A collection of short (20-25 minute) programs from the hugely popular ITV series "Out of Town" hosted by Eric Robson (and his "dog on a string," Raq), "It's a Dog's Life" follows the pattern of other shows in this series, including "Secret Places" and "One Dog and His Man." Robson steers clear of the usual tourist routes to explore some of the forgotten, yet fascinating historical snippets and sites of northern England and southern Scotland. The programs in this collection include Ancrum Moor, in the Scottish border areas; Cockermouth and Stanger Spa in Cumbria; Slitrig Valley and Hermitage in the Scottish borders; the Roman Coast of Cumbria; and Rockcliffe, Kippford, and Dalbeattie, three villages on the northern coast of the Solway Firth, sometimes known as the Smugglers' Coast.
The show begins with a flourish as Robson has three members of his film crew re-enact the Battle of Ancrum Moor (1545), a celebrated Scottish victory in the long-running border wars with England. Near Cockermouth, at the confluence of the Cocker and Derwent rivers, Robson visits the remains of Stanger Spa, "probably the least-well known spa spring in Britain." Nearby, he shows us the remains of an old flax mill, which in the early years of the last century was used to produce the linen covering for aircraft wings. Back in Scotland, in the Slitrig Valley, we visit Stobs Castle, home of the clan Eliott (whose descendant Margaret was interviewed by Robson and Alistair Moffat in their DVD about the border area "Walking the Line"). The castle was acquired by the War Department in 1902 and used as a military training camp. During the First World War, 6,000 huts were built on the grounds to house German P.O.W.s; after the Second World War, it became the largest Displaced Persons Camp in Britain.
In the Roman Coast of Cumbria sequence, Robson talks to archaeologist Clifford Jones, who has been working with his colleagues to unearth and discover the significance of artifacts from ancient military camps near Hadrian's Wall, the northernmost outpost of the Roman empire in Britain. Pointing out the more contemporary transmission masts used to keep in touch with the nuclear submarine fleet, Robson notes that "the front lines have joined across the centuries."
Always on the lookout for record-breaking factoids, Robson shows us "one of the ugliest lighthouses in Britain" on the Smugglers' Coast off the Solway. And near Dalbeattie, "the least-well-known harbor in Britain," he spends some time pondering the remains of the Caledonia Quarry Company, which produced granite and shipped it all over the world. We see archival photos of rotting ships in the harbor. A Dalbeattie man, Robson points out, was at the helm of the Titanic when it struck the iceberg. (Otherwise, mariners trained in the treacherous waters of the Solway were considered so highly qualified that the insurance company reduced by half rates for ships manned by sailors from this area.) And nearby, he spends some time on another relic of recent wartime industrial history, a now-vacant and decaying factory complex that once produced cordite and nitroglycerin.
Larry B | Ventura, California | October 2018