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24 September 2014

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Thursday 14 December: Felixstowe to Margate


Felixstowe to Margate

Map showing Felixstowe to Margate
England's capital coast is dominated by one huge estuary. It has seen many invaders and settlers that have helped forge our national identity. But when we look at our coastline how do we define where it actually stops? Is England's capital city coastal?

Felixstowe - UK's Largest Container Port
Aerial picture of Felixstowe PortNearly 40% of Britain's trade comes from Felixstowe - the UK's largest container port.

Around 2 million containers a year arrive here from all over the world. But with each ship carrying anything up to 1,000 containers, how do customs officers stop smuggling?

Neil Oliver joins Kevin Sayer on his daily routine. Shockingly, in the first container they open they find cocaine worth a street value of £80,000 - a small contribution to the 4.9 tonnes customs seize every year.

Common Seals
Seals resting on the mud flatsThe mud flats known as Saltings are home to a colony of the rare common seals. The seals are grey but the mud has a strange effect on their fur.

The iron oxide found in the mud stains their coat, turning it a reddish colour. Neil Oliver joins guide Tony Haggis and takes a closer look at these strawberry blonde seals.

Walton-on-the-Naze - Erosion Revealing Our Ancient Past
One of the Megalodon's many sharp teethThe area is famous because of its high rate of erosion. But as you move up the eroded rock face you are actually taking a journey through time, the further you move up the cliff, the findings are more recent.

The cliff face provides a glimpse into our distant past and can enable you to read the history of this landscape.

Nicholas Crane meets Gerald Lucy who has been collecting fossils here since he was a boy. He shows Nicholas a few of the fossils he has collected, one from around 1.5million years ago - a Megalodon's tooth - the largest predator fish ever to swim the sea.

Remains of the ancient river's gravel bed on the cliff faceGerald and Nicholas climb the rock face which reveals fossils from Mediterranean species and further up the cliff, Artic Species, indicating global cooling before we reached the ice age.

The final half yard of cliff was formed in the last 500 thousand years, it contains remnants of an ancient river gravel bed. But what does this reveal about one of the main rivers in the UK - the Thames?

Map showing the path of the ancient riverThe ancient river was huge. It has the same type of gravel found across much of North Essex and Suffolk. This shows that what we now call the Thames used to drain from the Welsh mountains flowing across the country to the marshland now known as the North Sea. But when an ice sheet blocked it, the Thames burst through a weak spot in the ice sheet and found a new path.

So if it wasn't for that ice sheet London could have been in an entirely different spot than it is today.

Clacton-on-Sea - Mods & Rockers
In the 1860's Clacton was a pleasure beach for well to do Londonersbut come the 1960's it boomed with a different kind of holidaymaker - mods and rockers.

Neil getting into the swing of things, taking a ride on a moped.The town was popular with rival gangs who would gather here. However, on Easter Bank Holiday in 1964 rival gangs clashed.

People were fighting in the streets, shop frontages were damaged and cars overturned. Surprisingly only 12 people were arrested and an estimate of £243 of damaged was caused.

The true cost was the town's reputation - with holidays being cancelled and holiday makers weary about returning, it took years to recover.

Maldon - Salt
Maldon is famous for the sea salt it produces. The industry and its importance here can be traced back to pre-Roman times. The area is the driest in the UK, getting just over 50cm of rain per year - that combined with sea water makes it perfect for making salt.

Alice Roberts and Mark Atkinson inspecting the Red HillsThe Blackwater Estuary was once central to the salt production. The Red Hills are evidence of the importance of the area to the Romans and salt making. The hills might look natural but on closer inspection you can see that they are made up from countless terracotta pots from this time. Evidence of charcoal fires also reveal the importance of the area to the Romans.

Alice Roberts meets up with Mark Atkinson to find out why salt is important to this part of the coast and gets some hands-on experience of making salt.

Mark Atkinson shows Alice Roberts how salt was madeThe sun was used to evaporate sea water into brine. This was thenboiled until salt crystals appeared on the surface. Salt was such a precious commodity that Roman soldiers were paid in salt - we get the word salary from the Latin for salt "salarium".

Although it was an effective industry of its day, the industry declined here as the mining of rock salt took over from getting sea salt from estuaries.

The Thames Estuary - Thornback Ray
The shallow sheltered waters of the Thames Estuary are a breeding ground of a wonderful bottom feeder - the Thornback Ray.

Usually sold as skate, we know very little about this prickly creature and it is thought that they may be in decline. But steps are being taken to find out more and help preserve the Thornback Ray off our coast.

The Thornback Ray being measured before being tagged as part of the project. by CEFASA tagging project is underway whereby when the fish is caught, they are measured and then tagged. The external yellow tag records depth and temperature every five minutes for one year, providing information on where the fish has been in that period.

From this project they have found out that the fish migrates three times further then previously suspected. They migrate into the Thames in spring to lay eggs and then during the winter they migrate further out to the North Sea.

Miranda Krestovnikoff finds out just how prickly they are and joins Ewan Hunter from CEFAS who is working with the fishing industry on this tagging project.

Mucking Marsh - Landfill Site
Aerial picture of the landfill site at Mucking MarshMucking Marsh was a Saxon transit camp. Now it's a landfill site. In time it could be an archaeologist treasure trove of the future.

