flying heyday, ACEJ offered the ultimate holiday experience.
TV COMMENTATOR: And one of the finest ways of seeing Southport is from the air.
Near Pleasureland, a stretch of sand is used as an airfield for delightful pleasure flights.
Even now, so many people come up and say, "Hey, we didn't know that aeroplane still existed.
"It's the first aeroplane we had a joy ride in."
I'm a little bit worried it's been flying for as long as it has.
Flimsy is the word which springs to mind. It looks like a pair of old tights for wings.
It's actually cotton that's covered with stuff like nail varnish, that makes it tight and waterproof.
But it's very strong and light, which it must be for flight.
But what about taking off and landing on a beach? That doesn't sound right either.
That is pretty unusual nowadays.
Today, we seem to be clear of deck chairs, and the buckets and spades have gone home.
So it's ideal. Nice clear beach and an onshore breeze.
You make it sound so straightforward.
I'm going thousands of feet in the air, in something made of sticks and old tights.
It's not right.
I feel the need of a safety briefing. There are two engines on this plane!
-There's no life vest under your seat.
-You guys OK?
I'm very well, thank you.
-Where's the drinks trolley?!
The new runway on Southport Sands may never recapture the thrills of the 1920s.
But, once airborne, you can see how high-flying dreams and the coastal landscape can be a perfect match.
Across the Ribble Estuary is this coast's most celebrated seaside town -
Blackpool is a resort with global aspirations.
It's bidding to join the Pyramids and the Great Wall Of China as a World Heritage Site.
It's claimed that it's the world's first working-class seaside resort.
But one visitor not here for donkey rides and ice-cream is Hermione Cockburn.
She may be an earth scientist but, like me, she can't avoid aircraft on this coast.
The plane just landing behind me never leaves UK airspace.
It belongs to the Ordnance Survey Flying Unit.
The Ordnance Survey
makes over 150 sorties a year from their base in Blackpool.
I've come into town to meet Trevor Hilton, one of the unit's aerial surveyors. So, why Blackpool?
Well, we map the whole of the country.
Blackpool is the airport nearest to the centre of Britain.
Another thing is the lovely weather.
This stretch of coast gets very good weather, a lot of sunshine.
So, we're not going to be fog-bound many days.
What are you actually doing?
Britain has one of the most comprehensive mapping databases in the world.
And we update that by various means, mainly on the ground but sometimes it's more efficient to do it by air.
The OS use a super-high-resolution camera, a whopping 128 mega pixels.
The photographs are processed at their Southampton HQ.
But software still needs help with detailed variations,
like new housing, roads or coastal changes.
These are traced in by hand.
This then becomes the basis for the standard OS maps we rely on.
Now, as somebody who has flown the entire coastline of Britain, what's your favourite stretch?
I've a few. Probably the west coast of Scotland is my favourite.
There are some dramatic sights, like the Cuillins, rising, on Skye,
straight out of the sea.
Cornwall as well, you can see this clear blue water, white beaches.
You see these people as specks, and sometimes I wish I was down there enjoying myself
and not stuck 5,000 feet up working.
Trevor's favourite aerial views are at opposite ends of the country.
But one of the Ordnance Survey's biggest challenges is right on their doorstep.
Formby Sands, just south of Blackpool, is the most dynamic dune system in England.
Here, whole features have been wiped off the map.
The OS are going up to photograph Formby's changing coastline.
But with no spare room in the plane, I have come to meet coastal engineer
Paul Wisse to discover what's happening on the ground.
Paul, I'd say this is a fairly typical coastal-dune system.
Yes, but what's striking about this coastline
is the speed it's rolling back.
25 years ago, this was a caravan park where we are standing.
Literally, the dunes have rolled back inland and engulfed and...
-Buried beneath us are caravans.
-So do sometimes caravans get exhumed?
There haven't been any yet, but in the next couple of years
it's very likely that some will pop out onto the beach.
Can you see any evidence of the caravan park?
You can see just below us an edge where the foundations of the car park were.
We've got the children over in the distance helping pick up some of the
rubble which has been washed out by the erosion.
5,000 feet up, Trevor is taking pictures that will show us how Formby's dunes are shifting.
Meanwhile, Paul and his team have taken me out to get the perspective from sea level.
