April's Pylon of the Month was provided by a colleague (@RadleyGeol) on a recent Geology field trip and it breaks new ground for the blog because it is the first one on the website to have been taken by a drone - a DJI Spark 2 no less. The field trip was taking place at Aust Cliff on the English side of the Severn Estuary and according to the Avon RIGS group (RIGS? Regionally Important Geological & Geomorphological Sites - do keep up):
The river cliff at Aust is a spectacular outcrop of Mid and Late Triassic to Early Jurassic sedimentary rocks, an impressive geological archive for tracing the drowning of an ancient hot, arid desert between ca 221 and 195million years ago.
Given this, it's easy to see why Geologists would be drawn to it and when you add in the opportunity for a bit of pylon spotting it starts to look like the kind of place that should be on everyone's 'must visit' list. Not convinced? Well surely even the most sceptical of people will be convinced if I reveal that the Aust Severn powerline crossing has the longest span in the UK at 1,618m and that the pylons themselves are the second tallest in the UK at 148m. That means it only ranks 28th in the world and pylon enthusiasts looking to travel further afield would do well to check out Wikipedia which lists powerline spans in 'flat areas with high pylons' and 'in mountainous areas requiring shorter pylons'. China would have to be top of the list of places to visit if you want to tick off as many as possible on the 'flat areas' list although personally, it's the Suez Canal crossing which rather catches my eye. On the mountainous areas list, Greenland looks like the top contender for pylon related tourism, an as yet untapped market for any would entrepreneurs reading this!
Come back next month for more pylon facts and trivia, but in the meantime, don't forget @pylonofthemonth on Twitter. For those who haven't yet got round to supporting my Pylon book with Unbound. It needs a lot more people to pledge their support if it is ever to become a reality......
March's Pylon of the Month is one of the most amazing pylon pictures that I've seen. I came across it on Twitter (thanks to @city_wander) and although on the whole, I don't tend to use images from the internet on the main blog, I couldn't resist this one. It was taken in California by Will Connell around 1935. A bit of digging around on the internet revealed that Will Connell was a self taught photographer who was born in 1898 and died in 1961. This information came from the Will Connell Papers at the Onlive Archive of California, although there is also a Wikipedia page. I couldn't track down this particular image in the Archive and so I don't have too much more information other than via this website which calls them Edison pylons and says that they are at Seal Beach. Searching for Edison pylons didn't really lead anywhere other than to this article about Britains rather chaotic electricity generation system which apparently put us at a disadvantage in the First World War. Here it is for your enjoyment:
I'll leave it there for March and let the amazing Will Connell photograph work its magic.
A belated Happy New Year to pylon fans everywhere, but especially to those in Sweden, because that's where February's pylon comes from. We've had some amazing photographs recently, but I like to keep things real and so this month's pylon is a welcome return to the 'pylon pictures taken from the window of a moving vehicle' category. The last time one of these featured was back in January 2015. The picture arrived with this message
The pylon design is not common here in Sweden, but I find it quite beautiful. It, and one like it, are placed by the road Norrortsleden in Täby just north of Stockholm.
There was even a link to Google maps where you can see the pylon (and it's shadow).
If you happen to be in Sweden and February's pylon (plus it's nearby twin) isn't enough, then there is a chance to see two truly unique pylons. Here is the low down:
East of Stenkullen in Sweden there are two electricity pylons which are unremarkable when you look at them but they are unique in the world of electrical inventions and devices. The Konti-Skan, a high-voltage direct-current transmission line that runs between Denmark and Sweden is the only electricity pylons in the world that carry both AC and DC circuits.
Transmitting electrical power using Direct Current (DC) electricity might seem a bit strange if you are thinking back to school physics lessons with transformers and Alternating Current (AC). If that's the case, you need to find a friendly electrical engineer and ask them to give you a few lessons on HVDC. The key point is that it can be more efficient over longer distances, but it also allows power transmission between unsynchronized AC transmission systems. If my understanding is correct that is the key issue here when the link is between two different countries (Denmark & Sweden) but perhaps I need to find myself a friendly electrical engineer to check this. That's all for now folks.
As November was pylonless, it only seemed appropriate that December's pylon of the Month should be:
- A fabulous picture.
Just when I was struggling to find a picture that satisfied one of those two criteria never mind both, the picture above popped up in my @pylonofthemonth twitter feed. It was taken by @RubbishRider and for more wonderful pictures visit https://www.instagram.com/rubbish_rider/.
The pylon sits above Briviesca, 750m up in the mountains of Northern Spain. If you are in Spain then as well as this pylon, you could also tick off some pylons that have their own Wikipedia page, although it would involve a long drive to the other end of Spain. That said, the 158m tall Pylons of Cadiz are surely worth a detour in anyone's book:
The Pylons of Cádiz, also known as the Towers of Cádiz, are two tall pylons supporting a double-circuit 132 kV three-phase AC powerline over the bay of Cádiz, Spain starting at Puerto Real Substation to the substation of the former Cadiz Thermal Power Station situated on the peninsula upon which the city of Cádiz stands
Merry Christmas to pylon fans everywhere. Don't forget that I'm working with the lovely people at Unbound to get a pylon book out into the world. Support the project and I'll be forever grateful.
October's Pylon of the Month is a picture that I took myself whilst making a short film for the publishers Unbound. 'The Secret Life of Pylons' is now on their website and I'm really hoping that it will get enough support to get published. If my hunch is right, there's a gap in the market for a book about electricity pylons that combines interesting facts, pylon stories and tongue in cheek humour. If you're reading this and especially if you're a long time fan of the website, then get pledging on the Unbound website because when it's published that will be Christmas presents for your family and friends well and truly sorted.
But moving away from the glamorous world of publishing and back to the pylon above, which is located in Kennington just outside Oxford. Follow the cycle path from Oxford city centre (alongside the river) south to Abingdon and you can't miss it near Sandford Lock. Along the way there are a few other pretty spectacular pylons to tick off as you go. You can get really up close and personal to this one and appreciate the loveliness of the design and the strange allure that it exudes. Just don't be tempted to climb it and get too close to the actual transmission lines. Treat pylons with respect like the Pylon people of Hookland who worship them. Whilst you're in the area of Oxford, a quick glance at an OS map will show that this is a pylon rich area. A lot of this is to do with the proximity of Didcot Power Station. I've mentioned pylon poetry many times before on this blog, so instead I'll end this month with a poem that should be far better known; Ode to Didcot Power Station by Kit Wright. Read it online then buy his poetry collection of the same name.
The usual 'too much to do and not enough time to do it' at the start of a new academic year almost made September another month without a pylon. Then the picture above popped up on @pylonofthmonth with 'Contender for September' as the byline. That spurred me into action (well sort of - it's now over a week since then but better late than never!) and so here we are.
Amongst all the other pylon pictures that appear on Twitter, it was the contrast between the white ceramic insulators and the dark sky that caught my eye. You can even buy these ceramic discs as garden ornaments although they brown rather than white. The green field then adds another colour to the composition that appeals to my aesthetic sense. The pylon can be found in Mountsorrel, Leicestershire and a bit of investigation reveals that Mountsorrel is a rather lovely village on the River Soar south of Loughborough. According to Wikipedia, the unusual name of the village also has an interesting provenance
Whilst the origin of the name 'Mountsorrel' is still not understood fully, it is thought that the English nobility of the time named Mountsorrel after Montsoreau, a village in France close to Fontevrault, where Henry II was buried. The name Mountsorrel is of Norman-French origin and is thought to have developed due to the close likeness of Montsoreau and Mountsorrel – both settlements sit on rivers, the Loire and the Soar respectively, and are overshadowed by surrounding hills.
To see the pylon from the place where the picture was taken, you need to head to the Mountsorrel & Rothley Community Heritage Centre. Having seen the pylon, there is plenty to keep you busy at this location including the Mountsorrel Railway, the Nunckley Trail and Granite's Coffee Shop to name but three. Leicestershire is one of the parts of the UK that I've visited least often and so an excursion to Mountsorrel might just give me the excuse I need.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
I get quite a lot of emails from fans of the website with pictures of pylons attached, but the one that led to April's Pylon of the Month started very well:
Thank you for maintaining that wonderful publication that is Pylon of the Month.
Needless to say, I warmed to the sender immediately and the email continued:
Your blog's fame has travelled wide, as have the subjects of the blog. However the under-representation of New Zealand's pylons has not gone unnoticed, and we do have some stunning examples that service the predominantly hydro-generated supply across some spectacular landscapes. Of course, we must redress this, but I will start slowly, with the attached modern pylons, with their slender elegance and a dodecahedral cross-section. These recently replaced the old lattice style pylons to allow for the upgrade of Christchurch's western ring-road.
I'm very happy to be redressing the balance by featuring these New Zealand pylons and I have to agree that the modern pylons are rather splendid. They are on the corner of Russley and Ryan's Road if you are in Christchurch and want to pop over and see them in real life. I particularly like the combination in one picture of the old lattice pylons (in the distance) and the new pylons. Regular readers will know that the new T-pylon in the UK is on its way and as far as I'm aware the first time that both designs will be used in the same place is for the connection to Hinckley Point C. The new T-pylons are shorter and so apparently less intrusive in their visual impact on the landscape. Anyway, back to New Zealand where, according to Wikipedia, over 50% of the country's power comes from hydroelectric. For those readers keen to know more about electricity in New Zealand, there is 'Electricity in New Zealand' which according to the website 'tells the story of the electricity industry in a simple and engaging way' and having looked through it, I'd wholeheartedly agree.
That's all for this month but come back in May for more pylon action or follow @pylonofthemonth on Twitter for even more regular pylon action.