Press Centre

Secrets From The Sky

  • Episode: 

    1 of 6

  • Title: 

  • Transmission (TX): 

    Fri 17 Oct 2014
  • TX Confirmed: 

  • Time: 

    8.00pm - 8.30pm
  • Week: 

    Week 42 2014 : Sat 11 Oct - Fri 17 Oct
  • Channel: 

  • Status: 

The information contained herein is strictly embargoed from all press, online and social media use, non-commercial publication, or syndication until Tuesday 7 October 2014.
The country’s most historic landmarks and glorious landscapes are explored from a bird’s eye view in Secrets From The Sky.
Using an octocopter, a remote controlled helicopter carrying a camera, historian Bettany Hughes and aerial archaeologist Ben Robinson look down on sites of great historical interest to gain a fresh and revealing perspective and uncover further information about our ancestors.
Britain’s landscape is dotted with historical monuments such as Tintagel Castle in Cornwall, Stonehenge, Maiden Castle, Sutton Hoo, The Antonine Wall and Old Sarum in Wiltshire. The series investigates these monuments, revealing a new insight into our nation’s story and showing Britain’s stunning landscapes through fantastic aerial views.
By looking down on these sites from above, the clues on the ground can be linked together to uncover the full story locked in the landscape. The lumps and bumps in the ground can take on a different meaning when viewed from above.
In the first programme, Bettany and Ben explore Tintagel Castle and consider the archaeological evidence that it was once the home of the legendary King Arthur. They set out to investigate whether there is any truth in the myth and discover that the site was once linked to the richest trade networks in the world. They also learn that some ancient graffiti could reveal how the legend of Arthur began.
Tintagel Castle is located on a cliff top on the North Coast of Cornwall. It was first mentioned that Arthur was conceived there in a book written 900 years ago by a Welsh cleric called Geoffrey of Monmouth. Ben launches the octocopter to investigate the aerial view of the site. From the ground the castle looks like it would have been impenetrable but looking down on it from it the sky, Ben reveals it wasn’t actually a real castle at all.
He meets with English Heritage property manager Matt Ward, who tells Ben the castle was built in 1236 by Richard of Cornwall who wanted to build on what he thought was King Arthur’s birthplace. Matt reveals that the castle was built more for show than strategic defence.
Ben says: “So basically this castle is a medieval vanity project, a breathtaking piece of visual theatre so that Richard, Earl of Cornwall, could bask in the reflected glory of the ancient legend of King Arthur.”
As the castle was built later than Arthur’s time, Ben and Bettany continue to investigate the area for further clues. Ben launches his octocopter again and discovers archaeological remains from around the sixth and seventh century, long before the castle was built.
He sends the octocopter further across the headland where he finds remains of more buildings. The settlement he locates was only discovered in the 1980s when a fire destroyed the vegetation on the headland concealing it. The archaeologists who excavated these buildings discovered they were from the era of King Arthur’s story and several hundred people would have lived in the area.
Bettany says: “What the archaeologists discovered here is unlike anything else ever found in the British Isles. It is hard evidence that has completely rewritten Tintagel’s story.”
The archaeologists discovered evidence that the area was a place of great wealth. Thousands of fragments of pottery were found, the majority from overseas, revealing the site was a hub for international trade. Bettany is also shown a fragment of stone displaying an ancient piece of graffiti. Originating from the sixth century, the graffiti was written by a person called Artognou, which Bettany speculates might be a precursor to the name Arthur.
Bettany says: “This is one of those brilliant things when it’s almost as if myths and legends sometimes give us history by accident so they tell us that there was an Arthur here, and actually we know in the archaeology there was (an Arthur) even if he was a recalcitrant vandal rather than a heroic king.”
Although Bettany and Ben find no firm evidence that the legendary King Arthur did exist, they discover that Tintagel Castle was a place of great wealth and power and was likely to have been home to a king important enough to inspire a legend.
Bettany says: “This place might not be the enchanted home of Arthur, Merlin and his friends, but it does have it’s own special kind of magic because it remind us that our landscape can hold onto powerful secrets for hundreds and hundreds of years.
“And it also tells us that we shouldn’t just dismiss legend if we dig that little bit deeper, then fantasy can sometimes lead us to fascinating, hard historical fact.”