Rosyth to Sunderland Coast


Rosyth to Sunderland

The team are travelling down the north east coast. Miranda Krestovnikoff manages to get out to Bass Rock and Neil Oliver investigates a legend in Cullercoats.


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Transcript


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I'm back on home territory, on Edinburgh's mighty seaway, the Firth of Forth.

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And I can promise you some extraordinary encounters.

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Miranda Krestovnikoff gets dive-bombed by gannets.

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This is what gannets are really famous for -

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this plummet right into the water to catch the fish.

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Dick Strawbridge has a riveting experience.

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Imagine doing half a million of these.

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-Do you still believe you can move it?

-Yes!

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Go!

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And some tough ladies pit themselves against a two-tonne lifeboat

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to test the legend of a famous rescue.

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This is Coast.

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Where the Firth of Forth meets the North Sea,

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standing sentinel is Bass Rock.

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Sir David Attenborough calls this huge rock

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and its 150,000-strong gannet colony

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one of the wildlife wonders of the world.

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Somewhere out there in amongst all that invigorating weather is the Bass Rock.

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Now, I've tried on three separate occasions to land there for Coast,

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and every time the weather has defeated me, but Coast doesn't give up easily.

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Maybe Miranda will have more luck.

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Bass Rock looks almost welcoming in the early morning sun.

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'I really want to get out there to see the gannets close up.

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'And I'm not alone - Ben and Kirsty Burville are amateur wildlife photographers and keen divers.

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'In their day jobs, Ben is a doctor, and Kirsty is a teacher.

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'They've come to Scotland to attempt something really ambitious.'

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They're going to try and film the Bass Rock gannets diving underwater,

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something I have always wanted to do,

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and it's anything but straightforward.

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Even though they're amateur film-makers, their track record is pretty good.

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This footage of Ben diving with seals was taken by Kirsty

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just off the Farne Islands in Northumberland.

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So why gannets? What's the big attraction of filming gannets underwater?

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Over the Farnes every now and again, you get gannets diving down,

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but only ones and twos. It would be really, really interesting

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to see if I can could catch them as they going into the water from above the water and below,

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so where better to come but Bass Rock?

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-Kirsty, what are you being up to?

-I'm going to be doing the filming topside,

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getting the gannets diving down, so it should be pretty spectacular.

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It's going to be a real adventure for the day for both of us.

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While our amateur film-makers head off to find gannets diving underwater,

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I'm taking the more direct route.

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To get a sense of the challenge Ben and Kirsty face, I need to see

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the birds up close, and you can only do that on their home base.

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It's not easy to set foot onto Bass Rock.

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Strong currents swirl around the cliffs,

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and the mooring site can be treacherous.

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Today I'm lucky and I can venture onto the rock,

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with Maggie Sheddon of the Scottish Seabird Centre as my guide.

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This is absolutely splendid. You know this is a real first for Coast -

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no Coaster has ever been on Bass Rock, I'm the first.

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-Welcome.

-This is amazing! I've never seen so many gannets in all my life.

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And it's the best time to be here, because the birds are rearing their young -

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that means the rock is full to capacity.

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150,000 birds and their demanding chicks all hungry for fish.

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Out on the water, some of the gannets are starting to dive

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for their dinner within range of Kirsty's camera.

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'Up here, it's a rare chance for me to get close to the gannets.'

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Normally you only see them in flight or as they're plunging into the sea.

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When they're diving, they hit the water at an incredible speed -

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how does their body actually cope with that?

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They can hit up to 60 mph. Basically they have air sacks that inflate.

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It tends to be around the neck, the upper chest area, they have a membrane that flips over the eye

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to protect the eye, and they have a moveable plate just at the back of the bill,

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so when they hit the water, everything is sealed,

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and literally, just before they dive in, the wings fold back like an arrow.

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60 miles per hour. With gannets hitting the water beak first at such high speed,

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getting hit by one would be serious for Ben.