Paul, how fast are the dunes along this coastline changing?
On average, over the last 100 years, they have eroded by five metres a year.
Sefton Coast is mainly made of sand, which is readily eroded by the
coastal processes, such as the waves, the tides, the wind. There used to be
-a cafe on Formby Point which has been lost to erosion.
-Yes, I've got some photos. This is the cafe in 1958.
Just three years later in 1961.
Oh, my goodness, so that was wave action?
That has been undermined by the coastal erosion. It's just collapsed.
What happened to the cafe?
According to my GPS, it's right beneath us.
Beneath us here? But we are what, 100 metres or so...
100 metres offshore.
Oh, look, there's the plane going over.
The OS are taking our aerial survey.
So, you were saying, this coastline has been eroding for 100 years.
-Where would the coastline have been back then?
-We're going an awfully long way out.
Another 350 metres.
-So right about where we are now is where the coast was in 1906.
That is incredible.
-We are half a kilometre from the dunes.
That's half a kilometre of Lancashire coast wiped off the map in just 100 years.
The dramatic erosion here at Formby is a combination of the soft sand and high tidal range.
What I want to know is how the Ordnance Survey's aerial photographs
capture the history of this eroding coastline.
So how did you get on? How is Formby Sands from the air?
-We've got a couple of photos here that we took earlier of Formby.
-It was a beautiful morning.
Oh, it looks fantastic.
You can really see the line of the dunes there along the beach.
We've got an earlier shot here taken back in 1978.
-And you can see here a caravan park. You see this bend here.
-And that bend there.
-That's the caravan park which is now buried by these dunes?
How soon before we can expect to see these changes on these kind of maps?
Each week we produce new sheets.
An individual sheet, it will be a number of years depending on rates of change.
So, next time you're on the beach and a plane flies overhead, it may be adding you to the map of Britain.
There are changes happening around our coast that don't show up on the map.
The recent influx of migrant workers is one of them.
My name is Rafal Sekulski. Everyone calls me Raf, it's shorter.
I come from Poland and I work on Big One.
This is the biggest roller coaster in Europe, it's 235 feet, up to 85 miles an hour when you go on it.
Part of my job is to make sure that people are safe on Big One. And they're having fun.
The first time I came here, I didn't really want to go on it because I was really scared of heights.
But they pushed me in the train.
And I was really scared the first time.
When I went out of the train, my legs were shaking, they were shaky.
But now it's OK. They are about 7-8,000 Polish in Blackpool.
Sometimes when I walk on the prom, every second person is speaking Polish.
I turn around, "Oh, my God, so many of them."
Sometimes I get the feeling like I am on the Baltic Sea.
And the English are the foreigners who came abroad.
# I read the news today, oh boy... #
8,000 Poles in Blackpool, Lancashire, who'd have thought it?
In fact, Blackpool attracts six million visitors every year.
But just up the coast, its neighbour Morecambe
isn't so lucky.
# Trudging slowly over wet sands... #
Last time I was in Morecambe, I was out on the sands with Cedric Robinson and a party of tourists,
finding out where you can walk, and where you really shouldn't.
# This is the coastal town
# That they forgot to close down
# Every day is like Sunday... #
Walking the streets of Morecambe today, you can see that the place has struggled to free itself
from the dog days of the '60s and '70s when it was abandoned for warmer climes.
But it wasn't always like this.
Morecambe was named after the bay on which it relied for trade and fishing.
Then workers from the industrial cities started to holiday here, and it got a new nickname.
Famed for its smog-free air and wonderful views, it became
a place of escapism, with everyday cares left inland.
Then we began to go abroad on holiday.
And the British seaside paid the price.
But rumours of Morecambe's death may have been exaggerated.
Because here, where the pier meets the central promenade, is what looks like a demolition site.
But, in fact, it's anything but.
Underneath all that scaffolding is an internationally-renowned architectural masterpiece.
It's also an icon that has always been the barometer for Morecambe's health and well-being.
That is the Midland Hotel.
Commanding the seafront, the Midland is Morecambe's celebrated centrepiece.
Built by a railway company in 1933, the hotel, like the town, first boomed...
and then bust. When developers Urban Splash started to redevelop it in 2003, it was almost derelict.
But site manager Kieran Gardner sees beyond the shell.
So, this is an Art Deco masterpiece, is it?
Yes. Work-in-progress at the moment.
And what does survive in terms of original features?
Here you can see we've got some of the original artwork.
This here is an Eric Gill piece, which is probably the most famous piece within the hotel itself.
It's made out of Perrycot Portland stone.
It depicts Neptune coming out of the sea.
The inscription is quite nice here.
It's from Homer's The Odyssey.
"There is good hope that thou mayest see thy friends."
That's right, which is a nice touch for the hotel.
And I can't help but notice this coastline is the path I'm taking.
I started out at Southport.
And I'm following that line. That's a cracker as well.
This is another Eric Gill piece, it was done with his son-in-law, Denis Tegetmeier.
-There is something very optimistic about the style of it. It's so bright.
I have always found there is a certain amount of optimism comes with being on the coast.
The coastal dwellers have that, and I very much believe that.
The Midland's design reflected the modernist movement seen abroad
with its aim of achieving unity in decoration and architecture.
When the hotel first opened in the depression of the 1930s, optimism was badly needed.
Its Art Deco architecture was an extravagant gesture of hope.
And it worked. Morecambe became an international destination for the sophisticated holidaymaker.
How are you doing?
Have a seat. 'Harry Adams remembers the hotel in its heyday.'
When did you work at the Midland, Harry?
-From 1936 to 1939.
-And what was your job?
First job was a page boy, but I sometimes worked as a junior porter.
The chef was a French man, a Mr Massey.
The head waiter was Italian,
the manager was a Swiss - Mr August, the head wine waiter was English,
the other page boy with me was a Spanish boy.
-A continental mix for the northwest of England in the '30s.
-That's right, yes.
What about the guests?
-What kind of people came to the hotel?
-Mostly moneyed people.
They stopped a week, two weeks, the month.
The evening was best, when the gents were dressed up in their tuxedos,
the ladies in their gowns, coming down that wonderful staircase.
I used to love that.
I hadn't been there very long and a gentleman beckoned me, "Would I take a message to room number so and so?"
I went up, knocked on the door, a lady answered. I said, "A page boy, madam, with a message for you."
She said, "Come in."
I went in, opened the door, and there she stood in bra and knickers.
I was 15 years old. I'd never seen anything like that before in my life.
-What did you do?
-I got out as quick as possible!
I can't say I would do it now.
-No, no, no!
The restoration of the Midland isn't a throw-back to the 1930s.
When it re-opens in 2008, it will be re-fitted throughout, right up to the roof terrace.
But while the building can be regenerated, what about the town?
Why Morecambe? With the best will in the world, it seems quite a punt to take on a depressed area.
You only have to look out across the bay at the view we have here.
It's a fabulous bay, and it is probably Morecambe's biggest asset.
Do you think the presence of this hotel will be enough to bring new life back?
People have seen the hotel more as a mirror for the fortunes of the town.
With the works that we're intending to do here,
they see it as a renewed faith or confidence in Morecambe itself.
Question. Which landmass lies right at the heart of the British Isles but is not part of the UK?
Has its own Celtic language, but was ruled for 200 years by the Vikings,
and - according to legend - is protected by a cloak-like mist summoned by the sea god Manannon.
Where else, but the Isle of Man?
The Isle of Man is just 16 miles off the mainland.
But it's independent of the United Kingdom and the European Union.
That stretch of Irish Sea really does make all the difference.
It never ceases to amaze me.
I spend all this time travelling around the British Isles, but I keep
finding whole places that I've never been to, and this is one of them.
The port of Douglas has a perfect seafront, like a child's picture book.
But I've an appointment in a more ancient settlement - Castletown.
The guide books tell you that the Isle of Man has the oldest
parliament in the world, the Tynwald, founded in 979.
But who does it represent?
Who are the Manx people?
And what is that weird symbol I'm seeing everywhere?
If anyone knows, it'll be Butch Buttery - fisherman, chef and Manxman.
Butch, what is it that makes this place tick?
It's the independence, I think.
It's the fact that we're not English,
not Irish, not Scottish.
We're very much our own people here.
We're not big on natural resources - only ever had farming and fishing.
