The Bit in the Middle Timothy Spall: Back at Sea


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The Bit in the Middle

Timothy and Shane take their barge to three different countries, and visit son Rafe on the Isle of Man. In Belfast, he frequents one of his favourite pubs.


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LineFromTo

This is a classic example of the ludicrousness of the sea, right?

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We're in this massive expanse of water and there's one boat over there

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and we're heading towards it. We're on a collision course with it. Look.

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'I'm Timothy Spall and this is my wife, Shane.'

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'We're on the journey of a lifetime.

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'We're circumnavigating the British Isles in a barge.

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'So far, this year, we've been round Wales and north-west England.'

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Tim and Shane Spall, yeah, doing our round Britain tour

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-and getting it wrong every now and again. Over.

-Ha-ha.

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'On this leg, we'll visit England, Ireland, Scotland

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'and the Isle of Man, the centre of the British Isles.'

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'If we can brave the stormy Irish Sea and dodge a few hazards.'

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It's heading straight for us!

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'By the end of this leg, we'll have been to every country in the United Kingdom.'

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I just love it. I love being here.

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And not only do I love being here but we've come here on our boat!

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We came here across the Irish Sea!

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'15 miles up the Lancashire coast from Blackpool is Piel Island

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'with its 14th-century castle built by monks who once owned the island.

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'It was built to withstand pirates and stormy seas

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'but it can do nothing to help idiot mariners.'

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Tim was up at 2.30, 3.00, 4.15...

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checking that we were still on that buoy.

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So he's not had very much sleep at all.

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'The north-west of England has some of the country's most popular seaside resorts.'

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Blackpool Tower again. On the horizon there. It's like a mirage.

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'But look further afield and you'll always find something interesting.'

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Oh, there's a seal!

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Apparently, they breed over there, according to Princess Nicola.

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Come over here! Come and see us, come on!

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'We're off to Whitehaven,

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'the last English port we'll visit on the west side of the country.

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'It looks out onto the Solway Firth, a sea border between England and Scotland.'

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Scotland is starting to reveal itself very, very slowly.

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On the horizon there, little lumps of Scotland, saying,

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SCOTTISH ACCENT: "You're reckon you gotta come here

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"so don't try and get out of it and stay in Whitehaven.

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"Yer coming!"

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'We're out on a beautiful, benign sea. Everything is lovely.'

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'Then there's a noise.'

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LOUD THUD

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'What's that? Is it something below? Is it the engine?'

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I thought it was something fallen over but it did occur to me that we are in a firing range.

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Firing practice area. See note.

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-LOUD THUD

-Oh, there it goes again.

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I thought it was the toilet seat falling down!

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'Batten down the hatches. I think Matilda's under attack.'

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-RADIO:

-'Liverpool Coastguard, over.'

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Hi, Liverpool Coastguard. Yeah, we're just moving into a firing range area and we've heard...erm...some firing.

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-RADIO:

-'Princess Matilda, Liverpool Coastguard, stand by, please, over.'

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LOUD THUD

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-RADIO:

-'Princess Matilda, we spoke to the range control and they are active today until four o'clock.

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'They have you on radar, they have you on radar.

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'You should be OK, you should be OK. Over.'

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'We're not the first boat to come under attack here.

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'In the Second World War the Irish Sea was known as U-Boat Alley

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'and this coast was torpedoed by German submarines.'

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It's bad enough skippering a ship on its own in peacetime.

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Imagine what it was like to be at war though. Such bravery, such bravery.

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Well, they still go through it.

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-Well, that was exciting, wasn't it? Timmy?

-Was a bit.

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Well, it's not over yet. If they start getting near...erm...

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there's the life raft.

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'Whitehaven was one of the most important British ports in the seventeenth century,

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'doing more trade than Liverpool.

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'Most of it was exporting coal from the world's deepest coal mines,

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'some of them with tunnels deep under the sea.'

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'Over a thousand ships have been built here

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'and the harbour is still a vital part of the town's economy.

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'As welcoming today as it has been for centuries.'

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-Through the old gates into the old Queen's Harbour.

-OK.

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-There will be a couple of people there to help you catch your ropes.

-Oh, lovely.

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If you need anything else, we're here 24/7.

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What a lovely welcome.

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Are you all this friendly?

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'It may be friendly but it's also packed.

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'This small space is the only room available for my big barge.'

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-We'll stop in a minute!

-Ha-ha, I hope so.

-So do I!

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'I thought, "Oh, no, please don't come in this bloody great thing."

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'The look of shock on people's faces when I do a nine-point turn in this!'

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Bit of a tight squeeze, isn't it? Bit of a squeeze.

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# Love thy neighbour Offer to share his burden

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# Tell him to say the word And you will see him through... #

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I think I did that all right.

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Five hours and then just that manic-ness of mooring

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and then getting it in there. That was a bit worrying!

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Nice guys, aren't they? Aren't they lovely?

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It's like all of a sudden you meet the friendly people, charming.

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And what a charming place. And this is nice. This is delightful.

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This is the life.

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Shame the sun's buggered off, isn't it?

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'Once a tiny fishing village,

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'Whitehaven was developed almost from scratch in the 17th century.

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'And much of its Georgian architecture remains today.'

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'At its height, it was the main trade route between England and America

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'and many believe the grid pattern of Whitehaven's streets inspired the design of New York.'

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I think it must be over there, the statue.

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'This statue commemorates John Paul Jones,

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'the father of the American Navy.'

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-He's not setting the cannon off there?

-No, he's destroying it. He's stopping it so it can't be used.

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'John Paul Jones was a Scot who learned his seamanship in Whitehaven

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'but during the War of Independence, he came back here with an American crew

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'to try and destroy the English Navy.'

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There's 400 ships out here and he was going to set them on fire.

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But he didn't have enough oil, evidently, so he sent some of his crew to the local pub

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and trouble is, they stayed there and got pissed, right.

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Eventually, they came back with just a tiny bit of oil.

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'Things turned from bad to worse when one of John Paul's crew,

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'probably drunk by now, told locals about the plan.'

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200 of the town came charging down here

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saw what they were doing and they buggered off.

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So they started to try and sink them with these.

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Because he was a clever bugger, he knew if they did get caught,

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they'd sink him. So that's what they did, the first thing they did. Spike the guns.

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'This failed attempt was the last time an enemy force has stepped foot on English soil in wartime.'

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'And as the cannons have been spiked, there shouldn't be any more military attacks on Matilda.'

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We're going to the Isle of Man.

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That's nearly 40 miles. So when we're out here, we'll be 20 miles out to sea,

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which means we'll be the furthest we've been out to sea, erm...

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ever.

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As my experience increases, my nerves seem to increase exponentially.

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The more I know the more scared I get. Ha-ha.

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'Today is all about family. Joining us for the journey is Shane's sister, Jenny.'

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-Can you just wrap that rope up as well, Jen, because...

-Aye aye!

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'We're off to see our son, Rafe, and his fiancee, Elize,

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'who are both in Douglas, the capital of the Isle of Man.

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Do you know what? I'm really excited about going somewhere totally, totally new.

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I'm looking forward to it.

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And if Tim's got anxious again... I don't know why he gets so anxious

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but there again he does, that's what he does, he gets anxious.

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He's done all his planning and I'm going to make some sandwiches cos I'm starving.

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Hi, Liverpool Coastguard, this is Princess Matilda. Just a notification of a routine passage

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to the Isle of Man. Over. We've just left Whitehaven Marina

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and our ETA in um... Douglas is, um...

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approximately 1900 hours, over.

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'Soon we'll be surrounded by family. Right now, we're surrounded by countries.'

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England, Solway Firth, Scotland...

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Right at the tip there.

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Northern Ireland. Just the tip of it there.

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Isle of Man.

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And just around the corner, not to be forgotten, because we have had a lovely cruise round you, Wales.

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-Great Britain!

-It is.

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'The whole world shrinks, shrinks and shrinks and shrinks

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'and shrinks as we get cleverer at international air travel,

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'at space travel, at high-speed travel.

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'Boat travel stretches the world.'

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This is absolutely beautiful. I mean, look at this.

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This milky, filtered light.

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This is like, ohh...

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This is worth all the anxiety and the fretting.

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'Doing a slow circumnavigation of your own country

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'reaffirms how intricate and complicated and diverse we all are as nations

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'with our own perception of what the world is.'

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-Who won the Scrabble?

-Jenny did.

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My sister let me. She always lets me win.

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-It's the way we stay friends, isn't it, Shane?

-True, yeah.

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'10,000 years ago, a piece of rock broke away from the British mainland,

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'to form the Isle of Man.

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'Its people have that independent spirit too.

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'Formed in the eighth century,

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'its parliament is one of the oldest in the world.

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'The meaning of the flags' three-legged design is debated.

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'But many believe it is represents the sea god, Manannan,

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'who'd protect the island by hiding it in a cloud of mist.

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'Today, they just employ security guards.'

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-You're going to be trying for in-between those two vessels.

-OK.

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-I'm going to join two ropes up together.

-Why?

-Because it's a huge wall, that's why.

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So...

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Oh, gosh. This is going to be fun.

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I don't know what Shane's done here because that's not joined.

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-Ha-ha.

-Now what do we do?

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She was joining two ropes together but I don't think they are joined together.

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-OK, ready?

-Yeah.

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I don't know whether you're friend or foe, whether we should allow you in the Isle of Man.

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You're not a raiding party, are you?

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Do we have to give a password?

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-I'm up. Thank you. Manx soil!

-Hurray!

-Hurray! Here I am!

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-Another land conquered.

-Another one, yeah.

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'In Victorian times, Douglas was an exotic destination

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'for holidaymakers from northern England.

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'These horse-drawn trams, the oldest in the world,

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'date back to that Victorian tourist boom.'

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'So charming is the Isle of Man, it seems many of the tourists stayed.

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'In the last census, it was discovered nearly half the population is actually from mainland Britain.'

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When I went in there, I spoke to a fella who said, "It's nice here.

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"I came for a week and I've been here 12 years!" Ha-ha.

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'In the last decade, it reinvented itself as a base for the movie industry.

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'Doubling as London, New York

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'and even the Caribbean.'

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'With most families, the children come home to visit.

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'With ours we can take our home to visit them.'

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-Hi, Dad.

-Hello, mate.

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'Rafe's been working on a film here, because, just like his old dad,

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'he's an actor.

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'Whether he'll follow me on to the sea is yet to be seen.'

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-Is that the longest stretch of open water you've ever been on?

-Oh, no.

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-Oh, no.

-No, oh, God, no!

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Hang on, that's the furthest we've been out to sea.

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We were 20 miles from land at one point.

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-Did you see the Tower of Refuge?

-No.

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-The Tower of Refuge is a little castle just off the...

-Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah.

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-On the island, yeah.

-That's for sailors. If they couldn't get in, they would go there

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and shelter there for the night.

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'The Tower of Refuge was built by Sir William Hillary,

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'the founder of our friends, the Royal Lifeboat Institute.

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'Designed for stranded sailors,

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it used to be stocked with bread and water.

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'Luckily, so was the supermarket in Douglas.

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-'So I think we'll be all right for our next journey.'

-Do you like a bit of tongue?

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'We're going round the Isle of Man

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'and up to the next country in our adventure.'

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# If you're Irish Come into the parlour

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# There's a welcome there for you

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# And if your name is Timothy or Pat... #

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'We're coming into Belfast Lough, where the Titanic first sailed.

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'It was built in Belfast in 1909 in the Harland and Wolff Docks.

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'Weighing 42,000 tons

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'and built from steel, it was seen as a great achievement of its day.

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'Although for our steel boat, every port is a great achievement.'

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We're in Northern Ireland! IRISH ACCENT: In Northern Ireland.

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We're now in Northern Ireland. So we've actually done every nation

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there is in Britain until Scotland, which is the next one and then we've done it.

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# If you're Irish, this is the place for you! #

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'The wealth brought by Belfast's docks

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'is reflected in its impressive Victorian and Edwardian structures.'

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'Built in 1898, Ulster Hall, Belfast's famous music hall,

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'has attracted stars from many different fields.'

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So, Dickens actually came here and did one of his shows.

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How fantastic. Look at this. Who else has played here?

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-Led Zeppelin.

-Led Zeppelin.

-The Clash.

-Elgar.

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'A local performer at this venue has been given a special plaque.'

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When anybody says they're going for a "Ruby", a generic term now for a curry.

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"Fancy a Ruby?"

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Well, this is Ruby Murray. She was born in Belfast in 1935

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and lived till 1996.

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'Towering over the heart of the city is the Europa Hotel.

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'It, too, has hosted the rich and famous.

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'But its past is a troubled one.'

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Now, this is famous for being... I'll say it quietly,

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..one of the most bombed hotels in the world.

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In the Troubles, this would have been surrounded by,

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probably, a fence. You wouldn't have been able to get in that way

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because the only way you could get into these big hotels

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in Northern Ireland then was through a security door.

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It's still here and still functioning. And look, it's a thriving place full of tourists.

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And there is the Crown Bar, one of the finest pubs in the English-speaking world.

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'The decor was designed in the late 19th century by Italian craftsmen

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'who'd come over to work on Belfast's churches.'

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The lighting is gas. It's still gas.

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And if you look at it, you can see that it's black around the top of them.

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Look at this beautiful stained-glass window. It's like a cathedral.

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A Victorian cathedral...

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devoted to the religion of imbibing.

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-Beautiful.

-Fine vintage.

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I first came here 20 years ago right in the middle of the Troubles

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and the atmosphere in this place has completely changed.

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I love it, I just love it. I love being here.

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And not only do I love being here but we've come here on our boat.

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We came here across the Irish Sea.

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Like Vikings!

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# Tura lura lura

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# That's an Irish Lullaby. #

0:21:300:21:38

'Scotland makes up a third of Great Britain,

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'much of it misty mountains and lochs.

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'We're about to spend the rest of the year exploring what the Scottish call "God's Country."'

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We're going to Portpatrick which actually sounds like an Irish port, doesn't it?

0:22:050:22:09

From here to Scotland, we're 22 miles.

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'It's not very far, but we're low on diesel and I'm not taking risks.

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'The most common reason people call out the lifeboats is because they run out of fuel.'

0:22:240:22:29

If this wind sticks about the same, we should have an all-right passage.

0:22:330:22:39

-Will the sun come out? Does the sun ever...

-It does, it does. Just for you.

0:22:390:22:44

Oh, well, I have it on good authority the sun's coming out.

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'We're crossing the North Channel, following in the footsteps

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'of the first Celts, who went to Scotland over 1,000 years ago.'

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Good morning, Belfast Coastguard. Just to notify you of a passage we're taking

0:23:000:23:05

from Bangor Harbour across to Portpatrick.

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'They'd have faced many dangers

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'but bloody huge tankers would not have been one of them.'

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It's heading straight for us!

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'The North Channel is a traffic route going out into the Atlantic

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'and we're cutting right across the path of a tanker

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'that's about 100 times bigger than us.'

0:23:270:23:29

We're getting a bit too close there.

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They can't really stop. They take up to three miles to stop.

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Shall I call him on the radio?

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No, he's just...I'll just wait.

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I think I will.

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-I bottled it, didn't I?

-No, you didn't bottle it, Timmy.

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No, you're being sensible. Of course you've not bottled it.

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You'd have been on collision course, if you'd carried on.

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You're not an idiot mariner.

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What's that in the water? Jellyfish?

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-Not sure.

-It's a big weird scallop or something.

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It doesn't look like a scallop. I think it's a jellyfish.

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It doesn't look very nice, whatever it is.

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Right, I can get a move on now.

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I'm just not experienced enough to work it out, you know.

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But you've done completely the right thing. I don't know why you...

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We're 35 ton and he's like 3,000 tons...give or take.

0:24:270:24:34

'Portpatrick once had great hopes of becoming a famous holiday destination.

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'In the 19th century, a ferry service from Ireland promised to make it a booming resort.

0:24:490:24:57

'Plans changed because the ferries had a habit of hitting these nasty rocks.'

0:24:570:25:03

This is... disorientation, this thing.

0:25:110:25:16

It's like being drunk without the pleasure.

0:25:170:25:20

-Come on, you old, wallowing pig!

-Don't say that about Matilda.

0:25:250:25:29

-She likes it.

-No!

0:25:290:25:32

'The safest way into port is to look out for two orange markers,

0:25:430:25:48

'one on the harbour wall

0:25:480:25:50

'and another on someone's house.

0:25:500:25:53

'The idea is to line these two markers up and if you can keep them

0:25:530:25:59

'aligned, you'll avoid the rocks and shallows at either side.'

0:25:590:26:02

'Easier said than done when you're fighting the North Channel tide.'

0:26:060:26:10

'That was tricky!

0:26:440:26:46

'But what a lovely harbour saying, welcome to Scotland!

0:26:460:26:50

'Greeting us is the majestic Portpatrick Hotel,

0:26:530:26:56

'the place to stay for ferry passengers before the service was stopped courtesy of the rocks.'

0:26:560:27:03

Look at him, look!

0:27:080:27:12

Hello. Oh, look at those little red feet.

0:27:120:27:15

That's a black guillemot and they're very, very rare.

0:27:150:27:18

They only nest in this place. We get bird-watchers from all over coming to look at these.

0:27:180:27:23

Now I've seen a black guillemot. Now I'm happy.

0:27:230:27:28

Within a week, we'd actually navigated from every country there is in the British Isles.

0:27:320:27:37

But to able to have done that, all by boat, to leave a port and to arrive in another country is amazing!

0:27:370:27:44

-Cheers.

-Cheers.

-Well done.

0:27:440:27:47

It's like something out of a dream.

0:27:550:27:58

It's like living in a brochure.

0:27:580:28:01

People at the funfair and it's pissing with rain, you know.

0:28:030:28:06

It's going to drive me mad.

0:28:060:28:08

It's going to drive me mad!

0:28:080:28:11

There's only one thing to describe these conditions...

0:28:110:28:14

Scotch mist.

0:28:140:28:16

I can safely say, I reckon we're halfway round Britain.

0:28:200:28:27

# Somewhere at sea A liner is somewhere at sea

0:28:270:28:34

# Bringing to me a traveller Who will fill my life anew

0:28:340:28:42

# She's out on the sea Somewhere at sea. #

0:28:420:28:50

Sea adventurers Timothy Spall and his wife Shane take their barge to three different countries and the Isle of Man. From Whitehaven, where Spall learns about the pirate John Paul Jones, they steam over to Douglas to visit his son, actor Rafe Spall, who is there to work on BBC Two's The Shadow Line. Next they visit a city Tim loves dearly, Belfast, and a special pub he says is 'the finest drinking establishment in the English-speaking world'. Finally, it's across to Portpatrick and Scotland, as they clock up some serious nautical mileage in their circumnavigation of the British Isles.