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Dazzling dark sky over regal ruins wins South Downs National Park’s photo contest

Dazzling dark sky over regal ruins wins South Downs National Park’s photo contest

February 3, 2023

A hauntingly beautiful photograph of one of Britain’s most important Tudor homes on a starry night has won a prestigious astrophotography competition.

“Cowdray Cosmos”, by Richard Murray, took the top spot in the South Downs National Park’s astrophotography competition, which attracted almost 60 entries this year.

The image captures the Milky Way rising over Cowdray Ruins, in Midhurst, West Sussex, which was once a grand Tudor mansion that was visited by Henry VIII, Edward VI and Elizabeth 1. In September 1793, while undergoing repairs and refurbishments for the impending marriage of the 8th Viscount Montague, a devastating fire destroyed most of the property, leaving the ruins that we see today.

Meanwhile, a thought-provoking image called “Toad in the Road”, by Peter Brooks, won the “Nature at Night” category of the competition.

The contest was judged by “Dark Skies” Dan Oakley, a Lead Ranger for the National Park, Steve Broadbent, Chair of Hampshire Astronomical Group, and Vanessa Rowlands, Chair of the South Downs National Park Authority.

The competition celebrates the National Park’s status as an International Dark Sky Reserve, which recognises the region as one of the best places globally to stargaze. One of only 20 in the world, it is named after the late Sir Patrick Moore, who lived near the Downs.

Commenting on “Cowdray Cosmos”, Dan said: “It’s such a well-framed image and shows what the landscape would have been like a couple of centuries ago. It’s a great little chocolate box photo of the South Downs. This is right next to Midhurst, so to capture this shot is incredible.”

Steve added: “I like this image because it has a bit of everything – the heritage, the reflection, and a really beautiful dark night sky.”

Photographer Richard Murray, from Waterloville, Hampshire, wins a £100 prize. He said: “We were blessed with crystal clear skies and I was lucky enough to be able to capture this shot of the Milky Way rising behind the Cowdray Ruins.

“It demonstrates that you don’t have to travel too far from town to enjoy the spectacular dark skies the South Downs National Park has to offer. The National Park has such a wide variety of beautiful landscapes and buildings to photograph and is truly a special part of the UK, both by day and night.”

Runner-up in the main category, “South Downs Dark Skyscapes”, was a stunning shot of the moon rising behind Beachy Head lighthouse, near Eastbourne. “Beachy Head Moonrise” was taken by Andrew Parker, who wins a £75 prize.

Vanessa said: “This is one of my favourite images because it’s about being in the right place, at the right time, and has really relied on the human skill of taking a photograph. There’s something about capturing a moment that I think is quite lovely.”

Andrew, who lives in South East London, said: “Despite travelling around the country to pursue my hobby of landscape and astrophotography I still go to the South Downs more than most other places. The skies around Birling Gap are fantastic.”

The judges were wowed by the photography of a toad crossing a road near Cuckmere Haven, in East Sussex.

Dan said: “I like this image because it’s a bit different. It sums up the theme of ‘nature at night’ and really highlights the fragility of nature.”

Photographer Peter Brooks, from Eastbourne, picks up a £100 prize. He said: “I took this particular image to highlight the dangers toads face when migrating back to their breeding ponds, I headed to the spot where I know a great number of toads cross after it had been raining,

“I used my own vehicle in the shot parked at the side of the road and an off camera flash on quarter power to light the toad, laying in the road to get down to eye level with the toad.

“I then spent some time helping toads across the road safely. This is actually a designated toad patrol area.”

Taking the runner-up spot for “Nature at Night” was “Reach for the Sky”, an image bordering on the supernatural and taken by Carl Gough.

Vanessa said: “This photograph is so atmospheric. It’s almost reminds me of ‘reverse lightning’ with the black forking up into the night sky.”

Carl, from Littlehampton, West Sussex, wins a £75 prize. He said: “The morning I took this photo was actually a work day. I woke up at 3am and headed straight to Lords Piece to meet my friend who had the same shot in mind. Thankfully the forecast was correct and I was able to complete the full panorama without too many issues. It was quite remarkable to get it all done before leaving for work. The most enjoyable thing about the photo is the experience itself.”

A number of breathtaking images were highly commended by the judges. They were: “Spring Night at St Hubert’s” by Alan Crossland, which shows the “Little Church in the Field” at Idsworth with the arch of the Milky Way; “Celestial Estuary” by Giles Smith, which shows the famous Seven Sisters; and “Hiorne Neowise” by Neale Thibaut, which shows the Comet Neowise hurtling through the night sky above the Hiorne Tower at Arundel.

A range of images from the competition will be shared during the National Park’s Dark Skies Festival, which begins on Saturday (4 February). See the programme by visiting www.southdowns.gov.uk/dark-night-skies/dark-skies-festival/

Click on the pictures to see all the winners and highly-commended images in this gallery: