The Netherlands Coast


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The Netherlands

Coast ventures out to the man-made shoreline of the Netherlands. Nicholas Crane examines the great flood of 1953, and Tessa Dunlop learns about 'Tulipmania'.


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We're in the Netherlands.

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A fortified shore.

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This is the front line of a conflict with the sea.

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For centuries the Dutch have battled to build a coastline like no other.

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A wind-powered landscape,

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lined with a carpet of colourful blooms

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and extraordinary constructions.

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This is Coast...and beyond.

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The Netherlands may be brand-new territory for Coast,

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but it seems rather familiar to me.

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There's something strangely unreal about these flat landscapes,

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borrowed from the sea

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and compressed by this enormous sky.

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It reminds me of where I grew up in Norfolk.

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We share the North Sea with the Netherlands.

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So we're being nosey neighbours -

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going Dutch to see what we might copy

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to make the most of our own coast.

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They don't just live beside the sea here, they live under it.

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A third of Dutch homes are below sea level.

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Huge banks hold the water back.

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They rearrange their coast to suit themselves.

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Channel the sea, harness the winds,

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build mega-ports.

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The Dutch are old masters at making new land from the waves.

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We've such sights to see, on a shore full or surprises!

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Our journey will take us to the border with Germany

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and the island of Rottumerplaat,

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the coast cutting into the heart of the Netherlands.

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But we start at the small coastal town of Ouwerkerk.

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This is the province of Zeeland, "Sea-land".

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We share this sea with the Dutch, for better or worse.

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In 1953, the east coast of Britain was battered by a terrifying storm.

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307 Britons died,

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and over 30,000 were forced to flee as the North Sea rushed in.

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Here, on the Dutch lowlands, the devastation was even worse.

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The '53 flood was a national catastrophe.

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NEWSREEL: Never in living memory have the Dutch suffered such a disaster.

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The seas, lashed by a mighty wind, broke through the dykes

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and poured in to swamp the countryside.

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The flood left 1,800 dead and many more homeless.

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The tragedy renewed an age-old conflict with the sea

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that the Dutch are still fighting, 60 years on.

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School trips teach the next generation to take up the struggle.

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SHE SPEAKS DUTCH

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At this memorial to the flood victims,

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they hear from those who fought for their lives.

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SHE SPEAKS DUTCH

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Mina Verton was the same age as these children

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the night the waters came.

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In 1953, her family were caught up in a desperate race against time,

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as water sped towards their home.

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With little warning of the deluge, they were trapped.

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What happened to you on the night of the flood?

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NEWSREEL: Aircraft fly in supplies for the people still to be moved.

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British, American and Belgian pilots keep up a shuttle service

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in helicopters, to relieve the many isolated villages

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cut off from contact with the areas of safety.

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I've got a map here which shows the parts of the Netherlands

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hit by the 1953 disaster.

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All parts in green were under water,

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and it's shocking to see how much of the delta was affected.

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Through the green you can see entire road networks, villages.

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In just six hours, 700 square miles were completely submerged.

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Because much of the Netherlands is below sea level,

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when the protective walls failed in 1953,

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the impact was worse here than in Britain.

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So for 40 years, the Dutch beavered away,

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spending billions on hi tech schemes,

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ringing their coast in concrete and rock defences.

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At its heart, with 62 floodgates, the mighty Oosterscheldedam,

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one of the engineering wonders of the world.

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But it could be just ten years before the low-lying Netherlands

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need a new plan, as sea levels rise.

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We share the same threat.

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Will our shore one day share fortifications

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on the same massive scale?

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Although we often say "Holland",

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the Netherlands has 12 different provinces.

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Only two are actually called Holland.

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In the south is the resort of Scheveningen.

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Given Holland's watery history, something odd is happening here.

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People are on the beach, enjoying themselves.

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There's a watchful eye kept on the approaching waves.

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But the Dutch don't hide behind their sea walls.

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Miranda's come to find out

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what Netherlanders like to do beside the sea.

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Sea bathing started here around 200 years ago,

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about the time it was really taking off in Brighton,

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and this is a photograph of this resort some years later.

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In fact, it could be Brighton,

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apart from these extraordinary wicker chairs on the beach.

