Great North of Scotland Railway
Based near Aberdeen, North Eastern Scotland, I am practically at the lower most point of the GNSR network. The whole of the network, bar the mainline from Aberdeen to Keith (from which point Northwards it becomes part of the Highland Railway network), is now disused - yet there is still a great deal to be found on the more wild sections.
My first hunts took place along the Aberdeen to Ballater section and the 'whiskey line' from Boat of Garten to Keith, where I soon discovered that the GNSR had a variety of insulators to offer; the best of which being Varleys no. 8s and 'Z' types left over from the early days. Although still seldom found, there must have been a fair number of the earlier insulators remaining on the GNSRs telegraph lines right up until the 1960s.
Above photo - B1 No. 61242 'Alexander Reith Gray' departs from Kittybrewster North, 12th May 1960.
Above - Removing a 'TELEGRAPH M.E.G Co. Ltd. HELSBY, ENGLAND' marked cordeaux from a felled pole on the Craigellachie to Elgin section, near Fogwatt.
Below - Reid Bros Varley 'Z' type, as found on the 'whiskey line' between Grantown and Nethy Bridge, November 2013.
Above - Felled pole containing two Buller Jobson & Co. on the Grantown to Nethy Bridge section.
Below - Broken Varley No. 8s dug up on the track side between Banchory and Crathes. The example on the right is marked 'Reid Bros' on the body.
Above - Hardstone pole cap dating from about 1866, used on the Dinnet to Cambus O' May section of the Aberdeen and Ballater line until 1966. Recovered winter 2012.
Below - Diagram showing how the pole cap was used.
In 1905 work began on what was to be one of the largest hydro electric schemes in Britain. Although, at this time, hydro electricity was still relatively untried, the Highlands of Scotland - with their hills and rain - seemed like the ideal place to undertake such a scheme. Behind this was the British Aluminium Company who constructed a reservoir, power station and an aluminium works at the head of Loch Leven. The village of Kinlochleven was originally constructed to accommodate workers but by the mid 1910s it had turned into a bustling hive of industry - with the aluminium factory producing a sixth of the worlds yearly output.
Above photo - Pipeline under construction at Kinlochleven, some time between 1905 and 1910.
The words 'hydro electric scheme' always excite me when searching for new insulator hunting haunts and when I stumbled across information on Kinlochleven I was particularly intrigued. So, following a great deal of research and endless studying of black and white pictures, I organised a trip to Kinlochleven in October 2013.
I decided to follow the pipeline which runs for 12 miles along the length of the valley from the Blackwater reservoir to the power station at Kinlochleven. After seeing pictures of one of the original 1910 constructed power lines, which accompanied the pipeline as far as the penstock halfway up the valley, I thought this would be the best place to start looking.
To my gratification I discovered several poles still standing along the length of the pipeline, each sporting an eclectic variety of low voltage electrical and telephone insulators. The wires of course were long disconnected and so I was able to climb most of the poles and retrieve some quite rare pieces.
Above - Pole at Kinlochleven showing the variety of insulators used.
Below - Close up of two Large Bullers Ltd. line insulators just before being rescued. Note how the spindles are screwed directly into the side of the pole.
Above - Brown glazed Gaskell & Groucott cordeaux in-situ on the penstock building.
Below - My second haul from Kinlochleven: Four large Bullers ltd. line insulators, Two bright white tapered line insulators, Two smallest size tapered line insulators, Five white Gaskell & Groucott cordeaux, Two Bullers Ltd. cordeaux and Two brown glazed Gaskell and Groucott cordeaux.
My most recent hunt has been at Dinorwic Slate Quarry, Llanberis, in North Wales. The quarry opened in the late 1700s and operated until 1969, when a severe collapse made further extraction of slate impossible. The whole quarry (and several others in the surrounding area) was electrified in 1906 at 10,000 volts, however, the overhead transmission lines were updated to a much higher voltage in 1912/13 to accommodate the further electrification of several other quarries in Northern Wales.
The lines ran from Cwm Dyli power station to the works at the base of the mountain with a separate line running to the power house on the 4th level of the quarry. Here the electricity was converted to a lower voltage and distributed around the site. Originally - on the 1912/13 lines - the conductors were supported by Bullers 5031 two piece multiparts but several flash overs in the late 1940s caused many of these units to fail, and they were replaced with later unipart styles. Even so, many 5031s survived up to 1969 when the quarry was closed and, being highly interested in early electrical insulators, I was determined to find an example...
Above picture - A 1967 view of the cable hauled incline, showing the power line on the right.
I started hunting on the wooded hillside directly below the quarry in the hope that any fallen poles might not have been picked due to their location on the steep and difficult slope. To start with I wasn't finding anything, just a few pole stumps with white porcelain shards beneath them. However, a little further down and the first fallen pole was discovered (pictured below) sporting some damaged 5031s and a later unipart by Doulton.
Above - A view of the hill.
Below - The first felled pole I discovered.
This was an exciting start - it looked like there may be more stuff left lying about than I had first expected. Continuing down the hill I found several original side brackets, mostly empty but some containing broken stuff. Finds identical to this remained consistent as I descended further, however, as the terrain grew steeper evidence of the line began to fade, with just broken pieces here and there and the odd pole stump.
Above - An example of the side brackets used on the line.
Below - Pole with broken 5031s.
I was about to give up and head up to the path when I noticed a white top poking out of the heather not far away from where I was standing. I rushed to it but alas, on pulling it out the rest of the insulator was heavily damaged. Not far away lay another pole with side brackets. Things were not looking promising, but at least I had re-found the route of the line and I still had a few hours of daylight left. Even better, I could see the next pole lying in the trees further down and one of the insulators looked whole. As I got closer I suddenly realised that the pole had probably been lying there for about 40 years and what’s more, was felled directly down the hill leaving the inner sheds of the insulators vulnerable to filling with water – so the chances of anything being whole were very slim. I was correct in my assumptions and the insulator, like most of the other 5031s had lost its top as a result of moisture in the cement freezing.
I decided to call it a day here seeing as I was virtually at the base of the mountain at this point anyway. I had kept a good 5031 top section and the near whole insulator from the last pole and so thought, if all else failed; I could cut and paste to make a whole one.
It was an early start on the second morning as I hoped to explore the main part of the hill before the weather got too warm. I decided to follow roughly the same route as before but start further down and cut across the slope as I knew the power line had split at some point, as illustrated on the map below (the red line indicates the section I had not yet explored).
I hadn't even reached the level where I planned to cut across when I noticed what looked like a pole lying about 100 feet down from the path. Moving closer to get a better look I saw the unmistakable shape of a 5031 top, and it looked in good nick. I started to get excited – this could be my find of the trip. Hurrying down I arrived at the pole; the insulator was half buried in leaf litter but it was looking increasingly good. I knelt down, held my breath and felt around the top... and it was mint! I could hardly believe it! And to make matters better, it still had the original wire tie intact.
Above - The first whole 5031 as found. Note the side bracket.
Below - The other two on the same pole.
I could see the other two insulators (also 5031s) lying in the undergrowth nearby, still attached to their brackets... but surely they wouldn't be whole aswell? I carefully cleared the leaf litter away from around them and, yes, they were both in excellent condition! What a lucky find – the pole had been felled at just the right angle preventing the inner sheds of the insulators filling with water.
Unfortunately the brackets and nuts where heavily rusted making the removal difficult, but all three were recovered safely and quickly ferried back to the car. I was absolutely ecstatic as these are amongst the earliest high voltage multiparts that have ever been found in the UK.
Each insulator is marked with the Bullers logo and ‘5031’ on the very top. This number is also stamped on the outside of the inner shed.
See my collection page for a close up.