Land's End to Porthcawl Coast


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Land's End to Porthcawl

The series continues with a journey from Cornwall to South Wales. Neil Oliver casts his own bronze sword and explores the site of the Welsh Great Escape.


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Southwest Britain, where the Welsh and Cornish coastlines

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form the mouth of a huge natural funnel

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which traps a vast body of water.

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As the Atlantic Ocean behind me surges along this coastline, it

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gets squeezed towards the point over there where England and Wales meet.

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In English, that's the Severn Estuary.

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In Welsh, it's Mor Havren, the Severn Sea.

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"The Severn Sea" - now that's a name that makes you want to explore!

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On my expedition to the Severn Sea and beyond I'm joined by some

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familiar faces, and a brand-new addition to the team.

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Champion surfer Renee Godfrey swims with seals and explores the unspoilt marine habitats of Lundy.

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The water here is running wild, as nature intended.

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Mark Horton discovers how painting a simple line on the side of ships has helped save countless lives.

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Fantastic!

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Nick Crane gets the hang of climbing on Exmoor's treacherous sea cliffs.

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I'm clinging on to everything I can, I tell you.

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And Hermione Cockburn visits an enchanted castle by the

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sea where a millionaire media mogul let his imagination run wild.

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This is not something he would get away with today.

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This is Coast.

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Crossing from the north coast of France, we're back on home turf.

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Our journey continues,

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heading for Porthcawl, starting at Botallack, near Lands End.

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The jagged edge of Cornwall jabs defiantly into the Atlantic.

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Only the most durable rock can resist that ocean's pounding.

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This tough coastline doesn't give up its treasures easily.

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But from the earliest times, men have been drawn here to pit themselves against the granite.

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Hidden inside the rock is a magical ingredient that brought the world to the Cornish coast.

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They came in search of a rare metal with remarkable properties - tin!

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The relics of tin mining can be seen along the north coast of Cornwall.

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The engine houses and their chimneys may be derelict,

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but these ruins are reminders of an industry that connects us directly to the ancient world,

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thanks to a humble household object.

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How about this? A tin.

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Nowadays though, you'd probably call it a can, made of aluminium or steel.

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But the originals started out in the 1800s, and were made of iron, iron coated with a thin layer of tin.

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Tin doesn't rust. It's one of its many magical properties.

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And food kept in rust-free tin cans remained edible for ages.

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But ages and ages ago, tin was at the cutting edge of a much bigger revolution.

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Mix tin with copper and you get bronze.

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The birth of the Bronze Age, some 3,500 years ago, owed a lot to the tin of the Cornish coast.

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'Archaeologist Adam Sharpe has studied ancient bronze tools.'

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An axe head.

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This is sort of the staple working tool of the bronze age.

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Virtually every piece of bronze that you find in Western Europe

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has got Cornish tin in it.

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Once people the world over realise that tin is to be had here,

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-Cornwall becomes pivotal.

-Absolutely.

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In terms of distribution on the Earth's surface,

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tin is very rare indeed even in terms of sort of western Europe.

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There's a bit in Iberia in Spain, there's a little bit on Sardinia,

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but almost all of it is in Cornwall and West Devon.

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And it means that the people who controlled that resource traded all over Western Europe.

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Thousands of years ago, long and perilous journeys were being made to this coast.

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As the Bronze Age boomed in Europe, they needed Cornish tin.

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The tin trade wasn't just with near neighbours across the Severn Sea but with the wider world.

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Tin was travelling as far away as Ancient Greece and the Middle East.

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Bronze Age traders took great risks navigating

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this treacherous coastline, but the rewards were worth it.

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Copper tool, it blunts very easily, it's too bendy.

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Adding just the right amount of tin, 10-11% of tin, makes it hard, makes

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it tough, it's sharpenable, it can be polished.

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For what, in the main is bronze being used to make?

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Utilitarian tools, axes and knives and chisels and things like that.

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Enormous range of jewellery and weapons, and

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it's the making of swords, which is, absolutely typifies the later part of the Bronze Age.

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So in a way, that puts Cornwall at the centre of an international arms trade!

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I'm afraid so!

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Throughout the Bronze Age, ancient armies relied on the Cornish coast for the raw materials of battle.

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Hiya, Neil.

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'To see why, I'm meeting Neil Burridge, who still

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'practises the age-old art of forging bronze weapons.'

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Got the fire going, just starting to warm up.

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As the temperature rises, Neil prepares a mould made of stone so we can cast our own bronze sword.

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So that's it.

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Oh, I'm so excited.

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Inside the fire is a crucible containing the two metals that together form bronze.

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90% copper will make our sword flexible, 10% tin will make it hard with a cutting edge.

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Heated to 1,200 degrees Celsius, we're ready to pour.

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-That's good.

-Wow.

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Wow, even that is a beautiful thing.

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Look at the colour of it.

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-My first sword!

-I'm just going to take the clamps off it now.

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If we try to move it too quickly it'll snap.

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And if we leave it too long in the mould it gets stuck in the mould and it won't come out.

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So, a bit like Excalibur, really.

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-It sure is.

-Give it a

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little wiggle. I can feel it so you should be able to draw it out very slowly, but don't drop it.

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Wow, look at that.

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That's how you draw a sword from a stone!

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A short distance up the coast,

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Tintagel Castle, long associated with the legendary King Arthur.

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Arthur and Merlin may be a magical myth...

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..but just 35 miles across the water is a real magic kingdom, Lundy Island.

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This jewel on the edge of the Severn Sea is one of the most

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precious wildlife sites in Britain, now owned by the National Trust.

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North Atlantic storms batter little Lundy, it takes a special breed to survive.

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These hardy ponies were introduced by the island's previous owner.

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So were the Soay sheep.

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But the real lure of Lundy is beyond the cliffs.

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Some claim the surrounding waters are the wildest, most diverse habitat anywhere on our coast.

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Champion surfer, diver, and Coast first-timer Renee Godfrey

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is a native of the Severn Sea but has never ventured out to Lundy, until now.

