Tales From Northumberland (2013) s02e05 Episode Script

Series 2, Episode 5

In the far northeast corner of England lies a land that to many remains a well-kept secret.
There really is no place in Britain quite like it.
In this series, I'm discovering a whole new side to my home county of Northumberland.
(Cheering) It's my greatest adventure yet.
And today I'm going to be finding out how the county's rich industrial heritage is surviving in the 21 st century.
(Whistle) I'll meet the railway enthusiasts who are rebuilding a lost piece of engineering history.
This was a field a few year ago, and to see what we have now, it's unbelievable.
I'll get my hands dirty helping out on Britain's last horse-powered farm.
Do you not think you'd rather be in a lovely tractor? No, thank you.
And I'll learn the lost art of traditional boat-building with the rowers of Amble.
Big effort, guys! You can do it! So join me on another journey into the place they call The Secret Kingdom.
Today's journey begins at Amble on the Northumberland coast, where the River Coquet meets the North Sea.
For 300 years, this small seaside town has been synonymous with one thing boats.
50 years ago, this harbour would have been filled with hundreds of traditional coble fishing boats.
Today, just a handful remain.
Northumberland has a strong history of boat-building, but with most vessels now built from steel, the art of wooden boat-building is in steep decline.
But for the past few months, in this tiny boatshed, Rob Angus and a team of local volunteers have been aiming to buck the trend.
- Rob.
How you doing? - Robson.
Pleasure to meet you.
- How's the boat-building going? - It's coming on really well.
Have a look.
Morning, lads.
How are you? Good to see you.
- So this is our St Ayles skiff.
- Absolutely stunning.
It's kind of similar to the coble design.
How does it differ from other boat shapes? It's very similar to the coble design.
It's based on a Fair Isle skiff, which is a traditional fishing vessel from the Shetlands and the Fair Isles.
They've all got their history steeped in Viking boats.
You can see, on the lines on it, it's very similar to a Viking longship.
This isn't the only community boat-building project happening in the Northeast.
Coastal rowing is an increasingly popular hobby, and, next month, Rob and his team will race their boat against those of three other local towns.
So our ship doesn't just have to look good, it needs to sail well too.
So, how's she looking, Rob? Is she going to be ready for race day? We've got just under four weeks to get this ready for the water, including finishing it and painting it.
It's looking good.
It's on schedule.
Right, time I got to work.
Now, believe it or not, I was an apprentice at Swan Hunter shipyard for four years.
But today my first job is making an oar.
I mean, come on.
Look at that.
That is oar-some.
- Don't worry, lads.
I'm here all week.
- You will be, at that rate.
(Laughs) Dozens of people have played a part in building this boat.
Volunteers come from all walks of life from teachers to fishermen and engineers.
There is something really satisfying about building a boat from scratch.
Most have no boat-building experience whatsoever.
Among them, business analyst Brian Miller.
Now, Brian, before you joined the project, did you know anything about boat-building? Absolutely nothing at all.
You don't have to be an engineer.
Although, thank the Lord we do have some.
But you don't have to be an engineer to be involved.
So, if you are popping down, making tea, sweeping up and scraping a little bit, you're still part of something pretty special.
It's inspiring to see this project coming together.
And, for Rob, it's not just about community spirit.
It's also helping preserve an important part of our coastal heritage.
ROB: I started life as a fisherman and my grandfather was a coble fisherman.
I was at sea till I was in my early twenties.
The difference between then and now, the coble fleet in Amble has quartered.
There are no new ones being built and the old ones are falling into decline and they're just gradually disappearing, and it's a terrible shame.
For me, this project, in some small way, gets me back in boats.
It gets me back on the water and it might be the forerunner to something bigger.
See you on race day.
- See you then.
- I'm off to the gym.
- Bring your muscles.
- I will.
Over the next four weeks, it's all hands on deck to get the boat finished in time for the big race.
After two weeks' hard graft, it's ready to be painted.
Then it's the tricky job of getting it out of the shed.
Another three or four foot! - Easy does it.
- Well done.
