Matt Baker and Julia Bradbury embark on an epic adventure to unlock the astonishing beauty of Secret Britain, starting in the far south west of England.
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This is a story of Britain, but a Britain that we very rarely see.
Britain as an undiscovered country. We're travelling
from the southern tip of England to the far north of Scotland,
exploring the best the British countryside has to offer.
But we are going to be taking the long way round, because this journey
is all about getting off the beaten track.
'We're going in search of the secret...
Oh, yes! Gorgeous.
'the unexpected, the lost treasures our landscapes.'
This is absolutely incredible. What a spot!
'We asked you to share your secret places -
'the little known, the hard to get to,
Who could fail to get lost in a place like this?
'And we'll be sharing our own hidden gems.'
Oh, look at this for a view! It's absolutely extraordinary.
'Over the next four weeks, we're going to be journeying through
'the last great wildernesses of our country,
'this astonishing place we call home.'
It's absolutely amazing.
'We're looking to reclaim the hidden and the overlooked.
'To find the pieces of our history that might have slipped between the cracks.
'Secrets kept in shadow, waiting for their moment in the sun.
'Every road taken is an opportunity to explore.'
Oh, man. Honestly, I cannot stop smiling.
This is secret Britain.
This epic adventure begins in the far South West.
And the first leg will take us from Cornwall right across to Dover.
We're each taking different routes across the busiest parts of our small island,
sidestepping the urban sprawl in search of true wilderness in the increasingly crowded South.
And we're starting here, in Cornwall.
The setting for many a seaside holiday.
Nearly five million of us head here every year.
And why not? It's stunning.
It's easy to forget that what's now a pleasure playground used to be a working landscape.
The shells of tin mines echo a reminder of a not-so-distant past.
Cornwall seems like an open book.
It's beauty on display for all to see.
But like the rest of the well-trodden South,
there are still hidden corners waiting to be explored.
You just have to make the effort to find them.
And for that, I'm going to need a little help.
Right, we're all kitted up. Am I at the front or the back?
Yeah, if you sit in the front, I'll control from the back of the kayak.
Just carry it into the water, to sort of knee-depth. And then we'll...
Looks a bit choppy, Simon.
I think we'll be OK. Just keep it straight as we're kayaking out.
We'll try and time it between the waves.
Simon Carley-Smith loves to paddle these waters.
He wants to show me that you can still get away from the crowds
on one of the busiest coastlines in Britain.
Keep it steady. Right.
'This is the Pentire headland,
'on the north Cornish coast.
'To the west lies Padstow and the packed surfing beaches of Newquay.'
'But down here, we're on our own.'
This is delightful. I can't believe how crystal clear the water is.
I know. It doesn't get better than this. It really doesn't.
You'd never suspect that we were so close to Polzeath.
Obviously, you could walk the coastal path along here.
The coast path does run along the edge.
Yeah, but to get down in a canoe, in a kayak like this,
and see it from this perspective...
Yeah, it's a different world.
A different world.
'It's a world that's not always easy to get to,
'as I'm starting to find out.'
Look at this swell now. We're being battered by the Atlantic wind.
And we're going through.
We're going through this gulley, next to Seven Souls Rock.
Has to be said, Simon, there's a lot more space on this side.
Yeah, I know, but there's a lot more excitement on the left.
-This is lovely stuff.
-Keep surfing the wave.
We are literally paddling up and down hill here.
We've got a bit of big something coming in behind us.
-Here comes the wave!
-On the left-hand side.
Really chunking it down on the left.
And we're through.
There's little low,
and here comes another little one, to carry us clear.
-Ah, yes! Simon, that was brilliant.
-You did really well there. Very well.
I have to say, I thought we were a bit mad, going for that, but...
It was nearly eight or nine souls then, I've got to say.
'This is a unique stretch of the Cornish coastline, where the sea laps the shore.
'The closest most people get is the cliff path high above.'
'Looming over us are the jagged rocky outcrops of Pentire Point and the Rumps.'
'These brooding cliffs tell a story all their own,
'a story of ancient underwater volcanoes and shallow seas.
'The curious folds in the rock are known as pillow lava,
'formed hundreds of millions of years ago, when magma oozed up and cooled rapidly in the sea.
'Tiny petrified gas bubbles are still trapped inside.'
'From the water, you feel like you can reach out and touch a truly ancient world.'
'These dark volcanic cliffs have plenty of secrets to share.'
We'll pop in and visit the Lundy Hole, which is a huge sea cave
that the roof has collapsed and it's made a really exciting feature.
