The view from the air is different. The observer is no longer rooted to the ground, but instead can soar above it, without the need to follow roads or footpaths. It is possible to take in wide areas at a glance, and gain a far greater understanding of the relationships between the man-made and the natural landscape. From the ground, often only the largest features of the landscape – mountains, rivers, lakes and valleys – can be appreciated for their form and scale. From the air, you can gain a much greater insight: a tidal estuary appears as an intricate network of channels, almost mirroring the roots of a tree; farmland often resembles a patchwork quilt; towns and cities, which may appear formless from the ground, can be seen to have grown around natural features, such as a river or surrounding hills.
Nowhere is this more true than in Wales, and aerial photography reveals where the landscape has largely determined how the built environment has developed. In the north, the major settlements hug the coastline whether they are the coastal resorts of Llandudno and Prestatyn, or the defensive towns of Conwy, Caernarfon and Beaumaris, guarded by the fortresses of Edward I’s castles. Further inland, the rocky cliffs and crags of Snowdonia safeguard the land from too much human encroachment. To the south, the Brecon Beacons mark the northern end of the industrial south. Today, little remains of the mining industry and the valleys that flow down to Cardiff are crammed with former coal and steel towns such as Merthyr Tydfil, Ebbw Vale and Pontypridd.