Series exploring the hidden corners of the UK and revealing landscape secrets. Ellie Harrison, Chris Hollins and Denise Lewis explore Northern Ireland.
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We live in a country with some of the most diverse
and beautiful landscapes in the world.
So diverse, very few of us know every nook and cranny.
And so beautiful, it'd be a crime to miss any of them.
The British Isles are full of secrets and surprises
just waiting to be discovered.
-Good, Chris, good. Well done.
Wow! Oh, my God!
Out of nowhere, they came.
It's easy to think Britain is a crowded place,
but with more than 60 million acres out there,
there's still plenty of the UK for us to discover and enjoy.
The power of the elements really belittles you.
In this series, we're going to escape the crowds
and get off the beaten track.
We're on the hunt for the unexpected.
Did you see it? There we go. Ooh!
Oh, it's freezing.
I think we've found it!
Look at the size of this place.
This is the place we call home.
This is our Secret Britain.
We're on the western edge of the British Isles.
This is one of the least touristy, but most spectacular
and surprising places in the country.
The mountains behind me were formed nearly 60 million years ago
from volcanic rock and away over to the north lies the largest lake
in the UK and a mountain range that was once as big as the Himalayas.
This is Northern Ireland.
This ancient landscape is the keeper of secrets
that go back into the mists of time.
Striking out on the paths less travelled,
we're tracking down rare wildlife...
Did you see it. See it. There we go. Ooh!
..trying out little known pastimes...
You need to get focused, woman!
..and exploring the magic and majesty of Northern Ireland.
I don't think I've ever seen anything like that.
Heavily restricted and regularly patrolled,
these sand dunes hide some of the best guarded secrets
in Northern Ireland.
The British Army has a long history of training cavalry and infantry
on the stunning beach here at Ballykinler on the east coast,
in the shadow of the Mourne Mountains.
The army stopped using horses in battle after the First World War
and they're rarely seen down on these sands nowadays.
Thanks, Elaine. Lovely.
In fact, this whole site has been cut off completely
for more than a century, so it's packed full of wildlife secrets.
Off limits and dangerous, the red flag keeps most people away.
But in the heart of Ballykinler's training ground, is a rare
and covert conservation project led by Northern Ireland's
top squirrel man, Declan Looney.
-Right next to the shooting range. You can hear them.
-So, is this a good site for releasing reds?
-It is, yeah.
Anybody involved in red squirrel conservation will know that there's a number of things
that need to be considered before we do a release and the most important of those
is that we have an area we've confirmed there's no grey squirrels.
Northern Ireland's native red squirrel is outnumbered six to one
by invasive greys and the reds are under serious threat.
Amazingly, their best chance for survival
is in the middle of this firing range.
Tagged and monitored, Declan's animals are ready for release
into a red squirrel-only zone.
Yeah, this is our soft release enclosure.
The principle of a soft release enclosure is that
the squirrels inside are given a period of time to gradually become
accustomed to the external environment.
So, we'll keep a close eye on things and how it develops
and then once we're content that the squirrels are settled in, we'll open this hatch here at the top
and we'll let the squirrels come out into these trees in their own time.
-They've got the chance to go straight across there.
-They have, yeah.
So, if we look about we can see, for the most part,
these are a species of conifer that's particularly favoured by red squirrels called Maritime Pine.
-So, there's an abundant natural food resource within this stand of trees.
Do you think we could actually get in close and see them?
-We could. We can go in, if we keep it down a bit. We can have a look, yeah.
-Keep it low down. Right.
How ironic that I have to keep my voice down,
when I'm in the middle of a firing range!
(There's one here.)
That's amazing. That lovely fluffy tail and the ear tufts.
Oh, it's looking pretty bright and well, isn't it?
Yeah, absolutely. This is one of the young males.
The long term plan for this young male and the others
is that they become established within Ballykinler Camp
and then following years, we'll introduce some females
and basically they supplement the captive breeding population
in Northern Ireland.
-So, the future's looking pretty good here?
It's looking, it's looking well for the future.
The squirrels certainly look happy enough,
but I do wonder why they'd want to stick around with all these soldiers,
once they're released into the wild.
What the red squirrels don't know yet,
is just how rare and special their new 1,300 acre home is.
Tony Canniford runs the base and appreciates better than most
what an important site this is for wildlife.
That is such a view!
Oh, how wonderful!
-So, we've got a few seals hauled out here.
There's normally a lot more. There's normally about 200
-and a mix of common and grey seals.
-It's the premier site
for the island of Ireland, or one of the premier sites.
But when you've got all the 200 plus hauled out there -
common and grey - it's an amazing sight.
What is it about the geography of this place that makes it
ideal for wildlife?
The army has been here really since the mid 1850s, that sort of time,
and that has enabled us to control the access of who's come in here.
So, it's a nice, safe area for the wildlife we have here.
You are lucky.
-A good office, isn't it?
-You are very lucky.
From wildlife to a different sort of wild.
'I've seen a lot of sport in my time, but never anything like this.'
And it's completely bonkers!
50 miles west of Ballykinler is Armagh,
where I'm being initiated into one of Ireland's best kept secrets.
The game looks straightforward -
chuck a heavy ball as far as possible down the road...
..whoever gets the furthest in 20 throws, wins.
How hard can it be?
That was amazing.
-That was a big shot.
-That was big.
This is Road Bowls.
Chris Mallon is the chairman of the Armagh Road Bowling Association.
-So, the car's just going through.
-Yeah, yeah. We can't stop them.
-And that's just quite normal
-Oh, that's normal, yeah. We can't get the roads closed,
so what you have to do is try and accommodate them.
Be as good as you can with letting traffic run
and not to hold it up, you know.
No-one seems to know where road bowls came from,
but it's been around in Ireland for several hundred years.
Mostly played in just two counties - Cork in the south
and here in Armagh - each has a unique throwing style.
We've got a girl here to show you her Cork technique which...
they throw like a windmill style,
the full 360 degrees of the arm.
Now, that was the Cork style.
-So that was the Cork style.
Right. And she's actually from Cork?
She's from Cork, yeah.
So this is Armagh style.
And you deliver the ball under arm.
-I'm amazed at how quickly he's actually running in.
-And how far he's gone back.
He can get great speed, the bowler.
I mean, that's almost what, 80 metres, maybe more?
That'd be more. That'd be probably 100 yards up the road, maybe more.
It looks easy enough for me
to challenge Chris's daughter to a short match.
What Chris failed to mention is
that Kelly is the All Ireland Senior Road Bowling Champion.
Do you want to go first or second?
-I'm going to go first.
-Here we go.
We've got six throws each past the viaduct
and we'll see who gets the furthest down the road.
It's only money!
A reputation to maintain now.
Right. I'm coming back.
Not bad for a first go!
My ball's marked by a tuft of grass where it stopped,
ready for my next throw.
-I'm not sure.
Yeah. That's not too bad. It's OK.
OK, so she's good.
Already 20 yards behind,
I'm going to have to raise my game to give Kelly a run for her money.
From the sands of Ballykinler in the east,
to the remote back roads of County Armagh.
And south to the mountainous border with the Irish Republic,
steeped in myth and legend.
This is Slieve Gullion,
one of the most mystical mountains in all Ireland.
Slieve Gullion means mountain of the steep slope.
But, apparently, at the top there's supposedly a witch's house
and a mythical lake.
But it strikes me as I'm climbing up here,
there's a reason why it's secret -
it's so difficult to get to.
Now, I don't believe in fairies, but I love fairy tales
and their mystical secrets,
and the legend here is so tightly bound to
the landscape that I'm irresistibly drawn to get to the bottom of it.
And I can only do that by getting to the top of it.
That was a bit of a walk, that, Claire.
-Yeah. Good to arrive
-Right. Good to arrive.
I tell you, it was worth it, though, spectacular views.
Claire Foley is an archaeologist.
She's spent a lot of time up here
trying to untangle the riddle of this mountain.
Now, look, we've come all this way to talk giants and witches.
-Now, I've done a bit of research.
What I've heard is that Fionn the giant came up here to do
-a bit of hunting.
-And he lost one of his dogs.
-OK. And all of a sudden, he came to this lake.
And he sees a beautiful woman,
and he asks this beautiful woman, "Have you seen my dog?"
And she says, "Excuse me, I'm a bit busy myself
"because I've lost something."
-What had she lost?
She'd lost her ring.
She said it had dropped into the water and asked him to retrieve it.
And so he dived in and rummaged round in the boggy water
and found the ring, miraculously, but in retrieving the ring,
he turned into an old man with long, grey hair.
-So forever more he had grey hair.
Yes, beautiful women can do that to a man, you know.
The woman who cursed Fionn the giant was Cailleach Beara,
a bitter old witch who's said to have lived on this mountain.
Surely the stuff of make-believe!
But 200 years ago, locals looking for the witch
found human bones inside a mysterious lair.
So, this is the witch's cairn, is it?
Well, this is where people believe she lived, yes.
I can imagine that.
With that view out there.
And I can imagine she could have pounced on anybody.
Today, a sinister-looking entrance entices the curious to
explore the lair's secrets.
You'll be able to stand up inside.
'This hidden chamber is made from huge slabs of overlapping granite
'and does, indeed, look like the work of giants.'