The economy is driven by the difference in taxation. Our taxation is lower than the mainland.
Our income tax is only 10%, so we have a lot of financial services here, insurance services.
I suppose, historically, our tax rates on brandy and tobacco were lower than those in the UK,
so vessels would put in here, unload cargos, which would be smuggled back to the mainland.
What is it with the three-legged symbol?
It's an ancient Norse symbol but to me and to Manx people, it's our flag, it's a symbol of our nation.
It means, "Whichever way you throw me, I will stand."
-It symbolises resourcefulness of the Manx people.
-It's not just about giving everyone a good kick.
-It's nothing to do with giving everyone a good kicking, no.
-When I go on holiday,
-one thing I think about is good food. Is there good food here?
-Fantastic. Particularly the seafood.
The warm currents of the Gulf Stream create a rich supply of plankton round the island,
ideal for raising the shellfish known locally as "queenies", and to you and me as queen scallops.
I'm about to get a cookery lesson in the style of Mad Manx.
It's a serious burner you've got there, Butch.
There's no point in fiddling around with camping stoves, is there? Let's get the show on the road.
A bit of garlic.
They don't need to be cooked for more than two minutes, a minute and a half, something like that.
We have got purity laws here on beer, ice-cream, and the food that we produce.
They're very restrictive about what you can do with them.
You can't use chemicals. ..A little bit of parsley.
And then, really to finish it, when they are as done as you want them to be,
a wee bit of wine.
It's all my favourite things, all in the same place!
Have a fork.
-Doesn't get any better than that.
Moving west, we come to a resort popular since Victorian times.
Port Erin lies in a tranquil bay but, like other holiday destinations on the island, it has a darker past.
With the coming of the Second World War, its hotels became home to a different kind of visitor.
Alice Roberts uncovers their story.
Port Erin is a picturesque seaside town but those coming in 1940
weren't arriving at a holiday resort, they were coming to prison.
In that summer of 1940, a German invasion of Britain was expected daily.
Amid fears of a fifth column of enemy sympathisers,
German, Austrian and Italian immigrants to Britain were rounded up all over the country.
They were brought to the Isle Of Man for internment.
This is a photograph of people being rounded up
from their homes and brought here in 1940.
You just wonder what was going through their minds as they arrived here and faced an uncertain future.
Rosemary Wood's parents were Austrian.
In 1940, she was just 14 and living in London with her mother and sister.
Rosemary, when did you first find out that you were going to be
moved to the Isle of Man and interned here?
When my mother heard it on the radio, the next morning, two policemen
came to the door and said, "You know what we've come for?"
My mother said, "Yes, do you expect me to leave the house
"and the children, and the cat and the dog?"
And they said, "We'll come back in an hour's time if that suits you."
You had an hour to pack everything?
Yes. We went into the police car and then they took us on to board the train for Liverpool.
Walking through the streets was the worst part
because there were angry bystanders shouting, "Hang the lot of them."
Other people threw missiles, but luckily nothing hit us.
My mother said, "Just look down at the floor and don't take any notice."
Sounds like quite a traumatic journey.
You must have been relieved when you got here.
Yes, there was a sense of relief that we'd reached the end of the journey.
Around 15,000 foreign nationals were interned on the island.
Men were housed in camps on Douglas and Ramsey.
Port Erin was designated for women and children.
In the men's camps, hotels and guest houses were requisitioned
with barbed-wire running along the promenades.
In Port Erin, the women and children internees
were allowed to move around freely, albeit under police supervision.
What happened when you arrived in Port Erin?
We were met at the railway station
by several policewomen and they grouped us off
-into batches of about 22 people and marched us up this promenade.
We were told to follow this Sergeant Pike, who was a big burly woman.
When we got to about this point, my mother said to her, "How much further have we got to go?
"We are tired carrying all this luggage."
And she said, "We are going right up to those houses in the distance, you see."
We lingered at the back of this group of 22, and at the next turning on the right here,
my mother said, "We are turning down here."
I was terrified of disobeying this policewoman but she said to stay around here out of sight.
We hovered there for a while and then my mother looked round.
When they were over the hill and out of sight,
she turned round and knocked on the door of the Eagle Hotel.
That was what used to be here?