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I've surfed all along the Devon coastline and I know the Welsh

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coast like the back of my hand.

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And Lundy's always just been there, mysteriously on the horizon,

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and now I'm finally going to get the chance to explore.

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I'm really looking forward to swimming with the grey seals

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and getting a closer look at their unique underwater habitat.

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What makes the waters around Lundy so special is that they're completely protected.

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Lundy is England's first and only marine nature reserve, so the water here is running wild,

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as nature intended.

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Hi, Keith, how are you?

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-I'm well, welcome to your first dive on Lundy.

-Thank you very much.

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I'm going to give you my kit. Marine biologist, Keith Hiscock, has been diving off Lundy since the 1960s.

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Recently the experience has become even more spectacular.

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In 2003, Lundy became Britain's first statutory no-take zone.

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That means it's now completely undisturbed by fishermen.

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I'm eager to see how nature gets on left to its own devices.

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The first thing you notice is the plant life, like a garden gone wild.

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In deeper waters there are wonderful corals that you might expect to see only in much warmer climes.

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I'm hoping Keith can show me some of Lundy's hidden gems.

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Now look at these trumpet anemones.

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Lundy is one of the few places in Great Britain where they occur.

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They look so delicate and as the water moves past them,

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look like they're clapping their hands with their tentacles.

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They're mostly a bag of water with stinging cells.

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The trumpet anemones actually have photosynthetic algae in the tissue just like tropical corals, so they

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only occur in shallow water where there's enough light for the algae to thrive.

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This anemone wouldn't look out of place in the warmer Mediterranean waters.

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That's the magic of Lundy, it's full of surprises.

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Beautiful snakelock anemones.

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They're very beautiful but they're also very dangerous to any animals that stumble into them.

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Because again they've got stinging cells which paralyse the prey

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and so any clumsy shrimp or crab that clutches the tentacles is dead meat.

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Lundy's lobsters, though, are armour-plated against

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such dangers.

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Since the no-take zone was established, there are more

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of them here than before, and they're much bigger.

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But what I really want to see in this underwater treasure trove is

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a tiny gem that's rare in British waters and all too easy to miss.

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Here we are, I've got scarlet and gold star corals here.

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Wow, they're so small, they're like little hidden jewels, aren't they?

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Yes, that's a very good way to put it, hidden jewels, because we've had to look quite hard

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for these and you do have to know what sort of habitat they occur in.

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These seas are absolutely bursting with life,

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completely untainted by man.

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The shores of Lundy are nourished by

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balmy currents from the Gulf Stream.

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Not only do warm-water corals find a home here, all sorts of plant and animal life flourish.

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It's a rich source of food and an ideal environment for larger sea mammals.

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Island warden Nicola Saunders is taking me to see Lundy's amazing grey seals.

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Look, there's some on that rock over there.

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They lead a truly wild life. Out here I've got to play by their rules.

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They're wild, so you've got to be

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careful and treat them with respect but generally as long as

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you're fairly passive, don't chase after them,

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then they're just inquisitive and they

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want to see what you're up to in their territory.

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Great, let's get in.

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They're so big and clumsy and cumbersome when they're lying on the rocks.

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And the minute they get into the water they're so agile and

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so quick and they swim up to you, look you right in the eyes, and try and gauge whether they

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like you or not, and then just swim away like that, so fast, amazing!

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That was incredible.

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Lundy more than lives up to its promise.

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It's a rich and precious haven for marine life.

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A coastline where nature really runs wild.

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Lundy's once remote paradise has been opened up to the public.

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Day trippers travel to and fro aboard the MS Oldenburg.

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Her route takes us back to the Devon coast, to a resort town with a difference.

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200 years ago, the seaside holiday we take for granted was still being invented.

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In places like Ilfracombe they faced some formidable challenges, not least just getting to the beach.

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High cliffs stand all around the sheltered coves.

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So in the 1820s they looked across the Severn Sea for a solution.

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They brought in the real experts to break through the cliffs,

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miners from South Wales.

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I'm going to follow in the footsteps of those miners to explore how the

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Victorians learnt to love to be beside the sea.

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My guide is outdoor swimmer Kate Rew.

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Now, I'm amazed at this. This seems like an awful lot of trouble to go

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to for a swim, to actually dig a tunnel through a rock!

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It's amazing what people will do to get to a nice beach.

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Look at that, that's where it's been cut. That's maybe where they've drilled for blasting.

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All so that they could get to a beach for a swim.

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Some of us are very desperate to get into the water.

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Capitalising on the newfangled fashion for taking a dip, the Ilfracombe Sea Bathing Company's

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Welsh miners dug four tunnels through solid rock, wide enough to take a horse and carriage.

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They swam in from bathing machines, they were called, wooden huts on

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wheels that would be horse drawn all the way through these tunnels.

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And three foot into the water, where the ladies would elegantly step out.

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Bathing machines were portable changing rooms

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for preserving a lady's modesty in this novel environment.

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Once in the water, the novice bathers had to learn how to behave.

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The whole experience was stage managed.

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At Ilfracombe, they held back the rough seas by fencing off tidal pools.

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Walls were built to hold in calm water.

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Early bathers still needed some encouragement, and with the prospect

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of a swim here myself, I know how they felt.

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Looking forward to your dip?

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Let's talk about that later.

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Well, I've got an album here that I'd like to show you of someone who was here

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at all times during Victorian times to encourage people, people like you, to go swimming.

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He's not the kind of figure I expected.

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This is Professor Harry Parker, who was quite a figure around here.

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-He certainly was, that's quite a figure!

-With his top hat and his comedy nose,

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and he is one of England's greatest natatorial artistes.

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-Easy for you to say.

-Absolutely, and he would teach any good people on the beach diving and fancy swimming.

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Tricks like lighting a cigar while swimming, drinking a glass of champagne.

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This kind of comedy action showed how happy people could be in the water.

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Was it a family affair?

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Very much not, actually, even though the Victorians

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were very family orientated, the beaches were strictly segregated.

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So we're sitting here on, this is the men's beach, so men only.

