A “hauntingly beautiful” photograph of the Milky Way rising over the ruins of a Tudor mansion has won the top prize in the South Downs National Park astrophotography competition.
The image, taken by Richard Murray from Waterlooville, Hampshire, captures the night-time scene at Cowdray ruins in Midhurst, West Sussex, claiming the top prize in the contest which attracted 60 entries.
In September 1793, while it was 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 remain.
The competition celebrates the national park’s status as one of only 20 International Dark Sky Reserves in the world, which recognises the region as one of the best places globally to stargaze.
South Downs lead ranger Dan Oakley said of the winning image: “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.”
Mr Murray, who wins a £100 prize, 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, was a shot of the moon rising behind Beachy Head lighthouse, near Eastbourne taken by Andrew Parker, who wins a £75 prize.
Mr Parker, 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, by Peter Brooks from Eastbourne, who wins a £100 prize.
Mr Oakley 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.”
Mr Brooks said: “I took this particular image to highlight the dangers toads face when migrating back to their breeding ponds.”
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