Ellie Harrison: Looking back on a decade of Countryfile

Countryfile's Ellie Harrison looks back on a selection of her most treasured days of filming from the BBC show.

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A decade has passed since the day I harvested shiitake from a shipping container, cooked them on a gas stove and took the mountain railway to the top of Snowdon to deliver a mushroom sandwich to Matt Baker.
The first of so many “that’s all we’ve got time for” and “that’s it from X-shire”.

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The director called a wrap and I looked dazedly at the triumphant mountaineers on the summit, some in kitten heels, some in flip-flops, unprepared for the possibility of missing the last train down. A peculiar end to a peculiar day. There hasn’t been a single Countryfile day since that hasn’t seemed extraordinary in the retelling, yet always seems to work on TV. So to mark my 10 years on the show, here are 10 of my most treasured filming days out.

  1. Cardio-bursting panic and excitement when my contributor and I had just a 20-minute head start on a pack of blood hounds, followed by dozens of mounted horsemen, chasing our scent across the Peak District in an ancient sport called ‘hunting the clean boot’, based on recovering fugitives. We were nearly licked to death when finally caught.
  2. Facing the horizontal wrath of Storm Abigail – the first named storm – cycling up the beautiful but 1:5 steep Bealach-na-Bà, pelted by hail as the crew filmed from the boot of a Land Rover. (I’d learned from my first pregnancy to keep quiet if I wanted to do the fun stories.)
  3. Breaking through the ice on Loch Earn on a January day to swim under the sky and the towering Ben Vorlich Munro. Swimming in the wild with women is a combination so potent, it’s something I now do every week.
  4. Meeting students at the Lane End Farm Trust in Derbyshire to hear how their lives as teenagers with learning and physical disabilities had been transformed by working with animals. One student had been non-verbal when he joined but months later was giving a full and brilliant TV interview.
  5. Diving on to the scuttled wreck of HMS Scylla in Cornwall to see how abandoned nets continue to ghost fish long after they’d been dropped.
  6. Riding in Yorkshire with Denise, cyclist and daughter of the legendary Beryl Burton, who was unbeaten across three decades of racing, breaking both women’s and men’s cycling records while working on a rhubarb farm between races.
  7. Being in the privileged moment when the grieving Webster-Smith family planted a willow tree for their cricket-mad son Nick, who had recently been killed in Afghanistan.
  8. Gently holding a spiny seahorse on the seabed of Studland Bay which, when we filmed in 2014, had 40 pairs and now, as their seagrass has been worn away, has none at all.
  9. Snorkelling off the Farne Islands with seals, who, after an hour of assessing what on earth I was doing, accepted my hand and chewed on my fins. There is pure magic in the moment of acknowledgement between two animal species.
  10. Ending that same programme dropping out of a Sea King helicopter in full immersion suit on to a beach in Cornwall, where Matt Baker’s farewell oyster dish was now full of sand.
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Ellie Harrison and John Hammond at Countryfile Live/Credit: BBC Images

There are many more but these are the days that came easily to the fore: the verb stories, active in their nature, active in nature.

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The birthday comes when all grown-ups realise that if they want a fuss made, they have to make it themselves. True, too, for my 10-year anniversary on the show. Diligent, modest and publicly funded, Countryfile doesn’t do self-congratulatory fuss – even when viewing figures sit in the high millions for years – and as much as I love Champagne, best-bit montages, even a thumbs-up emoji, it’s the zany days in the wild that Countryfile has given me that I’m really celebrating.