And once the hard work is done, the locals get their first glimpse of the finished boat as it's taken down to the beach for a traditional naming ceremony to aid you and keep you safe.
blessed with a drop of rum.
I'll return to Amble later in the show to join Rob and his crew in the big boat race.
Find out if our team can make it first past the finish line.
But Amble isn't the only small Northumberland town to have a rich, industrial heritage.
Ten miles west of Newcastle, on the banks of the River Tyne, is the village of Wylam.
Wylam has a population of just 2,000.
So, in many ways, it's just another Northumberland town.
But to me and many others, it will always be known as the place where the railways were born.
In the early 19th century, Wylam's colliery and ironworks were thriving and, in a bid to increase productivity, they started using steam-powered wagons, instead of horses, to haul coal.
This pioneering work led to the first reliable steam locomotive, Puffing Billy.
But perhaps Wylam is best known as the birthplace of George Stephenson, the "father" of the railways, who was born in this small cottage in 1781.
Stephenson, helped by son, Robert, built the locomotives and railways that helped kick-start the Industrial Revolution and paved the way for a golden age of steam.
And there are other clues to Wylam's engineering legacy.
The design of Wylam's arch suspension bridge was revolutionary and it provided the inspiration for the Tyne Bridge in Newcastle and the iconic Sydney Harbour Bridge.
This small Northumbrian town changed the world.
But the golden age of the railways wouldn't last.
By the 1960s the motorcar was seen as the transport of the future.
Over 5,000 miles of track and 2,000 stations were closed, largely due to the controversial recommendations of Railways Board Chairman, Dr Richard Beeching.
Thanks to the Beeching Report, it was the end of the line for hundreds of railway lines.
This track here once linked Alnwick to Alnmouth.
At its peak, this line carried 60 trains a day.
But the once-busy track was removed in 1970 and this magnificent Robert Stephenson viaduct became redundant.
But over the last few years there's been a mini railway revolution.
Across Britain, steam enthusiasts are reclaiming old, forgotten railway lines, just like this one and giving them a whole new lease of life.
Lionheart Business Park on the outskirts of Alnwick is the unlikely setting for an ambitious project to reopen the Alnmouth to Alnwick railway line.
Over 40 volunteers are working together to build a new station, restore old trains and create a brand-new track.
Duty manager Roger Jermy has offered to show me round.
I have to say, Roger, it's a very ambitious project.
- Do you think you'll complete it? - Oh, I'm sure it will be completed.
It's going to be 2020, I should think, by the time we successfully reopen the line to Alnmouth.
We haven't got any fancy cranes or fancy equipment.
They are laying track in the good old-fashioned way - by hand.
Do you think it's some kind of two-fingered gesture to the Beeching Report? I think it probably is in some ways.
I mean, there's quite a number of us who remember the Beeching days.
OK, we may have been trainspotters at the time, but Beeching spoiled our hobby and he also spoiled a lot of the railway system and to think that now we're reinstating the line, it gives you a lot of satisfaction.
These volunteers began laying the new track two years ago.
So far, 800 yards of the three-mile route has been completed.
This back-breaking work is all done by members of the public, and somehow I got roped in too.
Now, Kevin, you're a volunteer like the rest of the team.
- Yeah.
- What's your day-time job? Actually, I'm a signalman for Network Rail.
So kind of, engines and railways is in your blood, yeah? It's in my family blood, because my father worked the Alnwick-Alnmouth line.
He was a guard on the trains and, as a small boy, I used to go to work with him blasting away at the horn on the way to the station.
- So it's definitely in the blood.
- It's something I really want to do.
I want to be blasting the horn going down to the station again.
As a 50-odd-year-old man instead of an eight-year-old boy.
So, I'd laid a bit of track.
Time to see if it works.
Driver, Kenny Middlemiss has offered to let me have a go on his train.
Kenny used to drive locomotives on the Alnwick line, so I'd better not let him down.
Toot on the horn.
- (Horn toots) - That's it.
(Whistle) Give it a bit of juice.
- How far do you want to go? - Well, how far can we go? All the way to Alnmouth? Well, we could have a go, but it would be a rough ride.