That's right. They demolished the hotel, the original building.
The landlady, Miss Booth, asked us what we wanted
and my mother said, "We have lost our guide, can you give us accommodation here?"
The Eagle Hotel became Rosemary's home for the next year because her Austrian mother
took the bold decision to ignore their police escort.
On the other side of the island, the men had no such freedom.
Yvonne Cresswell has researched the internment camps' history.
So this is another Isle of Man camp, is it?
That's it. This is the Mooragh camp in Ramsey and it is fairly typical.
You have a section of hotels on the promenade, and just barbed-wire put round them.
Guards sat at all the entrances and exits, as you can see here in Hutchinson camp.
It looks like a concentration camp, doesn't it? With the barbed wire.
That's the terrifying thing when we look at them now.
-Did they have jobs to do while they were here?
Boredom is the biggest threat.
Artists painted, writers wrote, and places like Hutchinson was known as the camp university
because there were so many German and Austrian academics, but several camps also produced their own newspapers.
This is a cartoon of where the Isle of Man is in relation
to the rest of Europe and the three-legged symbol with barbed wire around it.
That's it. It truly was an island of barbed wire at that time.
As the threat of an invasion receded, the public mood changed
and many foreign internees were released.
But Rosemary Wood and her mother were in no hurry to return to London.
They had come to the Isle of Man expecting a prison.
What they'd found was a haven from the war.
I can't believe how lucky we were, looking back.
The sun seemed to shine every day. We had swimming costumes, we were in and out of the water,
sitting on the beach, chatting to the other internees.
The scenery here is so beautiful.
We could walk up to the hill, we could walk to Port St Mary.
We were so lucky because it must have been the cushiest camp in the world.
How do you feel about it now, coming back all these years later
to this place where you were actually kept a prisoner?
We were away from the Blitz, we were safe, we had a roof over our head
and food, not luxurious food but we were housed and fed,
knowing that so many people on the Continent were in far worse circumstances.
We just counted ourselves very lucky.
Release finally came for Rosemary in 1942, and a reluctant return to wartime London.
From Prison Island to Fantasy Island, the latest turn of the tide for the Isle of Man.
The last decade has brought over 80 films and TV dramas here.
What filmmaker could resist stunning scenery and spectacular tax breaks?
Films like Waking Ned in Cregneash, Churchill The Hollywood Years in Castletown,
and Stormbreaker in Port Erin have attracted a galaxy of stars -
Penelope Cruz, Christian Slater, Ewan McGregor, Johnny Depp.
But for every big name, the Isle of Man has many more just waiting to break through.
Hello. My name is Charlie Henry and for a day job,
I am duty manager for the shipping line which runs to the Isle of Man.
But I have a very interesting sideline
in the active film industry within the island,
where I am a film extra and I have now been fortunate to appear in over 40 productions.
This is from the film Keeping Mum, which had Rowan Atkinson.
I was in it as a footballer.
Also in this particular movie is Patrick Swayze.
This is taken from Piccadilly Jim.
The main star was Brenda Blethyn.
She is such an amazing professional and also she is such a nice person.
I had one good night out at one of the nightclubs, and Brenda was giving it as much as everyone else.
She was really enjoying it. This is a shot from the film Colour Me Kubrick.
On that film was Mr John Malkovich.
John swears by a particular fish restaurant on the Isle of Man,
which he actually said was the reason he came back to do Libertine.
Today I'm about to film an advertisement
-and I am going to play a fisherman.
Everybody has the one eye on Hollywood,
but basically I'm very happy here on the island and enjoying what I'm doing.
Hollywood royalty crossing the oceans to the Isle of Man is a recent phenomenon.
But for thousands of years, the island's warm summer waters
have brought some of the biggest stars of the aquatic world.
Miranda Krestovnikoff is stalking that most elusive of celebrities, the basking shark.
Basking sharks can be seen off various parts
of the British coastline, but the locals here
reckon they have the absolute top spot
if you want to catch a glimpse of these marine giants.
As summer warms our coastal waters,
basking sharks move up the coastline from Cornwall to the Isle of Man,
and eventually as far north as the Western Isles of Scotland.
June and July are supposed to be the best months to see them around the island.
