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Coast is home.
And we're exploring the most endlessly fascinating shoreline
in the world -
The quest to discover surprising, secret stories from around
the British Isles continues.
This is Coast.
The British Isles are ringed with a necklace of extraordinary beauty,
and the pearls of our coast?
Its magnificent beaches.
Every one of them is different.
Each of our beaches has a unique character.
Some of them are sandy, and others, well...
..they're a little more unexpected.
Whether they're pebble-strewn and wild, or soft and inviting,
they all have amazing tales to tell.
We're on a journey to reveal the secret life of beaches.
I'm here to unpick the secrets of one of our island's most
Dungeness is home to over 600 types of plant,
including one that's nuclear.
But it's what lies beneath my feet that I find so fascinating.
It feels like I'm all at sea,
on the most remarkable ocean of pebbles in Britain.
But if pebbles aren't your thing...
our coast has a wonderful variety of delights
to match anywhere in the world.
'Britain's beaches don't begin and end with sand.
'They're made from all manner of wonderful stuff,
'but that's one of the best-kept secrets of our coast,
'because you never see our beaches all together to compare them.
'I'm making a unique map.
'Each bucket and bag contains a different beach.
'The real sand and stones of our coast,
'collected by volunteers from every compass point in Britain.'
This livid red sand is what we enjoy on the beaches
of the English Riviera, down here in Devon,
and it's red because it was created 380 million years ago when Britain
was part of a red hot dessert on a super continent down at the equator.
Up here in the Outer Hebrides the sand is almost silver,
and that's because it's loaded with fragments of seashells.
This is the classic golden sand you find on beaches the length
and breadth of Britain from the vast expanses here in Lancashire,
to the long, thin, curving beaches of north Norfolk.
These are flint pebbles from the coast of Suffolk.
They were washed out of chalk 70 or 80 million years old.
There's flint also here on the beach in Dungeness.
This sparkly stuff is schist - metamorphic rock -
formed under intense pressure half a billion years ago
beneath mountain ranges.
It's created incredible beaches on the east coast of Scotland.
This is slate - it's fantastic skimming stones.
You can find it on the beaches in west Wales.
Look at this beautiful sparking Cornish granite.
It's the quartz in this granite that gets washed out
and creates the lovely beaches in Cornwall.
'Our necklace of sand and stone tells an extraordinary
'story of the birth of Britain over millions of years.
'But our shoreline isn't stuck in the past.
'On the sea's edge you can also experience the future being forged.
'The huge beach at Dungeness was built one pebble at a time.
'Now it's around 15 square miles... and counting.
The best guess is that there are five million, million pebbles here,
that's 5 trillion, and it's a number that's growing all the time.
What's feeding this beast of a beach, and re-drawing the map?
To discover how the sea keeps our margin on the move
I'm meeting geologist Jan Zalasiewicz.
Jan, how are these vast expanses of pebble beach created?
Well, first you have to make the material
and they're formed by the erosion of the land surface
and most of these have been washed out of the chalk, you know,
as the ultimate survivor.
Flint is harder than almost everything else.
And then the waves which here mainly come from the west,
you can show with these arrows we have here,
come from the west and move the material along the beach,
so it will gradually move along here.
And what's happening here, what's special here at Dungeness,
is it's building up and building out because we have another set of waves
which come from the Channel, and you have a set of ridges
which are formed you know into this wonderful beach-shaped structure
Conveyor belts of opposing sea currents push the pebbles forward.
Over centuries the shingles has piled up...and up,
creating a massive stone nose.
And it's remarkable, it's still growing, it's still building
and it will build until it reaches some kind of equilibrium here.
This beach is full of surprises, but so are many others.
The east coast of Scotland.
The gorgeous sandy face of this shore has a firm foundation.
A rock-hard skeleton holds the soft skin in place.
The stony backbone of the beaches formed millions of years ago.
Locals put that timeless stone to work,
many of its secrets lost in the harbour walls.
But in a few precious places, age-old stories do survive.
We've reached St Andrews.
Some scour the nearby beaches
for golf balls they mislaid just moments before,
while others play a game of seek on the sand
that goes way back to the beginnings of life on earth.
I'm Martin White.
I'm a palaeontologist and I study fossils.
I'm particularly fond of this bit of coast
because in 2002, I found trackways of a giant creature here
in the lower carboniferous rocks, dated about 330 million years ago,
which is about 100 million years before the earliest dinosaurs.
When these rocks formed, Britain lay close to the equator,
so it was a tropical climate,
and the area was covered with a lush vegetation.
Here is the stump of one of the giant club mosses.
These trees would grow into maybe something like 60 metres.
At this time also oxygen levels in the atmosphere were higher,
and this allowed some creatures to grow much larger.
And so this area was literally crawling with giants.
This is what I've come to see - the tracks of a giant water scorpion.
Down here you can see curved footprints in a line,
so this animal had three legs on each side of the body,
and in the centre of the trackway there's this double groove feature
which was formed by the tail of the animal.
I have a cut-out to show you what this giant animal looked like,
and this matches to the features of the track way
with the footprints on either side,
and with the large tail drag mark down the centre of the track way.
