On the final leg of his journey, Neil Oliver visits the bustling port of Rosyth to explore Britain's global sea trade. Miranda Krestovnikoff lands on the Bass Rock.
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I'm back on home territory, on Edinburgh's mighty seaway,
the Firth of Forth.
My journey will take me south along the majestic beauty of a coast where
Scotland gives way to Northumberland and on to the industrial powerhouse of England's North East.
All the way down to the Humber Estuary.
And I can promise you some extraordinary encounters.
Miranda Krestovnikoff gets dive-bombed by gannets.
This is what gannets are really famous for -
this plummet right into the water to catch the fish.
Dick Strawbridge has a riveting experience.
Imagine doing half a million of these.
-Hai, hai, hai!
..is fighting with Vikings.
-Do you still believe you can move it?
And some tough ladies pit themselves against a two-tonne lifeboat
to test the legend of a famous rescue.
This is Coast.
From Norway, I've crossed the North Sea.
Now we're on our way to the Humber Estuary and the port of Hull,
a journey connecting England and Scotland,
which starts at another port - Rosyth.
There's a certain romance to a port - in among all the machinery,
there's a tangible sense of connections to the wider world.
And ports like this are connected to every one of us.
This wood has travelled all the way from Latvia, and this in turn is used to make pallets like these.
And pallets are used to carry all the things that people want -
televisions, washing machines, fridges - you name it, all goods that are themselves imported.
A staggering amount of stuff arrives by sea - food, medicine, clothes.
The coast is where we do business with the world.
Rosyth, though, wasn't built for trade. It started life as a naval
dockyard, serving in two World Wars and one Cold War.
But our hunger for goods meant that in 1999, part of the port was opened up to commerce.
I'm meeting Alf Baird to find out the scale of our sea trading today.
He's got some eye-opening numbers for me.
Just how much stuff do we import?
The UK ports handle 600 million tonnes of trade every year,
with a value of £340 billion -
two thirds of that's imports, one third is exports.
On a global scale, how big a chunk of the market is that?
Well, the UK has Europe's largest port system and largest port trade of all European countries.
-95% of UK trade is carried by ship.
95% by tonnage. As an island nation, sea ports are absolutely essential.
Why do we import so much stuff?
I think it's just part of a global trend...increased demand from consumers
for a range of different products.
We've seen a phenomenal increase in the size of container ships,
which means the unit cost of transporting goods around the world is much cheaper.
We now see jeans moving from Asia to Europe at 30p a pair of jeans,
a couple of pounds. You can source goods globally,
and that's what's happening.
We've engineered the coast to reach out to our neighbours, as well as keep them at bay.
Heading south, we'll explore how we built great ships,
a remarkable gateway to a new world
and the coastal battles that built a nation.
One of Scotland's defining landmarks is the Forth Rail Bridge.
Painting the steel frame has long been held to be a never-ending task.
They've been brushing continually since its completion in 1890, but new paint technology means
when they finish this coat, they can finally put their brushes down - for the next 20 years, anyway.
20 miles down the Firth, you find a landscape of dunes and beaches.
Now, I love spending time in places like this, but I always come prepared.
People quite often ask me what I keep in my bag - seriously, they do!
Look, I can show you...
Amongst other things... sandwiches, obviously,
and also research.
Look at that little beauty - a copy of Shoot! magazine from December 1970.
Now, what caught my eye was a little photo-feature on page five -
very 1970s footballers from Glasgow Rangers, as it happens,
and they're taking part in a gruelling training regime
that involved running up and down that very sand dune.
It became known as Murder Hill.
In the years since the Rangers players made it famous,
the dune has taken its place in Scottish football folklore.
These days, amateur teams come to Gullane, to pit themselves against Murder Hill.
I'm Mick McArdle, manager of Chryston Amateurs.
We play football for the Central Scottish Amateur League of Scotland.
Murder Hill is tough. Football teams, from amateurs
like ourselves to professional teams, use it every summer.
Murder, man! Murder!
Really, it's very, very tough, and you'll see it in the expressions alone on the guy's face.
Oh, it's hard. I didn't expect that at all.
The training itself is more for the lower body, generally the legs, the thighs and calf muscles et cetera,
you'll get a lot of work in because the sand moves away from your feet,
so it really works the muscles very well.
The biggest advantage, though, is for the lung capacity.
Our pre-season sessions the last three years, the date they look for is when
we're going to Murder Hill, because they know that's going to be a hard session.
Five miles down the coast from Murder Hill, out at sea
is a challenge that's in a different league.
Where the Firth of Forth meets the North Sea,
standing sentinel is Bass Rock.
Sir David Attenborough calls this huge rock
and its 150,000-strong gannet colony
one of the wildlife wonders of the world.
Somewhere out there in amongst all that invigorating weather is the Bass Rock.
Now, I've tried on three separate occasions to land there for Coast,
and every time the weather has defeated me,
but Coast doesn't give up easily.
