Series celebrating the British countryside. Ellie Harrison looks at lighthouses in Dungeness, searches for wild boar, visits a fruit farm and takes to the skies in a biplane.
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Today I'm in Kent
exploring the green and glorious Garden of England.
From its shingle beaches in Dungeness, all the way to the outskirts of London.
I'm starting my journey in Dungeness.
Then I'll head to Flatropers Wood,
in Beckley, before a visit to a fruit farm at Ticehurst.
I'll stroll through the hot fields of Golden Green
before my Kent travels comes to an end
in the skies over Biggin Hill's famous airfield.
And along the way I'll be looking back at the very best
of the BBC's rural programmes from this part of the world.
This is Country Tracks.
From here, you can see the famous expanse of shingle that characterises Dungeness.
The shingle has built up over the century and has formed a kind of Peninsular that has proved deadly
to ships and their cargo, not to mention the thousands of lives lost.
By the 17th century, as the shipping lanes around the South Coast became increasingly crowded,
Dungeness was in desperate need of a lighthouse.
There have been five lighthouses in the last 400 years.
Each new structure had to be built bigger and closer to the shore,
as the shingle beaches grew and the sea continued to retreat.
The first was built in 1615.
It was a simple, wooden structure with a fire on top.
A second brick lighthouse, much taller at 110 ft, was built in 1635.
It lasted over 100 years
but it, too, fell victim to the increasing shingle bank.
After complaints at sea of poor light visibility,
a third lighthouse was demanded and eventually built in 1790.
The third lighthouse was similar in height and design.
It was lit by 17 argon lamps,
fuelled first by oil and later by petroleum.
Electricity first came to Dungeness in 1862.
The fourth lighthouse came in 1904
after a grand opening ceremony by his Royal Highness the Prince of Wales,
later King George V.
At 150 ft, its lights flashed every 10 seconds and it could be seen for 18 miles.
The fourth lighthouse still stands proud on the landscape here today.
For 56 years it provided a welcome light to local fishermen
and other mariners negotiating the perils of the English Channel.
It was decommissioned in 1960.
It wasn't the shingle that prompted the building of the fifth lighthouse
but the arrival of Dungeness power station in the late 1950s.
The building was so high that it obscured the light from the sea,
so a new automatic lighthouse was built closer to the water's edge.
It's still in use to this day.
Kent's coastline stretches for around 350 miles, making it one of the longest in the country.
Some of its bays and sandy beaches are renowned for their beauty.
Some are known for their perfusion of fossils.
One such place is Botany Bay.
This landscape of chalk and sand is a rich hunting ground
for geologists searching for evidence
of life many millions of years ago.
These cliffs are a natural storehouse of fossils.
They are a treasure trove.
We are very privileged that we have one of the longest stretches of unbroken chalk cliff in Britain.
It's also particularly soft.
That's one of the key factors in determining the preservation level we find in the fossils here.
What are you carrying there?
This is a portion of a large ammonite
that lived here in the seas about 80 million years ago.
These are a relatively common fossil we find here.
And just a portion - it's huge.
This is tiny, the full-size would have been a metre and a half across.
Are you still finding them here?
Yes, we've got one in the cliffs above us here.
With it being chalk you must get a lot of erosion.
Yes, these clips are quite soft.
Although the island itself is girdled mainly by a concrete promenade,
this is one of the few bays that's actually completely wild.
We can see erosion happening on a day-to-day basis.
After that storm we had yesterday afternoon,
I noticed there's a cliff fall round the corner.
It would be wise to have a look at that, you never know what we might find.
-Here we are.
-Isn't it amazing? A relatively fresh fall.
We need to be careful not to climb too close to it.
It is a fantastic place to start looking.
-There's some here, loads of material.
This is a fossil sea urchin.
All of the spines have come off.
This is another one.
It's quite a common fossil. None the less, every fossil is unique.
There is a lump here which I know from looking at it
has a very nice heart-shaped fossil urchin in it.
That one will definitely be coming home with me today.
Along the coastline of Thanet
you'll also find plant life that can't have changed much
since flying dinosaurs feasted on giant ammonites.
It's seaweed in huge variety.
On the rocks that we can see towards low tide here,
we have a combination of species that makes it unusual.
This is also the last outcrop of rock on the east coast of England
before we get to Yorkshire. It's the last spot where there's hard rock.
Seaweeds like hard rock to attach to and grow on.
What have you been finding?
All sorts of things.
Most commonly we see this one, the toothed wrack.
A very common, widespread species.
This red one is called dulse.
It was collected by the Scots.
Dulse is a Gaelic name.
Eaten in Scotland as a kind of salad.
What else can you find around here?
In this pool here, what we have is a large brown seaweed, several seaweeds. This is kelp.
It's anchored to the chalk.
