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This is exciting. I'm off on my hols.
I'm on a trip to the seaside which brings happy memories rolling back.
Here comes my time machine,
and it's on time.
We've got a ticket to explore England's celebrated South Coast...
I'll be travelling along one of the world's most beautiful shorelines.
Generations of holiday-makers have adored this coast...
and into Cornwall,
ending where I can head west no more, at rugged Land's End.
And my coastal companions are close by.
Here it comes!
Nick runs an infamous tidal race.
Mark is naval gazing.
Above me is some 3,000 tonnes of modern fighting machine.
And Alice sniffs out the secrets of the seaside feel-good factor.
I'm so happy.
This is Coast, off to the seaside.
I'm heading along England's south- west coast to the tip of Cornwall.
My journey starts en route for Swanage.
You've got to love a steam train.
But the first time locos like these chuffed down the tracks, they caused consternation.
Now, we might only be travelling at 30 mph,
but when Queen Victoria took her first trip on a steam train,
she found the speed distressing.
I've just got time to see how steam caused such a stir along our shore.
Christian Wolmar's an authority on the railway revolution.
There's undoubtedly something that steam trains add. It feels much more like actually going on holiday.
Absolutely. It's part of the experience, part of the fun.
Until the advent of the railway, if you lived more than
20 or 30 miles away from the coast, you probably never saw the sea.
But here we are - we've arrived,
following in the tracks of townies taking on a brave new world.
The arrival of these pioneering visitors had a dramatic effect on Swanage seafront.
So, Christian, before the railways connected the coast
to the rest of the country, what was here, what was in a town like this?
Well, frankly, not a lot.
Really, it was a place of just a few hundred people
who were left in peace most of the time.
So it was just like a working town that happened to be beside the sea.
Absolutely, just as with dozens of other places like this -
once the railway arrived, its peace was rather upset.
So the coast, as we think about it, the beach, the place for holidays
and weekends, this really was invented by and made by the railways.
It created a whole industry, you know, couple of hundred resorts in Britain
were created as a result of the railways.
And I'm going to see quite a few of them on this trip.
I'm heading down through Dorset,
through Devon and then into Cornwall, so it's kind of one of the meccas of beach holidays.
Absolutely, Torquay, Paignton, all those places, you'll see the same
pattern of development, the same houses built in the 19th century as a result of that.
And if it hadn't been for the railways, the steam engines, it would never have happened.
None of that would have happened at all.
Amazing, I've only been here 10 minutes - feel better already.
These days it's hard to imagine this coast without tourists.
Some 13 million visit England's south-west shore each year.
The attractions of Dorset are easy to see.
At Lulworth Cove and Durdle Door, the landscape frames a picture-perfect sea.
Calm waters on this coast pull in the crowds.
Its sheltered bay put Weymouth on the tourist map.
Weymouth's building boom started around 200 years ago,
when George III decreed that bathing here was "fit for a king"
and his subjects soon followed.
Swimmers and sailors can play in peaceful seas, provided they stay close to the shore.
But Nick isn't one to play it safe.
The rocky outcrop of Portland shelters the waters of Weymouth Bay.
But holidaymakers who stray too far from this haven
I'm venturing beyond the bay to brave some of the most dangerous waters in Britain.
Headlands are wild places.
Both wind and sea whip around them.
Strong currents in the English Channel accelerate
as they skirt the headland at Portland Bill.
It creates a treacherous tidal surge known as the Portland Race.
Skipper Alan Smith is expert at running the race.
What is the water doing as it's coming down here towards the tip of Portland Bill?
Well, what's happening, all the water from this big bay the other side is going down the channel
and it's being pushed out by Portland and compressed,
and so it's accelerated due to the fact that the island's sticking out and forcing all the water together.
How bad can it get, Alan?
It can get very, very dangerous. If it gets beyond rough
it can be quite life-threatening here.
'I may be in a powerful boat with an experienced skipper, but I hope my legs and my stomach are up to this.'
Alan's in the wheelhouse. He's about to cut the engine and we're going to get sucked into the Portland Race.