Maybe Miranda will have more luck.
Bass Rock looks almost welcoming in the early morning sun.
I really want to get out there to see the gannets close up.
And I'm not alone - Ben and Kirsty Burville are amateur wildlife photographers and keen divers.
In their day jobs, Ben is a doctor, and Kirsty is a teacher.
They've come to Scotland to attempt something really ambitious.
They're going to try and film the Bass Rock gannets diving underwater,
something I have always wanted to do,
and it's anything but straightforward.
Even though they're amateur film-makers, their track record is pretty good.
This footage of Ben diving with seals was taken by Kirsty
just off the Farne Islands in Northumberland.
So why gannets?
What's the big attraction of filming gannets underwater?
Over the Farnes you get gannets diving, but only ones and twos.
It would be interesting
to see if I can could catch them as they go into the water from above the water and below,
so where better to come but Bass Rock?
-Kirsty, what are you up to?
-I'm going to be doing the filming topside,
getting the gannets diving down, so it should be pretty spectacular.
It's going to be a real adventure for the day for both of us.
While our amateur film-makers head off to find gannets diving underwater,
I'm taking the more direct route.
To get a sense of the challenge Ben and Kirsty face, I need to see
the birds up close, and you can only do that on their home base.
It's not easy to set foot onto Bass Rock.
Strong currents swirl around the cliffs,
and the mooring site can be treacherous.
Today I'm lucky and I can venture onto the rock,
with Maggie Sheddon of the Scottish Seabird Centre as my guide.
This is absolutely splendid. You know this is a real first for Coast -
no Coaster has ever been on Bass Rock, I'm the first.
-This is amazing! I've never seen so many gannets in all my life.
And it's the best time to be here, because the birds are rearing their young -
that means the rock is full to capacity.
150,000 birds and their demanding chicks, all hungry for fish.
Out on the water, some of the gannets are starting to dive
for their dinner within range of Kirsty's camera.
Up here, it's a rare chance for me to get close to the gannets.
Normally you only see them in flight, or as they're plunging into the sea.
When they're diving, they hit the water at an incredible speed -
how does their body actually cope with that?
They can hit up to 60 mph. Basically they have air sacks that inflate.
It tends to be around the neck, the upper chest area, they have a membrane that flips over the eye
to protect the eye, and they have a moveable plate just at the back of the bill,
so when they hit the water, everything is sealed,
and literally, just before they dive in, the wings fold back like an arrow.
60 miles per hour. With gannets hitting the water beak first at such high speed,
getting hit by one would be serious for Ben.
His plan is to shelter beneath the boat and try and film the dives from there,
so we'll have to encourage the birds to come as close as possible if Ben's going to have any chance.
To bring the birds in, we've got some really disgusting-smelling haddock heads here
and some herring as well. The herring gulls have moved in, and now the gannets are coming in as well.
We're getting some plunging. Look at that.
The gannets are diving closer to the boat, but still not close enough.
Sheltering under the boat, Ben will need to be within a few feet to get that crucial close-up.
To make things worse, he's battling strong tidal currents down there.
I'm using a pole camera to try and see how he's getting on.
I've found Ben.
Ben is surrounded by jellyfish, which makes getting close to the diving gannets even harder.
It's very, very difficult to get near to them.
It's very hard to stay underneath the boat.
With Ben's dive time rapidly ticking away,
we finally manage to lure some gannets within range of his underwater camera.
Look at that!
All of a sudden, they've just come right in.
We're seeing some great dives from up here, but underwater it's been a struggle.
Ben's only had one chance. It's time to see whether
this amateur cameraman managed to get a shot a professional would be proud of.
So do you think you got anything good?
I think there could be a couple of good shots...
As you can see, the visibility down there is not very good.
-A lot of green stuff there.
-There you are!
-Oh, well done! That was great!
-So quick, isn't it?
-Really quick, really quick. That's so brilliant, you did really well.
Ben and Kirsty have managed to capture the spectacle of gannets diving underwater.
What I'm coming away with is a sense of wonder at this extraordinary bird city just off our coast.
Hidden away across the water from Bass Rock is a little secret.
It's not easy to find, but Seacliff Harbour is reputedly Britain's smallest,
and with an opening just 10 feet wide, I'm not going to argue.
The harbour was constructed in 1890 by the local landowner,
using a steam engine and compressed air to cut the stone.
Once busy with small salmon fishing boats, now it's used by a solitary lobster fisherman.
There's room at Dunbar Harbour for plenty of boats.
They've also found room for a four-tonne monument
to the invisible force that moves our ships.
It commemorates Robert Wilson, a son of Dunbar who's remembered hereabouts
as the inventor of the screw propeller,
but the thing is, as well as Robert, the French, the English,
the Swedes and the Americans, they all claim the invention of the screw propeller as well.
Many countries might dispute Dunbar's claim to fame, but not far away was another
invention, a tradition this time that's unique to fishing communities on the east coast.