It is. The holes you see in this chalk
are actually bored by a mollusc that actually lives...
You can just about see the shells inside.
It lives inside the chalk and weakens the chalk.
So the effects of waves and tides, and storms
actually call against the seaweed and cause the chalk to break away.
We see the seaweed on a piece of chalk here.
Lots of these beaches along the Kent coast have got blue flags because they are so clean.
Is that good for the seaweed?
It's very good for seaweed and all marine organisms.
The cleaner the sea, the more growth we will get.
So Thanet's record number of blue flags will benefit
not just holidaymakers but life in the sea as well.
As one of the largest expanses of shingle in the world,
this desolate landscape is officially the UK's only desert.
Punctuated by crumbling structures,
this apparent wasteland is a habitat to a unique variety of wildlife
and over 600 different types of plants,
a third of all plants found anywhere in the UK.
Dungeness is also one of the best places in Britain
to find a rare species of moths, butterflies, bees, beetles and spiders.
Many of the insects here cannot be found anywhere else.
It's a really barren landscape in Dungeness, I didn't really instantly warm to it.
But it has, on closer inspection, got a certain type of prettiness.
Having said that, I'm not sure I could live here so I'm intrigued to find out why people would.
I'm off to meet a local resident now.
Each property has its own individual charm.
But, over the years, alterations to some of these dwellings
have disguised the signs of their previous life as a fleet of classic Pullman train carriages.
-Here is the carriage.
-You can really feel how it still has that carriage shape.
What's great about it is because we've got the curved roof then the stove behind you,
the Hunter, that convects the heat all the way round so you can be snug.
How did a railway carriage come to end up on a beach?
The railway workers who work on the gravel extraction
loved it here.
When that was finishing they arranged for the last train to
become holiday chalets.
And this was a first-class carriage?
First class non-smoking.
But I smoke and it because it's my carriage.
You can do what you like.
Dungeness is such a unique landscape, I've never come across anywhere like it.
-What was it that drew you here?
-I was born and brought up in Africa.
The majority of the time I was in the Kalahari Desert,
which is not unlike this landscape.
All the plants that you see and the landscape,
they give enough space because nothing will survive
if they don't allow themselves three metres, six metres, eight metres.
That has the effect of making the landscape even larger
because you see these little puffballs receding forever,
so you've got this sense of vastness.
Already a successful artist,
Paddy escaped London ten years ago to settle here in Dungeness.
He's offered me a personal tour of his studios.
What is it about Dungeness that gets your creative juices flowing as an artist?
I basically wander around looking at the same things
and then one day I look at them and make a small connection
between something that's there,
something that might be over there and find a meaning.
Or I see something so remarkable
that I drop whatever else I'm doing
and immediately come back and paint something like this.
Talk me through this, it's an amazing piece.
It's the THV Patricia, which is the Trinity House vessel
that services the buoys all around the coast.
This ship is perpetually making its way around the British coastline.
Looking at this picture doesn't look like a particularly bright day.
It was, it was a day almost exactly like this.
The boat was as close as it could be and then this strange mist,
fog mixture, took me over,
and I couldn't believe what had just happened because the bright sun,
that was still going through the mist
and lighting the ship in the most beautiful way.
I couldn't have imagined it. There was nothing I could do but come back.
I stopped what I was doing and got to work.
It's a technical painting but it works.
I can imagine looking out towards the sea there's some really obvious beauty there.
But looking over towards the power station, does that ever give you any inspiration?
Oh, yes! It's Las Vegas at night.
It's a grey hill in the day, you need a hill.
We call it The Beast.
It has its own beauty because the walkways are lit up at night.
You can see people walking, these tiny people walking along these gantries.
It's a happy place.
The people who work there whistle, smile.
The Tannoys are interesting, banal but sometimes slightly scary.
Bing-bong-bong, bing-bong-bong, you don't expect it.
"Reg, can you call your wife, please?"
It's hard to be indifferent about Dungeness.
It has an intoxicating effect.
Paddy has certainly made an intimate connection with the landscape, as both his subject and his home.
Kent is a county of varying vistas, and my journey takes me through some of the finest it has to offer.
Flat horizons at its beaches.
Bountiful orchards Inland and, not far from here,
dense woodland that provides the perfect hiding place for an elusive animal.
This positively medieval mammal had been extinct in Britain for centuries.
Then wild boar farms to provide meat with a difference were set up in Kent.
And, yes, some animals escaped.
They avoid contact with human beings
if at all possible.
Derek Harman, a former agricultural worker,
has been on the trail of the wild boar for more than a decade.
He knows all the signs.
There's definitely something going on here.
This is a typical example of wild boar.
The whole place has been turned over.
The whole wood is all chestnuts.
They are looking for the remains of last year's chestnut crop.
Bluebells and grubs, and worms.
The evidence for the bluebells is there, tiny shoots where they've uprooted the main bulbs.
So they have literally turned all the soil over looking for anything they can eat.
What have we got here, Derek?
We have an actual boar run.
They come through every night and into the patch of forest on the other side.
They use the same route night after night.
Yes, which is why it's smooth.
Similar to a badger.
Since their escape, the shy, largely nocturnal creatures have been breeding and spreading.
From Kent, over the border into East Sussex.
And it seems there's nothing to stop these animals recapturing all their old stomping grounds.
Within five to ten years, the whole of the South of England will have a population of wild boar.
Eventually I would think within ten years, there won't be a large patch of forest in the country
that hasn't got a population of wild boar.
And that could cause nationwide hysteria because when the boars first got loose in Kent,
there were dire warnings.
Watch out for your pets! Keep your children safe!
It was a great over-reaction.
Look what's happened, absolutely nothing.
Wild boar are very shy animals.
I spent a week in a forest in Poland looking for bison, but it was full of wild boar. I only saw them once.
So unless you're unlucky or foolish enough to corner one, you'll be completely safe.
There hasn't been a problem. Animals haven't been attacked,
dogs haven't been attacked, people haven't been attacked
and I think these animals have literally earned their right to stay
in the countryside, providing they're left alone and not confronted.
But on the edge of the wild woods where the wild boar live, there are other problems.
It's harvest time in the hop garden. Hops for British beers.
This year's crop is good but not good enough to remove the bitter taste in Jenny Farrant's mouth.
She's had to come to terms with an advancing army of ravenous boars who'll eat anything.
We have lost half a hop garden because we gave it up after two years of rooting.
They particularly like the young hop as it comes,
looking not unlike an asparagus,
they find that quite delicious so they root up the plant.
Failing finding hops,
they'll move on to maize and also spring wheat, delicious.
We're also on the borders of Romney Marsh and we're famous for our sheep.
Lambs go too.
It's a serious problem to us all.
Given all these worries over the wild boar
and the fact that their numbers are rising and the territories are spreading,
what's amazing is the British government
has no policy on this native British mammal so what's the future for the wild boar? What are the options?
Wild boar will need to be controlled in exactly the same way that deer,
if the population gets too high then you need to take certain animals out of the population
in order to maintain a healthy population of animals left.
The difference with wild boar and deer being that deer will have one fawn a year,
wild boar will have four or five piglets a year, so the numbers will increase dramatically.
Wild boar is a native animal, they do good things in our woods, they root around, they bury seeds,
so I suggest we do nothing. We enjoy the fact they're here.
We might be lucky enough to see one. We can see their hoof prints.
Something else interesting in the countryside.
Wild boar will cause some problems for farmers
but farmers have all sorts of things to worry about, this can be another quite small one.
The accidental reintroduction of wild boar into Britain seems to be unstoppable
and whether they're hunted for their meat or simply ignored,
wherever you are, there are likely to be a lot more of these
in your neck of the woods.
I've left the spare landscape of Dungeness behind and headed for Flatropers Wood in Beckley.
It's been almost ten years since that report,
so have wild boar colonised the forest?
Derek, were your predictions correct about the population of boars exploding?
To a certain extent, no.
The population is governed by the amount of food
available in the autumn.
If there's plenty of food about then the majority of the breeding sows will carry piglets.
If there's very little food about, then probably only one or two,
maybe will produce piglets and the litter sizes will be down
so they are in fact, like most wildlife,
governing their own numbers.
What's happened to the population you were researching?
They don't like disturbance
and the Forestry Commission has been thinning
and clearing areas of woodland,
which has driven the boar out and that's been going on for two years.
What's left of the population?
The odd boar.
One or two left in here
but most of them, due to the disturbance, moved out.
Flatropers Wood is managed by the local Wildlife Trust
but the Beckley and Bixley Forests that enclose it
are owned and managed by the Forestry Commission
and these forests are now being clear-felled for timber.
So this is the disturbance you were talking about?
This is where the wild boar would've been seen?
They'd have been laying up because there was enough under story under this to keep them
settled, calm and away from humans.
How do you feel about the Forestry Commission's work here?
Their argument is that this is a commercial forest and it needed to be felled.
It was a bit upsetting, for a start, a bit disturbing,
but it will come back and the boar will come back.
What do you think the wild boar bring to the British countryside?
It does an awful lot of good.
It's turning over the soil and it's planting any seeds
that have fallen on to the surface, like a gardener.
They're nature's gardeners.
Providing we leave it alone, it'll leave us alone.
A representative from Beckley and Bixley Forest said that the Forestry Commission
follows the Government's national policy on wild boar issued in 2008,
which states that while there is no need for complete eradication,
local communities and landowners can manage the populations of wild boar in their area as necessary.
However, they added that no action has been needed in the last 20 years, as the wild boar in this area
have been a stable and peaceful population.
Although they didn't reach the numbers Derek was predicting,
there is still a significant population in the UK.
It's estimated there could be 1,000 wild boar throughout Britain,
with the largest population in the Forest of Dean, where they number well into the hundreds.
Kent's reputation as the Garden of England makes you think of orchards
and rolling grasslands but on the border with East Sussex,
it's densely wooded with shaded walks and towering trees.
Bedgebury Pinetum and Forest here in High Weald combine
two very different types of woodland environment.
There's the Pinetum, which is 320 acres.
It's very quiet and tranquil and you can sit here and soak up
the atmosphere created by thousands of fabulous conifers.
Whilst in the forests surrounding the Pinetum,
they've developed what will be an all-ability outdoor activity site,
although I think I've chosen quite a tricky route to start on!
The Pinetum's been in existence since the early 1920s
and the forest has been there for another 1,000 years
before that but there's not a lot of access into the forest for people,
so what we've tried to do is create new paths, upgrade other paths so we can get people
from all sorts of social backgrounds and people with disabilities into taking some sort of activity.
Fun day, lots of activity.
It's not really important how you do you scores,
it's how you get on with each other.
Now that more of the forest is accessible,
it can welcome schoolchildren who wouldn't normally visit the countryside.
Today the kids are from John Donne Primary School in Peckham, South London,
and after some instructions, they're off.
Go, go, go!
And after a quick break for lunch,
the kids are taught some basic survival skills, starting with building a shelter.
So what's the best thing you've learnt today so far?
-Work in a team.
-To work harder and to listen.
How good do you think today has been for the kids?
It's been wonderful, it's nice to get in the fresh air. It's very different to where we come from in Peckham.
Can you close the door?
# I want to ride my bicycle... #
And she's going off-road!
The Pinetum is in a separate part of the forest.
It was established in 1925 as a result of the London smog,
where air pollution and poor soil made Kew Gardens unsuitable
for growing conifers, so they were brought here instead,
but this is where I have to get off my bike because as the sign says, no cycling.
As home to 330 species, the Pinetum is the most complete collection
of conifers on one site in the world.
They're not everybody's favourite tree.
But to me and to a vast number of people
they're just fantastic living organisms.
They are huggable trees, aren't they?
They're like the cuddly bears of the tree world.
You hit the nail on the head there.
They're just huggable. Some of these trees, you look around here,
behind us you've got the coast redwoods. That's the tallest living organism.
That's pretty tall, but they can grow much taller than that, can't they?
They grow to about 376 foot when they grow out in the Californian coast.
That's a very, very large tree.
And if you look behind us, you've got the giant redwood.
And that is the largest living organism, the largest living thing on the planet.
They're only babies here, of course, because in the wild they grow to several thousand years old.
From the shade of Flatropers Wood
I'm travelling on to the fertile fields of Ticehurst.
The south east of England produces 50% of Britain's eating apples,
65% of its cooking apples,
three quarters of its pears and 90% of Britain's cherries.
Many of these orchards are found right here in Kent,
and several offer the chance to go onto the farm and pick your own.
Why did you decide to do pick-your-own rather than growing for supermarkets?
Well, when my parents started doing it back in the '60s,
people were getting their first freezers in the home,
and a lot of families getting their first car loved to come out to the countryside.
It was an economy thing, people would do it because the fruit was cheaper.
But really that's changed now.
People come just because they enjoy being in the countryside.
And so it's quite a good business for us.
What have we got here looking so red and tempting?
These are tayberries. You hardly see them in the supermarket
because they haven't really got a very good punnet life.
When you're picking them you have to grasp the whole fruit,
and that tends to squash them and you end up with a bit of juice at the bottom.
No difference in flavour but it does make a difference in the supermarket.
I've got this real hedgerow feeling where you see red berries and you instantly feel like jumping in.
-Would I be allowed to try one?
-Of course, yes.
There you go, try that one.
It's a cross between a raspberry and a blackberry.
You can get both of them coming through.
That blackberry flavour's really clear in there. How lovely.
What are these trees here?
-These are apricots.
-Apricots in England?
Wow, these cherries look amazing, Tom, they look absolutely fabulous.
-They're my favourites!
-Me too! And lots of other people.
How lovely. On the farm you've got such a huge variety of fruit,
you pick your own season - it's actually incredibly long, isn't it?
Yeah, we open the beginning of June and run through till the end of September.
We start off with strawberries, gooseberries, raspberries, then the cherries and cane fruits,
and lots of different sorts of plums, because I'm a great plum fan.
And apples and nuts. But lots of different varieties within that so that I've got a longer season.
For example, we should have cherries from about late June through to late July, early August.
Similarly with the strawberries, I try to have about a five or six-week season with different varieties.
And that also spreads the risk, particularly with cherries,
if you get cold weather during flowering, you don't get a crop.
And so if you've got different flowering dates, you're more likely to get one of them coming up trumps.
There's been a bumper crop of cherries this year,
with over ten tonnes expected to be picked on the farm this season.
But if there's one fruit synonymous with pick-your-own, it's the British strawberry.
The smell of strawberries hits you as you come around the corner.
The air smells so sweet.
-Let's pick a row.
This is the bit I'm looking forward to - I've even brought a punnet along!
What variety have you got here?
These ones are Amelia, which is a new variety for this year, bred in Kent.
And it's one that comes at the end of the season.
There's quite a lot of green fruit still there, but there's also some nice red ones just starting.
-I'm really pleased with it.
-I've just spotted a massive one.
-Can I try before I buy?
You certainly can.
Oh, this is a whopper.
-Check that out!
I had supermarket strawberries not so long ago, and the only similarity to strawberries was the texture.
This is a lovely strawberry flavour, just as I remember.
-Lovely background flavour, yeah.
Right then, that's the only one I'll try, I promise!
Well, I'll believe you! And I'll leave you to it.
All right, thank you very much. Bye!
Unlike many commercial growers who prioritise supermarket shelf life and high yields,
the traditional pick-your-own farmer grows for taste.
And it's this that keeps people coming back year after year.
From the fruit fields of Ticehurst I'm travelling on to Golden Green,
once at the heart of Kent's hop growing industry.
The county of Kent is particularly famous for producing hops,
and you can't walk too far without
coming across a relic of its once booming brewing industry.
Kent's iconic oast houses
are a lasting symbol of Britain's cultural heritage.
These picturesque buildings were used for drying hops
in preparation for the brewing process.
Freshly picked hops were brought in from the fields, spread out on the
floor and dried by hot air from a wood or charcoal-fired kiln.
They were then left to cool and bagged up for the brewery, ready to make beer.
Oast houses spread up all over Kent
in the Victorian era, the height of Britain's hop industry.
They were carefully constructed and extremely attractive for what was really just a farm building.
Throughout history, well over half the hops produced in the UK
were grown here in Kent.
In recent years the industry has suffered a marked decline.
But at its height hops were grown on 72,000 acres of land, nationwide.
Last year only 2,644 acres of land was used to grow hops in the UK.
And with the number of producers dwindling to only 37, the industry has shrunk dramatically.
Kent is a county that's proud of its farming heritage.
The hop fields may not be quite so abundant, but memories of their heyday are very much still alive.
In its heyday Kent had hundreds of farms growing hops for the brewing industry.
Every September up to 4,000 Londoners,
most of them from the East End, would flock here to pick the crop.
Here at Paddock Wood, this was once the largest hop farm in the county.
Now it's the Hop Farm Country Park.
And it's coach parties, not pickers,
who come here for the annual Hop Festival.
When the hops got taller...
Colin Felton dresses as an old-time picker to lead the tours.
Fifty years ago he was one of six children in a family
that combined hop picking with a bit of a holiday away from the smoke.
We always started first week in September,
and then it was four weeks, maybe five,
which we used to lose a lot of school.
But no one worried because we earned money for the family to get clothes to go back to school.
So at the age of four and five you were earning money?
Even younger. As soon as you could walk.
If you couldn't reach the bin, you'd pick into an umbrella.
Or you'd go behind the bin and pick up the loose hops in a box, so you was earning money.
-It wasn't much of a holiday then?
-Oh, it was for us.
We didn't want to go down the coast.
Every year we got the letter from the farmer to say that we
could come, and we knew we was going on holiday.
The farmers provided some rough accommodation, didn't they?
Yeah, the huts, the famous huts.
They was about eight foot by eight foot.
Sometimes they were made of corrugated iron, and as we couldn't leave anything here for the winter,
cos it was so damp, and we used to hire a lorry with the other families,
we had to fetch all the bedding, me mum used to fetch curtains, and most times we even
papered the corrugated iron - and you can imagine how it was getting round the corrugated iron with paper!
Trying to make it home from home.
Me brothers and sisters and me mum used to come down here.
We'd have two beds.
The boys would be in one bed, and and all the girls would be with me mum in the other one.
-A bit noisy I should think, wasn't it?
When me dad and that would come down, they'd all go off to the pub.
Me mum would give us our tea, then she'd go off to the pub.
And these huts, there was only the walls, they didn't have no apex walls, so the whole huts was joined.
And when they come back from the pub, usually late at night,
worse for wear, some of them,
you could hear everything that was going on.
The rows...more. Everything that was going on.
And the kids used to be all there giggling because we could hear everything that was going on.
Nowadays children come here to glimpse into bygone days.
But for some visitors this place brings back memories.
