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Like a motorway: the Trans-Pennine express

The M62 is the great trans-Pennine highway which bisects northern England, running from Mersyside in the west to Humberside on the east coast. Opened in the early 1970s, the M62 cuts across the spine of the southern Pennines, and provides the main route for transporting goods between the two halves of the north. Millions of people (and millions of tons of commercial traffic) travel along this route every year, but probably few spare much thought for the work needed to create this stretch of asphalt across the moors, linking Manchester and Leeds together in less than an hour’s drive.

A fascinating three part BBC4 documentary, ‘The Secret Life of the Motorway’ aired last year, shining a light on the technological prowess, social changes and romance which surrounded the development of the motorway network in the UK. The second episode concentrated on the massive engineering challenges faced by the teams constructing this stretch of the M62, from west of Huddersfield through to the Lancashire/Yorkshire border. You can read more about the construction here.

I’ve always loved this section of the motorway as it climbs up past Blackstone Edge and Windy Hill and opens out onto the vast expanse of Moss Moor, but until I watched the BBC documentary didn’t know much about it, except for the sign near Junction 22 which proclaims that this is England’s highest motorway. I’ve travelled along here hundreds, perhaps even thousands of times in the last decade for business and pleasure, and I love the soft rawness of the moorland against the giant expanse of sky. When you use this road regularly you start to appreciate the subtleties of the seasons and weather conditions: the cottongrass blooming in early summer, the brief flashes of colour as the heather flowers in August, the monochromatic undulations when snow and ice coats the hillsides in winter.

At the eastern end of Moss Moor lies Scammonden Bridge, carrying the Saddleworth Road across the vast cutting at Deanhead. Nowadays the landscaped sides of the cutting help to disguise its man-made origins, where the six lane motorway cuts straight through the hillside. Millions of tons of rock were removed, and became the basis of the 2100ft long Scammonden Dam on the approach. You don’t appreciate just how massive this bridge is when you drive along the motorway – at the time of opening it was the longest single span concrete bridge in the world – but it’s in such an enormous cutting, and at the crest of the hill, that its elegant structure seems understated. This view, from the top of the cutting, provides a clearer view of the scale of the bridge and the landscape beyond.

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Click below for a fullscreen 360° view of the scene in Flash, or for more info in Google Earth.

At the other end of the upper moorland stretch, just past the Rockingstones junction, the motorway starts to drop down towards Greater Manchester. Another massive cutting sweeps between Windy Hill and the climb towards Blackstone Edge, spanned by the Pennine Way footbridge. Walkers on this 200 mile long distance footpath are uninterrupted by the constant flow of traffic below, and can look west towards the Yorkshire/Lancashire county border (now the West Yorkshire/Greater Manchester boundary to be precise) a hundred or so metres away.

I originally tried to shoot this same scene over 4 years ago for a WWP submission, but the homebrew pano kit I then used, combined with the savage winds, conspired to produce a thoroughly unsuccessful result. This time I was more fortunate: the dying seconds of the setting sun vividly lit up the tops behind me, and created a glorious focal point for the long exposures light-trails of the traffic zooming off into the distance. A minute later it was gone.

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Click below for a fullscreen 360° view of the scene in Flash, or for more info in Google Earth.

A brief window of sunlight …

Wheat in the late summer sun

If you live in the UK you’ll know it’s been an unremitting dull summer … endless gloom, rain and murk. I drive past this field every day, and as the wheat in the field has slowly ripened I’ve been trying to get a good opportunity to shoot it. Finally I drove home and caught the field as the sunlight started to hit the magic hours: rich, oversaturated colours and majestic stillness.

You’d never think this bucolic scene was next to the M62 motorway, but sometimes the most beautiful rural scenes seem to thrive in the hinterland next to these vehicular arteries that criss-cross our landscape. Although you can’t tell from the photo, the ground was sodden and saturated: the rain we’ve suffered so much of has delayed the harvesting, but at least the hedgerows are verdant and fecund right now, weighed down with fruit. I need to go picking berries.

Click below for a fullscreen 360° view of the scene in Flash or QuickTime format, or locate the scene in Google Earth.