Timothy Spall and his wife Shane sail around the coast. They set off in their barge from Fowey in Cornwall, heading towards Land's End and then south Wales.
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The sea is a leveller.
An unpredictable element.
If you weren't afraid of the sea, you'd be a fool.
If this gets considerably bigger, we're going back.
I'm Timothy Spall, and when I'm not working as an actor,
I'm taking on the sea.
In a barge.
Every trip we do, I get quite nervous about it,
because I've never had a lesson.
I've learned it all from kids' books.
Learn to Navigate - An Introduction For All Ages.
That's how I'm learning how to go round Britain.
I'm the captain, and my wife Shane is first mate.
We don't always know what we're doing,
or how we're going to get there,
but together we're exploring our own country.
One port at a time.
This kind of boating is the glory ship, you know?
It's not very dramatic, but look at it. I mean,
the sea is free, you know, it belongs to us,
this is where the cobwebs get blown away.
# Somewhere at sea A liner is somewhere at sea... #
# Bringing to me A traveller who will build
# My life anew... #
There's nothing better, I'm telling you, than discovering
your own country by sea.
It all started when I was trying not to die.
It was 1996 and I was seriously ill, dealing with leukaemia.
I started reading boating magazines.
And I said to Shane, "If and when I get over this, darling,
"we're going to get two things.
"We're going to get a Rolls Royce, and a boat."
So, as soon as I was out of jail, out of the hospital, we went and got
this electric-blue Rolls Royce that broke down every five minutes
and a small narrow boat.
For eight years, our narrow boat was our second home.
We travelled the canals and inland waterways of Britain,
getting used to life on the water.
When we first started narrow-boating,
I fell in once just trying to push it off.
Then I fell in Oxford canal, fell in the Thames.
So we did quite a lot of the waterways,
but I did start to feel the call of the sea.
We found a specialist boat builder who would make us a barge that was capable of going on the sea.
And one that was big enough to live in, because this would be our home.
Everything, even the furniture, is handmade and custom-built.
Give the owl a wash.
The Princess Matilda is named after our granddaughter.
-Do you want sardines, Timmy?
We spend all of our spare time here.
It's our home, that's what it is. Wherever we go, we're at home.
-There you go.
-The life of the idiot mariner!
Four years ago, Shane and I set off from London
to navigate our way around Britain.
So far, we've got as far as Cornwall.
Let's be clear, this trip is not about speed.
Well, it can't be in this boat.
My plan is to navigate 250 miles around Cornwall, Devon and Somerset
and up into Wales, before winter.
Most of the towns we visit, we've never been to before,
so when I get there, I feel like Marco Polo.
In a barge.
We begin this leg in the Cornish port of Fowey,
a town that's been the start of many an adventure.
Medieval galleons sailed into battle from here.
Thousands of US troops launched from Fowey on D-day.
And today, it's Princess Matilda
and her merry crew.
sod off. Erm...
Like all the captains before me,
I go nowhere until I've plotted my course.
Are you interested in this?
-You're not interested in the slightest.
-No, I'm not.
But what she lacks in interest she makes up in confidence,
because she thinks I know what I'm doing.
I suppose I must know something, because we've managed to get here.
Of course I trust you, you're my husband.
What difference does that make?
I can still be an idiot.
Shane's trust is comforting. It has to be -
we're only 30 miles away from a notoriously dangerous journey,
going around Lizard Point.
It's famous for eating boats.
Eating them and spitting them out.
I read this article about somebody tried to cross down here
when it was a bit windy, and they nearly capsized.
Oh, we'll be fine.
-Oh, yeah? Pfff!
-Yes, we will.
Today I'm going to get us down to
Falmouth, where I want to leave Matilda moored up for six weeks
while I go off to shoot a film.
I hope to take on Lizard Point when I return in the height of summer.
Now, if I can only get the hang of my instruments.
This bloody thing, which is the sat nav, which is very helpful,
but every time I've left it for a week,
I can't remember how to work it. But I have put a route in it,
in this map, if you look carefully, it's going across land!
Matilda is no speedboat.
It will take us up to six hours to get to get to Falmouth.
One of the things I've learnt is you never know
what it's going to be like when you get out there, at sea.
