King's Lynn to Felixstowe Coast


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King's Lynn to Felixstowe

The Coast team journey around the breathtaking shoreline of East Anglia, where Neil Oliver explores the abandoned site of an experimental radar.


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Down there is the mouth of the Ouse,

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and spread out all around me are the dramatic sandy beaches,

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mudflats and salt marshes of East Anglia, the most eastern edge of the country.

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It's a coast where land and sea merge.

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This is a mysterious landscape that doesn't easily yield its secrets.

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Helping me to unearth them is our usual team of experts.

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Nick Crane is coming back to his home county to explore the biggest threat to this part of the coast.

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Hermione Cockburn uncovers the forgotten history of the people

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who intercepted enemy radio messages during the Second World War.

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Mark Horton's going to the most easterly point of Britain

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to discover the history, and the future, of the great British pier.

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And me? I'm investigating a top secret site of Cold War espionage.

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Welcome to Coast.

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On this journey, I'm tracing the coast of East Anglia.

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The 130-mile journey will take me from King's Lynn

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along the most easterly edge of Britain, to Felixstowe.

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Norfolk and Suffolk are often regarded as remote, even isolated.

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On this journey I'm going to explore how being away from prying eyes

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has affected every single aspect of life on this coast.

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My adventure starts here, in the ancient port of King's Lynn.

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Today, King's Lynn may not seem like a vibrant metropolis.

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It may not even seem that coastal.

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But for over 600 years it was both.

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In the time before we, as a nation, were in thrall to the New World in America, in the west,

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the fascination lay with Europe in the east,

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and King's Lynn became the port connecting Britain to the known world,

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and bringing the best of Europe to us.

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Unlike today, 800 years ago King's Lynn sat on a wide estuary,

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with easy access to the bustling trade routes out in the North Sea.

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It's hard to imagine, but from the 12th century,

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Lynn was one of the most important international ports in the country.

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These figures give an indication of the kind of money we're talking about.

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Between July 1322 and October 1323,

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over £6,000 worth of goods passed through the port.

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That may not sound like much, but 800 years ago

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those figures meant that King's Lynn ranked as Britain's third port.

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And such was its status that, along with only seven other ports in the country,

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the most significant international trade organisation of the day,

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the Hanseatic League, began operating from here.

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Like a medieval precursor to the EU, the Hanseatic League

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linked traders in the major Baltic cities of Europe,

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and stretched as far east as Novgorod in Russia.

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Offering protection from piracy and negotiations on trade agreements,

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being part of the league was big-time.

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In the 15th century, this lane would have been thronging

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with traders selling everything from timber to fish.

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For over 800 years, King's Lynn played host to traders from all over Europe,

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and today there are still echoes of that illustrious past.

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It's just that sometimes you have to look pretty hard to find them.

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But it's not only King's Lynn where things aren't quite what they seem.

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The intricate patterns of salt marsh and the stretches of sandy beach look peaceful today,

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yet they hide a history of flooding.

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One terrible night in 1953, a catastrophic flood

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devastated communities all along the east coast,

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from as far north as the Humber Estuary all the way to Deal in Kent.

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More than 300 people lost their lives.

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In Old Hunstanton, Nick Crane is investigating

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what causes this benign-looking coast to turn nasty.

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In September 2006, television news reported that catastrophic floods

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like those in 1953 were threatening to hit north Norfolk again.

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-NEWSREADER:

-Parts of the Norfolk coast are at particularly high risk of flooding,

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according to the Environment Agency.

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50 flood sirens across Norfolk were tested this morning.

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Volunteer flood wardens, like Dave Bocking,

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were mobilised on the days between the 6th and the 13th of September.

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Residents waited anxiously.

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With the same high tides predicted as those in 1953,

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disaster seemed a very real possibility.

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This is a first trial of the high tide warnings.

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It looks as though we're going to get away with it.

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But, as everybody knows, the seas can change very quickly.

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This is Monday, and the tide is now full in again.

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And it is completely unbelievable

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that we've got a tide of this size, and it's so calm.

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To investigate why this coast didn't suffer the catastrophic floods that many had predicted,

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tidal expert Philip Woodworth has brought some high-tech equipment from his lab.

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-Nice to meet you.

-Nice to meet you.

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Why was coastal Norfolk on high alert?

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It was on a high alert because there was a predicted high tide

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from the moon and the sun.

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But what people were really worried about

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was the bit that comes on top.

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That's due to the weather, and that's the bit which cannot be predicted a long time in advance.

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Philip's promised me that a bucket, a hosepipe and some water

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are enough to show the dramatic effect of weather on sea level.