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Like our early resorts,

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Scheveningen started as an exclusive retreat for the rich.

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But, in the late 19th century, the tourist trade developed.

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In 1885, this grand hotel, The Kurhaus, was opened,

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nearly ten years before the Blackpool Tower was built.

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So, what are we looking at?

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The Dutch version of Blackpool?

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Or perhaps it's Brighton below the sea.

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Or maybe something else altogether. I need a local guide to the locals.

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Philip. Hi, Miranda. Nice to meet you.

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Philip Walkate is a keen observer of the Dutch at their leisure.

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We work hard, we enjoy partying.

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On a nice summer day,

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when this is packed, everybody will have their own square metre of sand.

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Very organised, very structured.

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Yes, because there's not a lot of space,

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and half the country will go to the beach on a nice day.

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So this is mine, that's yours,

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we'll be fine together as long as we don't get involved with each other.

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-Quite like a class system, would you say?

-We have class system as well.

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-And we're in the right part of the beach for your class now.

-Oh, good, thank you!

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The posh people go over there and this is where partying goes on.

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I'm curious.

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Do the Dutch share any of our seaside traditions,

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like building sand castles?

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This a sand castle extraordinaire, isn't it?

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-I made this this morning for you.

-I don't think so!

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This is incredible! We'd never see something like this in England.

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It represents things you can do in the water.

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This big guy here sunbathing. Was that modelled on you?

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The Mayor of Amsterdam. This is all he does, just lying in the sun.

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No day out at the seaside's complete without a snack.

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Phillip's promised me a real Dutch delight.

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This is raw herring.

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Wow, is he just gutting it?

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Cutting and gutting it, taking off the head,

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you leave the tail, cos you use that to eat it.

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Not all at once!

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Mmm, amazing!

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It's like the best sushi ever.

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Is this a good time of year to eat it this? Is it a seasonal product?

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Yes, this is actually the new Dutch herring,

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-the fatter it is, everybody gets more excited.

-It's very good.

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The fat Dutch herring is much more than a delicacy. It's a celebrity.

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Every July, the first catch is celebrated with a festival.

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Washed down with lashings of the potent local tipple.

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I'll pour you some Dutch Gin. Jenever, it's like a schnapps.

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I've got to drink this as well as this. It's only ten in the morning.

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Yeah, you can just take a sip. You can, like, knock it up

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or you can just take a sip. You want to knock it up?

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Why not?

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Wow.

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'I'm beginning to see what draws the Dutch back to the beach.'

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I could do this all day.

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In a land where the people guard their coastline closely,

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here, at least, the Dutch take time out from hostilities with the sea.

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The locals have ingenious solutions for living in their "Waterworld".

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Tunnelling under it.

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Floating on it.

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And draining it dry.

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And sometimes, just rising above it all.

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MUSIC: "Jump Around" by House Of Pain

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It took off 500 years ago.

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The Dutch wanted to get about without getting their feet wet.

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Now it's an international sport.

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It's called Fierljeppen - far leaping.

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Who leaps farthest, wins.

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I'm Jaco de Groot.

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I'm Dymphie van Rooijen.

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She's running as fast as possible. Come on - run faster, faster!

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Run and climb up, hup, go, go, go, yeah, good!

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Climb on! Wow!

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I can't climb faster!

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The water, it's two metres deep.

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Nae! Help!

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And, yes, it's very cold.

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Oh!

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The pole is standing in the water, so we run about 30 km an hour.

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And then you run to a pole standing still, and then you have to grab it.

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DYMPHIE SHOUTS ENCOURAGEMENT

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And you have to climb it in five seconds.

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-It's just like you fly.

-Yeah.

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We're working our way up the Dutch coast.

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This land's famous for being flat, with walls holding back the water.

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Sea dykes are as Dutch as windmills, and a tale of doom

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with one of those dykes turned a local lad into a legend.

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I'm on his trail.

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The Hero of Haarlem.

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The town's honoured him with a statue.

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And this is it - a boy with his finger in the dyke.

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The schoolboy whose self-sacrifice saved his village.

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It's as Dutch a story as you'll discover.

