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24 September 2014

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North East England - Berwick to Whitby


The Forgotten Coast

Map of Programme 10 journey

This leg of our journey crosses four major rivers – the Tweed, Tyne, Wear and Tees - and two distinct identities: the unspoilt north which was once the ancient seat of power in England, and the industrial south, once the powerhouse of the industrial revolution.

Berwick-upon-Tweed - The Ramparts

Berwick-upon-Tweed - the rampartsBerwick-upon-Tweed is only four miles south of the Scottish border, but that hasn't always been the case. Berwick swapped control between England and Scotland 13 times over 300 years. Before Edward I captured it for England in 1296, Berwick was the richest and most important port in Scotland.

To secure the town once and for all for England, Elizabeth I built massive ramparts. It was the most expensive project of her reign: £128,000. More money was spent here than on defending her realm against the Spanish Armada. The stone-clad walls are made of compacted earth designed to absorb the impact of cannon fire.

The walls are just a tourist attraction now but serve as a vivid reminder of the days when Kings and Queens were prepared to spend millions, and commit whole armies, for a slice of Berwick's prosperity.


LindisfarneJust 11 miles down the coast is the tidal island of Lindisfarne. Twice a day, the causeway is uncovered and twice a day, the sea reclaims it. Monks arrived here to establish the site in AD 635. St Aidan and his followers were on a mission that would transform a nation. 'Holy Island' was their launch pad to convert pagan England to Christianity.

In the year 793, the arrival of Viking raiders from North East Europe threatened the monks and their Gospel. The monasteries were exceptionally rich and the monks were ill-prepared to fend off the raiders: Lindisfarne was an easy target. By AD 995 the monks fled to Durham where they and the Gospel took refuge.

The mission here was finally abandoned when Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries in the 1530s. But despite centuries of conflict and religious schism, a Christian England has endured - thanks in large part to the seed sown by St Aidan 1,370 years ago here on the holy isle, Lindisfarne.

Bamburgh and Dunstanburgh Castle

The legacy of the Border wars of the 14th-16th centuries has resulted in Northumberland having more castles than any other English county. Bamburgh Castle, perched high atop a rock, looks every inch the mighty citadel. It used to be the royal seat of the Kingdom of Northumberland, at one time the most important Kingdom in Britain.

Just down the coast, within sight of Bamburgh, is Dunstanburgh - an incredibly impressive-looking romantic ruin. Whilst Bamburgh was a seat of power for hundreds of years, Dunstanburgh's birth, rise and fall took place within the blink of a historical eye.

Howick - Britain’s First House

For thousands of years this stretch of Northumbrian coastline has hidden one of the most important houses in Europe. At first glance it might not look impressive, as all the evidence lies underground, but an archaeological experiment has been carried out, to reconstruct a life-size replica of Britain's first house.

The house could only have been built if a whole community was involved, partnerships had been formed and relationships built. People would have needed each other yet at the same time would have been very protective and territorial over a site like this, where the land provided everything they needed.

We know from the flints that people hunted here, and we know the animals they caught. From the cores of soil we know that the area was covered in foliage of hazelnut trees, birch and pine unlike the farmed landscape seen there today. We've seen the artwork from the first Britons and we've built a house that could permanently provide shelter for a whole family unit. It is a perfect stone-age idyll on this Northumberland coastline.

South Shields

British ports attracted seamen of many nationalities from right across the empire, and this part of the coast was no exception. From as early as 1895 there are records of Arab seamen living in South Shields.

In 1930 the area saw what's often described as Britain's first race riot - but the full story is more complicated than that. At that time there were simply too many men and not enough jobs and the violence grew more out of desperation and poverty than racial hatred. Four policemen were stabbed in the disturbances and many more people, both white and Arab, were injured. Only 10 days later six white men and 20 Yemeni sailors found themselves in court charged with affray and causing a riot. 15 of the Yemeni men were sentenced to deportation after serving time in prison.

The ill feeling generated by the riot could have spelt the end for the Arab community in South Shields but many had made their home here, married local women, and begun to have children. Today the children of those first seamen live here with their children, and the traditions and cultures that they brought with them survive.

Sunderland - Shipbuilding and Shipbreaking

Sunderland was once the largest shipbuilding town in the world. The yards produced 1.5 million tonnes of shipping for World War II. Shipbuilding was the lifeblood of Sunderland's prosperity and defined the very identity of the town and its people.

By the 1950s, orders for ships were falling as competitors abroad built faster and cheaper. Using mass-production techniques Japanese and Korean yards turned out ships by their hundreds, while Sunderland was still crafting bespoke but expensive one-offs. And that lack of competitiveness told. During the 60s and 70s Sunderland's shipyards closed one by one.

Recently the area's attention has switched away from shipbuilding towards shipbreaking. Sounds simple enough - use the disused shipbuilding infrastructure to offer a lifeline to the local heavy industry - but just 20 miles south of Sunderland in Hartlepool, people are beginning to discover just how difficult and dangerous shipbreaking can be.


The last few miles of this leg of our journey takes us from Redcar into North Yorkshire and down to our finishing point, Whitby.

We investigate how the Church of England was shaped here, how Captain Cook served his apprenticeship here - and how Bram Stoker found the inspiration here to write Dracula.


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


Viking Weapons and Warfare
Loot and Land
Viking Quest Game
Ages of Treasure timeline
Coastal Habitats
Coastal Plants
Nation on Film: South Shields riots
Nation on Film: Shipbuilding

On the rest of the web

Visit Britain: Berwick-upon-Tweed
Berwick-upon-Tweed Fortifications
Bamburgh Castle
Dunstanburgh Castle
Reconstruction of the Howick hut
Visit Whitby

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external websites

Discover Your Coast

Try these great online walks from this stretch of coastline

North Yorkshire

Tel: 0870 900 7788

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

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external links.

The Inventive Coast - Robin Hoods Bay to The Wash

Nick retraces the steps of smugglers in Robin Hoods Bay; Neil goes to the first Butlins Holiday camp in Skegness; whilst Mark sets sail in a recreated bronze age boat; and Alice recreates alum crystals using stale urine!


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