A journey around the British Isles and beyond to see how shared seas unite us all. The team takes a circular tour of the Irish Sea.
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Come with me if you want adventure.
Back we go to the sea
for a fresh look at the coast.
Grab your sou'westers and sign on for a brand new tour, right around the British Isles.
Stopping off at some spectacular sites close to home,
we'll also be venturing far out across the water to Denmark,
for a voyage with the Vikings.
And making a journey to the end of the Earth in Brittany,
to discover how shared seas unite us with our neighbours.
Our voyage around Britain and beyond doesn't start with the edge of our islands, but at their heart.
On this first leg of our journey, the Isle of Man is the hub,
as we spin round the United Kingdoms of the Irish Sea.
In England, Alice gets to grips with quicksand.
It's got me good and proper.
It really is quite scary.
On the Mersey, Mark unearths the ship that broke Brunel's heart.
There it is, as fresh as it comes.
In Wales, Nick wants to see how Anglesey was built.
I've been following this band of quartz all the way up and it's very beautiful.
In Northern Ireland, Miranda searches for some shy seals.
Off the shore of Scotland, we wade out with fishermen who wrestle the raging tide.
Me, I explore the Isle of Man
and discover the birthplace of a right royal institution.
This is Coast and beyond.
The Isle of Man isn't part of the United Kingdom,
but it's got a special place in its heart looking out to all our shores.
Like the hub of a wheel, it's almost equidistant from Northern Ireland,
Scotland, England and Wales
and we'll visit them all on this first journey.
It might be tiny but the Manx mainland packs in lots of landscapes.
Rolling green hills in the north,
a gnarled, rocky coastline in the south,
and a scattering of sandy beaches.
The Isle of Man could be the British Isles in miniature.
For a small island it can boast some big ideas.
How about the Laxey wheel?
Now that's what you call a water feature.
And I've turned up in time to turn it on.
Keeper of the wheel Roger Clare is showing me how it's done.
Now all you need to do is turn the wheel clockwise.
Does it start first time? We'll see.
That's a good noise.
Opening this valve releases a flow of water which is forced
up the tower to cascade on the wheel, setting it in motion.
There it goes.
Oh, that's great.
You might get wet now.
When it started to whirl in 1854, it wowed the locals
and its sheer scale is still staggering.
So why is the world's largest working waterwheel here,
spinning around at the centre of the Irish Sea?
There are clues to its construction nearby,
the abandoned lead mines and the port at the bottom of the valley.
It might be hard to believe today but 120 years ago this place hummed with activity
as countless tonnes of zinc and lead ore were shipped out of the harbour here.
Sea trade kept business buoyant at Laxey, but underground water was threatening to sink it.
Mine expert Pete Geddis is going to show me the damp, dingy hell-hole below.
OK, Neil, well this is the sea entrance, access tunnel to the well shaft.
This little door? This little door.
Oh, yes, I hate it already.
It probably would have been wetter than this in the mining days
because the discharged water would have run along here.
Teams of miners toiled around the clock, chasing richer seams of ore.
As they dug deeper the water problem got worse.
The miner's nightmare was the water ingressing into the shaft and then getting into the levels below. Yeah.
Where is the water coming from, if that's not a stupid question?
This is just ground drainage water, it's running off the land, it's running down the bedrock,
and then it finds its way onto the edge of the shaft, so it's a perpetual sea of rain down here.
All mines flood.
Often water was pumped out with steam engines,
but with no coal on the Isle of Man, steam wasn't an option.
So what about putting the water to work?
That's what the Laxey wheel does, Victorian style.
Streams piped down the valley drove the wheel.
Its rotation-powered machine is capable of pumping out 250 gallons of water per minute.
Baling out the mine shafts wasn't the wheel's only job.
They could have boxed the machinery in, hidden it away.
Instead it's deliberately sited at the head of the valley,
and emblazoned with the Three Legs of Man.
A wheel of fortune inviting investors to buy shares in the mine.
Now it's an emblem of Manx pride, a reminder that the island can match its powerful neighbours,
countries my fellow Coasters will explore on their wheel around the Irish Sea.
Our tour of the UK starts in North Wales, with Nick.
At the Dee Estuary, an imaginary line in the mud
marks the boundary between the English and the Welsh.
You soon hit a high spot of Victorian resort building, Llandudno.
The town's nestled in the shelter of the Great Orme's imposing cliffs, which point our way westward.
Out towards my destination, the largest island in Wales, Anglesey.
Many make their way to these cliffs for the glorious sights looking out
to sea, but what's brought me here are the rocks beneath my feet.