I've come to try and swim with one of the most spectacular animals
in British waters, but first I've got to find them.
John Galpin is one of the island's keenest shark spotters.
One of the great features of them
is that you can see an animal which has been on the planet for 200 million years
and you can watch some of the most amazing things like the mating,
the courtship behaviour, perhaps even giving birth,
but you have to put some time into it to see these exciting things.
I'm fortunate because I have got a tolerant wife
and she lets me have huge observational binoculars in the bedroom,
so you see some amazing things at six in the morning.
Sharks, whales, all sorts.
But this is a great vantage point for watching basking sharks.
I tend to do most of my work from the shore.
You then get a much broader panorama and you can see them doing things.
I'm particularly interested in their courtship behaviour.
-Have you seen them courting?
-We get them courting here a lot.
About 150 yards offshore, this pair came together and they came and entwined themselves.
There was a big churning in the water and there they were, mating sharks, 150 metres off the shore here.
What have we got out there? Any fins breaking the surface?
I can't see any fins just at the moment.
John is not the island's only shark fan. There is even a Shark Watch update on local radio.
'You are listening to Manx Radio. Keep those sightings coming this morning,
'The more sightings we get from you, the more information we put towards the Manx Basking Shark Watch.'
Jackie Hall is a marine biologist and founder of the Manx Basking Shark Watch.
Hopefully her inside knowledge will get me an encounter with a shark.
I'm familiar with the Isle of Man as being a real hot spot for basking sharks. What brings them up here?
The Isle of Man is bathed in warm water
that's come up from the Atlantic, carried by the Gulf Stream
and, as the water warms up, we get plankton bloom,
-and the sharks are here to eat that plankton.
Not that marvellous. Because it's not flat, oily calm.
There is something over there.
There's his tail as well. Did you see his tail up, that time?
That's fairly typical, just feeding,
with his mouth wide open, just under the surface.
It never ceases to be exciting, does it?
I've seen lots of basking sharks and you do get excited!
He's doing that typical, zig-zagged feeding pattern.
They find an in the water strandline of plankton
and they just zig-zag feed, backwards and forwards through it.
-How big do you reckon that one is?
-Probably an eight-metre one, but let's wait until we get in closer.
This is my chance.
There's nothing like seeing these sharks up close to take your breath away.
It's only now that their size really hits you.
They're as big as a bus and twice the weight of an elephant.
That huge mouth looks daunting, but they don't bite.
They feed by filtering from the water the minute organisms that make up plankton.
Sticky mucus on their gills traps the food as it flows by -
and they can really move.
A flick of the tail and he's gone.
That was just so brilliant!
In the water, right next to me.
Back on the mainland,
as I journey along the north shore of Morecambe Bay
towards Barrow-in-Furness, I've got the Cumbrian hills for company
and a sense of solitude. But round here that isolation is deceptive.
There are some places you find on the coast, and this is one of them,
that give the impression they have never been touched by the outside world.
But of course that is seldom true.
That little island there - Peel Island - was given to the people of Barrow as a memorial
to all the men who were taken and killed in the Great War of 1914 to 1918.
And it reminds you that, wherever you go, the wider world is really never very far away.
War, or the prospect of war, has been part of daily life for generations on this tranquil coast.
This is where many of Britain's most illustrious warships have been built.
Mark Horton is in Barrow-in-Furness to bring its shipbuilding story up to date.
Messing about in boats is a hobby of mine.
But, here, building them is a way of life.
Ships of all kinds have come down the slipways here.
But Barrow-in-Furness's real pride is in building boats that go under the sea.
The Royal Navy's very first submarine was built in Barrow in 1901.
In the 1960s, they built the Polaris class - Britain's first submarines to carry nuclear missiles.
Followed, in the 1980s, by their replacement, Trident.
But then the order book fell empty.
The shipyard struggled on until, in 1998, came a big new commission.
This is a very restricted area
because in here are being built
some of the world's most advanced submarines.
I think this is the right place.
It's absolutely huge.
As the doors slide open, what hits you is the scale.
This is the Astute class of attack submarine.
There's a lot I can't tell you.
I'm being monitored for reasons of national security.
But what I can tell you is that they're powered by nuclear energy,
but do not carry nuclear weapons.
And they never need to refuel.