(They laugh) - Cos the line isn't finished, is it? - No.
That signal is against us - Right? so we should have stopped.
- We wouldn't have been able to - Don't assume I knew how signals work! One thing at a time.
From Wylam's Puffing Billy, to George and Robert Stephenson, Northumberland's railway pioneers changed the face of Britain.
Me and Kenny may have reached the end of the line today, but hopefully, before too much longer, it'll be full steam ahead for the Aln Valley Railway.
Today, I'm meeting some of the proud Northumbrians who are helping to preserve our region's rich industrial heritage.
One industry that's seen profound change over the past century is agriculture.
State-of-the-art machinery and new hi-tech working methods have transformed farming across the globe.
But modern technology isn't for everyone.
I'm on my way to visit a family who clearly thinks that the old ways are still the best ways.
Ten miles west of Hexham is a farm unlike any other farm in Britain.
(Birdsong) MAN: Sillywrea, it means quiet corner.
My great-grandfather came to this farm in 1848.
A century ago, farms all across Britain were powered by horses.
Today, it's a way of life that has all but disappeared from our countryside.
But while other farmers have long since swapped their Clydesdales and Shire horses for tractors and combine harvesters, for 85-year-old John Dodd the horse is still king.
JOHN: I was two year old when I got a donkey.
And I think I were about three or four when I got a Shetland pony.
They said I was very like my grandfather Dodd.
He was a horseman.
A new generation of the Dodds' family have kept this tradition alive in the 21 st century.
Among them, John's son-in-law, David, and grandson, Richard.
The horses can go places where the tractors cannot.
During the winter we can plough, whereas a lot of the time the tractors cannot.
To be honest, we're sometimes quicker than some of the tractor men.
We're proud of what we do.
We're keeping something on.
I am quite convinced that the horses will keep this place going for a lot of years yet.
I'll be like my grandfather.
I'll be working this farm for as long as I can.
Why change something if it ain't broke? Well, today, I'm getting a crash course in farming Sillywrea style.
Morning, fellas.
Our first job is taking the horses up to the top field to gather in the hay bales.
Come on, Jimmy.
It's a bumpy ride, not to mention a bit chilly.
Any second we're gonna be battered by the rain here, David.
Do you really prefer this method as opposed to being inside a nice warm tractor? Oh, I do, yes.
Yes, there are some days when it's pouring down and you think, "Is there a job inside I could be doing?" No, I still like it out.
Seriously, do you not think you'd rather be in a lovely cabin with central heating, a cup of coffee, a bit of music on? - No, thank you.
- (Laughs) The horses do virtually every job going, from pulling ploughs to sowing seeds.
It's believed to be the last farm in Britain to rely on horse power.
The future of Sillywrea rests largely with David's son, Richard, who's been helping out on the farm from an early age.
So, Richard, tell me, what age did you start working at Sillywrea? As long as I could pick up the rein, yeah.
But you know what, why not a doctor? A lawyer? You know? A doctor or a lawyer sits in an office on their backside.
Out here, you can enjoy the sun when it's out.
You've got the horses as company.
You've got peewits, skylarks, the lot.
There are six working Clydesdales at Sillywrea.
Originally from Lanarkshire in Scotland, Clydesdales were once exported across the world in their thousands.
But the mechanisation of farming after the First World War led to their demise and they are now a classified rare breed with just a few thousand remaining.
- This one's Jimmy.
- And how long have you known Jimmy? - Since he was about six months old.
- OK.
Believe it or not, David I did used to ride horses in my youth.
- How responsive is Jimmy? - Very.
- You've got to be gentle, yeah? - You have to be gentle with his mouth.
- Walk on.
Come on, Jimmy.
Walk on.
- All right, Jimmy.
As well as being powerful, heavy horses, the Clydesdales are willing workers.
- He's quite responsive.
- Oh, yes, they are.
A pair of them can plough an acre of land a day.
Just a bit right or we'll collide with some bales.
Mind you, steering them takes a bit of getting used to.
- Could get trapped there.
- Whoa.
Whoa, Jimmy.
I was nearly trapped against here and Jimmy knew.