I would love to have met one of these things
and been able to see it 330 million years ago.
I've got some great footage here of horseshoe crabs,
which are the closest living relatives to the water scorpions.
You can see how they're moving slowly in the same way
as the giant water scorpion, dragging its tail behind it.
Because the trackway is very vulnerable to erosion,
some way needed to be found of preserving it,
and that's where my friends Dave and Dee became involved,
because they're experts in moulding and casting of fossils,
and they made a one-piece mould
of the seven metre length of this track way.
It took them six days to make it.
As a result, casts have now been placed in a museum
and the trackway is effectively preserved.
It's wonderful to be able to come here and to touch the same sand
as was touched by an animal which lived a hundred million years before the first dinosaurs
and to see evidence of past life.
We're in search of secrets
from the beaches surrounding the British Isles.
Landlubbers are used to mysterious messages suddenly appearing.
But, recently, they've also started to crop up on the coast.
Beaches are becoming art installations,
as they know on Jersey.
Hermione is on the island to discover the secrets
of creating spectacular statements in sand.
Some see these wide open spaces as
inspiration for art on a truly massive scale.
This is a blank canvas, just waiting to be brought to life.
MUSIC: "Firework" by Katy Perry
I'm here for the World Beach Art Championships.
The challenge is to produce colossal creations, best seen from the sky.
The competitors have come from far and wide.
Meet French artist Sam Dougados,
British artist Andy Coutanche,
and American artist Andres Amador.
Andres believes the beach itself tells him what to draw,
so what are the sands of Jersey saying to him?
I see this cave that looks like a big mouth,
like it's shouting something.
I see all these rocks and little passageways.
Doesn't it feel like something is coming out of this?
Do you feel that?
You see, as a geologist, I'm thinking in totally reverse actually!
-It's going in.
Andres has certainly got a grand vision,
but, just now, I'm struggling to see it myself.
Time to catch up with our French contender.
Is he planning his design ahead of time, like Andres?
Honestly, not really.
I had an idea, but I'm not sure.
Just before, I had a look at the area,
but I think it will be lot of improvisation.
Two times on three, I come on the beach without knowing what I will do
because the beach is always different.
You almost don't have any limits. It's a perfect place.
So Sam's going freeform.
For local artist Andy Coutanche,
it's his tools that do the talking.
So, tell me about the rake.
Anything special about the way you use it or this particular rake?
This rake was my great-grandfather's rake,
which is just a normal garden rake, I believe.
I think it's about 100 years old.
-But that's it, just you and your great-grandfather's rake?
-To create something like this.
Now the competition's in full swing,
they've just two hours before the tide washes their work away.
Well, can I have a go? Can you show me how to do it?
Yeah, yeah. Sure.
I can just about handle Andy's low-tech approach.
But on the next beach, Andres is more precise.
With his 21st-century rake, he stencils shapes into the sand,
a template of his detailed plan to make this cave creation.
Now you're getting privy to the design,
the design elements anyway.
All over Jersey,
the beaches are coming alive in this huge pop-up art exhibition.
Do you ever rub anything out and start again?
Sometimes, yeah. Yeah, you can just go like that.
I'm not sure about that one!
As the tide rolls in, their time's nearly up.
To really see the spectacle, I need to go skywards.
From up here, the secret stencils come together.
Now, Andres' cave creation finally makes beautiful sense.
Gosh, from up here, you just get the most fantastic view.
You can see the most beautiful patterns that he's done,
and, particularly, he's used the cave as he said he would,
with the art emerging out of the mouth of the cave.
-Is that him actually standing...?
-He's in one...
-Yes, that's it!
Andres, I think, is actually standing in the centre of one of his motifs.
So we're just going to fly down the west of the islands now,
and we'll be able to see Andy Coutanche's work,
and we'll be able to see whether
the bits I did for Andy are visible or not.
I hope they don't spoil it.
It's interesting. It just... It really looks part of the beach.
It almost looks like the trail of something,
trailing around in the sands.
But it seems making it up on the day
hasn't held back French contender Sam.
His circles may look modest from the sky,
but the simplicity and precision has impressed the judges
who've awarded him first place.
Something rather ancient, mysterious and magical about this one.
It really does look like that has survived many tides
and yet it will just be washed away.
For now, at least, Jersey's secret studios
turn back to sand and stone,
but the vision is one I'll always remember.
To most of us, beaches are precious places of leisure.
But coastal folk know the secret to a successful life out here
is working with the landscape.
Not everyone can trade on the beauty of our shore.
Making a living can mean a compromise between
the picturesque and the practical.
Development is a challenge all around our coast,
nowhere more so than at Port Talbot.
Welcome to a wilderness of remarkable natural splendour...
..with a surprise in store for Tessa.
There aren't many beaches like this in Britain.
Behind me, it's deserted sands and wild sea.
But in front of me it's big business,
on an industrial scale!
Millions of tons of steel a year roll out of this Port Talbot plant,
a cathedral of industry, some 60 years in the making.
It reinvented the rules of construction
This mighty empire of steel is built on sand.