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OK?

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'His plan is to shelter beneath the boat and try and film the dives from there,

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'so we'll have to encourage the birds to come as close as possible if Ben's going to have any chance.'

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To bring the birds in, we've got some really disgusting-smelling haddock heads here

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and some herring as well. The herring gulls have moved in, and now the gannets are coming in as well.

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Now we're getting some plunging. Look at that, it's fantastic.

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'The gannets are diving closer to the boat, but still not close enough.

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'Sheltering under the boat, Ben will need to be within a few feet to get that crucial close-up.

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'To make things worse, he's battling strong tidal currents down there.

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'I'm using a pole camera to try and see how he's getting on.'

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I've found Ben.

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'Ben is surrounded by jellyfish, which makes getting close to the diving gannets even harder.'

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It's very, very difficult to get near to them.

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It's very hard to stay underneath the boat.

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'With Ben's dive time rapidly ticking away,

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'we finally manage to lure some gannet within range of his underwater camera.'

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Look at that!

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All of a sudden, they've just come right in.

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'We're seeing some great dives from up here, but underwater it's been a struggle.'

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'Ben's only had one chance. It's time to see whether

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'this amateur cameraman managed to get a shot a professional would be proud of.'

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So do you think you got anything good, then?

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I think there could be a couple of good shots in amongst the...

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As you can see, the visibility down there is not very good.

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-Bit green, isn't it?

-A lot of green stuff there.

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-There you are!

-Oh, well done! That was great!

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-So quick, isn't it?

-Really quick, really quick. That's so brilliant, you did really well.

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Ben and Kirsty have managed to capture the spectacle of gannets diving underwater.

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'What I'm coming away with is a sense of wonder at this extraordinary bird city just off our coast.'

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Hidden away across the water from Bass Rock is a little secret.

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It's not easy to find, but Seacliff Harbour is reputedly Britain's smallest,

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and with an opening just 10 feet wide, I'm not going to argue.

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The harbour was constructed in 1890 by the local landowner,

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using a steam engine and compressed air to cut the stone.

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Once busy with small salmon fishing boats, now it's used by a solitary lobster fisherman.

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There's room at Dunbar Harbour for plenty of boats.

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But not far away was another invention,

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a tradition this time that's unique to fishing communities on the east coast.

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20 miles south of Dunbar is Eyemouth.

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When I woke up, I sort of forgot it was the big day,

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and then, when it dawned on me, all of a sudden the butterflies started up and...

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Oh...really nervous.

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Tamsin MacKechnie is about to be crowned the Eyemouth Herring Queen.

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It's a title created in 1939 to celebrate the life of the town's fishing industry.

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A new teenage queen is chosen each year.

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I had an interview with about five people, including the town provost,

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and later on that night,

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they came in and gathered us all together and told us who'd won.

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'I think they were looking really for someone who could be a role model to the younger children.'

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A lot of the past herring queens said to me it's pretty much like getting married, it's really a big day.

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I remember the pipers playing, I remember the parade

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and the great feeling for the day, it was fantastic.

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Before all that, there's the traditional three-mile sea voyage,

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while ahead the town of Eyemouth awaits its queen.

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It was quite a privilege to be herring queen, I think - you felt you were representing Eyemouth.

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BAGPIPES PLAY

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During her year as herring queen, Tamsin will carry out civic duties. Today is her day.

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I'm really nervous, I'm shaking.

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There's all those people.

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I remember the last sentence of my speech was,

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"To fishermen all round our coast, I extend greetings and good sailing from this old fishing town."

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Next stop on our adventure south - Cullercoats.

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In the 19th century, Cullercoats was a thriving fishing village.

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It was the men who braved the North Sea,

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but what makes this place special is that it is the women of Cullercoats who are celebrated.

