Books

Pylon of the Month - January 2021

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The first pylon of 2021 comes from Boars Hill just outside Oxford and was sent to me by a friend after a walk with his wife during the recent cold snap.  The hoar frost on the hedge and the fog1 made for a wonderfully atmospheric scene that can surely only have been enhanced by the pylon's presence. Boars Hill is a beautiful area for a walk if you are in the Oxford area and was where Matthew Arnold was inspired to write Thyrsis, the poem in which the famous lines that have come to define one misty-eyed2 perspective of Oxford.

And that sweet city with her dreaming spires

She needs not June for beauty's heightening

It is clear from the pylon design (PL16?) that this is a 132 kV line and a quick check of the Open Infrastructure Map confirmed this and also showed the lower voltage lines that you can see in the foreground of the picture. In the UK, three phase supply on wooden poles is usually either 11 kV or 33 kV but sadly, the map doesn't specify the voltage on such lowly lines. Interestingly, the 132 kV tower only seems to have a single circuit (3 lines - one for each phase) with two lines on one side of the tower and the third on the opposite side. I'm not sure why so I'll seek out the answer when I tweet this out as @pylonofthemonth

For more about Boars Hill, the Oxford Preservation Trust website is wonderfully informative.  The literary links to the area are legion, with four Poets Laureate having lived there; Robert Bridges, John Masefield, Robert Graves and Edmund Blunden. Elizabeth Daryush, the daughter of Robert Bridges, was also a noted poet and the garden of her house on Boars Hill is managed by the Oxford Preservation Trust. A visit there would be just the ticket for any pylon fans with a literary bent.

 

  1. I was going to call it mist until I looked up the difference and according to The Met Office, it turns out to be fog because you can see less than 1,000 metres.
  2. Foggy-eyed just doesn't work here.

 

 


Pylon of the Month - August 2017

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 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.

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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 - October 2012

Karol tattoo
This month's Pylon is different for all kinds of reasons as I am sure all but the most unobservant of readers will have already have spotted.  After quite a few years of real pylons that you could actually go and visit if you were so inclined, that might prove more diffcult this month.  I have also kept the contributors to the website anonymous, but this month I'm happy to report that the pylon is tattooed on the arm of Karol Michalec from Brighton (as always, click on the photo for a larger version).  You can find out more at his website.  Although if you do go down to East Sussex to visit Karol, you could also visit the Patcham pylon that I mentioned only last month.  I've never really been tempted by body art myself, although as I'm due a mid-life crisis perhaps I should pre-empt it and visit my local tattoo parlour.  If I did, I'd be very tempted by a bubble chamber tattoo, although perhaps this equation for the momentum/position version of Heisenberg's uncertainty principle might be a bit more understated and stylish? 
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Anyway, the other bit of pylon news this month relates to a book, The Beauty of Electricity Pylons in the Dutch Landscape, that I mentioned back in November 2009 after it featured in Alain De Botton's fantastic book, The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work.  One of the authors of the Dutch book (Anne Mieker Backer) has got in touch and so I now know that is published by De Hef in Rotterdam. So if you are looking for an unusual Christmas or birthday present for a Dutch speaking friend or family member then your search is over.  Full details here.

Pylon of the Month - January 2011

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Happy New Year to pylon fans everywhere.  After a Christmas break where I failed to get any pylon pictures with accompanying snow and ice I decided to start 2011 with this rather marvellous image taken by a pylon fan very close to Radley, a few miles outside Oxford.  

I like it on a purely visual level and if all you want from Pylon of the Month is a chance to look at pictures of pylons then you might want to stop reading now. ......

because the picture could also be seen as a metaphor for what some see as the battle between science and the arts.  I probably need to explain in a little more detail!  As I discussed in a recent post, pylons are frequently seen as the all to obvious symbols of technology riding roughshod over aesthetic and environmental concerns.  It was Keats who first used the rainbow in the argument between the arts and science when he accused Newton of destroying its beauty by explaining it.  It inspired Richard Dawkins to write 'Unweaving the Rainbow' which argues that understanding actually enhances our appreciation of the beauty rather than destroying it and I'm with him on this one.  Richard Feynman, one of my scientific heroes, also had this to say on the subject:

Poets say science takes away from the beauty of the stars — mere globs of gas atoms. Nothing is "mere". I too can see the stars on a desert night, and feel them. But do I see less or more? The vastness of the heavens stretches my imagination — stuck on this carousel my little eye can catch one-million-year-old light. A vast pattern — of which I am a part... What is the pattern or the meaning or the why? It does not do harm to the mystery to know a little more about it. For far more marvelous is the truth than any artists of the past imagined it. Why do the poets of the present not speak of it? What men are poets who can speak of Jupiter if he were a man, but if he is an immense spinning sphere of methane and ammonia must be silent?

So if you want to appreciate this month's pylon picture on a deeper level, then for more on the origin and background to Keat's comments, I can't recommend Richard Holme's book, 'The Age of Wonder' too highly.  Prior to this book, he was better known as a biographer of Romantic poets but this is an excellent account of the close interplay between science and the arts in the 18th and early 19th centuries.  For an account of the physics behind rainbows, here would be a good starting point.


Pylons and The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work

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As December looms, I thought I would mention a book that pylon fans could add to their Christmas list.  The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work by Alain De Botton has a whole chapter (called Transmission Engineering) dedicated to pylons.  The author and a member of the Pylon Appreciation Society follow a pylon line from the nuclear power plant in Dungeness all the way to Canning Town whilst musing on life, work and other subjects.  It is really is an excellent book.  One section particularly caught my eye.  It refers to a book (originally published in Dutch although I can find no reference to it) called The Beauty of Electricity Pylons in the Dutch Landscape by Anne Mieke Backer and Arij de Boode.  They make the case for appreciating the beauty of pylons and apparently note that windmills were as unpopular once as pylons are now.  They were occasionally burnt to the ground and denounced from pulpits before the painters of the Dutch Golden Age started including them in their landscapes thereby contributing to their acceptance.  Perhaps the same will be true for pylons in the future.