SMITH OF THE STAR: Good heavens above, it’s got to be God’s own county

Nowell Castle Square fm above.
Nowell Castle Square fm above.
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IT’S our own bit of God’s own county as few of us have seen it before.

Spread out in all its glory Yorkshire – and a bit of Derbyshire – looks magnificent from the air with peaks, reservoirs and wooded hills defining the boundaries of Sheffield.

But amongst all the wonders of the landscape it’s not a work of nature that stands out most.

It’s Meadowhall.

Well, Meadowhall and the M1.

That’s according to former RAF pilot, pilot trainer and supporter of the Great Yorkshire Air Ambulance Association John Nowell.

And they should know.

John, formerly a personal pilot for Sultan Qaboos bin Said al Said of Oman, has produced a book along with his wife Christine called Yorkshire From The Air which is packed with images of all three Yorkshire counties and also punctuated with more earthly shots.

“To be honest if it’s all aerial shots it can get a bit boring,” said 72-year-old John, who fell in love with Sheffield when his dad took him to the legendary JL James cycle shop to pick out a new bike after he had passed his 11-plus exam.

“I have included some interesting land-based shots and some of them from places that don’t exist any more like the Hole in the Road or Castle Square to give it its proper name – though no-one ever called it that anyway.

“Surprisingly, among all that beauty it’s the motorway and Meadowhall in particular that stand out the most.

“Meadowhall is absolutely huge and dominates the whole area. Those green roofs really stand out. You can navigate by Meadowhall, it’s just so prominent.”

John Nowell knows a thing or two about navigating.

After 19 years in the RAF where he ended up training pilots he had a 10-year spell in the Middle East – and one day found himself on the front page of The Times back home.

“One day I flew the Sultan by helicopter to Sur on the most easterly point of the Arabian Peninsula. He didn’t like to fly over mountains because of the turbulence so we went along the coast to get there to drop him off, but on the way back I took the route over the mountains.

“I was looking out towards the sunset and I saw what looked like a row of pimples on the landscape. It was a row of tombs.

“We flew down and looked around, there were 20 of the tombs, and we took some pictures and these 5,000-year-old tombs were untouched by anyone.

“Our crewman was a Muslim and was very upset and quite unnerved by the fact that we were at Majlis al Jinn or ‘the place of the spirits’ so we left.

“But later I told the Sultan and he insisted on having a look. Since then I have taken Prince Charles and the Duke of Gloucester and others to see the tombs.

“One time I took a German, the director of the German Archaeological Mission in Oman, Dr Paul Yule and we located all of the tombs and he put out a press release that ended up on the front page of The Times back home!

“They are really remote and Muslims won’t go there so they had been left untouched.

They are not full of riches nor had they ever been but they are historically very significant.”

As, of course, is Sheffield.

“Sheffield stands out because it is a big city but right on the edge is the Peak District, hills and open countryside.

“Bradford is a bit like that too. There is such a contrast between the two landscapes, yet they are side by side.

“You have the industry and commerce of the city yet 10 minutes out of town and you are in the wilds of the Peak District, it’s an amazing place.”

John’s book A Day Above Yorkshire is his 40th, the first being a book featuring pictures of Oman from the air.

“I did that in 1990 and it has been reprinted 14 times and has sold 42,000 copies since then.

“The Yorkshire one took us about 40 flying hours in total to get the pictures. We took around 3,000 altogether.”

Father of six John has produced 18 books in the Day Above series, the latest edited by his son Robert and daughter Simone.

So what’s the most impressive sight he has seen from the air – apart from Meadowhall?

“That would have to be the Royal Dow of Oman in full sail, it’s a huge thing and very impressive.”

What’s next?

“We are working on pictures for a book A day above the Yorkshire Dales, one on the Lake District, then books on parts of Spain and then Malta.”

A Day Above Yorkshire is published by Zodiac Publishing UK ltd at 14.99. £5 from every sale goes to the Great North Air Ambulance Society.