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Stand under a high voltage pylon at night with a fluorescent tube and the electric emissions will cause it to light up. These power lines carry up to 400,000 volts of electricity and there are 88,000 of these pylons across the UK, all feeding into the grid that powers our homes.
Whether you see them as feat of engineering, or an eyesore, there’s one person who rates them so highly that she set up a fan club. We quizzed Flash Bristow of the Pylon Appreciation Society about her fascination.
How did your love for pylons come about?
Growing up, I saw the TV advert for the sale of National Power, in which lattice towers stride about the landscape. From then on I took an interest in them on car journeys.
I got a job working shifts in IT and to stay awake on the nightshifts I created a website. Later, I found out my partner’s father used to work on overhead line construction projects. He thought my interest in pylons was just a bit of fun and made me wonder why I liked them. I started taking photos of pylons and it took off from there – people started sending me photos of pylons they'd seen on holiday.
© Flash Bristow
Why do you think pylons are such a great invention?
Although people think they don't want to see pylons in beautiful countryside, the alternative is digging a 30-metre wide trench through the land, which I think is far more disruptive. Our existing pylons are very clever inventions.
What is your favourite pylon?
My favourite pylons are just outside the village of Cressing in Essex because they’re an unusual design. But, I think the top dog title goes to the pair of pylons that span the Thames at Thurrock – at 630ft they’re higher than the Post Office Tower.
What do you make of the recently designed T-Pylon?
I think the lattice design does a good job. It can be raised or lowered in three metre increments to fit the landscape and it is easily maintained by climbing.
The new T pylon is pre-fabricated but gives fewer options, such as if you wanted to paint pylons individually to match the landscape. It also needs to be maintained via a large cherry picker crane, since it can't be climbed.
Do you think pylons should be designed as underground structures to preserve the landscape?
I'm not a fan of undergrounding. Apart from a massively increased cost (up to 14 times), it is disruptive to install. Underground cables are very hard to maintain. A few years ago, a water pipeline was laid underground near where I live. It took a few years for the grass to grow back, and the bushes and habitat still haven't returned, so there's a scar.
Do you believe living near pylons could cause any harmful effects?
I always tell people to read the evidence and make up their own mind - but personally I don't believe there is any truth in it.
It's all a matter of scale. Although power lines are large and carry a significant current, they’re still at least 50 metres above your head. Any effect in the electromagnetic field when it reaches you is comparable to what you experience from the wires in your house, whether it’s sleeping next to a clock radio or a phone charger. Those wires are far smaller but much closer.
Is the fan base for pylons growing?
We have around 750 members. It’s a slow and steady growth. Although, with recent stories such as the T-pylon design and the proposed Hinkley C power station, there’s been a flurry of interest. Many people get in contact looking for a quirky Christmas present and other times it’s teachers who need ideas for their classes.
What three words describe what pylons mean to you?
Evocative, power, strength.
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