20 miles south of Dunbar is Eyemouth.
When I woke up, I sort of forgot it was the big day,
and then, when it dawned on me, all of a sudden the butterflies started up and..
Tamsin MacKechnie is about to be crowned the Eyemouth Herring Queen.
It's a title created in 1939 to celebrate the life of the town's fishing industry.
A new teenage queen is chosen each year.
I had an interview with about five people, including the town provost,
and later on that night,
they came in and gathered us together and told us who'd won.
I think they were looking really
for someone who could be a role model to the younger children.
A lot of past herring queens said to me it's like getting married,
it's really a big day.
I remember the pipers playing, I remember the parade
and the great feeling for the day, it was fantastic.
Before all that, there's the traditional three-mile sea voyage,
while ahead, the town of Eyemouth awaits its queen.
It was quite a privilege to be herring queen, I think - you felt you were representing Eyemouth.
During her year as herring queen, Tamsin will carry out civic duties. Today is her day.
I'm really nervous, I'm shaking.
There's all those people.
I remember the last sentence of my speech was,
"To fishermen all round our coast, I extend greetings and good sailing from this old fishing town."
Leaving Scotland, we cross the border into Northumberland.
Here in the Middle Ages,
the monks of Holy Island laid the foundations for a new era of worship and learning.
But a terrifying threat from across the sea was about to shatter the Saxon world.
Mark Horton has travelled 1200 years back in time
to meet our most infamous invaders.
It's June 793. For over a century,
Northumbria has been the most powerful kingdom
in Anglo-Saxon England.
Over there, on the Holy Island of Lindisfarne, something shocking is about to happen.
The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle describes it in gory detail.
"In this year, terrible portents appeared and miserably frightened
"the inhabitants, flashes of lighting, fiery dragons in the sky,
"a great famine." And a little after in the same year...
"The harrying of the heathen miserably destroyed God's church in Lindisfarne
"by rapine and slaughter."
Vikings - plundering, pillaging and raping on our shores
for the very first time.
The attack on Holy Island in 793 sent shockwaves across the land
and created a powerful new mythology - the marauding Norseman.
From an early age, I've been fascinated with the Vikings.
Today I get to realise an ambition and to meet a Viking...
well, a part-time one.
Kim Siddorn is secretary of a re-enactment society.
So, Kim, you're the most magnificent Viking warrior.
-This is a leather jerkin.
Yes, leather jerkin and linen tunic below it.
-And this is what?
-That's seal skin, and this is horse hide, lined on the inside with silk.
It's worth a king's ransom, this thing.
-And what else have you got? This must be a scramaseax.
-This is a scramaseax.
-You can see the pattern welding here in the blade.
-All the fittings on that are silver.
-That's to sort of finish people off in battle, isn't it?
-I'd eat my tea with it, actually.
The principal defence of a Dark Age warrior...
-Oh, the home of the warrior is his shield.
The shield itself is the first line of defence for the warrior.
It also makes a convenient thing to bang - hai, hai, hai!
The sword is very much a slashing weapon -
none of this fine point work. It's intended purely for butchering.
It's a weapon which you'd use on a figure of eight system.
You'd have come down across the body from your initial...
and then across this way and then, bringing your shield up,
lead with the sword down across the body, perhaps cleaving you in two, if a man's unclad in armour.
And of course, the monks at Lindisfarne would have had no escape.
It must have been a nasty shock. They weren't expecting it.
You can hear it in what they said. "500 years we've lived in this island,
"and nothing ever like this happened before! They came into God's house and killed us all!" Silence.
Up at Bamburgh Castle, Kim's fellow re-enactors have set up a camp
at a festival celebrating Saxon life.
It was this Saxon world that was rocked by the first Viking raid
here on the Northumbrian coast, and the assaults that followed.
Before those Viking raids, wars between the different kingdoms of England were common,
but the appearance of a common enemy here 1,200 years ago was to alter the country's destiny.
That early raid really changed England, Britain, for ever.
Yes, it did, it gave us the beginnings of a national identity. It was...the warring Anglo-Saxon
kingdoms began to come together for the first time,
and it was the Viking raids that did it.
After the cataclysm that happened here in 793, wars with the Vikings
continued for another 200 years, but one beneficial consequence
was that in those wars, the nation of England was formed.
We've clocked up 150 miles, and I'm approaching the halfway mark on my journey down the east coast.
And there's much more.
I'm just getting into my stride.
Next stop on our adventure south - Cullercoats.
In the 19th century, Cullercoats was a thriving fishing village.
It was the men who braved the North Sea,
but what makes this place special is that it's the women of Cullercoats who are celebrated.
I've got a copy of a painting here. What it shows
is a group of villagers hauling a lifeboat along a beach,
but when you look at it,
almost the first thing you notice is that it's mostly women. In fact, the painting is called The Women,
and there's an inscription on the frame that reads "On New Year's Day 1861, the fisherwomen of Cullercoats
"dragged the village lifeboat three miles along the coast in a blinding storm of snow and sleet,
"to the rescue of the crew of a wrecked ship, The Lovely Nellie,
"and saved all the crew but one boy."