My heart's in my mouth, I don't mind admitting it.
As we come round the headland, the tide starts to pull us in.
Here it comes.
The boat is going all over the place like a cork.
It's pretty scary. I've never seen anything like it in British waters.
We're now gripped by the tide race, and are being propelled westwards towards the Atlantic.
It's exhilarating but it's also a bit frightening.
'The tidal race is intensified by a submerged rock shelf sticking out for a mile beyond the headland.'
Here the depth suddenly decreases, and the waters racing around Portland
accelerate even more as the tide pushes over the shallow shelf.
Once over the obstruction, the Race hits slow-moving water,
a clash of currents that creates crunching waves.
Unfortunately, to get home there's little choice -
a long detour or head straight back through the Portland Race.
It's like the Cresta Run of the English Channel.
The irresistible tidal forces of the Channel chiselled this awe-inspiring 18-mile strip of shingle.
This is Chesil Beach, where you learn to cherish the pebble.
There's 180 billion of the blighters here, piled 45 feet high.
To tourists, it's a must-see -
to school kids, it's the answer to geography exam questions.
To me these pebbles are stepping-stones to what lies beyond.
Most people come for the beach, but trapped behind the shingle bank
is a lagoon that looks more like an inland sea.
This glistening gem is The Fleet -
a mixture of salt and fresh water that makes a rare and rich environment.
Around the 11th century, a monastery on the edge of The Fleet started farming the lake's wild birds.
Some thousand years later, and that swannery is the oldest survivor of its kind anywhere in the world.
I'm meeting the latest in a very long line of swan herds.
How long have the swans been here?
Well, possibly for a few thousand years,
but the earliest written record we have at the moment
dates back to the mid-1300s.
And what is it about this landscape that attracted them in the first place?
The habitat is great - although the lagoon is almost eight miles long,
it's very shallow, so they have no difficulty reaching eel grass,
their natural plant food in the mid-Fleet, and it can support an awful lot of swans.
The highest count in recent years is close to 1,400
and that's a winter...wintering herd. We have quite a number of swans that will come from neighbouring counties,
particularly the Somerset Levels, and they come to use the food source here when food becomes depleted on rivers.
I assume that people wanted swans because they could eat them.
We know that Benedictine monks were really farming swans,
they were used for food and it was an important thing, yes.
These days you won't find swan on the menu. They're protected so it's illegal to kill them.
They're magnificent birds. I have to admire their loyalty.
The parents do the absolute best for their young - they're beautiful, yes.
We don't eat them now, but we do feed them.
These days the swans put on a spectacular show for the tourists.
This coast is a roller coaster of ups and downs.
Vantage points rise up to bookend the beaches.
At over 600 feet, Golden Cap is the highest sea cliff on England's southern shore.
The peak towers over the town of Lyme Regis, giving great views over the harbour.
Steam was the engine of progress on this coast.
Brunel's wonderful railway
introduced tourists to the tranquil Torbay.
The bay's town of Torquay, Paignton and Brixham
were branded the English Riviera.
The resort's reputation for glitz and glamour, British-style, became its selling point.
NEWSREEL: 'The call of the sea is irresistible to almost everyone.'
The railway started the rush, but by the late '50s,
steam was losing its pulling power, replaced by a new driving force.
On this bracing day,
Nick's come to see how road eclipsed rail.
I'm in holiday mode - no backpack, no boots, but I'm glad I brought the brolly.
'No summer holiday's complete without the joys of the British weather.
'So I'm very glad to be hitching a lift on a classic crowd pleaser, a welcome sight on a rainy day.'
-Hi, Dave, what a magnificent coach.
Oh, thank you very much, a Yelloway coach, 1976.
It should be in a museum.
Well, come aboard, have a look around.
It IS a museum!
It is a museum, of course it is.
Dave Haddock's impressive collection harks back to the earliest days of motorised travel.
You've got stuff everywhere in here.
The very first coaches were steam-powered goods lorries,
converted at the weekends for the latest in passenger comfort.
-What were the seats made from?
-Er, church pews.
-Hope they asked the vicar first.
