Hull to London Coast


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Hull to London

In a 200-mile journey, Neil Oliver visits the birthplace of his seafaring hero Lord Nelson, exploring the Norfolk shoreline that inspired young Nelson to greatness.


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On the east coast of England at Spurn Head,

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a fragile finger of sand flirts with the surf.

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The romance of land and sea has always attracted admirers,

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people who come to dream of distant shores.

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But others are drawn to the coast to fight,

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to fight for our freedom to dream.

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'As the Nazis stalked our shores, Britain was the last island of hope.

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'In our darkest hour, men and women were mobilised to fortify the coast.

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'Alice joins up with veterans on a journey back to where they fought a secret war.

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'It's age-old conflicts between land and sea that are puzzling Nick.

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'Miranda is in search of birds who battle for the bounty of the seas.

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'Mark's fighting the elements...

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'..and I'll be following in the tracks of my hero,

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'whose dream victory ended with news that shocked the nation.'

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This is Coast.

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Crossing from Denmark, our final journey takes us south,

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along 200 miles of coast, heading to the Thames and onto the capital.

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We start on another great estuary - the Humber.

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For more than 800 years, the people of the Humber have traded with Europe and beyond.

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In peacetime, ports promised prosperity,

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but in wartime, they invite attack.

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The sea trade made Hull

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a great port and a prime target.

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'In the Second World War, the threat came from the sea and the air,

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'a threat felt acutely in this north-east corner of England.

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'The Luftwaffe were expected to make a beeline for the Humber,

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'the vast waterway acting as a signpost pointing to the industrial heartlands of the North,

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'so when war broke out, men were sent out to sea.

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'Men like Geoff King.

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'In 1939, he embarked on a mission to defend the Humber.'

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That was a bit more exciting than I was expecting.

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'This was his outpost -

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'an isolated river fort at the mouth of the Humber,

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'where up to 200 men would be stationed for weeks on end.

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'In September 1939, when war on Germany was declared,

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'19-year-old Geoff came to the fort

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'to watch for an onslaught from the air.

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'Little did he know then, he'd wait only weeks for what would become the biggest day in his young life.

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'In early November, Geoff was on duty, manning the searchlight.'

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We heard a plane coming over at night,

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and the Gunnery Officer thought it was one of our planes,

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and so he put the searchlight on.

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Why would he think it was one of...ours?

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Well, because it was hovering around

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and he thought it was a plane in danger, probably landing, you see.

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My searchlight was put on, which is protruding there,

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then the plane came round and machine-gunned us.

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There was a Lance Bombardier on top.

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He was hit by a ricochet,

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and I gather that's the first enemy action of the Second World War.

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On his lonely outpost, Geoff witnessed probably the first casualty on home territory.

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The Second World War had come to Britain.

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As battle raged, Hull was hit hard by the Luftwaffe.

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After London, Hull was our most bombed city in the war.

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Thousands of people were displaced,

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with 9 out of 10 houses damaged or destroyed.

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AIR-RAID SIREN WAILS

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The city was reduced to rubble from the air,

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but any serious threat of invasion around the Humber was from the sea.

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Across the estuary, in the famous fishing port of Grimsby,

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the experience of its seafarers was badly needed,

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as the Navy was stretched.

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So the fishermen dropped their nets and became Pirates.

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A fighting fleet was drawn from hundreds of requisitioned fishing trawlers, whalers and tugs.

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Known unofficially as Churchill's Pirates,

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the Royal Navy Patrol Service was primarily made up of local fishermen.

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Today, a handful of the Pirates remember their comrades.

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We are an island nation. Without the free movement of shipping, we'd have faced starvation.

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'And they also remember how they got their nickname.'

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We were classed as Churchill's Pirates.

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Churchill was at a dockside when one of these old trawlers was coming in,

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and everybody was there dressed different, with woolly hats on, fishermen's jerseys,

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anything they'd going.

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Nobody had been shaved or anything and they looked a bit rough,

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and he said "Good God, what's this?"

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Somebody said, "Royal Navy Patrol Service, Prime Minister. Minesweepers."

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He said, "They look like a gang of bloody pirates, but I like them."

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The Pirates' effort was invaluable. The Admiralty believes

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more than 1,200 mines were swept from the Humber in fewer than 100 days

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at the height of the conflict.

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Facing the Nazis across the North Sea meant the whole east coast became a fortified line.

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So not only fishermen were called to serve.

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Scientists were also mobilised in defence of the realm...

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..and they came up with this.

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This is a radar transmitter tower,

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a few miles inland from the Lincolnshire coast near Louth.

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The tower here was part of an east-coast early-warning system against air attack.

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During wartime, RAF technicians had to climb these masts

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in all weathers and under attack to carry out urgent repairs,

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and now it's my turn.

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OK, don't look down. Look straight ahead. That's not any better!

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-How high is this, Paul?

-Oh, it's just about 50 feet now.

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Might be just 50 feet to you, climbs like 100 to me.

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I've got the RAF watching my back, but I can't forget this radar tower was built in 1940.

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I've got it easy compared to the men and women who had to clamber up here back then.

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Oh, it's horrible, Paul. I hate it.

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-Hate every minute of it.

-Think how much exercise you're getting!

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Oh, my hands are like budgies' claws!

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'During the war, radar technicians had to

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'climb the towers on a daily basis to carry out vital maintenance.'

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Oh, dear. So wrong up here.

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Oh, look at that, will you?

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That's a heck of a thing.

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Right. Finally...finally here.

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That's quite a sensation.

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Exhausted and scared - what a combination.

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The thing is, when you stand here, this is a nice day -

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it's a sunny day with just a light wind -

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and you can feel the whole thing's gently moving and vibrating.

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Wobbly they may be, but these were war-winning towers.

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We'll explore their secret origins on our journey south.

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Today, in more peaceful times, the coast is a playground for tourists,

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but as summer fades, the holidaymakers go home,

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and it's time for the locals to play,

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like here at Mablethorpe.

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'I'm Ross McGregor. I'm 21.'

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I've got a passion for coming down to Mablethorpe Beach in the winter.

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This sport is sand racing.

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The first time you're out on sand, your instinct is to go slower

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because sand actually moves underneath you.

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You find the faster you actually go, the more stable the bike becomes.

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The sensation you get is almost like you're on marbles.

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You can't teach what you know riding down here really, you just learn it from experiences.

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I was four years old when I first rode a motorbike, ten years old when I first raced one.