On the island's edge you see a slice right through the Earth's geological history,
an extraordinary collection of rocks are exposed here.
Just to show you how different Anglesey is,
look at this geological map of southern Britain.
Great swathes of it are all the same colour, meaning they're all the same rock type.
Here's this great band of chalk running up her in green,
there's another huge band of limestone running down here.
But up here on Anglesey something different is happening,
there's an intense mosaic of different colours, meaning there are many different rock types.
Much of the mystery of Anglesey's formation is buried below the turf,
but the coast reveals the island's subterranean secrets.
The most stunning geological feature is the long channel of water
that separates Anglesey from the mainland, the Menai Strait.
To understand its significance I'm with David Schofield from the British Geological Survey.
What part does this gulf play in Anglesey geology?
Well, this is actually a long fault zone which we call the Menai Strait fault system.
It separates very much
older rocks to the north west than those to the south east.
We're looking at a fundamental geological divide, which we know is still active
because we're seeing some of Britain's biggest earthquakes just happening along this fault line.
Right where we're standing? Right where we're standing, yes.
So the shore we're on here is moving in relation to the shore over there.
It certainly is yes, at a very slow rate every year,
and every now and then it takes a bit of a jump and there's an earthquake.
Around 300 small earthquakes shake Britain each year, often felt most
strongly here, caused as the mainland grinds against Anglesey.
It's part of the bigger movement of landmasses around the globe.
The Earth's crust is made up of separate distinct plates
which are constantly moving against each other.
Where the edges of the plate move apart new crust is created, about as fast as your fingernails grow.
Deep on the ocean floor, as the plates tear apart, lava can ooze out.
This fiery business of planet building is exposed beautifully
on a small strip of Anglesey at Llanddwyn Island.
Local geologist Margaret Wood is my guide.
These are the world-famous pillow larvas of Llanddwyn.
All I can see is a grey rock.
What are we looking at? Oh, it's beautifully bluey grey though,
we're looking at pillows which are lava which came up on the ocean bed.
They get into the water and immediately the outside will crack.
These huge great big rounded lumps here?
Each one of those is called a pillow.
It is astonishing the way that raw nature can produce these symmetries and shapes.
But having looked at those,
something even more extraordinary, on the other end of the island,
you've got material that has actually gone down back into the crust,
and the fantastic thing is Llanddwyn Island is a complete mini-plate.
But that's amazing, I always thought that these plates on the surface of
the Earth, really were the size of continents or oceans.
You're telling me that here on this beach in Anglesey there's an entire plate.
This tiny island tells a big tale of how the Earth's built.
The plates of crust pull apart at one edge, but collide at the other edge.
As they crush into each other a jumble of different rocks is left behind,
which remarkably you can also see on Llanddwyn Island.
Wow, just look at that! Those colours, Margaret!
It's fantastic, isn't it? So many shapes too, it looks like a great big blancmange.
It's wonderful, isn't it? Those are quartz-rich rocks, you've got limestone over there,
and you've got schists, you've got conglomerate, and the colours are fantastic, aren't they?
So this is two plates of the Earth crust colliding? Exactly.
In the hundreds of millions of years Anglesey has been moving around the globe,
collisions and splits in the Earth's crust have created an astonishing array of rocks.
It's not just geologists who love this landscape,
it's a paradise for climbers too.
The sea's worked away at the weaker rocks to create some of Britain's toughest cliff climbs.
Now I'm taking up the challenge to see these rocks as only climbers can.
But before the ascent, I've got an exhilarating 100-foot descent in prospect.
Fortunately, Libby Peter and Graham Desroy know their ropes.
I guess, is it the nature of cliff climbing that you're always going
to start by going down before you can come up?
Yeah, it's a bit back-to-front. Normally you climb a mountain
and then abseil down again,
but sea cliffs it's the reverse, you commit yourself by abseiling in and then you have to climb out again.
It does look amazing when you just disappear into the...
Yeah, it's like you're abseiling straight into the sea.
Yeah, it does. See you down there.
OK, will do.
Here goes. It's a very long way down.
The rock is now very dry and storm battered.
It's as if it's been scoured clear of vegetation.
That's pretty exciting.
Is this where we start traversing round or... That's right.
You know you're close to the sea when the spray starts whacking you in the face.
What do you think?
Well, it beats sitting on a beach!
Just awesome, it's architecturally massive.
Takes your breath away.
The old heart's going.
The pros rate this climb as "very severe".
I can't tell you what I call it.
I can see all the incredible folds of rock, it's been bent like a piece of paper.
I mustn't get too distracted, I'm meant to be climbing.
I've been following this band of quartz all the way up.
Here it is,
glistening white in the sunshine, it's very beautiful.
Thank you so much.
That was sensational.
Thank you so much, it's such an honour to be taken up by the two of you.
I was so impressed with the way you climbed it, it was brilliant, it really was.
While Nick's hanging off the edge of the Irish Sea,
I'm right at its heart on the Isle of Man.
There's no shortage of sea cliffs to clamber up,
but the Manx can boast a climb you won't find anywhere else,
and I won't need any ropes.
The mountain railway started its slow, steady climb in 1895.
It takes about half an hour to haul its way up to the top of Snaefell,
the snow mountain, at over 2,000 feet the highest peak on the Isle of Man.
This is all very well, but when's the buffet coming round? That's what I want to know.
The big attraction is sightseeing, nice enough on the way up,
but I'm told on top there's a unique view of the British Isles.
Now, I know the summit's dead ahead, can't see a thing.
OK, then, here we are on the summit,
but I can see nothing, and I might as well be in a car park in Croydon.
When the mist does lift, the view is spectacular.
This is the only summit from which you can see every kingdom of the British Isles.
30 miles north, Scotland's southern shore is on the horizon.
Spin around and England is out to the east,
but my coastal companions continue their wheel around the edge of the Irish Sea out to the west.
Across the water, Dick Strawbridge is picking up the journey in Ireland.
Dublin, a great trading city on the sea.
Two mighty walls protect Dublin's port from silting up.
But shifting sands also produce beautiful beaches along Ireland's eastern shore.
This is a green coast, the lush landscape put to good use by the farmers.
Further north, fields give way to peaks.
The mountains of Mourne welcome us to Northern Ireland.
I'm here to celebrate a local hero whose fame first took off at Newcastle.
As an Ulsterman, I'm passionate about Northern Ireland's engineering excellence.
Look at this! An original 1948 tractor conceived and designed in Northern Ireland,
the little grey Fergie's a brainchild of local man
Harry Ferguson, but Ferguson's idea was more than just a tractor.
Born in County Down in 1884, farmer's son Harry Ferguson grew into a great engineer.
In the 1920s he was the first to combine a tractor and a plough together into a single unit.
Ferguson's new mechanism of links and springs
meant the driver could raise and lower the plough on his own.
It revolutionised agriculture worldwide.
But before breaking new ground with his tractors, the young Harry Ferguson's eyes were on the skies.
In 1910, only seven years after the Wright brothers had mastered powered flight on the sand dunes
of America's east coast, a dashing 26-year-old Harry Ferguson planned to put Ireland on the aviation map.
He came here to Newcastle, County Down.
The town had offered a ?100 prize to the first person to fly three miles across the bay.
Aviation enthusiast Ernie Cromie has a 3rd scale model of Harry's flying machine.
So where did he come to the design, how did he come up with this?
Basically by looking at other aircraft which some of the early pioneers had made,
people like Bleriot and so on, at air shows in Rheims and Blackpool,
and then deciding, right, that looks reasonably good, and I'll have a little bit of that.
The controls were pretty basic, really, a throttle lever, mechanism to control the elevators
at the rear of the aircraft, and also rudder,
and then to turn the aircraft in the air, it was basically by a system of wing warping,
to alter the degree of lift on either wing.
Wing warping, bending the wings. Exactly.
We're talking about wood and... what was the material he used?
Well, it would have been Irish linen, what else?
He left the ground, in something made out of wood and linen.
On the 8th August 1910, Harry's Ferguson's ambition reached for the skies.
For three long miles he battled against winds whipping across the Irish Sea.
Harry held his nerve. The first person to see this stretch
of Ireland's coast from the air. He pocketed the ?100 prize.
But a much bigger prize was at stake for Irish aviation 30 years later in 1940.
During the Second World War, a battle was being fought
off Ireland's west coast for the control of the Atlantic.
The convoys supplying Britain were at the mercy of the U-boats.
The Allies fought back from sea and air.
The depth charges of the Sunderland flying boats sank many a Nazi sub.
English plane makers Shorts collaborated with Belfast shipbuilders Harland and Wolff
to build the Sunderland flying boats.
Ted Jones is in his 80s now, but as a young pilot
he learnt to handle sky-going ships at Pensacola on the Florida coast.
Obviously, it was tough in the RAF, Pensacola Beach, you getting a sun tan, is that what it was then?
Of course, well we had to relax, of course. And that's where you learnt to fly flying boats.
