Neil Oliver explores Sandbanks in Poole Harbour - one of the most expensive places in the world to buy a house. Plus, the story of the lighthouse on Eddystone rocks.
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This is Muddiford Banks, in Dorset.
In 2004, hut number 5, back there,
sold for a staggering £140,000.
But it's a great location. The sea right on your doorstep.
Maybe it's a price worth paying.
This journey takes us from Bournemouth along
the dramatic Jurassic coast of Dorset and Devon to Plymouth.
Bournemouth's roots as a holiday destination stretch back to the early 19th century,
when the enchanting aroma of its pine trees and unspoilt sea air
attracted wealthy city folk to spend their summers here.
By the 1880s, Bournemouth had become a property hot-spot,
with the population increasing four-fold in just 20 years.
But its reputation for high-living
was soon to be dwarfed by one of its neighbours.
I'm on my way to visit one of the most expensive places to live in the whole world.
The peninsula of Sandbanks forms one side of the entrance to Poole Harbour.
100 years ago, this stretch of coastline was little more than a shanty-town.
But there's not a tin shack in sight today.
In 2002, Sandbanks, or Moneybanks, as some of the locals have started to call it,
was declared the fourth most expensive place to live
on the planet after London, Tokyo and Hong Kong.
From up here, you can catch glimpses of some of the incredible mansions
that have sprung up all over Sandbanks, and every one of them
costs a small fortune.
People living along this shore have the second largest natural harbour in the world as their playground.
But they haven't got it all to themselves. Sharing it
are the thrill-seekers,
the ferries and cargo ships,
and those who just want to have fun on the water.
The mammoth task of coordinating so much traffic
falls to Poole Harbour Commissioner, Peter Burt.
To be right at the centre of such a property phenomenon,
it's a remarkably peaceful, quiet place.
That's really the secret of the harbour.
What you've seen in the property world there behind us
is a very, very small part of what really goes on.
What we have here
is the start of the 100 miles of coastline inside the entrance.
It appears to be deep, and there are indeed deep channels,
but we only have a roughly two metre rise and fall in the tide,
-and the water is just circulating without moving very far.
And because of all this huge basin, it adsorbs the water in
through all the deep water channels and fills some of the shallows.
-How shallow is it?
-A good idea would be for you to find out directly.
This doesn't seem right, this is in the middle of a harbour, and I can see ferries.
That's a ferry going up there.
That's not right, surely!
-This is a harbour!
-Probably three-quarters of a mile from land,
and you're able to walk about.
It's a strange harbour you've got here, Peter.
It is a curious harbour, and it's all part of the fascination.
It's not Poole harbour, it's Poole puddle!
Poole's shallow harbour means the huge ferries have to negotiate specially dredged channels.
But the sheer scale of the harbour leaves plenty of room for everybody.
Poole might be one of the finest harbours in Britain,
but why pay £10 million for a house on Sandbanks, when a £4.50 bus ticket
lets you take in the delights of Studland beach over there?
Much of the sand that makes up the three mile stretch of Studland beach
was washed down the coast from Sandbanks, and Bournemouth.
Suddenly, the beach runs out and the cliffs take over. And WHAT cliffs!
Old Harry Rocks marks the start of the Jurassic Coast, a magnet for sightseers and ramblers.
The awe-inspiring Jurassic Coast is one of the best places in the world
to see 250 million years of the Earth's geological history laid bare.
And nowhere is this more apparent than at the perfectly formed
shell-shaped inlet of Lulworth cove.
And just when you think nothing can match its beauty,
take a short walk around the corner and you're face to face
with another of nature's wonders, Durdle Door.
It's no surprise these areas of natural beauty are protected from development.
Lyme Regis marks the end of our journey along the Dorset coastline, as the white Jurassic rocks
give way to the distinctive red Triassic cliffs of Devon.
The quaint, unspoilt town of Sidmouth has retained its old-world charm
by carefully regulating property development on its seafront.
Many of the Regency houses are home to growing numbers of people retiring in the town.
More than half the population are over retirement age.
But for some of Sidmouth's older residents, it's not just a question of retiring to the coast.
They've spent their whole lives working on it.
Tucked behind the town, but still within sight of the sea,
is the largest donkey sanctuary in the world.
Donkeys from all over Britain come to spend
their twilight years being pampered.
Their welfare's in the capable hands of Annie Hamer.
-Where do donkeys originally come from?
-Originally, Asia and Africa.
And they came over into Europe
on the Silk Route, transporting goods
so they were the pack-animals.
How many donkeys have you got in this farm?
On this farm, nearly 400.
It's quite surreal, I've never seen so many donkeys in one place.
It's nice they can still see the sea.
-A lot of these are retired beach donkeys?
Yes. We've got 100 donkeys have retired from beaches
and come in to the donkey sanctuary. At the moment, there's nearly
900 donkeys working on beaches in Britain.
Are you happy with the idea of donkey rides,
-or do you think it's cruel?
-Some of the healthiest donkeys
are the ones that are working on the beach, cos the sand
is good for their feet, that's equivalent to the
natural environment where they originated from in the desert.
The sand works like a natural emery board and helps to keep their feet
-in a nice shape.
-When a donkey comes here,
-does it stay here for the rest of its natural life?
We never turn a donkey away.
Usually they come to us in their late twenties or early thirties,
and then some of the donkeys we've got are in their early 50s.
-So they can live another 20 years after that.
-It's a little donkey paradise.
Around six million of the UK population
live within one kilometre of the coast.
But not every coastal property is made of bricks and mortar.
Just as popular are homes of a more mobile nature.
Some of the best views of this coastline are found
on this magnificent stretch of the great Western Railway.
Many of the towns along this coast might never have developed
into the flourishing seaside resorts they are today
without Brunel's railway.
One of it's biggest beneficiaries was the town which calls itself
the English Riviera, Torquay.
Most of the beautiful white villas and terraces
overlooking Torbay date back to Victorian times when the gentry
flocked to Torquay to enjoy its remarkably mild climate.
Devon's most southerly town is the holiday resort of Salcombe.
The town's wealth was originally founded on ship-building, but now it's a haven for second homes.
Half of Salcombe's properties are owned by people who don't live here full-time.
An even more exclusive location lies
just around in the coast - the 26 rocky acres of Burgh Island.
At times, calling this an island can be misleading.
But for six hours each day the holiday makers on the neighbouring
beach are rudely interrupted as the tide returns
to restore Burgh Island's independence.
This is just one of the charms that's attracted distinguished
guests to the curious hotel on the island for decades.
This bizarre, and incredibly noisy, contraption is a sea-tractor and it's reputed to be the only one
of its kind in the whole world. It takes guests over to Burgh Island at high tide.
BBC budgets being what they are I don't think I'll be staying the night
but I should be OK for a good nosey around.
The hotel dates back to 1929,
when the flamboyant industrialist Archie Nettlefold
built a sumptuous retreat to entertain his friends.
Approaching the Art Deco entrance,
I feel a bit like Hercule Poirot, on the trail of a murder mystery.
While Monsieur Poirot was fictitious,
his creator Agatha Christie was a frequent visitor here,
along with other celebrities of the '30s,
such as Edward and Mrs Simpson, Noel Coward,
and Amy Johnson, who would all come here to escape the public gaze,
and enjoy complete privacy.
Burgh Island soon became a haven for the rich,
the famous, and the slightly disreputable.
Hidden away from the prying paparazzi of the day,
here they could be as decadent as they wished.
It's said that Noel Coward wrote some of his most lovely songs here,
over cocktails, and winks at the waiters.
Whatever went on, Burgh Island's seclusion
meant that the outside world seemed a million miles away.
Constructing a property on an island
with only limited access to the mainland
would present builders with a few headaches, even today.
But imagine trying to build a house 14 miles out at sea, 300 years ago.
A house that would be responsible for saving thousands of lives.
I love lighthouses.
