Berwick-upon-Tweed to Aberdeen Coast


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Berwick-upon-Tweed to Aberdeen

The experts travel along Scotland's east coast, visiting a marine reserve off St Abbs and reporting on the state of the Forth Road Bridge.


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This time, we're on our way up the east coast

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from Berwick to Aberdeen, via Edinburgh.

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Our journey actually starts in England, where the River Tweed flows through Berwick into the North Sea.

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In the 13th century this was a thriving east coast port.

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Back then England and Scotland fought endlessly over Berwick.

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You'd think that people here would be obsessed with war against the Scots.

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MUSIC: "1812 Overture" by Tchaikovsky

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# Oh, I do like to be beside the seaside... #

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But in fact, the war that everyone talks about nowadays is the one between Berwick...and Russia?!

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Now, I've dug into some unlikely historical goings-on

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from time to time,

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but a war between Berwick and Russia? I don't remember that.

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What's that all about?

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It all goes back to a piece of paper five centuries old.

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I just happen to have here a copy of The Treaty of Perpetual Peace,

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signed over 500 years ago in 1502.

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It was a road map for peace between Scotland and England.

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The ambitiously named Treaty of Perpetual Peace was doomed to fail

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if the bitter arguments about Berwick couldn't be settled.

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Both England and Scotland wanted Berwick...

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so to end the squabbling, neither got it.

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Berwick was made semi-independent, as if it were a separate state in its own right.

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But how did Berwick's special status lead to war with the mighty Russian empire?

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Fresh from the Russian weekend celebrations is Master of Ceremonies Chris Green.

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I'm hoping he can help me figure it all out.

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So what's the score, Chris?

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What is it that the people of Berwick have against the Russians?

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The story is we're still fighting the Crimean War.

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The story goes that when Britain declared war

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against Russia in 1854, Berwick was included in the declaration of war,

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but when it came to the peace in 1856, Berwick was missed off

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and so theoretically Berwick is still fighting the Russians.

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And because Berwick has this bizarre

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semi-independent status from the Treaty of Perpetual Peace,

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it means that having declared war it would have to declare its own peace.

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That's absolutely so, yes.

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Now that sounds like the basis for a fantastic pub quiz question, but is it true?

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Well, I have to say, it is a complete myth.

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It was all sorted out in 1747 and every mention of England after that also includes Berwick-upon-Tweed.

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That was long before we went to war with Russia in 1854.

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But you've done well to keep the myth going as long as you have.

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Yes, and we'd just like to keep it that way, if you don't mind.

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-Never let the facts get in the way of a good story.

-Absolutely.

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We've reached the outskirts of Scotland's capital city.

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Edinburgh Castle stands proud of canyon-like grey streets,

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and, towering above it all, a volcanic plug of rock, Arthur's Seat.

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It's up here that you see Edinburgh for what it really is -

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a coastal city, with the docks that helped build it

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only a stone's throw from the city centre.

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The industrial heart of the city is here,

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less than two miles from the Castle, in Edinburgh's twin town of Leith.

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MUSIC: "Lust for Life" by Iggy Pop

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This corner of the city has been known as a blackspot of drugs and deprivation.

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Right now, it's having a bit of a makeover.

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Expensive flats have sprung up beside the Royal Yacht Britannia.

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But Edinburgh once relied on the commerce of these docklands,

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and they helped change the history of the entire British Isles.

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The birth of Edinburgh as Scotland's capital city largely depended on

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the trade flowing through this port, and funnily enough the birth of

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the United Kingdom of Great Britain,

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the Act of Union between Scotland and England, also owed a lot to Leith.

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Back when Scotland was a nation independent of England and Wales,

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it envied the power and wealth of its neighbours.

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To become a great European nation, Scotland needed its own colonies.

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It's July 1698, and those five ships down there are setting sail from Leith to Panama.

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The plan is to establish Scotland's first colony.

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Over 300 years ago, the mission to South America was to be the start of the Scottish Empire.

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For four months, they sailed a 6,000-mile route

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across the Atlantic and Caribbean to the narrow Panama land bridge.

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The colony promised a huge reward.

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If Scotland could control this short cut to the Pacific, they'd outwit the English, Spanish and Dutch traders.

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Unfortunately, the Scots were disastrously ill-prepared for the tropical rainforest.

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The seeds of their failure had been sown back in Leith.

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Here's a list of the things the would-be colonists packed on to their ships.

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Neck ties, bonnets, thousands of wigs, woollen blankets...

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Wigs and woollen blankets for the tropics?

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Just one of the countless mistakes made on this ill-fated adventure.

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Finally, word came back of the expedition.

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And the word was...disaster!

