Escape to the hills – 29th July 2010.
It was mid July and we had nothing arranged by way of a holiday which was very unusual – no lying on a Greek beach this year thinking about the local summits, wishing that I had packed the pole and SOTAbeam and investigated access arrangements. Funds wouldn’t run to that this year. However, by some twist of fate, events conspired to provide the opportunity to stay at a cottage up in Northumberland where we had stayed on several occasions since way back in 1996. I had activated the SB summits from this location in 2006 and 2007, so I knew that there might be a possibility to venture further afield over the border in Scotland.
Once the week away had been booked, I wasted no time in posing the appropriate question and having received an affirmative response, I set about planning a potential day out on the summits. Several options were considered and I eventually settled on a trio of summits in the Kelso – Jedburgh area. This would need to be a late start for me so as to avoid waking the family too early, so I set up an itinerary loosely based around a 0700 local (06:00z) start, fully expecting not to be away much before 0800. I alerted for the three summits that I had chosen well in advance on the Monday evening while out for an stroll along the river bank down in the Coquet valley where we stay – the cottage itself is in an O2 black hole.
The day that I booked for my escape to the hills was Thursday 29th July. The weather all week was changeable, though we managed to miss all of the damp stuff as we undertook various activities. Would this mean that my reputation for bringing on the wet weather activations would be upheld? Well, with bright skies making an appearance that notoriety was in doubt as I climbed out of bed at 05:50z and made my way downstairs, the first task being to make a placatory cup of tea for Bev. A quick bowl of cereal plus the necessary final preparations later, I eased the car out of its parking spot at 06:22z and headed for nearby Rothbury, already cutting across my alerted schedule – I was aiming for Wooler and much needed fuel, after which it was my intention to activate the three summits in reverse order.
As I filled up with petrol, the weather started to close in. The rain came quite heavy for a while as I made my way down windy roads towards Town Yetholm, but it cleared just before I got there. I was treated to a close encounter with a Heron that was sitting on a bridge that I had to cross on a minor road between two B roads. After that I was almost immediately involved in diversionary tactics to avoid a Weasel that was playing in the road just around a bend. This was just what I needed – something to mark the day by – do I love nature!!!
I arrived at the parking spot for my first summit, Hownam Law GM/SS-197, close to the remains of Elliesheugh village (NT814219) at 07:32. The first consideration was whether to wear my waterproof clothing. As this would afford me some protection against ticks, I decided to put on my waterproof trousers and wear my jacket, but leave my fleece in the car. This proved to be rather too warm, but I kept to this arrangement as there was heavy cloud cover for most of the day. It took me 55 minutes to get to the summit of Hownam Law. The route was straightforward and gates appeared at all of the important points, access on the lower reaches conveniently being by what might be described as “quad bike stiles” set on the fence lines. The summit itself was a pleasant grassy tump with excellent views all around. I decided to set up a few metres north of the trig where the grass looked inviting. Initially it took a while to get the 2m and 60m antennas sorted out, but I got better at it as the day progressed.
It was 09:03z when I made my first call on 144.333MHz. Don G0NES was on frequency within a couple of minutes, closely followed by Graham G4JZF who spotted me. I explained the reversal of the summit order and fortunately there was no confusion as Graham noted this on his spot. It took just 14 minutes to get 10 chasers in the log, the last one being a very faint G1ZJQ running 2.5 watts and beaming south. I was pleased to work Derek as it was his route description that I had used to get to this summit. Don G0RQL predictably provided the best DX. After some 5 minutes of calling to all quarters without any further contacts, I announced a move to 5MHz and put a call out on FE. Conditions were what I would call fair, with deep QSB causing problems for a few chasers, but not for me with the low noise floor at my end. I was pleased to work Andrew M0LKB who lives near to my home QTH and the run of 12 contacts finished with a QSO with Peter EI7CC. As per the 2m session, no contacts were made with Scottish stations. When the frequency went quiet, Don G0RQL called back in to say that Nigel F/G6SFP/P had self-spotted for 7.118MHz, so at 09:50 I moved there and waited with Don for Nigel to appear. Neither of us heard anything, but the spot drew a few people to the frequency and Mark M3RHJ, Ogi 9A7W and Joachim DJ1SD were worked before Don told me that Nigel had now moved to 20m. Having slightly overstayed my allotted time, I decided to go QRT and get off to my second summit.
