In this special edition of Countryfile, Ellie Harrison looks back at the best of wild Britain, as the team explores its wild landscapes, its wild water and its wild life.
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This is the wild country,
where towering mountains rub against frosty skies
and where icy rivers burst through shaded valleys.
Even for the Lake District, Ennerdale is remote,
a sparse, unspoiled landscape where nature is left to find its own way.
Its where I've come on this special edition of Countryfile,
the perfect place to celebrate wild Britain.
I'll be looking back through the Countryfile archives
at some of the best wild landscapes, wildlife
and wild water we've encountered...
like when Julia braved the rapids on the wild River Wye...
Gilpin said if you've not navigated the Wye, you've seen nothing.
..and Matt saw something truly spectacular
in the glens of Perthshire.
I've been coming up here for 30, 40 years,
-and I've never, ever seen this.
-This is really special, isn't it?
-You're a good-luck charm!
..or the time when James discovered the wilderness beneath our feet.
I'm afraid of heights and I'm afraid of small spaces,
but I've got to boldly go where no ethnobotanist has been before.
This isn't too bad, actually.
And I'll be finding out how this lake's wilderness
influenced a long-lost Lakeland poet...
a poet born, bred and beguiled in Ennerdale.
Ennerdale sits in the far north-west corner of the Lake District,
a secret valley well off the tourist trail.
For the past few years,
it's been the site of a very special conservation project,
a project driven by a whole new approach
to how we manage our landscape.
'The project's called Wild Ennerdale.
'I'm catching up with one of the key people behind it to find out more.'
So, Gareth, what is the Wild Ennerdale Project?
It means working in a different way, a different philosophy.
So we're trying to work alongside what we call "natural processes"
in a way that allows them freedom to determine
the future look and feel of the valley.
It's about leaving the hand of man out of it.
Trees are left where they fall, debris alters the flow of water,
animals roam freely.
Because of this, the landscape is changing.
If you came here 20, 30 years ago,
there would be a sort of monoculture of Sitka spruce conifers.
They'd be very, very plantation-like. There'd be no diversity.
The fells would be grazed by sheep,
and the two would be very much separate.
They'd be functional but not working together.
Today, we've got a real diverse landscape.
We've got big trees, small trees,
we've got cattle moving through the forest, grazing.
We've got sheep on the fells.
They're blurring the boundaries between these different landscapes.
There'll be more about Ennerdale in a few minutes, but first...
The Lakes and tourism kind of go hand in hand,
but it's a different part of the country entirely
that claims to be the birthplace of tourism,
as Julia discovered when she visited the wild river Wye.
The Wye Valley is designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty,
and it's also said to be the birthplace of British tourism.
It's a bold claim, and most of the credit is given to this guidebook,
Observations on the River Wye,
published in 1784 by the Reverend William Gilpin.
Arguably, it's the first guidebook ever published in Britain.
In it, Gilpin introduced the ideals of the Picturesque movement,
the revolutionary new concept that the British countryside could be...
'Expressive of that peculiar beauty which is agreeable in a picture.
'The views it exhibits are of the most beautiful kind of perspective,
'free from the formality of lines.'
Made famous by Gilpin, the Wye Tour became popular
with the fashionable elite of the late 18th and early 19th century.
I'm heading to a viewpoint that I'm told is the best along the Wye Tour.
Strangely enough, Gilpin himself never made it up there
because of bad weather.
He says in the book, "This walk would have afforded us, we were informed,
"some very noble river views.
"The whole of this information we probably should have found true
"if the weather had permitted us to profit by it." Let's find out.
'At Symonds Yat Rock, I'm meeting historian Liz Berry.'
-Hi, Liz. Hello, hello!
-Lovely to meet you.
-Nice to meet you.
It's certainly an edifying view, isn't it?
It is stunning. And we have views like this all down the River Wye,
right down to Chepstow. It's absolutely stunning.
Now, tell me about the reverend.
What sort of the character was this man?
Well, he was quite strange, actually.
But he really provided the birth of modern tourism.
Before that, agriculturalists, who were setting the agenda,
tended to like straight lines.
-Yes. They felt the whole scenery should be cultivated.
And they regarded mountains and gorges with horror,
because it wasn't cultivated.
-So they admired the straight lines of ploughing furrows,
the straight lines of plantations.
And of course, William Gilpin started the Picturesque movement,
which is full of curves.
And the mountains and valleys.
And the woodland, you know? So it was totally, totally different.
So he started, with the Picturesque movement, something quite unique.
This claim that it is the birthplace of British tourism,
-as far as you're concerned, is true?
It was the Wye Tour that did it.
He embarked at Ross onto a boat, sailed down the river,
and got off at various points to look at the viewpoints.
Gilpin travelled by boat from Ross-on-Wye to Chepstow. He wrote...
'If you have not navigated the Wye, you have seen nothing.'
I wouldn't want to be accused of that, now would I?
