Travel

Pylon of the Month - April 2022

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I'm planning to post April's pylon early in the month by way of atonement for not posting in March. Life just got too busy and (as usually happens when I skip a month) the can kept getting kicked down the road until I ran out of days. Part of the reason was that the end of March was spent in Bordeaux and although I could have gone full digital nomad and blogged from a cafe, I was too busy seeing the sights and enjoying the wonderful food and drink! 

Back to this month's pylon, which I snapped whilst on the bus back to Bordeaux airport. If I'd woken up, unsure of where I was, then the pylon design would have alerted me to the fact that I wasn't in the UK. Sadly, however, my knowledge of French pylon design is close to non-existent, but the French Wikipedia page (Pylône électrique) revealed some intriguingly named designs, including Le pylône Chat and most intriguingly of all, Le pylône électrique Mae West (see below). I get the cat vibe with the upwards protrusions at either end looking a bit like ears, but the mind boggles with Mae West. For those readers unfamiliar with mid-twentieth century movie stars, she was, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, ".....a U.S. film actress and entertainer (1892–1980), noted for her large bust". According to Wikipedia, during World War II, Allied aircrews called their yellow inflatable, vest-like life preserver jackets "Mae Wests" partly from rhyming slang for "breasts" and "life vests" and partly because of the resemblance to her torso. I'm struggling a bit with a pylon's resemblance to her and neither am I confident about whether the one I snapped is a Chat or a Mae West, or for that matter whether the Mae West is a sub-genre of the Chat. That's the problem with Pylon of the Month; almost every time I write a post I end up with more questions than answers. Perhaps any fans of the website working in the French electricity sector will be able to help!

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Le pylône Chat, or is it the Le pylône électrique Mae West?

 


Pylon of the Month - February 2022

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It was a dry January on the pylon front; a mixture of busyness and never quite getting round to choosing a pylon to write about. For February I thought I would feature plenty of pylons to make up for this and so here are two columns of them marching across the Welsh countryside. To be more specific, they are marching across the Gwent levels and were sent in by someone who listened to the online talk I gave last year courtesy of The Living Levels Landscape Partnership. It’s an organisation which “aims to reconnect people and communities to the Gwent Levels landscape and provide a sustainable future for this historic and unique area”.

According to the Visit Wales website:

The Gwent Levels are an inter-tidal zone of saltmarshes, mudflats and sands, revealed to keen eyes at low tide along the northern coastline of the Severn Estuary. The low horizon, flat landscape, and big skies (often enhanced by dramatic cloudscapes, sunrises and sunsets) give the Levels a unique ethereal quality.

The area has a number of power stations including the fairly new 800 MW CCGT Severn power station built on the footprint of the former coal-fired Uskmouth A which closed in 1981 and was demolished in 2002. Another CCGT power station (even bigger at 1140 MW), Seabank, is on the opposite side of the Bristol Channel. Close to this, at 1,618 m is the longest overhead power line crossing in he UK, the Aust- Severn crossing which has featured twice before on the blog in May 2014 and April 2018.

As well as the picture at the top of this article, the email also contained a number of other pictures of which my favourite was the one below. That’s all for this month, but 2022 has lots of great pylons in the pipeline so come back for more soon.

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Pylon of the Month - December 2021

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December's Pylon of the Month was chosen on the spur of the moment during a walk with my Dad around Jumbles, Wayoh, and Entwistle reservoirs in the run-up to Christmas. It was a flying visit back to the area where I grew up and it would have been difficult to pick a better day for a December walk; cold, clear and amazingly windless. I've done the walk a number of times before, but all in the days BP (Before Pylons) when their presence wouldn't have caught my eye. A quick look at the Open Infrastructure Map tells that it is probably a pylon on the 132 kV line running north from Bolton's Union Road substation. 