Jimmy knew I was in trouble.
My horseman skills may need a bit of work, but let's see how I get on with the baling.
This is one of the few pieces of machinery used at Sillywrea.
But it still requires plenty of hard graft.
You all right there, John? Watch you don't strain yourself there.
You're in supervisory capacity today, are you? I was just thinking you might make a canny farmworker.
Do you think I could be part of the team, John? With a little bit of practice, you would be.
What is it about being outside with the horses? I always enjoy it.
You seem to be more in union with the land.
An old man, Tom Foster, once said, "When you're ploughing when the plough is set right, you can hear it singing in the soil.
" It's a grand feeling, that.
John, what do you think the future holds for Sillywrea? Do you think this method will be passed on from generation to generation? We're very fortunate it's our own property.
It has been since 1848.
And as long as we can make bread and butter, we'll always have the land behind us.
It's in good hands, then.
- It is.
- Excellent.
Today's journey ends back where it started - Amble.
It's the day of the big boat race.
Rob Angus and a team of volunteers have built their own traditional wooden boat from scratch and I'm now ready to put it to the test against three other crews.
I can't wait to see the result of all their hard work.
- How are you, Rob? - Robson, how are you, mate? - How's it going? - Not so bad.
- Good to see you.
- You want to come and see what we've done? - Looks different to the last time you saw her.
- Will you look at that! - Doesn't she look beautiful? - She is.
I know I'm biased, but she's beautiful.
This project has been a real labour of love for Rob as he bids to revive an interest in traditional wooden boat-building skills.
The colour.
Is there any reason for that? I took a little bit of a liberty with that, to be honest.
They're the same colours as my grandfather's coble was.
The name, however, was voted for.
Coquet Spirit came to the top of the list.
But it does embody what we're about, and Coquet because of the river and the locality.
But the spirit involved to get from the six sheets of plywood to this particular point has been awesome.
Well, she looks beautiful, but how will she sail? Time to summon up that Coquet spirit.
Today, we're competing against three other teams from Gosforth Blythe and North Berwick.
Like us, their wooden boats were made by volunteers in community projects.
Each one's a real work of art.
- Hello.
How are you going? - Hello.
I'm Mel.
- Nice to see you, Mel.
- I'm Julie.
It is a beautiful boat.
I've been to the gym five times a week, training for this moment, this monumental moment.
How long have you been going to the gym? - We had cake yesterday.
- You had cake yesterday? - Have you got a special name for your team? - The A Team.
- We sing as we row.
- You sing as you row? (Laughter) The race will cover a distance of half a mile in Amble harbour.
(Chanting and cheering) There's local pride at stake here, so come on, Coquet Spirit.
- (Hooter) - One, two, three.
Big ones! Come on! Pull it! Pull it! Coastal rowing races like these are becoming increasingly popular, particularly in Scotland and the Northeast coast of England.
Watch your timing.
Watch the timing, everybody! - In.
- In.
All the clubs take it in turns to host regattas, and, trust me, everyone wants to be the first past the finish line.
The team from North Berwick have taken an early lead - Right, dig your oar in.
- Dig your oar in! Dig in.
and at the turn we're a good ten yards behind in second place.
Come on! It's called Coquet Spirit.
Let's see some! Come on, guys! Time to pick up the pace.
Remember what you built it for.
Come on, guys! We can catch them.
Big effort! Big effort.
You can do it! Come on! Despite our best efforts, we're pipped to the finish line by North Berwick, who are worthy winners.
Well, we certainly gave it everything we had.
Damn, we nearly got it! We may not have won, but there's a great sense of achievement seeing this boat take to the waves.
It's a fantastic way to celebrate Amble's boat-building heritage.
And didn't this boat move beautifully through the water! Isn't that a great result for all those months of hard work? Next time, I explore some of Northumberland's greatest natural wonders.
Not a bad view from up here.
From its spectacular rock formations and beautiful woodland to the world's rarest breed of cattle.
- Oh, hang on, hang on, hang on.
- Whoa.
- I don't want one of those horns up my jacksy.
- No.

Previous Episode