Oh, this is incredible. What is it?
This is a Neolithic passage tomb dating to 5,000 years ago.
This is 5,000 years old?
This is a 5,000 year old highly-engineered structure
built for burial and lots of other rituals probably, yes.
I actually think they may have locked young men
in here as in initiation ceremony.
That's my theory.
Now, obviously, it's very difficult to know
because we don't know much about the Stone Age, do we?
It's pre-history, really.
You know when you said 5,000 years ago,
for me, I'm trying to think.
5,000 years, I always think about Egyptians
and the great big pyramids.
Are we talking about roughly the same...
-Well, this is earlier than the Great Pyramids.
Probably contemporary with some of the minor ones.
This is the highest-surviving passage tomb in all Ireland.
It's an impressive achievement given the Stone Age people
who built it must have lived way down in the valley.
As we sit here having come out of there, I'm just trying to think
and picture what sort of community would create something like this.
Well, these people were farmers
and they were following on a long tradition of at least
1,000 years of farming before they developed this tomb type.
And they farmed that beautiful land that we can see down below.
And all those field enclosures almost remind me of what
a Neolithic field system would look like,
although these are more recent.
Archaeologists are only starting to piece together
the truth about this remote and weather-beaten monument.
To my untrained eye, this really is the stuff of fairy tales.
It's no wonder that myths
and legends ended up trying to explain this, is it?
Well, actually, we like myths and legends, as well,
because myths and legends in Ireland
have helped to preserve places like this
because people are afraid of the fairies
and they're afraid of the witch.
You can still... There might be people still living here
who believe that she was a real person.
-Yeah, and so they didn't dare touch it.
So people have that association with these sacred places
and they like to try to keep them preserved.
These ancient landscapes will forever be steeped
in the tall tales of yesteryear.
Telling stories remains a big part of Irish culture.
Professional storyteller Colum Sands
has dedicated his life to keeping this long tradition alive.
'Come away, oh, human child, to the waters and the wild
'With a fairy hand in hand,
'for the world's more full of weeping than you can understand.'
There were songs that told stories
and then there were tunes that told stories in their own way.
This is one my father used to play,
and I always just imagined my own pictures when I heard this tune.
It's called The King Of The Fairies.
People often think of storytelling as something for children.
I believe stories are being told to us all the time.
I grew up in a part of County Down called Mayobridge in the early '50s.
We didn't have electricity or running water in the house,
so it was very much a part of life, both the storytelling and the music.
There'd be stories of the locality -
news, what was happening, who was going to get married.
There would also be ghost stories, fairy stories.
Some of them had been told for hundreds of years.
Some of the tunes were very old, as well.
They were all part of a tapestry of life
and they still are to this day in this country.
If you're walking through the landscape on this island,
you may often come upon a field that is clear, but somewhere,
maybe in the very centre of the field or to one side,
there's a lone bush.
'They're known as fairy thorns,
'often regarded as being connected to the underworld.'
'You don't touch them, you don't go too close to them.
People come here to make offerings,
to tie all kinds of things to the bushes.
It could be something like the Calliagh,
the last cutting of the harvest.
The very last piece when you're cutting the corn or the wheat.
The same kind of offerings that would have been made
thousands of years ago in another culture.
'This is like a connection between two worlds.
'Here, it's in the stone circle.
'It's right beside these stones, which hold in
'who knows what story.'
You don't dabble with the fairies, but the fairy thorn -
I've already come slightly close to it, but I won't
get any closer than that -
is a very special part of life
in this country.
In Armagh, I'm in big trouble.
-Very good. Oh, listen to the cheers.
They're clearly happy with that one.
I've got to work on that technique.
'I really thought I'd be better than this.
'But then, I am up against a champion.
'But that's my excuse and I'm sticking to it!'
-So, you're on your third shot.
-Is this me or is this you?
You might be down there, I might be just here.
Oh, right, she's getting competitive now, eh?
'I must be getting it wrong.
'I seem to have attracted my own motivational coach.'
Too much fun going on here.
You're looking round you, like, you're not concentrating.
-So, I need to focus?
-Do you know what I mean, like?
-No, I hear you.
-Like we're in Sydney here.
-You were in Sydney in
This is as big an occasion and you're not treating it as.
You need to get focused, woman.
-That's good, that's good.
-Right now, see where he is there?
-You don't keep looking at the man.
-You know what I mean?
Go on, now.
-Straight through his legs.
That's very good, that was a great shot.
That was a great shot. Look, it's bending round now.
I tell you once you miss the point,
once you miss the corner it... That's a good shot.
Very nice shot.
Got to admire that.
-Oh, too much!
Too left, aah!
'At first sight, I thought road bowling
'was a quaint local tradition -
'a bit of fun heaving an oversized ball bearing
'down the road.'
Right, I've got one more, one more throw.
-One more, one more.
-And I'm going to give it everything.
Finish it off.
This is for pride.
'But how wrong was I? Pride? What pride?'
Go on, now. Keep it down a wee bit there.
Keep it down a small bit. Right?
Come on, now, give this a lash.
Yes! Well done.
What I love about road bowls is it's inclusive.
Men, women, children can take part.
You're out in the open space
and it's got a real sense of tradition here
amongst the community.
'And, yes, Kelly won!'
Some secrets are hidden in plain sight,
they could be staring you in the face, but if you don't know
what you're looking for, you can walk straight past them.
'Nature has a habit of reclaiming what we abandon.
'There was a fluke discovery in 2014 at Ballykinler
'that revealed this curious hidden feature
'on the restricted army base.
'Someone who's been puzzling over the unusual shape
'of these earthworks, is historian Philip Orr.'
You're actually having a look here at a piece of pure history
because this is the line of a trench dug at the start
of the First World War and it's been dug here
so that young men, who were based at Ballykinler training
in the army, can get a feel of what the Western Front's
going to be like.
'The war in France was mired in deadly
'and claustrophobic trench warfare.
'To make sure the new recruits experienced
'authentic fighting conditions, a large area of Ballykinler
'was turned over to create a realistic front-line trench system.'
Here, for example, you might have practised hurling a grenade
ie a tin full of stones out of the trench and over into no-man's-land
towards the German trenches, as you were pretending they were there.
Who were the men who trained here?
The young men who trained here were straight on the train
down from Belfast.
They'd probably never been out of the city in their lives,
they were young, working-class fellows.
Some of them attempted to get back home at the weekend as
if it was a Boys' Brigade camp or a Scout camp.
You almost get the feeling, at times, that they were
unaware of the intensity of what lay ahead of them.
'These medals were awarded to one of the soldiers who trained here
'and fought in France, Paul Miskelly's grandfather, Henry.'
You've got some photos in there?
I do indeed, photographs both of my grandfather, Henry...
-..of the First World War.
He was just 17 when he joined up.
-Oh, my goodness.
-Just a boy.
And that's Samuel, that's his brother.
-Oh! His younger brother?
-Older brother Samuel.
Samuel was 20... 20 years of age when he joined up.
So, what then happened to your grandfather and great-uncle?
Well, my grandfather seen the war out, hence that's why I'm here.
But unfortunately my great-uncle left the trenches in Tiefel Wood
and went over no-man's-land.
His body was never found again.
He was 22 years of age when he was reported killed.
And then how do your family remember them?
I always remember my grandmother wearing a brooch.
With a photograph of Samuel, which she never took off.
-Have you got the brooch?
-I have the brooch with me.
Let's have a look.
My grandma wore that all her life.
-Every single day?
-Every single day.
'Henry and Samuel Miskelly weren't the only family members
'to train here.
'By a twist of fate, Paul was stationed at Ballykinler in
'the '70s, three decades before these trenches
'were unearthed again.'
I served with the Ulster Defence Regiment.
But you haven't seen...
Aye, it's the first time I've actually been in these trenches.
What do you make of it?
This is where my grandfather and my great-uncle actually walked
and trained prior to going away and, you know, actually walking
in their footsteps made me feel proud, you know.
And very emotional at times, you know.
'Whether missing in action,
'tucked away in secluded country lanes, or hidden on top
'of a mountain, there are secrets waiting to be discovered everywhere.
'To find them, you just need to know where to look
'and a little bit of luck.'
'Some secrets require personal sacrifice,
'like getting up in the middle of the night.'
It's a bit fresh.
Yeah. Just watch your step there, Chris.
Right. So, we've got...
'Schoolteacher Mamraz Nagi,
'is passionate about the Fermanagh landscape and, this morning,
'he's promised to show me something really dazzling.'
Any thermals in here?
I'm afraid not.
-Good to go?
-Yeah, I'm ready.
It's a bit foggy, isn't it, this morning?
'20 minutes outside Enniskillen, in the far west of Northern Ireland,
'we're off up the Knockmore escarpment.
'And, at this time of the day, we've got the place to ourselves.'
Oh, it's beautiful, isn't it, now?
-I keep looking that way, but have you seen down here?
You're getting all the magentas over here and look at that ridge.
It's going to be beautiful this morning.
Oh, look at that.
I don't think I've ever seen anything like that.
Absolutely beautiful, and you're only ten miles out of town.
I am admiring this view. What time does the sun rise?
The sun rises just around 7.30.
-Remember, you got me up at four.