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Or so you'd think!

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This little boy was really made famous by an American author,

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Mary Mapes Dodge, who included the story of the boy and the dyke

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in her 19th-century book, "Hans Brinker Or The Silver Skates".

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Mapes Dodge never even visited the Netherlands

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but as her fictional tale caught on,

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the locals erected a statue to satisfy curious fans.

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The young Hero of Haarlem has been adopted by the Dutch

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as an emblem of their struggle with the sea.

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It's ironic that the story was imported here from the USA,

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because the city's name, Haarlem, went the other way.

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The neighbourhood of Harlem in Manhattan is a reminder that,

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around 400 years ago, New York was called New Amsterdam.

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Part of the Dutch trading empire that reached New Zealand,

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named after their province of Zeeland.

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Today they celebrate their sea-faring heritage.

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It brought enormous wealth on the wind.

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The golden age of sail saw the birth of global trade

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and the city of Haarlem prospered.

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Here coastal commerce fuelled a flower power revolution,

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17th-century style.

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It's a story of boom and bust that's brought historian Tessa Dunlop

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to the most Dutch of Dutch industries.

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Within sniffing distance of the sea, there's another ocean on this coast.

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MUSIC: "Tulips From Amsterdam"

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An ocean of tulips.

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# When it's spring again I'll bring again

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# Tulips from Amsterdam... #

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You can't get much more Dutch than this. There's even a windmill.

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Well, sort of!

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Most of Britain's tulips start life in Dutch soil.

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In April and May, the northern coast of the Netherlands blossoms.

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A carpet of colour.

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Carlos van Der Veek's family's

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been growing bulbs on this shore for years.

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Why is it that tulips grow so well here in Holland especially?

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It's mainly because of the climate.

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The sea brings in his influence,

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the springs are cool, the winters are mild,

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and that's ideal for tulips.

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Sadly, these beautiful blooms will never brighten someone's birthday.

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Their heads are lopped off.

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These tulips are grown for the bulb, not the bloom.

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The flowers become mulch to feed a billion-pound bulb industry.

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So tulip bulbs today have a value

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but four centuries ago, it seems they were almost priceless.

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It's said that trading in these nearly bankrupted the nation.

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Turn back the pages of history to the early 17th century

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and the tulip, a wild flower from Asia,

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had recently arrived in Europe.

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MUSIC: "Tiptoe Through The Tulips"

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Rich merchants wanted them at any price.

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Dutch dealers went so bananas for bulbs,

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they were portrayed as greedy monkeys.

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It became known as Tulip Mania.

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The story goes that, when the price of the bulbs crashed,

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so did the economy.

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Markets that outgrow common sense are familiar now,

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but does this tale of bloom and bust stand up?

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I want to find out the real truth behind Tulip Mania.

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Historian Anne Goldgar has spent years studying Tulip Mania,

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using original 17th-century sources.

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Why, Anne, did Holland of all places become tulip country?

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Because they had access, first of all, to them

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because of the fact the Netherlands was a very important trading nation,

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and there were a lot of people interested in collecting exotica.

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People in the 17th century wanted to have tulips

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which were striped or speckled,

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and you can see that in this tulip catalogue, which was made in 1637.

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So this is rather like having, I don't know, the right diamond today?

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Yes, absolutely.

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This 17th-century floral bling was prized for its rarity.

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Tulips are tricky to grow. It takes seven years from a seed.

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In the time of Tulip Mania, bulb farming was a bit of a lottery,

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a gamble that Dutch traders hoped would win them a jackpot.

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MUSIC: "Money (That's What I Want)" by The Flying Lizzards

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So how did that work?

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Let's see what we might learn from the modern flower market.

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I've come with Anne to Aalsmeer, the world's biggest flower auction.

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Fascinating, it almost reminds me of The Price Is Right. You've got the men here bidding.

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At the bottom, the women are showing off,

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stroking their bunches of flowers.

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This is a proper Dutch auction.

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The clock counts down the price.

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The first trader to press their button stops it

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and pays what's on the dial.

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Turn back the clock some 400 years,

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and it's said the market went haywire.

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How do these modern traders feel about Tulip Mania?

