Coast is the award-winning BBC documentary series exploring everything that makes the coastlines of the British Isles and their nearby neighbors so spectacular. The show, which first aired in 2005, is hosted by Neil Oliver, and this DVD set collects 16 hours of it on eight discs.
Each episode highlights a stretch of coastline from one landmark, city or port town to another, or investigates an entire island, region or country ( for instance “Gower to Anglesey”, “Hull to London”, “Brittany” or “Denmark”). Coast is part travelogue and part educational series as Oliver and his team of experts examine the people, places, and phenomena unique to these coastal communities and present their findings as part of an exciting an informative journey.
The episodes follow a basic format in that they have the location as a governing theme, but within that theme there are segments that touch on everything from an area’s tourist trade to its role in the industrial revolution, from the famous names that called it home to the historical events that shaped its future, from its geological anomalies to the indigenous animals that inhabit it. Coast has you covered, whatever your specific interest may be, whether it’s distinct cultural and anthropological discoveries, ancient and recent history, natural wonders and unique wildlife, feats of engineering, shipbuilding, and other technological advances, or simply the geographical and topographical features of the islands.
Then there’s the breath-taking visual images of the coastlines. Magnificent vistas and gorgeous seascapes are reason enough to watch these programs, but to be able to do so while also learning how to build a Viking long boat, or discovering why certain beaches have sand that actually sings, is such a treat! As is learning things like the fact that if you are standing on the summit of Snaefell (the highest peak on the Isle of Man) on a clear day, you can see all the kingdoms of the British Isles or the great extent to which the Brits were influenced by—and intermingled with—successive waves of invaders and immigrants like the Norse or the French.
One of the best things about this collection is its abundance of wildlife wonders, like the massive gannet colony at Bass Rock, off the east coast of Scotland, or flocks of Manx shearwaters that return each year to the island of Skomer in Wales. Sometimes the segments featuring the local wildlife take on the tone of history lessons. Beyond the 180 billion pebbles of Chessel Beach, there lies Fleet lagoon, that is home to a centuries-old swanery where these days, protected swan herds—of up to 1400 wintering birds—come to feed. However, when monks first began breeding swans here, they were farmed for food.
Other wildlife segments are more scientific. While pointing out that, obviously, the English Channel attracts all sorts of marine life (Minke whales, bottle-nosed dolphins and porpoises, just to name a few), a Coast segment featuring dolphins focuses on the rarely seen white-beaked dolphin, which is more common in the colder waters in the North Atlantic, and what might have driven members of that species further south in recent years.
Railway is another heavily featured topic on Coast, as are, obviously, fishing, shipping, and other seafaring activities. If you’re a fan of trains, lighthouses, ships and boats, there’s a wealth of trivia, visits to working specimens of the models of bygone eras, and hands-on experiments to enjoy. Wartime Britain is another frequent subject, both WWI and WWII are researched and remembered most, but also earlier battles.
Many advances that we take for granted today were actually born in the UK as a result of war. For example, the discovery of iodine started as a search for incendiary compounds in seaweed on Britain’s beaches, the need for more space caused Marconi to build his long-range wireless in the UK, and RADAR was invented in the UK to detect enemy aircraft over the Channel.
There’s so much to learn in Coast that you might think it’s all about industriousness. But there is also the simple joy of seeing and exploring the coasts in all their natural splendor. Rock cliffs and rocky beaches are major features of a great many stretches of the British coastlines, so several segments of Coast center on climbing, scaling and mapping the craggy surfaces, as well as exploring intriguingly distinct details of the beaches and rock formations. Some of these segments are about the rugged, physicality of traversing the terrain (rock-climbing above the crashing waves is popular with thrill-seekers), while other segments bask in the breathtaking beauty and sheer, awe-inspiring spectacle of the landscape as it stands at times in defiance, at others, in acquiescence, to the sea.
Coast is a celebration of the British Isles, its neighbors, its peoples, their connections, and their relationships to the land and sea that shapes them. It’s a great journey.