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The women would be taken through the headland to the other side and

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a bugler would sit on the rocks in between and if any man dared swim out the area

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-enough to actually catch sight of the women, then a horn would be blown loudly.

-Wow!

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They would be ejected, there were newspaper reports saying that, you know, if the men were named that had

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committed this crime, then they would be thrown out of civilised society. It was very strict.

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Not only were they confined to separate beaches, there was a strict dress code too.

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And quite a double standard for men and women.

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The Victorian lady had to be very properly dressed when she

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went into the water, and these are the kinds of things that they wore.

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-Very nice.

-So you needed a good pair of pantaloons, below the knee obviously, to preserve her modesty.

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And a kind of dress or smock over the top, and these were apparently sometimes weighed down with lead

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pellets around the hem to stop them floating up.

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Lead is what you want on a swimming costume in the open sea!

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Half a pound of lead shot.

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-It would be like swimming in a sort of a hessian sack, I think, by the time it's wet.

-And what about me?

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-What do I get?

-You delightfully get to swim in the buff!

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Oh, come on! I wanted a duffle coat, wellington boots and a hat.

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She's not joking.

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Away from the ladies, hidden behind the headland on their own beach,

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those Victorian gents were a lot less buttoned up than you might imagine.

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It wasn't uncommon for the men to swim in the nude,

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even if the women on the beach next door were covered up.

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Swimming in the buff? I thought Victorian gentlemen had more decorum.

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Where's Queen Victoria when you need her? That's what I want to know.

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The tidal pool is still used today.

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The water is calmer and warmer than the sea around it.

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It's still a bit chilly all the same.

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-Watch out, you might get arrested.

-I can definitely hear a bugler!

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The Welsh miners who crossed the sea to open up the beaches of Ilfracombe

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were followed by waves of tourists on day trips between England and Wales.

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In the late 19th and early 20th century,

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pleasure boats criss-crossed the Severn Sea.

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The motor vessel Balmoral is a relic of a time when

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foreign travel was, for some, a booze cruise between the resorts of South Wales and North Devon.

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By the 1960s, exotic locations overseas made the pleasure steamers look dated and the

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opening of the Severn Bridge meant the sea was no longer the quickest route between England and Wales.

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Travelling along this coast, though, has always been a struggle.

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This is where Exmoor meets the Severn Sea.

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These imposing sea cliffs posed another challenge

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to Victorian engineers opening up this coast for tourists.

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In 1890, Lynmouth, by the sea, was linked with Lynton, up the hill,

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by a water-powered funicular railway that's still going strong.

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But not everyone wants to take the short cut.

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Nick Crane is meeting some pioneers who were determined to tackle these cliffs the hard way.

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It's 1953 and the world's highest mountain has been conquered

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in a breathtaking 29,000 ft ascent.

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The achievement prompted one mountaineer who'd missed out on the

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Everest adventure to plan a conquest of his own. Not up, but along.

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And it was a lot more than 29,000 ft.

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In his younger days, Clement Archer had been working in India when Everest was conquered.

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It's thought that he'd secretly hoped to join that expedition.

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Instead, Archer pioneered a new concept here on the Exmoor coast.

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Nowadays we might call it coasteering, a 14-mile climb along

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sea cliffs sandwiched perilously between pounding sea and sky.

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The purists know this route as the Exmoor Traverse.

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It runs from Foreland Point to Combe Martin,

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nearly three times longer than the ascent of Everest.

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And this route wasn't completed until 25 years after Everest.

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In 1978, Terry Cheek and a team of three young police cadets finally conquered the Exmoor Traverse.

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It took them four days and nights.

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Their achievement has not been matched since.

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30 years later, Terry and two of his team are back at the Exmoor Traverse.

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Ah, now what is going on there?

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You've got no rope shift, you're creeping around under an overhang above the water,

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wearing what look like soggy jeans.

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Yeah, and of course it was flares back 30 years ago.

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You did this in flared jeans?

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Do you remember this part of it, Trevor?

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Yeah, and talking about the clothing, the boots were made of

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pressed cardboard with a rubber sole.

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They were very cheap and not very flexible to begin with.

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Course, they get saturated with water and it's almost like

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wearing papier-mache while rock climbing. So it's a real challenge.

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If you don't get it right, you're cut off.

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And that may, without getting dramatic about it, mean drowning.

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What they call risk assessment, I don't remember us

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talking about those words back then.

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I'm not sure there was a risk assessment.

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Absolutely not, otherwise we wouldn't have done it!

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Terry was already an experienced climber in 1978.

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He's in his sixties now and still loves these cliffs.

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He's challenged me to take on a section of this daunting traverse.

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The Exmoor Everest.

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-The Exmoor Everest.

-Shall we go down?

-Yes, certainly.

0:23:230:23:25

Doesn't sound like a walk in the park.

0:23:290:23:32

Below, below.

0:23:340:23:36

I just kicked a rock down which is not good when you've got somebody below.

0:23:360:23:40

Terry, the nature of this route in rock-climbing terms is pretty bizarre really, it seems to me.

0:23:430:23:49

Because I associate climbing with going up mountains, not going horizontally along, sideways.

0:23:490:23:56

The climbing is much the same. I mean, you really set your own rules.

0:23:560:24:00

We set a rule of not entering the water and not climbing out onto the grass line above the rock.

0:24:000:24:05

It's probably one of the harder spots

0:24:050:24:10

because we're only about three feet above the high water mark now.

0:24:110:24:16

So, I mean, only a couple of hours ago the waves were bashing at the bottom of this, weren't they?

0:24:160:24:20

Just below my feet, yes.

0:24:200:24:24

This is a bit of a tricky move, isn't it?

0:24:240:24:26

It's quite difficult.

0:24:270:24:29

That's it, cling your hands underneath that spike.

0:24:290:24:33

I'm clinging on to everything I can!

0:24:330:24:35

Look down at your feet, you'll be OK there.

0:24:350:24:37

-Under here it's all wet and slimy.

-Yes.

0:24:370:24:39

It's covered in sea water.

