The Cliff

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0120150209

Alan Read's starting point for his review of our relationship with Cliffs, is his own vertigo. Vertigo for him is not associated with a fear of falling but rather a fear of the ground "coming up to meet me to embrace me, or to engulf me". It's not heights that worry him but proximity. So he has never been to Shakespeare's cliff in Dover but he knows it well from the play, King Lear. He recalls the scene where Gloucester having had his eyes gouged out begs a man who he thinks to be poor mad Tom, but is instead his own son Edgar, to lead him to the edge of the cliff at Dover. Edgar leads his father, but not to the edge. Instead he imagines the cliff. He describes a cliff and on this cliff he describes the Rock samphire collectors as they move across the cliff gathering this plant - a dreadful trade. Imagining this scene, Alan says "Here a graph has been drawn, a sequence of points on a grid with two axes, of cliff and beach, joined by a line that describes, in the form of a gradient angle, the nature of trade, dreadful trade indeed" Shakespeare would not have been familiar with graphs. The term wasn't in use until the 1800s. One of the pioneers of cinematography Etiennne-Jules Marey "certainly thought graphs to be the 'universal language' of the future". Today graphs are ubiquitous. For example, we have the fiscal cliff which describes our economies. As Alan reflects on this, he is drawn back to Shakespeare's cliff; "Creatures it would seem, do not thrive on the cliff. It is samphire that grows so well there, and might be left in peace. Dreadful trade."

Actors are David Acton and Sam Dale. Additional sound recordings by Chris Watson. Producer Sarah Blunt.

0220150210

Skellig Michael or Great Skellig is the larger of the two Skellig islands situated some 12km off the coast of Portmagee in south west Ireland. It's a spectacular rocky pinnacle towering over 200metres above sea level. The summit is reached by climbing what is, at times, an almost vertical wall of nearly 700 steps. On the summit are the remains of a well-preserved monastic outpost, including six beehive cells which date back to early Christianity. Monks were sent to island outposts like Skellig Michael to pray and keep evil spirits at bay. A visit to this island cliff is not for the feint-hearted as wildlife sound recordist Chris Watson describes in this vivid account, which is illustrated with recordings he made on and around the island. Landing is no easy task, as the waves crash against the island buttress, whilst kittiwakes soar overhead, their cries piercing the air. Climbing the steps, you have to "hold your nerve and not look back or down, behind you and beneath you is a void". Puffins explode unexpectedly out of underground burrows; their strange low growling calls, reverberating through the ground. Higher up, Chris is met by "by stiff-winged fulmars sheering and slicing through the air". Eventually he reaches the summit, and his destination. After 10pm, there's a flutter of wings in the darkness as storm petrels emerge, their "sinister cackling sounds start to emanate from the walls". But there's more; after midnight, the air is filled with the banshee-like cries of Manx Shearwaters. "Hearing these sounds come out of the darkness must have been a terrifying experience for the monks in their cliff top hives - easy to think that they were evil spirits from the west". Producer Sarah Blunt.

0320150211

"Most people look at a cliff and just see a pile of rocks. But when I look at a cliff I see millions of years of geological time." says Zoe Shipton, Professor of Geology at Strathclyde University. "In cliffs made up of sedimentary rocks, each layer of rock contains clues to how that layer was laid down millions of years ago, and what has happened to it since - we can read those layers like pages in a book". Trying to unpick the geological story of the earth though is far from simple, after all "The Earth is nearly 13,000km across. Geologists are approximately 1.6m tall, trying to unpick the story of a complicated 4D puzzle - ie one varying in space and changing in time. But we are doing this to decipher the history of a planet that is 1023 times larger than we are". Undaunted, she takes three cliffs; The Book Cliffs in central Utah, the Grand Canyon and Nanga Parbat in the Himalayas to explain how geologists decipher the clues left in the rocks. But rocks are subject to the weather, and so to study them in their natural habitat, geologists use underground rock laboratories. To extend the depths to which we can observe the Earth even further, geologists use geophysical tools such as seismic surveys. But because we can't produce signals strong enough to penetrate into the very centre of the Earth, geologists use natural signals as well. Listening to earthquakes from the other side of the planet provides information which can be used to map the topography at the outside of the Earth's core. "With modern technology we are learning to read the complete atlas of Earth's history." Written and presented by Zoe Shipton, with readings by David Acton. Additional sound recordings by Chris Watson. Producer Sarah Blunt.

0420150212

In the last of four illustrated essays by different writers on the theme of THE CLIFF, Martin Palmer, Secretary General of The Alliance of Religions and Conservation reflects on the spiritual responses evoked by cliffs in religious stories and traditions across the world. Drawing on examples he explores five spiritual responses; First, a sense of awe "Reverence for such majestic soaring creations"; the second is a feeling of being closer to God, and one of the reasons for cliff burials around the world such as those near the town of Sagada in the Mountain Province on Luzon Island in the Philippines "Neither earth nor sky - safe also from scavenging animals"; the third is adding to the wonder of Nature's creation with shrines, temples and monasteries projecting from cliffs; the fourth response could be described as creating or strutting our own power through use of cliff faces as advertisement of our status "cliffs have been the setting for monumental carvings of victories, for religious texts or poems extolling the beauty of the place" and for carving vast figures with special significance. Finally Martin suggests we have created our own versions of cliffs; from skyscrapers to the facades of great Cathedrals and temples - and in these we create our own meaning of the cliff face. Vast creations, our natural cliffs speak both of permanence and time, but also bear witness to change,"even if it is change over an unimaginably long period of time".

Written and narrated by Martin Palmer. The reader is David Acton. Additional sound recordings by Chris Watson. Producer Sarah Blunt.