The visibility is, I'd say this was poor to moderate.
Looks like there's a patch of fog here, look.
Something eerie about a flat sea, isn't there?
This, this is unbelievable. I've never known a sea as flat as this.
The sky and the sea are the same colour.
It's like being in a dreamscape of some kind.
And the sea is absolutely flat calm,
like a mirror.
I'm on dolphin watch, and the visibility's bad as well,
so you've got to keep your eyes peeled, so we don't crash.
But he won't crash, though.
I love the solitude of going to sea. But this time, we're not alone.
It's me, Shane...
and a bloody great battleship.
It's going at a fair old speed. Getting closer by the second.
VOICES COME THROUGH RADIO
I tune our radio into their channel, so I can work out what they're up to.
I heard a foreign accent saying something about firing.
But it might be, it says on the map,
look here - Firing Practice Area.
Just in case.
'We have a clear range.'
A clear range?!
We're over here, look! Just when I was saying things were getting dull.
We're going to be blown out the water.
We're over here!
Do you want a sandwich?
Do you want a sandwich?
the battleship turns around and clears off.
I think it's against military policy to pick off people in pleasure boats.
But you never know. On a bad day...?
Falmouth's industrial docks were built in the 1850s
to export Cornwall's rich supply of iron and clay.
Today, it also operates as a repair yard
for tankers from all over the world.
The thing about Cornwall, these beautiful places, that they do have
the picturesqueness, but they also have a commercial function.
But we're here for Falmouth's other thriving business, marinas.
They're a sort of gated community
with pontoons and easy access to town.
The ideal place to leave Matilda for the next six weeks.
If I can get through all these bloody yachts.
We're now in the middle of a sort of port equivalent of a cobbled street,
it seems here, so I'd better...
Oh! That was a bit close! I'd better keep concentrating.
And then we're going to go and try find a marina.
There is one up the end here.
I haven't booked ahead. I don't think I need to.
I'm sure Lady Luck will be kind to us.
Hi, Falmouth Marina, this is Princess Matilda.
We're hoping that you might have a berth for us tonight?
We're a 52-foot Dutch barge, over.
'Princess Matilda, um, no, I'm afraid we don't.
'We don't have anything for a boat of that size, over.'
You really don't have anywhere at all, over?
'No. If we did I'd say so, because we'd like to get you in, over.'
Matilda is almost twice the length of a typical yacht,
but as Falmouth has three marinas, our luck may still be in.
Hi, we're looking for a mooring for a 52-foot barge tonight, over.
'Yeah, no, I'm sorry, Princess Matilda,
'I'm afraid we've got nothing at all, over.'
Oh, Port Pendennis. Thank you. Have you got any suggestions?
They can't get us in Falmouth Marina, over.
'Nowhere else, I think, is big enough for you. Over.'
All right, we seem to be, we might be buggered. Um...
Yeah, well so much for Lady Luck.
There's no room at the inn for Princess Matilda.
Hi, Harbour Radio. This is Princess Matilda.
We've just arrived in Falmouth Harbour,
and we're not having much luck in getting a berth tonight,
either in Pendennis or Falmouth Marina.
Have you got any suggestions for us? Over.
'All we'll be able to offer you, I'm afraid, is one of the green buoys,
'the green moorings that are off the end of the pier.'
-That's the pier there.
-'Any of the green ones.'
This is going to be fun, darling.
This IS going to be fun, isn't it?
If a marina is a gated community,
we're about to moor up in the port equivalent of a campsite.
We're going to put that rope through that 'ole there,
which is a bit like threading a needle.
We always argue when we do this. He just comes and gets involved.
I've got me stick.
No, it's all right. Don't break your back, love.
-It's too heavy.
-All right. Let it go, then.
All right. Hang on.
If it starts pulling...
No, hang on a minute! If it starts pulling, let it go.
Aren't we supposed to put it through that hole?
We're attached. We're on now. We're on.
You did it.
-No, you did it.
-You did it.
-You did it.
-I didn't, you did it.
You did it!
There are no more marinas before the Lizard,
and we can't leave Matilda out here with the tankers for six weeks.
But Falmouth isn't all industry.