0:24:390:24:42

Jam the hands up in that crack. I know it's wet and it's painful.

0:24:420:24:45

Very tricky. Now what?

0:24:470:24:49

Some of the finger holes are really pretty minute, aren't they?

0:24:490:24:54

It's not quite as easy as...

0:24:560:24:58

sitting at a desk

0:24:580:25:01

working on my laptop, it has to be said.

0:25:010:25:04

If you get caught by a rising tide or a storm surge in the Bristol Channel, what do you do?

0:25:070:25:12

Once you've been driven above the high water mark, then you are in unknown territory.

0:25:120:25:17

You could be in absolute hell about 70 feet up on probably rock and vegetation.

0:25:170:25:23

We had to resort to climbing at night, waiting on

0:25:260:25:29

the cliffs for the tide to

0:25:290:25:32

recede to get past a difficult section, and it was freezing.

0:25:320:25:37

We also discovered what barnacles could do to your hands.

0:25:370:25:40

You know, it's like very rough, coarse sand paper. Very painful.

0:25:400:25:44

I've only done a section of this climb, and as

0:25:440:25:47

we haul ourselves up the cliff I'm feeling pretty exhilarated.

0:25:470:25:51

I've got nothing but admiration for the achievement of Terry and his team three decades ago.

0:25:510:25:57

I'm left too with a new respect for the awesome cliffs and the fierce tides of the Severn Sea.

0:25:570:26:04

Eventually, the imposing cliffs of north Devon give up their grip on the coast.

0:26:060:26:11

At Bridgwater Bay at low tide, the shallow water becomes a vast expanse of mud.

0:26:180:26:24

On the edge of the bay, in Stolford, there's a fishing family who

0:26:240:26:28

for generations have earned their living from the mud.

0:26:280:26:32

To come home with a decent catch,

0:26:340:26:36

they rely on centuries-old skills, and ancient tools, unique to the men of the mudflats.

0:26:360:26:42

My name is Brendan Sellick and I've been a mudhorse fisherman

0:26:440:26:47

all my working life ever since I was a nipper.

0:26:470:26:51

I used the mudhorse right up till well in me 70s.

0:26:510:26:54

My son Adrian is now doing it.

0:26:560:26:58

He's pushing the mudhorse because it's a very physical job.

0:26:580:27:01

You've got to be fit out there in the soft mud.

0:27:010:27:03

If you tried to go and do that without a mudhorse, some days you'd just disappear.

0:27:030:27:10

It gets in your bones and when I first started there was

0:27:110:27:15

quite a number of families in this estuary doing it.

0:27:150:27:18

Not only around here but all around the Bridgwater bay.

0:27:180:27:20

It's just now got that there's just us left.

0:27:200:27:24

We come out in all weathers, even if it's snowing, sleet, hailstones.

0:27:240:27:30

We do get worn down like any other job, I suppose,

0:27:300:27:32

but this job you've got to come out otherwise your catch gets spoilt.

0:27:320:27:37

On a day like today, I know it's a bit drizzly, but it's quite pleasant.

0:27:370:27:41

You feel the breeze and then you know the tide's turned.

0:27:410:27:45

Should be turning now in a minute.

0:27:450:27:48

You work with the tide, not the tide works with you.

0:27:480:27:52

You don't really know what you're going to catch with it, but that's what I like about it.

0:27:520:27:56

Brown shrimp, that's what we're mainly after.

0:27:560:27:59

When I've got a few little dover sole, slip soles.

0:28:000:28:04

One or two prawns.

0:28:040:28:06

We've caught all sorts out here. I've had a little lobster, a seahorse.

0:28:060:28:10

And what I do is give them a sieve,

0:28:100:28:14

let all the baby shrimps go

0:28:150:28:17

and pick the rubbish out I don't want.

0:28:200:28:22

That's my favourite, the little slip soles.

0:28:270:28:30

Rolled in flour, fried in butter.

0:28:300:28:32

Beautiful.

0:28:320:28:34

There's a nice skate.

0:28:360:28:38

Two hours ago, that was swimming.

0:28:500:28:53

How fresher do you want than that?

0:28:530:28:55

Onwards to one of Britain's great maritime cities.

0:29:060:29:11

For centuries, Bristol has thrived as a hub for international trade, the metropolis of the Severn Sea.

0:29:110:29:18

In 1497, John Cabot connected Bristol to the New World by sailing to Newfoundland.

0:29:190:29:26

A replica of Cabot's little ship sits next to the mighty SS Great Britain, the first ocean-going ship

0:29:280:29:35

with an iron hull, brainchild of Isambard Kingdom Brunel.

0:29:350:29:39

Bristol's famous sons are remembered by their historic ships.

0:29:410:29:45

But Mark Horton's on the trail of the city's unsung hero,

0:29:450:29:49

whose memorial is written on the side of modern ships worldwide.

0:29:490:29:54

Bristol's port carries 12 million tonnes of cargo every year.

0:29:560:30:01

Hundreds of steel containers are moved every day.

0:30:010:30:05

So they have to run a tight ship here.

0:30:050:30:08

To check that a vessel is not overloaded, every ship has to have a series of lines painted on the side.

0:30:100:30:17

They're known as the Plimsoll line, and over the last 140 years they've saved thousands of lives.

0:30:170:30:25

If the water comes over the Plimsoll line when the ship's being loaded, it's too heavy and might sink.

0:30:250:30:32

This warning mark was the brainwave of Bristol born Samuel Plimsoll.

0:30:320:30:37

Remarkably, 140 years ago, a simple brush-stroke made Plimsoll the most

0:30:370:30:43

popular man in Britain, and nearly brought down the government.

0:30:430:30:47

But aside from a modest plaque, there's very little in Bristol to mark his extraordinary story.

0:30:470:30:53

In the 19th century, there was a national scandal in our ports.

0:30:530:30:58

Greedy owners deliberately overloaded ships to increase profits,

0:30:580:31:03

or claim on the insurance when their overburdened ships sank.

0:31:030:31:08

Samuel Plimsoll realised a line must be drawn.

0:31:080:31:12

Now, though, the nation has all but forgotten his struggle.

0:31:120:31:16

Writer Nicolette Jones is as passionate as I am about restoring Plimsoll's reputation.

0:31:160:31:24

How big a problem was overloaded ships in the 19th century?

0:31:240:31:28

Bigger than you'd think.

0:31:280:31:30

The reports suggest that 500 sailors a year

0:31:300:31:33

lost their lives unnecessarily.

0:31:330:31:35

Something like 856 ships went down within 10 miles of the British coast in 1871.

0:31:350:31:42

In conditions that were no worse than a strong breeze.

0:31:420:31:45

Which suggests that there was quite a prevalence of avarice and neglect.

0:31:450:31:49

I've got an example here, the London Times, March 1st 1866,

0:31:490:31:54

and it tells of the loss of the London.

0:31:540:31:58

"The ship is sinking, no hope of being saved, God bless my poor orphans."

0:31:580:32:04

Was this common?

0:32:040:32:06

It was one of the sad events that triggered

0:32:060:32:08

Plimsoll's campaign because the London, a ship that was

0:32:080:32:11

travelling to Australia, was partly a passenger ship and also carried a great deal of cargo.

0:32:110:32:17

A lot of the witnesses who saw it leave said it

0:32:170:32:19

was conspicuously overloaded, it was too low in the water.

0:32:190:32:23

And 270 people drowned, so it struck a chord with the public.

0:32:230:32:27

So in many ways the London was sort of the Titanic of an earlier generation?

0:32:270:32:33

Yes, it was, and the inquiry afterwards did suggest that perhaps

0:32:330:32:36

a load line in the future would avoid this kind of catastrophe.

0:32:360:32:41

Plimsoll campaigned to get his safe load line painted on ships.

0:32:410:32:47

But knowing exactly where to draw the line isn't as simple as it seems.

0:32:470:32:52

It has a lot to do with salt.

0:32:520:32:54

Scientist John Polatch has offered to give us a demonstration using

0:32:540:32:58

two tanks of water, one salty and one fresh.

0:32:580:33:03

And we have some eggs here and we can show with the eggs that

0:33:030:33:06

things float differently in fresh water than they do in salt water.

0:33:060:33:09

So, if we pop an egg into fresh water, it sinks.

0:33:090:33:12

and salt water.

0:33:120:33:15

It floats! So we've got a couple of little boats there.

0:33:150:33:18

We've got some weights that we can attach to these little tin boats.

0:33:180:33:22

I'm going to come down and look at this close up.

0:33:220:33:24

We also have some cargo to load into them.

0:33:240:33:27

You've got to be careful it's balanced.

0:33:270:33:30

Now, that's looking good.

0:33:300:33:33

So that's now floating pretty well.

0:33:330:33:36

So shall we now take this one out and put it in fresh water?

0:33:370:33:43

It should sink.

0:33:430:33:45

And that is precisely why the ship can sail with heavier cargo in

0:33:450:33:51

sea water, because it has more buoyancy in the water.

0:33:510:33:54

So, ships are marked with different lines for salt and freshwater,

0:33:540:34:00

but climate plays a part too.

0:34:000:34:02

Ship's pilot Paul Chase needs to know one line from another.

0:34:020:34:07

We have this for the summer.

0:34:070:34:10

The regions of the world have been split up.

0:34:100:34:12

This is our summer load line.

0:34:120:34:15

If we go to tropical, T for Tropical.

0:34:150:34:19

Better weather, therefore we can load the ship deeper.

0:34:190:34:23

If we go to weather that's worse, we refer to it as winter, we have to load it less.

0:34:230:34:28

So it's temperature-dependent but salt-dependent as well.

0:34:280:34:31

Yes, you're right.

0:34:310:34:33

With so many lives at stake, you'd think painting a line on a ship wouldn't be controversial.

0:34:330:34:40

But it took Plimsoll years of bitter struggle.

0:34:400:34:44

There were too many vested interests.

0:34:440:34:46

Plimsoll became an MP and found himself in a house full of ship-owning MPs

0:34:460:34:51

who wanted to make as much profit as possible and who sabotaged his legislation at every stage.

0:34:510:34:56

So there must have been immense parliamentary battles to achieve this

0:34:560:34:59

and rather like the battles to abolish the slave trade.

0:34:590:35:02

Yes, Plimsoll's story is very much a story about machinations in the corridors of power.

0:35:020:35:07

It reached its climax when Plimsoll lost his temper.

0:35:070:35:11

He called ship owners murderers and the MPs who colluded with them villains.

0:35:110:35:15

He shook his fist at Disraeli. The most celebrated moment of his career.

0:35:150:35:20

And it led to a huge national outcry which nearly ousted Disraeli from government and led

0:35:200:35:24

to a hasty Merchant Shipping Bill which introduced the Plimsoll mark as we know it.

0:35:240:35:30

Plimsoll's triumph over the greed of ship owners and the corruption of MPs

0:35:300:35:36

made him a national hero to the Victorians.

0:35:360:35:39

It's ironic that today he's perhaps better known

0:35:390:35:44

for the shoes that were named after him.

0:35:440:35:48

I'm wearing a pair of plimsolls, which are perfectly dry,

0:35:480:35:52

providing the water doesn't rise above the rubber.

0:35:520:35:56

We leave Bristol and head back out to sea, over Portbury and Avonmouth

0:36:010:36:06

docks and up the estuary to Purton, on the banks of the Severn.

0:36:060:36:12

I've come to the graveyard of the Severn Sea.

0:36:120:36:15

The Purton Hulks.

0:36:150:36:17

A collection of dead ships that lie sprawled for a mile and a half along the estuary.

0:36:170:36:23

They were brought here to stop erosion by the strong currents.

0:36:240:36:29

Holes were knocked into their hulls so that they silted up and stayed put.

0:36:290:36:34

A lot of these vessels spent their working lives plying up and down the estuary.

0:36:340:36:39

But now they're just an eerie reminder of a time not so very

0:36:390:36:43

long ago when the only way to cross that stretch of water was by boat.

0:36:430:36:47

Its Welsh name, Mor Havren, the Severn Sea, says it all.

0:36:500:36:54

But now that sea has been tamed by two great bridges across the estuary.

0:36:540:36:59

Look hard alongside the first Severn bridge and there's still evidence of the earlier crossing between England

0:37:010:37:07

and Wales, the car ramp for the ferry, abandoned when the service stopped in 1966.

0:37:070:37:12

Back in the '60s, this crossing saved a 50-mile trip round the estuary.

0:37:150:37:19

But you still had to wait for the ferry.

0:37:190:37:22

Long enough for one famous passenger to get caught on camera.

0:37:260:37:30

In May 1966, Bob Dylan had just performed in Bristol

0:37:300:37:33

on his Judas tour, so-called because he'd gone electric.

0:37:330:37:39

Dylan had been booed by some fans, and was facing an uncertain reception in Cardiff.

0:37:390:37:44

The times were changing for the ferry too.

0:37:440:37:48

In the background, the first Severn Bridge just weeks from completion.

0:37:480:37:53

The day it opened, not everyone was cheering.

0:37:530:37:57

Enoch Williams, the ferry owner, lost his livelihood.

0:38:010:38:04

His passion for the old ferry still runs in the family, and Enoch is not forgotten.

0:38:040:38:11

My name is Richard Jones, I'm the eldest grandson of Enoch Williams,

0:38:110:38:15

who was the founder of the last incarnation of the Beachley-Aust ferry.

0:38:150:38:20

This boat on which we're standing at the moment is the Severn Princess.

0:38:200:38:24

This crossing was very important because it was the only crossing available for car traffic.

0:38:240:38:30

It was a lifeline to people in their daily business.

0:38:300:38:33

Many people courted on the ferries.

0:38:330:38:35

Girls in England meeting gentlemen from Wales and vice versa.

0:38:350:38:39

Everybody knew the bridge was coming, because they could see the bridge being built.

0:38:390:38:45

I think Enoch still harboured thoughts of continuing but it became obvious

0:38:450:38:49

the bridge really was going to be a very different proposition

0:38:490:38:52

and so he decided that it would not be economical and there was really no point in fighting against it.

0:38:520:38:58

He tried his best to make sure that the company obtained as much compensation as possible.

0:38:580:39:03

How much do I think I'm going to get is a sore point.

0:39:030:39:06

What we are worth and what we are going to get are two different things.

0:39:060:39:10

-Would you say you would get, what, 20 or 30,000?

-Oh, no, that isn't the price of a boat.

0:39:100:39:14

-A lot more than that then? 100,000?

-And a bit more.

0:39:140:39:17

The last day that the service carried cars was September 8th 1966,

0:39:170:39:22

the day that the first Severn Bridge opened.

0:39:220:39:24

To commemorate the first crossing of the Severn Bridge, I have great pleasure in unveiling this plaque.

0:39:240:39:31

It was a joyous day in some ways because everybody likes a party,

0:39:330:39:37

but it was also very sad to see my grandfather's lifelong work come to an end.

0:39:370:39:42

I would not wish to be considered a traitor, but at age 17, the bridge opened up huge new possibilities.

0:39:420:39:49

So a great feeling of regret, but at the same time

0:39:490:39:51

that was tempered somewhat by a feeling of new freedom.

0:39:510:39:55

Moving west, The deep water ports of Newport and Cardiff

0:39:590:40:03

were built to trade far beyond the confines of the Severn Sea.

0:40:030:40:07

Exports of coal helped finance the building of resorts like Penarth for miners on day trips close to home.

0:40:080:40:15

But the appeal of the South Wales coast stretches far beyond these shores.

0:40:180:40:23

At St Donat's, it's not hard to see the attraction.

0:40:230:40:26

A grand coastline, and a grand castle.

0:40:260:40:30

It boasts 800 years of history, but by the start of the 20th century

0:40:330:40:38

countless careless owners had left St Donat's in need of a little love.

0:40:380:40:43

In 1925, it was about to attract a wealthy overseas admirer.

0:40:430:40:50

Hermione Cockburn's exploring how one of the world's richest men

0:40:500:40:54

transformed this castle into a pleasure palace.

0:40:540:40:57

This is an edition of Country Life from the early 1900s.

0:41:000:41:05

And alongside articles of bird watching and trout fishing,

0:41:050:41:09

there's an illustrated feature about a Welsh castle down on its luck.

0:41:090:41:13

But St Donat's would soon capture one reader's heart.

0:41:130:41:17

The magazine attracted the attention of one of America's great newspaper

0:41:170:41:22

magnates, William Randolph Hearst.

0:41:220:41:25

He was one of the most powerful men in the USA, calling the shots both in Washington and Hollywood.

0:41:250:41:31

His media empire could make and break politicians and movie stars alike.

0:41:310:41:36

Hearst, famously the inspiration for the film Citizen Kane,

0:41:360:41:41

had a passion for excess and the money to indulge it.

0:41:410:41:45

He'd already built one extravagant castle,

0:41:450:41:47

on the Californian coast at San Simeon, complete with its own zoo.

0:41:470:41:51

But why, in 1925, was he hatching a new scheme

0:41:510:41:56

thousands of miles away on the Welsh coast?

0:41:560:41:59

Without ever coming to Wales, he cabled his staff in London, "Buy St Donat's Castle".

0:42:010:42:07

And so he acquired this modest pile in need of a little work.

0:42:070:42:12

It was another three years before he set foot here, but when he did,

0:42:160:42:20

he turned the place upside down.

0:42:200:42:22

Before Hearst, St Donat's boasted just three bathrooms.

0:42:220:42:27

He fitted another 32!

0:42:270:42:29

Like all good fixer-uppers, he installed central heating,

0:42:290:42:33

as well as connecting the castle to the water mains.

0:42:330:42:36

And he added not one but three tennis courts, and a heated pool.

0:42:360:42:40

With the essentials fixed, Hearst really started to show off,

0:42:420:42:45

and decided the Welsh history of the house wasn't quite enough.

0:42:450:42:49

To discover the full extent of Hearst's fantasies, I'm meeting Thea Osborne,

0:42:490:42:54

who's studied the man and his dream castle.

0:42:540:42:58

Look at this room.

0:42:580:42:59

-Yeah, it's amazing, isn't it?

-It is fantastic.

0:42:590:43:03

And look at the ceiling.

0:43:030:43:05

It's absolutely beautiful.

0:43:050:43:07

What's the history of this part of the castle?

0:43:070:43:09

Hearst actually built this room himself, originally

0:43:090:43:12

this was the outer wall and he added on these three extra walls.

0:43:120:43:16

And he imported the ceiling from the Bradenstoke Priory in Wiltshire.

0:43:160:43:20

A 14th-century ceiling, he brought it and built the room around it.

0:43:200:43:23

Unbelievable. You would never guess to look at it.

0:43:230:43:26

It looks so well integrated.

0:43:260:43:29

The ceiling and the windows both come from Bradenstoke Priory.

0:43:290:43:32

But what kind of reaction did he get?

0:43:320:43:35

This is not something he would get away with today.

0:43:350:43:38

It caused controversy at the time.

0:43:380:43:40

Various Members of Parliament called it vandalism of historic buildings.

0:43:400:43:44

But he had enough money and he was quite determined about what he

0:43:440:43:47

wanted to do and create the right entertaining space for himself.

0:43:470:43:50

-Entertaining space? Was this his party room?

-Yeah,

0:43:500:43:55

he'd sort of have dance and dinners here for all of his various famous guests.

0:43:550:43:59

And what kind of people would have come?

0:43:590:44:02

Well, he had members of the Hollywood elite including Charlie Chaplin and the Warner brothers and

0:44:020:44:07

then people from the UK like Winston Churchill, David Lloyd George, the Mountbattens came and stayed.

0:44:070:44:13

What about the fireplaces? There's a beautiful one at that end of the room, very ornate one there.

0:44:130:44:18

These, presumably, aren't original either?

0:44:180:44:21

No, he had a thing for fireplaces, brought in 18 in total and put them all over the castle.

0:44:210:44:25

These ones are both from France.

0:44:250:44:27

He plucked them from various areas within France and the UK and

0:44:270:44:30

-would even cut them down in size so they fitted in the room just in the way he wanted.

-Quite extraordinary.

0:44:300:44:36

Yeah, it's amazing.

0:44:360:44:38

So what else did Hearst get away with?

0:44:380:44:41

Gothic screens, ancient coats of arms,

0:44:410:44:45

and the gilded ceiling from St Botolph's, a celebrated parish church

0:44:450:44:50

in Boston, Lincolnshire, all found their way here to satisfy Hearst's insatiable appetite for history.

0:44:500:44:57

In truth, Hearst wasn't just a lover of history, he was a lover, a man with a mistress.

0:45:000:45:07

So a little Welsh hideaway a few thousand miles from home suddenly starts to make sense.

0:45:070:45:13

Her name was Marion Davies, a Hollywood actress.

0:45:130:45:19

Marion and Hearst loved to entertain the rich and famous, and she was the

0:45:190:45:23

reason for this private little scheme, well away from prying eyes.

0:45:230:45:28

But for all the money he lavished on this castle, Hearst spent just a few months here.

0:45:290:45:34

He lost control of his empire in the Great Depression, and with it most of his wealth.

0:45:340:45:40

Hearst and Davies, the American lovers, may have abandoned this Welsh castle,

0:45:400:45:47

but the world has moved in.

0:45:470:45:49

St Donat's is now home to Atlantic College, a private boarding school.

0:45:510:45:56

350 sixth-formers from 75 countries live and study here.

0:45:560:46:02

The students are encouraged to make the most of their coastal home.

0:46:030:46:08

They even run their own in-shore life boat with the RNLI.

0:46:080:46:13

After a hard day on the water, they're probably grateful for

0:46:180:46:22

the bathrooms and central heating put in by William Randolph Hearst.

0:46:220:46:27

Atlantic College attracts students from all over the world,

0:46:320:46:36

but just a little further down the coast, near the vast Merthyr Mawr dune system, one group of visitors

0:46:360:46:42

came a lot less willingly, and were a little too eager to leave.

0:46:420:46:47

The wide open spaces here are a good place to roam free, or to hide.

0:46:470:46:53

Around 60 years ago, a deadly serious game of hide and seek was about to begin.

0:46:530:46:58

-It's the morning of Sunday 11th March 1945.

-BELLS RING

0:46:590:47:05

Listen carefully and you might hear the sound of bells carried on the wind across this coast.

0:47:050:47:11

That ringing sound isn't a comforting call to prayer, it's a grim call to action.

0:47:110:47:17

At the height of the war, church bells would only have been rung to signal invasion.

0:47:170:47:22

But now, in 1945, they were sounded in a desperate attempt to warn that

0:47:220:47:27

there might be Germans at loose in these dunes, not trying to invade, but to escape.

0:47:270:47:33

I've got a recording from the day the story broke.

0:47:330:47:37

'Here is the midnight news for today, Sunday 11th March, and this is Alvar Lidell reading it.

0:47:370:47:43

'70 Germans escaped from a prisoner of war camp at Bridgend, Glamorgan,

0:47:430:47:48

'last night and it is thought that the men may have found cover in the Welsh

0:47:480:47:51

'hills and sparsely-populated valleys or in the caves and sand dunes on the coast a few miles from the camp.'

0:47:510:47:58

So were there German prisoners roaming these sand dunes?

0:48:000:48:04

Soon, a massive manhunt was under way.

0:48:040:48:07

It seemed every available man and woman had been mobilised.

0:48:070:48:11

Even the local girl guides wanted in on the act.

0:48:110:48:16

The fear was real enough.

0:48:160:48:18

By 1945, around 400,000 German prisoners of war were being held in camps up and down Britain.

0:48:180:48:25

NEWSREADER: 'At one of the camps in Britain, ex-German sailors saved from sunken U-boats and ex-German airmen

0:48:250:48:31

'whose planes were brought down are learning to start life afresh in more peaceful jobs.'

0:48:310:48:37

One of those camps was Island Farm, near Bridgend, close to these dunes.

0:48:370:48:43

By March 1945, there were around 1,600 German prisoners of war in the camp here.

0:48:480:48:56

Most of it's been demolished now, in fact, that hut is all that remains.

0:48:560:49:00

But that is Hut Number 9, the hut from which the escape attempt originated.

0:49:000:49:05

One of the main problems for prisoners of war is boredom.

0:49:050:49:11

So the men here spent time drawing sketches of naked women on the walls.

0:49:110:49:15

But they weren't drawing just to pass the time.

0:49:150:49:18

The racy paintings were there to distract the guards from a daring

0:49:180:49:22

plan that was being hatched right under their noses.

0:49:220:49:26

The prisoners were busy making other drawings too.

0:49:260:49:29

On this handkerchief they sketched a plan of the Welsh and Irish coasts.

0:49:290:49:33

And on a shirt tail, they drew a map of the English Channel.

0:49:340:49:38

But the heavy work was happening silently, underground.

0:49:400:49:44

This is an old tin can. It was used for digging and for removing spoil.

0:49:440:49:50

This is a rough, extremely primitive digging tool made from two lengths of pipe tied together with string

0:49:500:49:56

or wire, just enough to give them purchase to cut at the clay.

0:49:560:50:01

This is a block of the clay, the actual clay that that was removed during the digging of the tunnel.

0:50:010:50:09

In a laborious process they had to compact it into balls, carry it in their pockets

0:50:090:50:13

and then hide the whole heap inside that building so that the guards would be none the wiser.

0:50:130:50:18

But of course, after all the elaborate planning, the back-breaking work and the danger

0:50:180:50:23

of it all, there came the night when there was nothing left to do but put it all into action.

0:50:230:50:29

So how many Germans hid here in the dunes?

0:50:370:50:40

Writer and historian Herbert Williams

0:50:420:50:44

knows the full story of the "great escape" from Hut 9.

0:50:440:50:47

67 escaped, they dug a 60-foot tunnel under the barbed wire

0:50:490:50:54

into a field beyond.

0:50:540:50:56

Were there high-ranking officers? Rank and file?

0:50:560:50:59

They were young officers, they were determined really not to submit to being prisoners of war.

0:50:590:51:04

Some of them were really devoted Nazis, they belonged to the Hitler Youth.

0:51:040:51:09

This was a big, big story when it broke, all these Germans loose in South Wales.

0:51:090:51:15

So Fleet Street gobbled up the story for the big news all over Britain.

0:51:150:51:21

-So there's the notorious tunnel.

-Yes, there it is, yes.

0:51:210:51:25

Some were captured quickly, close to the prison camp,

0:51:250:51:29

others were determined to make it across the sea to freedom.

0:51:290:51:32

Four of the Germans planned to get to an airfield.

0:51:320:51:35

They found a car, but it wouldn't start, so they

0:51:350:51:39

persuaded prison guards, coming home from the pub, to give them a hand.

0:51:390:51:43

These Germans, they said to them, "We are Norwegians, engineers, on important war work.

0:51:450:51:51

"We must get to Croydon but our car won't start.

0:51:510:51:54

"Could you help us push-start it?"

0:51:540:51:56

And they said, "Yes, of course, boy, of course we'll get you, get in the car, we'll push-start."

0:51:560:52:01

So they push-started the car and off they went.

0:52:010:52:04

-And how far did they get?

-They got 130 miles to the outskirts of an

0:52:040:52:08

airport and hid in the wood there and some farm workers found them in the edge of the wood and the game was up.

0:52:080:52:14

But the furthest anyone got were a couple of escaped prisoners that went to Southampton.

0:52:140:52:20

All of the Germans were recaptured before they could cross the Channel.

0:52:220:52:26

The waters round our coastline, so long a barricade keeping the Nazis out,

0:52:260:52:30

ultimately formed a stockade, holding them in.

0:52:300:52:35

On this journey, I've been impressed how the people

0:52:370:52:40

of this coast have reached out together across the Severn Sea.

0:52:400:52:45

They've forged links overseas from the earliest times,

0:52:450:52:49

like the early arms trade with warriors on distant shores.

0:52:490:52:53

And co-operated closer to home, like the Welsh miners who cut tunnels through English rock at Ilfracombe.

0:52:530:53:00

Steamers, ferries and bridges have transformed these two coastlines into one.

0:53:000:53:06

Standing here on the Welsh shoreline,

0:53:090:53:12

looking out across Mor Havren, the Severn Sea, it strikes me that the few miles of water between

0:53:120:53:18

Wales and England have done just as much to unite these two nations as they have to separate them.

0:53:180:53:25

The series continues with a journey from Cornwall to South Wales.

Neil Oliver casts his own bronze sword and discovers how demand for tin 3,500 years ago put Cornwall at the centre of an international arms trade. Neil also explores the site of the Welsh Great Escape, when nearly 70 German prisoners of war were on the loose in the sand dunes after tunnelling out of a prisoner of war camp on the coast of Wales.

Newcomer to Coast and champion surfer Renee Godfrey swims with seals and searches out rare corals on the island paradise of Lundy. On Exmoor's treacherous sea cliffs, Nick Crane is challenged to an epic sideways climb, originally inspired by the conquest of Everest. Nick meets the men who set a record for this uniquely British endurance test.

Hermione Cockburn discovers how American media mogul William Randolph Hearst, the inspiration for Citizen Kane, transformed a run-down castle on the Welsh coast into a fabulous fun palace for the rich and famous.

The last family of mud-horse fishermen reveal the fruits of a day's work on the Severn Estuary mudflats, and Mark Horton visits Bristol to uncover the story of Samuel Plimsoll. He became a national hero in the 1800s when he campaigned against the corruption of ship-owning MPs, and made sailors safer by painting a simple line on the side of ships.