I had over-estimated the time required to ascend the summit, so I was confident that I would recoup the extra time spent activating on my descent as I set off down to the car at 10:14. Nearing the parking spot, I noted that another vehicle was parked close to mine and someone was ascending the track to Elliesheugh. As the distance between us shortened, I could see this person was carrying a backpack with a pole sticking up from it and it turned out to be Jim G0CQK who had decided to go out to Hownam Law to work me on my second summit. As I had reversed my schedule, it meant that there was to be no surprise, but the face to face meeting more than compensated for that. We stood chatting for a while, then parted conscious that I was working to a schedule which had now increased to include a 4th summit based on Jim’s recommendation for me to tag Belling Hill onto the end of my day of activations. It was 10:52 when I reached the car – time for a snack bar!
It was a short drive over to my second summit, Linton Hill GM/SS-263, which I had elected to tackle from the east. This was based on a recommendation from Ken GM0AXY passed onto me via Steve G1INK. I parked up on the grass verge by a bend in the road just north of Foumartdean (NT798278) where there was just enough room to get the car off the tarmac. From the parking spot, I took the track running on the south side of a strip of woodland which took me to a large metal double gate giving access to the next field. This second field had cows and calves in it which unfortunately prevented me from taking the direct diagonal route to the top left corner, so I skirted along the edges. Twice I had to point at cows that approached me and instruct them to “stay” in a stern voice – it worked. I was pleased that I hadn’t lost my command of cowspeak learnt when down on the farm in my childhood.
Once at the top corner of the field, I found a gate that gave access to an overgrown strip of land at the north-west end of a strip of woodland. Another gate provided access to the field beyond and once up a short steep section, access was gained to a grassy field through yet another gate. Access to the summit area was unfortunately restricted by an electric fence, so I decided to accept the grassy field as my operating position even though it was about 15 metres lower than the highest point. The ascent had taken me 33 minutes and it was now 11:45 – all good for a 12:00z activation.
Not surprisingly, Jim was first to make contact on 144.333MHz. He was about S2 with me, the situation being rectified once he had located an intermittent connection. His now S9++ signal was replicated on 432.222MHz and then we tried 1297.5 FM. I extracted the C710 and what I thought was its rubber duck from the backpack only to find that I had picked up the top section of the whip supplied with the FT-817 that I own. The proper rubber duck was back at the car. My only option was to connect up the SOTAbeam to the C710 and adjust the beam heading for best signal strength – unfortunately this was a pathetic 52 for me and 55 for Jim. Anyway, we managed the first 23cms contacts from the two summits.
Back on 2m, I found Don G0NES patiently waiting for me to appear followed by G4JZF, G0RQL, G0TRB, G6ODU and 2E0LAE. This was a few less than when I had been on Hownam, but seeing I was now around 270m ASL as opposed to 449m ASL, I wasn’t complaining! Another round of calls to all quarters again produced no further contacts, so at 12:25 I moved to 60m where I found not only Paul G0HNW waiting, but a horrible whine and clicking noise from the electric fence near to me. A move to channel FM improved the situation slightly and I was soon found there by the regular chasers, but a few may have been lost beneath the QRM. I worked 11 in all, including Jim who called in for a 4th S2S contact and non-chaser Terry G4BFS near Norwich. Signals were up and down and in and out like a rat up a pump, but at least the run took me to a respectable total of 20 QSOs for the summit. I closed at 12:57 after signing with David G3RDQ.
As I packed up, my attention was taken by a pair of Buzzards circling over the nearby woodland. Unfortunately I could not get a photograph at that range and they had gone to roost by the time that I was making my descent, but I could hear their calls. The cows had kindly moved off the direct path and the descent took me just 14 minutes to get me back to the car for 13:25. Lunchtime! Well, a ham sandwich and a packet of crisps time. As I ate, I reorganised my backpack and so was away to my second summit by 13:38. The half hour drive gave me time to digest the food and I arrived at the parking spot for Rubers Law GM/SS-210 raring to go. I parked up to the side of a gateway at the 149m spot height on the map (NT595157) which gave me an easy route to the summit.
