Tales From Northumberland (2013) s01e01 Episode Script

Episode 1

It's a land with more castles than any other English county.
Ancient ruins offering a unique window into our past, and our darkest night skies.
For me, everything that makes Britain great can be found right here in Northumberland.
But I guess I would say that - I was born here.
And it's a place I'm still very proud to call home.
I'm Robson Green, and in this series I'm going to discover how Northumberland's turbulent past shaped the world we live in today.
A battle took place on these fields that changed the course of British history.
I'll meet the people who are keeping its history alive.
It's one of the biggest days of my life.
So join me on a magical journey.
It won't all be plain sailing.
Ow! You swine! I haven't slept a wink! How do you get yourself in these situations? That is unbelievable! Look at that sight! These are my tales from Northumberland.
Stretching from just north of Newcastle right up to the Scottish border, Northumberland has more than 100 miles of unspoilt coastline.
And a vast and rugged countryside where you can walk for miles and not see another soul.
It's a region I thought I knew well, but over the next eight weeks I'm going to travel the length and breadth of the county by land, seaand air, to experience a whole new side to a part of the world I love.
As England's most sparsely populated county, Northumberland has become a haven for a vast range of wildlife.
Today, I'll be getting back to nature on the Farnes, a group of islands just off the northeast coast.
But my journey begins on more familiar territory, in the port of Seahouses.
It's a place I know and love from many childhood holidays.
It hasn't changed.
I've been coming here since the age of seven.
Every year we would come here.
Mind you, it took us about three hours from where we lived.
It was only 40 miles away.
Six of us packed in my dad's Hillman Imp.
No place worth going is easy to get to.
And once we got here, I'm telling you it was worth it.
Seahouses Harbour was created in 1889 to support the region's fishing and lime industry.
The town takes its name from the small group of houses that were built for the local fishermen and their families.
These days, its main business is tourism.
It's the closest Northumberland really gets to the classic British bucket and spade seaside destination.
One of the best ice cream shops in Northumberland.
These places really do take me back.
I used to love this game.
I used to think I could win everything on the shelf.
But you never did.
Argh! Come on.
Do you know, I heard my best joke ever in here.
Came in, I said, "Cod and chips twice.
" And he went, "I heard you the first time.
" When I was growing up in the '70s, many working-class families were, for the first time, jetting off to exotic-sounding places like Majorca and Benidorm.
But I wouldn't have swapped our holidays in drizzly Northumberland for anything.
Just like back then, one of the main attractions of coming to Seahouses is the boat trips out to the Farne Islands.
Every year, more than 45,000 tourists take the three-mile boat ride across the bay to experience these steep volcanic rocks, which are home to 23 different species of birds and a colony of grey seals.
William Shiel runs trips out to the islands on a fleet of boats named the Glad Tidings.
It's been the Shiel family business for nearly 100 years.
It was William's grandad, John Shiel, who ran the very first boat trips to the Farnes in 1918, just after the First World War.
In the early days, when the grandfather and father was crab and lobster fishing, down to the harbour would come one or two birdwatchers that would ask to go out to the islands to view the seabirds.
So they would take them out in the old coble and have a view of the seabirds.
Seahouses' main industry moved from fishing to tourism in the '60s and '70s, and the Shiel boat business went from strength to strength, led by William's dad, Billy.
He even escorted royalty out to the Farnes, you know.
The highlight of Father's career would be meeting the Queen.
They picked the Queen off the royal yacht in 1958.
He entertained the Queen Mother in 1962 - again, a boat trip out to the island.
When Billy died in 2011, it was son William's turn to take the helm.
Nowadays, with the seven boats that we've got, we're taking thousands of people out each year.
They travel from all over the world.
We have a little bit more business now than what Dad had in the early days.
There's a little bit more to look after, but I'm trying.
Today, William's taken time out from his busy schedule to escort another keen visitor out to the Farnes.
I'm looking forward to this.
- William.
- Hello, Robson.
- How are you, man? - Not too bad.
- Good to see you.
Really good to see you.
- You too.
Is it important to you to carry on what your dad had with the boats? I would say so.
He left a good legacy, so I think it's only fair that I carry it on.
- There's lots of tourism comes here.
- Keeping you busy? - We are.
They're keeping us busy, yes.
- Good.
Your dad would be proud.
Your dad would be proud.
- Right, William, pedal to the metal.
- Let's go.
At low tide, the Farnes are made up of 30 tiny islands.
I'm travelling to one called Inner Farne.
The islands are uninhabited, apart from a handful of National Trust rangers who spend nine months here every year, looking after one of Britain's largest bird colonies.
I'm going to spend the next day and night living with the rangers, to experience a side of these islands only a privileged few get to see.
I've got a feeling the next 24 hours is gonna be a whole new experience.
I have no idea what to expect.
But whatever happens I've got a feeling it's going to be entertaining.
As we approached the island, I was in for a surprise.
Wow, look at you, you beauties! Ha-ha-ha! I wasn't prepared for the sheer number of birds that greeted me.
Tens of thousands of them.