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I've got a copy of a painting here. What it shows

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is a group of villagers hauling a lifeboat along a beach, but when you look at it,

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almost the first thing you notice is that it's mostly women. In fact, the painting is called The Women,

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and there's an inscription on the frame that reads, "On New Year's Day 1861, the fisherwomen of Cullercoats

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"dragged the village lifeboat three miles along the coast in a blinding storm of snow and sleet,

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"to the rescue of the crew of a wrecked ship, The Lovely Nellie, and saved all the crew but one boy."

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Now, these must have been some tough women,

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but who were they?

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The women of Cullercoats were renowned for their strength and stamina.

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'They carried fish to sell around neighbouring villages,

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'ran the household and, according to some tails, even lifted their husbands out to the boats.

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'And to cap it all, my painting has them dragging a heavy lifeboat overland to rescue a stricken ship.

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'To get an insight into these hardy women,

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-'I'm calling on the grand-daughter of one of Cullercoats' fisher wives.'

-Come in.

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Were women like your grandmother famous locally?

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It was only years after that people realised what a unique

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elite group they were.

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I just loved her. She was a lovely round little woman, you know, very kind and worked hard.

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You know, she had to walk miles and miles every day to sell the fish. She did that for 50 years.

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I've heard so much about how hard they worked.

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Well, the women did work hard. It was just their lives, and that's what they'd been dished out.

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They were tough!

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What I want to know is, are the modern women of Cullercoats as hardy as their great-grannies?

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There's only one way to find out - we're going to re-create the painting.

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The first volunteers have turned up...

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Women of Cullercoats...

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-ALL:

-Yay!

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..legend has it that about 140 years the women of Cullercoats pulled a lifeboat

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through the teeth of a howling gale for three miles along the coast. That was then, this is now...

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Can you achieve the same feat?

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Yes!

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Well, the women seem to be game. All we need now is a lifeboat.

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'Luckily, Whitby Historic Lifeboat Trust have brought along a beautifully preserved specimen.'

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Is this more or less the kind of lifeboat that would have been used in that mid 19th-century rescue?

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It's the same type of boat.

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You'd find actually, if anything, she's one of the smaller ones,

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and that she's only 2¼ tonnes.

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You're saying this is one of the smaller ones. When I'm thinking of men hauling - or women - hauling it,

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it looks pretty big and heavy to me.

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Do you think that women alone could have moved a lifeboat like that?

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-They did.

-Oh, yes.

-You would say that!

-I would say that, but it is possible.

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-The question is, do they still make women like they used to?

-That's going to be some effort.

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I'm intrigued to know why the women of old

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had to drag a boat weighing tonnes along this windswept headland.

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'Robert Oliver is a sixth-generation Cullercoats lifeboat man - perhaps he'll know.'

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In the painting, the boat's been dragged - where is it being dragged to?

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From Cullercoats here along the cliff top along to Brierdene,

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which is about two, two and a half mile north of our station.

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But it's a boat - why didn't they just put it in the water and go by sea?

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-On the day, it was a very, very severe weather, too bad to launch here.

-So what did they do next?

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Some of the villagers would have got the horses and connected the horses

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-up to the boat to pull the lifeboat along the cliff top.

-Horses?

-Yes.

-But it's women in the picture.

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The RNLI statement says there were horses.

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-They shouldn't be there!

-Yeah.

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'Horses? That's really thrown me.'

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'I've got to dig deeper to discover the truth.'

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Robert was right.

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The Times of January 1861 says of the lifeboat,

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"It was dragged along the coast by six horses and launched from the sands amid great excitement."

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So The Times says there were horses - the painting shows women.

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To make sure OUR lifeboat gets dragged along the headland,

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'maybe the women of Cullercoats will need some help on standby.'

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-Hi, Charlie, how are you doing?

-Nice to meet you.

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'These dray horses are powerful beasts and they're at the ready -

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'if needed - for our recreation of the Cullercoats lifeboat drag.'

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But what's nagging me is, if horses were used to pull the boat,

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then why aren't there any horses in my painting?