Crossing the road, I turned left along a farm track that ran south along a line of trees and then turned slightly north of west on a line towards the summit. The track ran between fields – I was pleased about this as both fields had bulls in them! The track continued up through a gate into a relatively newly planted area and thence to another field of cows and calves. This lot were rather more timid than those that I had encountered earlier and I had no problem keeping close to the fence running west towards the summit. I knew the final access was from the north-east of the summit, but I somehow I missed the path and ended up climbing alongside a wall in bracken to gain height. At one point I was surprised to see a lizard scurrying through the undergrowth. This section of the ascent was quite steep - eventually I managed to drag myself to the summit on tired aching legs. It had taken me 50 minutes to ascend the hill, but I reckoned that I had time for a couple of minutes rest and a re-hydrate before setting up the station.
Rubers Law was another excellent summit. There are two rocky outcrops at the summit, one of which has the trig point on it. I set up between the trig and the edge of the outcrop, so spreading my HF dipole across to the other outcrop while maintaining height for the 2m operation. I was somewhat later than I had planned, but Don G0NES was once again waiting for me at 14:25 and the run of chasers this time included Geoff G6MZX, Steve GW7AAV and Ron GW4EVX. Still silence from GM, but at least I tried once again and 10 wasn’t a bad haul for a weekday. At 14:50 I moved to 5MHz and worked another 9 contacts in the same kind of conditions that I had experienced earlier.
I went QRT at 16:08 and after taking the usual photographs easily located the proper path down from the summit. The good surface on the farm track enabled me to make my way to the car by 16:48. No snack this time, just a quick turn around and I was at the parking spot for my final summit of the day (NT644115) by 17:05. The route up Belling Hill GM/SS-244 was very easy via a forestry track which I could have driven up part way. However, I was pleased that I hadn’t attempted this as part of the forest had been felled and segments of branches were strewn across the surface of the track. The track turned left at a large pile of felled timber and access to the summit area was easy, but after a quick look, I decided to backtrack and head north-east to a felled section where I would get a reasonably clear take off towards the south over the trees. Referring to my GPS, I chose at spot at 332m ASL and set up using a tree stump to support the pole. As there were snag hazards all around and time was somewhat short I made the decision to just activate the summit on 2m SSB.
I opened up on 144.333MHz at 17:30 and after a few calls Don G0NES came back to my call. Signals were considerably weaker than they had been on the earlier summits, but at least it was Q5 copy both ways. Don spotted me and went off to make a few phone calls to rally the troops. I’m not sure what method worked, but by the time Don came back on frequency I had G0RQL, G6ODU, G0TRB, 2E0LAE and GW7AAV in the log. After a brief chat with Don, I made a final round of calls and Geoff G6MZX came back for a 7th contact, so I was pleased with that. Not my preferred minimum of 10 contacts, but a decent result given the situation. The descent was super speedy – I sent Jim G0CQK a text message while I walked along to say all 4 summits had been qualified okay. All in all, it had been a brilliant day all round.
It was 18:12 when I reached the car. I had said that I’d be back at base by 19:00 with a rider that it might be nearer 20:00z. After getting out of my walking clothes and polishing off all of my remaining provisions and water, it was an easy drive down the A68 on cruise to bring me to our accommodation from the west. I arrived at 19:10, so I had been out just less than 13 hours. 4 summits for 110 miles driving – now that’s what I call a bargain!
My thanks go to all that followed me around the summits on this trip. Particular thanks to Don G0NES who helped by enormously by orchestrating the proceedings. Thanks to Jim for the S2S contacts and for making it possible to meet up. Achieving Mountain Goat has not dulled my interest in Uniques one iota, so I hope to be out again very soon experiencing new sights and sampling more fresh clean air while keeping reasonably fit – after all, that’s what it’s all about!
73, Gerald G4OIG