With no firm foundations,
it was an epic struggle to complete the plant.
The port of Port Talbot makes sense of putting
the steelworks on the shoreline.
Mountains of raw material arrive by sea,
and the finished metal goes out the same way.
But putting a building site on a beach defied long-established orthodoxy.
The wisdom of old warns against constructing on sand.
Open your Bible at Matthew chapter 7, verses 26 and 7.
"A foolish man that built his house upon the sand,
"and the rain fell and the floods came and the wind blew,
"and they beat upon that house, and it fell and great was the fall."
So how do you build a steelworks
on something as soft and as shifting as this?
'Engineer David French is going to let me in on the secret,
'using bricks and sticks.'
These blocks are representing the plant and the buildings
and the heavy machinery.
-Oh, I can see them sinking in already.
-It is, yeah.
You see, as it builds up,
you're going to get settlement and, eventually, failure.
-Oh, yeah. Total failure.
Shifting sand wasn't the builder's only enemy.
Below the surface lies soggy, unstable brown peat.
So how do you get around this problem of building on soft sand and peat?
Well, what we need are deep foundations called piles.
What we're doing is pushing the pile through the sand
and through the thick layer of peat,
down into this secure founding stratum at the bottom.
This is the clay, sticky bit.
Yeah. This'll be a mixture of stiff clay, gravels and sand.
And that's going to hold them still in place.
-That's it. You've got it.
So can we replicate what was once done here at Port Talbot now?
-Well, hopefully we can.
-OK, do it. Yeah, let's try...
-Oh, I think I'm hitting some sticky clay!
Right. Now, hopefully,
we've got our stilts in and we can put our building on top.
-Yeah, do you want to have a go?
-I do, yes.
And another one.
So who says you can't build on sand?
Ah, yes! It can be done.
How many of these piles were driven into the site here at Port Talbot?
Well, amazingly, 33,000 of these piles
were installed across the site.
Work on the steel plant began in 1947,
part of rebuilding Britain after the war.
The mammoth task of driving over 30,000 piles over 50 feet down,
into solid clay didn't just scar the landscape.
The deafening noise still rings in the ears of Doug Hockin.
The first memory I had was as a child sitting the 11-plus
and the exams for the local secondary schools here.
We were sitting the exams
and you could hear the piles been driven outside.
You weren't aware then
that the biggest works in Europe were being built.
Doug swapped school for a life in steel, like thousands of others.
Boys have been forged into men here since the early 1950s,
when steel first rolled out over the sand.
To feed the relentless rolling mills, a steady stream of resources
flowed into the plant.
With cargo carriers getting bigger,
in the mid 1960s, a new deep-water harbour began construction.
Now coal comes halfway around the world from Australia to South Wales.
The scale of this enterprise is staggering
and building on a beach brought another benefit - room to grow.
Rolling out sheet steel needs space and lots of it.
The process starts off with a slab ten metres long,
and that ten-metre slab ends up as a 1,000-metre length coil.
The length of the mill from the furnaces to the coilers
is approximately half a mile.
For 60 years, a ribbon of steel
has threaded through the community of Port Talbot.
Like the cathedrals of old,
this place is the life's work of generations,
as foreman Steve Williams can testify.
My grandfather started off in the steelworks,
my father, obviously myself after my father,
my daughter is working here now - she's in supplies -
and my grandson has just started his apprenticeship here.
-Your grandson as well?
-My grandson. So that's five generations.
At its peak, over 18,000 people were employed at the plant.
New workers needed new homes.
The houses were built where the dunes had once stood,
and the estate was named Sandfields.
The sea view sells itself,
but heavy industry doesn't figure on the wish list
for most people's ideal location.
In bracing Welsh weather,
I'm meeting the ladies who've lived with the steelworks
since the good times started to roll.
This place was known as Treasure Island because
there was so much money being generated by the steelworks, yeah.
I was earning £3 something
and then I went to the steel company to earn about £8.
That's some promotion, isn't it, more than doubling your salary?
So many people came when the steel company was becoming bigger,
and they came from Scotland and England and Ireland.
And most of those people never went back to their roots.
They stayed in Port Talbot.
So, for me, Port Talbot people are Port Talbot, you know.
Quite cosmopolitan, really!
They're wonderful people, you know. I think.
I think it's the best place in the world.
People are proud of this mighty achievement,
built on the swirling sands.
It's something stronger than steel
that binds the community in place here.
The real secret is the spirit of generations who've grown up
rock solid around the steelworks.
To look at, the steel plant might not be everyone's cup of tea,
but I've discovered that, here in Port Talbot,
it's at the heart of the community.
It means everything.
Work, rest and play are all part of Britain's beach life.
Whether you want to lounge on the sand
or explore its secrets,
our coast doesn't disappoint.
We each have our favourite beach.
For me, this landscape at Dungeness is special indeed.
..but with undeniable beauty.
Dungeness is one of the strangest beaches I know,
but they're all strange, quite unlike the rest of our island.
They're open spaces, free spaces, without fences or walls.
Beaches are where we come to feel the coast,
feel the ocean between our toes,
and listen to stories that go back billions of years -
our island stories.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd