March was slipping away, but like an awful lot of people, I find myself spending more time at home and so there really is no excuse not to get writing. Normal life may be suspended for a lot of us at the moment, but the people working at power stations are vital and so their work goes on as, I'm sure, does the work of anyone working on the electricity distribution system. They deserve our grateful thanks.
March's pylon was sent in by a fan of the website earlier this month after he was distracted on an early morning run near the River Tyne. The pylon above is on the south side of the river, but there was also a picture of the pylon on the north bank which I've included at the foot of this post. They are wonderfully atmospheric images and I'm afraid that I can't resist the urge to include a link to Fog on the Tyne by Lindisfarne, the English folk rock band from Newcastle Upon Tyne.
The email that I received also included the revelation that:
.....as a former electricity network company (Northern Powergrid) employee and long-term energy networks geek, I have only recently discovered your pylon of the month page, and am disappointed that I have been missing out for so long!
I'm delighted to welcome another pylon fan into the fold. The email went on to say that "This is not far from the Stella North and Stella South GSPs". For those not in the electricity distribution game (me included - thank you Google), GSP is an acronym for Grid Supply Point and is a "Systems Connection Point at which the Transmission System is connected to a Distribution System". I'm not sure that I'm too much the wiser as a result of having looked it up, but as a result of doing so I did discover that Stella North and Stella South were two power stations that have now been demolished. Stella South, a coal-fired 300 MW power station, was built on the site of the famous Blaydon races which gives me an excuse for another musical interlude. It has been replaced by a housing estate.
That's all for now, although with only a week of March left, you won't have to wait too long for another pylon. Until then, stay safe.
After a dry January on the pylon front (but not on the alcohol front....), February's pylon is a cracker. As with so many of the pictures on the blog, it was provided by a fan of the website and the email that accompanied the picture is an inspiration to pylon fans everywhere.
We've always had a fascination with pylons, living on a farm as kids we'd often walk out into the fields and stand under them and marvel.
The picture was taken near the village of Claxton in the Ryedale district of North Yorkshire. My only visit to that area was nearly 25 years ago and a bit of Googling led me to the place I stayed; The White Swan in Pickering. It was easy to track down because just about the only thing I remembered about the stay was the great selection of St. Emillion wines. It's good to see that nothing has changed in the intervening years on the wine front!
Anyway back to the pylons and to the information provided by the photographer.
Two high voltage power lines cross paths, and in order to allow one to pass under the other a large pylon has been constructed for one power line, while the other power line has been split into two smaller pylons that pass under the higher power line.
Then there is a lyrical passage that will surely elicit nods of recognition from readers of this blog.
I think there is a beauty to this structure. Firstly in a mathematical sense, the symmetry of this arrangement of the pylons and the geometric shapes constructing the individual objects. But also in the sense of how these gentle giants contrast so heavily with their natural surroundings but managed to blend in so unnoticed by so many as if they were simply trees that had always been there. There's also the fact that these objects hold such importance to everyday life, and that hours upon hours of thought will of gone into the placement and design of this structure at the hands of engineers - only for them to peacefully blend away to the countryside: noticed by only a few.
Prompted by the mention of the word symmetry above, I'll finish for this month with a hiveminer generated collection of beautiful symmetrical pylon images.
This month's pylon is from Italy and will be particularly appreciated by pylon fans of a bibulous disposition. It was sent in by a fan of the website and was taken in the Piedmont region of northwest Italy. In particular, the vineyards of Barbaresco, and according to wine-searcher:
Barbaresco is one of the great wines of the Piedmont region in northwestern Italy. Historically it was called Nebbiolo di Barbaresco (Nebbiolo being the grape it's made from) and was used by the Austrian General Melas to celebrate his victory over the French in 1799.
Such is the beauty and distinctiveness of this part of the world, that in 2014 it was recognised as a World Heritage Site because '......the Piedmont vineyards provide outstanding living testimony to winegrowing and winemaking traditions that stem from a long history, and that have been continuously improved and adapted up to the present day'.
So pylon fans heading for this part of the world can tick off the rather splendid asymmetric pylons in the vineyard before retiring to a bar to sample the local wine. In doing so, it would be wise to ensure that the difference between the two local wines Barolo and Barbaresco is properly appreciated.
The main difference in Barolo and Barbaresco is in the soils. The soil in Barbaresco is richer in nutrients and, because of this, the vines don’t produce as much tannin as found in the wines of Barolo. Both wines smell of roses, perfume and cherry sauce — and they both have a very long finish. The difference is in the taste on the mid-palate; the tannin won’t hit you quite as hard in the Barbaresco.
The quote above is from wine folly and with plenty of wine recommendations to try out, oenophile pylon fans will be in heaven.
July's pylon is another Wiltshire pylon and the red sky and clouds provide a beautiful backdrop to its lovely silhouette. There is definitely something here for the cloud spotters and the photographers, but you can pick out the Stockbridge dampers and two sets of ceramic insulator discs so there is also something there for hardcore pylon spotters. It was sent in by a fan of the website and is on the A350 in Chippenham, near the Premier Inn. Pylon fans seeking an excuse for a road trip could do worse than heading down the M4 to Chippenham, which :
....enjoys a reputation as a flourishing and lively market town, with a compact centre and thriving commercial life, it has been granted Purple Flag Status for its nightlife.
Never heard of the Purple Flag Scheme? No, me neither so let's educate ourselves via the Association of Town & City Management (ATCM) website:
The Purple Flag standard, launched in 2012, is an accreditation process similar to the Green Flag award for parks and the Blue Flag for beaches. It allows members of the public to quickly identify town & city centres that offer an entertaining, diverse, safe and enjoyable night out.
Once you've ticked the pylon off your to do list and perhaps enjoyed a night out in Chippenham there are plenty of places to visit because:
The great houses and art treasures of Longleat, Bowood, Corsham Court, Lacock Abbey and Dyrham Park are within easy reach, as is Castle Combe Racing Circuit.
February's Pylon of the Month comes courtesy of Physics students at The Angmering School in West Sussex. As a Physics teacher myself, how could I resist a picture that came about as a result of learning about electricity transmission? In fact, as some readers will know, Pylon of the Month in its current incarnation came about because of a website of the same name that I used when teaching electricity. When it stopped working back in 2008, I decided to do something about it and the rest is history. At this point, being in teacher mode, I'll link again to the excellent and informative article from Drax power station about the history of the pylon.
It is thanks to these students that I have now heard of Angmering and a bit of time on Wikipedia quickly led me to the fact that Stanley Holloway spent the final years of his life there. Stanley and I have a bit of history - his monologue 'Albert & the Lion' is one I remember from childhood and having grown up in and around Ramsbottom, the fact that Mr. and Mrs. Ramsbottom are the parents of Albert makes it all the more memorable. If I'm honest, I'd always assumed that Stanley Holloway was a northerner but now discover that he was born in Essex and lived all of his life down South. That's what I like about writing Pylon of the Month - I learn something new and interesting every month.
Don't forget that my 'The Secret Life of Pylons' book with Unbound needs all the help it can get it it is ever to become a reality!
January's Pylon of the Month comes from a fan of the website who was driving through Scotland when a perfect pylon moment occurred. The email that came with the photo captures that moment perfectly:
Scotland, Tuesday, 1st January 2019, New Year’s Day, driving home from Wester Ross to East Lothian southwards down the A9 (mercifully quiet). It was early afternoon, on a stretch of that great road that is wonderfully rugged and remote, just before the turn off for Dalwhinnie. The giant pylons which run along above the A9 seem to add to the drama of the landscape, but at this moment, the sunlight caught the cables, and lit them like strands of gossamer. It was like a mystical fairground on those hills. Fortunately, Lay-by 90 cropped up and I was able to draw off and get out to capture them before the moment moved on and the spectacle was gone.
The email continued with sentiments that pylon fans everywhere will endorse:
You either love these giants, or hate them. Personally, I think they enhance the sheer rugged grandeur of this landscape. They stride along above the road; they are all giant, but there are the really tall ones, but also the shorter ones; ones with all legs the same height, others with two short legs, fitting into the uneven terrain. An amazing feat of engineering.
Pylon fans who want to check them out will also be able to visit the famous Dalwhinnie distillery for a wee dram or two of their 'Winter's Gold' - An indulgent, honeyed Dalwhinnie that is comforting, rich and sweet, with notes of heather and peat and a spicy warmth. Who could ask for anything more at this time of year? On that thought, I'll leave it there for now. As always, @pylonofthemonth on Twitter has more regular pylon action for those who can't wait until February.
September flashed by without a pylon and October was in danger of doing the same until I was reminded by my eldest son of a promise I had made about a pylon picture he took recently on his travels in the USA. You can see it above in all its watery glory, but if you want to see it in real life then a trip to New Orleans will be required. When you get there, grab a boat tour of the Louisiana swamps and there is a fair chance that as well as spotting some alligators you will get lucky and spot a pylon. They are sited on top of platforms and I'd like to know more about the underwater engineering that goes into keeping them above water and perpendicular.
Whilst you are in Louisiana, head to the pylons at Lake Pontchartrain and whilst en route keep an eye out for telegraph poles that look like Jesus, as reported in this Daily Telegraph article. Once you arrive at your destination, if you read this article from metabunk, you'll understand how to prove that the earth is curved rather than flat.
Metabunk.org is dedicated to the art and pastime of honest, polite, scientific investigating and debunking. It is primarily a discussion forum, however the focus is on providing concise useful resources, and attempting to avoid repetitive debate and arguments.
