Britain is unique. Every other country in Europe is linked to land, but we’re out here in our little archipelago. That fact alone has defined our destiny. It stopped Napoleon, it stopped Hitler and that’s only in recent terms. For thousands of years, that divide has kept us different.
It’s amazing to be back celebrating our shores, as Coast was only intended to be a one-off series. However, by the end of series five, which we’re filming now, the BBC will have broadcasted 45 hours of the stuff. Why? Well, when series one came out, we were living in interesting times. People were starting to really worry about climate change and there was war in Afghanistan and Iraq. Then Coast arrived with a celebratory feel that was never triumphant. It wasn’t Rule Britannia, but said it was ok to take pleasure in our natural beauty, culture, history and geographic richness. Like the coast itself, it was reassuring. It stated that our foundations underfoot were still quite firm.
Coast never implied that Britain was better than anywhere else, but pointed out that just up the road from where you live, there’s always an amazing sight. There’s something in the size of the country that makes a difference. Wherever you are in the UK, you’re only ever 72 miles from the coast. Our land is not too big, meaning you can’t feel a sense of ownership for the whole place, but at the same time it’s big enough to escape and get lost in every now and again.
I believe that the coast can be described as the fifth country of the United Kingdom. People living on the coast of north-east Scotland almost have as much in common with those living on the coasts of Cornwall, Cardigan Bay and Galway as they do with their immediate neighbours. There’s a shared relationship with the sea; the comings and goings of coastal life unite them.
Above all, people are the most important part of the coastline. They’ve certainly helped to make our show a success. I remember talking to a chap back in series three called Harry about his time working as a bellboy in the Midland Hotel, that Art Deco edifice in Morecambe. While filming the current series, a guy came up to me and told me he was Harry’s son and his dad had passed away just before the episode went out, but the family was overjoyed that he’d taken part. His story would live on. Every year we put on record the personal stories that would otherwise be lost. Lose these stories and you lose what’s important about the British coastline, the people who have made it what it is today.