The Farnes in peak season are one of Britain's greatest natural wonders.
The noise is deafening.
That is unbelievable! Look at that sight! You've got puffins, guillemots, cormorants Isn't that just wonderful! Well, I never.
It really must be an isolated existence here for the rangers.
I mean, what sort of person chooses to live on this tiny rock in the North Sea? David Steel, how the devil are you? How are you, sir? Here to greet me is Head Ranger, David Steel.
- I come bearing gifts.
- Oh, supplies! Brilliant.
I tell you, the team are looking forward to this.
Yes, I'm not the only thing being delivered by William Shiel's boat today.
There's also vital supplies from the mainland, like drinking water Well, that must be lunch, and it looks like the postman's been.
Gas bill.
Double glazing.
- There's a speeding fine in there.
- It it Oh, no, there's some post, some personal post.
There you go.
- Ah - The rest of it's just bills! David's worked on Inner Farne for the past 13 years.
No-one knows this place better than him.
So what have we got here? This is a tern, isn't it? These birds are incredible.
These birds are arctic terns.
And they actually winter off the packed ice of the Antarctic.
That's how far they go.
Come back here and breed, and here they are.
Look at you! You all right, mate? Whoa, steady.
I come in peace.
I tell you It's superb.
- Whoa! - Oh, 'ey up! We're now being attacked by terns.
That wasn't in the script.
Just relax, Robson.
They told me this place was like a location from a movie.
They didn't tell me it was Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds.
They start out these colours, and after a month or so, they turn to this colour.
You know what? I've been crapped on from a great height many a time, David, but never by an arctic tern.
Well, there you go.
First time for everything.
Let's go.
You look ridiculous.
This is absolute mayhem, David.
It's absolute chaos.
One's just attacked the director.
I think it's drawn blood.
All right, just listen up! I come Ow! You swine! Ow! He got me! It's not often you find yourself outnumbered 30,000-1 by another species.
Did you ever get the feeling you're not wanted, Robson? I'm trespassing.
This is definitely their land.
The Inner Farne belongs to the birds.
And I can see why David and his team, the rangers, want to preserve something like this.
Well, having been terrorised by terns and poo'd on by puffins, I'm ready for some home comforts.
Maybe I'll find them here.
This disused lighthouse is one of only four buildings on the island and it's going to be my home for the next 24 hours.
Built in 1809.
Hasn't changed much.
And er Having said that, here's the office.
This is the business side of the Farne Islands, as you can see, and we're gonna show you inside the room you're staying in here.
- This is where I'm staying, is it? - Yeah.
With all its mod cons.
- Do you have Internet, TV? - Oh, no, of course not.
- You kidding? - We haven't even got electricity in this building.
When this goes dark tonight, it's pitch black.
- Are you serious? No electricity? - There's no electricity.
There's not even any running water.
- You know the worst thing? - What? Toilets.
You've got to run through them arctic terns - outside toilets.
Just gonna ring my agent.
But I have to say, pretty treacherous waters out there, and they're not this calm every day of the year.
So what happens when you're kind of cut off from the mainland? The fun and games start.
A few years back, we had a big storm kick off.
We weren't expecting it.
We were cut off for 17 days and ran out of fuel on day ten.
And we lost contact with the outside world.
That was it.
I'm not sure I could cope with being stranded out here.
I mean, how would I find out how Newcastle got on on a Saturday? ' I mean, it is quite a racket, but you know what? With this sea air, I'll be out like a light.
Well, that was the plan, anyway.
But my Northumberland adventure is about to take a tern for the worse.
I came to the Farne Islands for tranquillity and serenity and peace, and at the moment, at two o'clock in the morning, it's a bloody nightmare.
Northumberland's rugged and rocky coastline makes it an ideal habitat for sea life, and nowhere more so than the Farne Islands.
I'm spending 24 hours living with the islands'National Trust rangers who look after one of Britain's largest seabird colonies.
I'm only here for one night, so as I joined the rangers for dinner, I wanted to find out what it was like living here for nine months of the year.
Does it not drive you mad? Be honest.
You can be as honest as you like.
- No, it doesn't.
- Seriously? It doesn't, no.
You get a bit of cabin fever towards the end, because it's a small island.
We're all around each other 24/7, you know, it's natural, but at the same time, look around yourself.
All these seabirds, and we're there contributing, making a difference.
So it's a bit difficult to get annoyed, really.
We do long hours.
You can work 12-, 13-hour days, and it's just part of the job.
But I don't think anyone thinks of it as work.
It's not like a 9 to 5.
- It becomes life, doesn't it? - It's your lifestyle.
But the rangers weren't the first inhabitants of Inner Farne.
In the 7th century, Saint Cuthbert, one of the most important saints of early Christianity, lived here in solitude for ten years.
This monastery was later built in his honour.
What's less well known about Saint Cuthbert is that he was a pioneer of conservation.
While living on this island, he created the world's first bird protection laws, in order to preserve the Farnes' wildlife for future generations.
Without Saint Cuthbert, the Farnes might not have the birdlife I'm experiencing today.
Do you know what, a lot of people might think that Saint Cuthbert living here on his own for ten years, and you living here for 13 years might be quite a lonely and isolated existence.
- Is it? - No, not at all.
The Farnes itself is a staggering place to live and work.
There's something special about them, something spiritual.
You're almost going back to nature.
This is a phenomenal place.
As the sun sets on Inner Farne, I'm starting to understand why David and his team love this island.
I head to bed with a feeling of contentment and ready for a good night's sleep.
Can you keep the noise down? Goodness' sake, don't you lot ever sleep? I came to the Farne Islands for tranquillity and serenity and peace, and what do I get? A cacophony of guillemots, terns and puffins.
And if they don't shut up, there's gonna be tern tart and puffin pie on tomorrow's breakfast menu.
Robson Green, telling you that this is my Northumberland.
And at the moment at two o'clock in the morning, it's a bloody nightmare.
No they just didn't shut up.
The rangers tell me, "Oh, you get used to it after a while.
" Well, like Saint Cuthbert, it'll probably take me ten years to get used to this.
Whoa! Ow! Well, that's just woken me up! Isn't it great? 5am starts and sleepless nights are all part of the job for an island ranger on Inner Farne.
Head Ranger David is already hard at work.
- Morning, Robson.
- How are you? - I'm good, sir.
How are you? - I'm very well.
- Did you sleep well? - Sort of.
I haven't slept well for about two or three months.
- Really? - How about yourself? Take a wild guess, David.
I've come at a crucial time for the rangers.
They've nearly completed the latest puffin census - a five-yearly survey of how many breeding pairs of puffins are living on the Farnes.
Nesting in underground burrows, these shy seabirds have been found on the islands for centuries, the craggy rock formations providing shelter from the North Sea.
I have to say, the puffin is my favourite bird.
It has a real quirky character.
It's quite a resilient bird as well.
When you think these birds will be leaving in August, and are gonna sit on the sea till next March - it doesn't matter what the storms throw at them.
For the next eight months of its life, it's gonna bob about on the sea.
How hardy is that! The puffin's a tough little bird, but it's recently been having a hard time.
The last census showed numbers had dropped by a third, and last spring hundreds of dead puffins were washed up on the northeast shoreline, having struggled to cope with the stormy weather.
Which makes this year's census all the more vital.
Our first task is to check these burrows for any puffins that need adding to the count.
- Aw.
- This is the first time this chick - there you go - has seen the outside world.
Poor thing.
He's thinking, "You're not my father.
" Don't worry, we come in peace.
We're here to look after you, and your mum and dad.
So you can see You can see how they dig their burrows.
They've got these incredibly sharp claws.
And then they've got a very distinctive bill which they'll use to dig out as well.
Just gonna flip him on his back.
So this is just like wearing a little identification tag with a distinctive number.
The ringing can only be undertaken by a qualified National Trust ranger, and it's no easy task.
- Oh, he's got you! - Oh! Phwoar! Hey! - Ah-ha-ha-ha! - Dear me! I bet Bill Oddie doesn't have to put up with that.
Let's hope mum behaves herself while David rings her two-week-old chick.
You OK, skipper? - Yeah.
- Don't bite me.
- Are you OK? - Yeah, I've got him.
Do you know what? I never thought I'd get up close and personal to an iconic image of Northumberland.
Now, would you like to release it? So what we're going to do, I'll let the chick go down first, then you put the adult at the entrance, let go, and it'll scamper away.
- No worries.
- I'll put this fella back so he can get on with life.
There he goes.
- Well done, mate.
- Brilliant.
Good work, man.
Two more puffins added to the count.
These birds are such an important part of Northumberland's heritage, it would be a tragedy if they disappeared from our shores.
What's your feeling about the count? Numbers up, down, or the same? - It's looking good.
- It's looking good? Excellent.
It looks like this year we've stabilised and we've got a slight increase.
We've got a couple of thousand on top of what we had five years ago, so about 40,000 pairs, which is great news.
It's good news for the seabirds here.
- It shows the health of the colony.
- Ah, that's great news.
Good news all around - for you, for the birds, for the tourists, for Northumberland.
Hey, guys.
Like the birds of Inner Farne, we've all got to leave sometime.
I couldn't think of a better place not to get a good night's sleep.
- An absolute privilege to meet you.
- And you.
I don't mean to be patronising, but you do such an important job.
Thanks ever so much.
I think this belongs to you.
- Thank you very much.
- Take care.
- All the best.
- Look after yourselves.
Well, I'm ready for a shower and a comfy bed, but I wouldn't have missed this experience for anything.
The Farne Islands are an incredible force of nature, but I found out even nature needs a helping hand.
And I wonder if William Shiel's grandkids will be taking visitors to the Farnes in another 50 years' time.
I hope so.
You know what, I've been coming to these parts of Northumberland since I was seven years old, but these last two days have proved that there's always something new to discover even in the most familiar places.
Give me the boy of seven and I give you the man.
And it's just as wondrous and as beautiful as it was back then.

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