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24 September 2014

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Eastern Scotland - John O'Groats to Berwick


The Working Coast

Map of programme 9 journey

Starting off at John O'Groats, which is more famous as a journey's end, Nick Crane travels the length of the Scottish East Coast. It is a coast which is brim-full of stories of the inhabitants' ingenuity and industry - they have used both their wit and their brawn to support themselves.

Bottle Nose Dolphins

Miranda Krestovnikoff meets Sandy Patience, a man whose family have been fishing around the Moray Firth for the last 200 years. Sandy still uses the traditional method of the net and cobble to catch his fish. However, he has some very persistent rivals for his catch who possess superb fishing skills.

dolphinThe Firth has been home to bottle-nosed dolphins for over a century. This is the most northerly population in the world and they're 50% bigger than their southern relatives so they can cope with the extremely cold water.

Dolphins can live until they are 40 years old, they do not breed until after the age of five and the calf stays with its mother until it is four years old. Because they reproduce so slowly and this group is so small and geographically isolated they are very vulnerable. Even the loss of one adult increases the likelihood of extinction of this group. So it's fortunate that Sandy Patience doesn't see these dolphins as competition but feels that they can happily co-exist.


Scotland is still one of the largest sea-fishing nations in Europe - even today the fleet is responsible for landing two thirds of the volume of the UK catch. However, in recent years the fishing industry as a whole has been deeply affected by new European legislation and government policies that are designed to give a sustainable future to the industry. But many fishermen cannot see how these new laws really help.

Neil Oliver meets two generations of a fishing family in Fraserburgh whose futures have been thrown into disarray by these policies. Sandy West was the owner of the Steadfast, a six-year-old deep sea fishing vessel, and his two sons were the crew. Last year they were forced to scrap this boat as part of the decommissioning process. They were not the only ones that have been affected: the Fraserburgh fleet has been cut in half in recent years. After seeing their life's work scrapped both Sandy and his son Zander vowed to stay away from the fishing industry, but one year on they have both returned. Neil asks them what their hopes and fears are for their futures as Scottish fishermen.

The Oil Industry

Something very surprising is happening underneath the tranquil, golden sands of Cruden Bay in the north east of Scotland. Every day of the year, underneath your feet, 2.5 million gallons of oil are pumped ashore along an unseen umbilical cord. The Forties pipeline was a major engineering feat when it was built by a workforce of over 20,000 people in the 1970s and it is still integral to our oil supply today.

oilrigThe hunt for North Sea oil in the 1970s was a huge economic gamble for the companies involved: they spent millions of pounds prospecting beneath the seabed. For several years it seemed like their educated "hunch" was not going to pay off. But it did - we hear from the drillers themselves about what happened when they finally struck black gold.

That find transformed not only the City of Aberdeen but the country's whole economy. 100,000 people are employed by the industry and £200 billion has been paid from it to the UK exchequer. But UK oil production is now in decline. We visit the Elgin–Franklin platform to find out what the industry's plans are for the future. And we learn about the new technology that is using CO2 to enable the extraction of oil from previously untapped areas of the existing fields.

The Bell Rock Lighthouse

Bell Rock LighthouseThe Bell Rock is a deadly reef that lies 12 miles from the Scottish shore. By the late 1700s this reef was claiming around six ships per year as they sailed their cargo out towards Scandinavia and Europe. In 1804 the HMS York was sunk with the loss of 491 – a solution had to be found.

The task of solving the problem of how to build a lighthouse in the middle of the sea was taken on by Robert Stevenson, the father of the writer Robert Louis Stevenson. He became completely obsessed by this difficult feat of engineering. The resulting Bell Rock Lighthouse was an amazing achievement - it is now recognised as one of the engineering wonders of the world.


Since 1753 ships have set sail from Dundee destined for the most hostile waters in the world and on the hunt for the world’s greatest mammal – the whale. At this time whale by-products were in everyday use - whale bones formed the stays of ladies corsets and the blubber was used to make lamp oil. In the mid-19th century Dundee's star rose as other whaling ports declined: the city's jute industry was in desperate need of whale oil to process the cloth.

It was this expertise in polar voyaging that led to the Discovery being built in Dundee. The ship used by Scott and Shackleton on their first Antarctic expedition had to be crafted by men with expertise in making vessels that could stand the most extreme polar conditions.

But by 1900 the whales in the northern oceans had been hunted nearly to extinction. The whaling fleet had to turn their gaze southwards and head towards the oceans of the Antarctic. Right up until the 1960s whaling ships sailed south from the East coast of Scotland.

Dr Alice Roberts talks to Don Lennie and George Cummings about what the work and conditions were like aboard these vessels and how our attitudes to this industry have radically changed in a short period of time.

St Andrews Links Golf

In 1457 King James II of Scotland banned his subjects from playing the newly-invented game of golf - their obsession with the game was distracting them from their archery practice. These days Scotland is still obsessed with golf and St Andrews is the official home of the sport.

The Links Superintendent Mr Gordon Moir takes us around the Old Course, the most famous of the six courses that makes up the St Andrews Links Trust. He explains how the game of links golf as we know it today has evolved from playing with sticks and pebbles in the natural coastal landscape.

Mine detector

During World War II the Fife Coast was the only place to be defended solely by foreign forces. Because of the pressures of the war there were no British troops available to defend this part of the country. It was Winston Churchill who came up with the solution - he drew up an agreement with the Polish government in exile to use their troops to defend our coastline against German invasion. Anti-tank blocks can still be seen strung out along these beaches but the threatened invasion never happened.

However, the Polish troops made a more lasting contribution to warfare in general. Lieutenant Josef Stanislaw Kosacki came up with the invention would go on to save countless lives all over the world – the mine detector. Mark Horton talks to Lech Muszynski, who was a member of these Polish forces, about the difference this invention made.

If you would like to find out more about Polish troops in the UK during World War II, you can visit The Polish Institute and Sikorski Museum, 20 Prince's Gate, London SW7 1PT (tel 0207 589 9249). The museum is open to the public between 2-4pm on weekdays and on the first Saturday of each month between 10am and 4pm.


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


Modern Scotland - the Scottish economy and North Sea oil
Who Built the Bell Rock Lighthouse?
Seven Wonders of the Industrial World
Robert Stevenson biography
John Rennie biography
Victorian Technology
Feature on Charles II
Coastal Habitats
Coastal Plants
The UK's Coastal Wildlife Hotspots
The Bizarre Basking Shark
Coastal Birds
Finding Coastal Wildlife

On the rest of the web

Moray Firth Partnership
WDCS Wildlife Centre, Spey Bay
Green Tourism: Dolphin Space programme
Fraserburgh fishing campaign group
Scottish Fisheries Museum
Aberdeenshire Council
Northern Lighthouse Board
St Andrews Links
Royal Research Ship Discovery
Broughty Castle Museum

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Discover Your Coast

Try these great online walks from this stretch of coastline

Highlands & Northern Isles
North East Scotland
Perth & Tayside
Central & Fife
Edinburgh & Lothian

Tel: 0870 900 7788

for a free Open University “Discover Your Coast” pack - or visit

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The Forgotten Coast - Berwick-upon-Tweed to Whitby

Nick explores the holy island of Lindisfarne; Alice helps rebuild Britain's first house in Howick; whilst Neil examines the tensions in South Shields that led to race riots in the 1930s and Miranda gets up close and personal with grey seals.


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