'Guiding me down the stretch of the Wye is Paul Howells,
'who knows every rock and eddy.'
How long have you spent on the river, Paul?
I started canoeing and kayaking when I was about ten or eleven,
-so nearly 40 years now!
-Is it a moody river?
-Yes, it is. It's up and down all year.
Our canoe-club trips we used to do on a Boxing Day, a nice cold day,
and we'd paddle across the fields, because there was no river as such.
-Across the fields?
There is an expression that says you can feel the soul of the countryside
through the soles of your feet.
In a canoe, I guess it would be the pulse of the river that you feel.
But I'm about to take on a section of the river where the pulse
beats far more strongly, Symonds Yat rapids.
-Ooh, here we go!
-Here we go. You're steering.
-Yep. We're fine.
-Just keep paddling gently.
-Keep paddling. OK?
We're taking on water! HE LAUGHS
Keep paddling. That's it. Excellent.
Gilpin said if you've not navigated the Wye, you've seen nothing.
We're navigating, Reverend Gilpin, we're navigating!
'I wonder if Gilpin had as much fun in his day.'
Flowing into Ennerdale Water is the River Liza,
the essence of this rewilded country,
a bright, bubbling, fickle torrent that goes exactly where she pleases.
-But that's the idea, isn't it, Gareth?
We want to look at this fantastic river and see what it's doing.
It's just absolutely amazing.
You wouldn't believe that less than ten years ago,
the river was flowing round the other side of those pine trees
and where we're stood today was woodland,
like we have here, and today it's river gravel.
-That's a surprisingly short amount of time, isn't it?
-It's moving 30 to 40 metres at this place.
-It's a natural river. It's something to celebrate.
We just want to record it and try and understand it a bit more.
'Recording it is the next step. We've got to fix some cameras.
'Gareth's team need to photograph the river
'to be absolutely sure of what's going on.
'Choose your spot.'
-One, two, three. Is that all right?
'Tough when the ground's frozen.'
-This warms you up on a day like today!
-Let's see what that's like.
-So, there's the camera.
-A nice little small camera.
Is this idea of having a completely wild, unmanaged river
something that could be used
on every river in the UK, or it is particular to this environment?
We can learn lessons from these rivers. There's not many of them.
The more we know, the more we can see if we can apply that to other rivers,
because as climate change moves forward,
forests, rivers, these things are going to interact more.
We'll need to know more
if we're going to keep water for ourselves,
store it in the landscape for dry periods
and manage those big events so they don't destroy houses and property.
If we know what goes on in a natural river system,
perhaps we can use that elsewhere.
Absolutely. Let's hope that's what the camera will tell us.
-That's looking sturdy!
Wild Britain is full of surprises,
and nobody knows this better than Matt.
He witnessed something special
looking for red deer north of the border.
Scotland is the first place to witness the onset of autumn.
And here in the mountains and glens of Perthshire,
it's an awesome sight.
..As long as you can see through the mist!
I'm hoping to see something really special,
the annual red deer rut, which is going on somewhere out there.
But witnessing these stags
showing off their physical prowess as they bellow and strut around
is a rare, rare treat.
And fingers crossed, if this mist does clear,
we're going to catch a glimpse of these magnificent creatures.
Donald Riddle has lived and worked
amongst these mountains his whole life.
If anyone knows where the deer are, it's him.
-Donald, how are you doing? All right?
-Hi. Not too bad. Good to see you.
-I tell you what, it's a bit misty, isn't it?
-It is, yeah.
It's not ideal deer-spotting weather.
It's not ideal, but it's nice and still,
so first thing is what we can do is listen for them.
And then the sun's starting to break through.
I think this mist will burn off.
And, you know, we actually should have
quite a good morning for the stags.
Once we can hear where they are, very soon we'll be able to see them.
The red deer is the UK's biggest mammal.
Stags can weigh up to 500lbs,
and when autumn comes, they pile the weight on ahead of the rut.
The extra fat they store is vital,
since they don't eat during the mating season.
But unless we get out of this mist, we've no chance of seeing them.
-Look at that.
-Clearing, isn't it?
-Just absolutely spectacular.
Well, we've had this burst of sunshine now.
And we've popped out on top!
Oh, this is extraordinary. We're going to have to stop here, Donald.
-Let's just jump out and have a look at this.
-That is beautiful.
Well, we've just had to get out of the Land Rover
and have a look at this,
-because it is purely spectacular, isn't it?
We're looking down on the mist,
and there's something really incredible right in front of us.
Just talk us through. What did you call this?
This is what we call a brocken spectre, and it is very rare.
You only get it at this sort of time of year, early winter,
and it's when the sun is projecting our shadow onto the mist.
And this wonderful halo
of rainbow, almost, round about us.
I mean, there's only one word, and it's just magical, isn't it?
I've been coming up here for 30, 40 years,
-and I've never, ever seen this.
-This is really special, isn't it?
-You're a good-luck charm!
This is tremendous!
It's one of the rarest glories of autumn.