So how successful was the Sunderland as a weapons system? Very good. It was a colossal air...
It weighed about 25 tonne when it was fully loaded.
It was built like a tank, it kind of wrapped itself around you and...
I felt at home. When I got in and sat on my seat, I was at home, you know.
But to fly, they were beautiful to fly.
No matter how bad the weather may be, they're always on the job,
bringing in the convoys looking out for U-boats and enemy raiders.
The operational flights were very long, weren't they? About 12, 13 hours.
What about eating and sort of surviving?
Oh, well, we cooked onboard. The Sunderland has two decks, so you had
the bottom deck with the kitchen, the flush toilet and the wardrobe.
And then you went back to the bomb room.
There's a submarine, let's descend and have a closer look.
It seems British but we'd better make sure.
It was really important to have the whole of the north Atlantic open, it kept Britain alive.
Oh, it did, yes, of course it did. We don't see flying boats, why don't we have them any more?
Well, they're difficult to handle on the water, you see.
You can't just say,
"The wind's blowing that way but you want to park it here," you can't do that.
They don't build flying boats in Belfast any more, but they are still in the aircraft business,
a tradition of aviation excellence that goes back 100 years to Harry Ferguson,
and his most excellent adventure here over the sands of County Down.
Soaring north on our wheel around the Irish Sea
we're heading for an aquatic adventure...
at Strangford Lough.
At the Lough's inlet, turbulent tides surge into an inland sea of eye-popping proportions...
..where Miranda's looking out for some old mates.
It's July in Strangford Lough, and it's at this time of the year that
the common seals give birth, and at low tide the shores here are dotted with newborn pups and their parents.
It's a challenging time of year for the baby seals,
but also for their mothers who need to be in peak condition to ensure the pups get the best start in life.
To see how parents and pups are coping, I'm joining David Thompson from the Natural Trust.
He watches out for the welfare of these timid creatures, today with paddle power.
We can get closer than you would with a noisy motor boat.
We still need to follow certain protocols, good practice,
obviously not point the boats at the seals,
go nice and calmly and quietly and gently, appear that we're going past them, not towards them.
What's so special about the Lough, why do the common seals love it here?
What they favour is this sheltered environment.
But it's not as turbulent, you know, the weather is not as wild.
And what they really need are the islands and the pladdies,
the reefs, to haul out on, and the islands in particular,
because that's where they give birth to the babies.
This is a crucial time for the seal pups.
They're vulnerable, hungry infants
who rely completely on their mothers for milk.
And the mums must rely on their skills at hunting.
To get a sense of their struggle I've got to get wet.
When you plunge into the waters around the UK, the first thing that hits you is the cold.
Like us, seals are warm blooded, but they've got a thick layer of blubber
insulating them from the chilly seas.
Watching them swim, you see their streamlined bodies glide forward with
a simple flick of a flipper conserving precious energy.
My eyes have evolved to focus in air, so to see underwater I actually need to use a mask.
Seals spend most of their time underwater so their eyes are beautifully adapted for
the water, and they also work very well at low light conditions, ideal for the murky depths below.
And if it's too murky to make anything out, they feel
their way with sensitive whiskers, hoping for a tickle from their prey.
The cool waters of Strangford Lough are a fridge full of treats, but these are big beasts
with very big appetites, especially when they've got little ones to feed.
There wouldn't be enough food in Strangford Lough to sustain
150, 200 common seals, and then we've nearly as many grey seals in the system.
There isn't enough food to sustain all those animals right through a 12-month year.
They go out there, this is seal highway,
it's a motorway into the Irish Sea, and they go out there because there ain't enough in here for them.
So they are going through the narrows into the Irish Sea and they're coming back in here.
A hungry seal's only way out is through this pinch point.
350 million cubic metres of seawater are forced through this narrow funnel by each tide.
The fearsome current makes it ideal for this tidal turbine.
Installed in 2008 to generate electricity, it's like an upside down wind turbine.
The submerged blades are driven by surging water,
blades that might also slice through seals
who navigate through the narrows for a snack.
To check the turbine won't block their way,
the animals' movements have been monitored with electronic tags.
One of those spying on the seals is Bernie McConnall.
That is a big tag, isn't it?
Half of it is battery, it's enormous.
Well, as far as we're concerned energy is everything because
inside of here is a mobile phone, and it's just the same mobile phone as we would have
but there is no recharging facilities on these haul-out sites.
So they can't plug in every night to recharge the batteries, so we have to have a large battery
that will last the six months that this tag will collect and send information.
Tagging very shy seals is easier said than done.