Oh, well, yeah, I think the vicar was amongst them, actually.
There were no Health and Safety in those days.
So this is the beginning of mass tourism.
You have workers from the Pennine mill towns,
going off to the seaside at the weekend.
Yeah, competing with the railways. They were trying to take people off the railways.
Dave's personal collection is his tribute to the rise of one of the coach companies, Yelloway.
From their first Lancashire charabanc in 1910,
Yelloway grew into a national network transporting Northerners south to resorts like Torbay.
Glorious seaside holiday tours 1939.
This is a half cab. It's called the Yelloway 1940s.
-That's beautiful, isn't it?
And the colours of the coach really evoke the seaside, don't they, the yellow sand...?
-A real holiday livery on it, yes.
-This was the passport to paradise.
Oh, yeah, of course it was, and when I was a young lad, I came on this type of coach, 1947.
It took 15 hours to get to Torquay from Rochdale,
and when we arrived at Leamington Road,
my mum said to me, the first words you said when you got off was,
"Are we at the other side of the world?"
-I thought we were, we'd come that far.
-Would you take me for a spin?
Oh, yeah, course, definitely, let's go.
-It's got a very evocative engine sound.
-Oh, yes, lovely, I love it.
-Reminds me of school trips.
I used to come every year with my mum and my dad, and my grandparents.
They used to spend a week every year in Torquay.
It was just the most beautiful place you could wish to come for when you was a child.
The thing that surprised me most, Nick, was we played out all day long,
and when I looked at my hands at the end of the day, they wasn't dirty,
yet if I'd have played out for an hour at home in the industrial North-west, my hands would be black.
So your grandparents came down here from the north, your parents,
you did and your children, so that's four generations.
That's right, Nick, and then...
I even spent my honeymoon here.
So you came on your honeymoon on a coach.
Oh, yeah, and the driver gave us the front seat, special front seat,
and the passengers had clubbed together and bought a bottle of champagne.
-Did they give you the back seat on the way home?
At the edge of Devon lies the largest population centre on the south-west peninsula.
The city of Plymouth owes its existence to the Royal Navy.
They chose its muddy banks to build their dockyards to service the fleet at Devonport.
Today it's HMS Westminster's turn to call in for some tender loving care.
Getting the warship into the dry dock demands inch-perfect positioning.
Get it wrong, and, without the water, the keel could snap.
Mark's been granted privileged access to a state-of-the-art dockyard with a timeless feel.
Above me is some 3,000 tonnes of modern fighting machine.
'Frigates like Westminster are the workhorses of the Royal Navy.
'Her steel hull is in for a major maintenance and weapons upgrade.
'Fixing ships here harks back 300 years,
'and the tradition of woodworking still underpins the fleet.
'Commander Tim Hayley has to make sure the whole refit goes according to plan.'
-These wood blocks here - exactly the same as we'd have used 150 years ago.
-They're just wooden blocks.
Hard wooden blocks with a softwood capping piece.
And why wood? Why not just concrete?
We need to have something that can absorb the weight without deforming too much.
Concrete would be too rigid,
and hardwood is just the best material for the job, because this ship is going to be here
for about 25 weeks.
And then how do you stop the ship from falling over?
To stop it flopping either way, we have these shores which support
-the ship as it comes down onto the blocks.
-Still made of wood?
Absolutely, and they're large pieces of wood. They have to be specially cut from the centre of the tree.
So if you were to cut one of those in half, you would see the rings.
Centre ring would be in the middle, and they'd work their way out.
I mean, isn't it just an incredible thought to think that, you know, in the same dock, Nelson's navy,
those great wooden-walled ships were docking in exactly the same way as the modern navy today?
Yes, more or less, although the ships today are obviously much, much bigger.
I mean, this is probably about 3,500 tonnes of steel on top of us.
Right, then let's move.
Devonport's modern expertise is built on historic foundations -
ones still upheld by wood.
This is the footprint of the very first dock.
In the 1690s, they built wooden warships here - why?
Because the Royal Navy needed to service the expanding British Empire.
And this is the oldest complete 18th century covered slip in any Royal dockyard.
