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24 September 2014

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North West England - Liverpool to the Solway Firth


Shifting Sands

The coast of North West England covers some classic industrial landscapes and playgrounds, and a dangerous world of shifting sands.



For what began as a small fishing hamlet on the River Mersey in 1207, Liverpool soon flourished as more and more British ships set sail to explore the oceans of the world. Well placed geographically for Atlantic trading, it played a pivotal role in the slave trade from 1730 onwards where many Liverpool-based businessmen prospered.

Textiles and ammunition would be exchanged in West Africa for humans who would then be taken to the Caribbean to work as slaves, with cotton coming back in to Liverpool - known as the triangular trade.

In the latter part of the eighteenth century, three quarters of all European slave ships left Liverpool. Liverpool traders, alone, shipped a total of one and half million black Africans across the Atlantic to the Caribbean. So, its not surprising that many of Liverpool's buildings were built with profits from the slave trade - the evidence of which is still visible, if you look close enough. For over 30 years, Eric Lynch has been doing just that and takes Nick Crane on a tour of some of the faces, cotton-plants and whips embedded in Liverpool's oldest buildings.

The arrival of people to Britain via the docks has had a profound impact on the diverse social fabric we see today in the city. Liverpool has been named the European Capital of Culture 2008.

Sefton Sands - Prehistoric Footprints

In 1987 Gordon Roberts discovered an unusual trail of footprints on an exposed patch of silt on the Sefton coast. His curiosity aroused, he began to take notes, then pictures, then plaster casts and careful measurements. Soon he found that the prints were thousands of years old and were of tracks of deer, extinct wild cattle, large birds and people - in particular children.

Alice Roberts meets Gordon to investigate what these footprints tell us about the people and communities that inhabited our coastline. Along with a team of experts, they uncover life 5,000 years ago to help paint a picture of the people and the local environment to reveal more about the life of our ancestors.

Lytham St. Anne's - Lifeboat Disaster


The Ribble Estuary on the North West coast has tides that wash in at breakneck speeds. With a seven mile wide maze of sand banks and shallow channels, it can catch out even the saltiest of sea dogs. That's why it has a dedicated RNLI lifeboat station at Lytham St Anne's - trained to deal with boats and people who get caught out by the racing tide. Unlike other emergency services, they're all volunteers paid for by donations. This unique relationship with the public began at Lytham after a night that was to become the worst disaster in RNLI history.

On the night of 9th December 1886, a terrible storm raged and three lifeboat crews from Lytham, St Anne's and Southport launched to the assistance of Hamburg trading barque the 'Mexico' in distress off the Southport coast. But only one lifeboat returned. Most of the Southport and all of the St Anne's crew drowned when their boats capsized in horrendous seas. Lytham lifeboat crew managed to rescue the Captain and his crew from the Mexico, only to launch again later in search of the missing St Anne's lifeboat.

Twenty-seven men lost their lives rescuing twelve aboard the Mexico. It was to leave sixteen widows and fifty orphans. Touching the nation's heart, donations poured in to those families who had lost loved ones. It led to the first charity street collection, donations of which went to fund the Royal National Lifeboat Institution - a legacy which remains today.



The idea of the typical English seaside holiday is inseparable from the reality of Blackpool. It's one of the first Victorian seaside resorts famous for its tower, pleasure beach, seafront amusement arcades and Blackpool rock. Around ten million visitors still come here each year drawn by the bright lights of what's been described as the Las Vegas of the North. It's always had a 'boisterous' nature. Blackpool's carnival atmosphere has made way for the hen and stag weekends. For sand grown Dave Hulme, who replaces some 10,000 light bulbs on the tower, there's no better place to be.

Morecambe Bay

Morecambe Bay

Morecambe Bay's 120 square miles of swirling currents and constantly shifting sands includes some of the most treacherous quick sands in Britain. There's been a long history of people who have perished on the sands of Morecambe Bay. Most recently, it was the deaths of a band of Chinese cockle pickers - caught by fast rising tides and quick sands as they try to cash in on the abundance of cockles in the bay. But they're not the only ones caught by the tides. Before the arrival of the railway, it was the main route to and from Furness.

