The Three Power Stations Way

The Three Power Stations Way – a new unwaymarked path

Length: 17 miles?

Map: OS Explorer 290: York, Selby and Tadcaster

Starting point: Knottingley station

End point: Drax power station

Directions: Before leaving home – remember not to leave electrical appliances on standby…or you could forget and watch in awe as the power you are wasting is created

The start of the way is easily reached by grim and dirty railbus from Leeds station – which dies at the Knottingley terminus. It’s all the South folk will allow us

Ferrybridge, Eggborough and Drax

If I was you I would turn right out of the station drive and then hard left at the crossroads down the B6136.

Ferrybridge C. When built in the 1960s it was the biggest power generator in the country

Like some Dr Who CGI spectacular in 1965 three cooling tower collapsed in an unpredicted wind vortex.

Dogs in one window, a half naked man in another.

Powergen (1990-1999) / Edison Mission Energy (1999-2001) / AP Energy Services (2001-2004) / Scottish and Southern Energy PLC (2004-)

Take a right turn over the old bridge over the River Aire, and then a right under the modern roadbridge onto the footpath alongside the River Aire

Instructions: only undertake in winter – take supplies – start early – hope for a Drax sunset

Follow the meanders to Beal and cross the river into the village (pub does food – sometimes – but I didn’t stop)

A bestiary of unnamed fears

The Harrying of the North

The crump of shotguns in distant woods

A fear of officers’ voices

The Dutch engineer and the Polytechnic engineer

The fear of being photographed by the police

The fear of the logistics industry

The repeated statement

The unsettled traffic

The rota

The staining around the rim of the lid

The fear of the inability to locate the acceptable limits of exposure

The fear of the loss of the capacity of the brain to dream following death

A good job with the Central Electricity Generating Board

The fear of the department store’s concept of good taste

The manufacture of clouds

The channel and the meander

The fear of the extreme modernity of modern agriculture

The harrying of the North

I wanted a break from the Aire’s meanders and got lost in a whirlpool of paths and drainage ditches, marked and unmarked, between Beal and Kellington.

Having got the hang of it I took a non-OS track towards Old Hee lake turning right before reaching the lake, by heading down Ings Lane onto Roall Lane.

Although I can see there’s an alternative viable option of  sticking closer to the Aire, striking off down the northern section of Ings Lane to the River crossing at Chapel Haddlesey and then using various paths to take you to Eggborough’s eastern perimeter.

However, the version I did got me closer to Eggborough

Walking down Roall Lane to the A19 the landuse patterns go all transit corridor disoriented. Medical establishments in sub-georgian villas and the biggest heavy plant auction site I’ve ever seen. 4x4s, cranes, earth movers as far as the guard dog can run.

Then left up the A19 and right onto the B road to Hensall round the immediate perimeter of Eggborough

Not white up close

The cameras on sticks swivel towards me.

Naturally I consider photographing it back. But more interesting to see what happens if I don’t escalate.

Some security contractor in a 4×4 starts to cruise up and down the lane checking me out – low level intimation that really this is one wonder of the age that should be observed from a far – as a drive by

1970s dirty fusion of modernism and state corporatism. Vaguely intelligent and promising. Now hypothetically traded against itself. A security risk waiting for an upgrade. Suffused with a natural anxiety. Be a part of it.

There are notice boards around the site. Condensation makes most of them unreadable.

But one I can read – they are displaying High Court documents with injunctions against any further climate camps

Keep walking

Walk through Hensall before turning left just before the east coast main line railway bridge. Then under the railway down Weeland road till it crosses the drainage embankment where you turn right along the artificial ridge crossing the railway line to Drax.

Nothing to distract you from the meditative plod. No sudden alterations in the landscape or the gradient, your exertion, or the level of your heartrate. Every feature comes at you slowly. Exhibited. You walk into the frame. Alone.

This double track railway is the last remaining section of the Hull and Barnsley railway. It’s now a spur to Drax power station.

Power stations that were built on a coal field. Now trains bring the stuff from Scottish ports. From South America. Handmade coal where the drugs come from. That supply the coalfields youth.

Trains threading their way across the empty landscape like a side-on ariel photograph of a vast and largely automatic enterprise of fantastic commercial, engineering, political ingenuity. A gigantic spellbound guilty gamble. Waiting to be judged. Hidden in plain view. Encountering passivity.

Cross the railway and head for Gowdall then rebound out of it down Lodge Lane where the Aire’s meanders await. Follow the Aire until you get to the A1041 bridge over the river.

Then there’s some prolonged exposure to traffic on the A1061 to Carlton. Enlivened only by glimpses of the tower of Carlton Hall – an ancient pile, clad by Pugin the younger in victorian castellation. Now cordoned off for the hospitality business.

Turn right not far after the chippy down Mill Lane before turning left towards Drax across fields that soon refuse to acknowledge the existence of the OS map paths. We get the message.

You will head for Drax.

It produces 7% of the UK’s electricity generation by itself. It is the second largest power station in Europe and consumes the contents of 35 coal trains a day. That chimney is the largest industrial chimney in the UK – standing 15 metres higher than Canary Wharf.

It is the UK’s single largest emitter of carbon dioxide.

The latest in the parade of post-CEGB owners is Drax power – whose credit rating was judged to be junk by Standard and Poors in 2009.

The mystery of the way it generates power now magnified by the way in which the power is bought and sold. The opacity jams the brain. The towers manufacture the clouds. The landscape accommodates the scale. The red standby light never blinks. Not once.

I didn’t get a sunset.

I find a crossing of the railway and clamber over a gate next to a cowshed. In an atmosphere of mud clogged mutual suspicion with the cows i make my way to a muddy lane of minor and abandoned agricultural ambitions to the A645.

I had planned to circumnavigate Drax.

But the light had gone and I feared I wouldn’t find the response I wanted. I could however find the bus stop. Which I did and soon got a bus to Selby, its fish and chip restaurant and then the train home.

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