In fact, I'm an honorary member
of the Association Of Lighthouse Keepers.
And, get this - I'm now on my way to visit the location
of the world's first offshore lighthouse.
And we've only got a very short weather window.
It's going to be pretty tricky to get out there.
That is fantastic!
Right on the horizon there, there's the faintest grey line.
Just sticking up a few millimetres, as it were.
That is the Eddystone lighthouse.
It's all very well from our 21st-century perspective -
we know you can build lighthouses on rocks.
But put yourself in the shoes of people 300 years ago,
when that idea was as outlandish as building a tower on the moon.
When this lighthouse was opened in 1882,
it was hailed as a miracle of engineering.
And so it was.
But, believe it or not, it's not THAT lighthouse I've come to see.
It's the ones that were here before it.
For centuries, these rocks have sunk countless ships bound for Plymouth.
With the great increase in maritime trade in the late 17th century,
a way had to be found to protect ships from these foreboding rocks.
Today the strong south-easterly winds
are making the approach to the lighthouse a wee bit tricky.
But imagine having the nerve to build a lighthouse out here 300 years ago
with only flimsy wooden rowing boats to transport tonnes of material
and teams of builders.
The man who DID have the nerve to try this
was one Henry Winstanley.
He started building in 1696,
and by 1699, he had completed his masterpiece.
It had a stone foundation
but it was mostly a wooden structure. Imagine a wooden tower out here,
in the face of these gales!
After three years of struggle and one failure,
in 1699 Winstanley was finally happy with his design.
It was an amazing spectacle.
The 120-foot structure was finished with ornate engravings,
and extravagant wrought iron details.
Many people questioned the lighthouse's sturdiness -
would it be able to stand up to
the unrelenting gales and ferocious seas?
Winstanley's confidence in his tower was unshakeable.
He boasted, "I only wish that I may be in the lighthouse
"in circumstances that'll test its strength to the utmost."
On 26th November 1703,
Winstanley's wish came true.
That night, the biggest recorded storm to hit Britain
devastated the entire country, claiming at least 8,000 lives.
When people came out to this rock to see how he had fared,
there was not a trace - not of Winstanley,
not of the lighthouse crew, and not of the lighthouse.
All they found was some twisted metal.
Winstanley was gone.
His light had kept sailors safe for over four years.
But just two days after the lighthouse collapsed,
a ship struck the rock and sank with the loss of all hands.
Another lighthouse was built, but it burnt down,
so the maritime authorities commissioned Yorkshireman John Smeaton
to build a structure that would stand the test of time,
and its stump still remains here.
Now, this was a huge step forward in lighthouse design.
These blocks of granite are dove-tailed together,
they're like three-dimensional jigsaw pieces
that all lock together.
Smeaton had used the shape of an English oak tree
as inspiration for his lighthouse.
He wanted it to be sturdy,
but also flexible enough to sway slightly in the wind.
It entered service in October 1759.
So effective was Smeaton's innovative design,
that it became the standard for lighthouses worldwide,
and is still a template for today's lighthouse builders.
Smeaton's lighthouse stood for 120 years, before cracks appeared.
Not in the tower, but on the rock below it.
The lighthouse had proved to be tougher than the very rock it stood on.
That is the best day at work I've ever had!
Diving into the sea off lighthouses. It doesn't get any better.
Such was the significance of Smeaton's lighthouse,
that the people of Plymouth paid for it to be taken down block by block,
and rebuilt on Plymouth Hoe as a memorial to its designer.
It stands there today, as Plymouth's most famous landmark.
A testament not only to Smeaton,
but to all of the pioneering lighthouse builders
who gave their lives to save the lives of others.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
The Coast experts journey along the stunning south coast of England from Bournemouth to Plymouth. Neil Oliver explores why Sandbanks in Poole Harbour is one of the most expensive places in the world to buy a house. Neil also discovers where beach donkeys go to retire, and the extraordinary story of building Britain's most famous lighthouse on the perilous Eddystone rocks.