I better not miss this, otherwise you're going to be very upset.
'Mamraz is an amateur photographer,
'who will go to any length to get the perfect shot.'
-Oh, this is it.
-Look at this.
And we've got the moon shining above as well. Everything!
-And the sun's coming up!
-Yeah, getting close.
Wow, this little cave.
I was going to say, I'll get the comfortable spot in here.
-Not many seats.
-Yeah. I think if you go to the inside...
-..against that wall.
-And I'm going to perch here right beside you.
Now, the sun comes up right to left?
Yeah. Just follow the ridge down and the sun will come up to the right
and the light should illuminate these walls and pour into the cave.
Because that's the thing we're doing differently, right?
Because most people take a photo of the sunrise.
But we're going to get the reflections off the walls.
-OK lens cap off. That's important, isn't it?
That's the most important thing.
'The wait sets in.
'But so does the mist...
'..shrouding Mamraz's secret in mystery.'
You promised me a nice sunrise down there.
It isn't happening, is it?
I'm going to have a look round.
Yeah, that is thick.
Oh, what a shame.
It is a total shame, but look, this is what we could have got.
-This is what I could have won?
-This is what you could have won.
Oh, well done that is a spectacular shot.
-And we were right in that position to wait for it to happen.
We're just not going to get it this morning, I'm afraid.
-I'll just have a look.
-That's going to hurt even more, isn't it?
-It looks like a different country over there, doesn't it?
'I'm disappointed and tired - an early start for nothing.
'But Mamraz insists these clouds have a silver lining.'
The one cave that we're right at now has intrigued me for years.
When I first spotted it on the map,
it just didn't say cave it said "letter cave."
-Oh, right, yeah.
-Which meant that there were inscriptions in it.
-Yeah, right in there.
Just right next to where we were standing.
I'm really, totally unobservant because I've been
-in there for, what? An hour. Let's have a look.
Is it... Whereabouts?
All along this wall, there's some lovely detail to be found.
I was staring at that wall for hours waiting for the sun.
-Oh, look. There's like a little man there, isn't there?
What's that? Looks like a fish or a leaf or something.
A fish or a leaf, yeah.
Then if you move up here, you'll seen some,
like, a Celtic symbol.
And there's one here of particular interest and it looks like
some sort of butterfly, which is just on the wall here.
-Oh, yeah, here. Beautifully done, isn't it?
'Covering the entire wall,
'the carvings tell the stories of long-forgotten hill dwellers.
'I just couldn't see for looking.'
-Some of these inscriptions are just prior to 400 AD.
Yeah. So, these would be pagan, so pre-Christian.
This one as well, down there.
And then a bit further up, we're into symbols that we recognise.
-There's Christianity up here.
-Some 21st century ones as well.
-Yeah, unfortunately so.
-It's all part of history.
-Yeah, it's all part of history.
Fascinating. I mean, you don't really need a sunrise, do you?
You just could have spent the entire morning in here.
'Fermanagh is a county riddled with hidden caves, sinkholes
'and underground rivers -
'not everyone's idea of a good day out,
'but an adventure playground for the fearless.'
Do you need any help, Bethany?
'Caving to me, it's just a way to relax.'
'Tim Millen is a caver who shares his love of the sport with
'three of his children - Annabel, Noah and Bethany.'
'Once they reached six, we thought it would be OK to take them down.
'They're a bit more steady on their feet
'and they can overcome sort of the obstacles.
'So Bethany, this year has been her first year actually, you know.
'She turned six in December.
'She took to it like a duck to water, she loves it.'
I really like caving because I think it's like a special world to me.
I feel like I'm on a special mission to do loads
of fun stuff inside the caves.
'It's better than sitting in front of the TV playing video games all day long.
'It gets them out, it gets them to see everything around them
'and, you know, I think it's a wholesome activity, it really is.'
-Are you OK, Noah?
-Yeah, I'm fine!
OK, Noah. Watch that slippy rock there.
'The cave today is, it's called Pollasumera.
'A bit of water just swishing round your feet at the start.
'A nice open passage and then it narrows down as you go round
'the bend a wee bit and gets narrower and narrower.'
Noah, leave that stick alone, in case it falls down.
That's a good boy.
'One of the dangers is the flood risk.
'The caves are underground rivers
'and so we're always watching on the weather forecast to make sure
'that you're going to be OK to get in and out before the water rises.
'Another thing is fall hazards.
'You know, you could fall on the rocks
'or fall down a hole.
'It's worth the risk. Ten times over.'
Almost at the squeeze, folks.
'Our objective today is to try to get beyond the squeeze
'that we didn't get to the last time.'
'The squeeze in a cave is where you have to really push your body
'through a very tight space.'
