Wednesday, 15 October 2008

A Spoonful of Sugar

On the way back from Norfolk, my attention was caught by this hugely atmospheric sight, dominating the flat fenland horizon. Even by fen standards this is remote country, a back road dog-legging across from the Thetford road in order to suddenly veer-off for Southery. Virtually the only thing on it is this glowering and steaming industrial plant. This is British Sugar's Wissington Factory to the south east of Downham Market, and I only went for a closer look so that you don't have to. In fact I've mentioned it before when I showed the level crossing gate in the hedge at Fordham, on a line once kept open just for this factory. (I checked it out and it's now just about completely grown over.) But back to Wissington. British Sugar reckon to process around 2.4 million tonnes of UK grown sugar beet here every year, the most impressive sugar production in the world, and in 2005 broke all records by dealing with 18,503 tonnes in just one 24 hour period. One can only guess at how many teaspoons that is. This is odd, surreal country. Virtually the only traffic is either bulging tankers or giant tractors and trailers thundering one after the other across the landscape. And for miles around the air is permanently flavoured with the all-invasive smell of cooking beet. Er, just milk please, no sugar.

14 comments:

Jon Dudley said...

Weird places aren't they? you'd think for all the world they were turning out Skodas, Moskvitchs or giant Zil trucks. There's similar near Bury St.Edmunds where Stephen Fry's dad came to work as a chemist I think it was. Remember 'Hell Drivers' with Sean Connery and Stanley Baker driving those speeded-up Commers in the piece-work deivery race?...they were delivering sugar beet weren't they?

Sweet picture though.

Peter Ashley said...

Stanley Baker? Hell Drivers? Cue Diplo (wherever he is) on that one.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Hell Drivers: Wasn't it gravel that sloshed all over the road when they went too fast round corners? Or did I dream it?

Ten Inch Wheeler said...

"These Hell Drivers fight to the death - and their weapons are ten ton trucks!". Great film. It was gravel I think. I saw it on DVD about a month ago. The trailer's on youtube:

http://tinyurl.com/yozytg

Fred Fibonacci said...

Sweet

Vinogirl said...

I quite like industrial landscapes. Passed Fiddlers Ferry (Warrington) a lot as a child and I think it is very attractive in it's own way...sorry.

Peter Ashley said...

Vinogirl. You're in very good company on this and related blogs if you like industrial landscapes.
It's only the smell of Wissington that's off-putting. Mr. Wilkinson and I once (well, down the pub)considered doing a book on England's landscape smells with Scratch 'n' Sniff pages called 'Ole Factories'. (Copyright UnmitigatedWilko Enterprises Inc.)It would have things in it like that appalling cellulose smell on the M5 near Bridgwater and Banbury's Maxwell House pong. Any other contenders?

Jon Dudley said...

Ah, gravel was it? I so wanted the loads in 'Hell Drivers' to be sugar beet...

Philip Wilkinson said...

As Mr Ashley knows, my personal favourite used to be the chocolatey smell emanating from SE London's Peak Frean biscuit factory when they were making bourbons. Long gone alas. Does Bournville smell similar? Artificial fibre factories often smell ghastly – a kind of sickly smell that's hard to describe. There's such a place at Brockworth near Gloucester, but I've not been past it recently to give the nasal membranes a workout.

A F-A said...

I stand to be corrected, but doesn't this plant also produce bio-ethanol for petrol engines...and is therefore hugely to be praised by all car nuts? And IIRC, a similar plant somewhere nearby pumps its CO2 output to a local tomato grower, thereby increasing the size and yield of his toms (Ron Combo take note!).

Ten Inch Wheeler said...

The smell of hops from the Timothy Taylor brewery, Keighley. Seems to be especially strrong on a thursday. I'd be happy to sit on Queen's Road in a deckchair, inhaling all day long .

Ron Combo said...

The Courage Brewery by the Floating Harbour in Bristol. Almost certainly a hellhole of flats and loft apartments now.

potterboy said...

Ha! I live on that road and it is pure hell. You would have gone past my house to get there probably (which is one of the old railway cottages for the level crossing on the Stoke Ferry to Denver branch line - not that you'd know - just finished rendering all the lovely but highly broken brick work... all original character removed by previous owners unfortunately.)

Ho hum.

Peter Ashley said...

Well fancy that Potterboy. I do remember your house, in fact pulled off the road to take a better look at the old overgrown trackbed. But at least the level crossing gate is still hanging on in the hedge at Fordham.