I had three children and it was hard work getting them out for the field for seven in the morning.
You'd put 'em in the pram and you'd go across the fields till you got to the hop field.
It was hard work but it was good, it was lovely.
It was great fun, really.
-I believe I earned £7.14.
-That was a lot of money then.
-Oh, it was, yeah.
-A lot of money.
In the 1960s, crop picking machinery changed everything,
and Londoners were more prosperous anyway.
So the annual hop down to Kent came to an end.
Today they are fully mechanised you do need people do help out.
Where do they come from nowadays?
They're still from the east, but instead of the East End of London, it's Eastern Europe.
They're still living in temporary accommodation,
but it's far superior to what the Londoners had in the old days.
Now the toilets flush and there are showers.
-So the golden days have gone, really?
-The romance is still there.
As far as I'm concerned it still will be and ever will be, although at times it drives me mad!
When you look back now on those days, what are your thoughts?
I do regret it all finishing and going onto machines.
And a lot of Londoners, that was it.
They never went on holiday after that, all the older people.
It was just a fabulous time down here.
Following the spiralling fall in demand for British hops,
the market now seems to have stabilised,
with the renewed call for traditional ales and the increase of micro breweries.
I'm continuing my journey through Kent, from its vast empty coastline
towards the increasingly urban fringes of London.
My next stop is Biggin Hill.
Kent is blessed with some of the most fertile and productive fields and orchards in Britain.
Even though the South East is densely populated,
70% of Kent's land is farmed.
But this agricultural heartland has a long-standing bond with another institution - the armed forces.
I've come to Biggin Hill to get a taste of life in the forces
with the Air Training Corps.
MARCHING INSTRUCTIONS GIVEN, WHISTLE SOUNDS
Squadron 2427 is one of 36 cadet squadrons based here in Kent.
Their headquarters is the legendary Battle of Britain fighting station just behind me.
And they are the last uniformed unit to be stationed here at Biggin Hill.
It's a very disciplined environment of uniforms, drills and parades.
It's only fair that I have a go and see how I fare in comparison.
-Would you like to fall in there, please?
-Yes. I look so scruffy!
You're all right. Stand to attention with your heels together.
Your left foot goes from there up to the bend the knee position,
which is thigh parallel to the ground and out to shoulder width.
Squad, stand at ease!
Oh, wrong foot!
Squad, move to the right!
'I feel Corporal Jones from Dad's Army!'
March! Left, right, left, right, left, right...
'Actually this is a real insight into the emphasis on discipline
'which starts early in the armed forces.'
-Very well done.
-A bit better!
When I say, "Squad halt", they're gonna stop. Squad, halt!
-Thank you for being so patient with me!
Seventy cadets meet twice a week
and take part in a huge range of activities,
such as drill practice, kayaking and go-kart building.
A lot of it is fun, but the programme is designed
to discipline the mind
and create a unit who act to orders, as one body of people.
And I get to try out the squadron's flight simulator. Jump in?
-Yeah, jump in.
-This is extraordinary.
This feels very real. It's all metal.
It used to be a real air frame.
-OK, you see this flap on the right-hand side?
-Yeah. Pull it down for me.
OK, and push the little red button.
That'll start the aircraft underneath the flap. There we go.
OK, so we reached our safe height of 3,000 feet.
So, what we're going to do is do our first manoeuvre,
-which is a barrel roll.
-This is normal practice, is it, for a cadet?
Yes, this is normal practice.
-I'm teaching you the same thing that everybody else does.
-So, we reach a safe speed of 120 knots.
-There's the ground.
Pull the stick back.
Feet touching horizon. We pull the stick back and left and left foot.
As we straighten up again, feet and stick level.
And pull back up until we see the horizon as it was before.
-I'm sure I'm going to crash this thing.
-OK, you happy with that?
-No! But yeah.
-No, I will, I'll have a go.
-OK, pull the stick back.
Back a little bit.
A little bit more. A little bit more.
There we go.
Pull the stick back to left, and feet to the left. All the way.
There we go. As we're coming round, stick it into the middle.
Oh, I'm going a funny place.
There we go. There we go.
-I've seen worse first times.
-You've assisted me very kindly there.
One other thing you can do in this aircraft is explore its envelope and do a stall.
Its basically where the aircraft falls out of the sky.
It's completely safe.
It's completely controlled.
What we do is, we cut off the power and let the aircraft rise.
Why would it rise if the power went off?
-Why would the plane rise if the power went off?
What I'm doing is, I'm pulling the stick back, just to let the air speed bleed off.
-It's gone quiet.
-And it'll go very quiet.
Then, all of a sudden you hear a very loud warning telling us that we're falling out of the sky.
-And you see the ground racing towards you.
What you'd do is just power on.
Stick down. Get a load of airspeed back up.