The pylon is in Greater Manchester, but when I write to my Dad, I still use 'Lancashire' as part of the address even though it hasn't technically been part of the county since 1974 when boundary changes removed Liverpool and Manchester as well as their surrounding conurbations. This identification with Lancashire is noted on Wikipedia:

Many of these places still identify strongly with the county, particularly in areas of Greater Manchester (such as Oldham and Bury) where Lancashire is still used as part of the postal address.

Reading the Lancashire Wikipedia also led me down a bit of a rabbit hole. The original and much larger Lancashire was a County Palatine. This was news to me in that I had never heard of such a thing. It turns out that:

In England, Wales and Ireland a county palatine or palatinate was an area ruled by a hereditary nobleman enjoying special authority and autonomy from the rest of a kingdom or empire.

With Christmas preparations to finish, I couldn't afford to get sucked too deeply into the rabbit hole but I did find out that the Dukedom of Lancaster is an extinct peerage that lives on as the Duchy of Lancaster because the reigning monarch subsumed the Dukedom. From there I was led to the idea of Bona Vacantia on the Duchy of Lancaster website:

In English law, title to property must belong to, or ‘vest in’, an identifiable person or body. No property or goods are permitted to be ‘ownerless’. If legal ownership cannot be established by anyone else, it falls to the Crown to deal with the assets concerned. Such property or goods are known as ‘bona vacantia‘.

At that point, I decided that I had ventured too far from a pylon on a 132 kV line and stopped. Merry Christmas to pylon fans everywhere.


Pylon of the Month - October 2021

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The start of a new academic year is always very busy and so September had slipped by before I had time to get a pylon on the blog. October had also started to slip away but two pylonless months would be inexcusable, so on the 11th day of the month, I'm finally sitting down to write. 

October's pylon is from someone who is intrigued by power infrastructure and the email that conveyed the picture to me told of a happy day in the countryside, made all the more so by an encounter with pylons:

I took a walk today from Sandridge to Flamstead (17 miles) and although I thought my revised route was going to bypass the strange pylons, I ended up walking past them.

There were plenty of other photos and lots of wonderful details about the pylons, but this picture caught my eye because of the lovely juxtaposition of flowers and pylons. It reminds me of a Barbara Hepworth quote from an article I've referenced before when she noted:

"pylons in lovely juxtaposition with springy turf and trees of every stature” seen from the window of an electric train.

I'm not sure if these pylons can be seen from an electric train but they're on the 132 kV Elstree to Sundon line close to St. Albans, Hemel Hempstead and the M1 motorway.

The flowers also remind me of the linocut prints of an artist, Susan Wheeler, who lives near Oxford. You can see why below.

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The pylon itself is rather unusual and is described in the email as a T-splitter. The lines head off in three directions so there are horizontal and vertical insulator discs on one pylon because it is both a suspension and a tension pylon at the same time. For more on tension and suspension pylons go to the February 2017 pylon which which also features one of the most beautiful images to have graced the blog. As always in these cases, please do get in touch with @pylonofthemonth on Twitter if you can offer more technical details on pylons like this.

That's all for now. I'll try best not to be late with November's Pylon of the Month.

 

 


Pylon of the Month - August 2021

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August's pylon is from North America, a part of the world that hasn't featured too often on the blog and when it has, Californian pylons from San Francisco and  Orange County were the main attraction. This time, we head further up the west coast to the Pacific Northwest and Washington State. The pylon enthusiast who sent the image also shared the exact location of where it was taken. https://goo.gl/maps/tJr2qJKFHCbHu and even noted that:

"If you use Google's satellite layer, you can actually see the pylons lying on their side! kinda crazy - I only just saw this now when looking it up"

It is odd that the fallen pylons have been left in situ. It looks like a single pylon that has broken into three parts, but was it damaged and replaced once the line was operational or is it a failed pylon that never made it into active service? Do let me know if you have the answer to this question.........
 