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The moment you still see that when a new tulip variety is produced,

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then we feel still a bit of the Tulip Mania is still going on.

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Four centuries after Tulip Mania, traders are still tense.

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In the 17th century, bulbs were bought in a frenzy,

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betting they'd go up in value before they were out of the ground.

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The market did boom out of control.

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Single bulbs went for the price of a grand house.

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But did the bust nearly bankrupt the nation?

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They come to a head on 7th of February 1637.

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At that point, someone says, "I have a bulb to sell,"

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and nobody bought it in Haarlem. At that point people started to worry

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and prices did fall dramatically, that is true.

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As for bankruptcies,

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I have found no-one who went bankrupt because of Tulip Mania.

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Anne's research shows society didn't crash when the tulip bubble burst.

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So where's that story come from?

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This book, "Extraordinary Popular Delusions And The Madness of Crowds"

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did much to make the myth.

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200 years after Tulip Mania,

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the author, Scotsman Charles Mackay, wrote:

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'Substantial merchants were reduced almost to beggary,

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'and many a representative of a noble line

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'saw the fortunes of his house ruined.'

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Mackay was printing the legend

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perpetuated by the original paintings

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that made mischievous fun of tulip traders.

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Four centuries on, the bulb market is blooming,

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but reminders of darker days haunt the fields.

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This is a picture of the Semper Augustus,

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one of the most sought-after bulbs of the Tulip Mania period.

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But weirdly, you'd struggle to find a tulip like this growing today

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because in fact the flaming striped effect is a sign

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that the plant had a virus that could spread

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and infect the rest of the crop.

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So what was once so fashionable,

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now would immediately be dug out and thrown away.

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The odd offending bloom still pops up,

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once highly prized, now despised!

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It seems the Netherlands will never close the book on Tulip Mania.

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I've reached the mid-point of my journey at Lelystadt.

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A young city born out of the waves,

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it harbours a reminder of an older age...

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..when the Dutch began building boats to build an empire.

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This is an exact copy of a 17th-century original.

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The Batavia was launched in 1628,

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not to do battle, but to do business.

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This ship was part of the Dutch East India Company -

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an organisation so vast,

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it's been called the first multi-national corporation.

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Craft like this carried spices from Asia.

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They made the Dutch East India Company very wealthy indeed.

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Success set the Netherlands on a collision course

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with neighbours across the North Sea - the English.

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I've got a copy of a painting here.

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It shows a daring raid in 1667 by the Dutch on the English Navy.

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The English ships are on fire.

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All this happened just outside London. Pretty cheeky.

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That naval humiliation was one of many in the Anglo-Dutch wars

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that rumbled on throughout the 17th century.

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Wars that the Dutch won.

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So how did they beat the Royal Navy?

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Did the secret lie in their ships?

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They're building one here to find out.

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It's the baby of Aryan Klein.

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This is a 17th-century Admiralty ship

0:25:440:25:47

and she was specifically designed to wage war at sea against the English.

0:25:470:25:51

What was the difference between the Dutch maritime power and English maritime power?

0:25:510:25:56

We were geared up for ship-building in a huge way,

0:25:560:25:58

so we could produce ships at quite a fast rate.

0:25:580:26:00

So you could mass-produce ships like this.

0:26:000:26:04

Almost mass-produce - a ship like this would be ready within a year.

0:26:040:26:07

How could the Dutch build a ship in just a year

0:26:070:26:10

when the English couldn't?

0:26:100:26:12

What was the key to this mass-production?

0:26:120:26:15

MUSIC: Theme to "Camberwick Green"

0:26:150:26:19

Windmills - lots of them!

0:26:190:26:22

Before steam power, there was wind power.

0:26:230:26:26

If you can use a mill to pump water and to grind wheat,

0:26:310:26:35

why not use it to saw wood as well?

0:26:350:26:37

During the Netherlands' golden age of sail,

0:26:400:26:42

hundreds of windmills fed the shipbuilding industry

0:26:420:26:46

with a production line of cut wood,

0:26:460:26:48

enabling mass-production of ships

0:26:480:26:52

almost a century before the Industrial Revolution.

0:26:520:26:56

The trade in Asian spices fuelled the Dutch Empire.