OK. Right we've got as far as the squeeze.
So if we get through this, we've achieved what we came to do today.
-OK? So who's going to have a go at the squeeze?
-I'll go first.
-You go first Noah?
-No, I want to go first.
Well, Bethany'll go first, then Noah, and then Annabel.
'You have to breathe out to empty all the air out of your lungs
'so that you're as thin as possible to get through.'
Are you OK, Bethany?
My helmet's stuck.
You need to be a wee, a wee bit lower Bethany. Follow Noah.
It's no problem for the kids
but last time I had my mobile phone in my pocket
and that was probably an issue getting through.
So, I'll breathe out, push on through
and that'll be me through.
'At the end of the cave, I got through a really tight squeeze.'
It wasn't that tight for me, but it was very tight for Daddy.
Are you OK, kids?
'I just love exploring and the challenges that
'are involved in going to places that very few people get to see.
'But the kids, whenever it comes to show and tell at school,
'they have a really interesting story to tell that no-one else
'really can relate to, and just something exciting.
'A bit like Indiana Jones.'
'It's just 130 miles from Northern Ireland's wonderful
'western border back to its eastern shoreline.
'And Britain's largest sea inlet...
'..the beautiful Strangford Lough.'
You might ask how this lough can contain secrets when it's
one of the most popular places to live and visit in Northern Ireland.
But the key is to get off the tourist trail.
'Just ten miles south of Belfast, most day-trippers who visit
'Strangford Lough, stick to the scenic drives along the coast,
'or pleasure boating in its deeper waters.
'To discover the lough's less well known nooks and crannies,
'I'm going to need some local knowledge.
'Father and son Cadogan and Cadog Enright,
'are on a mission to seek out all the hidden corners of the lough.'
-Ellie in first. Up to the front.
-And now Cadog.
You sit on there, Ellie.
Woo! Steady on there, Cadog.
-Are we good?
-Are we ready?
-Off we go!
-Ooh! I'm sliding backwards.
-It's the beginning of the adventure.
This is going to be great.
Are you going to shout some instructions at me?
-Straight out beyond that ferry.
-And then we'll turn left and head north.
This is just blissful on its own, without even finding the secrets.
Right. There might be a current coming out behind that pier.
-So, just be aware of the fact it might want to push us out
and we'll stay in to the shore.
'The boys have promised me a unique perspective on this
'enchanting sea lough and its secluded islands.
'And navigating the shallows in a stealthy canoe,
'certainly rewards us with an exclusive experience.'
See that bird?
-It's a heron.
-Yeah. A grey heron.
They look, they look like dinosaurs, don't they?
It's been great. I've seen oyster catchers, eiders, shanks.
It's been really good for wildlife already.
How many islands are there?
Oh, there are 370-odd.
So have you landed on them all, do you think?
We've landed probably on 108.
'The lads are taking me to their favourite uninhabited island.
'But first we have some tricky waters to navigate.'
It's certainly getting a bit lumpy now, the wind's picked up
and the tide's on the turn. You can really feel it.
-You see the left-hand side?
That's the strongest tide I think outside the Menai Straits.
The strongest current.
Cadog and I have ridden that tide and shot up 12 miles
to the top of the lough in less than three hours.
Wow! The strength of that tide, that's incredible.
We've certainly got to get across all this now.
'The tidal waters are connected to the Irish Sea via a tight channel.
'Four times a day, 77 million gallons of saltwater
'rush through these narrows.
'The dramatic tidal surges, put off your average paddler.'
Here we go, this is getting quite bubbly now.
-We're picking up speed now.
-I can feel it, I can feel it!
Ellie, we'll head out through the middle.
-If you see a big rock, steer away from it.
Oh! Here's the rocks.
There we go.
'Safely through the rapids,
'we hope to reach the boys' secret island retreat before dark.'
'20 miles from the lough are the Mourne Mountains,
'the highest in Northern Ireland.
'Bleak, steep and remote,
'they're the guardians of the mysteriously named Silent Valley.
This granite wall took 18 years to build
and spans 15 mountains, top to bottom.
It's an amazing feat of dry-stone wall engineering.
'Yet, this extraordinary 22-mile wall
'was just the beginning of a monumental construction project
'through the heart of Northern Ireland's toughest terrain.
'This is Silent Valley Reservoir.
'It's hard to imagine how the dam was ever built, when the only way
'in and out of these mountains seems to be a farm track.
'It's deathly quiet here
'and the silence speaks volumes to hill walker Alan Kilgore.'
So, talk to me about this road and where we are at the moment.
Well, you're really in the heart of the Mournes
and not far from where we are is the Silent Valley Reservoir.