The transmission lines carried by the pylons come from the Skagit River Hydroelectric Project which provides about 25% of Seattle's electricity. In fact, hydropower is the biggest source of energy in Washington State which is at the forefront of efforts to decarbonise electricity generation as the chart below shows. 
 
Chart
 
A recent article from Forbes, Washington State’s Approaching Energy Crisis – Good Intentions Gone Wrong?, looks at this policy and claims:
 
The trouble stems from attempts to decarbonize our society. Getting rid of coal, oil and gas in generating electricity is the low-hanging fruit, but just getting rid of them without a realistic plan to replace them can do more harm than good.
 
It is a problem that the UK will also have to grapple with as we aim to hit our net zero target by 2050.
 
Anyhow, this picture was taken on the way to a walk by the Boulder River in the North Cascades. It looks fabulous and should I ever make it to Washington State I will surely do the walk after stopping to pay my respects to the fallen pylon. That's all for this month, although if your appetite for pylons in Washington State has been whetted, then you're in luck! Category:Electricity pylons in Washington (state)
 
 
 

Pylon of the Month - July 2021

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June was busy, so busy that it was a pylonless month, but on a walk in the Chilterns at the start of July this pylon caught my eye and it now has the privilege of being July's Pylon of the Month. It's just outside Great Missenden, a lovely town with many literary links. Roald Dahl lived here from 1954 until his death in 1990 and if I'd had more time, I would have visited the Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre because I have so many happy memories of his wonderful stories, both as a child myself and also as books I read aloud to my own children. My favourite? A toss up between Danny Champion of the World and James and the Giant Peach. Anyway, David Cornwell (John Le Carré) lived there when his first book, Call for the Dead, was published and Robert Louis Stephenson spent a night at the Red Lion pub in 1874. Sadly the pub is now closed (it's now an estate agent) but you can see a few images of it courtesy of the Lost Pubs Project.

Enough local interest and back to the pylon. It caught my eye for two reasons. One was the mobile phone antennae attached to it, the other (as pointed out to me by the friend with whom I was walking) was the different insulator discs on the left and right of the pylon. For more about how mobile phone coverage works you Wikipedia is a treasure trove of information. I was intrigued by the different insulators on each side of the pylon so asked for information on Twitter as @pylonofthemonth.

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A quick check on the Open Infrastructure map confirmed that it is the 400 kV line mentioned by @IanBottomer and as a result of asking the question on Twitter I know more about reconductoring transmission lines. As do you, if you've made it this far. If that's left you hungry for more, here's a video showing live line reconductoring. That's all for now - see you in August!


Pylon of the Month - February 2021

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February's pylon comes all the way from Melbourne, Australia and was taken during August last year in the suburb of Park Orchards, some 17 km from the city centre. It really is a stunning photograph that captures the night sky beautifully in a 5-second exposure shot at ISO 2000 with a 14mm f2.8 prime lens and Canon full frame camera. Details like that in the email to which the photograph was attached tell me that this was taken by an accomplished photographer and you can verify that for yourself by going to Instagram @pk____photography. The email continued:

"Since we are presently in Covid lockdown here in Melbourne and can't go more than 5km from home, my photographic opportunities are limited. We did have a fairly clear night recently with a new moon, so I thought I would try this shot to contrast human vs cosmic power"

Increase in astronomy has increased significantly during lockdown and for any UK pylon fans looking to learn more, I would highly recommend the Society for Popular Astronomy.

One of the great things about writing this blog is that the pylons I post lead me down interesting internet highways and byways and I always learn something new. In this case, a quick look at the fascinating 'Guide to Australia’s Energy Networks', led me to the discovery that Australia has some 500 kV overhead lines as part of the transmission network (compared to the UK where we only go up to 400 kV). A bit more digging led me to Moorabool Shire Council's September 2020 'Comparison of 500 kV Overhead Lines with 500 kV Underground Cables' which is part of the Western Victoria Renewable Integration Project whose aim is:

to address transmission network limitations.....the driver and benefits of this Project are to unlock up to 6GW of renewable energy sources, predominantly wind and solar generation, in North West of Victoria.