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You get to a point where you stop thinking about what you're doing and you just do it.

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There's a lot of atmosphere, and occasionally you do notice there's other things going on,

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but from our point of view, we just stick to the job in hand.

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A lot of people frown upon what we're doing,

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but the club try very hard to look after the beach and preserve it.

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We show the town a lot of respect.

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I don't think I'll ever get bored of doing it.

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I think I'll be doing it for a long time.

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Riding a bike's what I have always done, so that's what I do.

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On our journey south,

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we're approaching a huge tidal estuary - The Wash.

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It's where Lincolnshire meets Norfolk,

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and where you come across some curious constructions.

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Legacies from the recent past.

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They may look like proof of alien landings,

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but these concrete donuts were an experiment in the 1970s

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to see if parts of The Wash could be converted into freshwater reservoirs.

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When the tide goes out, an enormous muddy landscape emerges,

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and where there's muck, there's grub.

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Thousands of wading birds flock here to feed every day.

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Miranda's down on the shore to discover the birds' breakfast options.

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An enormous expanse of flat, flat mud,

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twice a day scrubbed clean by the tide.

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No wonder it's called The Wash.

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Out here, the horizon seems to stretch for ever in every direction.

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The sky is huge, the mudflats are vast,

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and somewhere out there,

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there's a point where the land meets the sea.

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More than 100,000 wading birds like knot,

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oystercatcher, redshank

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and dunlin come here to feed every autumn.

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The mudflats are oozing with molluscs and crustaceans,

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just the sort of food that waders love to eat.

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RSPB warden Jim Scott is here to share this amazing sight with me.

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What I love about this place is that there's always something to look at.

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The place is never still.

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All sorts of activity going on.

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What other species are out there at the moment?

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Well, we've got some ring plover and dunlin working their way along the edge of the mud here.

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As the tide pushes in beyond them, further out,

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there's some bar-tailed godwits and black-tailed godwits in amongst them,

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all concentrating as the tide just covers this last area of mud.

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Some redshank.

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All busy feeding away, as well, as the tide is sort of coming in.

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I guess it's almost like a feeding frenzy happening on the mudflats.

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They're trying to get as much energy as possible before the tide comes in

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and then covers that, and the feeding stops for the next half of the day.

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Absolutely, yes. They're spending most of the time feeding away,

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getting as much fuel on board as possible.

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The fascinating thing is that they all feed in different ways.

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They all have slightly different beaks, designed for that purpose.

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That's right, yeah.

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Things like the bar-tailed godwit, which has a great big long bill.

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It probes around in the mud,

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so it's going for whatever shellfish and worms

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are buried deep in the mud.

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We've got species like grey plover,

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which is feeding more on the surface.

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It has big eyes and it looks for prey on the surface,

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little crabs or whatever.

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Oystercatchers feed on mussels and cockles.

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So, no one species

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is really in competition with another?

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There's a bit of overlap between some of the species,

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but they use a wide range of techniques.

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'As the birds are making the most of the mud,

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'it's also my chance to get mucky

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'and see the tasty morsels, which bring them here in the first place.'

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Look at those.

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-These are just little clams, are they?

-Yes.

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-What's feeding on these, Jim?

-It'll be things like knot.

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Knot particularly like these,

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cos they're not too far from the surface.

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The rag worms, they're quite big and fat.

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Yeah, quite a few calories in one of those.

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I think things like redshank will feed on these.

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The Wash is like a giant bed and breakfast for waders.

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Some check in briefly en route to sunnier destinations.

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Others make themselves at home for the winter.

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They haven't got long to stock up - the tide is already turning.

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And as the tide races in, the birds just take off.

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But the birds aren't necessarily going far.

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Some rest on a nearby shingle bank,

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where they run the risk of becoming a banquet themselves.

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A young peregrine falcon is looking for lunch.

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Once the danger's passed, the knot return to rest,

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and the birds of The Wash wait for their next meal.

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People come to the coast to indulge their passions.

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While Miranda is away with the birds,

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it's one of my ultimate heroes that's brought me here,

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to the home turf of Horatio Nelson.

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I think there's something mesmerising about the sea that turns us all into dreamers,

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and I suspect, as a boy, Nelson was no different.

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I imagine young Nelson coming here, looking out,

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dreaming of dashing victories, distant battles, faraway seas.

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But the truth is, not even his wildest dreams could have matched the reality of his own life.

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You've got to admire Nelson.

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I think he was a tactical genius.

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Without his naval victories over the French in the Napoleonic Wars,

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Britannia wouldn't have ruled the waves.

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But mighty as Nelson's reputation is now,

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he was born into humble surroundings.

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On from The Wash, just a mile inland from the north Norfolk coast,

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is the small village of Burnham Thorpe.

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Nelson was the son of the local parson here.

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In 1787, during a period of peace,

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29-year-old now Captain Nelson was temporarily unemployed.

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So like many of us have, he moved back home,

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where he spent the next five years waiting for war.

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The parsonage at Burnham Thorpe is long gone,

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but its garden is still here,

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and this is where he left a lasting legacy.

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Frustrated not to be fighting the French,

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Nelson did some digging instead.

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In fact, it's said that he dug out this pond.

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But he was still dreaming of the sea.

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He dug this pond to represent the deck of a ship.

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That's why this end is square - this is the stern, the back of the ship.

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If you imagine being at the top of the crow's-nest, on top of the mast,

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the whole thing narrows to a point 30-odd feet away.

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That's the bow, the pointy bit of the ship.

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It's a lot smaller than the gun deck of The Victory,

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but you can see that if all these lilies and all the grass and slime was scraped away,

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it would be quite obvious - it's shipshape.

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After five landlocked years,

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Nelson was recalled to the Senior Service.

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Finally, he was back at sea, where he belonged,

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and 10 years later, he achieved his destiny

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on board his flagship - The Victory.

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It's impossible to walk through this village without constantly

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catching glimpses and reminders of the life and times of Nelson.

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As a parson's son, the church in Burnham Thorpe would have been a second home for Nelson,

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so it's fitting that memorabilia of my hero hangs from every wall.

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And there's the man himself -

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a bust of Nelson -

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and he's looking over the graves of his mother and father.

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Now, the great warrior wanted, at the end of everything,

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to rest in peace in this church beside the graves of his mother and father,

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but that didn't happen.

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Nelson's mortal remains are in St Paul's Cathedral.

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Nelson's great adventures took him far from home shores,

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but these beaches have their own epic tale to tell.

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At low tide, they expose the remains of mysterious hidden forests.

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Nick's exploring evidence of a lost landscape.

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This is Titchwell Beach on the north Norfolk coast,

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and I'm heading for that dark area down by the sea.

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I think it might hold some clues.

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I'm looking for signs that this shape-shifting coastline

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only reveals on a very low spring tide -

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evidence that this area hasn't always been a sandy beach.

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This looks very like a bed of ancient peat.

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It's been scoured clean of sand by successive tides.

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It's black and...

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if you press your thumb into it,

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it's spongy and water squeezes out.

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It's old reed swamp, brushwood, bits of tree.

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Look at that!

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A perfectly preserved piece of tree root.

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It's Mesolithic - 7, 8, 9,000 years old - part of a submerged forest.

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Almost 100 years ago,

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the study of these tree stumps became an obsession for one man,

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determined to make sense of a riddle written into these sands.

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In 1913, a retired Victorian geologist, Clement Reid,

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published his work on Britain's submerged forests.

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In his book, Reid revealed that he'd found ancient forests all along the east coast.

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Noah's Woods, the locals called them -

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trees submerged by a great flood.

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His research led Reid to a remarkable conclusion.

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He said the discovery of tree stumps here at low tide,

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proved that forests once stretched far, far offshore,

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way out into the North Sea.

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Surprisingly, Reid's writing on the submerged forests didn't make much of a splash at the time.

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Now, 100 years later, scientists are beginning to take Clement Reid's little book very seriously.

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In the book, Reid proposes an amazing idea.

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His maps speculate that Britain was once connected to Europe

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by land that stretched across the North Sea, over the Dogger Bank.

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Reid imagined there was no sea here, the water locked up in ice during the last ice age.

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After years of studies, the existence of this land bridge was confirmed.

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But only recently have a team at Birmingham University

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used core samples from the sea bed to reveal the detail of the complex landscape lost to the sea.

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'Simon Fitch is going to show me where this lost territory - now dubbed Doggerland - once was,

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'and what it looked like.'

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So here we are, Simon, bobbing around on a fishing boat in the North Sea,

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but 7, 8, 9,000 years ago, we couldn't have done this.

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We'd have been on land.

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Yeah, we'd have been actually sitting on the big plane of Doggerland,

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with the rivers, the trees behind us, and the little hills.

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It would have been a diverse landscape we'd have been sitting on.

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Just off our coast, there's a lost world.

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Mighty rivers once ran through Doggerland,

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a wetland paradise rich with fish and birdlife to feed the early Europeans.

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Around 10,000 years ago, as the ice started to melt, sea level rose.

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Doggerland were submerged.

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Its residents moved on, some into Britain,

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which became an island as Doggerland disappeared.

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But it left clues - submerged forests along the coast,

0:23:170:23:22

an ancient message Reid decoded in his slim volume full of big ideas.

0:23:220:23:28

So when Clement Reid talked of a vast alluvial plane stretching the whole way from

0:23:280:23:32

what's now Britain, the Netherlands and Denmark, he was right.

0:23:320:23:36

Oh, yeah, he was very right, and some of his early maps and that

0:23:360:23:39

are very close to the truth. It's kind of scary.

0:23:390:23:42

All those years ago with the evidence he didn't have,

0:23:420:23:45

he could still come up with these kind of conclusions.

0:23:450:23:48

But the ancient flood that engulfed Doggerland

0:23:530:23:57

wasn't the end of the story in Reid's remarkable writings.

0:23:570:24:01

He said that following the slow flooding of Doggerland,

0:24:010:24:05

the coastline here in Norfolk was also radically different to what we see today.

0:24:050:24:10

In his book, Reid speculated that the vast estuary once cut deep into the heart of Norfolk.

0:24:120:24:19

Well, I grew up in Norfolk, sailing and canoeing this huge wetland,

0:24:190:24:23

and for some time now I've been looking out for signs of that lost great estuary.

0:24:230:24:28

Today the landscape of this part of Norfolk is just that - land.

0:24:330:24:38

But go back 2,000 years and I believe there wasn't just a river here,

0:24:380:24:43

but a vast estuary to rival the Thames.

0:24:430:24:46

Clues to the existence of the estuary date back to Roman times

0:24:480:24:52

when two forts were built to guard this enormous inlet from marauders.

0:24:520:24:57

This is one of them. It's called Burgh Castle and it's enormous.

0:24:570:25:01

Just look at the scale of it!

0:25:010:25:03

'Look at the position of the fort now in the middle of a field, guarding nothing

0:25:050:25:09

'and it doesn't make any sense.

0:25:090:25:11

'I think these walls once stood at the entrance of a thriving Roman seaport.'

0:25:110:25:18

This is where the great estuary must have been.

0:25:180:25:21

It helped make this one of the most important parts of Britain.

0:25:210:25:24

This would have been a trading haven to rival the Thames.

0:25:240:25:28

But around 1,000 years ago, the estuary silted up

0:25:300:25:35

and the coast re-wrote itself, leaving the river we see today.

0:25:350:25:40

Another chapter in the epic shape-shifting story of this shore

0:25:400:25:45

that Clement Reid first worked out in his little book of submerged forests.

0:25:450:25:49

As our journey to the capital continues down the coast of Norfolk,

0:26:070:26:11

you can't help but notice the odd holiday park...

0:26:110:26:14

or two...or three.

0:26:140:26:17

Row upon row of caravans crowd this coastline -

0:26:210:26:24

family upon family coming here for decades

0:26:240:26:28

to enjoy cheap, cheerful, fun breaks.

0:26:280:26:31

This stretch of coast boasts the highest concentration of caravans in Europe.

0:26:370:26:43

Some loathe them,

0:26:430:26:45

many love them.

0:26:450:26:46

I think it's impossible not to feel affection for these places and these kinds of holidays.

0:26:480:26:53

It's just good times for as many people as possible on the coast.

0:26:530:26:57

Attracting visitors is the ambition on this coastline today,

0:26:590:27:03

but 70 years ago, it was the lack of prying eyes,

0:27:030:27:06

which made this remote shore attractive to the military.

0:27:060:27:10

On this quiet shingle spit, top-secret radar technology

0:27:100:27:15

was developed before the outbreak of the Second World War.

0:27:150:27:20

In the 1930s, a desperate race was on at Orford Ness.

0:27:230:27:29

They were racing to save Britain from the Luftwaffe.

0:27:290:27:34

Alice is off there to discover more about radar.