But this is a very important road,
in that when the Silent Valley Reservoir was being built,
the workforce all lived on site. In and around where we are now,
there would have been a very busy town called Watertown.
So, you say a town.
I mean, I can't imagine any sort of town here.
I mean, it's just beautiful, lush. But what was it like?
Well, you've got to think back.
In this time there was a railway into the valley
bringing all the material up here.
The neighbouring villages couldn't accommodate a workforce.
The workforce had to be given some accommodation where they could live.
So this whole valley was a massive public work scheme with
people living on it, people looking after them.
So you had a whole community living here at one time.
'Watertown sprang up overnight, with shops, an infirmary,
'a police station and even a cinema,
'catering for the 600 workers who lived here.'
It's a bit of a clamber down.
-A big step.
-You have maybe a half century of growth in here.
Well, it's a good job I'm fit.
'Alan insists remains are there to be found, if we make the effort.'
-Well, there's a ditch here.
And it's a deep ditch. It's OK.
'I'm not sure that's what he had in mind.'
-There you go. Yeah.
-And there you are.
-There's our base.
This was where a family perhaps would have lived or,
a group of men would have shared accommodation.
And apart from this concrete base, just no evidence.
There's very little evidence of people living here.
Work started on the dam in 1923,
to create a three billion gallon reservoir to service Belfast.
'A great din filled this now silent valley for a decade.
'It was dangerous work for the men who laboured here.
'Terry King will never forget the sacrifice some of them
'made to get the dam built.'
Terry, your uncle actually helped construct the dam.
Tell me a little bit about him.
Yes, Mick was a digger driver.
He was the driver, or the controller of the machine,
digging this place out and digging all the soil and stuff out of here.
And then, when they had it all dug out and down to the depth,
he was making the banks here.
Do you have a picture of Mick that I could see?
Yes, I do indeed, of Mick and my Aunt Bridget, his wife.
And that was taken shortly after they were married.
'The driver of a steam-powered excavator,
'Mick dug down over 200 feet to bedrock.
'But in difficult conditions, danger was never far away.'
The machine rolled from the top, my mother said,
right down to the bottom with him in it.
So it was a complete wreck when they got to...
Got down to him, you know.
I mean his daughter was only six months old when he was killed.
They had one daughter.
'Mick was one of eight men who lost their lives building the dam.
'The massive project was completed in just over a decade.
'And today, the reservoir still channels 130 million litres
'of water a day, to Belfast.'
-Wow! Just look at this!
So not only is it functional in what it does,
just impressive masonry...
And aesthetically something to really look at.
Just to carry water, to think it's built like this.
-Yeah. Very impressive.
'We're so lucky to have been given special permission to
'go into the dam and embankment,
'that Terry's great uncle helped build.
'Every stone is beautifully dressed,
'even those of the enormous reservoir overspill.'
-VOICE ECHOES: That's breathtaking.
-It's like a railway tunnel.
-Wow, listen to the echo on that.
-It's quite steep, Denise.
-Yeah, the banks are really steep.
Yeah, the side walls are.
'Each brick down here was laid by hand,
'a testament to the skill of the workforce.
'And though it was built for functionality,
'there's a beauty in its form and symmetry.'
This is the end of the line, Denise.
This is the end of the line and what an impressive stop it is.
-It's just incredible, isn't it?
And all hand built by Mick and the other,
all the other workers and their teams, built in ten years.
'This impressive dam in such a remote and harsh location
'is perhaps a fitting monument to the memory of Mick
'and the men of Watertown.
'So too the silence and the valley they left behind.'
'On Strangford Lough, we've finally arrived
'at Cadog and Cadogan's secret uninhabited island.'
Well, this is pretty remote.
'The boys love to camp in this isolated spot.
'They're hoping they'll be able to show me
'something really rare, the elusive swimming hare.'
You're like a mountain goat, Cadog.
-Look at you on your nimble legs.
I'll give you a pound if you spot a hare, Cadog.
So, this is where they'll be.
We'll probably see them race across,
and find cover as far away as they can from you, you know.
'Apparently, these Irish hares eat seaweed.
'I'm told it's almost impossible to catch them swimming,
'but we might just spy one on land.'
How many hares do you think there are here?
Well, we've always seen two or three.
Erm, and it's pretty much on every island.
It's just for some reason, every time we come here,
a hare races across.
I thought I saw a flicker of movement down there.
Yeah, yeah, yeah. It's just behind...
Yeah, there it is.
Past all these thistles here and all this vegetation.
Oh, you just get tiny glimpses, but it's definitely there.
-Yeah, I saw it.
-Did you see it?
-Yeah. See, it's on that...
-There it is, it's going... That's it!