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-That's probably enough.

-Right.

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-So if you can put your foot on the tube there, Nick.

-OK.

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And we'll invent the manometer, or water barometer.

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-So you're tipping in North Sea.

-I'm tipping in part of the North Sea.

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-It's rising up the other side.

-That's probably enough.

-OK, there it is.

-Excellent.

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-So the water's at the same height in both sides of the tube.

-That's right.

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-Suck at this end of the tube.

-What will that be representing, by sucking into that?

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That will reduce the pressure in this part of the tube.

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And if you can put your thumb over the end when you feel ready.

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OK, excellent. We have here a difference in the water level here,

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in this part of the tube down to here, of a good 50 centimetres.

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Now this corresponds almost exactly to 50 millibars.

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A millibar is the unit of air pressure.

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-So it's one centimetre per millibar.

-It's an accident of units, almost. An easy thing to remember.

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Now the same effect will happen in the ocean.

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And as the air pressure drops, as it does during storms in the winter,

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the air pressure alone will cause the sea level to rise.

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Or conversely, as the air pressure gets higher,

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that will lower the sea level because it pushes it somewhere else.

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And that's exactly what happened to prevent the predicted floods of 2006.

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The weather was good, atmospheric pressure was comparatively high,

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pushing the sea level down,

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counteracting the effects of the very high tide.

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In January 1953, the opposite was true.

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A higher than usual tide coincided with low air pressure

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due to a deep depression out in the North Sea.

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It was the resulting sea level rise,

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combined with storm-force onshore winds, which caused the flooding disaster.

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Dave Bocking was 18 years old when the flood hit his village, Snettisham.

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It's an awesome feeling, to be involved in it.

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Not a good feeling, don't get me wrong.

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It's terrifying, very very terrifying.

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And I think that's one of the terrifyingest things

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you could ever come across, because the sea has no friends.

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You know, it will take whatever's in its path.

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A lot of my best friends all got drowned.

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29 people got drowned down here.

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This was why I became a flood warden, because I had seen it before.

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I come down sometimes,

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and sit and cry.

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I've done that many a time.

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For the time being, the flood warning sirens stay silent.

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But meteorologists predict that a high tide and a low-pressure weather system

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coincide at least once every 250 years.

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It's clear that this land is borrowed from the sea.

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One day soon, she may be back to claim it.

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Along most of the coastline of Britain, the break between the land and the sea is really stark.

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Steep cliffs and crashing waves, that kind of thing.

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But here in Norfolk, it's completely different.

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The line between the land and sea is changing all the time.

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Every time you turn around here, it's moved and crept up behind you.

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Sometimes it feels hard to say where the one ends and the other begins.

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And that's what lends this part of Norfolk its unique character.

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The villages, like here at Wells-next-the-Sea,

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are often set a long way back, with inlet harbours their only link to the coast.

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Because of the fast-moving tide,

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much of this stretch is dangerous to investigate on foot.

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But, from the next harbour along,

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countless boat trips take visitors out to explore the landscape and wildlife round here.

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Amongst the tourists is Tim Collins from English Nature.

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This is one of the most fantastic places in the whole country

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for wildlife. It's got a rich mosaic of habitats.

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Although there's a lot of yachts and boats, the coast here is actually

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not tamed by man in the same way we see in a lot of other places.

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This is what's called a barrier coast.

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There's a long line of sandy islands with salt marshes behind them,

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and it's that juxtaposition,

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the different types of habitat, that have brought the wildlife in.

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-So far the wildlife and the visitors are co-existing?

-Absolutely.

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Seals are naturally curious. They like seeing people.

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They stick their heads up and have a look!

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And it's the promise of seeing seals that draws many of the visitors here.

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Wow, look! There's hundreds of them.

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I thought they'd all just go in the water as soon as we turned up. But they're not bothered.

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Not bothered in the slightest.

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The colony that lives and breeds here numbers around 500.

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Unusually, it's made up of both common and the larger grey seals.

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It's rare to find them living in the same place, so seeing them together is a treat.

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From the nature reserve here, my journey continues east.

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The sandbanks give way to shingle and miles more salt marsh...

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..and at Sherringham, even some small cliffs.

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The elevated position of Beeston Hump makes it a dominant feature of the landscape.

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But during the Second World War this vantage point had a very practical purpose.

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Hermione Cockburn is uncovering the story of a group of forgotten war heroes.

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It is hard to imagine today that on this hill overlooking the sea

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there was a top-secret military listening post

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that was vital to our success in the Second World War.

