Pylons

Pylon of the Month - August 2017

P1060430 copy

 This month we have a Scottish pylon from Loch Errochty, a man made freshwater loch in Perth and Kinross.  The pylons are on the Beauly to Denny power line which brings power from renewable sources in the north of Scotland to consumers further south.  It was (and remains) very controversial and the Herald Scotland reported back in 2015 that 'Its impact on the Highland landscape was compared to taking a razor blade to a Rembrandt'.  Those who planned and built it insist that it is essential if Scotland is to meet national renewable energy targets.

You can see a more zoomed out picture below.

P1060429

A few factoids from the BBC

  • The line is 137 miles long and supported by 615 pylons which run through some of the country's most inaccessible terrain.
  • The project supported more than 2,000 jobs over seven years
  • But it attracted about 20,000 objections
  • It is the longest transmission line to be built in the UK in recent times
  • Its highest point is the Corrieyairack Pass at 2,526 feet

As soon as I saw the picture (which was sent in by a fan of the website), my thoughts went to a 2009 article in the Guardian by Jonathan Glancey entitled 'The Gaunt Skeletal Beauty of Pylons'.  I wrote about it back in 2009 and it was the article that first introduced me to the Pylon Poets and Stephen Spender's poem about pylons. Rather pleasingly, the post is still number three on Google if you search on 'pylon poets' which explains why I still get a fair bit of traffic on the blog from a post that is eight years old.  Anyway, I still think that there is a kind of beauty that pylons bring to a landscape.  So did Barbara Hepworth according to this very scholarly article from the Amodern website

Likewise, the sculptor Barbara Hepworth drew inspiration from the sight of “pylons in lovely juxtaposition with springy turf and trees of every stature” seen from the window of an electric train.

The same source makes it clear that there was plenty of opposition to the pylons that the construction of the National Grid in the 1920s and 30s brought:

For others – including Rudyard Kipling, John Maynard Keynes and John Galsworthy, co-signatories of a letter to the editor of The Times – the erection of “steel masts” carrying “high-tension wires” over the Sussex Downs amounted to nothing less than “the permanent disfigurement of a familiar feature of the English landscape.”

But Reginald Blomfield, the man who oversaw the design of the new National Grid pylons was having none of it in a letter to the times:

Anyone who has seen these strange masts and lines striding across the country, ignoring all obstacles in their strenuous march, can realise without a great effort of imagination that [they] have an element of romance of their own. The wise man does not tilt at windmills – one may not like it, but the world moves on.

I'll finish with a 1933 poem by Stanley Snaith discussed extensively in the Amodern article.

Over the tree’d upland evenly striding,

One after one they lift their serious shapes

That ring with light. The statement of their steel

Contradicts nature’s softer architecture.

Earth will not accept them as it accepts

A wall, a plough, a church so coloured of earth

It might be some experiment of the soil’s.

Yet are they outposts of the trekking future.

Into the thatch-hung consciousness of hamlets

They blaze new thoughts, new habits.

                                                                              Traditions

Are being trod down like flowers dropped by children.

Already that farm boy striding and throwing seed

In the shoulder-hinged half-circle Millet knew,

Looks grey with antiquity as his dead forbears,

A half familiar figure out of the Georgics,

Unheeded by these new-world, rational towers.


Pylon of the Month - July 2017

DSCN0694

This month's pylon comes from Salisbury Plain.  It was sent in by a fan of the website who had this to say:

Driving across Wiltshire about the time of the summer solstice, I could imagine these flat fields being used to grow wheat thousands of years ago.  These big bales are reminiscent of standing stones near Avebury....

The exact location wasn't specified, but it's somewhere near the A342 and the A345 to Amesbury.  It is an area I know well because when I left Sandhurst, my first posting was just up the road in Bulford Camp.  Having then spent 16 years in the Royal Army Ordnance Corps (RAOC) and then the Royal Logistic Corps (RLC), I spent more than my fair share of time on Salisbury Plain.  The fact that the Army has owned it for so long has prevented intensive farming in a lot of areas (although not in the picture above!) and for this reason, it is a very important Site of Special Scientific Interest:

Because of the large training areas inaccessible to the public, the plain is a wildlife haven, and home to two national nature reserves, but there is concern that the low level of grazing on the plain could allow scrub to encroach on the grassland. The plain supports the largest known expanse of unimproved chalk downland in north west Europe and represents 41% of Britain's remaining area of this wildlife habitat. The plain supports 13 species of nationally rare and scarce plants, 67 species of rare and scarce invertebrates and forms a site of international importance for birds.

It is also an archaeological treasure trove with Stonehenge as the most famous of its prehistoric monuments.  I was once told that the reason for there being so many prehistoric and Neolithic sites on the plain is because it wasn't covered by forest that needed clearing without ready access to metal axes which came about a thousand years or so after Stonehenge was completed.  The pylon in this picture might not be as iconic as Stonehenge, but it does add something modern to this ancient landscape.


Pylon of the Month - June 2017

Photo 1

The month of May passed by without a pylon and so summer is now here rather than 'icumen in'.  This month's pylon, however, is looking back to a day in the Alps earlier in the year when a fan of the website took time out to take this picture of a mountain pylon.  The angle of the transmission lines leaving the pylon is pretty impressive, but sadly for pylon fans everywhere I couldn't find any technical details of maximum permissible angles or the engineering challenges of building pylons in mountainous areas.

 The email by which the picture arrived was pithy and to the point:

At Plan des Queux near Pointe de Daillant in French Alps. Height: 2150m. 

It also showed evidence that this pylon fan had been willing to go the extra mile (metaphorically if not literally):

Accessed on foot.

I couldn't track down the exact location on a map, but a quick look into electricity in the French Alps led to a story that I found impossible to ignore.  

Screen Shot 2017-06-02 at 22.41.18

So if you're a pylon fan and a cheese connoisseur on a skiing holiday next year then surely you won't be able to resist popping to Albertville.  If you do and there pylons on view please do send me a picture!

 

 


Pylon of the Month - February 2017

Thumbnail_image1

Happy New Year (somewhat belatedly) to pylon fans everywhere!  

Despite the relatively mild and wet weather as I write this month's post, February seemed the right month for this fantastic picture to feature as Pylon of the Month.  It was taken in West Yorkshire just outside Ripponden by Adrian Jackson.  As he pointed out in the email he sent in with the picture:

The photo has only been treated to change exposure and colour balance, no pylons have been added. There are actually two lines of pylons which both turn through ninety degrees.

Now for some serious pylon geekery.  Talk of turning through ninety degrees above prompts me to talk about the difference between pylons where the transmission line is running in a straight line as opposed to when there is a change in direction.  In a straight line run, the line is suspended from the pylon by vertical insulators (see the second and third pylons going down the hill above).  However, when there is a change of direction (like in the pylon in the foreground above) the insulators are horizontal and the pylon is known as a tension pylon.  More from the National Grid on a page talking about the new T-pylons:

In a perfect world electricity transmission lines would run as straight as possible, but natural barriers, such as hills, rivers and roads, have to be circumvented or crossed and land rights issues can often require a route to turn a corner.  This places a lot of lateral strain on a pylon, to the side where the line turns, and so the suspension design needs to be supplemented so pylons can resist being pulled to one side.............. the extra strength required will mean that the wires will not be able to be suspended vertically from insulators, but will instead need to be held in place more securely by horizontal insulators tied to the pylon itself – hence the term, tension pylon.

You might also notice above that there are loops of wire dangling from the tension pylon that you don't see on pylons where the line is running straight.  These loops are known as 'jumper loops' and again from National Grid:

Due to the lines being tied to the structure itself by insulators, we have to provide a path for the electricity to continue to flow. So, we use ‘jumper loops’, which are short sections of electrical wire connected to the main (live and earth) wires just before they tie to the insulators, terminating the line to the cross arm. The jumper loops are designed to ensure the live wire does not touch the earthed structure.

What a great way to start 2017. A fabulous pylon picture in a Yorkshire landscape and technical pylon talk.  To make February even better, make sure that you get along to the Wellcome institute for their "Electricity: The Spark of Life" exhibition which opens on 23rd February and runs until 25th June.  If you team that up with watching 'Amongst Giants' a film about Yorkshire pylon painters starring Pete Postlethwaite then you'll really have ticked all the boxes.

 


Pylon of the Month - September 2016

Pylon

With a new school year starting, getting a pylon up on the blog for September is always tough and with the middle of the month looming, I'd begun to think that it might not happen.  Yesterday, however, I had a conversation with one of the students I teach and they mentioned that on the way to Heathrow fairly recently they had seen a line of pylons by the side of the motorway (so either the M4 or the M25).  Immediately realising that it would be of interest to me they captured the view on their phone and you can see the result above.  I don't have any more information that that, but thank you to the student for ensuring that September is not a pylon free month.