But as fabulous as it is,
we've got to press on in search of those elusive red deer.
Finally, the air clears, and we get our first sight.
These are hinds, female deer.
There are some young stags too
but no sign of the big ones just yet.
But we can hear them.
-Oh, hang on. What was that?
-There's a stag calling over there.
As we know we're getting close, we stalk them on foot.
I think there's a bit of something going on over here.
-Just as that's lifting underneath.
The mist has lifted a bit. In fact, these are stag...
-Right in the middle of that peat hag.
-I think they've sensed us.
-They're starting to move, aren't they?
-There they go.
And it just shows, look at the distance we are away.
We've been really quiet and yet they've picked us up.
The roar of the red deer stags is one of the characteristic sounds
of autumn in the glens.
Before the rut, their voice box starts to enlarge,
and they've got this huge great thick neck on them,
and it just means that they can shout much louder.
And it's just hormones that do that?
It's just hormones. It's just testosterone, yeah. Yeah, yeah.
-That's amazing, isn't it?
Sometimes, you know, you could get sort of 30 stags together,
and it's like a huge great cattle market up in the hills,
It's a wonderful sound.
'These monarchs of the glen will bellow away like this for days.
'Competition to mate is fierce
'and the stag that bellows the loudest gets the girl.'
'You go looking for red deer
'and see one of the rarest sights in nature.
'Back in wild Ennerdale, I'm still waiting for a rare sight, too.'
Somewhere in these woods is a very important animal
doing a very important job.
But finding them...!
Maybe this lot can help.
'These are members of the West Cumberland Orienteering Club.
'Ennerdale is new terrain for them,
'but they're expert at finding their way around.'
-What sort of kit do you need?
-You only need three things.
You need a map, you need a compass and what we call a "dibber".
-It's a technical term?
What happens with this?
Well, this is what you use to record your visit around the course.
When you get to a checkpoint, that goes in.
It beeps and flashes and records that you've been there.
-So no cheating.
Really putting your map skills to the test. This will be interesting.
Good gracious! Pretty challenging. So, this is the course?
The course here I've got, Joyce - is this a sort of standard course,
or have you made this easy for me?
No, this is just out as a training course, so it's a very short loop.
So we've just got 0.8 of a kilometre.
Orienteering's an outdoor adventure sport.
You have to use your body and your mind.
There's a challenge.
'So finding these mysterious animals I'm looking for
'should be a walk in the park with this lot.
'..If I can keep up with them.
'Orienteering's only recently been possible in the valley.
'Fences that used to block the way
'have been removed as part of the Wild Ennerdale Project.'
Is this not the best terrain for this, John? Amazing, isn't it?
It's a fantastic place, especially on a day like today,
with the sun out and the blue skies and the snow on the tops.
It is glorious.
You're pretty good at this, Katrina. You represent Great Britain?
-Yeah, I have represented... Yeah.
-What's that like?
It was really good to represent
your country in a sport like this.
How do you find the terrains abroad
when you're competing in different countries compared to here?
They're so different.
It's such a great experience to see the different terrains abroad.
Which do you prefer? Do you prefer it here or elsewhere?
-Abroad's more challenging. I like a challenge.
-Up for a challenge?
'Well, our challenge, Katrina, is to find these pesky animals,
'and it's proving quite an effort.'
This is not easy.
While I catch my breath, here's James.
He visited Yorkshire's famous White Scar Caves
to discover the wilderness beneath our feet.
White Scar was discovered nearly 90 years ago
by a man with candles stuck to his hat!
Today the techniques are very different.
As this will be my first time, I've trained with the cave rescue team.
A day later, and joined by veteran caver Mike Hale, I'm about to enter
the vast Ease Gill cave network,
starting with a 100-foot drop.
This looks like just a manhole, but that goes down pretty damn far!
You can see his light a bit further down.
Really disconcerting! Right...
-And then you'll have to drop down until your weight comes on.
-So, you're now on it.
-Wish me luck!
I've been practising my macho face in the mirror in the hotel.
I still haven't got it!
This is probably my worst nightmare.
I'm afraid of heights and I'm afraid of small spaces,
but I've got to boldly go where no ethnobotanist has been before.
This isn't too bad, actually.
Yeah, I think the key is to take it little by little,
and, jeez, not look down!
'But it's down there that I'm heading.
'And once my feet are back on firm ground, it's time to explore.'
Now, watch your step over this slot here.
Gosh, that's quite a pothole!
There's a big drop down there, isn't there?
It looks like a tiny crack until you get your light there
-and it goes down 50 metres!
'There are 47 miles
'of maze-like tunnels and passages around Ease Gill,
'making it the longest and most complex cave system in England.'
This is stunning. You've mapped all of this?
How do you find your way around?
You've got no visual kind of reference points.
You just learn the passages, really. You just come down here quite a lot,
have a look around at the different passages,
give them names, because that's often a good reminder.
What, you name some of the geological formations?