Now, these must have been some tough women,
but who were they?
The women of Cullercoats were renowned for their strength and stamina.
They carried fish to sell around neighbouring villages,
ran the household and, according to some tales, even lifted their husbands out to the boats.
And to cap it all, my painting has them dragging a heavy lifeboat
overland to rescue a stricken ship.
To get an insight into these hardy women,
I'm calling on the grand-daughter of one of Cullercoats' fisherwives.
Were women like your grandmother famous locally?
It was only years after
that people realised what a unique
elite group they were.
I just loved her. She was a lovely round little woman, you know,
very kind and worked hard.
You know, she had to walk miles and miles every day to sell the fish. She did that for 50 years.
I've heard so much about how hard they worked.
Well, the women did work hard.
It was just their lives, and that's what they'd been dished out.
And we shall not see their like again.
I don't think so, I don't think so.
They were tough!
This painting intrigues me more and more. It has the Cullercoats women
pulling a lifeboat along a headland through a blinding storm,
and Joan tells me those fisherwives of yesteryear really were that tough.
What I want to know is,
are the modern women of Cullercoats as hardy as their great-grannies?
There's only one way to find out - we're going to re-create the painting.
The first volunteers have turned up...
Women of Cullercoats...
..legend has it that about 140 years ago, the women of Cullercoats pulled a lifeboat
through the teeth of a howling gale for three miles along the coast. That was then, this is now.
Can you achieve the same feat?
Well, the women seem to be game. All we need now is a lifeboat.
Luckily, Whitby Historic Lifeboat Trust have brought along a beautifully preserved specimen.
Is this more or less the kind of lifeboat that would have been used
in that mid 19th-century rescue?
It's the same type of boat.
You'd find actually, if anything, she's one of the smaller ones,
and she's only 2¼ tonnes.
You're saying this is one of the smaller ones. When I'm thinking of men hauling - or women - hauling it,
it looks pretty big and heavy to me.
Do you think that women alone could have moved a lifeboat like that?
-You would say that!
-I would say that, but it is possible.
-The question is, do they still make women like they used to?
-That's going to be some effort.
While the Cullercoats ladies are limbering up for the challenge, I'm intrigued
to know why the women of old
had to drag a boat weighing tonnes along this windswept headland.
Robert Oliver is a sixth-generation Cullercoats lifeboat man - perhaps he'll know.
In the painting, the boat's been dragged -
where is it being dragged to?
From Cullercoats here along the cliff top along to Brierdene,
which is about two, two and a half mile north of our station.
But it's a boat - why didn't they just put it in the water and go by sea?
-On the day, it was very, very severe weather, too bad to launch here.
-So what did they do next?
Some of the villagers would have got the horses and connected the horses
-up to the boat to pull the lifeboat along the cliff top.
-But it's women in the picture.
The RNLI statement says there were horses.
-They shouldn't be there!
Horses? That's really thrown me.
So was it horses or women who did the pulling that night
over 140 years ago, when a lifeboat was dragged along this coast?
I've got to dig deeper to discover the truth.
Robert was right.
The Times of January 3rd 1861 says of the lifeboat,
"It was dragged along the coast
"by six horses and launched from the sands amid great excitement."
So The Times says there were horses - the painting shows women.
To make sure OUR lifeboat gets dragged along the headland,
maybe the women of Cullercoats will need some help on standby.
-Hi, Charlie, how are you doing?
-Nice to meet you.
So what are these fellas called?
The lad you're stroking now, he's called Classic,
and he's our elder statesman, he's 18 years of age.
And this lad behind me, this is Royal.
-He's even bigger.
-Yes, he is, he's 18.3 hands.
How do you think they'll cope with pulling a lifeboat?
Well, I'll be honest with you, it's a first for us.
These dray horses are powerful beasts and they're at the ready -
if needed - for our recreation of the Cullercoats lifeboat drag.
But what's nagging me is, if horses were used to pull the boat,
then why aren't there any horses in my painting?
If the artist wasn't recording a historical event, what WAS he trying to do?
I'm meeting local art historian Steve Ratcliffe.
Steve, what can you tell me about this painting?
Well, this painting was painted by John Charlton in 1904,
when Cullercoats was a well-established artist colony.
I don't think I expected to find great artists in this little corner of England.
A lot of people are surprised by it,
and they're quite stunned to find that a famous American artist,
Winslow Homer, was resident here for nearly two years.
Over 20 years before Charlton painted the lifeboat drag,
these pictures by the distinguished American artist Winslow Homer
had already made the Cullercoats women famous.
Homer captured the strength and dignity of the fisherwives. His work elevated them
to near-mythological status, and these images of the Cullercoats
women helped establish Winslow Homer as the greatest American painter of the 19th century.