0:27:350:27:39

'In the First World War, the Germans used zeppelins to bomb Britain.

0:27:420:27:47

'In the 1930s, the aerial threat escalated to terrifying new heights,

0:27:470:27:52

'as the Nazis assembled a formidable air force, whose bombers might win the next war.

0:27:520:27:59

'Without a way of detecting incoming enemy planes, we were helpless,

0:28:020:28:06

'so in the mid-1930s, an extraordinary scientific struggle started,

0:28:060:28:11

'to shield Britain from the bombers.'

0:28:110:28:14

On the 12th of February 1935, scientist Robert Watson-Watt sent this memo to the Air Ministry.

0:28:140:28:22

It's been called the birth certificate of radar.

0:28:220:28:24

"I enclose herewith a memorandum on the detection of aircraft by radio methods.

0:28:240:28:30

"It turns out so favourably that I'm still nervous as to whether we've not got a power of ten wrong,

0:28:300:28:36

"but I thought it desirable to send you the memorandum immediately rather than to wait for close re-checking."

0:28:360:28:42

It was this memo that started the race for radar.

0:28:420:28:46

Watson-Watt could barely believe his calculations.

0:28:490:28:53

In theory, by measuring radio waves bouncing off a plane,

0:28:530:28:58

they might be able to detect enemy bombers over 100 miles away,

0:28:580:29:03

day and night, and in any weather.

0:29:030:29:06

It seemed too good to be true,

0:29:060:29:09

so they had to find out if it would really work, and quick.

0:29:090:29:12

On the 26th February 1935,

0:29:140:29:17

just two weeks after that memo was sent about the theoretical detection of planes using radio waves,

0:29:170:29:23

its author was trying it out using a real bomber and a BBC radio transmitter.

0:29:230:29:31

Now some 75 years later,

0:29:310:29:33

we're about to try to recreate that original war-winning experiment.

0:29:330:29:40

The first plane they tried to detect was a Heyford bomber.

0:29:410:29:45

Ours is a bit more modern.

0:29:450:29:47

Radar pioneer Watson-Watt had help from Arnold Wilkins.

0:29:500:29:54

I've got radio boffin Steve Randall to mastermind our experiment.

0:29:540:29:59

The original transmitter they used was a BBC radio mast.

0:29:590:30:03

'Technology has moved on, so our signal's coming from a television transmitter nearby at Sudbury.

0:30:030:30:10

'Steve knows the plan.'

0:30:100:30:11

Here's a little example of what we're going to try and do today.

0:30:110:30:15

-So this is a model.

-Yeah, it's trying to show how this is going to work.

0:30:150:30:19

Here, we've got the Sudbury TV transmitter.

0:30:190:30:23

It's sending signals out in all directions,

0:30:230:30:25

and we'll try and bounce those signals off of an aircraft.

0:30:250:30:28

And I presume that this is the building we're actually in,

0:30:280:30:32

and this is the plane - rather more glamorous, I have to say, than the one we're using.

0:30:320:30:37

So this is coming in from the sea,

0:30:370:30:40

and you're hoping that we're going to be able to receive the reflected waves being bounced off that.

0:30:400:30:46

That's right. What we're going to try and do

0:30:460:30:48

is to get the radio waves to bounce off of the aircraft

0:30:480:30:51

and be received by our receiving station.

0:30:510:30:53

How optimistic are you that we'll get the signal from the aircraft?

0:30:530:30:56

Quite optimistic.

0:30:560:30:57

I'm visual with you now.

0:30:570:30:59

'With the plane on its way, like the radar pioneers of the 1930s,

0:30:590:31:04

'we'll watch the signal on an oscilloscope screen.

0:31:040:31:07

'Now it's just showing output from the TV tower.'

0:31:070:31:10

John, can you see him?

0:31:100:31:12

Yes, he's about one-and-a-half, two miles

0:31:120:31:16

more or less straight ahead of us,

0:31:160:31:18

so about 1,500 feet.

0:31:180:31:20

Oh, yes, I've got him. Yeah.

0:31:200:31:23

Map position south-east.

0:31:230:31:25

Yeah, that looks pretty good, Phil.

0:31:250:31:27

Phil reckons that the plane is about a mile away now, so are we seeing anything.

0:31:270:31:32

Yes. Not a huge amount, to be honest.

0:31:320:31:34

We heard the drone of the bomber in the distance,

0:31:340:31:38

and we looked anxiously at our Cathode Ray Tube

0:31:380:31:42

to see whether the expected phenomenon was taking place.

0:31:420:31:46

It's still difficult to see anything on the raw data.

0:31:460:31:50

It wasn't and we became rather concerned.

0:31:500:31:54

'I'm slightly concerned too, as the plane is getting rather close.'

0:31:540:31:59

Is that OUR plane I can hear?

0:31:590:32:01

'Surely we should be seeing some change on the oscilloscope.'

0:32:010:32:05

As the noise of the bomber increased,

0:32:050:32:09

we began to see slight fluctuations in the line on the Tube.

0:32:090:32:15

Oh, there's some wider pulses coming through, some wider waves.

0:32:150:32:20

These increased as the bomber got nearer to us.

0:32:200:32:25

We can see these big waves

0:32:250:32:27

coming through on the oscilloscope, very clearly. Look at that.

0:32:270:32:30

When the noise of the bomber was fairly loud

0:32:300:32:34

and it was fairly close to us,

0:32:340:32:36

we were getting quite a marked deflection of this line.

0:32:360:32:41

We then realised that the experiment was successful

0:32:410:32:45

and there was something in our arithmetic

0:32:450:32:48

that we'd done some days previously.

0:32:480:32:51

I can hear him now, he must be really close.

0:32:510:32:54

Yeah, there he is.

0:32:540:32:56

PLANE ENGINE RUMBLES

0:32:560:32:58

It's suddenly gone much wider. The aptitude has increased...

0:33:020:33:05

OSCILLOSCOPE WHINES ..and you can hear it.

0:33:050:33:09

You can really hear it.

0:33:090:33:10

That's fantastic! Amazing concept, that you can use radio waves

0:33:100:33:14

to detect a moving object in the sky.

0:33:140:33:17

It must have been so exciting for these scientists in the 1940s... '30s, in fact!

0:33:170:33:23

To see that for the first time, yeah, it must have been.

0:33:230:33:26

The next challenge was to turn waves on a screen into

0:33:270:33:31

a long-range early-warning system,

0:33:310:33:33

to detect enemy aircraft approaching our coast.