The next day, we take Matilda across Falmouth Bay
to a place called Helford River.
The Helford is not really a river,
it's a flooded valley with several creeks.
It offers natural protection from the sea,
which is probably what attracted the bands of pirates
that used to operate here.
Tucked into the banks of the Helford are small villages.
Many are easier to reach by boat than car.
Nowadays, most of these places are holiday homes.
But we've brought our holiday home with us.
It may not have the marina we wanted,
but it's a place fit for our Princess.
And it comes with its very own pearls.
When the tide goes out here, it comes right out to mud,
and every bit of mud is absolutely covered in oysters.
And there's the oyster boat coming back there,
he's obviously got his oysters.
If I liked oysters, I'd be out there with me knife.
But I don't particularly like them, and anyway,
I think they belong to him.
We're going to leave Matilda here while I go off to work on a film.
When we return it'll be the height of summer,
a prime time to face the Lizard.
This is the Helford River, one of the most beautiful rivers
in Cornwall, and we're calling it the river of entrapment.
Because we can't get out of here.
I've returned from filming during one of the worst summers on record.
Certainly not the weather to go round Lizard Point.
Not for a barge.
In one of these books here, it says, "If in doubt, don't go."
Now that's got to be, you know,
the best possible advice you could ever take.
I don't want to be in 10ft waves in this.
Because this'll be going like that.
You know, I've got some wine, I've got some decent wine!
I don't want to lose it.
-I ain't that stupid, I'm not going round there.
-No, it's our home.
Of course we're not going to go round there.
The bad weather sets in for weeks.
VOICE COMES THROUGH RADIO
I'm glued to the weather report,
because if it carries on like this, we'll be stuck here for winter.
Sea - moderate or rough,
so thank you very much, we ain't going out there.
-And wind - force five to seven.
These things tell you what a force one is - "Wind, light airs, easy ripples.
"Three - gentle breeze, crests begin to break.
"Force six - strong breeze, large waves, extensive white crests.
"Force seven - sea heaps up in waves,
"breaking white foam in streaks.
"Force eight! Moderate high waves, spindrift white foam!
"Ten! Very high breaking waves,
"dense foam streaks!"
You don't want to be in anything other than a bloody five, mate.
It's a wonderful place to be trapped.
But we're beginning to get a bit Helford-River crazy.
You are funny.
-Cor blimey, woman, I've done it 1,000 times!
One thing the weather can't stop us doing is exploring on land.
There's a regatta in Helford Village,
and as our barge is going nowhere fast,
we thought we'd go and see some people who, like us,
enjoy messing about in boats.
You couldn't get more quintessentially British or English than a regatta, you know.
Fifth prize is for the goose, which is orange 31.
'It's people who live by water, who just get pissed and have rowing competitions,
'and dress up like twits and have a good time and the community comes together.'
There's a banana now, a banana.
'So it's a very British way of carrying on.'
-Are you racing today, you two?
-What are you doing?
-YOU have been on TV.
That's what I do for a living.
-And YOU are going to go in a boat.
-In a minute.
-Are you going to win?
Each town along the river has its very own regatta,
but the Helford Village Regatta is the final one of the season.
So they try to end the summer in style.
Look! It's a spatchcock pig!
-I can't bear it.
-I can, it makes me starving.
Stop it, Timmy, I'm not going to do that washing now.
Soon, Helford's population will halve.
That's when people leave their holiday homes to go back to work.
So today is all about having a good time.
There goes the Royal Navy.
I think they fully intend to sink, don't they?
I love Britain, I love it.
I just think it's a fantastic, diverse microcosm of the world.
It's absolutely...this is England at its best, isn't it?
'The day after the regatta, it's like someone turned the light off.
'And we felt like that we were left over from the party.
'The party had finished and we were left over there and everyone else had gone home.'
The wonderful thing about England, isn't it?
How many different shades of grey there actually are in an English summer.
I can count 28 up there.
We're heading for a church called St Manacca
that's famed for a fig tree growing out of its walls.
The church has been here for over 800 years,
and if the weather stays like this, we might be here for that long too.
Oooh. Is it open?
I don't know, where's the fig tree?
Keep going, beep, beep.
It's growing right out here, look.
It's growing out the wall of the church. Here, look.
At least eight inches in diameter.
Sometimes on our journey,
we stumble on places that have something special about them.
Something that's hard to describe.
absolutely beautiful to touch.
This really shouldn't be seen for public consumption.
Look at this.
-Look at that roof.
-Beautiful, the carving.
It's such a beautiful place, and there's absolutely no-one around.
It's like we've just found it.
The first vicar of Manaccan
was David de Sancta Beriana. Blimey, that's...
William de Mongluthe, William de Trenewithe, those names are Norman.
Ooh! It's a bit lower than I thought.
Oh, look. It's in Cornish.
'I walk about and get on his nerves and talk and read things,
'but Tim will always have quiet moments in church.
'That's because, when he was very ill, he had an epiphany in a church.'
I try and contact with
a sense of peace or
gratitude for surviving, and think and thank,
and ask fate to be kind to me.
-Turn out the lights.
-I've done it.
And sometimes, prayers are answered.
The weather conditions, according to the Met Office
and the coastguard report reckon it's really nice!
Is it goodbye to the Helford today?
Oh, I think so. I can feel it, I can feel it, yeah.
The plan is that, I've worked out, without any advice,
which is why I always get scared,
that we should leave two hours after high tide.
We're aiming for Newlyn,
which means I'll have to navigate round the notorious Lizard Point.
Right, this is when we come near the Lizard.
It's become the bogeyman, like an ogre,
a giant that used to frighten me, and make me lose sleep.
The Lizard might be a dragon we cannot defeat.
# Children, have you ever met the bogeyman before?
# No, of course you haven't, for you're much too good, I'm sure
# Don't you be afraid of him if he should visit you... #
Hi, Mr Munson. It's Timothy Spall trying again.
I was trying to call the Harbour Master at Newlyn to book a berth,
but he's either not there or he's busy.
-You'll have to call him on the radio.
Yeah, we'll call him on the radio when we get there and he might say,
"No, bugger off!" I hope not.
Here we go. And may God be with us.
Even though we've been trapped here for months, it's not easy to leave.
I'm sad, I'm really sad. We've had such a lovely time.
But I mean, it's so perfect, so beautiful,
I'm going to cry.
Good luck, have a good journey.
Ah, they're so sweet.
Don't forget we arrived here mid-summer,
so we've gone through a whole season on the Helford River.
As beautiful as this place is, it's time to go.
Beautiful sailing yachts, beautiful countryside.
I'm very nervous, actually. Quite scared.
If I don't like it, we're coming back. It's supposed to be fun,
it's an adventure, but it's supposed to be fun.
This desire to go to sea and to do this adventure,
to continue this adventure, is a compulsion.
Falmouth Coastguard, Falmouth Coastguard.
We're just leaving Helford River now
and we are making our way to Newlyn, over.
But I hope it's a compulsion that doesn't lead to my ultimate demise!
Oooh! Oh, my God!
We are actually navigating
some of most dangerous seas in the world here.
Cor, look at her wash!
Actually, if you have any trouble, we can always call out the barge!
I can't bear it, look, those eyes!
It's like a fantastic, loony conquest.
3,000 miles away is the piece next land.
They all think we're mad, but they're not stopping us.
# Somewhere at sea A liner is somewhere at sea
# Bringing to me a traveller
# Who will build my life anew
# He's out on the sea
# Somewhere at sea. #
Three-part documentary series featuring one of Britain's best loved actors, Timothy Spall, as he and his wife sail from to Cornwall to south Wales in a Dutch barge.
The first programme sees Timothy and Shane set off in the Princess Matilda from Fowey in Cornwall, heading towards Land's End.
By his own admission, Timothy is an unqualified and slightly nervous mariner, but Shane has every confidence in his sea-faring abilities. The intrepid crew encounter a battleship on what could be a firing range, before getting holed up in the Helford river due to bad weather, which gives them an excuse to meet the locals and witness a lively festival.
But all the time Timothy is fretting over the next leg of his journey, which sees the Princess Matilda circumnavigate the infamous Lizard Point, known as the graveyard of ships with its dangerous rocks stretching four miles out to sea.