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During the war, the waters off this coast were patrolled by Nazi ships

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and the position of Sheringham made it an ideal spot to spy on them.

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That spying was done using radio listening posts known as Y stations.

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Today, there's almost no physical evidence of what was here,

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but with the help of experts from the Open University,

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and military communication specialist Malcolm Howard,

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I'm going to discover what it must have been like up here during the war.

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It would have looked like that.

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A wooden tower, 12 feet across at the base and about 30 feet high.

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The concrete base it was fixed to was exactly the same as over there.

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That octagonal shape?

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Yes, exactly the same.

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This is an ideal place for it to be,

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because these listening towers needed height to get the distance.

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Knowing what it looked like is one thing, but I want to understand how it worked too.

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While Fraser Robertson and Peter Seabrook from the Open University

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set up their modern day Y station antenna,

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I want to talk to someone who actually worked at Beeston Hump during the war.

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Not far from Sherringham lives former Y station operator, Joy Hale.

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So Joy, tell me what did you do in the war?

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Oh, that's a long story.

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You all know, of course, about Bletchley Park

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and how they broke the Enigma code

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so that they could read all the German secret signals,

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but they never said where they got the secret signals from, did they?

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That was what we did.

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It was our job to intercept the Germans' radio signals,

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write these signals down and get them to the right place for action.

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So you were literally listening in to what the Germans were doing?

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-Day and night.

-What were you listening for?

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What did you actually hear?

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-Morse.

-Right, so it wasn't language?

-Oh yes, language as well.

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With the E-boats, the fast motor boats that the Germans sent over, didn't use the codes,

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so when they operated, they used as a call sign

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the Christian name of the commanding officer.

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So you'd get "Friedrich, this is Gunther."

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"Gunther, this is Wolfgang," you see.

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From that you knew who they were and how many there were.

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You also had to listen to what they were saying and find out what they were doing, you see.

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If they talked about torpedoes and things,

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you knew they were waiting for the convoy to come and set about them.

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If they talked about mines then there was obviously no convoy around

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and they were gonna plant the mines down on the convoy route

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so they bumped into them next time round.

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So it was very important that we should get it right.

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Joy and others like her supplied vital information to military command

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and the code breakers at Bletchley Park.

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But Y stations were about more than just intercepting messages.

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They could also pinpoint the location from where they were sent.

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Back on Beeston Hump, Open University scientists Fraser and Peter

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have finished constructing their modern day H aerial.

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They're going to show me how, in addition to listening in to an enemy broadcast,

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you can find out where it's coming from.

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What the H aerial does is combine two aerials,

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and the signals from the two aerials are phased together

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such they add in one direction and subtract in the other direction.

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In fact I've got a plot of the aerial here.

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The plot of the aerial's performance

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shows that there are two definite points, known as nulls,

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where its reception is weakest.

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These are the best points to use for direction-finding,

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because you adjust the aerial for the minimum signal rather than the maximum signal.

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To demonstrate the operation of the direction-finding aerial, Fraser and Peter

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are going to listen for the signal from a radio transmitter.

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Right, we're all set up here.

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Our transmitter is broadcasting a simple tone.

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Turn the aerial, please, and I'll look for the null on the receiver.

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By turning the H aerial away from the direction of the transmitter,

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the reception gets weaker.

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OK, just come back a bit.

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The received signal is weakest at the null point, where the aerial is

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pointing at right angles to where the transmission is coming from.

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Right, that's about there.

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I make that bearing one-zero-five.

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One-zero-five, OK. So, if I get that on the compass, then line up the grid. There we are.

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-Some we know that the signal is coming from somewhere along this line in that direction.

-That's right.

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But how do you know where?

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To triangulate, what in fact we do, we have another DF station.

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-So that's another Y station?

-Another one, that gives us another

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bearing on the same transmission and where they cross, that indicates the position of the transmitter.

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So, to get an exact fix, you need at least two direction-finding stations.

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On this stretch of coast alone, there were nine Y stations

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relaying bearings to a team in regional headquarters.

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-This is the Triangulation Table.

-So that's the equivalent of our map, essentially?

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Yes, we have five plotters. Each one has a string connecting

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to the various directional finding stations, all pulling the strings out on the bearings given,

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and where they all cross,

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it fixes the position of the hostile aircraft or boat out at sea.

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During the Second World War,

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nearly 8,000 men and women worked in Y stations,

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both in the UK and around the world.

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Their work provided vital information about the location of the enemy

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and the raw material for the code breakers at Bletchley Park.

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After the war, in the interests of national security, the Y stations

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were deliberately dismantled, leaving little evidence that they'd ever existed.