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If the artist wasn't recording a historical event, what WAS he trying to do?

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'I'm meeting local art historian Steve Ratcliffe.'

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Steve, what can you tell me about this painting?

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Well, this painting was painted by John Charlton in 1904,

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and at the time it was painted,

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Cullercoats was a well-established artist colony.

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I don't think I expected to find great artists in this little corner of England.

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A lot of people are surprised by it, and they're quite stunned to find that a famous American artist,

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Winslow Homer, was resident here for nearly two years.

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Over 20 years before Charlton painted the lifeboat drag, these pictures by the distinguished

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American artist Winslow Homer had already made the Cullercoats women famous.

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Homer captured the strength and dignity of the fisher wives. His work elevated them

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to near-mythological status, and these images of the Cullercoats

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women helped establish Winslow Homer as the greatest American painter of the 19th century.

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He painted the women time and time again,

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always engaged in the harsh day-to-day realities of coastal life.

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Homer painted day-to-day life.

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Is this by Charlton a painting of plain fact?

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No, it's not, it's a symbolic painting - it's trying to express his feeling, his admiration for

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the women of Cullercoats through art, so he's used the historic background, the 1861 rescue of The Lovely Nellie,

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to let people know that he has a message to tell them of his respect and admiration for those women.

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'So, if my painting is a romantic image of the women of Cullercoats,

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'perhaps it was created'

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because a great artist had already immortalised them over 20 years earlier.

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But the legend of the lifeboat drag persists. It's an heroic story

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I still want to believe. Could the women really have done it? Time to find out.

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Right then, you said you could do this, do you still believe you can move it?

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Yes!

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Three, two, one...

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Go!

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Now, the thing is, this is quite good fun in a way, but you have to remember

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that on New Year's Day 1861,

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the crew of a stricken ship, The Lovely Nellie, was somewhere

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out there in a dreadful storm, so this wasn't about fun that day, it was life and death.

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'On the flat, the women are getting a real momentum going,

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'but on the upward slopes it gets tougher and tougher,

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'and don't forget - on the night of the rescue, the boat was being pulled on a heavy wooden carriage.'

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Right, that's it, enough's enough, you've done far more than I expected, honestly,

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but I'm going to bring in the horses, so down ropes.

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Well done!

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'Just as on the night of the rescue, what was needed to cope with the terrain

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'was the addition of some genuine horsepower.'

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Oh, no bother!

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'I've spent a long time piecing together the facts of the night of the wreck of The Lovely Nellie

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'over a 140 years ago. What I've discovered is that

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'the whole community AND their horses came to the rescue of the crew,

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'saving all the lives bar one.'

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And whether it was horsepower or woman-power that hauled the boat down to the water,

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it's the power of legend that's given life to the story of the Cullercoats women.

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A few miles south of Cullercoats, you come to the mouth of the Tyne and the city of Newcastle.

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For centuries, coal was exported down this river,

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but in March 1998 the last of the export vessels left the Tyne.

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These days, the river is handling coal again, but now it's imported -

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coal comes in here all the way from Russia.

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Looks like sending coals to Newcastle is no longer a fool's errand.

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Continuing south, we hit another famous north-eastern river, the Wear.

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Sunderland could once boast it was the largest shipbuilding town in the world.

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During the Second World War, over a quarter of our merchant and navy ships were built here,

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but as wartime production boomed, the seeds of a devastating decline were being sown.

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Engineer Dick Strawbridge wants to know what silenced the shipyards.

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Boats were built here for over 600 years.

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Busy shipyards jostled for space along this river.

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Now you'd hardly know it.

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In their heyday the Wearside Yards were world famous,

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sheets of steel came in, and finished ships rolled out.

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What I find amazing is that this massive enterprise,

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like the ships it produced, was held together by one little component.

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It was the dependence on this metal fastener

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that was both the strength and the weakness of the industry.