I also like the thought of pylons serving a purpose other than their essential role in electricity transmission.
Summer is here and so a picture of a pylon with blue skies and sea featuring prominently would always have stood a chance of making it onto the website. Having the Golden Gate bridge in the background made it a shoo-in. The picture was sent in by a young electrical engineer on secondment from Australia to California Independent System Operator, which according to Bloomberg is a nonprofit public benefit corporation, [which] operates long-distance and high-voltage power lines. The suggestion in the email was that the power lines are 6.6kV (6600 Volts for the less electrically aware readers of this blog if such readers exist.....), and I'm certainly not going to argue with this analysis.
Power supply in California is an interesting topic. Bloomberg again:
California just mandated that nearly all new homes have solar, starting in less than two years. Now, it’s going to have to figure out what to do with all of that extra energy.
The San Francisco Chronicle has this headline on an article from May 2018.
California’s power grid is changing fast, and ‘we don’t have a plan’
The main aim of the changes is to reduce California's greenhouse gas emissions, which is to be applauded but chasing down the implications of this decision and making it work will be a job for the often unsung heroes of the modern world, electrical engineers. That's all for this month - as always @pylonofthemonth is on Twitter for those in need of more regular pylon action.
For those looking for pylons in coffee table form then you really need to pledge here
June's Pylon of the Month comes from the island of Formentera in Spain, which seems entirely appropriate for an early summer pylon. I hope that it's a bit less controversial than April's Pylon which attracted this comment:
I was rather dissatisfied with this months pylon and i am considering if I really wish to renew my subscription. I suggest you get your act together and start finding some proper awe inspiring pylons or I shall give you a slap
Strong words, to which I responded very reasonably, not wanting to initiate a pylon flame war:
Oh well - I aim to please, but if this month's pylon doesn't do it for you then it might be that you are beyond help. Keep reading the blog to see if things improve!
Formentera, the smallest and least developed of the four main Balearic has fine beaches (and beach clubs) and mud baths, great walking and cycling trails, as well as secluded coves and sleepy fishing villages. It is much less lively than its hedonistic sister, Ibiza, and its peace-loving, beach-lounging devotees wouldn't have it any other way
The pylon enthusiast who provided the picture said that 'It appears to be a 30kV line', an immediate sign that there was technical knowledge behind the lens when the picture was taken. A quick Google on '30kV lines Formentera' (perhaps the first ever such internet search?) revealed that "Red Eléctrica de España has installed a total of 420 bird-flight diverters on the 30 kV overland stretch of electricity line on the island of Formentera, which forms part of the electricity interconnection with the Ibiza. The diverters have been installed along the 2,100-metre the overhead line running between the coastal arrival point of the electricity interconnection and the Formentera substation".
Bird flight diverters - how have I not heard of these before? A whole new world of pylon information has just opened up before me. A bird diverter is:
a device that is attached to a power line or any type of wire suspended in the air to distract and divert birds away from the line, avoiding accidents and fatalities. These are particularly useful for power and communication lines that cross lakes or rivers, where bird tend to flock together
Here is an example of one installed to try and reduce the number of swans flying into power lines across the Fens in Cambridgeshire and Norfolk (from an article in the Eastern Daily Press).
I'll end with a link to Operation Jimmy, an organisation dedicated to preventing future incidents of bird electrocution following the death of Jimmy, an osprey. Their desire is to see a world in which Ospreys, other birds & electricity to co-exit harmoniously so that 'Jimmy did not die in vain'. Amen to that until next month.
It's been a busy month and with only eleven days to go I had a decision to make; wait until June or get a pylon up for May. Pylon fans everywhere reading this will, I'm sure, be relieved that the latter option was chosen. This month's pylon is a nod to current affairs, with the pylon on the emblem of North Korea featuring for May 2018. According to Wikipedia:
The emblem features the Sup'ung dam under Mount Paektu and a power line as the escutcheon. The crest is a five-pointed red star. It is supported with ears of rice, bound with a red ribbon bearing the inscription "The Democratic People's Republic of Korea" in Chosongul characters.
The choice of a power station and a pylon is not without political symbolism:
In the late 1940s, the North produced most of the electricity in the country. The dam symbolizes self-sufficiency in electricity: in the spring of 1948 shortly before the hydroelectric plant was added to the emblem, North Korea cut off her power network from the South.
It is, however, ironic that the only country to feature a pylon in its national emblem has a pretty patchy record when it comes to reliable power supply. This article, "Dark nights in power starved North Korea," is one of many describing challenging conditions north of the 38th parallel. The satellite image below from the Independent in 2015 shows the contrast between North and Soth Korea at night and does a better job than words in summarising the situation.
So for most of us, it is a case of thanking our lucky pylons that we live in a country with a reliable electricity supply. See you next month when I promise to get June's pylon posted sooner rather than later.