0:27:080:27:12

Links to Asia left a legacy in the nation's appetites.

0:27:140:27:19

In Britain we might go for an Indian meal.

0:27:190:27:23

In the Netherlands, they go for an Indonesian.

0:27:230:27:26

My name is Wai Man Lo. I run an Indonesian restaurant.

0:27:370:27:40

My family is from New Guinea.

0:27:400:27:42

Indonesia used to be a Dutch colony.

0:27:420:27:45

After the independence, a lot of people from Indonesia,

0:27:450:27:50

they came to Holland.

0:27:500:27:51

My dad came in the '60s. He started a restaurant in 1975.

0:27:510:27:57

My dad is a really hard-working man.

0:27:570:28:00

Looking at this picture, I feel kind of proud of him.

0:28:000:28:04

This kind of market really reflects how the people live here in Holland.

0:28:070:28:13

It's like a big melting pot.

0:28:130:28:15

Most of the market stand holders are Moroccan or Turkish.

0:28:170:28:23

We buy some fish at these markets.

0:28:230:28:26

We like to keep our fish, like, pretty fresh.

0:28:260:28:29

Most of the people in our restaurant order the rice tables.

0:28:320:28:36

The rice table is really a Dutch invention.

0:28:360:28:39

The Dutch colonists who went to Indonesia,

0:28:390:28:43

they liked to taste a bit of everything.

0:28:430:28:46

We have, like, beef dishes all the way to chicken and vegetables.

0:28:460:28:50

When tourists ask what is typical, like, Dutch food,

0:28:510:28:55

they usually tell the tourists, well, try Indonesian food.

0:28:550:28:59

The sandy isles of the Northern Netherlands.

0:29:100:29:13

They subtly alter their shape with each new tide.

0:29:130:29:18

It's one battle between land and sea

0:29:180:29:20

the Dutch have decided to stay out of.

0:29:200:29:23

Here, they've encouraged nature to do its own thing.

0:29:270:29:31

Very few people are allowed to set foot on remote Rottumerplaat.

0:29:360:29:41

But Miranda's been given permission to look for signs of life.

0:29:410:29:47

This is the sort of spot that seems to sum up

0:29:550:29:58

"getting away from it all".

0:29:580:30:01

But as you walk across the dunes,

0:30:010:30:03

there's more than sand beneath your feet.

0:30:030:30:06

Concrete!

0:30:060:30:09

Loads of it.

0:30:090:30:12

Yes, you've guessed it, like much of the Dutch coast,

0:30:120:30:15

this island was built by the Dutch,

0:30:150:30:18

or at least started by them.

0:30:180:30:20

You can still see the line of a sea wall

0:30:200:30:23

built in the 1950s to trap shifting sands.

0:30:230:30:27

The island was encouraged to grow

0:30:270:30:29

as part of another land reclamation scheme.

0:30:290:30:33

But there's no-one here.

0:30:340:30:37

By the 1990s, wilderness proved more desirable than new living space.

0:30:410:30:47

Rottumerplaat was abandoned to nature.

0:30:470:30:50

Oyster catchers, spoonbills and common terns are amongst the birds

0:30:570:31:02

feeding on the mudflats, rich in shellfish.

0:31:020:31:06

One of the few humans allowed to come here on a regular basis

0:31:110:31:16

is naturalist Hans Roersma.

0:31:160:31:19

Everywhere you look, there are birds.

0:31:200:31:22

And a big group of oyster catchers down here, some have just taken off,

0:31:220:31:26

and the sun on their tummies,

0:31:260:31:29

it's just like glitter.

0:31:290:31:31

It's fabulous!

0:31:310:31:32

And if they start flying, it's one new, big animal.

0:31:320:31:36

They feed individually

0:31:360:31:37

but now they assemble.

0:31:370:31:39

You can see birds which have just arrived,

0:31:390:31:41

eat like hell, they go on probing

0:31:410:31:44

and they eat and they eat.

0:31:440:31:47

I can see why you love it here. It's an incredibly beautiful place.

0:31:500:31:54

But why is it so special to you?

0:31:540:31:55

We live in the most densely populated area of western Europe.

