Alan Novelli's Cheshire 'sun' set photography

PUBLISHED: 18:49 17 January 2010 | UPDATED: 14:35 20 February 2013

Jodrell Bank

Jodrell Bank

ISN'T it funny how one single phrase can be interpreted to convey a multitude of ideas? 'The Cheshire Set' conjures up many thoughts and emotions to many Cheshire folk.

ISN'T it funny how one single phrase can be interpreted to convey a multitude of ideas? 'The Cheshire Set' conjures up many thoughts and emotions to many Cheshire folk.

For some perhaps, a lifestyle of money and opulence would best fit the description, for others perhaps the ideal of a cosy hideaway cottage set within beautiful surroundings. But to a landscape photographer the phrase can mean only one thing, that of capturing the beautiful warm tones of sunset as it lights up our magnificent county's skyline.

Of course these sunsets can come in the guise of many differing spectacles. Perhaps the faint tinge of last light that subtly lights up a sliver of cloud in the final moments of daylight, or the dramatic side lighting of a storm cloud as it races across the landscape. Just occasionally though, we may be lucky to witness a full-blown raging sunset, lighting up the evening sky with a plethora of magnificent colours which one might associate more with tropical climes than with that of the British Isles.

Often capturing a sunset is the result of meticulous planning and a watchful eye on the weather forecast that will reward with a great image. At other times it is plain good fortune that plays a large part in the recording of these fine displays.

Unavoidably though, one must find an anchor point within the image to put the sunset into context with its surroundings. This may be anything from the silhouette of a splendid castle or the spire of a tall church, to something as simple as the abstract shape of an electricity pylon.

These recognisable features will lend scale to the fantastic display created by Mother Nature in the skies above. The distant silhouetted battlements of Peckforton Castle form the centrepiece for our first 'Cheshire Set' seen here rising vertically from the dramatic tree-topped, sandstone ridgeline of the Peckforton Hills. The grandeur of its silhouetted form with its impressive round and hexagonal battlements stands like a beacon to be viewed from many miles around. The castle is not all that it seems.

Although medieval in appearance, remarkably the castle actually dates from the Victorian era. It was constructed between 1844 and 1851 by Member of Parliament John (later 1st Baron) Tollemache as his own gentleman's residence and was designed by Anthony Salvin who previously restored the White Tower of London and Windsor Castle.

Peckforton Castle was built from the rock upon which it stands, quarried from less than a mile away and painstakingly transported up temporary tramways to its hilltop location. One particularly noticeable feature of this glorious sunsetis the ethereal movement in the clouds that is apparent. This was achieved by using a long shutter speed and allowing the movement of the clouds to produce asoftening of their shapely form. Remarkably this colourful sky has not been enhanced in any way.

We travel northwards up the A49 to our next location, that of our second sunset. One late summer evening, just outside the village of Higher Whitley, I was lucky enough to see the spectre of a large cumulonimbus cloud sweeping towards me across the landscape.

Conditions on the edge of a storm can be fantastic for landscape photographers. Clarity of light combined with brooding cloud masses can inject atmosphere into an otherwise uninteresting image. Here, late evening sunlight illuminates the stormy base of the cumulonimbus cloud, providing a perfect setting for a field of hay bales.

Conditions like this occur infrequently and do not last for long. Occasionally being in the right place at the right time can seem more luck than judgement. Luck though had very little to do with the image captured of Perch Rock Lighthouse at New Brighton on the Wirral. There are certain locations that always lend themselves well to a sunset image and Perch Rock is one of them. I had waited for a partly cloudy evening to provide the detail in the sky to make this image a success.

Here the delicate hues showing the early stages of sunset are apparent, as an amber band begins to light up the sky along the horizon.

Looking carefully at the upper levels of cirrus cloud, we can see that the subtle colour shown on the horizon is just beginning to gently warm up these clouds as well and complements the orange tones of the sandy beach below the lighthouse.

We don't have to travel very far down the Wirral to find our next sunset as we look out over the sandbanks of the

River Dee at low tide. This one could be described as a 'full-blown' sunset with dramatic colours lighting up the evening sky in shades of red, orange, yellow and grey. The undersides of the streaking wisps of medium level stratocumulus clouds take on a fiery appearance; whilst below on the sand banks, the gulls seeking a plentiful supply of freshly exposed food provide scale to an otherwise abstract image.

We move from this relatively subtle abstract image to our next 'Cheshire Set' comprising of a full-blown abstract image. These electricity pylons, (I say 'these' because of the almost hidden second pylon hiding in the shadow of its nearer brother) provided a perfect foreground silhouette for an amazing sunset recorded near Alderley Edge last summer. The pylons look almost like a giant mechanical alien with arms outstretched

An overwhelming mass of colour and confusion occurring in the skies behind, are a testament to the magnificence of Nature herself and would cause most people looking at this awesome sight to watch and wonder at its creation.

The diagonal power lines converging on the pylon from the extremes of the image provide further interest to this abstract scene. Besides the colour change associated with sunset, other transformations sometime take place upon the landscape late in the evening as is demonstrated in the accompanying image of the Weaver Navigation close to the town of Northwich.

When conditions are just right and the air in contact with a relatively warm river is rapidly cooled, mist and fog will often form stretching out like a blanket to smother the adjacent riverbanks.

In this image one can see the creeping katabatic fog spilling over the relatively low eastern bank of the River Weaver and engulfing the surrounding low lying reed beds, whilst the steeper sided western bank forms an almost impenetrable barrier to hold back the fog in the early stages of its development.

This is a scene that will have changed very little over hundreds of years since the Weaver Navigation was opened enabling cheap Lancashire coal to be transported to the saltpans of Winsford, and the resulting salt products back for export from the country. It is easy to imagine the giant 100-ton salt barges emerging from the mists on their journey towards the distant Mersey Estuary. For our penultimate image, we take a look at another of the county's waterways, that of the Shropshire Union Canal on the outskirts of Huxley in central Cheshire.

This sunset was captured on a winters evening from the bridge near Wharton's Lock just north of Beeston Castle. The hazy orb of a winter sun has been captured moments before it enters a cloudbank looming on the horizon and both are perfectly reflected in the still waters of the canal.

The recording of the orb, combined with a subtlety of colour as the sun descends into the impenetrable cloudbank, provides the scene with an almost ghostly appearance, embellishing the thought of haunted tales often associated with our nation's waterway heritage. What sunset article could be completed without an image of one of our county's most iconic symbols, that of the giant steel MK1A Radio Telescope of Jodrell Bank, which dominates the landscape of central Cheshire.

Completed in 1957, it weighs over 3,200 tons and rises 250 feet over the surrounding countryside demanding attention from locals and visitors alike. In the accompanying image, we see an oblique view of its huge parabolic dish and the intricate metal framework that makes up this engineering masterpiece.

Its silhouetted dome stands head and shoulders above the surrounding trees, dominating completely the rapidly approaching night sky.

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