Biggar and Muirkirk
22nd and 23rd October 2012
I had been working on an idea to activate several summits around an area to the south-west of Selkirk, but set this aside when the opportunity arose at short notice to get a couple of days out on the hills. Finding suitable accommodation was the key factor and not wanting to cut across any future plans that Paul and I have based around Dumfries Travelodge, I booked myself a room at the Kilmarnock Travelodge and set about drawing up an itinerary to suit. This would be a new area for me, as I had hitherto not studied the details of the summits that are within a reasonable travel distance of Kilmarnock.
For once I managed to get to bed at a reasonable hour – 8.30 p.m. in fact, which gave me 4 hours until my alarm went off. With the car partly packed, it did not take me long to get ready and I set out from home at around 00.50 a.m. (23:50z) in light rain and a temperature of 12C. As I drove towards the M1, I considered the fact that my first summit was 322 miles drive away, quickly coming to the conclusion that I must be mad.
My first stop was at Tebay services, 225 miles from home, which I reached at precisely 03:00z. I managed to get 30 minutes sleep during a 50 minute break and then it was back on the road to finish the journey. The temperature was 7C at Tebay, falling to 2C near Penrith, then staying fairly constant until I drove up Beattock where it dropped to minus 2C. As I approached Biggar, the temperature was back up to about freezing and the roads were partially flooded, so I took it very carefully. I did wonder what the ground would be like underfoot.
Goseland Hill, GM/SS-203
I arrived at the parking spot (NT072343) in a small quarried area close to the entrance of Gosland Farm at 05:38z. It was still dark, so I had to find my headlamp to be able to get kitted up. I started the ascent at 06:00z, just as it became light enough to walk without needing the headlamp. After the initial ascent along the left edge of the quarry, I took a curved path up and slightly left across open ground of heather and grasses on the flank of Oak Brae. Reports I had read suggested that this might be better than taking a direct line. The route did indeed avoid the worst ground and I reached the trig at 06:37z after a number of stops to catch my breath. I do not ascend hills very well and the first hill of the first day is always the hardest, possibly on account of having been sat still for over 5 hours!
After taking a few photos of the sunrise and the lights of Biggar, I used the trig point to set up the pole supporting the 5 element beam for 2m and the HF multiband dipole. It only took a couple of calls on 144.333MHz SSB to get a reply from Mark G0VOF who kindly spotted me. Signals were not particularly strong from this relatively low down and screened summit, but I was very pleased to make it down to Blackburn. Thinking that I might not be able to qualify the summit on 2m, I was surprised to hear Laurie G6XLL in London calling me and we quickly exchanged 51 reports. Steve GM7UAU was next into the log, but a further 5 minutes elapsed and a change of mode to CW was required to qualify the summit, the contact being with Phil G4OBK. Back on SSB, Don G0NES and Colin M0XSD put the seal on the VHF part of the activation, but I was unable to get my signal down to Don G0RQL in Devon which was a rare failure indeed.
Moving to 10.119MHz at 07:30z, Stefan OM7DX was ready waiting on frequency and his spot brought in a huge pile up. It was quite difficult to pick out callsigns despite the use of a 300Hz filter and those trying a little off frequency, sending QRS or leaving their call until the frequency was quieter, often got in quicker. In all I made 24 contacts around OM, DL, ON, OK, PA. HA, LA, HB9, S5, SP and G. The sole entry for G was David G3RDQ who was a good 579 with me. Reports both ways varied between S3 and S9. After working Karel OK1FBO at 07:56 the frequency went quiet, so I changed the links on the dipole and put a call out on 5.3985MHz. Colin G4UXH was ready waiting and Brian G8ADD and Ken GM0AXY followed on to take me a little beyond the time I had scheduled for the activation. I asked Brian not to spot me when the offer was made, thinking it best to pack up and get off to my second summit once the frequency went quiet. Apologies to anyone that missed out on account of this.
I got back to the car at 08:37z which gave me a little time to get organised and have something to eat before I set off for Lamington, back in the direction I had come. The temperature had now gone up to a heady 6C and it looked set for a reasonable day with a mixture of hazy sun and cloud.
Lamington Hill GM/SS-172
The car park by the church (NS978309) was empty when I arrived at Lamington at 09:05z, so I had no trouble parking. Using the excellent directions given by Andy MM0FMF, I set out at 09:12z and it was not long before I found the route had changed slightly. The gate in the hedge was locked, the authorised route now going behind the end cottage. Fortunately the Estate have clearly signposted the route and I was soon back on the part of the track I expected to be on. The track was not particularly boggy and I made reasonable progress until I got to a field where a patch of ground just where I wanted to go had been heavily churned up by cows and had acquired the consistency of glue. This required a slight detour, but nothing major and I reached the summit in a comfortable ascent time of 1 hour and 5 minutes.