Since early times, the bay has had an appointed guide to take people across the bay safely. For the past 42 years, it's been Cedric Robinson - the 25th appointed Guide. Cedric has lived and breathed Morecambe Bay since he was a child. In fact, he can read the sands like we would read a newspaper.

Duddon Estuary & Blackcombe - Wordsworth


Duddon Estuary is said to be one of the few genuinely wild, romantic places. It was also one of Wordsworth's favourite rivers. He wrote a sequence of 34 Duddon Sonnets, in which he traced the river from source to sea, from birth to death. For him, Duddon Estuary was the 'only place to approach the Lakes'. Up on top of Black Combe - the Lake District National Park first meets the sea. Standing at 600 metres, it has serves as a mariner's landmark through history. On a clear day, it's visible from Sefton sands and as far as Scotland and the Isle of Man.



Sellafield has become very much part of the landscape on the North West coast and employs 12,000 local people; equating to one in five jobs. The mile by a mile and half site was the world's first commercial nuclear power reactor. Today it's the site of Britain's nuclear reprocessing facility but it has undoubtedly had a controversial past due to its radioactive discharges into the atmosphere and the Irish Sea. However, plants like Sellafield remind us that we have an environmental responsibility to protect our seas.

As Sellafield goes through a process of decommissioning, Miranda Krestovnikoff meet John Clarke, Director of Production at Sellafield to see what the future holds while the Cefas team go about their daily testing of our marine environment.

Whitehaven - Screen Lasses


Although traditionally associated with men, it was often women who formed the backbone of the coal mining towns. It's nearly thirty years since women were last employed to do manual work in the British mining industry. Underground work by women was banned in 1842, but thousands of them continued to be employed on the surface. Isabella McCracken and Hannah McCarron were 'screen lasses' hauling and sifting through the material sent up on a conveyor belt by the miners working below. It was backbreaking work in harsh conditions in an industry most remembered for the men that worked below pit.

Maryport - Roman Forts

Maryport is quaint now, but in the ancient past this coastal site was a vital outpost at the edge of a mighty Empire. The Romans established a formidable garrison as a defensive line along the Solway coast some 2,000 years ago. A geophysical survey has revealed the details of a 'vicus' - the settlement of houses, workshop and granaries for up to 1000 soldiers. The fort became part of one of the most ambitious defensive frontiers of the ancient world - one link in a chain of fortifications that stretched around twenty-five miles along the shore from Maryport all the way up to the Solway Firth where they finally connected with Hadrian's Wall. Mark Horton investigates the last military outpost of Hadrian's Wall which marks the frontier of Roman Britain.


Coast Series 1

Dover to Exmouth
The Frontline

Exmouth to Bristol
The Wild West

Bristol to Cardigan Bay
Times and Tides

Cardigan Bay to the Dee
The Travellers Coast

Liverpool to Solway Firth
Shifting Sands

The Northern Ireland Coast
The Troubled Coast

West Coast of Scotland and Western Isles
Islands and Inlets

Cape Wrath to Orkney
Life on the Edge

John O'Groats to Berwick
The Working Coast

Berwick to Robins Hood's Bay
The Pioneering Coast

Robins Hood's Bay to The Wash
The Inventive Coast

The Wash to Dover
The Vanishing Coast

Highlights Programme
What have we learned and where to now?

See Also

Meet your Coast experts:

Neil Oliver
Alice Roberts
Mark Horton
Miranda Krestovnikoff
Nicholas Crane
Hermione Cockburn
Dick Strawbridge


Emigration Animation
Seaside Towns
An Overview of Roman Britain
Virtual 3-d Tour of Housesteads Roman Fort
Coastal Habitats
Kids Guide to the Seaside

On the rest of the web

Merseyside Maritime Museum
Liverpool Life Museum
Sefton Coast Partnership
RNLI Lytham St Anne's
Blackpool Tourism
Visit Sellafield
Haig Colliery Mining Museum
Senhouse Museum

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Discover Your Coast

Try these great online walks from this stretch of coastline


Tel: 0870 900 7788

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The Troubled Coast - The Northern Ireland Coast

Nick investigates how the building of the Antrim Coast mirrors the troubled history of the province; Neil uses computer imagery to rebuild the Titanic; Alice heads to the Giants Causeway and Mark explores the wreck of a Spanish Armada treasure ship.


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