From the Staffordshire hills to the Humber estuary, spirited explorer Tom Fort embarks on a 170-mile journey down the River Trent on his own custom-built punt, the Trent Otter.
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My name is Tom Fort and all my life, I've had a passion for rivers.
I want to tell the story of one in particular, the River Trent.
From its source above Stoke...
Can you feel it?
..to the Humber Estuary, where it finally meets the sea,
I want to row down as much of it as I can.
I'm on my very own punt, the Trent Otter. Yay!
Together, we're visiting some of the places, great and small,
that make up the history of this unsung river.
The Trent's story has, for thousands of years, been part of our story.
He, of course, was a Bronze Age river man.
The river has entertained us and sustained us.
-200 years ago, this would have been absolutely thriving.
Kings have fought for it and we have fought against it.
Sooner or later, a larger flood will come along.
We've used the river to make our fortunes,
we've built bridges across it...
..and used it to help power the nation.
Oh, I'm incompetent!
Any chance of a lift?
The Trent is not just a river.
God Almighty, look at how quickly the river is coloured.
It's a 170-mile journey through history.
I would not want to hit that.
From the start, rivers have been central to the human story.
In the book of Revelation, the Bible tells us
that their spiritual potency is purist at the point of birth.
The river, it says, emerges from the very throne of God.
This is Biddulph Moor,
almost 1,000 feet above sea level, in the heart of the Staffordshire Hills.
Every river journey needs to begin at the beginning.
This is the beginning of the Trent, or officially,
this is the beginning of the Trent.
In fact there are several other contenders for the source of the Trent
in these fields around here, springs of one kind or another,
but somebody has decided that this is where it begins.
Water is emerging from a dark little hole
and setting off in a pathetic little trickle down along this ditch and on.
A couple of miles downstream, it's already gathering force.
Not quite ready for one man and a boat.
So, for now, I'm on foot.
What a fantastic spot!
This is the river at its most natural, its most innocent.
It's like a child - it was an infant up there and now,
a boisterous toddler, just playing and you can hear the music of it as it goes by.
Innocence, though, doesn't last.
Two more miles and the Trent is in for a shock.
Knypersley Reservoir holds a million cubic metres of water.
The Trent flows into the top of the reservoir full of vigour,
but here at the bottom end, it comes out as little more than a meagre dribble.
But they didn't trap Trent water here for drinking purposes.
250 years ago, England's dawning Industrial Revolution
was being held back by the abysmal condition of the roads.
One answer was to use rivers
where they were big enough to move goods and products but up here,
the Trent was too small, too shallow for that purpose.
They needed another kind of transport link.
A few miles from Knypersley, the factories of Stoke-on-Trent
were producing some of the world's finest pottery and ceramics.
But moving goods by wagon and packhorse was laborious and costly.
To solve the problem, Trent water from the reservoirs above Stoke
was redirected into one of the engineering triumphs of the age.
A Trent and Mersey canal.
The genius behind the Trent and Mersey was James Brindley,
the canal visionary known as The Schemer.
He planned an epic link between two of our greatest ports,
Liverpool in the West, and Hull in the East.
Building it took Brindley 11 years, starting in 1776,
when the first sod was dug, not by him,
but this man, Josiah Wedgwood.
Wedgwood, the most famous potter of them all,
had persuaded Brindley to dig the canal
right beside his grand new factory in the heart of Stoke.
Wedgwood's fine Georgian house was paid for from the profits
made possible by the new canal.
But that was all a long time ago.
As late as the 1970s, there were 200 ceramics factories in Stoke.
Now, there are fewer than 30.
The canal is still busy,
but today it's with holiday boats rather than barges loaded with freight.
And Wedgwood's factory, like so many others, has long since gone.
This small outbuilding, the only relic of its glorious past.
Then, as now, all the attention was on the canal.
So what about the poor old River Trent?
Robbed of most of its water, the Trent arrives at Stoke,
largely left to its own devices.
In some places though, the city has corralled and enclosed it.
But the worst is, the life has been taken out of the river.
No-one is showing it any kind of respect for its well-being.
It has been brutalised and then just left to fend for itself.
But it's not all bad news.
The Trent may be going through a rough patch in Stoke,
but it hasn't forgotten that it was born out of the throne of God.
At Trentham Gardens to the south of Stoke, the river finds its feet again.
Now, for the first time, it is deep enough for my boat.
I'm making a bit of a mess of your beautiful grass, I'm afraid.
All right, I'm going in.
-That's great. That's it. I can do it there.
This boat is a punt. It's called a Trent Otter.
I can't imagine a more elegant piece of work, myself.
Oh, I've forgotten the oars!
And a rather nifty home-made anchor.
And there we are, we're ready to start this great adventure.
Thanks very much indeed, that was a great effort.
I feel that here it's...
It's beginning to behave like a proper river,
with a proper idea of itself.
And also it's irresistible, isn't it,
when the trees are hanging down like this?
It's not the easiest thing to steer, this boat, from one end.
Getting past this old mill will be tricky in a punt.
For the next 20 miles,
the Trent gently meanders south through Staffordshire.
At Little Heyford, an old packhorse crossing, Essex Bridge,
has been here for 450 years.
Its walls were built low
so as not to interfere with panniers and saddlebags.
Historically, bridges on the Trent were few and far between
so they were important symbols of progress and prosperity,
as I'm about to discover.
So, I'm coming into Burton-on-Trent
and I'm approaching Burton's celebrated Ferry Bridge,
built in 1889.
240 feet of Victorian engineering
at its absolute finest.
It's called the Ferry Bridge
because it replaced a boat service
which had for centuries plied its trade here between Burton
and the village of Stapenhill, to the south.
Local historian Richard Stone is campaigning to have it restored.
And what a fine bridge this is!
You would not believe the amount of people coming over on the ferry.
I think at its height in the 1880s,
-there would be something like 2,000 people a day using it.
-2,000 a day?
And the ferry, it was just two punts.
So they're bringing maybe 1,000 people over every morning
coming into work, 1,000 people again at night...
Starting at the crack of dawn and going at it
absolutely all day long, back and forth.
This is busy and the route is still busy today, of course.
It's not surprising the ferry men were overworked.
Burton's population had exploded from 10,000 in 1851
to well over 40,000 in the 1880s.
The reason was the business that made Burton famous - beer.
In the late 19th century, the town boasted 30 breweries.
More than half the adult population worked on making beer.
Where does the money come from to build this bridge?
It comes from the Bass family, the great benefactors of the town.
Bass has been built into the greatest brewery in the world
and it's the great-grandson of the founder, Michael Arthur Bass,
he's the guy who puts his hand in his pocket and says to the town council,
"Look, you buy the ferry rights, I'll pay for the bridge."
Michael Arthur Bass was chairman of the board
at a time when Burton supplied a quarter of Britain's beer.
The brand was also popular abroad.
Bass's red triangle even found its way into Manet's famous painting,
A Bar At The Folies-Bergere.
The Bass family liked to look after their workers.
Some of the houses they built still stand today,
long after the company sold out to the Americans.
The Ferry Bridge was just one more way
of giving something back to the locals.
It's a great day for the town, presumably,
-the opening of the bridge.
-A big celebration, the mayor,
Michael Arthur Bass is here himself, his wife, his daughter...
-A big crowd?
-Big crowds gathered.
Absolutely, and they made a last ceremonial ferry crossing,
then the bridge was declared open
and they all went off to the town hall
and had a grand lunch with oysters and lamb.
Burton's beer wasn't just popular at home.
In the 18th century, a dark, sweet brew
was shipped down the Trent via Hull to St Petersburg.
A little later, Burton found an even more lucrative market...
..The British Empire.
In India especially, servicemen thirsting for a taste of home
fell in love with a new lighter beer called IPA or India Pale Ale.
'At Burton's National Brewery Museum,
Jo White still makes IPA the old way.'
I wonder how much they weigh?
Being in India, so warm,
they didn't want a real thick, dark stodgy beer as they used to have,
so they thought, "Right, we'll come up with a nice pale ale
"which would be lager colour.
"So it'd be nice, light and refreshing and lots of carbonation."
The point was that it had to survive this long journey?
Yes. It took six months to get there
from leaving the brewery to getting to India,
so it had to be a higher alcohol beer and a highly hopped beer, as well.
Because the more hops you have in a beer, it's the bitter of the beer
and also it's an antiseptic, so it keeps longer.
Then those hot, dusty British soldiers
fell upon it with a shout of joy
and felt as if they were back at home, almost, pouring their stout.
A lovely sparkling beer.
Very good. Very good.
Burton IPA may have been sparkling,
but the same could not be said of the river.
In the 19th century, it had become so polluted
with sewage and brewing waste
that the local newspaper launched an angry campaign.
In an editorial on August 20th, 1858,
it referred to the "noxious atmosphere" hanging over Burton.
"We have been compelled," it said, "to endure a nuisance,
"the character of which has been most injurious and offensive,
"not only endangering our health, but also jeopardising our lives."
The Trent's problem was created by the Industrial Revolution
and it took engineering ingenuity of a high order to tackle it.
In 1885, Burton proudly opened its new sewage pumping station.
It's been restored by Roy Barrett
and a team of engineers and enthusiasts.
I'm entirely gobsmacked by it. I'm flabbergasted. I'm struck dumb.
So, how come such enormous quantities of effluent were
being produced by the Burton brewery?
Yes, that's a good question.
You would think, all you wanted is a pint of beer.
So, we've got the one pint of beer, we know what happens to that -
it makes us very happy, we're OK.
But it takes ten pints of water to make one pint of beer.
The nine pints, which is used for washing
all sorts of things in the process, becomes very contaminated.
-I'd say it's filthy.
It's hot, its sulphur rich, it smelt terrible, as well,
and it goes into the river and it kills all the fish.
I quite see it.
Combined with the town's raw sewage,
Burton's industrial waste was diverted away from the river
in huge volumes - up to four million gallons a day.
Each beam engine weighs 80 tonnes.
Getting them moving is quite an operation.
-This one won't go.
Blimey! No-one told me it was going to be this hard work!
Once delivered from the river, the machines pumped the waste
two-and-a-quarter miles uphill to a treatment plant outside the town.
This was steam power at its brilliant best.
-Do you want to have a go at that?
-Yeah, I'll have a go at that.
Not so good...
Sorry. Go on, you do it. I'm incompetent!
Coal drove the steam power of the Industrial Revolution.
But in the 20th century, we found new ways to harness its energy.
One in particular would, with the Trent's assistance,
transform life in this country.
-'In this age of designed economy,
'it'll surprise no-one to hear that a vast plan
'for five years and beyond
'has been laid down by the Central Electricity Board.'
It began in the 1930s, when the first national grid was turned on.
By the 1960s, demand, calculated to be doubling every ten years,
required more plants.
The Trent's proximity to the Midlands coalfields
made it the ideal location for the new stations.
13 were built along its banks.
They supplied a quarter of England's power.
The region was known as Megawatt Valley.
There are the towers looming on the bank ahead.
The closer you get, the more enormous they seem,
the more impressive they are.
The river is quickening as it approaches them.
This is Willington Power Station. Opened downstream from Burton
at the end of the 1950s, it once lit up 200,000 homes.
Today, it's abandoned. The plant was shut down in the '90s.
Ken Theakston was on the staff here for 23 years.
I work in the control room.
I controlled the plant from the control room.
You were in charge of it? You were the mastermind, were you?
You were the man with the fingers on the levers
-and the thumbs on the buttons?
The plant's turbines were powered by high-pressure steam.
Heated to 560 degrees,
the steam was then cooled inside large condensing units -
a job which required millions of gallons of Trent water.
It's crucial the water comes from the river
and then it's pumped through the condensers.
The condensers are thousands and thousands and thousands of tubes,
probably about an inch diameter.
The cooling water goes through there and then it's returned to the river.
On the other side of these tubes, you've got the steam.
-The steam is not Trent water, is it? That's another story.
-The steam is very, very pure water.
Much purer than you'll get out of the tap.
The steam had to be pure
so as not to fur up the turbines like a kettle.
And to keep it pure, it was sealed in its own separate plumbing
as mucky old Trent water cooled the pipes.
Trent water was then sent back to the river,
but only after it, too, had been cooled down.
And then the cooling towers, where do they come in?
If you took it, say, 20 degrees from the Trent,
we could only put back up to a certain amount.
The cooling tower dropped it back to that amount.
You couldn't pump hot water, really hot water, back into the river?
-You could pump warm water.
-Yeah, cos I mean,
if you heat the river up too much, you're going to do a lot...
-You're going to kill everything.
Today, the Trent still plays its part in the power game.
The latest generating stations are gas-fuelled,
but they still can't function without river water.
At Staythorpe, near Newark, Trent pipes are colour-coded green
as river water flows through a new kind of cooling tower.
Everything here looks new, but over by the river is a sculpture
commissioned 50 years ago to honour the pioneers of Megawatt Valley.
-'..that a vast plan for five years and beyond...
'..powerful, obedient and clean...'
In 1999, Willington faced the ritual execution
in front of the usual eager crowds.
It got old. It's like a car -
it comes to a point where you've got to spend too much money on it
to keep it on the road. It delivers efficiency, they get worn out.
A time comes when you've got to say, "That's enough,
-we're not throwing any more money at it."
-Sad day for you, though?
Oh, yeah, yeah. Probably a few tears, you know.
Willington's cooling towers were spared demolition
when a pair of peregrine falcons nested on the side of one.
Even the falcons have since deserted the site.
Whatever happened to Megawatt Valley?
At Willington, Staffordshire gives way to Derbyshire.
I'm alone on the river and it's a delightful place to be.
There should be a special word
for someone who takes a particular pleasure in rivers -
fluviaphile seems a little bit pretentious.
River lover's better, although a bit inelegant.
The river lover sees more than just water on the move.
There's an awareness of past, present and future,
a sense that this water was somewhere else yesterday,
is here now,
and will be somewhere different tomorrow.
The stone bridge at Swarkestone, six miles south of Derby,
was once the Midlands' main crossing point on the Trent.
It's witnessed centuries of conflict.
In 1745, Bonnie Prince Charlie's rebel Jacobite army
reached here before turning back for Scotland.
100 years earlier,
Cavaliers and Roundheads fought for control of the bridge.
And almost 800 years before that, the Vikings swept through,
upstream to Repton, where they spent the winter in preparation
for launching a strike into the heart of the Midlands.
The Viking invaders entered through the Humber estuary,
penetrating 100 miles up the Trent.
But they weren't the first to make use of the river here.
A few miles downstream at Kings Mills, near Castle Donington,
there was someone here long before them.
If I'd been here 3,500 years ago,
I might well have met a man paddling through.
And he, of course, was a Bronze Age river man.
His boat was a massive thing hollowed out of a single tree trunk.
When they found it not far from here,
it was still half filled with huge slabs of stone which he'd collected,
apparently to reinforce a causeway across the river.
Imagine that - piloting these vast bits of stone along this river,
which is pretty fierce around here.
And while there are many things about the modern world that he would
have found strange and incomprehensible, the river
he would have been familiar with.
He would have known every bit of it.
And so there's a sense in which to journey down this river
is to journey back in time.
'Back in the 11th century, land at Kings Mills was royal property.
'Since then, owners have come and gone many times,
'but none has been quite so colourful
'as one 19th century incumbent.'
His name was Henry Weysford Charles Plantagenet Rawdon-Hastings,
which is a bit of a mouthful.
He was the Fourth Marquess of Hastings,
and his chief passion in life was gambling on horses.
He even built his own racetrack in front of his country seat,
Occasionally, though, his eye wandered after a filly of a different kind
and his elopement with the delectable Lady Florence Paget
caused a sensation.
Lady Florence was herself the daughter of a Marquess
and was considered a pearl of the English aristocracy.
But there was one slight problem.
She was engaged to someone else.
Florence's fiance was Henry Chaplin,
a wealthy Lincolnshire landowner.
As his wedding day approached, he knew nothing of the affair.
One day, Lady Florence, without a word to anyone,
popped into Marshall & Snelgrove's store in Oxford Street
on the pretext of buying items for her wedding trousseau.
She sneaked out of the back, into Hastings' carriage
and off to church, where they got hitched.
No-one from the bride's family was there.
It was the scandal of the year.
Hastings and Chaplin now embarked on a bitter feud.
The rivalry between the two men came to a sensational head
on Derby Day, 1867.
Hastings bet £100,000 that his colt would beat Chaplin's.
It was an insane gamble.
Amid scenes of wild excitement,
Chaplin's horse, Hermit,
came home by a neck.
Hastings' colt was nowhere.
Hastings lost everything -
his fortune, the estate and, of course, the mill on the Trent.
Today, Donington has been turned into company offices.
The old chapel is now a canteen.
And as for the racecourse...
..it's now the Donington Park motor racing circuit
and instead of the pounding of horses' hooves,
the air is split with the snarl of racing car engines.
'More than 70 miles into the journey, I'm bypassing Derby,
'a few miles northwest of me.'
At this point, the Trent is beginning to slow down.
It has lost its sort of youthful
high spirits and dash and ardour.
I've stopped here on the edge of this rather uninteresting
wide expanse of water.
Nothing very exciting, you might say.
But actually, you'd be wrong,
cos this is one of the most important meeting places
in this country's transport history.
Behind me is the Trent and Mersey Canal.
It came down here and it stopped,
because here it met the Trent
coming in from under that footbridge.
And from here on, the Trent could do the business that the canal
had done hitherto.
And not only that,
from the North came the Derwent,
bringing with it all the riches of Derbyshire.
So what you have here is,
if I can call it that,
a hub of incalculable importance
to the industrial and commercial life
of this nation more than 200 years ago.
'These days, it's quiet enough,
'but this crossroads once connected an inland waterway,
'which stretched from one side of England to the other.'
-Are you heading for Shardlow, by any chance?
-I am, yes.
Any chance of a lift?
'I'm making a detour up the Trent and Mersey Canal to visit
'Shardlow, last stop before it connects with the river.'
-Hi, I'm Tom. And you? Martin!
-How are you doing?
-I'm all right.
Now, if you're able to grab the rope...
'For me and narrow boat owner Martin Wells,
'it's a short hop back up from the end
'of James Brindley's 93 mile masterpiece.'
I'm lost in admiration for the simple vision
of people like Brindley, that they could see
clearly a solution to a long-standing problem,
which was our roads were terrible,
so what are we going to do about it?
I think it's the simplicity of all the architecture...
-I love the bridges. I think the bridges are fantastic.
'After digging halfway across England, Brindley had chosen
'sleepy Shardlow as his meeting place with the Trent.
'His decision transformed the place.'
-This was pretty much the heart of operations, was it?
200 years ago, this would be absolutely thriving.
-There'd be boats coming in and out...
People yelling and shouting and cursing and singing.
-Fighting over the locks...
-Getting drunk. But working hard.
Absolutely. You'd be having narrow boats coming down the
Trent and Mersey Canal, quite possibly some of them
would be going on, down onto the River Trent into Nottingham,
but you would have larger boats, barges,
coming up and shipping the products from one to the other.
Because that was the route through to the Humber and the world.
So big cranes lifting stuff on and off.
The big trade here was salt from Cheshire,
but pretty much everything came through.
Food, coal, iron, cheese and, of course, Wedgwood pottery from Stoke.
Goods arriving on the river from Hull were transferred to
canal boats to complete the journey.
The work was done in buildings like this,
the Navigation Clock Warehouse.
One old-timer recalled his apprenticeship there.
"All day and all night," he said, "could be heard
"the creaking of cranes, the rattling of chains,
"the falling of timbers, the shouts of the wharfmen,
"the sound of axe and anvil,
"the cries of the boat builders."
The heyday of this place did not last that long, did it?
The railways took over, basically, 1830s, '40s.
Long Eaton then became a very, very busy place and overtook this.
-Shardlow began to decay.
-And now a rather quiet and peaceful spot...
-..for blokes like you!
MUSIC: "Eton Boating Song" by William Johnson Cory and Captain Algernon Drummond
# Jolly boating weather
# And a hay harvest breeze
# Blade on the feather
# Shade off the trees
# Swing, swing together
# With your backs between your knees
# Swing, swing together
# With your backs between your knees... #
Now we're right underneath the M1,
hidden from view.
# Ruffling o'er the weeds
# Where the lock stream gushes
# Where the cygnet feeds... #
# La, da, da, dee, dee, dee, dee, dee
# Dee, dee, dee, dee, dee, dee, dee, dee
# La, da, da, da, ba, ba, ba
# Ba, ba, ba, bom, bom, ba, bom, bom. #
'The river's changing again.
'It's getting bigger and wider.
'As I row into Nottingham, it feels like the Trent has grown up.'
Well, we're just coming under
Nottingham's famous landmark, Trent Bridge.
There have been other Trent bridges, though they've
come and gone over the centuries.
And this, which actually is a very handsome bridge indeed.
It does the city proud.
In 1886, they ice skated in front of it.
But a few decades later, the river wasn't anything like so much fun.
The winter of 1947 was famously brutal.
55 consecutive days of snow.
And when it melted, the Trent turned into a monster.
On March 17, the river burst its banks.
Suddenly, 28 miles of streets became canals
as the river rose 12 feet above normal.
One of those streets was home to a young Douglas Whitworth.
-This was your house?
-This one, on the right-hand side.
-And the whole ground floor was flooded.
-And so what happened?
You'd seen it coming up and it just came up and up
and up and up, the flood.
I can remember my father having to put swimming trunks on
-the go down into the cellar to get coal.
-To get coal?
And it would be wet through, wouldn't it?
It was pretty awful at that time.
So here we are, the street is flooded, the house is flooded
and here is you, as a young man.
But you have a particularly passionate hobby,
which was photography. This is not an opportunity to be missed.
He didn't know it, but 19-year-old Douglas was about to
capture some of the most enduring images
of Nottingham's great flood of 1947.
I used my bike, I could cycle through the water.
So you hopped on your bike with your camera
slung over your shoulder and pedalled off.
-As long as you kept cycling...
-You didn't fall over.
I don't think I ever did, actually.
Douglas' pictures often show people actually enjoying
themselves in Nottingham's new look streets.
Still, "Never again," they said.
'These massive sluice gates at Colwick
'on the outskirts of the city were completed in the 1950s.
'Engineer John Hindle is in charge of them
'and the rest of Nottingham's flood defences.'
How does this sort of bring the Trent to heel, as it were?
In a sort of typical, normal summertime flow,
we've just got one gate which is open, open very slightly,
just to allow the right amount of water through.
But if we get a major flood,
then they start lifting these gates out of the water.
-How many gates are there altogether?
-There's five gates here.
And in a really major flood,
all of these gates would be well out of the water.
-Right up? So this...
-Right out of the water.
-Right up there?
Right out of the water.
What we're designing for here is that really major flood,
the 1947 and perhaps even slightly more than that.
Have there been a few narrow squeaks?
Certainly back in 2000, there was this major flood on the River Trent
and that got very close to the top of our flood defences at the time.
-Was that down here or was the crisis further upstream?
I mean, I personally went out to Burton at that time,
where we'd just finished a flood defence scheme there,
went out there the early evening, in the middle of the night,
and saw that the floodwaters were really just a few
bricks from the top of the flood defences.
Did you have a few bad moments?
Or did you know then that it was reaching its peak?
I knew it was reaching its peak,
but I remember how surprised I was just to see how high it was.
The 2000 floods triggered the building of still more defences
and a bill of £45 million to boot.
Now John's confident he can resist all but a truly cataclysmic flood,
the kind that strikes only once in a hundred years.
One in a hundred years or, you know, 1% or whatever, suggests to me
that one day this is going to happen.
One day that flood is going to come along.
Sooner or later, a larger flood will come along.
You can never design against the ultimate flood, if you like.
-The ultimate catastrophe.
-The ultimate catastrophe.
But, we can at least give Nottingham a decent standard of flood defence.
-Do you live near the river yourself?
No, I live on high ground.
Leaving Nottingham, the Trent presses on,
heading north-east towards Newark.
The river sort of imposes a rhythm of its own on you,
and, really, all you can do is follow the river's rhythm
and its moves,
and fall into line with them.
The river here is at peace today, but it wasn't always.
It's 1485, the Battle of Bosworth Field, about 45 miles
south-west of here - Henry Tudor defeats and kills
It's the end of the Wars of the Roses.
That's what the history books say.
In fact, the White Rose of York had one final throw of the dice
and it took place here, beside the Trent.
Two years after Bosworth,
the new King's grip on power was still shaky.
A rebel Yorkist force marched south,
fording the Trent upstream from Newark.
The scene was set for the battle of Stoke Field.
The rebel force took up position on the ridge over there
with Henry's army below.
Although outnumbered, the rebels fought with desperate bravery.
For a time, the outcome hung in the balance.
Then, King Henry's general, the Earl of Oxford,
rallied his 15,000 men for one final push.
The rebel line wavered and then broke.
The rebels ran for their lives downhill,
across the fields beside the Trent,
harried and chased by Henry's men.
It's thought that 4,000 men, half the rebel force, fell that day.
Casualties on the King's side as few as 100.
There is a gully running along the foot of that wood over there,
known as Red Gutter. It was stained with blood.
That day in June,
the Wars of the Roses truly ended along the banks of the Trent.
Over five centuries later, this place still seems
haunted by the fighting spirit of those ancient warriors.
I like to think of the rebel army, the sun glinting on their swords
and spears and axes, and then into the river,
the water up to the infantrymen's waists,
and the horses' knees, and then across towards the ridge,
hope and fear churning in their breasts.
On the river, it's deliciously serene.
It feels as if this could go on for ever,
but there is a problem ahead.
I'm sad, I'm very sad.
It's always sad when you have been
peaceful and contented and happy.
I'm sad because the Trent Otter and I are about to part company.
No more boating weather...for me.
And all because the locals have warned me
that my little punt can't cope with the river.
Here, it's fine, but a few miles north,
the Trent becomes a very different beast.
This is Cromwell Weir.
Not so long ago, a man out fishing died here after his boat,
about the same size as mine, was dragged under.
Back in the 1970s, ten soldiers on exercise drowned
when their boat went over the weir.
At Cromwell, the Trent is, for the first time, influenced by the sea.
Now it has become a tidal river,
prone to fiendish hidden currents and swirling eddies.
'Downstream at Gainsborough, I spot another good reason to retire
'gracefully from the river.'
'A gravel barge, and not messing about, either.'
These days you don't often come across working boats on this
part of the river, but scroll back.
800 years ago, they were bringing
wool and alabaster down here for shipment onto Hull
and export to Europe.
In the 17th century, a coal depot was established here to take
coal from the Nottingham coalfield.
By the 1830s, 50,000 tons of goods were being unshipped here
for distribution locally,
and a further 30,000 sent downstream to Hull.
It became such an important river port that the government even gave
it its own customs house.
The river made many fortunes at Gainsborough during those years.
So, where did all the trade go?
You don't have to look far.
Today the motorway is king.
The Trent, meanwhile, is so penned in by flood banks that no-one on the
river can see the land, and no-one on the land can see the river.
It seems we have abandoned it.
But at Flixborough docks, no-one told them
the age of river transport was over.
Every week, eight or ten vessels unload here.
This one is delivering steel from Spain.
For these ships, navigating the Trent requires special skill.
Riding the high tide in from the sea, they have only three and a half hours
to get here, often with only a few feet between them and the riverbed.
Once moored, the low tide then grounds them flat on the bottom.
12 hours later, when the next flood tide raises them,
they again have just three and a half hours to make it back to sea.
Much of the lower Trent is wide, featureless
and generally completely empty.
So, it is very reassuring to come to a place like this,
where there is noise and activity,
cranes going and lorries roaring.
Big ships, waiting to be unloaded and take on loads,
waiting for the tide to take them in and out.
Reassuring to find that the river still has its uses.
My journey down the Trent is almost over.
Swelling in size, it pushes the landscape ever wider apart.
Its banks are now tricky to access on foot,
so I need another mode of transport.
She is called the Spider T,
a 1920s Humber super sloop,
built to carry bricks to Hull.
Like so many ships which once worked the river,
the Spider ended up in the knacker's yard.
Then, enthusiast Mal Nicholson rescued her.
Now the Spider's back, but she has to be careful.
I think there are a lot of people that are frightened of this
end of the Trent. It is one that keeps you sharp, you never,
ever get complacent with it.
Because the nature of the river...
What we see is flat water, but underneath,
the nature of this river is not a constant thing, is it?
No, the Trent particularly, there are places that you can
walk across it, virtually, and for such a big wide river, you
really are having to watch exactly what you're doing,
so you don't run her aground.
And if you do run aground, you're in trouble?
Yes, absolutely. One of the things with coming in on a flood tide
is that if you run her aground on the bow you can be turned sideways
and, in some cases
heeled over, so you have to be very, very careful.
I'm absolutely confident in saying that nothing like this
has ever happened to the Spider T or to you?
I'm afraid it has.
It happened on the Trent.
There had been very heavy rain, lots of fresh on,
and it had washed the sand
and gravel into the middle of the river,
and what was a navigable part of the river suddenly became
absolutely unnavigable, and ran the Spider aground.
Every now and then, you will get caught out.
So she is an unpredictable mistress?
Absolutely. You look at it and think you can go virtually where you like,
-but you cannot.
The water is now so wide it is hard to make out
where the river ends and estuary begins.
On the charts, this half-sunken wall marks the dividing line.
Here, the Trent delivers its water and me to the Humber.
All my life, I have been fascinated and thrilled
and moved by moving water, by rivers.
I have spent a lot of time in rivers and beside rivers
looking at rivers, thinking about rivers, dreaming about rivers,
but I have never, until now, followed a river from the very
beginning to the very end, and while I'm here, with this vast,
great expanse of water around me,
I can't help thinking about the top of this river.
That placed on Biddulph Moor where a little trickle
appears from the hillside and starts finding its way down here.
That first trickle emerged in the centre of England,
1,000 feet above the sea.
Now, it is here, somewhere.
Soon it will evaporate into cloud and perhaps be blown across some
distant hill to fall again as rain, and once more seep into the river.
In one sense, you can say the journey ends here,
but in another sense the journey never ends.
Can you feel her?
-It's like a fish biting.
-Pull on your...
-Can you feel it?
Every last movement.
# Going to see the river man
# Going to tell him all I can
# About the plan
# For lilac time
# If he tells me all he knows
# About the way his river flows
# And all night shows
# In summertime. #
It's not easy this, you know.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
From the Staffordshire hills to the Humber estuary, spirited explorer Tom Fort embarks on a 170-mile journey down Britain's third longest river, the Trent. Beginning on foot, he soon transfers to his own custom-built punt, the Trent Otter, and rows many miles downstream. Along the way he encounters the power stations that generate much of the nation's electricity, veterans of the catastrophic floods of 1947, the 19th-century brewers of Burton and a Bronze Age boatman who once made a life along the river.