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Most of the historical metal frameworks that we marvel at are held together by rivets.

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And this is a rivet. It does the same job as a nut and bolt, holding

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two sheets of metal together, but it doesn't come undone.

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You heat it up until it's cherry red, then you put it through a hole, and then you bash both ends of it.

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It then holds the sheets of metal together, and when it cools down it contracts and holds it even tighter.

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It's an awful lot of effort, but it works.

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Riveters worked in teams, or squads.

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A heater heated up the rivets in a stove, then passed them, or often threw them, to a catcher.

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The catcher's job was to take the red-hot rivet to a holder-up,

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who put the rivet in a hole connecting the two ship's panels.

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The riveter then pounded the rivet home.

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It was a labour-intensive job,

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and, when the men left to fight in two world wars, women were trained up to keep the yards busy.

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Shipbuilding towns reverberated to the sound of riveting.

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Phil Peek and Brian Hopkins worked as riveters in the shipyards of neighbouring Hartlepool.

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-Brian. Good to see you, Phil.

-And you.

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This is where the shipyard was that you actually built ships.

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Where this one was built was over the other side there, a hundred yards away, if that.

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And how many rivets a day do you reckon a good team would put in?

0:23:210:23:25

At least 800, 900 a day.

0:23:250:23:27

We're really proud of the fact, the steel plate would come in there,

0:23:270:23:31

when it left here, a finished job, it could go straight to sea and work.

0:23:310:23:34

How much did they get paid for riveting?

0:23:340:23:37

-Eight and ninepence a hundred.

-Eight and ninepence a hundred.

0:23:370:23:39

Yes, all that was shared out amongst the squad.

0:23:390:23:43

But if it rained, we got sent home, and signed the book for four shilling.

0:23:430:23:48

'Mary Power was a catcher on Phil's team.'

0:23:480:23:51

Mary, come and join us.

0:23:510:23:54

You used to work with Phil.

0:23:560:23:58

-Yes.

-It's a very physical job, Mary, so what was it like as a woman

0:23:580:24:01

being amongst all these men that were doing all this riveting?

0:24:010:24:04

Well, you didn't think anything about it... < We won't answer that!

0:24:040:24:08

You just you wore the overalls and the boots and you just go on with the job.

0:24:080:24:14

-What was the environment like? Was it noisy?

-It was very noisy.

-You couldn't hear yourself speak.

0:24:140:24:18

-I didn't know what they were on about, cos they used to speak with the sign language.

-Yes, definitely.

0:24:180:24:24

-Two, two and a quarter.

-Two and a quarter rivets.

0:24:240:24:26

-Two, two and three quarters.

-Two, two and three quarter rivets.

0:24:260:24:29

-That's the size?

-Yes.

0:24:290:24:30

-So calling for the size of the rivets.

-And a short one.

0:24:300:24:34

As a riveter, did you take pride in every single rivet you did?

0:24:340:24:38

Certainly. Yeah. I was a good riveter.

0:24:380:24:41

You knew that, when you were working for Grey's, you were

0:24:410:24:45

one of the best shipbuilders going, and there was no two ways about it.

0:24:450:24:48

So, if our shipbuilding was so good, where did it all go wrong?

0:24:500:24:54

In the dark days of 1940 we desperately needed more merchant ships

0:24:540:24:59

to keep the vital transatlantic supply lines open.

0:24:590:25:03

Churchill placed an urgent order for 60 cargo ships,

0:25:030:25:06

but he didn't give the contract to British shipyards. Instead he gave it to the Americans.

0:25:060:25:12

I'm meeting with David Aris to find out more.

0:25:120:25:15

OK, David, why go to America?

0:25:160:25:20

Because at that time, in 1940,

0:25:200:25:22

the U-Boats were massacring our merchant fleet,

0:25:220:25:26

particular in the North Atlantic, and Churchill realised that the ships were being sunk

0:25:260:25:31

at a rate greater rate than we could replace them from our own shipyards,

0:25:310:25:35

so we had to get the ships from somewhere else.

