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2019 – winners announced

Physical geography competition 2019 - Aleksandra Flak“This competition aims to provide an opportunity for students to widen their horizons beyond what they learn in the classroom and to discover physical geography ‘out there’ – wherever ‘there’ may be.

With this in mind the competition brief for 2019 suggested that ‘wonderful physical geography’ need not be a photograph of something on a grand scale but it might be of a small-scale feature of physical geography; it might be something seen in an urban environment as much as a feature of the countryside. A photograph could capture the wonder of a physical process that is part of creating a feature; and the location might be local or somewhere further afield.

The panel were looking for entries showing an interesting, thoughtful or unusual observation of physical geography that inspired the viewer to realise there was more to a photo than meets the eye, and indicated that there was something quite wonderful in its physical geography. A photo should show some thought to composition and the focus of the selected landscape, feature or process should be clear. Additionally, the assessment of photos considered authenticity – achieved by considering how and where each photo was taken.

After much deliberation, the judging panel selected entries they considered best reflected the spirit of the 2019 challenge, with the balance of a stimulating photo and a succinct title that invited engagement and text that helped enrich the photo by revealing why and how the physical geography they had captured was so wonderful.

Credit should go to all of the 266 students who took up the 2019 challenge; it was obvious that for many students it was the taking part that was rewarding.”

Duncan Hawley

Chair, Physical Geography Special Interest Group

“Once more this competition has energised students to capture the wonder of the ‘physical’ they find with a camera. This competition ticks many of our boxes – better appreciation and understanding of the environment, venturing outside and capturing what they find and that thrilling sense of discovery, all making geography accessible for students on their own terms. Páramo garments protect from the elements, whatever they throw at you; wild, wet, baking or biting!

The ethically produced wind and waterproofs can also be easily repaired. We are delighted to be a partner in this competition and offer our products as prizes to students who have shown they have the ‘get up and go’ to find fascination and wonder in the world outdoors. Páramo offers its congratulations to every student who entered – we are sure they are richer for their wonderful experience.”

Tom Willox, from the competition sponsor – Páramo Directional Clothing Systems Ltd (

The winners

11–14 category

1st prize

Zoe Cripwell, Monmouth School for Girls

Title: Power and Time

Location: Feshiebridge, Cairngorms National Park

My picture is taken in Scotland on the River Feshie at Feshiebridge in the Cairngorms National Park. It shows the effect of power and time. These rocks were once covered in ice. And now they battle the immense power of water. Over thousands of years, the rushing water, combined with the gravel and sediment it carries, collected from higher up the river, has carved patterns of erosion in the grey granite rocks of the river. The rocks have been moulded by the river, creating patterns of lines that mimic the flow of the water.

If you explore upstream you can see some amazing examples of the effect of the retreat of the glaciers. Examples of the power of the glaciers, the power of gravity and the power of water; jumbles of boulders, scree slopes, alluvial fans, river terraces, and the effects of time as the valley floor changes whenever the river floods.

I love to swim in the river here. The channels make great water flumes which finish after the rapids in a deep calm pool on the other side of the bridge. These features make Feshiebridge a favourite place for people to come for a picnic, a swim or walk. Or just to watch the water rushing by.

Judging panel comments

This is well-composed, with a good balance of colour and texture contrast, that captures the exciting dynamic nature of physical geography. Looking at the photo you can almost hear the roar of the water. The description thoughtfully tries to connect the scene to the wider landscape and the legacy of ancient glaciers – the judges felt this could have been linked more directly as the glacial sediments provide the source of the scouring gravel and sand in the river. The regular and consistent dark and pale bands in the rocks are original beds which betrays their sedimentary origin – a granite would erode much more irregularly and roughly. The rocky outcrops exposed here have been scoured by the river, creating linear grooves and rock terraces that mimic the flow of the water. Nevertheless, the principles of the processes are explained concisely and the wonder is evident, making this a well-deserved first place winner.

2nd prize

Sarah Beck, Burscough Priory Academy, Lancashire

Title: Beauty on the beach

Location: Southport beach

3rd prize

Helen Neacsu, Monmouth School for Girls

Title: Gorgeous Ghajn Tuffieha

Location: Malta

14–18 category

1st prize

Annabelle Hart, St Helen and St Katharine School, Abingdon

Title: The Forest Foreigners

Location: Ashdown Estate, Lambourn, Berks.

These large boulders on the Ashdown Estate are sarsen stones. The name sarsen comes from the word ‘Saracen’, or ‘foreigner’. Sarsen stones are also called ‘greywethers’ as when they appear in fields faraway they look like sheep, which are known as ‘wethers’.

These sarsens are the remains of a sandstone layer that once covered the chalk layer seen in the area today. The sandstone layer was composed of hard quartz sand and was glued together with silica. The sandstone layer was broken up by weathering and erosion. The stones were then carried downwards by meltwater in the peri-glacial period and they now lie in the bottom of the valley.

Looking closer, the sarsen stones have holes in them, and these holes may have been formed by the roots of palm trees, millions of years ago.  Indeed, similar materials occur today in some tropical areas, e.g. the Kalahari Desert. These warmer conditions were a feature of the British Isles before the Ice Ages two to three million years ago. Today, the sarsen stones are carpeted with lichens and bryophytes.

I have been to the Ashdown Estate on several occasions and overlooked these rocks near the car park, anxious to explore the woods and beyond. However, after learning their extremely fascinating physical geographical history I now realize that every rock, stone and boulder is a wonderful piece of geography with an amazing story to tell.

Judging panel comments

At first glance this is an unassuming photograph but the seemingly mundane is concealing an interesting, even dramatic past and set of processes. The foreground is dominated by the big boulder but there is attractive colour contrast and also a depth perspective captured showing the boulder is not an isolate. This photograph and description have an authenticity that epitomises the competition; it stimulated curiosity about a feature which is overlooked all too easily and so has changed the way the observer looks at the landscape (or at least rocks and stones), understanding that it reveals a story. There is much that is wonderful in that. It makes for a very admirable first place winner.

Annabelle with her Paramo jacket.

2nd prize

Emma Hubbert, Downend School, South Gloucestershire

Title:  Safeguarding the Sublime

Location: Sólheimajökull Glacier, Iceland

3rd prize

Aleksandra Flak, BORG Oberndorf, Salzburg

Title: Temporary beauty

Location: Gozo, Malta

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