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Today, Bletchley Park keeps a list of where former Y stations were,

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but they're not sure it's complete.

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So what's needed is for more people to come forward and tell their stories

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so these forgotten bits of history can be remembered.

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Cromer is believed to have had the first pier in the country, built in 1391.

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This one, dating from 1901, is home to another great coastal tradition,

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the crabbing competition.

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My name's Tony Shipp and I'm chairman of the Cromer Carnival Committee.

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I've been running the crab competition now for 35 years.

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OVER MEGAPHONE: It's carnival week, we've got cash prizes this morning. So, well worth going for.

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First prize will be £10 and the second £5.

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So we'll make a start with the competition.

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HOOTER SOUNDS

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The first two groups are for handlines only.

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Class 3 is for anyone fishing with a net.

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The exciting bit is seeing children who come down for the first time actually pull a crab out of the sea,

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something that's living that they've probably never seen before.

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Where's the fish bait?

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They're put in a bucket of sea water.

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When the bucket starts to get a bit too full we put them back in the sea

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I expect some of them are caught several times over this morning.

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You do have to watch out for cheating, I'm afraid.

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Not only from the children but also from the adults.

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OK, folks, you've got one minute now to get your crabs down to the table.

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The winners of our net class are Hannah and Olivia with 102 crabs.

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APPLAUSE

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Catching crabs off Cromer Pier, I can't ever see stopping because, I think, it's one of

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those things that is part of the seaside and coming down to Cromer.

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It's the hunter instinct in the human race which will go on forever, I'm sure.

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Leaving north Norfolk behind, the nature of this coast really begins to change.

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Beyond Cromer, the traditional ribbon of tourist-friendly beaches

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is very different from the wide open expanse of north Norfolk sand.

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Of all the holiday resorts along this coast, without doubt, Great Yarmouth must be the most famous.

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Pleasant though this is, all the fun of the fair wouldn't

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normally be enough to entice me down from Scotland, but 60 years ago, Scotsmen and women were drawn to

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Yarmouth in droves and they weren't coming for the Kiss Me Quick hats or a walk along the pier either.

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Squeezed along the mouth of the river Yar, Yarmouth wasn't always for the tourists.

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By the early 1900s, it was part of the largest herring fishery in the world.

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Sam Smith remembers how the lives of local people, and my fellow Scots,

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were inextricably linked to those of the herring.

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The boats would probably go away and fish up as far as the Shetlands and

0:23:530:23:58

then come south, as the shoals used to come south,

0:23:580:24:02

so by the end of the summer the herring are

0:24:020:24:05

starting to come into the North Sea.

0:24:050:24:07

The whole Scottish fleet would come down to Yarmouth

0:24:070:24:11

and Yarmouth would be chock-a-block with Scotsmen, Englishmen, a good mix, you know.

0:24:110:24:17

This part here would be full of fishing boats - drifters.

0:24:170:24:20

Probably 1,000 boats, you know.

0:24:200:24:22

Ten men in a crew, can you imagine? All ships both sides of the river.

0:24:220:24:26

There were so many boats that they couldn't lay flat to the quay so they put their noses to the quay.

0:24:260:24:31

Yarmouth boats were more or less company owned, but the Scotsmen, they were family boats, you know.

0:24:310:24:36

Their boats were precious to the crew.

0:24:360:24:39

If you damaged them trying to push yourself in...

0:24:390:24:42

Would there be a frank exchange of views?

0:24:420:24:45

That pub used to be like John Wayne, you know.

0:24:450:24:48

They used to have swinging doors there and they used to be flying out the doors.

0:24:480:24:53

Big wellie boots on, you know.

0:24:530:24:55

On a Saturday morning this was the best place to be, you know.

0:24:550:24:58

Talking to Sam, it's clear that when his dad was fishing here,

0:24:580:25:02

every aspect of life in Yarmouth revolved around the herring.

0:25:020:25:06

But the fishermen's growing skill in catching fish

0:25:090:25:12

hid the fact that herring stocks couldn't last forever.

0:25:120:25:15

# And he cried, "Drifting's finished so who'll pay the rent?"

0:25:150:25:20

# In this windy old weather

0:25:200:25:23

# Stormy old weather... #

0:25:230:25:25

The end of a whole way of life comes down to this.

0:25:250:25:29

A story told by numbers on a balance sheet.

0:25:290:25:32

In 1913, the total number of herring landing in Yarmouth

0:25:320:25:37

was 820,000 crans, or baskets.

0:25:370:25:40

In 1957, that figure had fallen by almost 750,000 baskets.