-Resume straight to level flight.
-Shall we take it in to land?
-Yes, that's what we're turning round to do.
-So, as you can see, the airfield is in front of us.
-Is that Battersea Power Station?
Yeah, that's Battersea Power Station over there.
You can also see the Millennium Wheel.
OK, and we're down.
Look at that. Perfect.
Barely bounced. All in a day's flying.
Thousands of soldiers, sailors and pilots have passed through
the airfields and barracks of Kent.
I'm sure that many of these guys will one day find themselves as new recruits,
continuing that proud, military heritage.
But there are some people who have a totally different take
on celebrating our armed forces.
UP-TEMPO '40's-STYLE MUSIC PLAYS
Hello, my name is Joanne Bater.
I live here on the Isle of Sheppey in Kent.
During the week, I'm a mother of two and a housewife, but during the weekend, I go back to the 1940s.
Right, today, we're off to Whitstable Castle. It's a big 1940s event.
'Everyone will be there with their 1940s vehicles, all re-enacting, and we're taking a along the NAAFI wagon.
'It's quite the star of the show.
'My father was into it, and he said, come along to a big show, and we just fell in love with everything.
'We absolutely loved it.
'We didn't own a vehicle at that time,
'but everything escalated and now, we've got our vehicles
'and we just go to a show most weekends throughout the summer.'
When I first got into this, I said to my husband, there's no way I was going to dress up,
but when you've got the vehicles, you really do have to look the part,
so I've got the NAAFI overalls that go with the NAAFI wagon.
I roll my hair every morning.
Now this obviously takes quite a bit to do, and I have to tell my
hairdresser not to cut the layers in too much so I can get it in, so that's what takes over my life a bit.
The shoes that I wear goes with the overalls, and then you have to think
about your make-up, the jewellery that you've got on, that will look in time, that will look 1940s.
We're inside the mobile canteen which was more affectionately calls a NAAFI wagon.
This would have followed the fire service around during the Second World War.
If the firemen went out to a house that had been bombed, it would go behind them and
would be there providing tea and other things for the firemen.
We were so lucky when we got this NAAFI wagon that it did have a lot of the cups with it.
We do, obviously collect them if we're out and about
but everyone loves having a cup of tea out of these enamel cups,
and when we got it we couldn't believe that they were all here.
Also, we've collected between us, lots of these tins to go inside, cos everyone loves seeing the
tins, perhaps remembering what their nan and granddads had, and every
time we see one, we have to buy it to put it on display, because this is what everyone really enjoys.
As we all know, the British love a cup of tea.
If there's a crisis, we all have a cuppa tea. So, when in doubt,
# Don't sit under the apple tree with anyone else but me
# Anyone else but me
# Anyone else but me... #
We belong to a society which is the Invicta Military Vehicle Preservation Society.
IMPS, for short. We just love the atmosphere of it.
There's a lot of vehicles on the parade today.
My husband and my son are in the parade, and this is what we like to do.
We must remember that there was a lot of lives lost during World War Two.
We like to keep the memory alive,
not that the Second World War was something
that perhaps was to be celebrated, of course it's not, but the memory, we can't forget, we can't forget
those people and we haven't got many veterans alive from the Second World War anymore, and it's nice that the
younger people and especially younger than me, my son and my daughter, will come and keep the memory alive.
Right, it's the end of the day, I've had a fabulous show here at Whitstable Castle.
It's a shame to go back to real life, but I do miss my lip-gloss and my high heels, so, never mind!
I've just arrived at the last stop on my journey,
Biggin Hill International Air Fair.
Before I go and explore, I'm getting to go up in this amazing biplane,
exposed like this, hence the warm jacket,
and see from above, some of the countryside that I'd been roaming through on my journey so far.
I started my journey through Kent on the shingle banks of Dungeness.
I visited Flatropers Wood in Beckley
and stopped to sample fruit in Ticehurst.
I travelled through the fields of Golden Green
and then went on parade with Biggin Hill's 2427 Air Cadet Squadron.
My last stop is going to be at the Biggin Hill International Air Fair, but first, I've got to land.
'I'm in a modern biplane usually used for wing walking stunts.
'I'm safely in the co-pilot's seat, but I still feel very exposed.'
I've certainly flown before, but I've never felt this connected.
To the skies, to the wind.
If you took away the noise, this would be the closest to flying like a bird.
This area has a long and historic association with the Royal Air Force.
It was from Kent airfields like Biggin Hill below me that fighter planes
flew to the beaches of Dunkirk, and it was in the skies over this
great county that one of the Second World War's most famous battles took place, the Battle of Britain.
It really gives you a sense of how early flying was very risky,
You can imagine all of that in amongst warfare.
It becomes quite imaginable.
Spitfires, Lancaster Bombers and Hurricanes all landed at Biggin Hill.
And the rich history of this golden era is celebrated every year at the
Biggin Hill National Air Fair just down there.
Woo! Ha ha!
This year's show is expecting 120,000 visitors to flood through
the gates, but today is reserved for a more exclusive group, the potential pilots of the future.
Today, it's Youth Day.
Invited from local schools and colleges, the boys and girls will have a unique opportunity to sample
the latest equipment on site and talk to career experts from across the armed services.
The day is set to inspire and excite the next generation.
A truly hands-on opportunity for young people to pursue their ambition.
In its 46th year, the Biggin Hill Air Show has been an inspiration to many.
One of those who've turned that inspiration into the ultimate dream is Red Arrow's number seven.
Local man and ex-Biggin Hill Squadron Air Cadet, Mike Ling, discovered his dream as a child
after seeing the Red Arrows display for the first time at this very show.
Now, he's part of this elite group, renowned throughout the world as
ambassadors for both the Royal Air Force and the United Kingdom.
The Red Arrows were officially formed in 1965 and have completed over 4,000 displays in 53 countries.
I'm so, so excited about being this close to a Red Arrow.
-Can you hop out to show me around?
-That would be fantastic.
-This is amazing.
-This is my aeroplane. We get issued or allocated an aeroplane for the season.
So, how long have you been in the Red Arrows?
This is my second year with the Red Arrows, so I've been doing the job for just over 18 months.
I've got another year. We all do three years as the pilots.
We're here at Youth Day, is it important for you to inspire young people here,
-cos that's what inspired you?
I came as an air cadet and I remember seeing the teams performing, not just the Red Arrows,
performing on Youth Days and meeting the pilot and talking to them, and asking them
what's required of me at school and what I have to do to be able to do this job. So, it's important to me.
How did you feel from being a small boy, seeing the Red Arrows
to now being in the Red Arrows.
-How was that?
-Amazing. I never thought it would happen.
I didn't think that was possible for me to be able to do that,
but when I got told I'd got the job, I was over the moon.
I didn't cry, but I was close.
-My wife cried!
Today's event is filled with excitement and expectation, but the past is never forgotten.
This show, and so much more, exists thanks to the courage
and skill shown by those who flew over this county
defending Britain when so much was at stake.
One of those heroes is here today.
Wing Commander Peter Ayerst joined the RAF in 1938 when he was just 18 years-old.
How long after you arrived before you actually got up in the air, on your first flight?
-About half a day.
-Is that all?! Half a day!
I arrived about midday,
-by 4 o'clock I was airborne.
-Were you nervous?
But I already had some experience with this friend of mine, so I knew a little bit about it.
Clocking up 975 Spitfire flights in his career, Peter flew a staggering
four operational campaigns during the Second World War.
This was a rarity. Many brave pilots were killed during their first.
With such an outstanding record, Peter has become one of the most celebrated pilots of his time.
From his early days as the face of an RAF recruitment campaign,
to his place at today's event here at Biggin Hill,
he's still inspiring the pilots of tomorrow.
You've had the most extraordinary career,
what are your most memorable and proudest moments from flying?
We'd been patrolling over our front lines, protecting our troops,
and we got mixed up with some German fighters.
I shot two down.
And I was going after another one when there were a lot of anti-aircraft fire coming up.
I was hit by the anti-aircraft fire and I saw a track ahead of me
and I thought, "I've got to land there, come what may."
So I made a wheels up crash-landing on that track.
I leapt out of the aircraft and lay flat on the ground, because the Germans were still firing at me.
So, I just let them think they'd got me, and I didn't move, I lay flat on the ground.
I was going to start walking off in an easterly direction
and I heard a motor vehicle coming up and I thought,
"Oh, my God, here come the Germans," instead of which an Australian voice called out, "Anybody there?!" So...
I said, "Yes," he said, "Jump in quick."
So, I jumped in quick and we tore off at a terrific speed in an easterly direction
across the desert, and after about 25 minutes, half-an-hour, when we got into a safe area,
the major said to me, "You know that track you crash-landed on?" I said, "Yes."
He said, "You couldn't have landed anywhere else, it was all mined!"
Goodness! What luck!
ENGINES ROAR OVERHEAD
-What you think of the Red Arrows display?
-It's a remarkable sight.
-Never get tired of seeing that.
Kent beaches have long been on the front line of defence.
Its skies have witnessed bitter battles.
Its fields and orchards have produced food for millions.
All this makes it a quintessential and today, a really quite perfect image of England.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
Series celebrating the British countryside. Ellie Harrison begins her journey through Kent on the coast at Dungeness where she investigates its four lighthouses. Next she heads to Flatroper's Wood in search of wild boar, before visiting a fruit farm at Ticehurst. She ends her journey in a biplane in the skies over Biggin Hill's famous airfield.