He painted the women time and time again,
always engaged in the harsh day-to-day realities of coastal life.
Homer painted day-to-day life.
Is this, by Charlton, a painting of plain fact?
No, it's not, it's a symbolic painting - it's trying to express his feeling, his admiration for
the women of Cullercoats through art, so he's used the historic background,
the 1861 rescue of The Lovely Nellie,
to let people know that he has a message to tell them of his respect and admiration for those women.
So, if my painting is a romantic image of the women of Cullercoats,
perhaps it was created
because a great artist had already immortalised them over 20 years earlier.
But the legend of the lifeboat drag persists. It's an heroic story
I still want to believe. Could the women really have done it? Time to find out.
Right then, you said you could do this, do you still believe you can move it?
Three, two, one...
Didn't expect this for a minute!
Now, the thing is, this is quite good fun in a way, but you have to remember
that on New Year's Day 1861,
the crew of a stricken ship, The Lovely Nellie, was somewhere
out there in a dreadful storm, so this wasn't about fun that day, it was life and death.
On the flat, the women are getting a real momentum going,
but on the upward slopes it gets tougher and tougher,
and don't forget - on the night of the rescue, the boat was being pulled on a heavy wooden carriage.
Right, that's it, enough's enough,
you've done far more than I expected, honestly,
but I'm going to bring in the horses, so down ropes.
Fantastic! Well done!
Just as on the night of the rescue, what was needed to cope with the terrain
was the addition of some genuine horsepower.
Oh, no bother!
I've spent a long time piecing together the facts of the night of the wreck of The Lovely Nellie
over 140 years ago. What I've discovered is that
the whole community AND their horses came to the rescue of the crew,
saving all their lives bar one.
And whether it was horsepower or woman-power that hauled the boat down to the water,
it's the power of legend
that's given life to the story of the Cullercoats women.
A few miles south of Cullercoats, you come to the mouth of the Tyne and the city of Newcastle.
For centuries, coal was exported down this river,
but in March 1998 the last of the export vessels left the Tyne.
These days, the river is handling coal again, but now it's imported.
Coal comes in here all the way from Russia.
Looks like sending coals to Newcastle is no longer a fool's errand.
Continuing south, we hit another famous north-eastern river, the Wear.
Sunderland could once boast it was the largest shipbuilding town in the world.
During the Second World War,
over a quarter of our merchant and navy ships were built here,
but as wartime production boomed, the seeds of a devastating decline were being sown.
Engineer Dick Strawbridge wants to know what silenced the shipyards.
Boats were built here for over 600 years.
Busy shipyards jostled for space along this river.
Now you'd hardly know it.
In their heyday, the Wearside Yards were world famous.
Sheets of steel came in, and finished ships rolled out.
What I find amazing is that this massive enterprise,
like the ships it produced, was held together by one little component.
It was the dependence on this metal fastener
that was both the strength and the weakness of the industry.
Most of the historical metal frameworks that we marvel at
are held together by rivets.
And this is a rivet. It does the same job as a nut and bolt, holding
two sheets of metal together, but it doesn't come undone.
You heat it up until it's cherry red, then you put it through a hole, and then you bash both ends of it.
It then holds the sheets of metal together, and when it cools down it contracts and holds it even tighter.
It's an awful lot of effort, but it works.
Riveters worked in teams, or squads.
A heater heated up the rivets in a stove, then passed them, or often threw them, to a catcher.
The catcher's job was to take the red-hot rivet to a holder-up,
who put the rivet in a hole connecting the two ship's panels.
The riveter then pounded the rivet home.
It was a labour-intensive job,
and when the men left to fight in two world wars, women were trained up to keep the yards busy.
Shipbuilding towns reverberated to the sound of riveting.
Phil Peek and Brian Hopkins worked as riveters in the shipyards of neighbouring Hartlepool.
-Brian. Good to see you, Phil.
This is where the shipyard was that you actually built ships.
Where this one was built was over the other side there, a hundred yards away, if that.
And how many rivets a day do you reckon a good team would put in?
At least 800, 900 a day.
We're really proud of the fact, the steel plate would come in there,
when it left here, a finished job, it could go straight to sea and work.
How much did they get paid for riveting?
Eight and ninepence a hundred.
Yes, all that was shared out amongst the squad.
But if it rained, we got sent home, and signed the book for four shilling.
Mary Power was a catcher on Phil's team.
Mary, come and join us.
You used to work with Phil.
-It's a very physical job, Mary, so what was it like as a woman
being amongst all these men that were doing all this riveting?
Well, you didn't think anything about it... < We won't answer that!
You just, you wore the overalls and the boots and you just go on with the job.
-What was the environment like? Noisy?
-You couldn't hear yourself speak.
-I didn't know what they were on about, cos they used to speak with the sign language.
-Two, two and a quarter.
-Two and a quarter rivets.
-Two, two and three quarters.
-Two, two and three quarter rivets.
-That's the size?
-So calling for the size of the rivets.
