The story behind this stunning photo of a lightning storm near St Helens

Lightning strike near Crank by Dr Barrie Pennington

Lightning strike near Crank by Dr Barrie Pennington - Credit: Archant

This photo was captured in Crank by local resident, Dr Barrie Pennington. He explains the origins of lightning trees and the history of the surrounding area.

ISS trail over the Welsh Hills from Crank by Dr Barrie Pennington

ISS trail over the Welsh Hills from Crank by Dr Barrie Pennington - Credit: Archant

This photo of a lightning storm was taken near Crank village, St. Helens which is where I live. (Although St. Helens is now in Merseyside I am old enough to still think of myself as a Lancashire lad).

The trees are ‘lightning trees’ deliberately left there by farmers to protect people and livestock from lightning strikes. This is a common ploy in agricultural areas and you will often see single trees or small clusters dotted around the countryside. Most lightning trees are oak or sometimes elm as they have a reputation for their ability to absorb the tremendous power in a lightning strike because with their hollow cell structure the electricity is discharged straight to the ground. Other trees with water-filled cells are not so lucky and will often be killed by a hit - the bark often flying off at supersonic speeds - hence the danger of standing under a tree. (Avoid the oak it draws the stroke, beware the ash it counts the flash, creep under thorn it spares you harm - old folklore to protect people during a storm).

The trees in the image have received multiple strikes and still yield leaves each year. Just behind them is Crank hidden/covered reservoir which is a back-up storage facility used in months of water shortage. Many people walk on top of the reservoir without realising they are standing on thousands of gallons of water. On a clear day there are spectacular views of Liverpool Bay and both the Anglican and Roman Catholic cathedrals can be seen in Liverpool. Standing on the reservoir puts you in the second highest point in St. Helens at 95m/311ft above sea level.

Liverpool sunset from Crank reservoir by Dr Barrie Pennington

Liverpool sunset from Crank reservoir by Dr Barrie Pennington - Credit: Archant

Billinge Hill is the highest peak in St. Helens (and Merseyside) at 179m/587ft. I took the picture when emerging from Crank Caverns an old sandstone quarry disused since the 1850s. Many of the local structures are built from its stone including Alder Lane Chapel constructed by my neighbour’s grandfather. The Caverns are steeped in mystery and tales of ghostly sightings are common. Land Registry records list the Caverns as unregistered but the land has been owned by Lord Derby’s estate for centuries. Indeed, Lord Derby himself used to go hunting there. The Caverns were used to store ammunition during World War Two as there was an ant-aircraft emplacement on the other side of the reservoir. During the Blitz, Luftwaffe bombers would often use Billinge Hill as a visual waypoint before turning left towards Liverpool. The anti-aircraft gun was positioned to take advantage of this sudden turn.

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