0:31:550:32:00

And we have a few islands reserved for nature

0:32:000:32:04

and I'm allowed to live and work there.

0:32:040:32:06

-You're a very lucky man.

-Yeah, yeah!

0:32:060:32:09

The Dutch have been at war with the sea for centuries.

0:32:150:32:19

But here, where they've learned to live together,

0:32:190:32:23

they put on quite a spectacle.

0:32:230:32:25

The sweeping sand flats make for lovely, relaxed walking,

0:32:400:32:45

but getting between the islands isn't so easy.

0:32:450:32:48

All this sand makes it impossible to get a boat in here.

0:32:500:32:54

But the Dutch have come up with a typically ingenious idea.

0:32:540:32:58

Take the bus to your boat.

0:32:580:33:01

This truck is known as the Vliehors Express,

0:33:020:33:06

and it's one of the ways to get from island to island.

0:33:060:33:09

MUSIC: "Van Der Valk" Theme

0:33:090:33:13

PASSENGERS SING

0:33:330:33:37

This bus ride gets more and more otherworldly.

0:33:490:33:53

We've just stopped at a driftwood stockade

0:33:530:33:56

in the middle of this sand desert.

0:33:560:33:59

Looks like an art installation.

0:33:590:34:01

Even in this natural paradise,

0:34:010:34:04

the Dutch can't stop reclaiming stuff from the sea.

0:34:040:34:08

Wonderful! It's a museum of found objects -

0:34:100:34:14

fish crates, computer monitors,

0:34:140:34:16

buoys, life belts, signs.

0:34:160:34:20

This unusual bus journey has a suitably unlikely bus stop.

0:34:260:34:30

This peculiar walkway is actually a jetty.

0:34:310:34:34

At the far end, the water is deep enough for a ferry.

0:34:340:34:39

Sand and sea together, combining to conjure up something truly special.

0:34:410:34:47

It's a delightfully Dutch conundrum that sums up our journey.

0:34:470:34:52

Life on the margins between sea and shore

0:34:520:34:56

can create a flair and resourcefulness that will rise above any challenge.

0:34:560:35:01

The Dutch have learned to live with the sea,

0:35:030:35:05

to recognise its opportunities and to meet its threats.

0:35:050:35:09

As sea levels rise

0:35:090:35:11

and the search for novel solutions becomes more urgent,

0:35:110:35:15

I reckon we can all learn a thing or two from the Netherlands.

0:35:150:35:17

Coast ventures out to the astonishing man-made shoreline of the Netherlands.

Nick Crane explores how ingenious Dutch engineers created massive coastal defences like no others on earth following the great North Sea flood in 1953 which killed thousands of people in the Netherlands and Britain.

Nick also discovers how, during the Second World War, traitors from the British Indian Army took part in the Nazi occupation of the tiny isle of Texel. This remarkable remote outpost in the far north of the Netherlands was later the unlikely site for the last battle in Europe of the Second World War. Nick investigates how the island fortress of Texel was torn apart by a murderous fight to the death between Soviet and Nazi soldiers in April 1945.

Tessa Dunlop is on the trail of 'Tulipmania', the extraordinary trade in tulip bulbs that's said to have nearly bankrupted the Dutch nation nearly 400 years ago. Tessa seeks the truth behind this cautionary tale of 'bloom and bust' that still haunts today's traders.

Mark Horton reveals the age-old skills that have made the Dutch the grand masters at creating new living space from the sea. Mark explores the greatest land-grab scheme of all, an audacious 40-year plan to wall off the sea and drain away the water from an area bigger than Greater London.

Adam Henson, himself a farmer, investigates why cows from the coastal plains of the northern Netherlands became the most sought after milk producers in the world, and one of the most familiar sights in the British countryside. Adam discovers how in the 19th century, when British farmers went shopping for Dutch cows, these 'two-tone' Friesian cattle would transform Britain's green and pleasant pastures into a sea of black and white.

Miranda Krestovnikoff experiences how the Dutch delight in devouring raw herring as a seaside snack. Miranda also explores a strange man-made island that's become a natural paradise of shifting sand and home to migrating birds in the most remote part of the Netherlands.