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Two years after the ships had set sail from Leith,

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2,000 colonists were dead, their colony abandoned.

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Investors lost nearly everything.

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The failed expedition virtually bankrupted Scotland.

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A financial disaster of such proportions

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that it signalled the end of Scotland as an independent country.

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The English Parliament offered to write off the vast debts.

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An inducement for the Scottish elite to help clinch the greatest deal of

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them all - the union of Scotland and England as one nation.

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Despite widespread protests from ordinary people in Scotland,

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in 1707 the parliaments of England and Scotland were united

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and the United Kingdom of Great Britain was born.

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So a handful of ships leaving this coast for foreign shores

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actually ended up transforming the life of our own isles.

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Big industry's left its mark all along this shoreline.

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Hermione Cockburn explores the centuries-old love affair this coast has had with fossil fuels.

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This is a strange alien landscape,

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dominated by these really odd vast grey lagoons.

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And this stuff...

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..it's very like volcanic ash.

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It's light and crumbly.

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But there aren't any active volcanoes near here.

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This is ash from burning coal - millions of tons of it -

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built up layer upon layer, creating an entire artificial peninsula.

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This peninsula is made of ash from the gigantic Longannet coal-fired power station.

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Over the years, it's coal from this area that fed its furnaces.

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Unlikely though it seems, the power station -

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and the very birth of our coal mining industry -

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is strongly connected to this picturesque little town nearby -

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Culross.

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The whitewashed houses, with their distinctive red roof pantiles,

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give Culross a unique style.

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The transformation started 400 years ago, thanks to fossil fuel.

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The man behind it all was Sir George Bruce.

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He was an extraordinary entrepreneur and he made a lot of money.

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And this was his house.

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Elizabethan businessman Sir George Bruce had his finger in many different pies.

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But what really made his fortune was right on his own shore - coal.

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We don't think of there being a coal industry in the Elizabethan era.

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So how did Sir George Bruce come to pioneer coal mining 400 years ago?

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Local archaeologist Douglas Speirs knows the story.

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Doug, what prompted Sir George Bruce to get involved with coal?

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Well, if we think back to the context of his times, the late 16th century,

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there was one big problem on everybody's mind

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-and that was the fuel crisis.

-So hang on a moment...

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an energy crisis is something I think of as a modern-day issue!

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Not something that affected people 400 years ago!

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Absolutely. That's very true.

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Essentially it was wood that powered the country.

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Everything from domestic fires and so on to the fires of industry depended upon wood.

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Quite simply, by the late 16th century, we'd almost completely exhausted our supplies of wood.

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And if there was no wood left, then what was the nation to do for its fuel?

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With most of the forests chopped down, people 400 years ago needed an energy revolution.

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Until Sir George Bruce came along, coal mining was in its infancy.

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Bruce's great leap forward was to follow coal seams deep underground by tunnelling along them.

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But when he began digging at Culross,

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he had no idea that the seam would lead him underwater!

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He tunnelled beneath the sea bed - two centuries before the Industrial Revolution!

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But what's even more incredible is what Bruce did once he'd tunnelled a third of a mile out.

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Below us, in fact, if I take this ranging staff here...

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just about two metres below us, you can feel that's solid stone.

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That's the top of a mineshaft.

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This was a second access point for a mine, which entered the ground just below the castle behind us,

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-dived down following a seam of coal reaching to this extent almost 240 feet below us.

-Sounds incredible.

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So he had a tunnel extending from a mineshaft on land,

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tunnelling under the water, and then he sank a vertical shaft 240 feet?

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That's exactly what he did here.

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The offshore vertical shaft was a radical innovation.

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It meant Bruce's coal miners could breathe fresh air.

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What would have been here, what would it have been like 400 years ago?

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If you imagine something of the nature almost of a chimney,

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a gigantic great chimney, 50 feet in diameter,

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coming out of the water here and going up perhaps 30 or more feet.

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Straight up above us, this towering great chimney

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with the coal coming directly up onto the platform.

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Ships could come alongside, just as we are floating here in this boat,

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and they could load the coal directly,

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and sail off and take it off to the market places.

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So it was really a bit like an offshore oil platform?

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This is one of the greatest technological achievements of late-medieval Europe.

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And that the project was even contemplated, let alone put into practice, is just mind-boggling.

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The ships that took Culross's coal to the continent brought back

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red roof pantiles from Holland as ballast for the journey home.

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So Culross's unique look comes from its coal trade.

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Thanks to Bruce's industry, for a while Culross was larger and wealthier than Glasgow.

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And his coal technology helped launch the fuel that would dominate Britain for centuries.

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A few miles along the estuary is Rosyth dockyard.