0:33:330:33:36

To tackle this daunting task, the engineers moved down the east coast

0:33:360:33:42

to a Victorian manor house at Bawdsey to build the first radar station.

0:33:420:33:48

What went on here was top secret.

0:33:480:33:52

'I'm going to meet two of the people drafted to Bawdsey on a clandestine wartime assignment.

0:33:520:33:58

'Back then, Gwen Reading and Peggy Haynes were two young women sworn to silence.'

0:33:580:34:02

Because Gwen and Peggy worked on radar.

0:34:020:34:06

'The ferry that runs the short distance from Felixstowe to Bawdsey

0:34:130:34:16

'transported these raw recruits to an adventure of a lifetime.'

0:34:160:34:21

It's a lovely calm day today.

0:34:210:34:23

I don't expect it was always calm making this crossing.

0:34:230:34:26

No, occasionally the ferry couldn't run because it was so rough.

0:34:260:34:30

-So how does it feel coming back to Bawdsey?

-Amazing.

0:34:300:34:34

We won't know until we see the manor.

0:34:340:34:36

Well, I think we've got a car waiting for us.

0:34:360:34:40

Oh, that will be good. We certainly didn't have that. A bike, maybe.

0:34:400:34:44

I can see our windows from here.

0:34:560:34:59

Gwen and Peggy were part of a secret service -

0:35:000:35:05

radar operators called to the coast to scan the skies.

0:35:050:35:10

I came in April '43. Yes, it was my first posting after Cranwell.

0:35:100:35:15

And if it's not terribly rude, how old were you when you arrived here?

0:35:150:35:19

-20.

-20, and how about you, Peggy?

0:35:190:35:22

She was old. I was 19.

0:35:220:35:24

How did you feel when you first arrived here?

0:35:240:35:27

Did you know what you were coming to?

0:35:270:35:29

Well, most people got posted to camps and lived in Nissen huts,

0:35:290:35:33

and when we found we were going to live in the manor house, we thought we'd done pretty well, really!

0:35:330:35:38

It must have been quite exciting to be posted here.

0:35:380:35:41

Yes, well, it was for me, because I bullied them to get here

0:35:410:35:45

because my fiance-to-be

0:35:450:35:46

was just up the road, at Dunwich, on another station.

0:35:460:35:52

Did you know what it would involve before you arrived here?

0:35:520:35:55

No, not really, because it was so secret.

0:35:550:35:57

-We had to sign the Secrets Act.

-You did?

0:35:570:35:59

We weren't allowed to say anything,

0:35:590:36:01

-and they thought we were all very stuck-up.

-Really?

0:36:010:36:04

-Whereas, actually, you just had to keep it secret.

-Yes.

0:36:040:36:08

The Germans thought these towers were for radio messages.

0:36:090:36:14

In reality, they were designed to transmit and receive radar signals.

0:36:140:36:18

The technology was perfected at Bawdsey,

0:36:180:36:21

but one site on its own would be useless,

0:36:210:36:24

so the design was replicated along the coast.

0:36:240:36:28

By the start of the war, there were 20 so-called Chain Home radar stations,

0:36:280:36:33

but the chain would break without operators to interpret the incoming signals.

0:36:330:36:38

That was Gwen's job.

0:36:380:36:41

-So how many people would have been in here?

-About eight.

0:36:410:36:45

About eight, and lots of equipment.

0:36:450:36:47

There would be a console across here,

0:36:470:36:50

where people sat and the map where they plotted.

0:36:500:36:54

Get me control, please.

0:36:540:36:56

And if you had 1,900 planes on your screen, that was quite an undertaking.

0:36:560:37:01

-1,900?!

-Yes, but they would be in blocks of 200 here, 100 there, a single one there.

0:37:010:37:08

Zero, 5,000.

0:37:080:37:11

'Gwen has brought along a photograph taken in this room in 1945.'

0:37:110:37:16

That's lovely. Now, are you in this photo?

0:37:160:37:19

-Yes, that's me.

-Wearing the headphones.

0:37:190:37:21

It must have been a job which required an enormous amount of concentration.

0:37:210:37:25

It did, it could be very stressful at times.

0:37:250:37:28

If we were very busy,

0:37:280:37:29

we'd try to get someone who was fairly expert on the Tube.

0:37:290:37:34

How does it feel coming back to this room that you spent so many hours in?

0:37:340:37:38

Well, it's very strange because those three-and-a-half years

0:37:380:37:43

seem a major part of my long life.

0:37:430:37:46

Without the development of radar and the crucial contribution of operators like Gwen and Peggy,

0:37:470:37:53

we wouldn't have won the Battle of Britain.

0:37:530:37:56

During their years at Bawdsey, the women had to keep mum to the wider world about what they were up to.

0:37:590:38:06

While you were working here,

0:38:060:38:08

you were very aware that what you were doing was incredibly important,

0:38:080:38:12

but it's not until articles like this appear

0:38:120:38:14

in the papers after the war that most other people must have realised how important radar was.

0:38:140:38:19

I was very pleased that, at last, we could say something about it.

0:38:190:38:24

You found people sending you newspapers, both local and national,

0:38:240:38:28

and in fact, the chap I eventually married

0:38:280:38:31

sent me a picture from the Picture Post. He said, "Is that you?"

0:38:310:38:36

THEY LAUGH

0:38:360:38:37

Is that how he found you again?

0:38:370:38:40

No, no, that's another long story.

0:38:400:38:43

It's humbling to think that revolutionary radar experiments

0:38:470:38:52

conducted 70 years ago at this manor house on the coast of Suffolk,

0:38:520:38:56

would touch so many lives.

0:38:560:38:59

We all owe a debt of thanks to people once sworn to secrecy,

0:38:590:39:04

but now happy and proud to tell their stories.

0:39:040:39:08

The radar stations that ring this shoreline kept the Nazis at bay,

0:39:140:39:19

but 1,500 years ago, Germanic settlers were sailing across the North Sea

0:39:190:39:23

to colonise this coast and beyond, deep into Britain.

0:39:230:39:28

Those tribes - the Saxons and Angles - were master mariners.

0:39:360:39:41

Seafaring was a way of life for the Anglo-Saxons.

0:39:410:39:45

It was also crucial to their way of death.

0:39:450:39:48

Around 1,300 years ago, a boat was making its way along this river

0:39:480:39:52

carrying the body of a dead king - Redwald, an Anglo-Saxon king.