The only way is to ambush them.
It might look extreme but it causes little stress to these slippery customers.
The transmitters are glued to the fur, a job that's timed
so the tags fall off when a seal sheds its winter coat.
There's a data logger which will record what
depth the animals are swimming at, and there's a GPS device that will tell us where they are.
So with a combination of these two bits of information we know, are the animals feeding on the seabed, are
they feeding in mid water, we also know are they staying in the Lough or are they foraging elsewhere.
And there's good news.
The early data from the tags suggests that the seals go safely
by the turbine as they venture out to feed.
In fact, the researchers have been surprised at just how far the animals stray from home.
These adventurous seals make big sea journeys,
some out as far as the Isle of Man, where Neil is exploring island life.
The Manx economy depends on its transport links, how well it's connected to the wider world.
Tourists have been hopping over to the Isle of Man
since steam ship services started nearly 200 years ago.
Now this tax haven also thrives thanks to this strip of tarmac with 40,000 flights a year.
And they're making the runway longer.
Now the obvious thing to do would be to extend the tarmac in that direction inland.
But there's a problem. There's a road and houses smack bang in the path,
so instead what they've had to do is to extend in that direction, straight into the Irish Sea.
Adding 240 metres to the runway
means creating a big new patch of coast.
To shield this virgin shore from the sea they've brought in rugged Norwegian granite.
At 42 tonnes each, these blocks are the size of a van.
Anything smaller would be washed away by the waves.
Building the future can mean unearthing the past.
Preparing the ground for the new runway they discovered part of a prehistoric village.
The footings of at least six large roundhouses,
and close by, a child, with two adults.
People from the Bronze Age, some 3-4,000 years ago, but new finds go back even further.
So where are we, what are we sitting in the middle of?
Well, we're sat in the middle of a Mesolithic house,
which is 7-8,000 years old, we believe.
Do you think that this house is on its own?
No, we've got every reason to believe that there are other houses.
I think that maybe you could imagine a family or an extended family group
living in each of the structures, that we're looking at a community of some size at that time.
Ironically, in the chaos of a 21st century building site
they've discovered the domestic bliss of our earliest settlers.
4,000 years before Stonehenge people were building houses here.
This is one of Britain's first grand designs, topped off with a sealskin roof.
Our hunter-gatherer ancestors were giving up their wandering ways
to settle down at home, with the coast close by for food.
This has always been a sought-after location.
800 years ago, the Vikings controlled these waters.
But in 1266, the Norse rulers moved on, selling the Isle of Man to the King of Scots,
and we're heading to Scotland in search of the Vikings' legacy, starting on a long finger of land.
This rocky shore pokes out into the Irish Sea.
Venture south and eventually the finger comes to a point.
The Mull of Galloway, Scotland's most southerly spot.
To me as a kid this was Land's End.
Coming to this coast as a wee boy gave me a passion for digging into the past.
The Vikings didn't leave much building work behind.
The castles are a later addition.
But something of the Norsemen's culture does survive at Annan,
an ancient form of fishing still hanging on.
My name is George Wilasy, I'm a half net fisherman,
and this is where
we do this type of fishing.
It's a Norse method and it was introduced here more than 1,000 years ago by the Vikings.
When the half netter goes across the sand to the water's edge
he's hunting for a place to catch a salmon or a sea trout or a grilse.
The best place is where the tide is coming hard onto the shore
that's where the fish will be following the line of the tide.
I started half netting in 1956.
My father was a fisherman, my grandfather and his father,
they were all fishermen, and that knowledge had been passed onto us.
Sometimes a fish will go in,
and actually it's his tail that's touching it, and he's backing into
the net, so he's already pointing out of the net when you lift.
And they're extremely quick, so you have to be quick to lift the frame clear of the water.
The younger generation today, they're better educated, they're faster, they're stronger and
yet they couldn't do what these old people used to do.
I'm not one of these old people yet, mind!
It's part of our heritage and heritage is a scarce thing, we should never lose heritage.
You're never far from a fisherman on the Irish Sea.
Boats of every shape and size ply these waters.
Home port for many is on the Isle of Man.
Whatever their craft, all sailors share a common bond
and Douglas harbour shelters a tragic reminder of those in peril on the sea.
Wrecks usually remain on the seabed,
but cradled by the sea wall at Douglas is a boat that was raised
because of the awful circumstances of her sinking.
The wreck of that scallop dredger, the Solway Harvester, is a chilling sight.
It's a terrible reminder of the price that fishermen sometimes pay for the bounty of the sea.