With its timbers steeped in history, modern ships have long since bypassed this place.
Of all the naval remains in Britain, to me, this is my favourite.
In forgotten cathedrals of wood like this were built the ships of Nelson's navy.
This wooden roof is the same age as the victorious ships of Trafalgar.
The docks were covered to stop wooden warships rotting before they could be launched.
Devonport's heyday came in the '60s at the height of the Cold War.
Then, 24,000 locals where needed to keep the steel fleet afloat.
But surprisingly wood was still a key component.
Eric Wilcox signed up as an apprentice shipwright in 1963.
I started off with wood up here.
-Woodworking in a metal navy?
-One of the first things we were taught
as an apprentice was how to put this shaft on this.
Well...this is... This is an adze.
I mean, this is straight out of medieval shipbuilding.
Yes, and still used today.
And what have we got here?!
They're not metal.
No, all wood.
-Amazing, isn't it?
I mean, here we've got everything that a navy needs.
And it's all made in wood to be made and cast in bronze, brass, steel...
And look, there's a spanner!
HE LAUGHS It's just a wooden spanner.
-All out of wood.
All made out of wood.
The Navy kept vast stores of these wooden parts ready for when needed.
These templates were pressed into clay and then cast in metal.
The adze might be ancient,
but for some shipbuilding, this tool still has the edge.
-So this is how an adze works.
-Yes, that's it. Watch how it's done.
What are we up to, how do we do it?
Well, we're just chopping away, we're making up a stem
for the bow of a boat,
and there's one we've made, as well.
Isn't that incredible? So smooth.
-You can do very fine work.
-You've achieved that with an adze.
Yes, yes, they're razor-sharp.
Men were using the adze long before the birth of Henry VIII's Royal Navy.
Now it's my turn.
I'm probably going to butcher this bit of wood, so what do I do?
Be very careful, just keep one hand into your hand, and mind your legs.
Mind your legs - I don't want to lose one!
So, I've made a complete... dog's breakfast of this.
The extraordinary thing is, to think that in the 18th and 19th centuries,
there were armies of people with these tools, making those ships.
These days, Devonport ships have hulls of steel,
but they still rest on the foundations of the Navy - wood.
It'll take 200,000 man-hours and £40 million
before Westminster can be re-floated off her wooden blocks.
But then she'll be fit for the tasks of a modern navy.
She won't have to visit Devonport Dockyard for another five years.
The Tamar Estuary marks the Cornish frontier.
But the railway bridged the gap and rolled on regardless.
From now on, my journey has a more rugged outlook.
With its jagged shore and sheltered inlets, Cornwall is England's most coastal county.
Each step westwards brings subtle changes in the surrounding flora.
Lichen hate pollution, but they're plentiful here.
With little heavy industry and prevailing winds fresh from the Atlantic,
Cornwall has fantastically clean air,
yet there's always the smell of the seashore.
At the pretty little anchorage of Gorran Haven,
Alice is following her nose.
'There's something special about going down to the sea.
'There are those telltale signs that you're close,
'the sense of anticipation builds,
'and then it hits you and familiar feelings flood back.
'The beach bombards the senses,
'but if you just had your sense of smell, you'd still know you were by the sea.'
The seaside has this wonderful aroma,
it's the smell of summer holidays and happiness.
If only we could bottle it! But what is it?
'Water's odourless, so it must be something else in the sea that gives it that seductive smell.
'I'm in search of the solution with Professor Andrew Johnston.
'He thinks he's got the answer in his bag.
'He's brought bacteria.
'When these micro-organisms munch plankton, apparently they make a little whiff,
'a by-product of digestion.
'The bacteria belch out gas that gives the sea its distinctive smell.
'To bottle that seaside aroma, we've got to tempt Andy's bugs to start burping gas.'
-What else do we need?
-Well, we need some seaweed.
'At the moment...'
Yeah, it just smells faintly seaweedy.
Yeah, a little bit, so if we just put some water in here...
'This seaweed soup is our version of the microscopic plant life
'naturally found in sea water.'
-OK, that's fine.
