The past 12 months have been very productive for the S&B team and we thought we’d put together our favourite pictures of 2016 (writes John Hayward).
First up is a swan at sunrise on the Mere at Ellesmere in January. It's all very well photographing sunrise over water, but it can sometimes look rather uninteresting. You need something to draw the eye of the viewer and thankfully swans and ducks can be found on the Mere all year round.
The swan photographed here was gliding across the water at some speed, which required me to run ahead of it, stop, take a picture, and then repeat the process several times over. Very amusing for any early morning walkers, I am sure!
The next shot is of a frozen pool on the summit of Caer Caradoc, near Church Stretton, which was taken in February. It had been several years since I had walked up Caradoc - and never at sunrise - so I was able to kill two birds with one stone. I wasn’t expecting to discover a frozen pool at the top and this image has been very well received, finding its way into magazines and newspapers and also being used as a greetings card.
A few days later I got up early for another sunrise, this time at Bury Ditches hill fort, near Clun. I don’t visit Bury Ditches very often as there are limited opportunities for pictures, but on this occasion there were some lovely long shadows to play with.
I made my first-ever trip up the Lawley in March - and returned with one of our most popular images. The plan was to photograph trees on the Lawley at sunrise with Caradoc in the background, but nothing was working. Then I just happened to turn around and saw a bird on a tree with the Wrekin in the distance. I quickly turned the camera round on the tripod and managed to take a handful of shots before the bird flew off. Looking back, I realise that a lot of the images I took this year hadn’t been planned!
Snow was in very short supply in 2016, but Mike and I were able to make the most of an unexpected flurry in April. One morning we were heading down the A5 towards Shrewsbury and could see a beacon of white light on the southern horizon. We scrapped our plans to go into town and instead headed towards Church Stretton where we were treated to a contrasting view of a snow-covered Caer Caradoc with an oil-seed rape field beneath it.
The following month saw us both walk up Brown Clee and I took this shot of Mike looking out over Corvedale, lit by a striking sun flare.
In my experience Shropshire sheep are very happy to pose for the camera and these two on the Long Mynd were in the perfect place, with the Wrekin on the left of the image and the Lawley and Caer Caradoc in the background. This was the only picture I came back with from that evening in July, but I was very happy with it.
The next image is also from July and shows a peaceful scene on the Llangollen Canal at Ellesmere, using my recently acquired 200-500mm lens. This shot exemplifies the slow, peaceful pace of life on England's waterways.
Sunrise at Ludlow Castle in August is the subject of the next picture. I had never been to Ludlow at this time of day before and the new long lens came into play once again, enabling me to capture a shot that would not previously have been possible.
One of the earliest starts of 2016 was for sunrise on the Stiperstones, which required me to be out of bed at 3:30am to capture warm light on the Devil’s Chair. I had allotted enough time to park and walk up to this iconic spot and work out possible shots before the sun came up. However, upon arrival at the car park I discovered a sea of mist covering the landscape in the distance, so I had an unexpected jog across the rocky landscape through waist-deep heather. The sweat was pouring off me by the time I got to where I wanted to be but I was rewarded with this view and many other misty shots that morning.
Every year Shrewsbury has its own Folk Festival and it’s always enjoyable to watch the morris dancers performing. Our favourite shot of the day was Mike’s picture of dancers queueing at a bus stop in High Street.
A month after my sunrise trip to the Stiperstones I made a return visit, this time to capture rock formations illuminated by moonlight. This shot is a 30-second exposure and shows the Devil’s Chair with the star-studded night sky behind.
The only photograph we’ve chosen from 2016 that isn’t in Shropshire is this shot of steam locomotive Tornado crossing Victoria Bridge on the Severn Valley Railway at Arley in Worcestershire. I had to bring my wellies for this one and stand in the River Severn along with several other photographers who had the same idea. We were treated to this view in near perfect conditions.
Mike and I were on the hunt for autumn pictures in south Shropshire when we came across a lovely old barn near Bromfield, with Brown Clee Hill rising above it in the background. This is a scene that will need to be re-visited in other seasons.
Sunrise at Shrewsbury was next on the cards and Mike took this shot of a lone rower silhouetted on the River Severn.
While he was in the county town I was hard at work in the Redlake Valley, above the village of Chapel Lawn. It was the third time I had visited this spot in a month as it provides many photographic opportunities, plus the autumn colours of Brineddin Wood were in full swing. This shot was taken from Caer Caradoc - not to be confused with the hill of the same name near Church Stretton.
There was still a lot of autumn colour in the Shropshire countryside in early November and the weather forecast was for rain and intermittent clouds. Knowing there was a chance for dramatic skies and maybe a rainbow or two, I set off for Heath Mynd which is a hill I’d been intending to visit for a long time. I did get a rainbow - although not in the right place - but I had to sit in the heather and wait for two hours before the sun came out on the trees in front of me, along the valley and on the Stiperstones in the distance. The time just flew past!
Autumn pictures of Bridgnorth were in short supply in the Shropshire and Beyond library, so to rectify that I went up High Rock at sunrise. I’d captured the same shot last year but in summer, and I think it works much better with the autumn colours.
Coalport isn’t a place we’ve visited very often and so for something a little different Mike took this quirky shot of a building and bottle kiln at the China Museum, reflected in the canal.
Just before the year was out we headed up Titterstone Clee to get some misty landscape pictures. We spotted a ring of trees half way between us and Ludlow that kept disappearing in the rolling mist. We didn’t know what it was at the time but when we got back we identified it as Caynham Camp Iron Age hill fort.
It’s been a great year in the county, and we’ve enjoyed excellent sales of our Shropshire Hills 2017 calendar. We’re now looking forward to our book celebrating Shropshire in photographs, which is being published by Merlin Unwin Books in September.
A Happy New Year to you all, and we hope you’ve enjoyed the pictures.