Tales From Northumberland (2013) s02e04 Episode Script

Series 2, Episode 4

I'm Robson Green and in this series I'm experiencing a whole new side to my home county of Northumberland.
Come on! Yeah! I'll be discovering parts of Northumberland I never knew existed.
There really is no place in Britain quite like it.
Today I'm going in search of buried treasure.
I'll meet the members of the public who unearth priceless Roman remains.
We knew it was something big.
What was in the box we did not know.
I'll visit the holy island of Lindisfarne on the trail of Vikings.
Were the Vikings as terrifying as they were written about? Most definitely.
And I'll go in search of the secrets that lie at the bottom of the North Sea.
You can go to a museum and see stuff like this.
But this is a whole new experience.
So join me on a journey into the unknown in the land they call The Secret Kingdom.
Northumberland has more castles and ancient monuments than any other part of England.
But many of the region's historical gems lie hidden beneath our feet, just waiting to be discovered.
Today's journey starts at the port of Seahouses where I'm going to do something I've never done before - dive for sunken treasure.
I'll admit I'm more than a bit excited.
Andy Hunt is a marine engineer by trade.
But his real passion is scuba diving, and not just any old diving.
Andy is a shipwreck hunter.
- Andy, how are you? - Morning.
- Robson.
- Very well.
- Pleased to meet you.
- You too.
- How's conditions looking? - Fantastic.
Expecting really good visibility.
We've got a couple of good wrecks for you.
Let's get out there.
England has more wrecks per mile of coastline than anywhere else in the world.
Northumberland has one of the most treacherous stretches of coast in Britain, leaving its waters home to over 200 wrecks, with many found here at the Farne Islands.
At low tide, the Farnes are made up of 28 steep volcanic rocks that jut up out of the sea.
Why is this such a good area to view shipwrecks? The Farne Islands itself is a perfect trap for the unwary vessel, especially in the age of sail before modern navigational aids.
If you just look around, these rocks here are only just beneath the surface, so a combination of fierce tides, rocks just underneath the surface, - you're bound to have a disaster.
- So, come on, tell me, why not view artefacts in a museum, or go to an archaeological dig? Why are you so passionate about diving? For me, personally, there's a bit of a thrill of the chase.
It's a sense of adventure.
And even though these islands have been dived for years, there's still stuff that we're finding that we haven't known about.
Shipwrecks are part of Farne Island folklore, largely due to the heroism of 22-year-old lighthouse keeper's daughter Grace Darling, who in 1838 braved the stormy sea in a tiny rowing boat to rescue survivors from the paddle steamer the SS Forfarshire.
Having passed close to the lighthouse Grace once called home, we soon discover our first wreck.
This is just an echo sounder.
As you see, the sonar's coming off the sea bed and this is picking up the wreckage.
It's a pretty big lump.
It's actually very close to the surface, so we're spot on where we want to be.
I've been training for a week to prepare for this.
Anyone can go wreck-diving, but some wrecks are protected by law.
And it can also be dangerous, so it isn't advised for inexperienced divers.
Today, Andy is taking me to see two very different wrecks.
For our first underwater adventure, we're heading to a depth of 10 metres.
These are the remains of the 4,000-ton steamship, the SS Coryton.
In 1941, it was en route to Hull when it was attacked by the German Luftwaffe.
We can see the remnants of the engine.
These are parts of the piston rods.
The ship went down, strafed by a German fighter.
The crew survived and went ashore, but the ship sank.
The only member of the crew who didn't leave the Coryton was the ship's master, Captain Evans.
His body was found washed up on shore the next day.
Here we are at the boilers.
What I hadn't expected was just how much marine life there is on these wrecks.
They're often the only thing standing up from the sea bed.
Consequently, they're a magnet for all kinds of sea creatures and spectacular plant life.
There's barnacles here we can see feeding.
Dead man's fingers.
If you look closely, we can see this surf crab.
Oh, wow.
It's incredibly well camouflaged.
There's something you don't do every day.
That was an amazing sight.
You see a wreck and they are fascinating and the creatures around here, that's amazing but you look at something like that and think, loss of life.
You're right.
There is something about the history.
It's the personal stories and the lives involved, not only this wreck but all the other ones nearby.
But our undersea adventure isn't over yet.
Andy wants to show me a shipwreck that's shrouded in mystery.
I fancy one with a bit of treasure.
And not too many holes in it.
We'll have no holes.
But we will go and have a look at an incredible cannon site.
A group of cannons around a site called Gun Rock were first discovered by amateur divers 40 years ago, thought to be from the Spanish Armada, many of whose ships perished off the English coast.
Though archaeologists now believe the cannons may have come from a Dutch cargo ship.
But trust me, finding 18th-Century cannons on the bottom of the North Sea isn't easy.
Over time, they've been covered in these plants called kelp.
We've got bits of rust here.
Yeah, there's an awful lot of rust here.
Where there's rust, there must have once been metal.
This could be the rust off the cannon ball, so the cannons must be nearby.
Sure enough, just a few metres away, we found what we're here for.
This is one cannon here.
As you can see, it's very well hidden under the marine growth.
This is the muzzle end.
That's where the cannon ball would have come out.
One of the cannons has been salvaged and can now be found at nearby Bamburgh Castle.
Those that remain underwater are now part of an archaeological research project by English Heritage.
- Here we are again, another cannon.
- My goodness.
And we're standing on another couple of cannon as well.
There's just cannons everywhere here.
I can see why Andy loves hunting for shipwrecks.
It really is another world down here.
And every wreck has its own fascinating story to tell.
I mean, you can go to a museum and see stuff like this.
But this is a whole new experience.
Today I'm uncovering the secrets of Northumberland's ancient treasures, the hidden relics and mystical ruins that give a unique insight into Britain's history.
Northumberland's countryside and coastline are littered with clues to our past.
In fact, we have more sites of historical significance than any other part of Great Britain.
However, you do not need to be an archaeologist to unearth buried treasure.
The next step of my journey takes me back 2,000 years, to a time when Northumberland was the northern frontier of the Roman Empire.
I'm on my way to the former Roman garrison town of Coria, now known as Corbridge.
This was a vital supply base for the soldiers who built and guarded Northumberland's most famous Roman landmark, Hadrian's Wall.
On the edge of Corbridge lies the remains of the Roman town.
It was on this site in 1964 that a group of amateur archaeologists stumbled across the Corbridge Hoard, a discovery that changed the way we looked at Roman history forever.
Dating back to 122AD, the hoard was a wooden chest jam-packed with Roman artefacts, including tools, weapons and suits of armour.
So there you have it, the Corbridge Hoard.
When it was first discovered, it was like finding this incredible time capsule from our past, because everything was so well preserved.
As you can see, for its age, it's in pretty good condition.
This is the finest example of Roman armour in the world.
And it's right here in Northumberland.
The Corbridge Hoard enabled archaeologists to work out for the first time exactly how Roman armour was constructed.
Perhaps what's most incredible is that the hoard wasn't discovered by an expert or a historian, but by a group of college students, among them, Carole Eke.
I was at college and my history tutor decided that part of our college course would be to go and dig on a Roman site.
Where was the actual spot you found it? The spot was just round about here.
If you can imagine a trench running for about 10 feet wide, six foot deep.
When you dig in a trench, it's like using a toothbrush or a paint brush and a very small trowel, and you take a section of the wall away at a time.
We had found some brooches, bits of jewellery, coins, bits of pot.
But we realised then that there was something much bigger behind this.
What was in the box, we did not know that.
Of course, as soon as we sort of realised this, we called in the site supervisor "Oh, yes, we think we've really got something pretty significant here.
We're going to have to be very careful.
" So from that moment, the amateurs were more or less despatched to do menial tasks - and everybody else came in - It's the world over! But it is one of the finest examples on the planet.
I think that's incredible.
It's absolutely wonderful.
In fact, in the North East we should be really proud of the Corbridge Hoard.
Well, I've always fancied myself as a budding Indiana Jones, so I'm making my way to Vindolanda.
In Roman times this was a key military fort and settlement and is now one of the most important archaeological sites in the world.
Hadrian's Wall has been a lifelong passion for many who live and work alongside it.
None more so than the Birleys.
For the last 60 years, their family business has quite literally been in ruins.
The Birley family began excavating the Vindolanda in 1929 and three generations on, the family business is still thriving, today led by Andrew Birley.
I got involved in the excavation as a very young lad.
During that time, they were doing very deep excavations in the really fantastic areas of the site.
Very hard not to catch the bug at that point.
That's hardly surprising because this site has unearthed a whole range of Roman artefacts, including one of our most important national treasures, the Vindolanda tablets, the oldest-surviving handwritten documents in Britain.
Written by those who were garrisoned on Hadrian's Wall, the tablets give a very personal account of what life was like for a Roman soldier.
- Andrew, how are you? - Hi, Robson.
- Good to see you.
How are you doing? - Not bad.
Welcome to the excavations.
Don't be too timid.
Just get stuck in.
OK? Now, at the moment, you're looking at an awful lot of dirt on the flat stone there.
If there's something in there that doesn't look like dirt, your eyes will pick it up really quickly.
So let's have a go.
Work your way along this front, dragging the dirt back and when you have enough, pop it in your bucket - and then the bucket into the barrow.
- Question.
- What age did you start doing this? - 14.
- 14? - Yeah.
Tell me some of the significant finds you've had.
Oh, I mean, writing tablets.
I've found over 400 writing tablets.
How does it feel when you come across something like that? You get the hairs on the back of your neck standing straight up on edge.
As soon as you pick up a tablet, you realise straightaway you've got a piece of history in your hand, because they tell you about daily life.
It's people's mail.
You're peeking into their private correspondence.
It's the best thing you could have bar them saying, "This is what we're doing.
" Right, time for me to get my hands dirty.
Who knows what priceless Roman relics I might unearth? And after 10 minutes of digging - Whoa, now, hang on a second.
- Hang on.
Is it gold? Please be gold! No, it's some chomping teeth from an animal.