0:39:520:39:58

They were a people whose connection to the sea was so strong,

0:39:580:40:01

they buried their leaders in their boats.

0:40:010:40:05

The king's men sailed his boat seven miles up the river Deben.

0:40:060:40:11

The boat that had served the monarch in life

0:40:180:40:21

had become his funeral vessel.

0:40:210:40:23

Its final journey wasn't on water, but on land.

0:40:230:40:27

The boat, 27 metres long and solid wood, with the dead king inside it,

0:40:330:40:39

had to be hauled up here, about a mile from the river, by the warriors.

0:40:390:40:43

It's a herculean effort by any standards.

0:40:430:40:46

This is Sutton Hoo, which means Sutton Hill.

0:40:460:40:52

It's the site of one of the most significant archaeological finds in British history.

0:40:520:40:56

The Anglo-Saxons crossed the sea from Northern Europe

0:40:560:41:00

to occupy this land after the Roman Empire had retreated from Britain.

0:41:000:41:04

It's a time of myth and legend,

0:41:040:41:07

made glorious reality by the Anglo-Saxon king's funeral boat.

0:41:070:41:11

It was discovered buried at Sutton Hoo in 1939.

0:41:130:41:16

The scale and extent of the finds were staggering.

0:41:160:41:19

What they revealed would rewrite our history books.

0:41:190:41:23

Inside this mound was buried a huge boat and a great treasure.

0:41:260:41:31

The posts at either end mark the position of the stern and then the bow of the boat.

0:41:310:41:36

Now, this roped off area marks the position

0:41:360:41:40

of the burial chamber itself, deep below where I'm standing.

0:41:400:41:44

Now, the king, the body of the king, was placed into the hull of the boat

0:41:440:41:47

and he was surrounded with his treasures.

0:41:470:41:49

The beauty and age of the finds was immediately apparent,

0:41:490:41:53

but what they tell us about the culture of the mysterious Anglo-Saxons

0:41:530:41:58

make these artefacts priceless.

0:41:580:42:00

Most precious of all of the treasures to come out of the king's grave was a helmet.

0:42:000:42:05

This is a brilliant replica of it, and it's extremely heavy.

0:42:050:42:09

It's made of silver and gold,

0:42:090:42:11

every inch of it symbolises power and conquest.

0:42:110:42:15

But obviously the most stunning element of the whole piece

0:42:150:42:20

is the gold ornamentation of the face.

0:42:200:42:22

This is Britain's Tutankhamun's mask.

0:42:220:42:26

The ancestors of the people who buried their king in this mound around 1,300 years ago,

0:42:280:42:33

had come across the sea from foreign shores.

0:42:330:42:36

They called their new home Engla Land, land of the Angles.

0:42:360:42:40

This sacred site reminds us that the English,

0:42:400:42:44

like all of us in these isles,

0:42:440:42:47

owe their identity to many migrations through our coast.

0:42:470:42:51

There's no great church or cathedral here,

0:42:510:42:55

but there is a sense of spirituality.

0:42:550:42:58

There's an essence of how much this place mattered to our ancestors - Angles and Saxons,

0:42:580:43:04

seafaring folk who came here and helped forge Britain.

0:43:040:43:08

Boats were crucial to the culture of our early ancestors,

0:43:140:43:18

a heritage that's alive and well around our coast.

0:43:180:43:22

In living memory, sailing boats were still used

0:43:220:43:25

as fishing and cargo vessels

0:43:250:43:27

all around this coastline.

0:43:270:43:29

Today, enthusiasts prefer to race them.

0:43:340:43:37

So Mark has risen early to join a crew on competition day.

0:43:400:43:44

'Andy Harman, skipper of a Thames sailing barge, the Edme.

0:43:510:43:56

'He's hoping for a strong start.'

0:43:560:43:59

GUNSHOT There's the gun.

0:43:590:44:01

Look at them all lined up down there!

0:44:030:44:05

The secret to this racing lark is start first and finish first.

0:44:050:44:09

The Edme's a Thames thoroughbred. Built of wood in 1898,

0:44:170:44:22

they could achieve high speeds with a small crew.

0:44:220:44:27

Today, a big group of enthusiasts bring these swift cargo carriers back to life by racing them.

0:44:270:44:34

They do it for the sheer love of sail.

0:44:340:44:38

GUNSHOT AND CHEERING

0:44:410:44:45

'We finish first, but what counts is the camaraderie of the competitors

0:44:460:44:50

'and the joy of handling a living piece of history.

0:44:500:44:53

'It's amazing that these vessels survive.

0:44:550:44:58

'Despite the tide of progress,

0:44:580:45:00

'people will go to extraordinary lengths

0:45:000:45:04

'to preserve old working boats...

0:45:040:45:06

'..even resurrecting their wrecks.'

0:45:080:45:11

This is the remains of the Xanthe, an Essex fishing smack,

0:45:150:45:20

about 100 years old.

0:45:200:45:21

Look, you can see the ribs perfectly preserved under all this seaweed.

0:45:290:45:34

This must be the stem.

0:45:340:45:35

You can see it's all... Take the seaweed off,

0:45:360:45:39

there she is.

0:45:390:45:42

Boats like this are actually worth a fortune.

0:45:420:45:45

People spend something like £50,000 to £100,000

0:45:450:45:49

restoring Essex fishing smacks like this.

0:45:490:45:53

I just want to know what makes these boats quite so special.

0:45:530:45:57

Smacks were workhorses, used for dredging and trawling.

0:46:010:46:06

You appreciate their sheer beauty in action.

0:46:060:46:09

Cue another competition -

0:46:090:46:10

oyster dredging this time.

0:46:100:46:14

They love contests here.

0:46:140:46:16

Hi.

0:46:160:46:18

-You must be Gerard.

-Mark, hello. How are you doing?

0:46:190:46:22

'I've joined the crew of the Kate, skippered by Gerard Swift.

0:46:220:46:26

'Gerard and his wife Helen have lovingly restored this Essex smack.

0:46:260:46:32

'It's a far cry from the skeleton I've just seen in the mud.'

0:46:320:46:36

So why are these oyster smacks so special?

0:46:360:46:40

They're very graceful craft from very much earlier...

0:46:400:46:43

Just work boats, but very yacht-like in their appearance

0:46:430:46:46

with the long counter-stern and very weatherly, fast, easy boats to sail.

0:46:460:46:50

For workboats, they were something really special.

0:46:500:46:53

The design frees up space to work at the stern.