-And now we need to add the other component, the bacteria.
-So can I open this up, is that safe?
Although it smells of something, it's not the seaside,
it's got a sort of musty smell.
-That's not the smell of the sea.
-No, we're going to do something magical.
-Right, so what's the next step?
-Well, what I'll do, is scrape some of that off,
add it to water, then add that back to the seaweed and see what happens.
So each of these loopfuls, I guess maybe a million, ten million bacteria, amazing numbers.
-But they're very, very small.
'We're hoping that after we've added the bottled bacteria to our seaweed soup
'and given them a few hours to feast, the solution will start to stink,
'and we'll have bottled the smell of the seaside.'
Shall we go and have a pasty and come back?
'The bacteria need to bask in the warm sun to digest their weedy meal.'
-The moment of truth.
So for the last two hours, the bacteria in this cloudy mixture
have been chomping away on the substance
in this seaweed, and producing something which you think I should be able to smell.
-Yes, I sincerely hope so.
-The moment of truth.
That is really strange.
But it is undoubtedly the smell of the sea.
-THEY LAUGH It works!
-Yeah, I know.
'In a tiny test tube, Andy's experiment shows what's happening on a global scale.
'The scent of the sea comes from a sulphurous gas, dimethyl sulphide,
'also known as DMS -
'bacteria burps that are the by-product of digesting plankton.
'To us, it's the smell of seaside holidays,
'but to some birds and mammals, DMS is the smell of life.
'They home in on concentrations of the scent,
'knowing that where there's life, there's food.'
The Lizard Peninsula.
We've reached the most southerly point on the mainland.
Living on the edge, coastal folk must turn their hands to anything.
For millennia, the Cornish mined tin.
That metallic thread stretches along this coast to here at Mount's Bay, dominated by an iconic island.
This is St Michael's Mount.
In classical times, traders took tin from here,
mixed it with copper from Cyprus and fuelled the bronze-age arms race.
The entrepreneurial spirit lives on in industrious Newlyn, Cornwall's biggest fishing port,
Here, they start young.
My name's Phillip Lambourne. I'm 13.
My name is Tom Pasquer and I'm 12.
My name's James Lambourne and I'm nine.
My name's Archie Pasquer and I'm seven years old.
'It all started, we were down here one day
'and I rang up Tom to see if he wanted to go fishing with me,
'and he said no.
'Five minutes later, he rang and said, "Do you want to haul couple of prawn pots?"
'We did, and it escalated from there.'
We started with two pots and now we've got...about a dozen pots now.
That's it. Let Tom shake it out.
'Both our parents are fishermen and all our families are involved in fishing.
'The first pot we had was on the front here, and we just thought,
'"Well, let's try it here and try it here," and just trial and error and we found the best places now really.'
Wait. James, wait.
There's not really a captain or anything, just the four of us.
'We all get on fine, but there's always a moment where you have
'a bit of an argument or upset when someone disagrees, but...'
That's... We're all going to have a few of them.
No, Archie, sit back where you were.
Stay where you are, Arch, don't fall over.
-Right, who's hauling this first one in?
-I'll haul the red one.
'The prawns like sheltered rocky places, not open places, and just the right temperature,
'not too warm and not too cold, and they like shelter,
'so under the quay or by the rocks would be perfect.'
This is the pot and the prawns go in that side.
And that side, and this is the hatch which we shake the prawns out of, and that's the bait hatch.
We haul them every two days. We did get, one day, 300 or 400 in one pot.
The best times to do it are the summer holidays to Christmas.
Next year, I'm hopefully going to go to sea a lot more, and let the two younger ones take over a bit more.
Last year, we made about £450, just short of £500, so it's worth quite a lot,
so when we hand over to these two next year,
since we started it off and bought all of the pots,
we'll have to take a share out of their earnings when they continue.
'The Cornish once relied on fishing.
'With these young go-getters, that tradition seems pretty safe to me.'
-Good lads, take care.
My last stop approaches.
One of Britain's most remote artistic attractions -
the Minack Theatre.
One of the great seaside traditions is taking in a show.