-And a short one.
As a riveter, did you take pride in every single rivet you did?
Certainly. Yeah. I was a good riveter.
You knew that, when you were working for Grey's, you were
one of the best shipbuilders going, and there was no two ways about it.
So if our shipbuilding was so good, where did it all go wrong?
In the dark days of 1940, we desperately needed more merchant ships
to keep the vital transatlantic supply lines open.
Churchill placed an urgent order for 60 cargo ships,
but he didn't give the contract to British shipyards. Instead he gave it to the Americans.
I'm meeting with David Aris to find out more.
OK, David, why go to America?
Because at that time, in 1940,
the U-Boats were massacring our merchant fleet,
particularly in the North Atlantic, and Churchill realised that the ships were being sunk
at a greater rate than we could replace them from our own shipyards,
so we had to get the ships from somewhere else.
And talking about the scale of building, how long would it take to build one of these ships here?
Probably about six months to build the ship here in Thompson's,
and the ship was designed as a fully riveted ship,
that was the practice here on the River Wear, and in other parts of this country,
something like 480,000 rivets on one ship...per ship.
-Half a million rivets.
-Of that order.
With a war on, the Americans didn't have time
or enough trained workers to put in half a million rivets per ship.
A faster method of joining panels was welding,
so now welding was adopted on an unprecedented scale.
What the Americans did have was lots of space.
In massive new shipyards, complete sections of the ship were constructed as separate units,
before being craned into place and welded together.
The American genius for mass production meant that ships were soon being built in under 50 days.
This new merchant fleet helped win the war, by keeping Britain supplied with food, munitions and machinery.
The techniques of welding and pre-fabrication
that built these ships would spell the end for riveting.
The problem for us was that mass production needs lots of space.
The old British shipyards didn't have room to expand,
and they struggled to cope with the new welding age.
The industry fell into slow but terminal decline.
These days, riveting has all but disappeared
but, even though we don't build many ships now,
we still need riveters if we're going to preserve some of our historic maritime treasures.
I've come all the way to Suffolk to see riveting at first hand.
Everybody's welding nowadays. I couldn't find any rivets being struck anywhere in the North East,
so I had to bring Brian and Phil down to Lowestoft
to the restoration of SS Robin,
the oldest complete steam ship in the world, so they can give me their opinion on 21st-century riveting.
The SS Robin was launched in 1890.
She's a steel ship with a fully riveted hull, but she needs attention.
The team here are riveting some test plates in preparation for restoring the ship.
They've done riveting work on bridges and machinery, but never a ship.
It's a great chance for old hands Brian and Phil to pass on their wisdom.
-How's his riveting?
-What do you reckon?
-He's getting the hang of it!
-OK, what's your opinion? Come on, then, Phil.
-The top row's the best.
The top row's the best. That's too short, that.
-Would you employ the team?
-You've done all right, son.
-I've done all right, have I?
We may not make them like this any more, but the SS Robin will be back afloat, rivets and all, in 2012,
a monument to the glory days of British shipbuilding and riveting.
Thank goodness there are some people, not many,
but still some people keeping alive the skills of our riveters.
Leaving the heavy industry of the North East behind, the mood changes.
Shipyards are replaced by rolling hills and sandy beaches.
We're in Yorkshire now, with well-known holiday destinations like Whitby,
which has been attracting visitors for over 350 years.
Nestled between these two holiday hotspots is Ravenscar.
Ravenscar is a resort like no other.
It's known as the town that never was.
The question is, where is it?
I've programmed my sat nav for the main street of Ravenscar,
the wonderfully named Marine Esplanade.
'Turn left, then take the second right.'
Whoopsy, we're going straight into a rutted road.
There's some sort of kerb running up the middle of the road here.
'After 200 yards, turn right.
'You have reached your destination.'
That's it. Marine Esplanade.
That's the strangest Marine Esplanade I've ever seen.
According to sat nav, there should be roads here,
and Marine Esplanade IS here, it's just covered in years of vegetation.
But if you look hard enough, there are clues left.
Look, drains, for no apparent reason.
Look, it's some kind of base, a sort of octagonal concrete thing.
The further afield you look, the more of Ravenscar you find.
There's even an old railway platform.
These are all that remain of a grand scheme hatched by Victorian entrepreneurs.
They drew up detailed plans for a new resort on the Yorkshire coast, Ravenscar.
Hundreds of workmen laid road and sank drains.
They even constructed a brickworks ready to build the new town.
Ravenscar was to be an elegant seaside resort to rival its neighbours Whitby and Scarborough.
A hundred years ago, champagne-fuelled auctions were held at the Ravenhall Hotel.
The estate company sold Ravenscar, plot by plot.
The plan was for the new owners to build their own houses,
so a new seaside town would be born.
But, in spite of roads being laid out, Ravenscar was never built.
On the platform of the old station, I'm meeting the grand-daughter of one of the original investors.
So, Monica, your grandmother bought a plot here in this town, but WHAT town?
My grandmother bought a building plot here.
-And this is the proof.
-Indeed, this is the conveyance.
-Does it give us the address? Because I've got a map here.
It's in Loring Road, and Loring Road is just over there.
Can we find your grandmother's plot?
Let's have a try.
-Presumably, these gates must represent the old roads.
-So this gate must be St Hilda's Road.
-Yes, it is.
-There we go.
-So where are we on your plot?
-Right, we're on Loring Road,
and the plot was the second one along, and it was 25 feet from here.
Which is what? That's going to be about six metres, so off we go.
One, two, three, four, five, six.
-So that is your plot, just a field.
-Just a field.
'Monica's grandparents paid £18 for their plot,
'and then waited for the town to grow around it.
In fact I have a letter here dated in 1937,
after his wife's death, when he tried to sell it.
"Unfortunately, sites on this estate
"have not turned out as happily as was first anticipated."
-That's a wonderful lawyer's understatement, isn't it?
So just why didn't Ravenscar turn out quite as "happily as anticipated"?
Well, one thing every resort needs is a beach,
but the beach here looks a long way down.
I've enlisted Mel Cunningham as my guide.
So how high are we above sea level here?
We're nearly 500 feet above sea level here.
A completely mad place to build a resort.
Yeah, on a day like today it would be super, but this is quite unusual.
Normally, the weather is much more inclement.
The going gets tougher from here, but I'm hoping after the scramble, the beach will be worth it.
The last leg.
Mel, now we've got all the way down, where's the sandy beach?
I'm afraid there isn't any sand as such, it's all rock and shale.
The most inhospitable place ever, and we've come from all the way up there.
But how did all those Victorian and Edwardian ladies expect to come down to the beach?
There were some stone steps constructed which did take them
right down to the beach, but they've since slipped away.
The steps never did draw crowds down to the beach.
Many prospective buyers were put off by Ravenscar's windswept location,
and those who did buy were reluctant to build.
Today this villa on Marine Esplanade stands alone, but could Ravenscar ever have worked?
Well, the same entrepreneurs
successfully established Lee-on-Solent on the South coast,
and on a day like this you wonder whether a little bit more commitment
was all it would have taken here in Yorkshire.
But the chance has gone.
The National Trust bought the land in 1977,
so now Ravenscar, the town that never was, will never be.
A few miles down the coast is Scarborough,
and Scarborough's a town that has no trouble attracting people.
Even on a wet, windy day, the surf kayakers are out.
I'm Jason Roper, and today I'm with Scarborough Canoe Club,
and we're going in the sea surfing, it should be really good fun.
When I was younger I was in Scotland on an activity week,
and I went kayaking and I just took to it straightaway, and thought "This is what I want to do."
You don't really have time to think when you see a wave coming. There might be two or three seconds,
so you have to just quickly think, "Am I going to try and catch it?"
When you're coming from the top of the wave down into the bottom of the wave, the speed,
you pick it up so quickly, it's like really fast acceleration. That's just a great feeling.
I just find it really natural when I'm kayaking.
The weather doesn't really make that much difference. If it's raining, it doesn't matter cos you're wet anyway.
It's about time for a bacon sandwich or summat.
Spurn Point reaches out into the North Sea and marks our entrance to the Humber Estuary.
We've arrived at our final destination, the port of Hull.
Because this seafaring city faces east, Hull has been a vital link
in a chain connecting Europe with the rest of the world.
In the 19th century, millions of people were desperate to escape
Eastern Europe and make a fresh start.
This great port of Hull became the unlikely gateway
to a new life of freedom and opportunity in America.
Howard Wolinsky's grandfather Henry was one of those migrants,
en route from Lithuania to Boston.
Though he never met his grandfather, Howard has arrived in Hull to retrace his footsteps.
-So is that a photograph of your grandfather?
And what age is he there?
He's almost 70 years old, in Boston.
What do you hope to find here in Hull?
More answers. I'd like to know more about what his life was like
the brief time he was in Hull.
My sister and one of my sons and my wife are here now, and the four of us went to Lithuania last year
and actually went to the town he was from, and walked where he walked,
and now we're sailing where he sailed.
Like many people migrating to the New World, Howard's grandfather
was an Eastern European Jew, escaping Tsarist Russia.
The Jews were confined to a region alongside Russia's Western border,
which included much of present-day Lithuania.
Conditions were poor,
and brutal repression set in motion a mass exodus.
Between 1870 and 1914, for over two million European refugees, Hull was a lifeline.
To get to America, Howard's grandfather brought a one-way ticket.
The first stage was a train to Hamburg, and then on to Hull,
a 32-hour voyage across the North Sea.
We're meeting local historian Nick Evans to retrace the next stage of Howard's grandfather's journey.
Having navigated a series of locks and docks,
this is where on 1st August 1892, your ancestor would have landed.
The vessel would have moored alongside this dockside here,
and your ancestor would have disembarked here and then gone...