0:46:540:46:57

The three dredges are thrown overboard

0:46:570:47:01

and hauled in at regular intervals.

0:47:010:47:04

So you've got just enough sail to drag them along the bottom.

0:47:040:47:07

-Yeah, going along like a garden rake.

-Here's the first catch.

0:47:070:47:11

Look at them all!

0:47:110:47:12

Most of it's dead shell.

0:47:130:47:15

I've only got one.

0:47:150:47:17

THEY LAUGH

0:47:170:47:18

Not a good day in the oyster beds.

0:47:180:47:21

We're in the wrong spot.

0:47:210:47:23

How many do you reckon we're going to get?

0:47:230:47:25

I'd like about 10 kilo, that'd be nice.

0:47:260:47:29

Well, we've got four oysters at the moment.

0:47:290:47:31

The competition has two prizes -

0:47:310:47:35

one for the most oysters,

0:47:350:47:37

another for the smack which dredges with the most style.

0:47:370:47:41

That's bound to be us.

0:47:410:47:44

What are the points that the judges are looking for?

0:47:440:47:47

The boat going the right speed, the dredgers towing evenly, the boat in control,

0:47:470:47:52

just going along whilst the guys work the dredgers, basically.

0:47:520:47:55

There's the judges' boat over there. They're checking us out.

0:47:550:47:58

So what do you think you should mark the Kate?

0:47:580:48:01

-Certainly an eight.

-An eight, yeah.

0:48:010:48:03

'Eight out of ten isn't bad.

0:48:030:48:06

'Right now, it's double our number of oysters, but the morning is still young.

0:48:060:48:12

'The competition takes two hours...'

0:48:120:48:14

-It's hard work.

-Back-breaking.

0:48:140:48:18

'..by which time we're all exhausted.'

0:48:180:48:21

-Is that it?

-That's it, the last.

-The last one.

0:48:210:48:25

There's another one, Mark.

0:48:250:48:27

-Oh, fantastic!

-And another.

0:48:270:48:29

-Bonus time. I reckon the last has been our best.

-Yes, it probably has.

0:48:290:48:34

We haven't brought the greatest weight, I don't think.

0:48:340:48:38

I'm sure we had the greatest style.

0:48:380:48:40

Hope so, hope so.

0:48:400:48:42

'We take our meagre catch to Packing Shed Island,

0:48:430:48:46

'where oysters have been packed for more than 100 years.

0:48:460:48:50

'The weigh-in is very strict.'

0:48:500:48:54

Let's get ours weighed in, shall we?

0:48:540:48:56

-Moment of truth.

-2.8.

0:48:560:48:58

'Needless to say, less than three kilos isn't a winning catch,

0:48:580:49:02

'and we're robbed of the trophy for the most stylish dredging too.

0:49:020:49:07

'But the real reward is in taking part,

0:49:070:49:11

'putting these historic boats back to work,

0:49:110:49:14

'dredging for oysters as they were perfectly built to do.'

0:49:140:49:19

And so we're into the mighty Thames Estuary.

0:49:320:49:35

Just 12 miles out to sea from here,

0:49:390:49:41

you're beyond our territorial waters.

0:49:410:49:43

Handy if you're in a business that's not strictly legal.

0:49:430:49:47

In the 1960s, that was pirate radio.

0:49:470:49:52

Back then, listeners only had one option - the BBC -

0:49:520:49:56

so a group of DJs took to the waves to broadcast their kind of music.

0:49:560:50:01

They called their station Radio Caroline.

0:50:010:50:05

One former DJ is off to visit a boat that rocked.

0:50:050:50:10

# Her name is Caroline... #

0:50:100:50:14

I'm Tom Anderson, and I was one of the last DJs on the Mi Amigo,

0:50:140:50:18

the Radio Caroline ship, nearly 30 years ago.

0:50:180:50:21

I grew up in Clacton-on-Sea,

0:50:210:50:24

where I saw the pirate-radio era start from my bedroom window.

0:50:240:50:27

It was in my blood to start with,

0:50:270:50:29

but the main reason it was Caroline, was the music.

0:50:290:50:32

We were on the cutting edge of music at the time.

0:50:320:50:35

The whole operation was very clandestine, it was rough and ready.

0:50:350:50:39

Often we ran out of very basic supplies.

0:50:390:50:42

Sex and drugs and rock and roll? I doubt it very much, to be honest.

0:50:420:50:47

We knew the boat was on its last legs,

0:50:470:50:49

but we thought she was invincible,

0:50:490:50:51

and when you're young, you think you're invincible

0:50:510:50:53

and none of us ever foresaw the day that she'd sink at sea.

0:50:530:50:57

'Well, we're sorry to tell you that due to the severe weather conditions,

0:50:570:51:01

'and also to the fact that we're shipping quite a lot of water, we're closing down. Tom.

0:51:010:51:07

'Yeah, it's not a very good occasion, really.

0:51:070:51:10

'I'm going to have to hurry this because the lifeboat is standing by.'

0:51:100:51:14

It's nearly 30 years ago that I uttered those words,

0:51:140:51:17

and now I'm on my way back.

0:51:170:51:19

The Port Of London Authority regularly check wrecks in their area,

0:51:190:51:24

and they have allowed me to come along with them.

0:51:240:51:27

Here we are at the moment, tracking along,

0:51:270:51:29

then the wreck site is bounded by this red square.

0:51:290:51:31

That's where we're heading.

0:51:310:51:33

Look forward to seeing my old home.

0:51:330:51:35

So this is the 3-D image of the wreck.

0:51:380:51:43

That's superb, that really is incredible.

0:51:430:51:46

The lifeboat approached us from this side here,

0:51:460:51:49

and we were told to bring nothing,

0:51:490:51:50

and I stuffed a carton of cigarettes up my jumper.

0:51:500:51:53

Absolutely everything went with it.

0:51:530:51:56

There were some very valuable autographed copies of records by The Beatles that are no more.

0:51:560:52:01

Very sad.

0:52:020:52:04

The pirates haven't sunk without trace.

0:52:060:52:10

Their offshore antics ushered in commercial stations,

0:52:100:52:13

which made radio broadcasting into a business.

0:52:130:52:16

Profit and loss are shipmates on this shore.

0:52:330:52:36

Just as the Humber at the beginning of my journey

0:52:360:52:39

drove the success of Hull and Grimsby,

0:52:390:52:41

so the Thames was the revenue stream for the growth of Britain's capital.