0:25:400:25:46

With the fish gone, the herring industry collapsed and this once-thriving quayside fell silent.

0:25:470:25:54

But not for long...

0:25:540:25:57

AMERICAN ACCENT: This port was a dead pigeon six months ago.

0:25:570:26:00

Where we're standing now was a derelict herring reduction plant

0:26:000:26:05

that had been beyond operation some ten years.

0:26:050:26:09

To understand how American accents came to replace the Scottish ones in Yarmouth

0:26:090:26:13

I met up with local engineer, Chris Nolan.

0:26:130:26:16

1965 was the first find of gas off Great Yarmouth.

0:26:160:26:20

There was a massive influx of Americans, of equipment,

0:26:200:26:25

over the next few years and money.

0:26:250:26:27

It was the new frontier. We're out there exploring.

0:26:270:26:31

It's in the North Sea. It's a hostile environment and here we are to bring home the gas and it was exciting.

0:26:310:26:37

It was exciting at the time.

0:26:370:26:39

If we had a really big strike off the east coast here,

0:26:390:26:42

it would look very similar to the Gulf of Mexico.

0:26:420:26:45

It could look like a continuous city from Great Yarmouth

0:26:450:26:49

to the Hook of Holland and the Norwegian coast.

0:26:490:26:51

That massive find never came.

0:26:510:26:54

But today there are still more than 100 platforms scattered across the southern North Sea.

0:26:540:27:01

You've got this place located in the middle of a sea. It's isolated.

0:27:020:27:07

So everything that it needs in terms to run it, from toilet paper,

0:27:070:27:11

to the drill pipe that they put down, food...

0:27:110:27:15

everything that goes to an offshore platform comes from onshore. Including the newspapers.

0:27:150:27:19

So the local newsagents would benefit.

0:27:190:27:22

There is in excess of 100 sailings a month out to the platforms in the southern North Sea.

0:27:220:27:27

So Great Yarmouth is the hub for what is happening out there?

0:27:270:27:30

It is. Very much so.

0:27:300:27:31

Today, the harbour that once teemed with myriad small fishing boats

0:27:340:27:39

is dominated by the big supply ships.

0:27:390:27:42

But a few fishermen like Paul Lines still fight on.

0:27:440:27:48

I'm almost surprised to find myself on a fishing boat out of Yarmouth.

0:27:540:27:58

Well, there is an active fishing fleet left in Yarmouth.

0:27:580:28:01

But if we can get other work, we take it.

0:28:010:28:04

We know we're going to get a wage from that.

0:28:040:28:07

Fishing is still a precarious business.

0:28:070:28:09

Instead of herring, much of Paul's earnings now come from servicing North Sea gas rigs.

0:28:090:28:16

And these.

0:28:160:28:18

I've only ever seen these things from a distance.

0:28:180:28:20

And to be right up close and underneath that turbine blade when

0:28:200:28:24

it's coming round, it is breathtaking.

0:28:240:28:28

We really opposed that wind farm because we thought it was going to disrupt our fishing.

0:28:280:28:33

But we naturally found that we lent ourself to doing that sort of work,

0:28:330:28:37

and my boat was taking people out there and doing survey work

0:28:370:28:40

and there was a whole new ball game for us.

0:28:400:28:43

Given the various ways of making a living from the sea, what would you rather be doing?

0:28:430:28:48

I'd rather be fishing every day. I love fishing. I always have loved it.

0:28:480:28:53

And I think I always will.

0:28:530:28:54

But to put bread on the table, you have to do other things.

0:28:540:28:58

Time and again, I've heard that story of pragmatism.

0:28:590:29:02

People finding different ways of making their living from the sea.

0:29:020:29:07

It seems that the key to Yarmouth's survival is adaptability.

0:29:070:29:11

And even if the locals are a little unwilling at first,

0:29:110:29:14

their ability to make the best of new arrivals and their new ideas.

0:29:140:29:19

Beyond Great Yarmouth, we leave Norfolk behind and arrive in Suffolk.

0:29:300:29:35

"The land of the south folk".

0:29:350:29:37

And the other half of this great East Anglian journey.

0:29:370:29:40

In Lowestoft, Mark Horton is up with the larks

0:29:420:29:46

to investigate the perilous state of one of the British seaside's most beloved institutions - the pier.

0:29:460:29:53

Lowestoft is the most easterly point of our islands.

0:29:560:30:01

Every morning the sun hits this bit of the country first.

0:30:010:30:05

And when you actually get out here, you want to go out and greet the sun!

0:30:060:30:11

Being at the seaside, the easiest way of getting that little bit closer is by going to the end of a pier.

0:30:130:30:20

For the last 150 years, they have been a vital part of our seaside architecture.

0:30:220:30:28

But we're losing them fast.

0:30:300:30:33

Since the 1970s, 11 piers have been lost completely.

0:30:330:30:37

While others, like Lowestoft's Claremont pier, still struggle on.

0:30:370:30:43

To find out exactly what state it's in, the owner, David Scott, offered to give me a guided tour.

0:30:430:30:50

Hello, David! Can we go inside your pier?

0:30:500:30:53

Come on in!

0:30:530:30:55

How many generations has it been in your family?

0:30:550:30:58

Three generations, Mark, actually.

0:30:580:31:01

-A real responsibility!

-Huge responsibility!

0:31:010:31:04

-Surely these machines make sackloads of money?

-Not bags of money, Mark.

0:31:040:31:08

It used to be bags of money!

0:31:080:31:10

Was it?!

0:31:100:31:11

It's coming to life!

0:31:110:31:14

While David's arcade is still open for business,

0:31:140:31:18

the pier itself has been closed to the public since 1982.

0:31:180:31:22

-It's so wonderful to be out here!

-It's an unusual experience, isn't it?

0:31:250:31:29

Having the sea below you like this. It's just fantastic.

0:31:290:31:32

-But so sad!

-Very, very sad, actually.

0:31:320:31:35

Very sad indeed. It's a shame.

0:31:350:31:37

It's not always been like this.

0:31:370:31:39

What was this pier like in its Edwardian heyday?

0:31:390:31:42

Absolutely wonderful.

0:31:420:31:43

I mean, obviously a sense of occasion coming on to a pier.

0:31:430:31:46

Everyone dressed smartly. There were theatres.

0:31:460:31:49

-Punters promenading up and down?

-Yes, absolutely packed!

0:31:490:31:52

-Coming down to take the steamer off the end there.

-Hang on - how could a steamer dock up there?

0:31:520:31:57

Obviously it used to be a lot longer than it is now.

0:31:570:32:00

With a T-piece on the end as well to moor up against.

0:32:000:32:03

I can show you some old archive photographs.

0:32:030:32:06

Oh look, there it is!

0:32:060:32:08

The steamer would stop off on the way to London and ferry people back.

0:32:080:32:11

It wasn't just a pleasure Pier? It had a commercial function?

0:32:110:32:15

-Absolutely.

-So what happened to the T-piece?

0:32:150:32:17

Time and tide have taken it away.

0:32:170:32:19

Seeing Claremont like this, it's easy to forget that it, like many of our piers, had a real working past.

0:32:200:32:28

Like the Victorian equivalent of an airport.

0:32:290:32:32

They were arrival points for passengers visiting the seaside.

0:32:320:32:36

But unlike an airport, piers combined function with fun!

0:32:360:32:41

The saucy shows and funfairs meant that they soon became leisure destinations in themselves.

0:32:440:32:49

No self-respecting seaside resort could be without one.

0:32:500:32:55

In the 50 years between 1860 and 1910,

0:32:560:33:00

78 piers were built around the country.

0:33:000:33:04

But today, many of the 54 that still stand are in as bad or worse condition than Claremont.

0:33:040:33:11

The end of David's pier is now just too dangerous to walk on.

0:33:130:33:17

So architect and National Pier Society member Tim Phillips has offered to give me

0:33:170:33:22

a different perspective on the state of Britain's piers.

0:33:220:33:26

Well, a pier like this, for example,

0:33:260:33:29

where all the amusements are at the landward end,

0:33:290:33:32

there's not much incentive for the owner perhaps to spend money.

0:33:320:33:36

If it's a dangerous structure,

0:33:360:33:38

you can't get even the fishermen on there paying you money.

0:33:380:33:42

-Are they not protected, or listed or anything?

-Not in this case.

-No statutory protection?

-No, no.

0:33:420:33:47

If you were a private owner, why would you want to spend money

0:33:470:33:51

on a structure that doesn't earn you anything?

0:33:510:33:53

They all need maintenance and if there's no revenue, no maintenance.

0:33:530:33:57

From this angle, it's obvious to see the problems

0:33:590:34:03

that pier owners like David Scott face.

0:34:030:34:05

Without the revenue from paddle steamers and their passengers,

0:34:050:34:09

many piers ended up as endangered buildings housing arcade games and little else.

0:34:090:34:15

But there are glimmers of hope.

