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.
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.
Choosing a pylon for December wasn't difficult because as soon as I saw this image it was a no-brainer. A colleague at work saw it first (it was taken by a young friend of hers) and knowing about my pylon blog immediately alerted me to what is an amazing picture. It gets even better when you learn that it was taken as the supermoon (more on this later) rose over the Zambesi river. Thank you to @lesannephotography for permission to use it.
Anyway, let's talk about the supermoon. I'm with the American astrophysicist Neil de Grasse Tyson on this one.
Firstly when the moon is close to the horizon, it looks bigger because you have terrestrial objects to compare it with, but actually, it is no bigger than when it is high in the sky. It is an optical illusion called 'The moon illusion' and you can prove it using your finger. Hold out a finger at arm's length (it subtends an angle of about 1 degree) and you'll be able to cover the moon easily whether it is high in the sky or close to the horizon. It was true that on the night of the supermoon, the moon was closer to the Earth than normal, but the difference is very small. For more information than you probably want, here is a link to earthsky.org.
But enough of that, just look back at this month's pylon and delight in the serendipity that brought it to the attention of Pylon of the Month. Seasons greetings to pylon fans everywhere and I'll hopefully see you back here again in 2017.
October's pylon is yet another 'better late than never' pylon. It was snapped in Gifu City, Japan near to where I'm staying for the next week as part of an exchange visit. The location of the pylon right by the side of the road caught my eye, as did the asymmetric design. As I'm doing this on an ipad I'm going to leave it there for this month. I'm determined to get next month's pylon posted in good time.
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.
"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!!
For the last few years, I've made August's Pylon of the Month one that I took on my holidays. There were pylons aplenty in Slovenia and Croatia, but I either didn't get around to taking a picture, or if I did it wasn't good enough given the high quality of pictures sent in by pylon fans recently. So the prize for August goes to a canal straddling pylon which arrived in an email with this message:
Thought you might like to see a picture that I took in June 2001 when tripping up the Huddersfield Narrow Canal with an old 70 foot narrowboat of which I was then a part owner. The picture was taken near the site of the former Hartshead Power Station, Millbrook near Stalybridge, and the Pylon in question straddles the line of the canal.
Fans of the website will know that I am drawn to industrial heritage as well as pylons and so my interest was immediately piqued by Hartshead Power Station. It was opened in 1926 and began operating with three Metropolitan-Vickers 12,500 kW generators (which will greatly interest my Dad if he reads this......) but these operated at 40 Hz. Later on in the year, the Electricity Supply Act set up the National Grid at an agreed standard of 50Hz and so the output had to be changed. The power station was closed in 1979.
Electricity is still produced at 50Hz, although there is a bit of leeway to allow the demand from the grid to be balanced with the demand. You can see real time National Grid data here to see how balanced the UK grid is at any given moment. Data for the last 24 hours is here. The rest of the email that accompanied the picture is below for pylon fan who are also interested in narrowboats.
For completeness, the boat is an old Thomas Clayton oil tanker built of timber in 1937 for carrying oil from Stanlow Refinery to Oldbury, near Birmingham. As the engine is a single cylinder semi-diesel of about 6 litre capacity with a 'hit and miss' governor and fires 'once every lamp-post' (ie. it idles at about 78rpm) the picture is very slightly shakey. I'm afraid this is the best scan I can get off my negative, and I tend to avoid digital.
I learn something new every time I write a Pylon of the Month post and I'll be back next month with another pylon and more interesting facts and stories related to the picture.
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.
There has been a fair bit of pylon procrastination and a lot of busyness recently and so May's Pylon of the Month is the first since February. I've been as active as ever as @pylonofthemonth on Twitter, but at long last here is another post on the main website.
There are lots of striking pylon images on Twitter, but this one proved irresistible and comes courtesy of @jcurtisart. With pylons providing ideal resting places for birds, the bird/pylon combination is actually quite common on Twitter. The internet is also full of striking images and there is even a Birds on Electricity Pylons T shirt! The bird in the picture above is a Heron and the picture was taken from the bank of King's Sedgemoor Drain on the path from Bawdrip not far from the M5. The drain in King's Sedgemoor Drain was constructed between 1791-1795 and according to Wikipedia:
.....is an artificial drainage channel which diverts the River Cary along the southern flank of the Polden Hills to discharge into the River Parrat at Dunball near Bridgewater. As the name suggests, the channel is used to help drain the peat moors of King's Sedgemoor. There was opposition to drainage schemes from the local inhabitants, who feared that they would lose their common grazing rights. However, the main channel was constructed between 1791 and 1795, and despite some defects, brought some relief from flooding to the area.
King's Sedgemoor is part of the Somerset Levels which featured on Pylon of the Month back in May 2013. There is quite a bit of detail about this beautiful part of the world in this earlier post, but the flooded pylon makes it clear that drainage in this part of the world remains very much a live issue. Despite being a keen walker, I must confess to not having heard of the Polden Hills, overshadowed as they are by their bigger neighbours, The Mendips. Next time I'm heading down the M5, perhaps I'll make time to stop over and explore the area. A bit of pylon/bird spotting and a walk in the Polden Hills followed by a meal at the Knowle Inn in Bawdrip sounds like a pretty good way to spend a day. That's all for now and the normal monthly service will be resumed for the rest of the summer!
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. 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.
Most of the time, Pylon of the Month is a celebration of the ordinary pylons that surround us and it is their quotidian nature that makes them so charming (at least in my eyes). Every now and then, however, an extraordinary pylon captures my imagination and so for the New Year I bring you 'A Bullet from a Shooting Star' by sculptor Alex Chinneck. According to TimeOut London:
This massive steel sculpture was commissioned by the London Design Festival in collaboration with Greenwich Peninsula, and references the industrial history of the site it will be poking out of. British sculptor Alex Chinneck's 35-metre tall inverted electricity pylon weighs 15 tons, and will be visible from North Greenwich station, the Thames Clipper, the Emirates Airline cable car, Canary Wharf and planes flying to and from City Airport. By night it will be illuminated, becoming a beacon and projecting a lattice of shadows onto the ground below.
I've been aware of the sculpture for some time now and have retweeted images of it as @pylonofthemonth, but I never use images from the internet here, instead relying on either my own pictures or those sent in by fellow pylon enthusiasts. So this month, pylon fans everywhere have reason to be grateful to Nabil Jacob who sent me these pictures.
It is worth pointing out that a very significant amount of engineering was required to make the sculpture possible as this Guardian article makes clear
Indeed, while the pylon may look weightless, balancing on nothing but a tiny tip of metal, the amount of engineering that has gone into the spectacle took almost a year of work. To keep the pylon upright, 100 tonnes of concrete have been poured into a 20ft deep hole. Chinneck and his team also had to make an entirely new and advanced design for a pylon, made from 400m of steel and weighing 15 tonnes.
I've got a backlog of less exotic pylons lined up for 2016 so keep coming back for more. In the meantime, Happy New Year to pylon fans everywhere and I hope that the new design of the blog is to everyone's taste. It is the first time I've changed things since I started back in 2008, so I can't be accused of rushing into it!