Seven men drowned when that ship sank, the entire crew lost.
On the night of January 11th 2000, as a storm was raging,
the Solway Harvester sought shelter off the Isle of Man,
but she vanished without trace.
There was no mayday call, her disappearance a complete mystery.
At her home port on Scotland's southern shore, they honour the seven men of the Solway Harvester.
Robin Mills was one of the crew on the stricken scallop boat.
Robin's wife, Karen, was with her family, waiting for news of her husband.
Five o'clock in the morning press were arriving and you were beginning to think
this is getting scarier, this is maybe real, because you still had a
hope at five o'clock in the morning that they would be found. There was
nothing confirmed at that stage, so I think at six o'clock somebody persuaded us to
try and rest, probably because I was pregnant at the time and they were worried about me.
And I can remember helicopters, you know that
sort of vibration of the helicopter noise out...
We could hear that outside and we realised what they were doing. We prayed and hoped that
they might just be bobbing about in life rafts somewhere.
RADIO: "And the weather I think will match the mood of the town as it awakes to the..."
It was a very, grey, grey dismal day.
But I remember, it was January so it doesn't get light early,
and it would be quarter to eight, I think, in the morning we got a phone call to say that
they'd found both life rafts, so there was no hope then.
Karen's husband, Robin, had perished along with his six crewmates.
He wasn't even a regular hand on the boat.
Robin wasn't a fisherman at all. No, he wasn't.
He was a painter and decorator but his brother was a fisherman.
Craig phoned to say he was very short of crew.
I think some of the crew members were sick or hadn't turned up and he was asked to help.
I don't think he was particularly keen to go, but it was just one of these things.
It's just bad luck and bad luck and bad luck.
When the Solway Harvester was found on the seabed, the Manx Government had the vessel raised
to recover the bodies, and returned to the Isle of Man to investigate the mysterious sinking.
After eight years of legal wrangles over the evidence, in 2008
the coroner ruled the seven deaths had been accidental.
The scallop boat had flooded in foul weather.
In the calm after the storm
she finally sits in a safe haven beyond the reach of the sea that claimed her.
Out from the Isle of Man we continue our wheel around the Irish Sea, in England with Alice.
The Solway Firth separates the Scots from the English.
England begins in the mud with the promise of mountains to come.
These beautiful beaches don't attract the crowds
like Blackpool further south, but you can still get a cornet.
You won't sell many ice creams at that speed!
Only a short drive away, the peaks of the Lake District are tantalisingly close.
Wastwater is the deepest lake in England,
and just behind is Scafell Pike, the highest mountain in England,
but the big story of this shore is sand.
Morecambe Bay, the largest expanse of inter-tidal mudflats in Britain,
fun for some,
an obstacle to others.
Morecambe Bay covers 120 square miles.
A long detour unless you brave the perilous path over the sand.
Before the railway arrived, horse-drawn carriages sometimes
got stuck, with tragic results, as they tried to race across the mud.
These sandbanks feel so solid I can see why people might think about
taking a short cut across them, but they're also incredibly treacherous.
SIREN WAILS The siren warns the unwary that the tide's turning.
It rushes in at about nine miles an hour, twice the speed
of a brisk walk, flooding the bay in up to 30 foot of water.
And a hidden danger lurks to hold you fast as the sea surges in -
What turns soft sand, so nice between the toes, into a sticky sludge
that can cement you to the spot, unable to escape its grip?
Shortly I'll shun the safety of the path and get stuck in the mud myself.
To see exactly what I'll be getting myself into we're making some DIY quicksand.
Sedimentologist Jeff Peakall and his team from Leeds University are building up layers of sand
which can be saturated with water, flowing in from underneath.
Now you've got a tube of experimental quicksand here, but what is it when it occurs naturally?
Quicksand is really where you change from a solid state
into a liquid state, really rapidly, almost instantaneously.
And can it be any type of sand with water flowing through it?
No, it needs one with lots of holes in so it needs to be nice
round grains, ideally all grains of the same size.
What we're going to do here is run a quick experiment
and I'm going to put a model digger truck in here.
So the sand seems to be supporting the weight of that very well at the moment.
We're going to add a little bit of water, from underneath.
We've got some water flowing in through here, but it remains solid
for a period of time, and then suddenly it turns into a liquid, and our digger
is disappearing into the sand, just as the sand has gone from a solid into a liquid.
Yes, it's not just going underwater, it's actually sinking into the sand.
If you as you walk on it, you just add that extra shaking
vibration, that's just enough to break the grains apart.
So one of the factors producing the sinking effect in quicksand is actually the movement of the person.