-Just take the kayak right deep into the cave.
It gets shallow there so we can moor it up.
-It's beautiful, isn't it?
This is something else.
You can only access this from the water?
From the water, yeah. We'll just leave it.
-This will just float around.
-It's not going to go anywhere.
All these boulders are the remains of the roof that collapsed goodness knows how long ago.
It does make you wonder how long that roof's got.
-I think we'll be OK.
'Myth and legend abound in Cornwall, and Lundy Hole is no exception.
'It's said to have been formed by the Devil while he was fleeing from a Cornish saint.'
'You do have to be pretty determined to get here.'
The access here really is really difficult.
There's only a couple of beaches between Polzeath and Port Isaac
where you can actually enter the water without having an abseil rope.
-So that's why we've got it to ourselves.
-Yeah, very special.
-Right, let's keep exploring.
-Shall we head back out?
We'll head round to a nice sandy beach now.
'While people jostle for space on Cornwall's popular beaches,
'arriving by kayak means we get one all to ourselves.'
-Yeah. And look at it.
Seriously, not a soul in sight.
This place is so inaccessible,
not even our camera crew can come down here and film us.
-Just us. But shh, it's a secret! You can't tell anyone.
There you go. That's where it is, if you want to know.
X marks the spot.
Secluded coves and caves aren't Cornwall's only secrets.
Time to leave the Atlantic behind
and head across to the altogether more gentle southern Cornish coast.
Mevagissey's sleepy suntrap of a harbour is picture-postcard Cornwall.
But on the outskirts of nearby St Austell,
the landscape unexpectedly transforms into something almost alien...
..something with a strange beauty, all of its own.
This area has become a stunning wildlife haven.
And just look at this splash of lilac spotted across the crevices.
These are known as the Cornish Alps.
In the '60s there would have been about 50 of these cone-shaped mountains scattered across
the entire landscape, the remains of a once-thriving mining industry.
Buried under this slice of Cornwall is an especially fine layer of china clay.
For over 250 years, this clay has been mined for the manufacture of porcelain and paper.
At its height, nearly one million ton of clay a year were being produced.
It was a lucrative industry that radically remodelled the St Austell skyline.
For every ton of clay there were five tons of spoil,
spoil that piled into man-made mountains.
Cycling through this lunar landscape,
you get a sense of the sheer scale of the industry...
..an industry that still continues today.
But once the miners move on, nature is allowed to take over
and the Alps take on a life of their own.
Made by man, reclaimed by Mother Nature.
An unexpected sort of Wilderness.
The Cornish Alps are a great escape and a monument to a proud industrial past.
But I'm leaving St Austell and its secrets behind.
I'm moving on, tracking the River Fowey inland until we reach the forbidding majesty of Bodmin Moor.
The moor is famed for the Bodmin beast, and the smugglers of Jamaica Inn.
But there's a forgotten corner which harbours a secret far older and more mysterious,
the final chapter in the legendary story of King Arthur.
It's a secret that's well worth a short detour on my trip across the South.
According to legend, hidden in the depths of this bottomless pool
lies King Arthur's famous sword, Excalibur, guarded by the Lady of the Lake.
As Arthur lay mortally wounded after the bottle of Camlann,
he ordered Sir Bedivere to chuck his sword into the water.
What's a knight to do? Reluctantly, he agreed to his king's last wish.
But before Excalibur hit the water, a lady's hand rose up and grabbed it
before disappearing again beneath the surface.
The sword remains hidden, protected by its guardian
until such time as the country needs its help once more.
The so-called bottomless pool of Dozmary has in fact dried out many times.
But just because nobody has yet found Excalibur lying in the mud
doesn't mean it isn't there.
Many people come to Cornwall drawn by the legend of King Arthur,
yet few ever make it to Dozmary.
It's a precious piece of secret Britain.
Back on the Atlantic coast
is a far more celebrated landmark in Arthur's story.
Summer visitors flock to the dramatic ruins of Tintagel,
believing it to be the great king's birthplace.
But to find real secrets on this stunning stretch of coast,
you have to look beyond the tourists, beyond the castle, and beyond the cliff path.
Everyone has a special place,
and one couple found theirs tucked off Tintagel's beaten track.
Louise and David Osborne loved Rocky Valley so much
that this is where they celebrated their wedding.
We came here about a year before the wedding
and we were just walking the Boscastle to Tintagel coast path.
We decided to turn left and go through the forest, really.
We just sort of went up there and discovered
the ruins and the maze and the whole of the valley.