Look at that.
- Are you serious? - Yeah.
- So this is a whole line of teeth.
- Oh, yeah.
Let's just pop them on the side here.
This is amazing.
- It looks like a horse's tooth.
- It certainly does, yeah.
Much of the Roman cavalry would have been based at Vindolanda, so it's not uncommon to find horse remains buried here.
OK, so my horse's teeth aren't going to be displayed at the British Museum.
But valuable ancient relics are being unearthed here all the time, each one with a story to tell.
Maybe the biggest treasures are still to be found.
You never know which part you're going to play in making history and changing history, and changing our perception of the past.
But the Romans weren't the only foreign invaders to leave an indelible mark on Northumberland.
The final destination on today's journey into my home county's hidden treasures takes me to Lindisfarne.
This holy island was an important centre of Celtic Christianity in Anglo-Saxon times, and remains a place of pilgrimage for those seeking peace and tranquillity.
But it wasn't always this way.
This island's relics and ruins tell a tale that's as dark and stormy as the North Sea itself.
The year was 793.
Foreign invaders from the north landed on the beach here at Lindisfarne.
It was unthinkable that such a holy place was attacked by foreign raiders.
Its monks were slaughtered, its treasures taken.
Yet it was to happen again and again to monasteries throughout Britain.
It was the first recorded Viking attack on British soil.
Over the next 300 years, the Norsemen travelled from their native Scandinavia to explore and conquer great swathes of Europe, what we now know as the Viking Age.
Every summer, Lindisfarne is once again invaded by Viking tribes.
Thankfully these days they're a much friendlier bunch.
This event at Lindisfarne Priory attracts re-enactors from across the country, among them Steve Lyons from Tyne and Wear.
During the week, Steve's an architect, but come the weekend, he goes by the name of Sven Malracky Heraldson, leader of the Northumbrian Vikings.
- Steve, how are you? - Hello.
Pleasure to meet you.
Just looking around, all walks of life join your clan.
- Men, women, young and old? - Oh, yeah, yeah.
Freya? This is one of my warriors, from Northumbria.
This is actually a typical Viking kit.
- Is it? - Yeah.
Warrior type.
Big axe.
Is it heavy? Can you walk in that, let alone run in it, Freya? It's fairly heavy, but it's not too bad.
Each of these rings is interlinked with four or five others.
There's probably, in a shirt like this, maybe 10,000 links.
It'll take somebody six months to make it if they're doing it authentically, which is why they're so expensive.
It's all good fun now, but seeing the armour and weaponry up close, you can only imagine the terror the monks of Lindisfarne must have felt when confronted by such an army.
The raid was documented at the time in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle.
"There were flashes of lightning, fiery dragons were seen flying through the air.
A great famine soon followed these omens and that same year the havoc of heathen men miserably destroyed God's church at Lindisfarne.
" Were the Vikings as terrifying as they were written about and I've seen in pictures? Most definitely.
The big difference was probably because the Vikings believed that their fate was preordained.
They're not frightened about having a fight or dying, because their religion, if you like, says they're going to live forever if they die in battle.
Vikings were renowned for their raiding and pillaging.
But what I didn't know was just how much they brought to our culture too.
They were great farmers, explorers and shipbuilders.
The traditional Northumbrian keel boats and cobles are direct descendants of the Viking long boat.
But perhaps their greatest legacy, especially here in the North East, was how they changed the way we speak.
There's an awful lot of Scandinavian in the North East dialect.
Oddly enough, there's more Norwegian in Geordie than you'd think.
Bairn, cracket, yem, there's loads of words that are exactly the same.
So, 'gan yem' is going home.
Even in modern Norwegian, "Eg gar heim" means "I'm going home.
" - And bairn.
- Bairn is child.
I am wearing what's called a kirtle.
That's what this is.
- This is a kirtle? - Yes.
It's not, Steve, it's a shirt.
- Yes, kirt.
- Kirt.
- Kirt.
- I love it! Say I wanted to join your clan and be involved in a raid.
What would I have to wear? What would be my costume? You'd be dressed similar to me, but probably not as posh, to start off with.
OK, I know my role.
This is the archetypal Viking helmet.
It's called a conical helm.
It was introduced with the Romans, went all the way through to about 1300, something like that.
There's no horns.
The horns are actually a Victorian invention.
So the whole image of Vikings invading Britain - with the horns coming out here didn't happen? - Didn't happen.
It's slightly big for you but it'll probably do.
There's a sword for you.
You need a shield.
- You are right-handed, aren't you? - Yeah.
- Right.
- I know it's an axe! - I can pull that out the way and cut your throat.
- All right, slow down! I think I'll leave it to the experts.
Uh! Get stuck in! These Vikings aren't just here for a good time.
They're bringing history to life in a way you just don't get in a classroom.
Have you got a battle cry? Give me your best cry.
- Just a growl? - Yeah.
Three, two, one.
Next time, I'll meet the railwaymen farmers and boat builders who are helping to keep Northumberland's proud industrial heritage alive.
Come on, guys! We can catch 'em! Remember what you built it for!
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