I'm not going to take in a show. Heaven help us all, I'm going to be in one!
On this windswept headland, stands the Minack,
a unique temple to the performing arts.
Less theatre of dreams, more place of my nightmares.
Well, would you look at that? You'd expect to find that in ancient Rome.
Maybe it's the scene of a Greek tragedy.
'My co-star in this personal drama is local thespian, Sarah Lincoln.'
-Hi, welcome to the Minack.
They tell me I'm going to perform here.
You are, yes. Tonight, on this very stage.
Ohh... Show me what I'm going to do.
The very first performance that was given here on this stage,
was a production of The Tempest in 1932,
so we thought it was really apt that YOU would play Prospero, and I will be your Ariel.
-And here are your lines.
-Shakespeare, what a nightmare!
No, Shakespeare's easy, he tells you exactly what to do,
and he's great at commanding the elements, just like Prospero.
You've got the real sea and the real wind, and potentially even the real rain tonight.
-Right, let's go.
-Shall we start rehearsing?
-Let's go hence to another place.
'This extraordinary amphitheatre exists thanks to The Tempest,
'Shakespeare's play set on a small island.
'In 1932, Rowena Cade wanted somewhere suitable for her friends to perform it.
'She chose this spot, at the end of her garden.
'The play's lead part, Prospero, has starred all the greats -
'Redgrave, Gielgud, McKellen,
'and now me!'
-"Our little life is rounded with a sleep."
So what does the venue bring that isn't there in another kind of theatre?
I think the first thing it brings is scale.
I think the fact that the theatre is surrounded by nature, surrounded by the sea, the elements, the cliffs,
and the fact that you've got a real horizon.
When you stand on stage, as an actor, often you have to create a horizon, and there it is, looking at you,
and the audience are looking at you with that fantastic backdrop.
The early performances of The Tempest were such a great success it was repeated down the years.
Rowena Cade - and her long-suffering gardener -
spent the next 40-odd years building a unique theatre.
-Here we are.
-Oh, the gorgeous white shirt...
-Pair of britches for you.
-I'll look like little Jimmy Krankie!
I feel sick to my stomach.
-Slight problem, there!
I offer you...Prospero.
Outside, suitably ominous weather,
and a frankly certifiable audience are rolling in.
-We're English, we do this all the time.
-It's all part of the fun.
There must be something strange about the fact that behind you,
rather than a painted backdrop or a set,
there is uncontrollable...nature.
No actor on this planet can compete with a pod of 20 dolphins
doing a sort of, you know, moon-walking across the top of the water which they seem to...
It's like they rehearse round the corner and go, "We'll show them!"
and they come and do this fantastic display.
And do the audience..?
-Yeah, you haven't got a hope in hell.
-They just turn to the...?
To the dolphins. You can stand there stark naked, chop your own head off
and, "Oh, look at the dolphins!"
This season, I had a performance I was directing
and we had to stop the show because there was an air-sea rescue.
This is not the easiest theatre in which to make one's debut, is it?
If the elements are raging, people really, really remember if you get through it, and they love it.
Well, the elements are certainly raging.
We've only a short scene, but I've never been on stage before.
Ladies and gentlemen, good evening. Welcome to the Minack.
I've never felt so ill in my entire life, I think I'll break my own leg.
There's something we want you to share with us this evening.
CHEERING AND APPLAUSE
Our revels now are ended.
These, our actors, as I foretold you, were all spirits and are melted into air, into thin air.
We are such stuff as dreams are made on, and our little life is rounded with a sleep.
Come with a thought, I thank thee, Ariel, come.
Thy thoughts I cleave to. What is thy pleasure?
Spirit, we must prepare to meet with Caliban.
Say again, where didst thou leave those varlets?
I told you, they were red-hot with drinking.
So full of valour that they smote the air.
The trumpery in my house, go bring it hither, for stale to catch these thieves.
I go, I go.
Land's End and journey's end.
Hollywood will never find me out here.
Well, the bard said, "All the world's a stage." It turns out that's even true of the coast.
Next time, we're off to France to explore our Celtic cousins' coast.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd