Can you see the Republic of Ireland from England?

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Lockdown had a huge impact on us all. One of the most striking things for me was the increase in visibility, caused no doubt by the dramatic reduction in travel and transport. The Anglezarke Moor area is directly under the flight path of aircraft flying in to Manchester Airport from Ireland, and the sky is often filled with contrails. Looking west towards the Irish Sea, and your gaze will cross as a minimum the M6 and M61 motorways, and probably also the M65, M57, M58 and M62.

I used to work at the north end of Bolton, and travelled back to Chorley across Sheep House Lane after work each evening. In the seven years from 2000 to 2007 that I worked there, I never once saw anything on the other side of the sea.

Since walking in the area with a pair of binoculars most of the time, there were a couple of times in ten years where I could just about make out the Isle of Man behind Blackpool Tower. That was, till this year. Soon after lockdown, in mid-Spring, the sight of Snaefell and the Isle of Man became a regular occurrence.

My normal viewpoint was again on Sheep House Lane, at the small layby where a footpath leads down towards Hempshaw’s and Old Rachel’s. The location of the layby is here.

The three forward-slashes denote the parking spot.

From this viewpoint, the Isle of Man is conveniently located right behind Blackpool Tower – which is generally easy to pick out.

The Isle of Man sight-lines from Anglezarke

In the image above, the red flag in the bottom right represents the viewpoint on Sheep House Lane once more. The blue line links to Snaefell, the highest point on the Isle of Man, and the two red lines are aligned to the top and bottom of the island.

The sea here is dominated by several large arrays of wind farms.

Windfarms in the Irish Sea. The blue and red sight-lines are taken from the previous image.

The wind farms can be seen on clear evenings with good binoculars.

Zoom view on Blackpool

As you can see above, the blue sight line from Anglezarke to Snaefell passes very close by Blackpool Tower. However, this is a flat projection of a spherical earth, so in reality, the curvature of the earth means that Snaefell is not, in fact, directly behind Blackpool Tower.

The following images were all taken with a middle-of-the-range digital camera, but with relatively large optical zoom of 65x – the Canon SX60 HS. I am by no means a camera buff, but I do know that the sensor is smaller than a typical SLR. Sensor Resolution is 16MP BSI-CMOS and the Sensor Size is 1/2.3″ type (6.17 x 4.55mm).

Isle of Man through Blackpool Pleasure Beach
Isle of Man behind Blackpool Tower
Snaefell to the right – not behind the tower like the OS map shows – thus disproving the flat-earthers!

Distances from Anglezarke
Blackpool Tower – 25 miles
Snaefell – 89 miles

Even though Blackpool is 25 miles closer to Snaefell, at 64 miles as the crow flies, much less of the island is in fact visible. This is because at Blackpool shoreline you are at sea level, and the curvature of the earth means that only the distant mountain tops are visible. Blackpool Tower is 158m tall, to the very tip, so the viewing platform is no more than 150m above sea level. Our Anglezarke viewpoint is 298m above sea level. Stephen Cheatley has created a fabulous video from Blackpool which illustrates this.

From YouTube, this superb Stephen Cheatley video.

So, beyond doubt one can see a distant land, 89 miles away.

Image enhanced but unedited (saturation and contrast tweaks) – 89 miles.

On the clearest days of lockdown, it was possible to see further. The Welsh Mountains are quite a common sight, although generally quite hazy. The below image is looking further west, across Colwyn Bay. You have the Great Orme of Llandudno to the left, and Anglesey to the right.

Great Orme to the left, Anglesey to the right.
Great Orme, Llandudno.
Anglesey trailing off to the right (west)

In the above shots of Anglesey, I am rotating my view clockwise to turn from Anglesey northwards. As Anglesey comes to an end, the wind turbines of Gwynt y Mor are still in view along with various oil platforms such as the Douglas Complex.

Image levels enhanced (colour balance) but unedited. Great Orme and Anglesey across Colwyn Bay.

The furthest point on Anglesey that we can see is Dinas Gynfor at 60m above sea level and 79 miles distant. So, 10 miles short of Snaefell.

Looking further north and increasingly distant, on the clearest night of 2020 – and quite possibly the clearest night for decades – we see this:

A far and distant land?

At the bottom of the above image, we see a clearing between two wooded areas. This is Harrock Hill, in Wrightington, a mere eight-and-a-half miles away. To the right of this clearing, beyond the sea and right on the horizon… could it be Ireland? Could it be anything but?

At this distance, it cannot be Dublin – whilst aligned correctly, the city lies too low and is beneath the horizon. The nearest highpoint theoretically visible would be the Wicklow Mountains, however they would be obscured by Anglesey.

Looking north of Dublin – which is a match for the image above – is Knockbrack, a peak that is relatively close to the coast.

Knockbrack

The topography of Ireland isn’t as easily accessible as that of the United Kingdom, however there is a very useful site here.

I wondered if my image did show Ireland, or something as trivial as cloud cover. However, I revisited my viewpoint a couple of days later, and the shape on the horizon was exactly the same.

Knockbrack, Ireland, from Anglezarke, Lancashire, England. 9th May, 2020.

I can’t find evidence anywhere of Ireland being visible from England – sure, Northern Ireland from Cumbria, or the Republic from Wales, but not the Republic from England. But as I saw the same distant object two days apart, I am as satisfied as I think I will ever be – with the skies now polluting once more – that I did, in fact, see Ireland.

Distance from Anglezarke
Knockbrack – 154 miles.

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