0:52:410:52:46

They're abandoned now, but the expansion of London's docks in the 19th century

0:52:480:52:53

was built on global trade from the Empire.

0:52:530:52:57

British companies enjoyed the freedom to sail the globe because the Royal Navy ruled the waves,

0:53:010:53:06

thanks to the heroic efforts of a seafarer that London honoured in stone at the heart of the capital.

0:53:060:53:12

By the time that Nelson's Column was completed in 1843,

0:53:150:53:18

the true scale and significance of his victory at Trafalgar was plain for all to see.

0:53:180:53:24

Nelson won his greatest and final victory in October 1805.

0:53:280:53:33

The French fleet was crushed

0:53:330:53:35

and the British Navy went virtually unchallenged

0:53:350:53:39

for more than 100 years.

0:53:390:53:40

The news of triumph and tragedy at Trafalgar

0:53:470:53:50

was painfully slow to filter back to London.

0:53:500:53:53

A small ship left the battle immediately

0:53:530:53:55

with a message for the Lords of the Admiralty.

0:53:550:53:58

On the night of 6th November, just after midnight, William Marsden,

0:54:020:54:06

the First Secretary to the Admiralty,

0:54:060:54:09

was still working in the boardroom.

0:54:090:54:12

Making his way to meet Marsden as fast as his horses could carry him

0:54:120:54:16

was British Naval Officer Lieutenant John Richard Lapenotiere.

0:54:160:54:20

Just 37 hours earlier, his schooner, The Pickle, had docked at Falmouth,

0:54:210:54:26

returning from the Battle Of Trafalgar.

0:54:260:54:28

Now, after 21 stops for fresh horses, the news had finally reached London.

0:54:280:54:33

Lapenotiere arrived exhausted into the cobbled courtyard of the Admiralty.

0:54:390:54:43

He headed straight to the boardroom

0:54:430:54:45

to deliver his bitter-sweet message

0:54:450:54:48

to the First Secretary of the Admiralty.

0:54:480:54:50

Sir, we've gained a great victory, but we have lost Lord Nelson.

0:54:530:54:58

'If only these walls could talk.

0:55:020:55:06

'Stepping into the Admiralty boardroom,

0:55:060:55:09

'it looks almost exactly as it did to Nelson himself.

0:55:090:55:12

'He'd come here to receive his orders ahead of the Battle Of Trafalgar.

0:55:120:55:17

'The Lords of the Admiralty no longer sit here, so they're not here to meet me,

0:55:170:55:23

'but Professor Andrew Lambert is,

0:55:230:55:25

'an expert in naval history and as much of a Nelson fan as I am.'

0:55:250:55:29

How much of a plan of battle did Nelson have?

0:55:290:55:33

He's not such a fool as to have a detailed point-by-point plan

0:55:330:55:37

because they always go wrong,

0:55:370:55:39

so this is Nelson's concept of battle.

0:55:390:55:41

It's a very brief sketch jotted down on the back of an envelope.

0:55:410:55:44

Quite literally, it's a scrap piece of paper,

0:55:440:55:47

and he shows this linear battle,

0:55:470:55:49

and we're going to have to break through the formation

0:55:490:55:51

to set up this close-quarters or pell-mell battle,

0:55:510:55:54

and great leadership is about setting up the position for his subordinates.

0:55:540:56:00

He knows that if his captains and crews are led to battle in the right way, they can do the job.

0:56:000:56:05

Just how significant, then, was the victory at Trafalgar?

0:56:050:56:09

Trafalgar is the capstone on 150 years

0:56:090:56:11

in which the British have gone from being a significant European player

0:56:110:56:16

to being the first true global power.

0:56:160:56:19

Nelson is the capstone on that, so it's the defining moment

0:56:190:56:23

when Britain goes from being a European power to being THE world power.

0:56:230:56:28

After triumph at Trafalgar,

0:56:490:56:50

the threat of invasion from France was gone,

0:56:500:56:53

and the Royal Navy reigned supreme.

0:56:530:56:56

Nelson, the boy from Norfolk who stood on the shore and dreamt of glory at sea,

0:57:040:57:08

had helped propel Britain into an unparalleled age of empire.

0:57:080:57:12

From earliest times, the coast nurtured the people of our isles.

0:57:200:57:25

It welcomed settlers and repelled invaders.

0:57:250:57:29

Reaching out from the coast, the Empire would draw in more than 400 million people,

0:57:290:57:35

enriching and expanding our small island with bonds across the seas.

0:57:350:57:41

Our links to foreign shores are all around us -

0:57:410:57:45

in the language, the culture and the people who make up our island race.

0:57:450:57:51

We embrace our coast for all sorts of reasons, and our coast embraces us.

0:57:510:57:56

And remember, wherever you are in these islands -

0:57:580:58:01

North, South, East, West, or right in the middle -

0:58:010:58:06

you're never more than 72 miles from the sea.

0:58:060:58:11

Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd

0:58:280:58:31

E-mail [email protected]

0:58:310:58:35

The series concludes with a 200-mile journey down England's east coast, from the river Humber to the river Thames and into the heart of the capital.

Neil Oliver visits the birth place of his seafaring hero Lord Nelson, exploring the Norfolk shoreline that inspired young Nelson to greatness and the curious ship-shaped pond he dug at the family home while not fighting the French. Neil visits Sutton Hoo, where in 1939 an Anglo-Saxon burial ship was unearthed to become one of Britain's most important archaeological sites. The ornate find of a warrior's helmet gave a face to the Germanic tribes that founded England.

On the shingle bank at Orford Ness, Alice Roberts leads a team trying to recreate the original war-winning experiment which proved that radar would work. Alice visits Bawdsey Manor, where the first British radar station was built, to meet two women posted there during the war to operate the early warning system. It was 'hush-hush' work that they kept completely secret - even from close family.

Off the Norfolk coast, Nick Crane explores the remarkable lost world of 'Doggerland', the home of the early Britons, lost to sea some 10,000 years ago as sea levels rose after the last Ice Age.

Miranda Krestovnikoff wades out in the mud of 'The Wash', a vast tidal feeding ground for migrating birds. Miranda discovers the ingenious strategies that different birds use to fatten themselves up on the seafood of the Wash.

Enthusiasts spend fortunes to restore the wrecks of sailing boats which used to work around the Thames Estuary. To investigate the appeal of the glorious Essex Fishing Smacks, Mark Horton joins a crew on competition day to discover how the elegant yacht-like design is perfectly adapted to dredging for oysters.