Yes. This is Bridge Hall, because you'll see when you come up to here,
there's a big bridge of rock
-right across the top of it.
Gosh, this looks like one giant piece of quartz crystal here.
So, that has fallen off the roof somewhere.
If you look up there you might see where it's come down from.
-You mean the bit directly above my head!
-It wasn't there last week!
'It's an example of how natural processes
'mean the caves are slowly but constantly evolving,
'because at the other end of this passage
'is one of Ease Gill's most spectacular sights.'
Just a little bit of a crawl for about a few feet,
and then we can stand up and walk into the Colonnade Chamber.
'Inside the chamber,
'stalactites and stalagmites have formed over thousands of years,
'some meeting to make vast crystal colonnades
'stretching from floor to ceiling.'
It's truly spectacular. It's kind of like an ivory ice sculpture.
If you look at this one up here you can see one in formation.
The stalactite is coming down off the ceiling
and joining the pillar at the bottom.
Eventually, as that develops over the years,
that'll become a thick column from floor to ceiling
in the same way these are.
It's hard to believe.
You see these three giant pillars and suddenly you see you've got
all the different stages of the life cycle.
-Little baby ones.
That one in the middle is a beautiful white colour,
which is the normal colour of them, really,
whereas the ones on these sides are slightly stained,
and that could possibly be mud from people touching it,
which has then become calcited over,
and that will be permanently engrained in the column.
That's a shame. That could have taken
hundreds of thousands of years to form,
-and it's permanently, like, tattooed onto it.
-Yes, that's right.
'It's a special place, and what I've seen is just a tiny part of it,
'but what came down must go up,
'and since it's started to rain, it's not going to be pretty!'
Every bit about caving is brilliant
except for coming back up again!
If we could just figure out some kind of escalator I'd do it every weekend!
'This is not an activity for the faint-hearted.
'It's hard work, it's wet and it's very dirty.
'But for the chance to see this incredible underground world,
'it's worth it.'
'I'm still out with the crack athletes
'of the West Cumberland Orienteering Club.
'We're somewhere deep in the woods of the Ennerdale valley.'
Ha-ha! The last one! Now, Roger, I've been told that there'd be cows.
I've seen only sheep. Are there any cows here?
Yes, there are. They're just over this way.
Fantastic. Let's do it.
'I've tagged along hoping to find some hard-working animals,
'and it looks like I just got lucky.
'These cattle are part of the Wild Ennerdale Project.
'To find out about the job they do, I'm meeting farmer Richard Maxwell.'
-Brilliant. Cheers, guys.
-The cattle at last! Here they are!
-Here we are, our Galloway cows.
Galloway cows, are they?
-Gosh, they're out in this weather!
-They're out 12 months of the year.
We don't feed them, they're just left here to forage and find food,
unless there's snow on the ground or it's frozen, as it is today.
So this is their feed for today.
-This is today's food.
-Right, let's take it in.
It's some here we made in the summer.
-So they're an incredibly hardy breed, then.
-They are, yes.
They're a traditional breed,
and they're bred so they can be outside,
kept outside 12 months of the year,
-on very little roughage.
-Look at that thick coat they've got.
Lovely sort of teddy-bear faces.
And what job do they do?
In 2005, when they came onto the site, there was a lot of long grass.
And the idea was to graze the long grass off
to allow seeds from the trees and the bushes
to get down to the ground.
And they also create a disturbance with their feet
to push the seeds in to help the seeds to germinate.
So they're really an environmental cow. That's what they're here for,
to work with the environment
to make things better.
Getting close to animals in the wild is always rewarding,
even if it means braving the cold North Sea on an autumn day.
But I wouldn't have missed that particular day for the world.
Just a few miles off the wild Northumberland coast
lie the Farne Islands,
rugged, rocky outcrops
standing proud in the cold North Sea.
They may look bleak, but they're a magnet for wildlife,
and at this time of year,
they're home to a very special animal indeed.
These island shores are home to a colony
of Britain's largest carnivore, the grey seal,
3,000 to 4,000 of them.
October is the beginning of the pup season
and apparently the very best time to get to know them better.
Ben Burville is a GP with a passion for the grey seal.
He loves interacting with them and filming their behaviour.
The North Sea is a balmy 12 degrees, but that's not going to deter me,
as Ben's offered a rare opportunity
to share his unique relationship with them.
I can already see some inquisitive seals waiting for us.
I can't wait to jump in.
Bit of a shock to start,
but, actually, it's not too bad once you're in.
And straightaway we've got company.
There's one to say hello. That's a female.
'This is so incredible.
'Usually, Ben gets bull seals following him and getting up close,
'but this is a young female.
'You can tell because females are smaller and have more rounded faces.
'Males weigh up to 220 kilograms and have larger Roman noses.
'This female pup is not at all nervous.
'In fact, she's following me now. It's absolute magic.'
-She's sticking around us!
-Yeah, she is.
They take a while to get used to you,
-then they like to spend time with you.
-She's just there.
She's just hovering underneath.
'And just when I think it can't get any better...
'..she comes in for a kiss. My first contact with a seal. Amazing.
'One thing you really become aware of when you're in the sea
'is the amount of noise the seals make.'
It's quite a haunting sound back there, isn't it?
-The howling of the bull seals.
-Is it just the bulls?
No, all the seals make noise,
but they're just ensuring they've got their spot on the land
and just letting other seals know who's the boss.
'Up close, there's something almost doglike about the seals.
'They're so friendly and gentle you forget they're wild animals.'
-And how do they hunt their food?
There has been research in Germany that showed they could detect fish,
in fact specific species of fish, over 100 metres away.
Seals have highly tuned senses that can help them hunt for food.
They taste and smell small changes in the sea's salt level,
which alerts them that a fish supper may be swimming their way.
A seal's favourite food is sand eel.
It's the perfect food for them
because it's a fish with a very high oil content,
so it provides them with more energy.
I think I'm gaining their trust now.
I've got quite a few swimming really close to me.
What's striking is just how different they are
in and out of the water.
On land, they look uncomfortable and lethargic.
In the sea, they're fast and skilful swimmers.
It's a massive investment in your time
and you're clearly very busy anyway, because you're a doctor.
-Why is this so important to you?
-It's being close to nature
and the effect it has on your general wellbeing,
which I think is pretty vital.
And it's finding out scientific information
that just hasn't been found before,
their behaviour underwater, knowing what the seals are doing,
and what wildlife is doing around the Farnes.
I've referred to the Farnes as the Galapagos of the North. And it is!
I've been in the water here with dolphins.
There was a humpback whale seen off the Farnes last year.
You never know what you're going to see,
and the seals are a vital part of that.
Ben's developed a rare relationship with these wild mammals,
which is why we've got close to them.
But they're not pets and can be unpredictable,
especially around their pups,
so I'd have never done this alone.
I've barely noticed I'm five miles out,
snorkelling in the cold North Sea,
not now that that I've been sealed with a kiss.
Coming up soon on this special Countryfile,
what happened when Julia got to see one of nature's wonders...
The numbers, the sheer numbers! I've never seen anything quite like this.
..we find out how Katie got on when she braved an icy mountainside...
Don't look down. That was one piece of advice I was given.
..and there's Countryfile's five-day weather forecast.
A fine day, a fair breeze. The perfect combination for sailing.
It doesn't always work out that way, though,
as Matt discovered on the Isle of Wight last summer.
He set out to follow three amateur teams from Tonbridge
taking part in the famous Round the Island boat race.
To say it was wild is putting it mildly.
Hello to the old boys from Tonbridge School. Countryfile calling!
The old boys are competing against pupils and parents,
all three eager to take the top spot.
I think probably the first of the three boats,
of our three boats, will start finishing around 4:30.
The Round the Island race
is one of the most prestigious yacht races in the world.
It was first staged here on the Isle of Wight back in the 1930s.
This is the race's 80th anniversary and there's a record 1,900 entrants.
It's race day.
Crews have been setting off at staggered ten-minute intervals
since 6.00 this morning.
At just after 7.00, the Tonbridge teams line up at the start.
The pupils look apprehensive and, even before they begin,
the parents get a buffeting.
As for the old boys, well, they're out there somewhere.
And they're away! But with so many starters it's bound to get bumpy.
Well, they're well under way now.
It's just minutes since the start
and already boats are catching us up,
and we've got an engine! This is incredible!
But they're fighting for water. They keep changing direction,
they're tacking and gybing
to get the best wind to get round the island as quick as possible.
You know, it's incredible how close they're getting to each other.
You can hear the occasional clash of masts.
Now, that was a close one!
Plenty of water over here.
You can have as much of it as you want.
The first part of the race is all about position
and getting the best of the wind.
The thing is, it's blowing down the Solent at more than 20 knots,
and that's creating quite a chop.
It's not quite what the pupils from Tonbridge expected,
but they seem to be coping.
Just a little bit behind them,
the parents' boat is still getting buffeted.
The nearer the English Channel, the rougher it's going to be.
But one of the Tonbridge boats seems to be missing.
Anybody seen a yacht from Tonbridge?
A yacht from Tonbridge?
'We know the OTs' sail number is 7898,
'but try spotting that
'amongst 1,900 others.'
You haven't seen 7898, by any chance, have you?
I'll take that as a no.
Any sign of the OTs?
It is impossible.
It's impossible to find them.
'I'm not giving up yet, but these conditions
'are getting worse by the minute.
'Time to find the Old Tonbridgians is slipping away.'
'Boats are jostling and nearly coming to grief
'as the channel narrows.'
Close, close, close, close, close!
Wow, that was a close one.
'But who's that just sailing on, oblivious?
'Why, it's the Old Tonbridgians!'
Now then, now then, how are we doing?
Well, I tell you what, you didn't half take some finding!
Have you seen the others?
-Way back there!
I think they're that way.
I don't think so!
Oh, no, they're not!
Oh, yes, they are!
Now, though, it gets serious.
These are the Needles, at the western edge of the island.
It's where the Solent meets the English Channel.
Rough enough on calm days, but on days like this?
Well, see for yourself.
It's a little bit choppy for us to head off around there,
so I'm going to head back to dry land.
From here on in, the sailors are on their own.
Wind speeds at the Needles are up around 30 knots.
There are 20-foot waves
and boats are coming to grief.
Race Control is taking mayday call after mayday call.
We've had quite a few people overboard,
unfortunately, but everybody's back on board, everybody's safe.
-We've had the helicopter called out,
we've got quite a few boats upside down.
We were just talking about...
We've got a trimaran upside down off St Catherine.
-So, anything that comes in from our spotters is relayed here.
They deal with it.
I'm checking into the Bunker. It's where the latest GPS technology
is being used to keep an eye on things.
Andrew Rayner's in charge.
Hopefully, he'll be able to tell me if the Tonbridge boats are OK.
I've got three members here, Andrew,
so I don't know if we could track these.
-We've got 7898, which are the old-timers.
-The Old Tonbridgians.
Now, they haven't got their tracker switched on, by the looks of it.
Classic! Yeah, that doesn't surprise me.
But the other two are almost on top of each other.
They've come round Bembridge Ledge.
-They're about three quarters of the way and they're neck and neck.
Good news, the pupils are OK, the parents are OK.
We haven't heard anything bad about the Old Tonbridgians,
so they must be OK, too.
By the time the wind's blown itself out,
more than 400 of the original 1,900 starters have abandoned the race.
For those left, the weather takes a turn for the better.
These yachts have survived the tempest
and I'm glad to say
all three Tonbridge boats have made it home safely.
The pupils are the last of the three to finish.
The parents came in half an hour ago,
which means the OTs, the Old Tonbridgians,
took the honours in a mere eight hours.
Matt braving the heavy weather and wild water of the Isle of Wight.
He should be here today - just look at those mountain tops!
'Just the place for a spot of extreme gardening.
'These Wild Ennerdale volunteers are out here
'replanting a very special shrub.'
Why juniper, of all the plants that you could put up here?
Well, we've done quite a lot of historical research
on the types of vegetation that might have been here in the past,
and as well as quite a lot of broadleaf planting,
there's information to show that there would have been,
looking back, much more juniper than there is today.
So eventually, will this whole area in front of us
be juniper planted?
Erm, a big area of this, yes.
We've got about 400 of these little juniper plugs to go in.
But it's basically on an area like this
that was previously plantation forest.
It's wherever there's fair ground you can get it in.
So we're not being too prescriptive about where it goes.
-400 to do, then.
-Yeah, that's right.
-Better get digging!
Yeah, let's crack on, do a few more!
Frozen slopes like these mean something very different to Katie.
A couple of Februaries ago, she rose to a challenge nearby
that she'll never forget.
Spring's in the air for most of us, but here in the Lake District
you don't have to go far to find winter's still got the upper hand -
the perfect day for ice climbing.
This is my training!
My guide for today is Steve Ashworth,
one of the country's leading climbers.
-Hello, hello, hello.
How are you doing?
So you're my man, you're taking me up this mountain today.
It's not just a nice little walk up the mountain, is it?
No, we're going to go and climb some ice today.
OK, which I have never done before.
Is that similar to rock climbing? Because I did that a long time ago.
OK. Rock climbing's a good start,
but ice climbing is different to rock climbing.
-It's actually easier.
-So you should be fine.
-You can tell you've done this before.
The man is not wearing any gloves! I've got two pairs on.
-Yep, we'll go this way, yep.
'There are signs of green shoots down in the frosty valley.'
-It feels a bit warm in the sun, so it shouldn't be too cold.
'As we get higher, it becomes clear why we've come.
'Normally, ice climbers like Steve
'have to travel to the Alps or even further
'to find conditions like these.
'But this winter, for the first time in years,
'Steve's been able to take to the hills in his own backyard.'
So, we're going up that little crag, are we? That kind of gully.
Up the big gully up the middle there.
That's...kind of serious.
'We're at the foot of the gully at last -
'200 metres high, and I've got to get to the top of it.'
I notice a change in tone now.
I think my head will warm up, as my brain decides.
-A pair of axes for you there.
-My training was to run up and down
the stairs in my house...
and...as Steve has pointed out, you don't have to be a super-fit athlete,
anyone can have a go. See you at the top!
'Truth be told, I am starting to feel a bit apprehensive,
'but at this stage I have absolutely no idea
'of just how much this is going to test me.'
-And you've checked your rope?
-See you in a minute.
I quite like my ledge.
'The idea is that Steve goes ahead to secure the rope
'so I can follow safely after.'
I'm safe, Katie!
You see, this is the reality now.
'And this is the easy bit.
'Apparently there's something called an ice wall further up.'
Whew! I can do that bit!
Don't look down. That was one piece of advice I was given.
'I've made it to the first stage. But that was just the nursery slope.
'There are still three more stages to go.'
There's a lot of rope.
'The screws are being fastened into the ice
'so the rope can be attached,
something that can only be done in these wintry conditions.'
-How you doing? All right?
-Am I going to stand on this ledge now?
There's a lot of standing around in this ice climbing, I tell you.
'The ledge is the size of an A4 piece of paper.'
-Do you think I can do this?
-I do, yes.
'As I begin the third stage,
'the climb's really starting to take its toll.'
A footing, at last!
'This is it, the final stage,
'and Steve's started up what looks like a sheet of ice.
'That means it's me next.'
I don't think I was made for ice climbing.
But I've got to do it, obviously,
cos I can't down and I have to go up.
-We have reached...
-This is the best bit!
..the ice wall.
..this is the tough bit. Oof!
'I'm so cold I've had to put on another jacket.
'It seems like there's nowhere to put my feet.'
You're doing really well, Katie.
'Then my foot slips.'
'It's a nasty moment, but Steve's got me.'
Just sort your feet out for a second, Katie.
You're doing well. You look like you've done this before.
'I'm hanging on to every word Steve says.
'Right now, I just want to give up.
'But I'm determined to conquer the mountain.'
-Oh, too high.
-Looking good, looking good.
I really cannot feel my hands.
Ooh, but I need them, so...
Think...very carefully about what you agree to in life.
Nice one, Katie.
You can only laugh when you get to the top.
-Wow, nice one.
Can I stand yet, or can I get a bit further away from the edge?
Just keep walking towards me.
Look at me! This bit should be in slow motion. What do you think?
Oh, my goodness. Fantastic.
Nice one. I think you could have...
Do you know what? The advice I was given, don't look down,
-I think I only looked down twice...
-You can have a look at the view now.
(Oh, my God!)
I'm glad I didn't look down.
They said, "Trust the man on the end of the rope."
Couldn't have done it without you.
And I won't be doing it again in a hurry!
-Nice one, Katie, well done.
-Thank you very much.
A supreme effort by Katie.
Now, there's one last place I have to visit,
down there at the head of the lake,
the birthplace of a true poet, an Ennerdale man,
his name known only to a few until now.
Before that, here's the weather. See you down there in a few minutes.
I'm in Ennerdale, in the far north-west of the Lake District,
A place that sums up wild Britain.
It's been the perfect place to look back at our wild landscapes
and it doesn't come more wild than this.
It's a place that would still be recognisable to Tom Rawling.
Don't worry if you haven't heard of him. Few have.
But you might just turn out to be
one of the greatest poets the Lakes has ever produced.
He was born here at How Hall Farm nearly 100 years ago.
He didn't start writing poetry till he was 60.
By then, he'd left Ennerdale for Oxford,
but as his poems show, Ennerdale never left him.
'Enough to hear the names of the fells
'Herdus, Pillar and Red Pike...
'Farms and their people
'How Hall, Hollins and Howside
'Birkett, Rawling, Williamson
'Enough to know I belong to this place.'
Grevel, how important a poet is Tom Rawling?
I think he's very important,
certainly the most important 20th-century Cumbrian poet
and maybe one of the most important Lakeland poets of all time.
Gosh! That's an incredibly bold claim.
How is it, then, that he's been so overlooked?
He started to write late in life.
He didn't really begin writing poetry until he was 60,
-and so he had less than 20 years of active writing life.
It wasn't really, he said,
until a couple of generations had passed and his parents were dead
that he felt that he could really write honestly about his experiences.
And then, when he retired from teaching,
suddenly it all came flooding back
and he found this compulsion to write about his childhood,
about the farming, about Ennerdale.
The whole thing came out really powerfully.
So how important was the landscape on his work?
I think it's very important indeed.
And the great thing is that he has
a really physical, tactile, hands-on sense of the landscape.
There's a wonderful poem
where he talks about taking tea to the workers cutting the hay,
and he describes the slap and slosh of the tea in the metal pail
as he walks over the field.
'The long trek to the harvest field
'A wicker basket on my arm
'Good weight of buttered bread and cake
'in the other hand, a burnished tin
'Swinging with every step
'Tea slapping and sloshing inside.'
It must have been difficult to write while he was in Oxford
about this landscape, when he's not sitting right in amongst it.
He was two people, really. Part of him was an Oxford schoolmaster,
but the other part of him was still very much living here, rooted here.
He came back from time to time,
but I think emotionally he never really left.
Tom Rawling drew deep from Ennerdale and the life around him.
He understood this countryside
and had a deep passion for its wild places.
Easy to see how Ennerdale
is wild Britain at its best.
But throughout this land, there are things in nature
that would bring out the poet in us all,
as Julia discovered when she visited the magical Avalon marshes
in Somerset last winter.
That's Glastonbury Tor in the background.
