Voyage of discovery for Ruth

Presenter Ruth Sanderson
Presenter Ruth Sanderson

Northern Ireland presenter Ruth Sanderson is a woman who is in her element while exposed to the elements.

The TV and radio personality, who grew up on a Presbyterian Manse in Co Down, is best known for the Home Ground series on BBC NI and her work with On The Farm on BBC Radio Four.

Ruth with dancers at the Sollus Centre in Bready

Ruth with dancers at the Sollus Centre in Bready

The 34-year-old was back on our screens last week in Hame – a six part showcase of the people and places at the heart of Ulster-Scots communities across Ulster.

She told the News Letter: “My mother said to me after the first series of Home Ground, ‘why do you always look windswept?’ Er, it’s an outdoor show, mum – it kind of goes with the territory.

“This is the first series I’ve filmed where I’ve actually been inside some of the time.”

Her adventures took her and co-presenter Mark Thompson to Portavogie in Co Down, Cullybackey in Co Antrim, Markethill in Co Armagh, the Foyle Valley and Articlave in Co Londonderry.

Ruth with Markethill historian David Alexander

Ruth with Markethill historian David Alexander

They also visited Raphoe in Co Donegal where Ruth’s mind was blown by a racket-based revelation.

She said: “In Raphoe they’ve got this mad badminton factory that churns out world class badminton players – they’ve got two Olympians.

“Hundreds of kids go to this old church with amazing sprung floors to learn how to play badminton.

“Everyone loves badminton in Raphoe. It’s incredible.”

Ruth with Edrick Davidson in Cullybackey

Ruth with Edrick Davidson in Cullybackey

A former merchant navy captain provided another highlight: “He has turned his attic into a shrine to shipping. He’s made all these wooden boats and collected artefacts from the places he’s been all over the world.

“When you go up there it’s quite emotional – you’re stepping in to his whole life, his past and the things he’s loved.”

She commented: “The countryside in Northern Ireland is fizzing with things that are happening which maybe just go under the radar.

“It’s been a real privilege to be able to eavesdrop, to spy on people’s lives and find out what makes a place tick. What makes a place a place.”

Ruth grew up just outside Banbridge in a place called Ballydown.

She said: “I grew up in a Presbyterian manse which was fantastic because you always had something going on – you spent your life talking to people, your house was constantly full of people.

I think it was very good training for being a journalist and presenting.”

Her father Bill Sanderson retired from the ministry around eight years ago and her parents moved to Waringstown.

Of her faith, Ruth said: “I grew up with a strong sense of traditional Presbyterianism in terms of culture being linked to presbyterian – going right back to encompass things like Irish language in the 1700s and 1800s, the Ulster-Scots heritage and plantation heritage as well.

“It was nice to find out a bit more about the Ulster Scots heritage doing this programme (Hame).”

Ruth went to university at St Andrew’s in Scotland: “I did art history which is the most useless degree you’re probably going to do but I enjoyed it.

“It was a beautiful place and I had a lot of fun at university. I wasn’t too worried about what I was going to do afterwards.

“Now it’s very different – young people need to be a lot more targeted because of university fees and job markets.”

When she returned to Northern Ireland, Ruth was accepted onto a volunteers programme with the BBC.

She said: “I worked on The Nolan Show to start with. I was one of the researchers, then I went to England to work for Radio Four.”

She has spent much of the last decade in England specialising in radio programmes on the topics of farming, arts and current affairs.

She said: “When I’d started presenting On Your Farm, I got a call about Home Ground back in Northern Ireland. I though, sure I’ll give telly a lash.”

Ruth continued: “Asking which you prefer between radio or TV is like asking someone which child they prefer.

“They’re very, very different. Radio happens much quicker and you can explore stories in slightly more detail. Television is more accessible to a wider audience. It would be difficult to capture certain stories on radio in the same way you can on TV.”

She joked: “I did get introduced once as Ruth Sanderson from Ground Force – I think people were disappointed that I wasn’t Charlie Dimmock.”

It was during the filming of Home Ground that Ruth discovery the beauty of the Ards Peninsula and decided – along with her husband – to set up home there.

She said: “We’d been living in England. We were filming something for Home Ground down near Strangford Lough, a place I didn’t really know that well.

“We took a drive and fell in love with the area and ended up getting a house in Killinchy.

“We’ve been married for three years in April. We’ve known each other from a solid three and a half years.

“He’s from Essex, though he doesn’t sound like an Essex boy.”

Ruth said that without her TV work she would not be as well travelled.

“My parents are very well travelled globally, they’re both from Belfast originally, but they’d never been to Killinchy until we moved there.

“I’ve been a bit like that as well. It’s been great with Home Ground and with Hame that you get to go to these places that you never would have gone to before.

“When you live in a country unless there is a reason to go somewhere, you tend to stay in your own area. There are tourists who come here who probably leave having seen more of the country than someone who’s lived there all their lives.”

She added: “Northern Ireland is country full of beautiful, diverse, undiscovered places which is part of its strength as well. You wouldn’t want these places to get too well discovered. You want to feel like you’re the first person to see these places. You want to be like Captain Crozier.

“Well, actually, he died in the North West Passage so that’s not a great analogy. Maybe James Cook instead.”

• Hame is on BBC Two NI on Sunday evenings at 10pm