Reading on (it really is quite a fascinating report.....) led me to the discovery that Ultra High Voltage (UHV) AC power transmission is defined as 500 kV or over. The UK's 400 kV lines are merely EHV (Extra High Voltage) and I assumed this was because the distances over which we have to transmit electricity in the UK are considerably shorter than in larger countries.  The countries that are currently operating transmission network at UHV levels are Ukraine and Poland at 750 kV, South Korea at 765 kV, Brazil at 800 kV, China, Japan and Russia at 1,000 kV, with India is currently conducting experiments and planning for a transmission network at 1,200 kV. That theory about UHV corresponding to longer transmission distances holds up in some cases, but a quick Google tells me that that the UK is 144% larger than South Korea. More work is required here at some point because when I Googled "UHV South Korea" I was met by a wall of information and if I'd dived down that internet rabbit hole I might not have emerged for some time.

The Moorabool Sire Council report also includes this moving picture ( amongst others) of a fallen 500 kV pylon, felled in its prime by a storm in January 2020.

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The conclusion of the report includes this assessment:

A feasible alternative to the proposed 500 kV double circuit overhead line would be 500 kV double circuit underground cable. Whilst this would be approximately ten times more expensive than an overhead line, the overall cost impact could be reduced by placing only the most sensitive sections underground. Although using underground cable for a portion of the route is not a simple solution it appears to be technically feasible.

Plenty to chew on there for the next few weeks so that's all for this month. See you in March!

 


Thumbnail_P1440367 A forest of pylons on the approach to Minster

October's Pylon of the Month is a readers' choice. Look at the amazing image and the "three parallel parades of pylons" as the fan who sent the picture in called them in a pleasingly alliterative phrase. Once you've looked for long enough to appreciate the beauty of the image, choose the one you want to be your own personal pylon of the month - I'm avoiding the obvious 132 kV choices in the foreground and going for the 400 kV wide boy on the far right of the picture with two lines on one cross arm.  Why it's constructed like that is something that I'd like to find out more about.

The pylons can be found in the fields between the villages of Plucks Gutter and Minster.  The hamlet of Plucks Gutter is, according to Wikipedia:

..named after a Dutch Drainage Engineer called Ploeg, whose grave is in All Saints Church, West Stourmouth. Ploeg, being the Dutch for a plough, the hamlet takes its origins from the Dutch Protestant tradition of draining marshland by creating a ploughed ditch

In this era of fake news, I'll mention that the Wikipedia page notes that a citation is needed to substantiate this story and as this note was made in September 2016 and no verification has been added, caution is needed if you are ever tempted to hold forth at a party about the origin of place names in Kent.

The fan who sent the picture spotted them whilst walking the Augustine Camino, a new pilgrimage route in Kent from Rochester to Ramsgate.  A quick look at the open infrastructure map for the area shows the parallel lines very clearly with the 400 kV Richborough connection in purple and two 132 kV lines (Canterbury North - Richborough and Richborough - Monkton). 

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It also shows Richborough power station which closed in 1996, although the national grid interconnector from the original power station is still in place, and is now the grid link for the offshore Thanet wind farm. The 1000 MW HVDC from Belgium also makes landfall on the site and is known as the Nemo link.  As a Physics teacher, High Voltage Direct Current (HVDC) is pretty high up the list of things that I want to understand better and this article from the Powermag website looks like a good starting point.  The icing on the electrical cake is a couple of nearby solar farms - plenty to see if you fancy a pylon field trip to the area.  I certainly do - Kent is one of the areas of the UK that I know least about so I'll add it to my growing list of things to do once normality returns.

 


Pylon of the Month - March 2020

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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.
 
 
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Pylon of the Month - February 2020

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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.  
 
Pylons