Yes, and then if you begin to sink in and you start to wriggle,
then you increase the effect and you'll actually sink further.
So one of the difficult things, I think, for the person falling
into quicksand must be to try and remain relatively still.
This will be me in a minute, sinking in.
The secret for survival is to spread your weight over the surface, so instead of tyres
the truck that's taking me out is on tracks.
It's one of the few vehicles you could actually take out onto the sands with confidence and knowing
that you would get back safely, and that's all because of its huge wide tracks underneath.
We've actually gone out of this vehicle before and
stepped onto the sand and sunk and the vehicle's been sat on the top.
Volunteer Garry Parsons set up Bay Search Rescue
after witnessing the galloping tide almost kill a man stuck in the mud.
The sand was so hard you couldn't drive your fingers into it down by the side of his legs.
We thought we were going to watch this guy drown right in front of us.
Now these versatile vehicles provide rapid response,
taking the most direct route to strugglers on the sand.
Down we go.
That is incredibly steep.
Bay Search Rescue and the on-site coastguard are preparing
for a spot of quicksand training, and I'm going to be the guinea pig.
Starting to have second thoughts about this.
Lovely bit of quicksand we stumbled across this morning for you.
Right. Off you go, jump in.
If I'm going to get myself in here, you better get me out before the tide comes in.
That feels quite firm... at the moment.
I'm just moving my ankles, I reckon, and there's some water there.
The mud is just there, can I get my foot out?
What's really horrible and produces this rising sense of panic,
you're trying to move and you're trying to work yourself free, and every time you're moving your foot
and agitating the silt around you, you can just feel yourself sinking in further.
It really is solid, I reckon I can lean right back
and just stay in the silt.
It's got me good and proper, that really is quite scary.
It's very scary,
you can just imagine being here and the tide coming in,
nobody around for miles, I just can't move.
'The sand roots you to the spot, and then the sea rises over your head.
'That's why these guys race against the tide.'
OK, Alice, we'll soon have you out.
The only way to release me is to liquefy the sand.
First they loosen it up and then turn it into a liquid by adding more water.
I'm a bit worried about sinking further in.
You won't go any further.
Is that coming out? It's coming.
Thank you very much. You're welcome.
It's great to be free.
Despite the dangers, if you stick within safe limits,
this is a paradise for playing around.
We love the seaside so much we'll pay for its pleasures.
Sand and scares can be a winning combination.
Further south at Sefton Sands, they have their own thrill rides.
Then big, long beaches give way to a big, bold city...
The Mersey might be muddy, but where there's muck, there's brass, or maybe iron.
An iron ship, as Mark's about to find out.
In 1888, the world's largest ship was making her way up the Mersey,
the SS Great Eastern.
It was the final engineering triumph of Isambard Kingdom Brunel.
But this wasn't her maiden voyage, it was her last.
The Great Eastern had been launched 30 years earlier in 1858.
Built for nonstop travel to Australia,
she was nearly twice the length of any other ship,
the largest moveable thing men had ever made.
And Brunel was the man that designed her.
This is the most famous of all the images of Brunel.
Look, he has his stovepipe hat, his cigar, behind him the drag chains of the Great Eastern.
But he's actually a real engineer because, look, he's got mud on his trousers.
His plan for the Great Eastern specified a revolutionary double skin iron hull,
but her massive size also made her massively over-budget.
Building his masterpiece took a terrible toll on Brunel.
A week after the Great Eastern's trial voyage, he died, following a stroke.
His great liner fared little better.
Smaller, faster ships captured the passenger trade she was built for.
Her last journey was down the Mersey
to become a floating billboard advertising a local department store.
If Brunel had seen it thus he would have cried.
Finally, the ship that had broken Brunel's heart
was herself to be broken up for scrap.
Too big for the breaker's yard she was beached on the banks of the Mersey.
Marine archaeologist Mike Stammers is showing me her last resting place.
So this is a contemporary photograph?
Yes, of the Great Eastern on New Ferry Beach.
She's looking at an angle, isn't she?
Yes, and we're standing right near the bow. What, just there?
Yeah, two tiny little people looking up at this towering bow.
It would have been right up there. Yeah, right up into the sky blocking out the skyline behind.
This mountain of wrought iron was a valuable prize for the scrap metal men,
but the old girl wasn't going to go down without a struggle.
What they hadn't bargained for was the workmanship of Brunel.
She was so well built it took them nearly two years to break it up.
So rather than making a big profit they made a loss.
They made a thumping great loss.
And, of course, the actual process of breaking her up must have been terribly hard work.
Oh, yes, because they had no oxyacetylene in those days,
it was a case of sledgehammers and coal chisels,
and a great big iron wrecking ball that they dropped onto the plates, and hoped to smash them apart.
200 men, sometimes working day and night,
needed two years to smash the ship to bits.
Surely some scrap must have sunk down into the silt.
Mike is off to try and find pieces of Brunel's liner buried in the mud,
but I'm going down river
to where they're still breaking up ships.
I want to see how things have moved on in the 120 years
since the Great Eastern was battered to death near here.
Former Falklands warship HMS Intrepid arrived six months ago to be broken up.
Where's the ship? Well, HMS Intrepid came in here in January, and this is all you've got left.
It looks like chaos, but presumably it's all terribly organised.
Everybody knows what they're doing, we've most probably got about 12 guys down here.
We've got six machines working, we're processing copper, brass, cable, aluminium.
Another eight weeks, this will be completely cleared,
the lock gates will be opened, water will come in here, and hopefully two more vessels.
Just like for the Victorian ship breakers, time is still money,
speed is the difference between profit and loss.
But Brunel couldn't have imagined how his machine age would evolve to eat itself.
You can't crack up a ship without leaving some traces behind.
Back out in the mud, Mike thinks he's found a bit of Brunel's Great Eastern.
This is what I spotted before, I think you'll be rather impressed with this. Isn't that extraordinary?
It's a great big chunk of iron plate.
Hang on, there's a trowel for you. Thank you.
There, look, look. Solid as anything.
How do you actually know this is the Great Eastern? Well, the Great Eastern was
built of very thick plate, either three quarters of an inch or an inch thick, so if we get the callipers.
That looks pretty good.
Look at that. That's nearly an inch.
Nearly an inch.
15/16. So that's a good indicator.
It looks like it's running through to there, so if I try the other end,
looks like bits of rivet here as well. Look at those.
Look, I can just lift it out.
I've got my own row of rivets here as well.
Yeah, Great Eastern revealed.
There we are. Good Lord, bright metal.
Isn't that wonderful?! There it is, as fresh as it comes.
Some three million rivets held the Great Eastern together.
It seems a precious few are still holding fast 150 years later.
The struggle of building this iron leviathan broke Brunel,
but she's left him a fitting memorial,
ironwork of his masterpiece scattered in the mud of the Mersey.
In 1850, the metal merchants of the Mersey cast iron parts for a mighty machine.
And at the centre of the Irish Sea, out on the Isle of Man, it's still spinning.
We've come full circle,
back to the Laxey Wheel,
designed to pump floodwater from nearby mineshafts
and attract investors to pump money into the mining business.
And one of the investors in this mine is owed a huge debt of thanks by everyone who comes to the coast.
Sir William Hillary was appalled by the loss of life on the seas around the Isle of Man,
so he hatched a plan.
And what he came up with was this, the tower of refuge,
a sanctuary built for shipwrecked sailors in 1832.
Hillary ordered that it was to be built of the rudest and strongest
materials so that it could withstand the raging seas that often pound this reef.
Looks pretty sturdy to me.
Sailors wrecked on this reef could sit out a storm safe behind stone walls
but William Hillary's most towering achievement is something even more enduring than this.
In 1823, he launched an appeal for a formation of a national institution
for the preservation of lives and property from shipwreck.
It took over a year, but eventually that national institution was
formed, and in 1854 it became the Royal National Lifeboat Institution.
Nearly two centuries later, the founder gives his name to the
boat that patrols Douglas Bay, where it all began.
Now all the seas around the British Isles are safer
thanks to over 300 RNLI Lifeboats and their volunteer crews.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
E-mail [email protected]
My father raised me on tales of the great heroism of the Musketeers.
He knows the Musketeer motto.
Every man for himself!
It's these Musketeers who will ruin France.
Shoot, damn you!
Watch the series so far on BBC iPlayer.
On the edge of the Irish Sea at Morecambe Bay, Alice Roberts gets trapped in quicksand to discover what makes it so sticky and deadly. Alice learns survival tips and sees how the emergency services use specialised gear to rescue strugglers stuck in the sand.
In Liverpool Mark Horton unearths the 150-year-old remains of the ship that broke Brunel's heart. The ill-fated Great Eastern was the famous engineer's final masterpiece and the largest passenger liner ever built until Titanic took her record.
Nick Crane is sea cliff climbing on the remarkable rocks of Anglesey as he explores why this corner of north Wales is the site of some of Britain's biggest earthquakes.