0:25:350:25:37

And talking about the scale of building, how long would it take to build one of these ships here?

0:25:370:25:42

Probably about six months to build the ship here in Thompson's,

0:25:420:25:45

and the ship was designed as a fully riveted ship,

0:25:450:25:48

that was the practice here on the River Wear, and in other parts of this country,

0:25:480:25:52

something like 480,000 rivets on one ship...per ship.

0:25:520:25:57

-Half a million rivets.

-Yes.

-Per ship.

-Of that order.

0:25:570:25:59

With a war on, the Americans didn't have time

0:26:010:26:04

or enough trained workers to put in half a million rivets per ship.

0:26:040:26:07

A faster method of joining panels was welding,

0:26:070:26:11

so now welding was adopted on an unprecedented scale.

0:26:110:26:16

What the Americans did have was lots of space.

0:26:160:26:19

In massive new shipyards, complete sections of the ship were constructed as separate units,

0:26:190:26:24

before being craned into place and welded together.

0:26:240:26:28

The American genius for mass production meant that ships were soon being built in under 50 days.

0:26:280:26:35

This new merchant fleet helped win the war, by keeping Britain supplied with food, munitions and machinery.

0:26:350:26:42

The techniques of welding and pre-fabrication

0:26:420:26:44

that built these ships would spell the end for riveting.

0:26:440:26:48

The problem for us was that mass production needs lots of space.

0:26:520:26:56

The old British shipyards didn't have room to expand,

0:26:560:26:59

and they struggled to cope with the new welding age.

0:26:590:27:03

The industry fell into slow but terminal decline.

0:27:030:27:06

These days riveting has all but disappeared

0:27:080:27:12

but, even though we don't build many ships now,

0:27:120:27:14

we still need riveters if we're going to preserve some of our historic maritime treasures.

0:27:140:27:20

I've come all the way to Suffolk to see riveting at first hand.

0:27:200:27:24

Everybody's welding nowadays, I couldn't find any rivets being struck anywhere in the North East,

0:27:250:27:30

so I had to bring Brian and Phil down to Lowestoft to the restoration of SS Robin,

0:27:300:27:35

the oldest complete steam ship in the world, so they can give me their opinion on 21st-century riveting.

0:27:350:27:40

The SS Robin was launched in 1890.

0:27:420:27:46

She's a steel ship with a fully riveted hull, but she needs attention.

0:27:460:27:51

The team here are riveting some test plates in preparation for restoring the ship.

0:27:530:27:59

They've done riveting work on bridges and machinery, but never a ship.

0:28:010:28:06

It's a great chance for old hands Brian and Phil to pass on their wisdom.

0:28:060:28:11

-How's his riveting?

-OK.

0:28:120:28:15

-What do you reckon?

-He's getting the hang of it!

0:28:150:28:18

-OK, what's your opinion? C'mon then, Phil.

-The top row's the best.

0:28:280:28:32

The top row's the best. That's too short, that.

0:28:320:28:35

-Would you employ the team?

-Certainly, yes.

0:28:350:28:38

-You've done all right, son.

-I've done all right, have I?

0:28:380:28:42

'We may not make them like this any more, but the SS Robin will be back afloat, rivets and all, in 2012,

0:28:430:28:50

'a monument to the glory days of British shipbuilding and riveting.'

0:28:500:28:55

Thank goodness there are some people, not many,

0:28:560:28:59

but still some people keeping alive the skills of our riveters.

0:28:590:29:04

Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd

0:29:230:29:25

E-mail [email protected]

0:29:250:29:26

The team are travelling down the UK's north east coast.

Miranda Krestovnikoff finally manages to get out to Bass Rock, Neil Oliver investigates a legend in Cullercoats and Dick Strawbridge has a riveting experience in Sunderland.


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