Just to give fans a bit more to look at, I thought that I'd also share a news article about a Stockholm architect's plans to convert two disused pylons into observation towers.

Power-tower-anders-berensson-architects-architecture-sweden-stockholm-dezeen-banner-1024x731

The pylons are in Norra Djurgården national city park in Stockholm.  According to dezeen magazine

"Both we as an office and the client see an industrial historical value in keeping some of the big towers – they are quite amazing structures,"  Berensson  [the architect] told Dezeen.  "They have a great potential to be used for other things than carrying power lines – it's a tower for free!" he said. "There is also of course economic benefit in not having to pay to tear them down."

Remember this if you hear of any plans to tear down disused pylon in the UK!!


Pylonof the Month - July 2016

27457472081_6ac36c312a_k

Finally, here is another pylon and if I don't get better at making time to keep updating this blog, I might have to call it Pylon of the (every other) Month.  Anyway, July brings another pylon sent in by a fan of the blog:

I enjoy your blog and thought you might be interested in some Romanian pylon action (from just outside Victoria, Brasov County).  Romania has a diverse pylon population and as you can see from the picture, is home to the red and white square-shouldered pylon - a good looking pylon if ever i saw one...and i saw plenty. 

I imagine that pylon fans everywhere will agree with the "a good looking pylon if I ever saw one....", not least because this is the kind of pylon that you have to go abroad to see. If there are any red and white pylons in the UK, they are few and far between (pictures to me on @pylonofthemonth if you know of one please) and the design is definitely not to be found on these shores.  The email that accompanied this picture goes on:

As you can probably tell from the photo this particular specimen was captured at dusk and is providing perching support for Transylvanian rooks. Four cows and a small number of modernist sheep are gathered at the base of the pylon but vegetation unfortunately blocks our sight of them. I trust you'll appreciate the pylon's stocky eastern european charm.

This is definitely the first Transylvanian pylon to feature on the blog and of course I'm sure I don't need to remind readers of the links to Bram Stoker's Dracula novel which was published in 1897.  If reading this has you looking for flights to Transylvania, then read Lonely Planet's "Ten things you need to know" before heading off on your travels. You might also want to know a bit about what plug adaptors to take so here is the information you need.  

That's all for this month.  Look out for the "What I did on my Holidays" pylon next month. I'm off with the family to Slovenia and Croatia, so I'll be sure to make time for a bit of pylon photography.


Pylon of the Month - February 2016

AndromedaPylon

A long time ago in a galaxy far far away, some photons of light set out on a journey towards earth. They arrived recently and had the luck to be captured by @Skullet who posted a picture on twitter which caught my eye because of the pylon.  The galaxy concerned is Andromeda and you can see it near the top of the picture above the pylon as a smudge of light.  It's 2.5 million light years from earth which means that the photons of light were traveling through space for 2.5 million years (at about 9500 billion kilometres per year, that is definitely far far away). Andromeda is a galaxy in our local group and because it is visible with the naked eye (if you are in a suitably dark place) it has been known about for a long time.   Wikipedia has this to say

The Persian astronomer Abd al-Rahman al-Sufi wrote a line about the chained constellation in his Book of Fixed Stars around 964, describing the Andromeda Galaxy as a "small cloud".  Star charts of that period labeled it as the Little Cloud.[19] The first description of the Andromeda Galaxy based on telescopic observation was given by German astronomer Simon Marius on December 15, 1612.  Charles Messier catalogued Andromeda as object M31 in 1764 and incorrectly credited Marius as the discoverer despite it being visible to the naked eye. In 1785, the astronomer William Herschel noted a faint reddish hue in the core region of M31. He believed M31 to be the nearest of all the "great nebulae" and based on the color and magnitude of the nebula, he incorrectly guessed that it is no more than 2,000 times the distance of Sirius.  In 1850 William Parsons, 3rd Earl of Rosse, saw and made the first drawing of Andromeda's spiral structure.

Back down to earth, the pylon itself is near Crianlarich in Scotland.  Pylon fans interested in visiting the area will be delighted to know that there is plenty to do in the local area, especially if hill walking is your thing.  The last time I was there was about 26 years ago when walking the West Highland Way (with a quick diversion up Ben More on the shores of Loch Lomond) but perhaps this is the excuse I need to revisit the area! Pylons are actually quite a contentious issue in parts of Scotland at the moment with Dumfries and Galloway being especially concerned;  http://dumgalagainstpylons.org/.  As is often the case, it mainly comes down to whether or not one thinks that the additional cost of burying and then maintaining underground cables is justified when weighed against the impact of large pylons on the landscape. It is a problem that isn't going to go away because of the drive for more renewable energy. Getting the electricity from where it is generated to where it is needed means transmission lines and pylons are the cheapest way of doing this, at least if you are thinking only in financial terms.  The relative costs of the overground versus the underground option are much debated as this 2012 report shows and it is not a straightforward issue.

So there you go; it was already late February when this pylon was posted. I hope it was worth the wait and that you've learnt something if you've read this far.


Pylon of the Month - December 2015

CVpOGcjWUAQhpAG.jpg-large

November slipped by without a pylon and not wanting pylon fans to end the year on a downer with another blank month, I was looking through the numerous pylon pictures sent in by fans, but struggling to find one that was right for December.  Then on Twitter as @pylonofthemonth, I was alerted to the wonderful picture above of a Cumbrian pylon.  

Screen Shot 2015-12-09 at 20.28.26

Making this Pylon of the Month seemed to be the least I could do given the troubles being caused in Cumbria by the weather, although I guess that having a Cumbrian pylon feature on my blog isn't going to make too much of a difference to life under such difficult circumstances.  The picture was taken by @Gardener_John and you can find more his fantastic pictures here.  Despite growing up in the North West and spending many weeks of my life in the Lake District, I must confess that I had never heard of Levens or Lindale.  Levens has a population of 1007 and the rather magnificent looking Levens Hall with its celebrated topiary garden.  Lindale, on the North-East shore of Morecambe Bay sounds just as interesting because of a famous former resident:

Lindale's most famous resident was John "Iron-Mad" Wilkinson, an ironworker and inventor who lived in the village from 1750, where he owned the Castle Head estate. He produced the iron for and helped design the world's first iron bridge (at Ironbridge and Broseley) and he made the world's first iron boat in 1787. A large iron obelisk stands in the village as memorial to him.

The village's full name of Lindale in Cartmel gives a clue that a road trip to this part of the world is well worth a day or more of your life.  Once you have done a bit of exploring, nearby Cartmel is a foodie destination with Trip Advisor having a guide to the 'The 10 Best Cartmel Restaurants'.  L'Enclume is the most famous and in 2014 was, according to the Good Food Guide, the best restaurant in the UK. So a bit of pylon spotting might be the main aim of your trip, but there are other attractions as well........!  That is what I love about writing Pylon of the Month; I always end up better informed than before I started writing a post.  I hope you are too as well if you have read this far.


Pylon of the Month - October 2015

Pylon of the month

 

The last two months have been up close and personal with my holiday pylons and so for October, I have gone for a more picturesque sunset pylonscape.  I quite like 'pylonscape' as a portmanteau word, although a quick Google search reveals that I'm not the first to use it, with John Sandell photography getting there before me!  The picture was sent in by a fan of the website and was taken in Middlesborough. Avid readers of this blog might remember that this isn't the first pylon from the North East to feature on the blog.  Back in February 2013, the Tees crossing pylons (the tallest pylons in the UK at 145m) featured, but is good to be back on Teeside after a gap of a couple of years.  I've never been to Middlesborough, but if I do, then the Captain Cook birthplace museum will definitely be on my 'things to do' list and the Love Middlesborough website has lots of other museums and galleries that could keep me going for a few days.  That's all for this month, but as always remember to follow @pylonofthemonth on Twitter if you want more regular pylon action.

 


Pylon of the Month - September 2015

IMG_4243

 

With the start of a new academic year, I have been pressed for time and if a few more days had passed, I might not have got round to posting a pylon for September. Then I was contacted by the BBC and asked to appear on the Mark Forrest show (about the decision to remove some pylons from National Parks - I can't disagree with that) and I thought it would be bad form not to have an up to date blog.  So here is the second of my holiday pylons, this time from the beautiful Alhama de Granada in Spain.  We had a wonderful family holiday there at the end of August and this picture was taken just above the town after a walk along the famous gorge.  Like last month's pylon, it wouldn't win prizes for magnificence or size, but Pylon of the Month is as much about the unprepossessing pylons as it is about the more magnificent examples that have featured over the years.  I'll leave it there for this month and return in October with more non-holiday pylon action. As always, if you want more regular pylon updates, do remember @pylonofthemonth on Twitter.