Their reactors create enough energy to power a city the size of Southampton.
But what underpins all this is the traditional shipbuilding skill of the Barrow workforce.
What's the guy with the wood there?
Gavin, he is using what we call a set
and that is the actual shape of the bit we want to get.
Something that's been used since...
-It's just Victorian, isn't it?
-Yes, it is.
As the metal sheets are welded together, it begins to take on the shape of a submarine.
It's Gary Davies's job to oversee the assembly shop.
This is the actual hull of the submarine?
This is the aft for boat three.
An amazing piece of steel.
This separates the submariners from the deep, cold icy ocean.
-Yes, that's all there is.
-And how thick is the seal?
It varies from one end to the other.
-But you can't tell me exactly?
-No, I can tell you that, I'm afraid.
-That's right. Top secret.
-How deep can it get?
I can't tell you that either, I'm afraid. That's another secret.
The steel itself is welded in sections, is it?
All the white lines there are all the welds
and all the welds are a full penetration weld,
so what that means is, it's welded from one side to the other,
and once all the weld is complete, we X-ray it,
then the weld is as good, if not better than the steel itself.
And is the steel bog-standard steel that comes off a rolling mill?
The steel itself is only made from special material that is only made and only used on our submarines.
-It is not used anywhere else in the world.
-You can't tell me what it's made of?
That's the shell. What goes inside these giant husks - living quarters,
cabins, control deck, are built as modules outside
and inserted, complete, into the hull of the boat.
Commander Paul Knight has agreed to take me aboard the command deck module of HMS Ambush.
-This is where people will sleep?
-Yes, this is the 18-man...
Bunk space, there we go.
Here's a bunk, here. Can I go in and try it out?
-This is one...
-Hold my hat.
Bearing in mind that you could be in there for three months at a time.
How many months would they stay here?
As long as the food lasts, in excess of 90 days.
-The food is the main restricting...
We make our own water, we carry our food, obviously, we make our own oxygen.
-You have a nuclear reactor to power it all.
So it is simple things like food?
It is. Simple things like food.
Food is what keeps morale up on a submarine when we're away for 90 days.
This goes up to one deck, which is where the control room is.
This is the sort of business end?
Yes, this is where we process all the signals that come in.
-Where's the periscope?
-There are no hull-piercing periscopes.
We don't need them any more?
We have low-light, infrared TV cameras and they are colour TV.
And they can go up, and stabilise a picture in a force-eight sea,
-which is quite fantastic, with a 14-metre wave height.
And how do you steer the ship?
The submarine is steered, if you like, from the ship control console
and, on previous submarines you would have a large wheel.
On this submarine, you do it with this joystick, here.
So there I am, captain...
You wouldn't be there. You would have somebody to do that for you.
So this entire ship, which is what...?
-Is steered by that one little joystick?
The three vessels being constructed here will carry torpedos
and cruise missiles, enabling them to attack both land and sea targets.
But do these attack submarines justify the project's £3.5 billion budget?
In the modern world in which we find ourselves,
with conflicts like Iraq and so forth on the agenda, how useful are they?
Very useful because they have huge flexibility in their roles.
They are attack submarines. They also do a surveillance task as well.
Of course, you never quite know where a submarine is.
Absolutely. It can remain undetected under water for months at a time.
In the Falkland Islands,
the very threat that one of our submarines was down there kept the Argentinian Task Group away.
When these amazing boats are handed over to the Royal Navy in 2008,
the shipyard's job will be done and another chapter
in Barrow's century-old submarine story will be complete.
There are many ways to travel along the coast -
boats, buses, microlights, and along here, you can take the train,
but if you want to stop here at Seascale, you have to hold your hand up.
That's what they told me.
I'm on the last leg of my journey, but there's one more tale to tell.
It concerns a small town on the north-west corner of England - Whitehaven -
and the birth of the American Navy.
Every year a delegation from the US Navy visits the town of Whitehaven.
These American sailors come to honour a Scot - a man from my home patch, Dumfriesshire.
His name, John Paul Jones.
Two centuries ago, he brought the American War of Independence to Whitehaven.
Welcome to Whitehaven.
Thank you very much. Appreciate the warm welcome.