About a fifth of London's waste gets shipped here to this site which is over 300 hectares. Lucy Mancer gives an insight into her work, which can be a smelly job, but one she loves.

London - The Coastal City
The River Thames runs through the heart of London. But where does the coast stop and the River Thames begin?

Aerial picture of London and the River ThamesThe Ordinance Survey defines what counts as coast as everywhere that has a tidal range - so how far does that extend? Mark Horton takes a journey through London's maritime history from the arrival of the Romans to the vast complex of the Royal Albert Docks, to try and answer this question. He finds that even the House of Parliament are coastal.

CGI illustrating the Roman bridgeLondon is here due to its great tideway. But why did the Romans choose to settle here? Over 2,000 years ago Roman sea captains discovered its incoming tide propelled their ships from the sea to London Bridge, the first place that the river is narrow enough to build a crossing point. Archaeological remains of the original Roman bridge have been found here. The city grew up around the conjunction of river and road.

The Houses of ParliamentThe London Docks helped make it one of the busiest ports in the world. The Royal Albert dock was built in 1874 to help trap tidal waters of the Thames and accommodate bigger ships.

Mark meets up with Terry Bowden who comes from a long line of river men who worked on the docks as a Lighterman, driving barges.

Aerial picture of London's beachTower Bridge use to stand in the middle of a dock known as the Pool of London. It was here that London had is very own beach created in the 1930's. Mark joins Martha Snooks and Ted Lewis, who use to come to the beach as children, and reminisce over old times.

As the city expanded the river has been made narrower and the tides have moved further up stream, now they reach as far as Teddington lock. But if it wasn't for Teddington's lock gates it would be tidal for miles and miles.

Chatham - Rope Making
Richard Holdsworth showing Alice Roberts the processes used to make rope at The RoperyRoyal Navy ships were not only at danger from the enemy but also from the sea and weather. The Navy relied on the ropes for their strength.

Chatham was one of Queen Elizabeth's original Royal naval dockyards and it now houses the last traditional ropery in the world - called The Ropery.

Alice Roberts joins Richard Holdsworth on the 'rope walk' at the Ropery - a 1,000ft building. The building is so long as the rope had to be made in a continuous length - and workers get around the building on a bike.

Getting around The Ropery on a bikeRichard shows Alice the age old skills and processes that make the 750ft long rope - the standard length the Navy required to anchor ships in 40 fathoms.

The rope from Chatham's historic Ropery is still in demand today and is made by The Master Rope Makers. They make it not only for ships, but also for the army who use the ropes to tow their tanks.

Sheerness - The SS Richard Montgomery
The masts of the SS Montgomery sticking out of the waterDuring the Second World War, German aircraft would fly up the River Thames to attack the London docks. In eleven months 40,000 explosives were dropped and it is estimated that one in ten failed to explode. Now with more people diving and fishing the Royal Navy divers get called out three times a week to deal with unexploded bombs on this coast.

Neil Oliver joins Jason White from the Royal Navy, to observe a controlled explosion and investigate a ticking time bomb that could rock the entire Thames Estuary.

CGI showing the SS Richard Montgomery split in half The SS Richard Montgomery is an American cargo ship fully laden with explosives. It safely crossed the Atlantic but when it entered Sheerness a storm was starting and the ship drifted onto a sand bank. When the tide fell the weight of its 4,000 tonnes of bombs broke the vessel in half. It is now lying in two pieces, full of its eroding cargo.

The Montgomery is not in an ideal spot. It ran aground in the middle of a busy waterway and is a sinister sight -the ship is partially visible with its mast still sticking out of the water.

CGI illustrating the explosion of the SS Richard MontgomeryBecause of the difficulty in clearing the wreck it has been left where it sank. It is regularly checked by the Department of Transport but surveys suggest that it may break up in the next nine years. But if the Montgomery did explode, Government experts estimate that it would blow up with the force of a small atomic bomb, throwing debris 3,000 metres into the air.

Jim Hutchison getting ready to descend into the water in full diving gearWhitstable - Diving
The quayside at Whitstable is a landmark in the development of diving. The world's first diving helmet was developed here in the 1820's.

Lifelong diver Jim Hutchison who is in his 80s, still keeps the tradition of diving alive today.

Goodwin Sands - Cricket
The Goodwin sands are known to mariners as the widow maker because these notorious sandbars contain the world's largest concentration of shipwrecks. A cross section of British maritime history is buried beneath these sinking sands.The cricket team arrive for a game of cricket

Until recently an annual game of cricket was played here. But as we found out maybe the reason its stopped is because it is so easy to get caught out by the rising tide.

After filming the Coast team were stranded and had to be rescued by the RNLI.

Would you like to find out what music was used in this programme?

Felixstowe to Margate: Thursday 14 Dec, 8pm on BBC TWO


Coast Series 2

Dover to Isle of Wight

Holyhead to Liverpool

Arran to Gretna

Cornwall & the Isles of Scilly

Dublin to Derry

Newcastle to Hull

The Outer Hebrides

Felixstowe to Margate

See Also

Meet your Coast experts:

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

On the rest of the web
The Thornback Ray

The River Thames

The Port of London
Chatham - Rope making

Whitstable - Diving and its development

Whitstable Museum & Art Gallery

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