It wasn't in any of the guidebooks. It was something you just stumble across.
We got married not far down the road, then we came here,
had a nice picnic, with pasties and cheap fizz.
Then we took all our guests for a little walk through the valley
to show them our favourite place.
Rocky Valley, to me, is number one spot in the whole wide world.
Nothing ever would beat this.
This is just the most perfect place.
-We'll definitely keep returning.
-Definitely. As often as we can.
Back on our journey to uncover the secrets of the South,
I'm heading ever eastwards.
I've crossed the border into Devon
and the landscape opens out before me.
In 1964, the novelist EM Forster complained, "There's no forest
"or fell to escape to today, no cave to curl up, no deserted valley."
Well, he'd clearly forgotten about the nearly 400 square miles
of bleak wilderness that make up Dartmoor National Park.
The rugged, desolate beauty of the moor.
Granite tors standing proud above rock-strewn grasslands.
It's both majestic and mysterious.
Natural perfection, you might think.
But Dartmoor has a hidden history.
Around 6,000 years ago, most of this was in fact forest,
part of the vast wild wood that stretched across Britain
from coast to coast.
Like most of the South, Dartmoor's open landscape
has been almost entirely shaped by man.
Apart, that is, from a few remote and secret spots high on the moor.
Simon Lee from Natural England
has agreed to take me into Dartmoor's past.
-We have well and truly left civilisation behind.
-We have, yeah.
Got a few sheep there.
Apart from the occasional hiker, there's not a soul in sight.
Not a soul in sight, no.
'We're heading for one of Dartmoor's last remaining pockets of wild wood,
'It's a steep climb up the Okement Valley to where the moor almost touches the sky.'
-There isn't a lot of woodland here now, is there?
A lot of that was cleared by Bronze Age people.
-And if you scramble up the slope, you might get a glimpse of it.
-Looking splendid in the mist.
-Doesn't it just?
'Forests like this once covered Britain.
'As people settled and began to farm,
'they cleared the trees and enclosed the land.
'Black-a-Tor Copse is a moment frozen in time.
'A world of oak trees long-since forgotten.'
This is absolutely incredible.
What a spot!
It's so different to what is just a couple of steps behind, and you walk into all of this.
It looks so cosy and comfy.
There's rock-hard granite down here
but because it's covered in all these mosses and lichen,
it's like a big quilt. You just kind of want to dive into it all.
How old are these kind of twisted oaks, then?
There's documented evidence that there have been trees here for several centuries.
But the individual trees themselves, probably no more than about 200 years old.
Are they stunted simply because they can't get the root system down into this granite?
No, I think the main reason they're stunted is because of
the weather conditions up here.
It's so high - we're up about 1,300ft here, so it's cold and it's wet.
-And it's simply that they can't grow any faster or any bigger.
'This is one of only three high-altitude woodlands left on Dartmoor. All are protected.
'The unique conditions make it feel almost tropical.
'Not rainforest, but cloudforest.'
It's just loaded with mosses and lichen and ferns.
It is. In terms of what you're seeing at the moment, it's a woodland
that's as near natural as you can get in the UK.
'Walking through these gnarled oaks
'feels like walking into a primeval indigenous landscape,
'a secret of Britain's past.'
Ever since I was a little lad, I have always, always loved oak trees.
I don't know what it's about them. I think they're just...
They're so homely and so protective
and ever since I've had the chance to come in here,
I've seen yet another side to their character.
The way that they've... Well, look at this.
They've twisted and bent themselves around
this boulderous and boggy landscape of Dartmoor.
And trudging across that misty, bleak moor to get here,
on arrival it just feels so warm and so welcoming.
And to think really that this landscape hasn't changed at all
since the last ice age, it is really, really rare.
This is a very special spot.
'Two and a half million people visit Dartmoor every year.
'But few venture as far as Black-a-Tor Copse
'and even fewer realise that there's a greater secret locked in the heart of the moor -
'one that played a part in building some of Britain's proudest monuments.
'The local name for granite is moonstone,
'and it's been used here for thousands of years.
'But just 200 years ago, Dartmoor granite became the stone of choice
'for the architects of many of London's finest buildings.'
'I'm going to explore Dartmoor's forgotten link with our national heritage.'
'My search begins close to one of its most famous landmarks -
'Haytor, an imposing slab of granite.'
'I'm following something I never imagined you'd find on Dartmoor.'
A junction here.
'Made of stone.'
So... that must be Hound Tor up there.