-This very spot.
So this is where your grandfather would have taken his first steps on British soil.
So I am walking the walk.
You are walking the walk, and we know from documentation in the local archives
that he arrived on Monday 1st August.
You can see here the Sprite, a steamship from Hamburg,
which actually arrived on 1st August at Prince's Dock.
Alongside the passengers, there were all different commodities,
including fruit, a piano and a variety of other commodities.
These are some of the images he would have seen on arrival.
-So this is 19th-century Hull?
-This is from 1890.
-This is the sights he would have seen.
-Is that that building?
Yes, this is the docks office at the time.
Was the port of Hull the equivalent then of an airport transit lounge,
just for people passing through?
It was a major transport artery,
just like Heathrow or Schiphol or JFK Airport are now.
That was the real hub of this transport movement, on which millions of migrants would come along.
It must have been exciting to know you were on this journey to America.
Even though you put up with the seasickness and everything,
I think you have to keep your eye on the prize.
21-year-old Henry Wolinsky wasn't alone.
Along with oranges and pianos,
millions of names record the people who, for a few brief hours,
passed through the port of Hull en route west.
And immediately after disembarkation, they would have walked along streets
such as this, where they would have gone to nearby lodging houses...
Just like being in transit in an airport today,
people passing through Hull over 100 years ago on their way to the New World
had time on their hands, and needs to be met.
This was where most of the migrants would have enjoyed a much-needed meal.
Howard's grandfather would certainly have come here,
because it was the only one which was run by a Jewish housekeeper
and provided kosher food.
Are there any records of what they ate, what was on the menu?
Dry bread, herring, familiar foods for these migrants.
-No bagels, unfortunately, no.
Once fed, Howard's grandfather was moved to the railway station
to start his onward journey to America.
The migrants were moved through Hull under escort, and kept increasingly apart from the locals.
Cholera was the big fear.
There had been outbreaks of the disease in ports across Europe, and cholera was a killer.
Public concern over disease resulted in a purpose-built platform being added to the train station,
along with a special waiting room for migrants.
These days, it's a pub.
I wonder what your grandfather would have thought if he'd known that in 120 years' time,
one of his grandsons would be in
the same building that he waited in before he went to the New World.
Well, I would hope he would find it ironic and satisfying,
that the generations continued.
Many of his other descendants...
of his brothers were killed in the Holocaust, so we're survivors.
After a rest, Howard's grandfather made his way to the platform.
Here, he joined a long roll call of names who continued their journey westward.
The train took them to Liverpool,
where they boarded a steam ship bound for America.
Howard's family are joining him where his ancestor stood on the brink of this new beginning.
A successful American family,
here today thanks to one young man's journey from the Old World to the New.
This platform is completely overgrown,
and this story is overlooked by history,
but it's no surprise, because for the millions of people who passed through here
this was just a stepping stone.
The real story was going to happen somewhere else, somewhere far away.
And on this latest journey, we've also been far beyond our coast.
But home's never been far away.
The same ice that cut the fjords of Norway sculpted the landscape of Britain.
The Vikings who came to trade and Normans who came to invade.
D-Day beaches where Allies fought for French soil
and places of pilgrimage linked across the English Channel.
The edge of Britain can feel like the end of our story,
but the coastline doesn't cut us off from the world, it's where we reach out.
And this isn't the end of our journey.
We'll come down to the sea again, to our coast and beyond.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
E-mail [email protected]
On the final leg of his journey, Neil Oliver visits the bustling port of Rosyth to explore the staggering scale of Britain's global sea trade, now worth 340 billion pounds a year. Neil also recreates a legendary 'lifeboat drag' from nearly a 150 years ago at the village of Cullercoats. It's claimed the women of the village dragged a heavy wooden lifeboat for miles over a headland to save a stricken ship in a mighty storm. Neil challenges the local lassies of today to live up to the reputation of their great grannies.
Miranda Krestovnikoff is the first Coast presenter to land on the Bass Rock, a stunning seabird paradise described by Sir David Attenborough as 'one of the wildlife wonders of the world', but one which is made near-inaccessible by a combination of tide and weather. Miranda joins a team trying to film the underwater action of diving gannets, which hit the water at up to 60mph.
Mark Horton is on the holy island of Lindisfarne, reliving the first Viking raid on British shores in June 793AD. He discovers how the marauding Norsemen galvanised the warring Anglo-Saxon kingdoms into coming together and forming the English nation. Mark also goes in search of the remains of the 'Town That Never Was' a grand Edwardian seaside resort, intended to rival Whitby and Scarborough. Construction began in a blaze of publicity in the dramatic coastal setting of Ravenscar, but why was the town never finished?
And Dick Strawbridge meets the men and women who used to work as skilled riveters, building the mighty vessels for which the North East's shipyards were famed. Their hard-won skills were eventually made redundant by the 'Liberty Ships' from across the Atlantic, built quickly and cheaply using American mass production methods.