John Paul Jones is a hero of mythical proportions to the people of the United States
and, even to this day, the value system of the Navy
is based on what he advocated - honour, courage and commitment.
John Paul Jones, as far as the UK is concerned, he's a historical nobody.
He's a rogue, he's a traitor.
So, what's the truth?
In November 1777, with the War of Independence in its second year,
emigre Scot John Paul Jones set sail from Portsmouth, New Hampshire with an outrageous plan -
to attack the British Empire on its home ground.
His objective was the town of Whitehaven, then an important trading port.
It was a place he knew well, serving his sailing apprenticeship there before leaving for the colonies.
In the early hours of April 23rd, 1778, John Paul Jones was back.
With his ship anchored off the coast, the plan was to row into the harbour and wreak havoc in the town.
The group split into two teams. The first, led by John Paul Jones,
headed south to disable the town's armoury of cannons.
The second headed north.
Their mission, to set fire to the town's entire fleet of boats.
With daybreak, the town of Whitehaven awoke to find it had been invaded by the American Navy.
And, ever since, arguments have raged about what actually happened that night or 200 years ago.
Local historian Gerard Richardson has his version.
Jones took his boat down to the south end of the harbour,
-probably landed on the beach.
-On that beach that we see now?
And then he took his crew and physically climbed
into the fort itself, to spike the cannons, to prevent anybody firing.
The second vessel came along into the harbour itself.
Legend has it they came up the harbour steps which are just below us.
The intention of those guys was to actually set fire to all the colliers that were in harbour.
Talk about sitting ducks.
A much busier harbour full of coal ships.
There was a full trading fleet moored in Whitehaven that night -
wooden sailing ships laden with coal.
The entire harbour was a tinderbox and John Paul Jones's men had the matches.
It would take only one good spark for the fire to take hold, creating an inferno.
In the words of Jones himself,
"Not a single ship of more than 200 could have escaped,
"and the whole world would not have been able to save the town."
But none of this actually happened.
And why not depends on your point of view.
I have an account here, the Lloyd's Evening Post,
and it says that John Paul Jones's men proceeded to Nick Allison's,
a public house on the old quay, and they made very free with the liquor.
Nicholas Allison's is below us, this old cottage-looking building.
Doesn't sound like the behaviour of men intent on invasion.
-No, it doesn't.
-Of course, the Americans see it differently.
The raid on Whitehaven was not a tactical victory,
in large part because of the Cumbrian weather.
A torrential rain, which is not all that unusual here, doused their matches,
put out their fires, you could not have lit a cigarette.
John Paul Jones.
The strategic value of the raid on Whitehaven was that it moved 40 ships of the Royal Navy away
from the eastern seaboard of the United States to the home waters,
to counter the fear and anxiety that rebels were right over the horizon.
That raid was a spectacular failure, an international drunken shambles.
It achieved absolutely nothing.
History is what defines us, both individually and as nation states.
It helps us to understand why we are here and what we are about.
So let it be known to all men that all grievances
in connection with this daring raid on this port have been dropped against John Paul Jones
and his men and we do welcome, for all time, the Navy of the United States, together with their citizens.
In terms of the UK, John Paul Jones's largely unknown
and yet, in Whitehaven, we have taken him completely to heart.
He is a rogue, a lovable rogue, he is our rogue.
And he single-handedly launched an entire tourist attraction.
Thank you, John Paul!
It looks like whoever writes history owns it.
And what is written on one side of the ocean may be very different on the other.
The North West coast lies right at the heart of the British Isles.
But strangely, the flavour here is truly international.
World events have reached here but at the same time,
innovations on this coast have impacted on every corner of the globe.
Early aviation on the beaches at Southport, the melting pots of the internment camps on the Isle of Man,
the continental sophistication of Morecambe's Midland Hotel.
You can say a lot about this stretch but one thing it's not is provincial.
Neil Oliver presents this series exploring the English coastline. This edition looks at the area of coast from Southport to Whitehaven, in the north of England. Far more than the playground of the industrial north, this stretch of coast has seen developments and innovations that have impacted on every part of the globe. The team explore its many facets and also find time to visit the nearby Isle of Man. With Alice Roberts, Miranda Krestovnikoff, Mark Horton, and Hermione Cockburn.