'It's the start of an extraordinary transportation network
'that carried granite from moorland quarries down to the sea
'and on to the heart of London.'
'As the weather takes a turn for the worst, the tramway leads me to local archaeologist Jane Marchand.'
-Jane, how you doing? All right?
-I'm fine, Matt, thanks.
What have you done to the weather?
-I apologise, but this is real Dartmoor weather.
-Isn't it just.
It's lovely. I've had a lovely walk down this tramway.
-Yeah, following these little granite rails.
-Is this the quarry down here on the left?
-This is Holwell Quarry, down here.
The working here was really a very short period of time,
probably about 30, 40 years. But you can see
the amount of granite that's been extracted.
And the effort that must have gone into it.
We've lost the whole of that granite face.
We know that the granite from Holwell Quarry
went to the British Museum. Formed the British Library.
And there's some in Buckingham Palace, apparently.
It was seen to be the best granite in the country, if not in the world.
-And did they blast it, then, with gunpowder?
-They did, they did, yeah.
And you've got evidence, where the...
That's actually where they'd have put the stick of gunpowder in.
Oh, this is rather nice, Matt.
It's a nice little secret building, really,
that most people don't know is here.
It's what we call a beehive shelter.
And this is where, once they put the gunpowder in,
-they'd have all run for cover to.
-To get away from the effects of the blast. If you want to go in...
-Can I go in, yes?
I have got a little torch with me. Always prepared. Here we go.
It's cosy, that's for sure.
And beautifully built, actually.
-If you look at the great blocks of granite that they've used.
It actually gives them some protection from the weather as well.
It's probably quite a welcome place to have.
It does feel very protected.
-It does, doesn't it?
-Especially with these...
-Massive great slabs, yeah.
Once the granite was quarried, one-ton blocks were loaded on to wagons,
which were pulled along the tramway by teams of horses.
I'm following the granite's route off the moor all the way to the Stover Canal,
and the second leg of its long journey to London
via the port at Teignmouth.
The canal was a vital link for both the quarry and the nearby china clay mines,
but as demand dwindled, it saw its last barge past through in 1939.
Over the years, evidence of this once-thriving industry has gradually disappeared.
Right, well, I'm now in the village of Teigngrace
and I'm trying to find the start of the Stover Canal,
which I think is down here in this housing estate.
It feels so wrong. I'm going to walk into somebody's garden in a minute.
Oh, no, hang on a minute. This is it. Good, good.
I've got a railway line which is running through here.
And I think I need to cross this railway line.
Let's have a look.
How does this work? One of them slidey ones.
Check there's no trains coming.
No, judging by the look of that, I don't think this railway line has been used for a while.
Through this little gate and it should just be up ahead.
This must be the bridge. This is it.
I found it! Yes.
Yeah, this is it. This is it.
I think just up by that greenhouse
is where the trackway would have ended.
All the granite would have been taken off down to Teignmouth.
Incredible to think there'd be 50ft barges here,
full of 35 tons of granite.
So Teignmouth must be that way.
'Wandering along the overgrown banks of this tranquil stretch of water,
'history hangs in the air all around.
'This is Haytor's secret.
'A past that should be remembered.'
'The men who worked and transported Dartmoor granite
'were true industrial pioneers,
'who helped create some of the nation's most magnificent buildings.'
'Scratch the surface of this great country
'and you'll find stories like Haytor everywhere.'
'As we travel across the South
'on this leg of our search for secret Britain,
'we're looking for to reclaim the hidden and the forgotten,
'the cracks in our crowded modern world.
'Incredible stories of things we might otherwise overlook.'
'Travelling east along Dorset's Jurassic Coast,
'I've reached the cliffs above Bridport.'
I'm now at 626 feet above sea level.
This is the highest point on the south coast, Golden Cap.
And stretched out all below, delicious Dorset,
as far as the eye can see.
'But I'm bypassing its pretty villages with their quaint cottages,
'as I head into a hidden network of ancient tracks
'that run unnoticed between our modern roads.'
'These are the hollow-ways, from the Anglo-Saxon for "sunken road".'
'At first glance, they might seem like simple footpaths,
'but look closer and they tell a story of our long-forgotten past.'
'To guide me on my journey into this dappled green world
'is landscape historian Valerie Belsey.'
The canopy here is so dense
and it makes the lane very atmospheric, doesn't it?
It does, because remember it started off at the top of the field,
and then it's been eroded.
And it was used by cattle in the beginning.
And the dung from the cattle has been thrown back up and that acts
as fertiliser so the trees on the top have grown even taller.
-That's why it's so lush.
-That's right, yeah.
This has been a busy pathway throughout the centuries.
The tree-shrouded holloways are unique to the soft stone counties
of southern England.
Drovers would have used them as a route to market - generations
of travellers carving out a well-worn path hidden in a hedgerow.
This holloway is trodden so deep into the yellow Dorset sandstone
that it's become known as Hell Lane.
Is the depth of this particular lane an indicator of how old it is?
Because the sides are very steep.
It's not a given clue. There are other clues.
'To date a holloway, you have to piece together nature's clues.
'Part of that means counting the number of species that grow along its banks.'
This is part of Hooper and Pollard's hedge-dating theory.
Each hardwood species for a 30-yard stretch of any lane on one side
is representative of 100 years.
So we've got holly, which is the first of the species.
-The next one up is hazel, so that's two.
-Which is just here.
That's that one there with the lovely light going through the leaves.
-So we're up to 200 years.
And we've got an ash, which is three.
And then going up the ash is a briar, now that counts, so that's four.
And then if you look a little bit further along we've got the maple
leaf tree which is a sycamore, which gives us 500 years.
So in this short stretch, we've bagged 500 years?
500 years, yes.
Five centuries of history locked into a handful of English trees.
Leaving Valerie behind, I follow Hell Lane even deeper into Dorset.
Given its name, this particular holloway has a surprising destination.
Hell Lane turns into a pilgrims' path leading to an ancient church.
It's certainly well-weathered stone.
Nestling in a corner of the church is the unique shrine to a saint
from Saxon times said to have the power of healing.
There are two interesting things about this shrine.
First of all, this is the only parish church in England
to hold the bones of a saint, and secondly,
St Wite was a woman.
'Even today, people bring their petitions to the good St Wite.'
My journey through the holloways of Dorset has been a revelation.
From above, they snake like green rivers through the countryside.
From below, they're a dappled doorway into another world,
extraordinary, everyday places...
just waiting to be discovered.
Beyond Dorset, I'm heading deeper into the heart of the south,
into the open, rolling countryside of Salisbury Plain.
Here stands Stonehenge, Britain's world-famous ancient monument...
..mysterious, rather than secret.
Not so the vast expanse of the plain,
which is under the control of the MoD.
Out there are thousands of other monuments, an ancient landscape rarely seen.
Not many civvies get to experience what I'm off to see,
because we've been given special access to some of the 94,000 acres
controlled by the British Army,
and I am assured that if I do as I'm told, everything should be perfectly safe.
Salisbury Plain is the largest military training ground in Britain.
Roughly the size of the Isle of Wight, it's big enough for a full-scale battle.
Not the kind of place for a Sunday stroll, you might think.
But even though much of the area remains out of bounds,
the surprising thing about Salisbury Plain is that not all of it is off-limits.
You have to take the signs seriously, but if you can get here
it offers a unique window onto Britain's history.
That's because, despite the ongoing warfare,
its many archaeological sites are largely undisturbed.
MoD archaeologist Richard Osgood has uncovered some of the secrets
of this plain, including its ancient military past.
You're standing on an Iron Age hill fort.
This is about 300 BC,
it's the biggest we have here, about 10 hectares.
-This hill we're on?
-This is a rampart of a hill fort.
It's a big impressive monument,
expressing the powers of those that constructed it.
But it's not on its own, because as you look out here there are other features all connected with this.
The word we use is "palimpsest", layer upon layer of archaeology,
and the military being here has protected it.
The MoD first bought this land over 100 years ago,
and their ownership has saved its rolling chalk grasslands
from being developed or intensively farmed.
It's what makes Salisbury Plain probably the greatest open-air museum in Britain.
-Can you see those lines, those sort of terraces?
-The steps on the left?
Yeah, those are field terraces from the Medieval period.
There's a corresponding set on the other side.
But if you follow those up, there's a clump of trees right
-at the top, and they're sitting on a Bronze Age burial mound.
It's a round barrow, about 2,000 BC.
We're going to go and look at some Iron Age stuff, let's go and see what we've got.
Super, sounds good.
Chisenbury Midden is one of the richest sites on all Salisbury Plain.
To protect the remains here, digging is strictly forbidden,
but the local badgers don't seem to understand the rules.
So they must be turning up all sorts of stuff then, these badgers.
They do, they're incredibly powerful
bits of machinery in many ways.
They're great at digging stuff.
You can see that this big mound of spoil is coming out from the set.
-There's something in here.
-Have you got something there?
Is that something?
Yeah, congratulations. I've been on excavations that have found less pottery than that.
Is that honestly something? It was literally just lying there!
-That is a large shard of an early Iron Age pot.
-You're kidding me!
No, and look at the size of it.
-Is that early Iron Age?
-Yeah. Actually, can you see there?
It's actually got some decorations from fingernails running along the edge.
-Never in this world...
It's an early Iron Age shard which has been decorated.
It was honestly just lying there, you would think I was meant to pick it up...
-No, that's right, not placed at all!
-That is extraordinary.
That is a big piece as well, isn't it?
So what do you think that would have been?
It's a big cooking vessel. You can see the circumference
pretty much from the rim that that you've got.
-It's going round like that.
Those sharp-clawed archaeologists certainly know what they're doing.
I'm just thinking, you know, the amount of history that is buried
in that mound is absolutely mind-blowing.
And this view here, this chalky grassland,
it has hardly changed since neolithic times.
This place really is like a landscape time-capsule.
And thanks to those badgers,
they've just prised it open and given us a little glimpse.
The chalk that shapes this landscape underpins much of southern England -
a great white way leading to the coast.
It's time for me to leave the untamed beauty
of Salisbury Plain behind.
Moving east, the chalk rises up into the rolling South Downs.
Latter-day travelling players Ed and Will believe every landscape has a story to tell,
a story that needs to be kept alive, both in word and song.
We've been walking these ancient pathways for years.
The South Downs are really our local mountain range.
You're on top of the world.
It may be a small, English world, but you're on top of it.
It's a way of life that's really let us learn a lot about the old traditions and the history.
I wonder if we could sing you a quick song, would that be possible?
It won't take a minute of your time.
# My son John was tall and slim
BOTH: # And he had a leg for every limb... #
'The songs are a powerful passport.'
They don't weigh anything, they don't cost anything, they introduce you to people...
What we try and do is to take these songs and give them out where they're unexpected.
'Just on the side of the street, whenever you meet anyone.'
# Oh, it's the farmer's daughter, dear
# She brews aplenty of strong beer
# And she's enough to cheer up any soul... #
'And the reactions are amazing.'
People don't know that this whole realm of song and folklore exists.
# Time passes over... #
One of the songs we learnt on the South Downs was called Sorrows Away.
BOTH: # Since we've learned a new act to drive sorrows away
# Sorrows away
# Sorrows away
# Sorrows away, oh... #
We're just doing the same things everyone has always done, just
being part of the landscape here, just like our great ancestors were.
And it's really important that people realise that there are these things,
these songs, stories, ways of life
that we have and that we have inherited from our ancestors,
and we must not forget that.
# Well, I may not be rich And I may not be poor
# But I'm as happy as those that have thousands or more. #
I'm also exploring the South Downs
in search, not of history or tradition, but for something
that feels strangely exotic in this corner
of quintessentially English countryside.
I have joined a hunt for one of the most elusive and sought after plants in nature, the orchid.
But if we find what we're hoping to find, there's no way I can tell you where we are.
Because these precious flowers attract thieves,
obsessive collectors who dig up and steal their specimens as soon as they surface.
And with a worldwide black-market in orchids estimated at £6 billion,
it's no wonder my guides, Graham from the National Trust and
orchid expert David Lang, want me to keep our precise location to myself.
So, David, what exactly are we looking for?
We're looking for fragrant orchids here.
You're looking for an orchid about that tall,
sort of pinky-purple, with a slender spike.
So watch where we put our feet?
Watch where you put your feet, please.
What about this?
-That's a common spotted orchid.
-So that's one?
As the name implies, it's actually very common,
and if you look closely, it's got spotted leaves.
They look like little tiger stripes on there.
Not to be confused with the early purple orchid,
which has similar leaves, but much deeper purple flowers.
What have you got for me, David?
I've found you a nice patch of fragrant orchids.
If you look at this lot, and you get down low and look up there.
Oh, isn't that gorgeous?
It's absolutely superb.
You can come up here safely. Have a sniff of that one.
Oh, yes, very delicate.
-A very delicate smell.
-Beautiful to look at from down here as well.
You've got a lovely vista of them here. It's a gorgeous sight.
This is the best area for them.
The flowers have got a little three-lobed lip and a very long spur
which is full of nectar, and that attracts mainly
skipper butterflies and small flies.
David leads us down to a secluded hollow where he sets us hunting
for an even rarer orchid.
What are we looking for, apart from nettles and thistles?
We're looking for fly orchids here.
And I can see some just up here.
Can you see them? Here we are.
Now, the wasp that pollinates these thinks this is another wasp.
The male wasps come to copulate or mate with the flower,
and in so doing they get pollen dusted on their heads.
It's no coincidence, then, that the flower actually resembles a wasp.
It does look exactly like a little wasp which is perched
with its wings folded, and of course it secretes these pheromones
which attract the male wasp who thinks it's a female.
The males come on the wing about a fortnight before the females,
so they're coming and pollinating the orchids, and then a fortnight later the ladies appear
and they realise the error of their ways
and chase the ladies and leave the flowers alone.
-Very sneaky, very clever.
-So in essence, the orchid is seducing the male wasp?
-Completely falsely, leading it on?
-Yes, yes, absolutely. Brilliant.
It works extremely well.
Orchids are as shy as anyone else when it comes to reproduction, and few people have actually
witnessed the way in which they woo their wasps.
But suddenly, right in front of us...
We've got it happening. We've got it happening.
-What we have actually got here is the wasp in action. It's happening.
How often have you seen this, David?
-You've never seen this before?
-So this is a first for you?
-The first time I've seen it actually happening in front of me.
-In how many years?
How lucky are we to be here right now?
People do see it but I've never been lucky enough to see it before.
And get a photograph of it.
-And get it on film.
-Yes, it can't be bad, can it?
Dear, oh dear. What a bit of luck.
You look quite overcome!
I'm very pleased. Very pleased indeed.
Hidden away from the thieves and hunters,
I hope these fascinating flowers will be left to procreate in peace.
My journey is now taking me east to join Matt in Dover.
But I can't leave the Downs behind without a quick detour in search of another secret,
one once hidden in shadow, now glorying in the sun.
Novelist Virginia Woolf is perhaps as well known for her life as for her work.
A member of the Bloomsbury Group, a collection of writers, thinkers and artists, she and her friends
sought refuge here in the Downs from the conventions of London society and the ravages of the Great War.
These days, the haunts of Virginia and her friends are meccas for literary fans, but at the beginning
of the 20th century, a place like Charleston House was her safe haven.
Charleston now opens its doors to the public, a testament to the artists who made their lives here.
What was once a sanctuary, a private secret, is now shared.
But the sense of true escape remains.
Your imagination just runs wild.
Who could fail to get lost in a place like this?
I'm heading east towards Dover,
the last stop on this leg of our journey across Secret Britain.
But there's just time for one final detour.
This is Dungeness,
a bleak, remote wilderness clinging to the very edge of our island.
Few other places can boast both a steam railway and a nuclear power plant.
Arriving here feels like stepping through the looking glass.
This is the largest pebble beach in Europe. And it's on the move,
expanding out into the Channel at a rate of up to eight and a half feet a year.
Dilapidated sheds and decaying boats dot the landscape,
abandoned in a world of constantly shifting shingle.
This arid place is the closest thing we have in Britain to a desert.
It rains as little here as it does on the Rock of Gibraltar.
Ecologist Owen Leyshon is my guide to its harsh beauty.
So, Owen, it's an extraordinary landscape.
It's very tough for any plants and humans to survive on Dungeness.
Cold in the winter, really hot and dry in the summer.
It's, then, as close an environment as you can get to a desert.
-So there's no soil or anything. How deep is this single?
It's about 17 to 20 metres deep, the shingle.
If it's that deep then the plants are certainly determined,
their roots searching the shingle for every nutrient,
every drop of salt-free moisture.
There seem to be a lot of these white-flowered plants here, Owen.
-What have we got here? What are these?
-This is sea kale.
Nice, good old tough seaside plant, nice juicy leaves to it with
a lovely big white pom-pom display of flowers on it.
Characteristic seaside plant, but on Dungeness you could probably say
the biggest collection of sea kale in this country.
Look closer and more than one third of all the plant species in the UK
managed to grow amongst these pebbles.
But there aren't the only form of life here.
Further inland, fresh water collects in craters left by gravel extraction,
and in the freshwater lives something that was once declared extinct in Britain.
Oh, my word! They're leeches.
These are medicinal leeches.
In Europe, Dungeness is one of the best places for the species.
This is come from a gravel pit, so the water quality is excellent.
Lots of food for them, frogs and birds for them to feed on, because they need blood.
And you need a special licence...
You need a licence to handle these because they're quite rare in this country.
What do you have to do - just keep them moving?
I've got to keep holding these a bit like a hot potato.
There we go, let's get this one out.