There's a mysterious stillness in the air here.
I've got the feeling that something's going to happen.
Not quite yet, but very soon.
It's one of nature's greatest spectacles,
but it won't happen until dusk.
So I've got a chance to find out
about the rare and special habitat here.
These reed beds play host to a rich variety of wildlife.
So why am I chopping it down?
-That's impressive driving.
-Thank you very much. It's fantastic fun.
-What a brilliant machine. Have you had a go?
-I haven't had a go.
I've not been that lucky.
Now why was I doing that? What's going on? Reed beds are important
-for bird life and all sorts of other creatures.
-That's right, yeah.
Unfortunately, if you leave a reed bed to its own devices,
over time it'll dry out.
We want to try and maintain a really wet reed bed
for the wildlife that lives here. So every eight years,
we cut and remove the reed from every area of the reserve.
-In an attempt to try and keep the area wet.
Which particular birds and species are benefiting,
do you think, from this?
Well, the big species that the RSPB was really quite keen to deliver on
was a bird called the bittern, which is a small brown heron.
It used to be quite a rare bird in the UK.
It went down to 11 male birds in 1997.
With a lot of the work that's been done here,
we actually got eight nesting pairs here last year.
-Fantastic success rate you're having.
-Seems to be doing very well, yeah.
When people see that mad bit of machinery steaming through the water,
they shouldn't panic.
Definitely a good thing for the reserve and the wildlife here.
They shouldn't panic about it.
As the day fades and the light starts to drop,
other wildlife enthusiasts appear.
We're all here to witness one of this country's natural wonders
and to talk me through it, I've enlisted the help of Chris Griffin.
Where are they then?
That's nature for you. They'll be here at some point, I'm sure.
They've been here for three months, so... I'm hoping anyway!
Otherwise I'm not very good at my job.
No. Look at this. Turn around.
Where are they?
All eyes look to the skies. The anticipation in the air is tangible.
'And then, right on cue.'
-Ah, there you go. Can you see them?
-Yes, that's it. It looks like a swarm of bees.
-That's it, yeah.
-That's the first.
-The first tranche?
They usually send in a first little recce group from the pre-roost
just outside the reserve.
'These are starlings,
'that humble bird that normally sits chattering on top of your TV aerial.
'But out here, in the open country,
'they flock in their hundreds of thousands.'
-Where de they come from?
-Some of them are British. There's a British bird.
I mean, unfortunately our starlings have been in massive decline
over the past 40 years
which is a real, real shame.
So having these kind of big numbers down here can be a bit misleading.
That's because about two thirds, maybe even more than that,
come from Russia and Scandinavia.
Usually they come over here for milder winters,
but that hasn't really gone to plan this year, really.
No. I think they'll be phoning up the travel agents and going,
"Excuse me, it's much colder than you told us!"
Yeah, get their money back.
And now for the main event. Here they come.
-What a dive!
-Look at that!
They're twisting like some gyroscope.
They're still going. Look how dense that is there.
These extraordinary shapes are called murmurations.
The name comes from the sound the birds wings make
when they flock like this.
The numbers, the sheer numbers.
We've got anywhere between one and a half and three and a half million
birds that come down to the roost every night.
That is an impressive figure.
Oh, right above us! Layers and layers and layers.
It's like watching them in 3D.
The thing that I like about it the most
is that you can continually learn about nature.
But then every experience that you have,
it just keeps on getting better and better.
You learn more and more and more and it just never stops.
It is so inspiring.
You might be able to get this awesome display nearer to you
as well. I mean, this goes on all over the country. Not just here.
-Just got to find your local spot, haven't you?
-Yeah, that's it.
I've never seen anything quite like this.
A 70% decline in the native population has seen the once
common starling become a fixture on the critical list
of endangered birds.
So reserves like this are playing a major role
in giving these little fellas a foothold.
That's it for this special edition of Countryfile.
I hope you've enjoyed wild Britain.
Next week, I'll be donning my scuba gear to explore The Scylla,
a shipwreck deliberately sunk off the coats of Cornwall
to create a new habitat for wildlife.
See you then.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
In this special edition of Countryfile, Ellie Harrison looks back at the best of wild Britain: its wild landscapes, its wild water and its wild life. It is another chance to follow Matt Baker as he witnesses one of the rarest sights in nature in the glens of Perthshire; to travel with Julia Bradbury along the wild river Wye to the birthplace of tourism; and to hit the icy heights with Katie Knapman as she braves the slopes on her first ever ice climb.
Ellie Harrison is in Ennerdale, in the far north west of the Lake District, where they are taking a new approach to conservation. She hears from the people letting nature be, leaving rivers to meander where they will and letting trees lie where they fall. Ellie joins the orienteers enjoying this new found open space, meets the cattle doing their bit for conservation and plants a juniper tree or two. And she discovers the work of a long-lost Lakeland poet, a man whose life and work was shaped by Ennerdale but whose name was all but forgotten - until now.