-Oh, yeah I've got it.
There we go. Ooh! That's good speeds.
It's probably going to go swimming.
-Yeah. I'm not sure about these swimming hares.
I think this is something you two see after...
-I think they're hiding at the moment.
-After the camp fire.
If they're going swimming they'd go in that direction, wouldn't they?
'Catching a glimpse of a wild animal in its natural setting
'always feels very special.
'And, to be honest, just getting off the beaten track and away
'from the crowds in a setting like this, is reward in itself.'
Well, thank you for letting me see your secrets of the lough.
I mean, there's so much more. We've got 60-odd
islands on that side, and we haven't even been near them.
-I'll have to come back another day.
'Strangford isn't the only lough in Northern Ireland with
'a stunning collection of secluded islands.
'In the far west of Fermanagh lies the lake district.
'This is Lough Erne,
'the UK's longest freshwater lake.
'Heavily forested and remote,
'it's also very close to the Atlantic Ocean.
'Which meant this very spot was suddenly of huge strategic
'importance during the Second World War.'
It was the perfect place for a secret base,
hidden between the mountains and that forest.
I mean, it's still pretty difficult to find today,
but at least I have this photograph to help me find my bearings.
'With all these caravans dotted around on the tarmac,
'it's hard to imagine this holiday park
'was once an operational RAF base.
'But in World War II, this was RAF Castle Archdale.
'Sunderland and Catalina flying boats would've refuelled
'and re-armed here,
'before taking off on anti-submarine patrols over the Atlantic.
'Breege McCusker met many of the veterans who flew from here,
'and knows her way around the remains of this hidden air base.'
This is the first time I can actually almost
use my imagination and say, "Yeah, this does look like a base."
What is this exactly, here?
Well, what we're looking at is the Shetland Dock and that was
built in 1945 just towards the end of the Second World War.
And the idea was that the planes were going to be brought in here and serviced.
And for those who don't know anything about flying boats, and so on, they are big.
-I mean, they are big.
There's Catalinas and the Sunderlands which were here.
So the idea was that they came into this area here
and the wings would be overlapping these two areas here,
and the maintenance work would have been done on them.
You can hear a pin drop here, can't you, now.
But then it must have been very noisy.
This was like a city, a town.
To think they had over 2,500 personnel here.
This was vibrant.
'Flying up to 1,000 miles out over the Atlantic,
'these flying boats shadowed convoys and attacked enemy submarines.
'Missions could last 12 or 13 hours, so there were
'galley kitchens on board
'and even space to grab 40 winks.
'Then, it was back to Lough Erne, to refuel and re-arm,
'ready to go again.
'New Zealander Neil Ennis was a Sunderland pilot at RAF Archdale.
'His daughter, Pat, now lives just 30 miles away.'
1944, it says there.
So, in the '40s we know your dad was based here.
-Yeah. What do you know about him?
Well, I just knew that he and my mum got married and the day after,
-he was sent to train as a pilot and ended up here.
Did he... Did he ever talk about it?
He talked about the conditions of the weather,
which he thought was appalling.
But in the planes,
they're incredibly noisy and cold and rattly,
-they were like big tin sheds.
And they always reminded me of those metal World War II trunks
-that you see in war movies.
You know, the whole plane was sort of like that.
But they were hunting for U-boats.
My father could never find anything when he was home.
He couldn't find socks in the airing cupboard
So God knows how they spotted U-boats.
This is what it was like in the 1940s.
-I don't know whether you've seen this photograph before.
I mean, it's so busy. It's so quiet now. Really busy back then.
And did you know that this was the operations room
where we've just had a coffee?
-No. Not at all.
It's interesting listening to your voice because there's
obviously a lot of New Zealand, and there's a bit of Irish in there.
You obviously have an affiliation to this place, too.
I love it here.
I came here 30 years ago and was so happy.
From the second I got off the plane,
I just felt like home, so...
And I actually came here and settled here before I knew
that my father had been based in Castle Archdale.
'Northern Ireland has been a revelation.
'It's given up some spectacular secrets,
'and shown off its great natural wonders -
'its man-made marvels,
'unique geology and ancient stories.
'All of them wrapped up in majestic landscapes.'
And there's no better way of soaking up the magic
and majesty of Northern Ireland, than in the air.
Ellie Harrison, Chris Hollins and Denise Lewis explore Northern Ireland. As one of the least touristy places in the UK, the province is brimming with secrets.
Olympic gold medallist Denise Lewis is chastised for a lack of focus when she competes in an unusual and unique local competition. Chris Hollins goes in search of a witch's lair on top of a mysterious mountain. And Ellie Harrison uncovers the secret history of an army training base that has been closed to the public for over a century.