Sunsets & Air Pollution

 

Sunset from Oliver's Mount, Scarborough, July 1977

Sunset from Oliver’s Mount, Scarborough, July 1977

I took the sunset photograph above from the summit of Oliver’s Mount, Scarborough, at 8.45pm on Saturday, 16th July 1977. I know those details because they happen to be in a notebook that I still have. The image now forms the header for my professional blog.

The photograph has an unusual “oil painting like” appearance, with muted and brownish tones. This has led some to suggest that perhaps I “photoshopped” the original image to achieve that effect. That’s not the case; this is a scan of the color transparency exactly as it came out of the camera. As I’ll explain below, I believe that some of the extraordinary weather effects that I photographed in those days were actually caused by air pollution.

Wine Country Sunsets

I was prompted to think once again about my old sunset photographs by last night’s sunset here in Santa Rosa. We had had a very hot day, but there was a breeze, and sufficient clouds around to provide some spectacular effects at sunset, as shown below.

Sunset Clouds, Santa Rosa, June 2017

Sunset Clouds, Santa Rosa, June 2017

While nobody would dispute the claim that California’s weather is generally pleasanter than Britain’s, one problem with that is the lack of visual weather effects in California. As someone once put it, “We don’t have weather in California”.

I suspect also that another problem is that the air in California now is much cleaner than it was in Britain in the 1970s, and dirty air makes for spectacular sunsets! The fact that I was able to photograph so many interesting sunsets from Oliver’s Mount was thanks to a combination of Britain’s weather and the mount’s location.

Pilgrimages to Oliver’s Mount

Oliver’s Mount is so called because of a legend that, during the English Civil War in the 1640s, Oliver Cromwell situated cannon on the mount to bombard Scarborough Castle, which was in Royalist hands. This seems highly unlikely, because the cannon of the time did not have sufficient range to fire over such distances, and were far too inaccurate to have hit the castle with any certainty. In any case, there’s no evidence that Cromwell ever visited Scarborough during the Civil War.

When we lived in West Street, Scarborough, during the 1970s, Oliver’s Mount was only about a mile from our house. Although there’s a road to the top of the mount, I discovered that I could reach the summit much more quickly by climbing up directly through the woodland on the hillside. As a result, I visited the war memorial on the summit quite regularly, particularly during the summer. Any air pollution outdoors was definitely healthier than the level indoors, created by my chain-smoking father!

The view to the North-East from the top of the mount looks over Scarborough’s South Bay and Castle headland, and my father and I both photographed that view several times over the years. The image below shows the lights having just come on at sunset, in August 1977.

Scarborough Sunset, August 1977

Scarborough Sunset from Oliver’s Mount, August 1977

The view westwards from the same spot looked inland, towards the Pennines, and the conurbations of West Yorkshire and Manchester. The air in those industrial areas was of poor quality at the time, with much coal burning still occurring, and many chemical works still belching out their waste. I suspect that the low sun shining through all that dirty air was what created some of the spectacular refraction effects that I saw during those sunsets some 40 years ago.

I’ll be exhibiting some of the other “Oliver’s Mount Sunset” photos in future blog posts.

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