Why are Liverpool’s sunsets so beautiful? High view of Liverpool City and the River Mersey leading onto the Wirral peninsula as the sunsets on a spring evening

Why are Liverpool’s sunsets so beautiful?

It’s one of the few things that can stop everyone in the city in its tracks. The first sign is a ripple of pink and orange across the sky. Then the colour will deepen and broaden. When Liverpool knows it’s in for a good sunset, the home time commute can wait. Instead, people stand, watch and enjoy.

When the Labour Conference came to Liverpool in late summer, early autumn, the Instagram and Twitter feeds of the country’s top politicos were filled less with snaps of politicians, but instead the view across the waterfront as the sky turned red and orange. Liverpool Wavertree MP, Luciana Berger, took a snap of the beautiful sunset across the River Mersey.

Indeed, search Google images and you’ll find plenty of pictures of the Liverpool skyline drenched in the rich light of a sunset. And it’s nothing new, watercolour artists have long travelled to the city to capture the colour of its skies.

So why does Liverpool get such beautiful sunsets? Are we unique? When sound recordist Chris Watson was recording the birdsong at Liverpool’s Alder Hey Hospital for his work, ‘Wildsong at Dawn’ project - bringing birdsong into the hospital - he mentioned that because of where the city sits, its longitude and latitude, it has a long birdsong. Could that be one of the reasons why we have such long and rich sunsets?

Autumn light with the Liverpool's great Anglican Cathedral
Autumn light with the Liverpool’s great Anglican Cathedral

Not quite, says Emma Sharples from the Met Office. “We actually get quite a few places asking us if there’s a meteorological reason why they, in particular have beautiful sunsets”.

Oh. OK. But there might be, she says, something about where we are that means enjoying the sunset in Liverpool is better than anywhere else.

'Another Place by Antony Gormley
‘Another Place by Antony Gormley

“Liverpool looks westward and because of the River Mersey you have uninterrupted views as the sun sets. There’s a huge expanse as the river runs into the Irish Sea and the colour in the sky is reflected in the water”.

Ah, so if we’re at the waterfront, we feel as though we’re getting two for the price of one, as the sunset is replicated on the waves. We’re surrounded by the light. And, in front of the river, you get the full effect.

Perch Rock lighthouse at New Brighton near Liverpool, UK. At sunset.
Perch Rock lighthouse at New Brighton near Liverpool, UK. At sunset.

There could, also, says Emma, be something about the way the city is built.

“Sunsets are most noticeable in Spring and around early autumn. The sun’s angle at this time of year might mean that we notice it more”. Also, if we think of the time of the sunset at those periods of the year we’re travelling home from work so if we’re all sitting on a bus are we more likely to suddenly look up and notice the sunset. We’re on the streets, rather than at our desks, so we’re going to take more notice of the sunset than we might have done already.

‘Another Place by Antony Gormley

There’s also the question of how Liverpool is built. Liverpool’s grid structure is very particular.

There’s two things you notice as you walk through Liverpool city centre. Firstly the streets are very straight, especially around Ropewalks. These streets, designed to support the merchants trading along the city are straight because they allowed for ropes to be straightened. The city’s streets run down to the river, as well. So everything in the city is pointed towards the Mersey as its source of life. If the sunset is at its most magnificent along the waterfront, then the city’s streets are pointed directly towards the show. Those straight streets allow for a focus, and as the light starts to scatter, the pink and orange light spills along those streets, almost magnifying the experience.

Liverpool sunset from Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral
Liverpool sunset from Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral

Liverpool’s streets are also lined with tall buildings, red brick warehouses, glass, perfect materials for reflecting and absorbing that colourful light. So the streets take what the sky is producing and provide the perfect stage for it.

So Liverpool’s geographical location, being on the river looking westward means we’re better placed than most to see the sunset. And because the city is built looking towards the sunset, when it’s good we’re all pointed towards it. With that kind of a stage it’s worth taking note of the time of today’s sunset (3.57pm, 1st December 2016) and get your eyes pointed to the sky.

Published: 01/12/2016