Ben Fogle journeys through North Wales. He travels on an RNLI boat, has difficulty pronouncing the longest town name in Britain and meets a bailiff protecting salmon.
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Today I begin my journey on a lifeboat,
here, off the north coast of Holyhead,
in the notoriously treacherous Irish Sea.
From here, I'll be heading due east across
one of the most beautiful parts of the British Isles, North Wales.
When I get back to dry land at Holyhead
I'll travel on to Llanfair PG then on to Capel Curig
in the heart of Snowdonia and I'll visit the Gwydyr Forest
before ending my journey at Llangollen.
Along the way I'll be looking back at some of the best of the BBC's rural programmes.
Welcome to Country Tracks.
One of the most treacherous stretches of water around
the British Isles lies here, off the coast of North Wales.
Protecting those who set sail in these waters are the volunteers of the RNLI.
The lifeboat station at Holyhead has a remarkable history, with 70 awards for gallantry.
Today, coxswain Brian Thomson, has invited me to join them on one of their training exercises.
So, Brian, what are we doing today?
We're out here in the middle of Holyhead Bay
doing an exercise with our volunteer crews
trying to get them up to a standard to become proper lifeboat men.
Earlier on today, some other members of the team headed out to a secret location in the bay.
Rather unceremoniously, they dropped Dead Fred in the water.
Just to clarify, who is Dead Fred?
Dead Fred is a good friend of ours who we use for a man overboard,
we'll use him in our stretchers.
He's the same weight as a normal person so he is quite difficult to get out the water.
It teaches the guys what it's like to get a real person out the water.
Our job today is to find Dead Fred.
Even on a clear calm evening like this, it's incredibly difficult.
But it's vital training for the less experienced members of the team.
You are an RNLI volunteer, what does that encompass?
Well, I'm on call, as much as I can be.
I'm not forced to be here.
I give up my spare time to be here to train and go out and rescue lives.
Do you have a pager that will suddenly go off and you have to leave everything?
Yes. I have a little pager that I keep on me at all times.
It is next to my bed at night time and the wife doesn't like it at 3am,
but I carry it at all times.
What do you do during your day job?
Electrical engineer. At the aluminium smelter factory.
Full time there. They are very sympathetic,
they'll help out and allow me to leave if I need to.
Even during the night time, I can come in a bit later on as well.
Today, this seems rather idyllic, really, being out flat,
ocean sunshine, you must go out in some terrible weather.
Yes, I've been out in the night time and in very rough conditions.
What's the longest you've been out on a rescue?
A five-hour search for a casualty.
And why do you do it? What inspires you to volunteer?
It's great, actually, because there is a lot of...
I'm into boats and it keeps you out on the boat and gives you
a lot of training even for my own sailing and things like that.
And presumably satisfaction that you are helping people?
-Yes, yes, absolutely.
'An exercise like this is also a good time to practise complex navigational skills.
'Taking current and wind speed into account,
'a search plan is drawn up based on information about where Fred was last seen.'
Each leg of that is timed on a stopwatch.
Is that using the speed of the currents to estimate where he might have moved to?
That's right. He's drifting down the tide at about two knots
so we are going up and down the tide line looking for him.
So while I'm yakking away to you, we should be keeping an eye out.
Presumably this is quite a good area to spot him from a distance?
Absolutely. But behind us we have two of our crew who are doing just that.
'The mission to rescue Fred reminds me of the time I had to be
'rescued from some nearby islands in much less favourable conditions.'
I've just left Holyhead in Anglesey I'm on my way to join the Patricia,
a ship that's on its way to the Skerries,
a lighthouse perched on a rocky reef in the middle of the Irish Sea.
She's owned by Trinity House which looks after all the lighthouses
and buoys around the coast of England, Wales and the Channel Islands.
Get us under way, please.
Patricia's been patrolling the coast for just over 20 years.
Weather conditions moderate to rough and they are building up to be rough.
We've got a 30 knots wind, two-and-a-half metres of swell.
That's likely to build up during the day to about four metres sea.
Now, this is the ship's radar.
That is us.
That's the harbour wall and we are heading just out that way.
It's going to take about an hour to get to the lighthouse.
Before we get there, let me show you around
a rather different and a rather more luxurious side to the ship.
We take passengers cos we've got the accommodation
and luxurious cabins for them on board.
People seem to want to come
and they seem to prefer coming to see a working ship,
the working-ship environment,
without the hustle and bustle of a cruise ship
and 2,000 to 3,000 passengers milling around all the time.
What will they do on board?
They spend their time relaxing as much as they want.
They can visit the bridge. Walk around the passenger decks
and watch the general day-to-day work of the ship and the crew on board.
While the passengers relax, the crew prepares for a day's work.
Our main role is as a buoy tender for the Lighthouse Service.
Maintaining of the navigational marks around the coast.
Today we're involved with the lighthouse
where we are delivering building materials and fuel.
How often does that happen?
Fuelling, generally every six months,
but we are moving away from diesel-powered lighthouses
and they are converting this one at the moment to solar power.
First thing we are going to be doing is
the PGO - petroleum gas oil, or diesel to everybody else,
we've got 5,000 litres to deliver to the lighthouse.
How do you deliver it?
We deliver that in these bags. They hold 400 litres each.
A helicopter will come in and hover over us
and two people will go in and hook it on.
-While it's all going up and down.
I was going to say, it's starting to get a bit rockier on here, isn't it?
The lighthouse stands on a low outcrop of rock
directly in the path of major shipping lines between Liverpool and Ireland.
Many vessels have foundered here.
A light was first lit in 1717 and for more than a century the lighthouse was privately run,
paid for by the ships that had to pass the Skerries rocks safely.
Well, that's the last helicopter coming in.
The last sack fuel.
The next cargo is going to be me.
Well, there she is, the lighthouse behind me.
There to prevent any ships foundering on these dangerous rocks.
Just imagine what it would have been like as a lighthouse keeper
living on this remote, windy, isolated outcrop.
Personally, I think it would have been absolutely amazing.
But it must have been quite lonely as well.
Solar power is the future,
but the first light was just a coal grate and then it was oil powered.
So, in the past, the light had to be continuously manned.
Not a life to suit everyone.
I certainly enjoyed it.
There is one thing of course, obviously you missed your family.
In the beginning, we used to do two months on the lighthouse
and then a month off.
Over the years Trinity House decided that two months was too long
on the station and they cut it down to one month on and one month off.
What was it like being, sort of, marooned there all that time?
It was quite good. It depended on your crew.
If you had a good crew it was an excellent job, an excellent place to be.
What was Christmas like?
We tried to make it as enjoyable as we could, you see, at Christmas.
Of course, the RAF used to come out and deliver parcels for us,
out of the goodness of their heart.
They used to drop these Christmas parcels
by their helicopter and it was very well received.
Today, the lighthouse is controlled from Harwich.
Inside the tower I don't suppose much has changed since Bill's time.
But now the maintenance needed is minimal.
Now, Ken, I know that lighthouses are no longer manned,
but you're responsible for this one. What does that involve?
As an attendant, we come here once a month just to check the machinery,
making sure everything's working, nothing broken.
We have to clean the windows, we have to check the hours on the bulbs
and report back to Trinity House to tell them how things are.
What sort of periods of time would you be looking at spending here?
Usually we are here for most of a day, once a month.
What's the longest you've ever spent on here?
-About two-and-a-half weeks.
We ended up the last three days cos we were stuck for the weather.
Like today, we just couldn't get off.
'But then the unexpected happens.
'The wind has built up to force eight, and on board the Patricia
'our helicopter has broken free and been blown overboard.
'It's lost and for the moment, I'm stuck here too.'
We've now got the Coastguard to come in to rescue myself
and some of the other contractors that have been working on Skerries.
So far we've heard that the crew are all OK,
but obviously I'll find out when I get ashore.
So I leave Skerries courtesy of the Coastguard rescue helicopter.
Back on board the Patricia, it turns out that everyone is safe
so the ship has sailed on.
All I need to work out is how I can get across Anglesey
to reach South Stack lighthouse, which is south of Holyhead.
So, without the Patricia or a helicopter as I'd planned,
to get to South Stack it's a short drive and then down 400 steps
to one of the most inaccessible lighthouses around our coast.
The cliffs on the west coast of Anglesey rise more than 400 feet.
Where they meet the sea, a small islet juts out
creating another hazard for shipping.
This is the location of South Stack,
a lighthouse that's been here for nearly 200 years.
The first job was to cut the steps into the cliff face with the stone.
The stone was hewn across and used to build the tower itself.
There's an impressive bridge there today, has that always been there?
No, that's an new bridge.
It's been here since 1997, when we first opened to the public.
Before that it was a series of iron suspension bridges.
The first bridge was put there in 1829.
So, for 20 years there was no bridge.
They used a rope and basket to wind men and people across.
This is the top of South Stack lighthouse.
Incredibly, the bulb in here is just 150 watts.
That's only a little more than you would use in the house.
But this one sends the light to more than 20 miles away,
all because of the optics.
They must keep revolving, otherwise the whole lantern would melt under the power of the sun.
Just off the coast, in beautiful conditions,
I've been taking part in an RNLI training exercise.
We're searching for a dummy casualty known as Dead Fred.
We've been at sea for over two hours now, but at last we have a sighting.
-I've just been informed...
-RADIO: 'Two points to starboard.'
Two points to starboard, I have him ahead of us.
Port that side, starboard. So, he's somewhere over there, is he?
-There we go.
-We've run across him.
The two crew behind me have just told me they've spotted him.
So, there he is ahead of us.
I'll just bring my bows round on to him.
It's amazing how hard and difficult it is to find something like this.
-It's really obvious now.
-Absolutely. But, you can see
he's no more than a quarter mile off us, but it's very difficult to see him.
If we had bad sea conditions now, it's almost impossible.
But the training exercise isn't over yet.
Even lifting Fred from the water is carried out as if he were a real casualty.
Whoa, stop pulling!
Well, there we have it. Another successful exercise by the RNLI here off Holyhead.
Dead Fred lives for another day.
On a calm evening like this, it's hard to believe
the waters around Anglesey can be some of Britain's most treacherous.
Even on the more sheltered eastern side of the island, the notorious Menai Straits hold hidden dangers.
This part of the Menai Straits from the Britannia Bridge
here to the Menai Bridge about a mile away just
around the corner is one of the most
dangerous stretches of waterway anywhere in the country.
It's known as the Swellies and twice a day, 58 billion gallons of water surges through.
With swirling currents and fast flowing tides
it needs great skill at the tiller to negotiate a safe passage through.
It's classed as innavigable.
If you are bringing anything more than 12 passengers through and you
haven't got an exemption certificate, you have to have a pilot on board
to steer the ship through, otherwise it would be too dangerous.
And why is it so hazardous?
Because the tides here...
We have a tidal range difference of two hours from that side of the island to that side.
You get these massive forces of water pouring through
and this stretch is almost made entirely of rock and bedrock.
I can see loads of whirlpools.
It's the effect of the water rushing through and as the water hits the
stone slabs, it forces water up causing these back eddies and turbulence on the surface.
And you do a lot of diving around here, don't you?
It's a unique place, the Menai Strait.
It's mainly soft coral and sponges.
There's a lot of invertebrates.
And we've really got caught in this whirlpool now.
We are getting spun around as we come up over the bank.
What's the most famous of all the shipwrecks here?
The most famous is definitely HMS Conway.
She was being brought through here by two tugs and she got caught in
one of these whirlpools and ended up on the Platters,
which we are drifting up to now. When the tide went out, she broke her back and she was finished.
It was a huge ship.
Close to the Britannia Bridge across the Straits is the little
island of Gored Goch, which many years ago was inhabited by monks.
Now, the only cottage on the island is a holiday home
and the other building was a fish smokery until 50 years ago.
The fish were caught in traps and one of them has been restored.
How does it work, Scott?
As the tide comes in, the fish go over the top of a grating system across the back there.
And then these sluices which are open at the moment would be closed
and the water would dissipate through the rocks.
Eventually, you ended up with a pool of fish lying in the sand.
-Easy pickings, then.
-Very much so.
Are there many other fish traps around here?
This is built on top of a very old fish trap dating back to the 1600s
and all along the shore side are more fish traps and there's
another one the other side of the island which would have been working in the day of the monastery.
The Britannia Bridge was built by Robert Stephenson to take the
railway across to Anglesey and its port of Holyhead.
It opened in 1850 but it looks rather different today.
The bridge caught fire in 1970, and it burnt for days.
The intense heat contorted the girders.
After long and extensive repairs the bridge was reopened to rail traffic
and then in 1980, a much-needed dual-carriageway road was built on top.
Before the Britannia Bridge, this was the only bridge to Anglesey - Thomas Telford's Menai Bridge
which was completed in 1826 and at the time it was the longest suspension bridge in the world.
The pier is made from rough hewn Anglesey stone,
had to be 100 ft above high-water so tall-masted sailing ships could pass underneath.
Thick steel chains suspend the road above the swirling currents.
What difference did the bridge make to this part of Anglesey?
Well, it completely created the town of Menai Bridge.
There was nothing here before except a rocky common.
The common was enclosed,
the bridge was built and then the town took off.
-Before the bridge, it was an important agricultural area.
How did they get the animals across?
Yes, that is a huge story.
Imagine the black Anglesey cattle
By the 18th century, it was calculated 10,000 cattle swam across
the Menai Straits in one year and it is this stretch of water here.
It must have been an incredible sight, the noise must have been awful!
The famous bridge brought the A5 road into Anglesey.
Yes, it was all part of the huge plan to link London with Holyhead and then the boats to Ireland.
It was connecting London and Dublin.
Today, the little town of Menai Bridge continues to thrive.
I am heading towards the Menai Bridge myself.
Travelling across Anglesey by train,
but en route I can't resist a stop at the town with the longest name in the UK.
Often abbreviated to Llanfair PG, the town used to be known as
Llanfairpwllgwyngyll - quite a mouthful in itself.
But when the railway was built in the 1850s, a committee was
put together to try and encourage tourists to stop at the village.
And that's when a local cobbler came up with the brand new name of...
How do you pronounce it, the whole thing?
One more time, I will get it, this one.
Well, however you pronounce it, the name roughly translates as the church of Mary in the hollow of
white hazel near the fierce whirlpool and the church of Tysilio by the red cave.
But as the name was dreamed of as a publicity stunt
I've decided to find out if all these elements really exist.
Well, I found St Mary's church and what a beautiful spot this is.
You could even argue this is a hollow so what I need to find now are some white hazel trees.
Now, I am no tree expert but using my guide,
this looks a bit like hazel.
It's got the right leaf shape, the bark is light brown.
I'm not convinced it's white hazel but it will do me.
That's the Menai Straits that John Craven visited.
You could describe that as a whirlpool.
And just down the road I found the Church of St Tysilio.
And that just leaves the elusive red caves.
There are two theories on this.
One that it was a mispronunciation lost in translation that in fact means island
which you can see just over there, and the other is that the red caves
still exist hidden somewhere beneath one of the bridges.
Crossing Telford's magnificent bridge, I am heading into mainland
Wales and within a few miles the mountains of Snowdonia begin to rise steeply around me.
It's a perfect area for a sightseeing trip.
You might not normally associate buses with a relaxing way to get around but the Snowdon Sherpa
is supposed be just that, a stress-free way of travelling around the sights of North Wales.
It covers some of the most scenic places around Snowdon
and has grown from a local service connecting rural communities to a tourist attraction in its own right.
Mastering the timetable isn't too hard, either.
Buses run every hour during the summer months.
It looks like I've got a little bit of time to kill which gives me the
perfect opportunity to explore my starting point, Llandudno.
Llandudno is the first stop on this section of the route.
The town is one of the largest seaside resorts in Wales.
Every year, thousands of visitors come to enjoy the long sweeping bay
and Victorian character which is still evident in the town today.
John's grandfather was one of the people who helped build the town.
John himself is now a local historian.
How did Llandudno evolve into a seaside town?
It did not evolve, it was built as a seaside town
by the Mostyn family who lived locally.
They saw the potential for it as a watering place, as the great fashion at the time for taking
the waters, bathing in the sea and they saw this would be the ideal place to build it.
They didn't have a railway system at that time.
Everybody had to come in by the sea.
They came in by steamers and would be rowed ashore and dropped on the beach.
It was quite primitive, actually.
Until about 1858, when the railway arrived.
This really opened up Llandudno to business.
It was one of the busiest railway stations in Britain for a period.
So, it really developed in the Victorian era?
Absolutely. Right bang in the middle of the Victorian era, when they went on the bandwagon of
building resorts all over the country, but this one was unique because it included
modern facilities like indoor toilets and baths and running water and a proper sewage system.
It was definitely upmarket by those standards in those days.
Sadly, there's no time for a quick donkey ride on the beach.
I've got a bus to catch.
Taking the bus not only takes the hassle out of driving and parking,
it leaves you free to make the most of the views.
I am taking the S2 service from Llandudno to Pen-y-pass at the foot of Snowdon.
It's just one of the Sherpa routes that take you all over the area.
I've got my red rover bus ticket so for £4.95 I can travel all over the Snowdon Sherpa network.
I can get on and off as much as I please so I've got my walking
boots and my timetable, the sun is out, it's going to be a good day.
Thank you very much. Bye!
My first stop is a visit to Gwydir Castle,
one of the finest Tudor houses in Wales.
Stunning as the castle itself is, I am here to see the 17th century
dining room which, astonishingly, has been all the way to America and back.
The dining room has been on quite a journey, hasn't it?
Well, it was bought by William Randolph Hearst
who people will know as Citizen Kane.
It was bought by him in 1921 at house sale here
and it was destined for his castle in California
but he never assembled it there.
And we went on a detective story, or journey, and found it languishing in the warehouses of the
Metropolitan Museum in New York and we negotiated with the Metropolitan Museum and were able to buy it back.
We then reassembled it in its rightful place.
What sort of state was it in when it came back to you because it had been in crates for quite a long time.
It had. It was in not too bad condition considering what it had been through.
The leather frieze was extremely dirty and we took advice from
various museums and they said use spit, it's a gentle detergent,
so we did spend three months spitting on this leatherwork
and you can see, it paid dividends.
-That's what you call lovingly restoring something.
You have been lovingly restoring the whole place for 13 years.
Yes, it was derelict when we bought the house, so we've been gradually,
through a careful and phased process of restoration, putting the house back together
again while still trying to retain its atmosphere.
When do you think you will be finished?
Never! It's a lifetime's job.
We will devote the rest our lives to it, I think.
You are doing a good job, it's beautiful.
Sadly, there's no time to help out with the spitting.
I am back on the bus to Snowdon.
On this bus trip, travelling to my destination is as much
part of the experience as actually reaching the final stop.
And reaching my next destination is almost a door-to-door service.
When you come to the great outdoors in Wales you can't possibly sit on a bus all day.
You've got to get some exercise.
Even if you don't fancy climbing the mountain, there are plenty of other things you can do.
This is the National Mountain Centre.
It's an absolutely stunning place.
And you can do all sorts of things here.
From professional courses to just trying out a couple of hours of something like kayaking.
You have done this before, haven't you?
After getting to grips with the basics, it's on to something a bit harder.
Perfecting my wiggle.
Hold your paddle out and give me a wiggle from side to side.
You are going quite a long way, aren't you?
-Yeah. Too far.
You were pretty close to going in there.
How do you stop yourself from going?
If you flip the thing over you can push on the surface of the water.
And armed with that vital piece of information,
I felt confident about staying dry as we headed to more challenging water.
And just as I thought I was doing well...
Well, I think I overdid it a bit there. I fell in.
That was real comedy value, that. I think
I might get on the back of the bus now.
Fortunately, I've got my dry trousers.
All dried off again and I am on my way to the final stop of my journey.
This is when it really pays to sit on the top deck.
The views as you approach Snowdon are spectacular.
Although it does play havoc with your hair.
So, 30 miles and £4.95 later,
here I am at Pen-y-pass at the foot of Snowdon.
I've reached the end of my trip but it's taken me so long to get here because I've stopped so many times,
plus my boots are still soaking wet from falling in the water.
I'm going to have to leave climbing the mountain until another day.
All I've got to do now is wait for the bus back again.
But let's face it, it's not a bad bus-stop to wait at.
Michaela might not have climbed Snowdon but each year, around half-a-million people do.
In fact, it's been described as probably the busiest mountain in
Britain and its sparkling new visitor centre is sure to help that reputation alive.
But I want to get away from the crowds.
My journey started at Holyhead taking me through Llanfair PG and now I've arrived in Capel Curig.
I'm hoping to get off the beaten track.
I followed in Michaela's footsteps to the National Mountain Centre and her canoe instructor
Martin Chester has offered to take me on one of his favourite walks.
Right, the beginning of the trail.
Where are we heading to today then, Martin?
This is the old packhorse trail
that would have been the original trade route, so we are going up through here
and break right to a Bronze Age burial cairn which gives us a beautiful view
of the mountains and a nice view point to enjoy the scenery.
We couldn't have asked for better weather.
Martin has worked as a chief instructor at the National Mountain Centre for 14 years.
So, if anyone knows the less travelled paths, it's him.
Snowdon on a busy weekend is absolutely mobbed,
and if you were to take the footpath that is absolutely mobbed.
As soon as you come off the beaten track
or places like this, it's suddenly very easy to find places where there just aren't that many people.
I couldn't help noticing the impressive peak behind us.
What is that one?
That is our back garden at the National Mountain Centre.
It's a beautiful mountain.
It gets tremendous views of the National Parks, it's stuck out on its own more than the others.
-And what height is she?
-It's just under 3,000 feet,
which means it's tremendously less popular than a lot of the really busy peaks.
There's 14 peaks in the main range over 3,000 feet.
For the some reason, people love ticking off these numbers and
that's just under which is a good thing because it means it's nowhere near as busy.
-One of the hidden gems.
We've only walked two or three miles from civilisation and though
we haven't gained a great deal of height, the views are stunning.
I have to say, Martin, it's not that often I am very envious of someone else's job.
Everyone always tells me I've got the luckiest job but look at this.
-The best job in the world.
-Where are we now, what's this?
This is a Bronze Age burial cairn or a cremation cairn depending on who you believe.
What a view, they would have chosen this spot because of the majesty of the mountains behind us.
It's a fantastic viewpoint. You can see all the ranges of Snowdonia.
It would have been an important trade point as the meeting of lots of different valleys.
And I'm led to believe the folks at the time were nomadic
so what greater way to stake your claim to a bit of land than plonk
great uncle Winifred in his cairn on the top, and mark the fact this is yours.
I can think of worse places to be buried. What's really struck me is a
beautiful hot day and we haven't seen a single soul.
No, it's amazing. We are away from the beaten track.
-Away from the crowds.
-A real little gem.
-Thank you, Martin.
These quiet areas of Snowdonia are a good place to spot wildlife.
Back in 1996, Rachel Morgan was not having much luck.
I am looking for a pine marten
and no, it's not a bird.
I'm told it's a relative of the weasel but it's bigger and fiercer.
And widely thought to be extinct in England and Wales.
But there are now rumours, strong rumours, that it's alive here in Wales surviving in this wood.
In Scotland and Ireland, pine marten numbers are recovering after years of being hunted for fur.
The only real proof, though, that it's survived elsewhere
is one carcass found after a road accident in Lancashire.
But could it be that the Welsh variety is fighting back?
Well, I'd just been making a sound recording of a colony
of lesser horseshoe bats, which was why I was wandering about here
in the middle of the night.
I got to about here and out the corner of my eye I saw a fairly
large animal come bounding down from behind the rocks over here and across the driveway.
So I shone my torch on it,
by which time it had its front feet up on the wall, big
long bushy tail like a squirrel, and it couldn't really have been anything except a pine marten.
Or could it?
The hunt for the pine marten is on in England and Wales,
led by Dr Johnny Burke,
but a sighting does not amount to proof.
Many claim to have seen the Loch Ness monster, yet the myths and legends refuse to yield it up.
This is it, this is a stuffed one.
It was actually found in Lancashire a couple of years ago by Mrs Davies.
He's a fine male pine marten.
Lovely rich brown colour, quite a long bushy tail,
prominent ears, quite a long snout and very, very prominent is this
creamy yellow chest patch, throat patch down here.
The amount of evidence that we've receiving in the form of sightings from naturalists,
occasional road casualties like this one is very encouraging evidence that they're still there.
But the challenge is finding how to survey them and find evidence of them.
So what are you actually doing to prove that pine martens still actually exist?
Well, we're trying to get concrete evidence through a variety of things, bait stations,
looking for droppings and using our remote camera system.
And this is one of the bait stations that we've developed, and the idea
is we place these boxes up trees with food at the back and a spring stretched across the entrance.
And as the animal climbs in and goes for the food, it dislodges
the spring, which traps and plucks a few hairs from its back.
I found these this morning quite near here, and I think they're pine marten droppings.
One of the distinctive things about them is that they smell quite sweet, almost fruity.
Mmm, they are but...
Ha-ha-ha! You're not too keen!
-Gorgeous, wonderful smell, it's heaven.
How does this differ from perhaps a polecat or...?
A polecat dropping tends to smell nastier.
-They have quite a rank, sharp, nasty smell.
-That doesn't smell too bad at all.
No, these are quite pleasant to people who are connoisseurs of these things.
Fox droppings tend to be larger, and they also smell really rank as well.
Under cover of night, the pine marten forays forth,
climbing trees with ease, conquering sheer rock faces effortlessly.
It will eat anything from fruit to small mammals.
It roamed the Welsh forest before the birth of man,
became embedded in Welsh songs, place names and ancient annals.
But as our woodlands disappeared, so did the pine marten.
They were persecuted by the estates, by the gamekeepers,
and after all those gamekeepers went to the First World War,
and of course the pressure from that quarter was lessened,
then a lot of them were killed in fox traps
when the Forestry Commission started planting the large forestry plantations,
so that was the another bout of pressure.
It's been rare since the last century, now it's a protected species.
It may be a reality in Scotland and Ireland, but the pine marten's existence - or not -
in England and Wales is a mystery naturalists need help in solving.
I'm travelling on from Capel Curig
and making my way to the heart of the Gwydyr Forest,
where I'm in meeting Neil Jordan from The Vincent Wildlife Trust,
who's still looking for pine martens in Wales.
So since that report was made, how many sightings have you actually had of pine martens here in Wales?
In Wales, we've had quite a few, but the last one here was in 2003,
so we haven't had many, but they come through sort of sporadically.
Confirmed sightings are not just exciting,
they provide the trust with valuable information that can help them understand
and potentially help the struggling pine marten population.
So over the last two days,
we've had a camera with a motion sensor set up in the forest
in the hope of catching sight of the elusive creature.
It's time now to see the results.
OK, so this is the camera in the waterproof unit.
I know it's quite ambitious that we might catch one, but this sort of information
that we may or may not have on here would be absolutely crucial to you.
Absolutely crucial. It would be fantastic to get current evidence of pine martens here now.
OK, Well, let's see. I will press play there, and let's see.
OK, there's the platform.
It's dark, at night. We've got some...
-I think it's chicken up there.
-There are some chicken wings, yeah.
-What else was there?
-A little bit of jam and peanut butter.
-Always a winner!
It's lucky I wasn't wandering round there, I'd be straight up.
Oh... What's... OK, I think those are probably squirrels.
-We know those are squirrels.
-Straight for the jam.
Well, there's no disguising that.
They're a lot smaller, obviously, than the pine marten.
And a big bushy tail.
Yep, OK, so we're not going to get anything this time,
but presumably you'll keep asking people to send in any reports
of scat or actual sightings.
Absolutely. If anyone sees pine martens, we're very desperate to know, and we'll come and find them.
Leaving the Gwydyr Forest behind,
I'm heading further east to Llangollen.
Here the River Dee winds its way from its source high in the mountains of Snowdonia.
It's a popular salmon river,
and, with wild salmon becoming rarer, the value of these fish has soared.
Sadly, the high value has brought with it crime.
So just how bad is it for the salmon here now?
Well, there's a big decline in salmon at the moment -
mortality at sea and various other things that happen on the river,
which all contribute to a lack of salmon spawning on the reds.
So compared to, say, 20 years ago, there's a huge decline, is there?
Yeah, a big decline.
I mean, there certainly is nowhere near as many fish in the river now as there used to be.
Rick is an environmental crime officer.
One of his roles is to track down poachers on the river.
He often works undercover, and for that reason doesn't want his face to be seen on camera.
So how do you go about your job?
Do you receive information, intelligence, tip-offs?
All of those things, really. Intelligence, for sure. We do work a lot off the intelligence
that people ring in, they give us information, we come down and confirm or deny it.
It is confirmed, we'll plan a job.
The whole team will come down, perform the job, hopefully get a result and move on to the next one.
Acting on intelligence, Rick has been known to stake out a likely spot,
hiding in the undergrowth to gather evidence of salmon poaching.
So what sort of means do they use now to poach a salmon?
-Well, there's gaffs, the normal gaffs.
-A gaff, so a pole with a hook on the end?
You've got snatching equipment, which consists of very large treble hooks
on leaded line with weights which they pull along the bottom,
and if they feel a salmon, they'll yank it into the side of the salmon and take the fish that way.
And you've got static traps, which they put at choke points on the river,
-which the salmon will swim into...
-Choke points are where the river narrows.
Yeah, or waterfalls, things like that.
A trident is like a pitchfork, if you like, with any number of tines on it
between three or four up to 14, or with barbs on that they use to spear the fish.
All these gruesome-looking instruments were confiscated by Rick and his colleagues.
So they'd literally step out into the water and just jab it.
Find where the fish is lying, come from behind, stab it and pin it down and take it.
These methods of poaching seem particularly unfair, given the fishes' epic battle
to make their way all the way upriver to spawn.
Now, just explain the implications.
One salmon that has been taken from the river illegally
presumably can have some pretty profound effects on salmon as a whole.
Sure. I mean, many thousands of fish come from one hen salmon.
All of the eggs that she produces are the prodigy for future years, so if you're taking the hen fish away,
potentially 80,000 fish are being taken out of the system.
And it's just not really very fair, is it, to gaff a salmon at this stage?
Well, they're practically at the end of their journey.
They've travelled thousands of miles, jumped many waterfalls to get to this point,
and they're focused on recreating, and the chaps, and ladies sometimes,
will come along and finish the job off before it's even started.
So it could have really profound effects on the population of salmon as a whole.
Sure, and they're already on the decline, and that's going to contribute to it.
Besides being home to the beautiful River Dee,
the normally quiet rural town of Llangollen comes alive each year
when 5,000 performers from around the world gather for the International Musical Eisteddfod.
Eisteddfods are embedded in Welsh culture and history.
Artists of all ages compete in festivals that celebrate literature, music and dance,
but the idea to extend the Welsh traditions to other parts of the world
started shortly after the Second World War.
In 1947, a group of artists and musicians decided to set up a festival to heal the wounds of war
by bringing nations together through music and dance.
What was it like on that first festival? Did people turn up?
Well, this was the great uncertainty, of course.
There were applications from various countries.
In fact, there were 14 nationalities who applied to compete,
but of course nobody knew if they were actually going to turn up. And nerves were getting quite high.
It was heard that there was a foreign bus in the vicinity,
and the whole of the town came out onto the street,
and there arrived a travel-stained bus that had driven all the way from Portugal with a ladies' choir in it.
And they were quite amazed by the reception they received. They were received as if they were royalty.
Everybody out on the street clapping and waving - they had a tremendous reception.
And of course, a great relief, yes, people were coming.
It was truly going to be an international eisteddfod.
-And how did the local community accept the overseas visitors?
-They must have been a very bemused.
At the time, bear in mind foreign travel was virtually unknown
except for the very rich, and the eisteddfod decided from the outset
that all overseas competitors were to be accommodated in private homes
and welcomed as members of the family.
Good afternoon. Could you help us to find some accommodation?
Well, yes, I think we can help you.
So the hospitality committee had the job of going round
knocking on doors, asking bemused housewives if they could provide a bed or two beds,
bearing in mind, of course, that in almost every case communication was by nods, smiles and sign language.
But it worked!
Presumably a lot of the countries have experienced some conflict in the past,
but they still come together through the music.
Well, this is part of the magic of Llangollen - it's an instrument of reconciliation.
Let me give you an example.
In 1949, four years after the end of the Second World War,
we had the first German group here, a choir from Lubeck in Germany.
And they arrived very nervously,
wondering what the reception was going to be,
and they were lined up backstage waiting to come on full of nerves.
And the presenter on stage said the inspired words,
"Ladies and gentlemen, will you please welcome our friends from Germany?"
The choir came on, they had a tumultuous reception,
people were clapping and cheering and standing,
the choir were in tears, the audience were in tears,
everybody was in tears.
They had to suspend the eisteddfod for a quarter of an hour
to let everybody collect themselves,
and that was a true example of the way that Llangollen brings people together.
The festival is now in its 61st year,
and making sure the week runs smoothly is Mervyn Cousins, the eisteddfod director.
How has it changed over the years?
The buzz has got greater, the number of people have got greater.
We're talking about 50-odd countries.
We started with 13 all those years ago.
So it's got bigger, and we hope more colourful.
But the focus remains, the reason for doing it
is to promote peace and goodwill between nations,
and it was for that reason that we were nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004,
and for a town and an event to be nominated for a peace prize is just fantastic.
You've had some famous visitors here, too.
We certainly have. I suppose the most iconic one is the late and great Pavarotti,
who first came as a competitor with his father.
They won the male choir competition in 1955 with the Modena Choir,
and it was that moment that he decided to become a professional singer.
He came back 40 years later in great triumph as THE tenor of the world.
In the party atmosphere, it's hard to believe
that the performers are actually competing against each other.
-So where are you from?
-And are you having a good time?
We are having a good time, although it's just a bit colder than our country, but it's wonderful.
-And have you been before?
-No, this is my first time.
-Well, you look amazing. Good luck, have a great time.
-Thank you very much.
-Where are you from?
-Are you gonna win?
Give me the pose with the stick.
The party mood is infectious.
-We are from Argentina.
-And what sort of music or dance will you be doing?
We are doing folk traditional music, yes.
We are three musicians called El Trio Pampa,
and then six people from Japan, which are performing Argentinian music.
Goodness me! And have you been before?
For us at least, it is our first time.
-So give us a little rendition.
-What did he say?
-Sing a little something.
Oh, right. What would that be? OK.
This is a traditional song.
HE SINGS A BALLAD
Wonderful, that's lovely, isn't it?
Isn't that fantastic? Oh, you'll have women melting all over the country.
I hope so!
Llangollen's wonderful eisteddfod.
Staying in the area, my journey has brought me to the White Water Active Centre,
but I'm not canoeing. I'm having a go at something called gorge walking.
Gorge walking involves climbing, crawling, sliding and even swimming your way
through a wonderfully wet Welsh gorge.
Our trip begins with a very slippery scramble, but I've stayed on my feet and so far managed to stay dry.
Our guide, Lee, assures me that I won't stay dry for much longer.
So, Lee, this is like the perfect way of making the natural environment into your playground.
Very much so.
It's good for people to experience this,
especially people who don't get an opportunity to
-in their day-to-day life.
-And what sort of people do get coming here, doing this?
All walks of life. We take people, we take children down here,
we take kids in care down here - sort of rehab programmes, things like that, adults in care as well.
We take people with disabilities,
we've taken blind people down here. More or less everybody can do it.
-And what do people get out of doing something like this?
-It depends on the person, obviously.
Some people, it's just an experience, something to chalk up.
Other people, it gives them something to improve their self-confidence and their self-worth in a lot of cases.
And do you ever tire of this magnificent landscape?
Not really. As soon as you end up going somewhere else and you come back, it's good to come back to.
The next part of our gorge walk involves crawling under a waterfall,
and I can assure you that water is absolutely freezing.
In a moment, I'm gonna be abseiling down that waterfall!
My journey across the spectacular landscape of North Wales
has taken me from the treacherous waters around Holyhead
through Llanfair PG and on to Capel Curig in the heart of Snowdonia.
I also visited the Gwydyr Forest
before ending my journey here in Llangollen.
Right now I'm soaking wet and freezing cold,
but that's the price you pay for the thrill of gorge walking,
and we're about to abseil down this dramatic waterfall.
OK, Lee, this is the bit we've been waiting for, this is the abseil.
So what do we need to know here?
-Right, have either of you abseiled before?
-I've done a little bit, never down a waterfall, though.
My gorge-walking partner, Katie, gets to go first...
..and, apart from a slight slip, makes it look easy.
Very slippy, so you've got to walk slowly. Good.
Well done, Katie.
Oh, it's slippery.
Well done! Right, my turn!
'This is a potentially dangerous activity,
'and I wouldn't recommend anyone to try it without the proper safety equipment and training.
'On the plus side, abseiling down a waterfall is a first for me,
'and I can tell you it's truly exhilarating.'
You didn't need a shower this morning!
I love this!
As if we aren't wet enough already, our final challenge is to plunge backwards into a pool of icy water.
Well, I began this journey on a lifeboat off the glorious coast of Anglesey,
and I'm finishing it here in this magnificent canyon.
What a way to end!
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
Series celebrating the British countryside.
Ben Fogle begins his journey through North Wales off the coast of Holyhead on board an RNLI boat. Back on dry land his pronunciation lets him down in the town with the longest name in Britain, Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch.
At Llangollen he speaks to a bailiff who stakes out the river to protect the salmon from poachers and he finishes his journey trying his hand at gorge walking.