I've just got to keep moving him around because he's going to be looking for a place to bite me.
And which end is the teeth?
300 teeth on it,
and they expand about two or three times their size when they've had their meal.
That will be it for the rest of the season.
This is the largest leech in this country.
You're not going to mistake this for anything else.
Leeches have long been used in medicine, and in the 19th century their popularity reached its peak.
Over-harvesting lead to dramatic shortages, but here in this corner of Kent, the leech somehow hung on.
It all adds to the atmosphere -
an alien, storybook world,
lost somewhere in time.
Coming as I have from the heart of England's green and pleasant land,
Dungeness is a startling sight.
It's strangely alluring, it's dreamlike, it's almost in slow motion, this place.
Beyond Dungeness, the flatlands of shingle give way to
the towering chalk skyscrapers of the Kent coast.
It's one of our island's most iconic landscapes,
and it's our last stop on this journey across the crowded south.
The white cliffs of Dover, an awe-inspiring sight, and for
generations a symbol of hope and freedom.
But let's leave Vera Lynn behind for one moment and explore their hidden secrets.
The cliffs stand guard at the narrowest point
of the English Channel and have long been a key stronghold in the defence of Britain's coastline.
Dover wears most of its military history on its sleeve.
Its proud castle and wartime tunnels now welcome visitors with open arms.
But what I'm looking for lies down a steep zig-zag path cut directly into the chalk.
This rather precipitous route leads to Langdon Bay,
and a well-hidden ghost of Dover's military past.
From above you'd never know it was here.
There were searchlights set back in these tunnels,
and they would check out every ship that was coming into the harbour or close to the harbour, and if they
didn't like the look of them they would send a signal, and then...
Imagine being posted here on a harsh winter's night
during a German bombing raid - the sea outside battering against the cliffs, the cold, the noise.
This really was frontline Britain.
But Dover's harbour wasn't only vulnerable in wartime.
Langdon Bay has another secret,
one only revealed at low tide and by a steep scramble down a ladder.
On this beach below Kent's great white walls of chalk
lies the twisted and torn skeleton of the steamship Falcon.
It looks like the ribcage of some massive prehistoric beast that's been left behind on the beach.
Look how it's been corroded and shaped by the sea.
Limpets attach themselves to it.
It's quite beautiful.
It's not a casualty of war.
The SS Falcon posed a different kind of danger to Dover.
An elderly steamship, which had seen better days, the Falcon set sail in October 1926,
heavily laden with the cargo of jute and matches.
She lies almost forgotten now, but in her day, the Falcon was one of the biggest news stories in Britain.
Just off Dover, her unfortunate combination of cargo caught fire
and the crew were forced to abandon ship.
This rare footage shows the fire consuming her from within.
The captain tried desperately to save his ship but eyewitnesses
watched in horror as the Falcon began to drift towards the harbour,
putting Dover at risk of a major blaze.
With moments to spare, the wind changed and good fortune blew
her clear, only to come to grief on the rocky shore of Langdon Bay.
Now the Falcon's iron hull is all that remains.
A secret echo of a forgotten past.
It seems a fitting place to end the first leg of our adventure.
Dover's white cliffs stand in complete contrast to
the volcanic majesty of the north Cornish coast where we started.
It's a reminder of just how different Secret Britain can be.
Between the cracks of our crowded modern country we have found a far more ancient land.
Yes, there are wild and undiscovered corners, from the untamed vastness
of Salisbury Plain to the hollow ways and green lanes that weave their way through our countryside.
And from the alien landscapes of Dungeness to the Cornish Alps.
Every road taken can lead to a discovery,
a forgotten piece of the story of Britain.
But this is just the start of our exciting journey.
There's a lot more Secret Britain just waiting to be explored.
Next time we're moving north to travel through the hidden heart of Britain.
Where have you brought me?
It's an epic journey that will take us all the way from the flatlands of
the east to the staggering sea cliffs of Pembrokeshire.
Oh, my word!
I'm heading into a flooded water world in search of a very secret island...
You just cannot see it at all.
While I'm discovering Snowdon's ancient botanical secrets.
So this is it.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
E-mail [email protected]
Matt Baker and Julia Bradbury embark on an epic adventure to unlock the astonishing beauty of Secret Britain. They start in the far south west of England, and the first leg of their journey takes them all the way to Dover across some of the most crowded parts of the UK. Yet even here there are hidden corners and forgotten stories. Matt explores Britain's only desert, while Julia goes off the beaten track to discover the shady green world of Dorset's holloways.