Pylon of the Month - September 2017

DJT73J4XoAEQf9q

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.

Screen Shot 2017-09-17 at 12.48.07

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.  


Pylon of the Month - August 2017

P1060430 copy

 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.

P1060429

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 - July 2017

DSCN0694

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.


Pylon of the Month - June 2017

Photo 1

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.  

Screen Shot 2017-06-02 at 22.41.18

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!

 

 


Pylon of The Month - April 2017

Pylons carmen road

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.  
 
Screen Shot 2017-03-30 at 21.03.57
 
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.
 
 
 
 

Pylon of the Month - February 2017

Thumbnail_image1

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.

 


Pylon of the Month - December 2016

15094952_1256535321033715_5801548824606249064_n

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.

Screen Shot 2016-12-03 at 21.41.28

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.

 

 


Pylon of the Month - October 2016

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.

Pylon of the Month - October 2016


Pylon of the Month - September 2016

Pylon

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.

Power-tower-anders-berensson-architects-architecture-sweden-stockholm-dezeen-banner-1024x731

The pylons are in Norra Djurgården national city park in Stockholm.  According to dezeen magazine

"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!!


Pylon of the Month - August 2016

JEMMIB-06 (1)

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.