0:34:160:34:19

Just down the coast in Southwold,

0:34:190:34:22

over a million pounds has been spent renovating their pier -

0:34:220:34:27

and the visitors are coming back.

0:34:270:34:29

With the cost of air travel likely to increase over time,

0:34:290:34:34

more of us may choose to holiday at home.

0:34:340:34:37

So let's just hope that some of that new tourist cash gets spent on Britain's piers.

0:34:370:34:45

10 miles beyond Southwold sits the idyllic resort of Thorpeness.

0:34:560:35:02

The village was built by a Scottish railway entrepreneur

0:35:050:35:08

who wanted to create the ideal place for a healthy and peaceful holiday.

0:35:080:35:12

Completed in 1932, it was designed to look like a typical English village...

0:35:140:35:19

..albeit a rather eccentric one.

0:35:190:35:22

Not long after Thorpeness was complete, just down the coast

0:35:250:35:29

at Aldeburgh another great vision of Englishness was being created.

0:35:290:35:34

Finished in 1945 by local boy Benjamin Britten, Peter Grimes

0:35:370:35:41

is now widely regarded as the most important British Opera ever written.

0:35:410:35:46

# Peter Grimes We are here to investigate

0:35:480:35:50

# The cause of death of your apprentice William Spode

0:35:500:35:54

# Whose body you put ashore from your boat... #

0:35:540:35:57

Based on a poem by a local author Peter Grimes is set in a small seaside town called the Borough.

0:36:020:36:09

One man who knows how much this coast influenced the writing of the opera

0:36:150:36:21

is Jonathan Reekie, director of the Aldeburgh festival.

0:36:210:36:26

You can hear the coast, you can hear the sea,

0:36:260:36:30

the wind, the birds, the scrunch of the pebbles in that piece.

0:36:300:36:34

So it's actually got an active role in the music?

0:36:340:36:38

Absolutely and the piece is structured with these four sea interludes

0:36:380:36:43

and it's so vivid. It's very hard once you've heard Peter Grimes

0:36:430:36:47

to stand on this beach and not hear it.

0:36:470:36:50

How much of the world that Britain portrayed still survives today?

0:36:570:37:03

Well, I think very little. Literally there are specific things

0:37:030:37:08

in Peter Grimes, like the place where Peter Grimes' hut was that have gone -

0:37:080:37:13

been washed away by the sea.

0:37:130:37:14

And, of course, the fishing industry is hanging on by its fingertips.

0:37:140:37:18

If you're on this beach you still hear the sea.

0:37:180:37:21

The sea hasn't changed. It's wonderful to think that

0:37:210:37:24

Peter Grimes is performed in opera houses all over the world

0:37:240:37:28

in places like Buenos Aires and Santiago and Australia.

0:37:280:37:32

There are audiences sitting in the opera house listening to the North Sea. It's amazing.

0:37:320:37:38

At the south end of Aldeburgh is the river that gave the village its name.

0:37:460:37:50

And five miles down the Alde, is Orford Harbour.

0:37:520:37:56

Today the area is very peaceful...

0:37:570:37:59

..but across the river the shingle spit of Orford Ness has had quite a past.

0:38:000:38:07

Ian Tickle's promised to show me round what was once one of Britain's most secret military installations.

0:38:090:38:17

'The only official entrance is via an RAF ferry from the tiny village of Orford.

0:38:170:38:21

'When you get there the men in charge aren't giving much away.'

0:38:210:38:25

This is a joint Royal Air Force, United States Air Force research

0:38:250:38:30

programme into the problems of long-range HF communications.

0:38:300:38:35

Has it anything to do with early warning defence systems?

0:38:350:38:38

It could.

0:38:380:38:41

And, in fact, it did.

0:38:410:38:43

In the Cold War year of 1967, the ever-present threat of nuclear war with the Soviet Union loomed large

0:38:450:38:53

and Orford Ness became home to Cobra Mist, an ambitious scheme

0:38:530:38:57

to spy deep into the eastern bloc, using an experimental form of radar.

0:38:570:39:02

'The masts on the 700-acre site are as high as 180 feet.

0:39:060:39:11

'The RAF were happy for them to be filmed.

0:39:110:39:13

'The control building was something else though.

0:39:130:39:16

'Everything about it is secret.'

0:39:160:39:20

Where does this lead?

0:39:200:39:21

Ah, right, I'll show you.

0:39:210:39:23

It's a massive, heavy door.

0:39:230:39:25

It's actually going down to the nerve centre of the operation.

0:39:250:39:30

Who was allowed in and who was kept out?

0:39:300:39:32

It would have been US personnel only.

0:39:320:39:34

There would have been an armed guard at a doorway here. It doesn't exist anymore.

0:39:340:39:39

-An American armed guard on British soil?

-Yeah, very much so.

0:39:390:39:44

-Good grief, what's in there?

-There would have been operators sitting at terminals with displays

0:39:450:39:50

showing them possible positions and sightings of signals back from the radar.

0:39:500:39:55

A board at the back and then a viewing gallery where the top brass watched everything going on.

0:39:550:40:00

It's a sort of place James Bond gets brought.

0:40:000:40:03

-That's right.

-When he's been caught!

0:40:030:40:05

Another serious door here.

0:40:060:40:09

Quite a stiff door.

0:40:090:40:10

The Cold War is easily to imagine in dark, windowless rooms, isn't it?

0:40:140:40:19

Than outside in the sunshine.

0:40:190:40:20

-This is a picture taken in its heyday.

-It's fantastic.

0:40:200:40:24

There's our building. This is where we are here.

0:40:240:40:27

This whole are that you see in front of you would have been the aerial system of the radar.

0:40:270:40:31

It would've looked awesome from here, surely.

0:40:310:40:34

The whole structure would have had towers

0:40:340:40:36

getting bigger and bigger as they came out

0:40:360:40:39

towards the back end of the fan and all suspended with fibreglass poles.

0:40:390:40:44

There was red-coloured insulators.

0:40:440:40:46

The fibreglass was white so it must have lit up when the sun was on it.

0:40:460:40:50

It must have been quite spectacular, especially from this viewpoint as well.

0:40:500:40:54

What was it supposed to do?

0:40:540:40:56

It was supposed to be like a normal radar

0:40:560:40:59

but it could see over the horizon.

0:40:590:41:02

It would have bounced its signal off the atmosphere and any signal scattered back from a missile

0:41:020:41:10

or an aeroplane would have been reflected back and picked up by the aerial that sent the first signal.

0:41:100:41:17

-What do you gain?

-You gain more time.

0:41:170:41:20

You are almost able to see round the corner.

0:41:200:41:23

And during the Cold War, getting advance warning of a nuclear strike seemed like a good idea.

0:41:230:41:29

The only problem was, despite impeccable science, Cobra Mist never actually worked.

0:41:310:41:37

After nearly six years and around 150 million

0:41:370:41:42

the signal received was just too full of interference to be useful.

0:41:420:41:47

There were all sorts of rumours, of course, as to where this noise was coming from.

0:41:470:41:51

Possibly the interfering signal - the noise, so to speak,

0:41:510:41:56

was manufactured perhaps by

0:41:560:41:58

a Russian trawler off the coast.

0:41:580:42:01

Just enough to be out of sight, but near enough to cause enough

0:42:010:42:05

interference to wipe this whole set-up out.

0:42:050:42:08

Today, a small bit of the building is still in use,

0:42:090:42:12

but they're not spying into Eastern Europe anymore,

0:42:120:42:16

they're broadcasting BBC World Service to it instead.

0:42:160:42:19

The final miles of my journey take me to the very end of Suffolk.

0:42:260:42:30

My journey through East Anglia began at King's Lynn,

0:42:440:42:47

a port that was internationally important in the past

0:42:470:42:50

and it ends here at Felixstowe, a port that's still important today.

0:42:500:42:56

The industry of Felixstowe dock comes as a bit of a shock

0:42:570:43:00

after the peace and quiet splendour of this stretch of coast.

0:43:000:43:04

From the fragility of the wide open spaces

0:43:060:43:09

to our changing relationship with the sea

0:43:090:43:12

this journey has been a revelation.

0:43:120:43:15

It's a coast whose stories are told through history,

0:43:170:43:21

through dreams and imagination and through the drama of the shoreline.

0:43:210:43:26

When I started, I expected isolation

0:43:280:43:31

but instead I discovered a surprising and gentle beauty.

0:43:310:43:35

Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd

0:43:460:43:49

E-mail [email protected]

0:43:490:43:52

The Coast team journey around the breathtaking shoreline of East Anglia. Neil Oliver explores the abandoned site of an experimental radar, built to spy deep into the Soviet Union during the Cold War, while Hermione Cockburn meets a member of a forgotten army of women who worked in a top secret facility on the Norfolk coast to intercept German radio messages during World War Two.

Self-taught artist Alice Roberts tries to capture the unique beauty of Southwold which has inspired generations of painters. Mark Horton investigates the perilous state of our seaside piers and Nicholas Crane discovers how a potentially lethal combination of tides and weather can cause catastrophic floods.