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This is where nuclear submarines are held as they wait to be decommissioned.

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During the two world wars, it was one of Britain's key naval bases, and a tempting target for attack.

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The small islands guarding the inner Firth of Forth

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were a first line of defence.

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A major threat was German submarines, U-boats, gliding unseen up the Firth.

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The battle to detect and deter German U-boats

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led to some extraordinary innovations on this coast.

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Take a closer look at that island over there.

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From one angle, Inchmickery island looks harmless enough.

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But 60 years ago, a U-boat attacking at twilight

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might have confused the island's profile

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for a battleship, and turned tail.

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Local legend says the island's fortifications

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were deliberately built like a battleship's superstructure to scare away the enemy.

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But when it came to schemes for foiling the U-boats, truth is stranger than legend.

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The First World War gave rise to some bizarre plans for detecting German U-boats.

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But perhaps the most outlandish began development here in Scotland - not by the Royal Navy,

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but by a member of the public. And now, 90 years on, we're going to give it another go.

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With some help from model-maker John Riddell and history buff Diana Maxwell,

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we're going to re-create the 90-year-old scientific trials of one Thomas Mills,

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inventor, and would-be scourge of the early U-boats.

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Now, I've got the secret ingredient for hunting submarines.

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I see you've got the model.

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No wonder they're so hard to find if that's all the size they are!

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How much of a problem were the U-boats?

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Well, it was an absolutely enormous threat in the First World War,

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because they were locating and sinking

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one out of four of the merchant fleet

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that were supplying Britain with food, and it could have been that Britain would have starved.

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At the height of the First World War,

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German U-boats were inflicting

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terrible losses on our merchant shipping.

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With no method of detecting the subs, they seemed unstoppable.

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Food imports dwindled.

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The U-boats' stranglehold threatened to cost Britain the war.

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The Government were so desperate, they invited suggestions

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from the public on how to spot and sink the U-boats.

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Millionaire businessman Thomas Mills threw his hat, and his money, into the ring.

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For the first part of his ingenious plan, he set about towing model U-boats around the coast.

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The wartime technique for detecting U-boats was fantastically simple.

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It really was amazing.

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Our version of the experiment relies on a rather special secret ingredient...

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..the humble sardine.

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The experiment begins by stuffing the sardines into our model U-boat.

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Eugh, just bits of it going everywhere!

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Yeah, war's a filthy business, Diana!

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The idea is that if you were to trail a model like this full of bait up and down the coast often enough,

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the gulls in the area would come to associate the sight of a periscope

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with the chance of food.

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U-boats were hard to detect, because only their periscopes showed above water.

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With his model U-boats, Mills hoped, over many runs,

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to teach gulls that the sight of a periscope meant the promise of food.

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So, gulls would see a periscope, think it's time for lunch,

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and flock around it - just like they do with fishing boats -

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and, hey presto, they'd give away the U-boat's position.

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For his scheme to work, you need gulls.

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We're waiting for them to start flocking around our model stuffed with sardines.

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But we've hit a rather serious snag - no birds!

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MUSIC: "Air on the G String" by JS Bach, from Hamlet commercials

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I'm beginning to get a sense of why the Ministry of Defence didn't take this one particularly seriously...

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Just how blatant an invitation do these critters need?

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There's not a gull for a hundred miles.

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Well...not entirely true.

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There's one.

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There's more where that came from, you miserable little swine! Tell your friends.

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It seems all we've established is that gulls don't like blustery winter weather -

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a fundamental flaw if you're trying to train them to spot periscopes.

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Right, Diana - plan B.

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-We'll have to attract them. Throw in everything you've got.

-Fish-wise?

-Yeah.

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Look, there's a SEAL on the case.

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DIANA LAUGHS

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The whole thing could take a different turn.

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I think we'd have to concede, Diana, that that experiment returned a negative result.

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Good fun, anyway!

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As for the inventor, Thomas Mills, he was refused Navy support for his experiments,

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but went on believing that his gulls method would defeat the U-boat.

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His conviction might seem a little ridiculous now, but it's a sign of just how desperate Britain was.

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As Mills was teaching gulls to look for U-boats, sailors were being taught to LISTEN for them.

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At the Naval Research base in nearby Aberdour, underwater microphones were developed during the First World War.

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Thousands of operators were trained to recognise the engine noise

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of approaching U-boats - technology that paved the way for sonar.

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In the end, it was safety in numbers that protected our shipping from the U-boats.

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Travelling in convoys meant that ships

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could be more easily defended by armed escorts...

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gulls or no gulls.

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The Firth of Tay marks our turning point around the corner of Fife.

