A trio of summits in the Galashiels area
Wednesday 28th May 2008
A week away in Northumberland in fair May instead of the usual Easter period promised a spell of activating and I planned two itineraries in readiness in the hope that I would be able to “escape” for a day or two. Unfortunately a wedding on the Saturday meant that our arrival in Amble on the Northumbrian coast was delayed by 24 hours. Monday was spent on the beach at Low Newton followed by a walk on the coastal path and Tuesday saw us at the Alnwick Gardens. With the forecast being for rain on the Wednesday, I suggested that it might be a good day for me to go out activating and this was readily accepted by the family.
Being on holiday I decided to keep my itinerary to myself rather than make specific alerts. I am not sure whether this affected the number of contacts, but I still managed to have an enjoyable day of radio, although visually it was not inspiring since the views were non-existent in the clag. Visibility was generally in the order of 100 metres on the hills all day, but the roads in the valleys were clearer with headlights more of a courtesy than a necessity. Noting an outside temperature of 11 degrees Celsius, I set out in light rain at 06:30 UTC and motored northwards using the A1 to get as far as Berwick before turning west. The B6460 took me south of Duns to the A697 and then through Lauder to my first parking spot at NT482456 for Sell Moor Hill, GM/SS-211. The nominal satnav target for this journey of a mere 68 miles was an incredibly lengthy 1 hour and 55 minutes. I bettered this by 20 minutes despite having to navigate and drive at the same time - there was no ready-made parking spot POI for this summit and I had not had time to program in anything from scratch.
The parking area was found to be a large area mainly of road base material located close to a cattle grid on the north side of the B6362. As it was still raining a little, I kitted up fully for wet weather operating - gaiters, waterproof trousers, hat, etc. I then selected a couple of 3.3AH SLABs from my supply box, added them to the pre-packed backpack and posted my intentions on the website before setting out at 08:22. My route took me to the east of a strip of trees spreading out generally southwards from the cattle grid. The first and only hazard was a very damp and slippery wall at NT482454 that had to be climbed. It was then a gentle stroll up green grassy fields to the left of the wall shown on the 1:25,000 OS map that generally runs in a southerly direction to pass the summit on its east side. I was careful to take my time to allow the cows with their calves in the field to move away - I did not fancy being trampled or having to make a quick exit over the wall. At about NT482446, a gate set in the wall gave me access to the field with the trig in it and so conveniently avoided the electric fence that was set on the west side of the wall. I suspected it was not in use, but wasn’t willing to test it out.
In the poor visibility my sense of direction was sufficient to take me directly to the trig without the need to use a compass. The walk took me a very lazy 26 minutes and now the rain had generally stopped and there was a breeze blowing. I used the trig to support the mast and then discovered that I had left the HF dipole in the car. After experiencing a moment of panic concerning qualifying the summit on 2m, I remembered that was what I was intending to do all along! Brain obviously in holiday mode! I opened up on 144.333MHz at 09:00 and after a couple of unanswered calls decided to try CW and was found by Mike GW0DSP who was a good strength. We changed over to SSB and a steady, but short run of contacts ensued. I logged just six calls in all, the farthest away being Frank G3RMD. After the last contact with Dave G0ELJ, I went back on the key again, but no further contacts came, so I decided to pack up at 09:30. I set off down the hill at 09:44 and was back at the car just 17 minutes later with the first summit in the bag. The activation had not realised my preferred double figure target, but I reminded myself that this was the Borders and the path was over lots of rock in order to get down to the main area of chasers to the south. Had I remembered the HF dipole, the numbers could have been considerably higher.
I set out west along the B6362 at 10:08 and joined the twisty A7 before turning right down the B710 to Clovenfords where I hoped to find my next parking spot for Meigle Hill GM/SS-212. Forewarned by Jim G0CQK’s account of access to this hill, I decided to use the parking spot I had determined along the A72 towards Galashiels in a lay-by at NT462374. Before setting out I changed the spent 3.3AH SLAB and grabbed a cereal bar to keep me going. The ascent from the lay-by was found to be up a steep bank where I found a track which headed east a short distance to where I was able to scale the wall that ran parallel with the road. Once over the wall, I made for a small wood at NT460367, again carefully avoiding conflict with a number of cows with their calves. From this point it was a case of making a direct assault on the hill which I did in poor visibility which deteriorated as I neared the summit, so much so that I couldn’t see the huge towers that adorn this summit until I was almost up to them. A quick reconnaissance confirmed Jim’s report that there were three towers and from what I could see of the antennas it appeared that there was a lot of potential for interference.
I set up at the trig point to the east side of the towers, taking care with 11kV lines running overhead and close by. The trees running along this on this summit block the path to the south on VHF. That was the main problem on 2m SSB / CW where I only made 4 contacts, again headed by Mike GW0DSP and again with Frank G3RMD being the farthest away. I noted that the noise floor was considerably higher than it would be normally, but even moving to 5MHz I found that there was noise on HF, a bit like my home location. FE had a frying sound at about S7, so after an initial call which brought back Frank at a good 59, I decided to move down a bit to 5.3665MHz for a quieter life. The band was, however, generally dead and I managed just 4 contacts, including a ground wave contact with Ken GM0AXY who had been looking for me on 2m, but had not been able to hear me. Calls back on FE did not raise any further callers, so I went QRT at 12:50 and packed up in a light rain shower which managed to dampen the inside of my rucksack in the stiffening breeze.
My descent took a more direct route and I was back at the car by 13:36 to find Police and Fire crews stood around in the lay-by. The fear that my car had been torched was allayed when I got to the car - they had chosen the lay-by to carry out commercial vehicle checks. As a line of vehicles was blocking my exit, I decided to have a bite to eat and then the Fire crew were called out to an emergency, so I was able to extricate my vehicle and get off to my third summit at 13:52. As I drove south on the A7 through Galashiels, further emergency vehicles passed with sirens wailing and blue lights flashing - obviously it was a fairly major incident up north on the A7.
For my last summit, Eildon Mid Hill GM/SS-214, I had pin-pointed two potential parking spots. I decided to keep to my first choice of ascent from the south-west and found a convenient pull in at the side of the B6359 at NT538316. This is close to a man-made lake and obviously the parking is for anglers, but fortunately I was the only one there on this occasion. I decanted the spent 3.3AH SLABs from my backpack and in went the big 12AH battery taking the backpack up to 15kg. Water and snack bars were then replenished. Ignoring the obvious track along the south side on the lake, I set out at 14:28 opting for a search operation for the track about 50 metres to the north of the lake. Unfortunately I found that this was not the way to go as I had to pick my way across a field that basically consisted of pockets of earth created by animals walking through mud. Being too stubborn to retrace my steps, a gate at the far end of the field finally ended my misery and led me out onto a proper track. I made my way through the mist towards the group of hills, Eildon Mid Hill being slightly to my left, sensed rather than seen. The track went up to the top corner of the field at about NT544320 and shortly afterwards split. I decided to take the more favourable gradient of the track to the right which took me around the south side of the hill. As the track started to lose height, I struck off left along a narrower track in order to gain height - no doubt others before me had felt they wanted to keep going upwards and had cut this track as a result. After a while I found the track petered out into a slope of heather and scree that just got steeper and steeper. Without a clear path, I decided that my only option was a direct assault of the south-east side of the hill. I should have expected the hill to have the usual false summit trick up its sleeve and going on the heather / scree was slow. In all it took me 47 minutes to get to the summit and a few more to recover from my efforts.
The summit should have been the best of the day, but despite a slight rise in the temperature to around 14 degrees, visibility was still no more than 100 metres. The summit has a viewing table and trig point, so for the third time I used the trig to support the mast and was operational on 2m SSB by 15:30. My initial calls went unanswered, but at 15:33 once again Mike GW0DSP was on the case. Mike kindly spotted me, but contacts were very slow in coming. Frank G3RMD and Stewart G0LGS were the farthest worked and I was very pleased to have a contact with Mick 2E0HJD over a difficult path. The total for the band was just 6 and a move to CW failed to create any further interest other than repeat contacts with Mike and Frank. I started up on 5MHz at 16:17 to find the band much quieter, so I decided to use FE and Frank was there straight away. There was still not much happening on the band and the 6 contacts that were made were split evenly between G and GM, Christine GM4YMM joining Ken on this occasion and Bryan GM3AKF in Aberdeenshire following on. I packed up at 16:40 and decided to try the path down the west face of the hill for my descent. This turned out to be a twisting scree run on which I had to take great care. I was relieved to get back to the gate into the field and this time I decided to try the track to the south of the lake, which I found to be a vehicle track and so far more pleasant a route.
I arrived back at my car at 17:15, unpacked, stripped off my kit, had a snack and left a message on my daughter’s mobile voicemail all before I pulled out of the parking spot at 17:30. At last the weather was starting to break - well better late than never! I decided to drive north a mile or so up the B6359 to check out the alternative access point for the hill which is from north-west of the summit at Melrose Golf Club. There is a good lay-by close to the entrance to the course, so this may be a better approach for those wishing to activate the hill.
The journey south went very well, the drive through the mainly empty B roads down across the border being very enjoyable and rather swift in the new car which is ideally suited to this type of road. I arrived at Amble at 19:02 and then had the task of decanting the damp equipment into the house we were staying in and setting about drying it all out. Once again I was pleased my new boots had resisted water all day - they didn’t dry out fully until I had undertaken a 14 mile walk the following day. The planned second activation did not happen - Friday was spent doing two local walks of about 4 miles each. All good training for the summer…… if we get one!
Many thanks to those that made contact, especially those that took the time to spot me. I was pleased to get another 3 summits activated, effectively doubling my tally in GM. Had the weather been better I would have probably activated 7MHz CW from one or more of the summits, but I was not planning to be late back on this occasion. October may be the next time that I manage to get that far north again, but it will depend on family and finances as to where, when or indeed whether I appear.
73, Gerald G4OIG