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All quiet on the sea front 60 years on.

Byline: By Tony Henderson

Dramatic measures which were taken to repel a German invasion of the North have been uncovered.

The network of defences have been found with the remains of a top secret radar station which were part of the nation's shield during the Battle of Britain.

The discoveries have come from a detailed examination of the two-mile stretch of coast between Embleton Bay and Craster in Northumberland - one of the county's most popular walks.

The joint venture was undertaken by English Heritage and the National Trust, which owns and cares for the coastline.

English Heritage archaeologist Stewart Ainsworth, who is also a member of TV's Time Team, was part of the investigation.

The radar station was set up on a ridge behind Craster and was part of a chain which included installations at Spittal near Berwick, Amble, Hartley Crag near Blyth and Marsden at South Shields.

"The radar was top secret. It was surrounded by barbed wire and a gatehouse and nobody was allowed anywhere near it," said Stewart.

The radar could "see" 25 miles out to sea and could spot ships, or aircraft approaching above 500ft.

But the fear was that crack German troops would attempt to knock out the radar before an invasion, and the archaeologists located around 30 machine gun nests and weapons pits.

Embleton Bay was considered a prime possible invasion beach, with the Germans hitting the North as well as the South of England and carrying out a "closing vice" operation.

The bay, and Craster harbour, were lined with anti-tank concrete blocks, which remain today at both locations.

The investigation revealed the pits from a minefield just south of the bay, which was laid out to a grid system.

Piecing together the defences also explained why coast pill boxes in the area face inland. Stewart said that it was expected that, if the invaders had broken through the barbed wire, concrete blocks and machine gun nests they would have skirted the ridge behind the coastline_ when they would have appeared in the field of fire of the pill boxes.

When the radar was installed, a ropeway and towers which carried metal carriages full of stone from Craster quarry to the harbour, were dismantled.

Villagers were told it was because it could be used by the enemy as a navigation marker - even though nearby Dunstanburgh Castle was a much more prominent landmark.

Stewart believes the real reason it was taken down was because the metal scoops moving back and forth would have looked like low-flying aircraft on a radar screen.

The two concrete radar buildings still survive and there is clear evidence of where equipment was sited.

The remains of the Nissen huts behind the radar station, which accommodated the operators, are also still there.

In 1944 after the invasion of Normandy, the radar was dismantled and the site was used to house Italian prisoners of war.

The archaeologists were puzzled to find the remains of stone terraces on the slopes of the ridge behind the site.

"They looked like something you would find in Greece or but then we realised that they were little Italian-style gardens which had been cultivated by the PoWs," said Stewart.

"What we have uncovered is a fascinating story of what was a fundamental part of the defence of this country. It is quite staggering.

"But these things quickly get forgotten. We probably know more about the 14th Century Dunstanburgh Castle from documents than we know about the radar station.

"This illustrates the value of looking at the landscape and observing the clues that are there, just waiting for a landscape detective to unravel them."

The archaeological team would still like to talk to people who were involved with the radar station or the Italian PoW camp.

Contact National Trust archaeologist Harry Beamish on 01670 774691.

Barbed wire on the sands

William Archbold, 69, and his sister Winnie Hogg, 76, have lived in Craster all their lives, and can vividly recall the Italian PoWs.

"I remember how the Italians had painted the huts with scenes of home, including a man sitting looking out across a lake at sunset," said William.

Winnie said they were never allowed to go near the radar station. "All we ever knew about the place was that it was something to do with radio", she said.

The whole coastline between the village and the castle was protected by three lines of coiled barbed wire, so villagers couldn't get down to the sea, and the fields towards the castle were sown with hundreds of anti-personnel mines.

They remember the day their father accidentally wandered into the minefield while out shooting rabbits, and had to find his way out again very carefully.

"Foxes kept going in there, too, and setting the mines off," said William.

"Every time there was an explosion, we all thought the Germans had invaded!"

A castle to show off to the king

Using the latest Global Positioning System satellite technology, the survey also investigated the land around Dunstanburgh Castle.

It has been believed that the coastal castle, was built in 1313 in response to invasion and raids by the Scots.

But archaeologist Stewart Ainsworth thought that did not make sense as the castle faces the sea and was positioned off the beaten track away from the main north-south routes.

Now the investigators believe that Dunstanburgh was built as a "show castle" by Earl Thomas of Lancaster, the most powerful man in the kingdom behind King Edward II.

Evidence of a triple-gated outer perimeter wall shows that the castle was larger than the remains suggest today.

The investigators are still waiting for results of their sampling and tests, but they believe that it was set amid three ornamental meres, or lakes, and had an imposing stone main entrance.

"Silhouetted on the cliff edge, surrounded by its ornamental meres, with its elegant, modern towers, the castle was the perfect combination of architectural flamboyance and a dramatic setting," said Stewart.

"Above all, Dunstanburgh was a political statement, a symbol of Earl Thomas's wealth, power and status."

It would have been a loaded statement set against Edward II's castle further up the coast at Bamburgh.

"It is a very pretentious fortification and could be Thomas saying `I have a big castle on the coast too.' This is Thomas displaying his wealth and power on a grand scale."

The archaeologists also believe they have found a stone-built harbour, only visible at low tide and which served the castle but in a different place to that favoured by local myth.

It is also thought that the castle was built on the site of a prehistoric settlement or fort.

The castle project is ongoing with a clearer picture emerging when tests results are analysed.
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Title Annotation:News Local
Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Date:Mar 12, 2004
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