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The Tay's the mightiest river in Britain,

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spewing as much water into the sea as the Thames and Severn put together.

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Building bridges across this formidable barrier was a huge challenge to 19th-century engineers.

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The train line crosses over a bridge with a sturdy Victorian feel.

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But look closely beside the base of the pillars, and you'll see a line of curious brick platforms...

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..evidence there was once another bridge...

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..a state-of-the-art engineering marvel, once the world's longest railway bridge.

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But on the night of December 28th, 1879, it collapsed as a train was crossing.

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75 people died. There were no survivors.

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Shoddy construction, poor maintenance and bad ironwork

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have been blamed for the Tay Bridge disaster,

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which still ranks as one of Britain's worst rail tragedies.

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Nearly 130 years later,

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the brick foundations of the old pillars remain as an eerie memorial.

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The fishing town of Arbroath gives its name to a famous hot-smoked haddock, the Arbroath smokie.

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But it's actually in Auchmithie,

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a little village nearby, that smokies were invented.

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Champagne, Gorgonzola, and the Arbroath smokie -

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all in the premier league of delicacies.

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The Arbroath smokie joined the elite club

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when it won the sought-after Protected Geographical Indication

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under European law.

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The EU says, if it ain't made within five miles of Arbroath,

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it ain't a genuine smokie.

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The man who fought for the European law and won is Robert Spink.

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His son Iain smokes smokies the way that makes them worthy of the name.

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Right then, what stage are we at?

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The fire's lit now.

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We're ready to go to put the fish on... OK?

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The traditional method uses a combination of hardwood smoke and dense steam

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to cook the haddock for just the right length of time.

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Why did you go the lengths of getting the might of European law behind the smokie?

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I discovered that Arbroath smokies were being made all over the place,

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out as far... From Cornwall as far north as Aberdeen, you know.

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If people's first experience of the smokie

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is what they've found in a supermarket in Manchester - a poor imitation -

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they'll say, "If that's a smokie, you can keep it." I said, I'm going to do something about that.

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-You really care about this, don't you?

-I'm passionate about it.

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It's something I've been involved in all my life.

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I see the smokie as going far beyond just a fish product -

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it's something which is important to the area and gives identity to the area.

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Identity is very important to any area -

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if I buy a Melton Mowbray pork pie,

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I want it to have been made in Melton Mowbray.

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I know what it tastes like, and it's lovely -

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and that's how I want people to think of a smokie, in the same way.

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Is that us, then?

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-That's them ready. Looking good.

-That's been about 40 minutes?

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Yep, more or less 40 minutes cooking there. Would you care to try one?

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-If your hands are flameproof!

-Absolutely.

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-Once they're hot like this, they're quite easy to bone.

-Look at that!

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-Look at the white flesh!

-Absolutely.

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That's how you know a good fresh smokie. It's pure white inside.

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I've had smokies before, but that is a particularly good example.

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They're quite different fresh from the fire.

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To me, that's as good as fish gets.

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Mile after mile of coastal cliffs.

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We're on the home straight, the northeast edge of Scotland.

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The dramatic rock formation at Dunnottar was adapted to build a mighty castle.

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A fort is thought to have existed here for well over a thousand years.

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After this vast stretch of wild coastline, we've arrived at a great coastal city - Aberdeen.

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The sheer number of ships coming and going make this one of the busiest ports in Britain.

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Day and night, these ships service oil and gas installations

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hundreds of miles out in the North Sea.

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Not every bit of the coast is picture-postcard pretty.

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Some of it's been put to hard work - and nowhere more so than here at Aberdeen.

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But this is another part of the story, and it's vital to the nation.

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The UK's North Sea oil and gas industry generates around £10 billion a year in tax revenues.

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Oil has transformed Aberdeen from fishing port to the Dallas of the North.

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It might not look like it now, but North Sea oil production is in decline.

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In 50 years' time, all of this might look very different.

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Who knows? Maybe Aberdeen will go the same way as Berwick-upon-Tweed, where I started this journey -

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a port once vital to the economies of Scotland and England,

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now trading on tourism.

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Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd

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E-mail [email protected]

0:28:050:28:07

The team travel from Berwick-upon-Tweed to Aberdeen, highlighting Edinburgh's close connection with the coast.

Miranda Krestovnikoff dives into a spectacular marine reserve off St Abbs, Alice Roberts discovers how the Forth Road Bridge is threatened by rust, and Neil Oliver recreates a desperate wartime scheme to train seagulls to search for German U-boats. Mark Horton discovers the secrets of the sailing boats that could outpace steam, and Hermione Cockburn explores the extraordinary 400-year-old connection between a picturesque coastal village and the birth of deep coal mining in Britain.