Once again I used the trig point for the pole support and set up the station. Being a few minutes early, I decided to try the handheld in case Robert GM4GUF was around, but on pressing the PTT the rig switched off. Battery failure! Out with the spare set of batteries which produced the same result! Connect up the 12V lead; find an intermittent contact, but fortunately I did get it to work and soon I was in QSO with Jack GM4COX. After a chat, Jack said he would spot me on SSB and we signed off. Bob GM4XHH caught me before I changed mode to SSB where I found Don G0RQL and others waiting for me. Again I managed just 5 on SSB, a contact with Frank G3RMD requiring the use of CW. A couple of chasers were unable to make contact.
I moved to 10.119MHz at 11:33z, with Roy G4SSH this time heading the log and Stefan OM7DX having to be happy with contact number 2. The pile up was even bigger than the earlier session and I worked a total of 33 in 32 minutes around G, OM, PA, F, HB9, GM, GW, DL, ON, LA, S5, OK and SP. Most calling were 599 and all reports were Q5 showing the band was in excellent shape for around much of Europe. After working Robert SP8RHP at 12:05z, the frequency went quiet and I moved to 5MHz to find Brian G8ADD and others waiting. Ten contacts were made around G, GM and GW finishing off with a contact with Sue G1OHH at 12:15z.
Having overstayed on the summit, I was now running late, so I quickly packed up and after taking a few photographs, set off at 12:30z. The wind had increased somewhat and cloud cover was now evident across the top of Tinto GM/SS-064, just to the north. It took me just 30 minutes to get back to the car which put me back on schedule. Cue lunch, but I hadn’t allowed any time for lunch. Ah well, I would just have to make the time up on the ascent of my last summit for the day, or more likely the descent knowing how long it takes me to go uphill.
Middlefield Law, GM/SS-184
Err, that should have read Common Hill GM/SS-174, but circumstances changed en route. All was fine until I got onto the A70 heading west. The traffic started to slow and back up and as I approached Douglas, it came to a stop at regular intervals. I was somewhat annoyed that this would make me late, but potentially just how late was not apparent until I spotted the reason for the hold up. Several articulated lorries carrying large cylindrical steel sections were negotiating the winding streets and eventually they were all queuing along the road to Douglas West – just where I wanted to go. It looks like they are adding to the windfarm up on Common Hill. A quick decision was made to avoid any potential problems by changing summit, so I continued west along the A70 and headed for Middlefield Law.
I had no trouble locating the parking spot on the north side of the minor road running to the south of the summit (NS685297), where I pulled up at the western end of the large lay-by / passing place at 13:58z and got ready for the ascent. A local farmer on his tractor slowed down as he approached and I thought I was in for some form of Scottish Inquisition, but no, a friendly wave and a smile and off he accelerated once he had passed my car. Now how considerate was that?
The ascent route from the south was up a quad bike track which was a bit vague in places, but I did not lose it entirely and the ascent took me just 35 minutes to get me to the trig by 14:40z. At the summit, the wind was stronger and colder than it had been earlier and the mist was starting to come in. I therefore decided not to use the trig to support the pole, but use guys so that I could shelter behind the summit cairn. I put up the 2m beam on its own to keep the loading down and was ready to go by 14:55z.
Although my alert was for 15:15z, I found Colin G4UXH monitoring 144.333MHz and he spotted me and also noted the change of summit. This avoided any confusion and I was soon enjoying a run of contacts. Derek 2E0MIX had changed the polarisation of his beam to work me and I also worked Mike GM0OAA in Glasgow who was running a TM-271E to a dipole in his window: 59 both ways. I finished the run on SSB with another chat with Jack GM4COX who suggested Brown Carrick Hill as a substitute summit for the following morning.
After changing antennas, I moved to 10.119MHz at 15:51z where a spot placed by Jack ensured yet another pile up. This time the run extended to 36 contacts headed by Juerg HB9BIN and ending with Jan OZ7JZ at 16:29z. Reports varied from S5 to S9 around HB9, DL, PA, G, DL, OM, OK, LA, F, OK, SP, HA, I, EA and OZ. As I operated, the weather started to close in further and water started to run down the pole and coaxial cables. The light was also fading, so I decided to leave 5MHz and get off the hill. Bizarrely, back at the car at 17:05z it seemed warmer, drier and brighter even though the difference in altitude was less than 150m. The descent took just 18 minutes and the quad bike track seemed to be easier to see in the downhill direction.
After stowing the kit and changing out of my boots and outer layers of clothing, I set off for Kilmarnock at 17:16z. Before checking in, I refuelled the car at the services next to the Travelodge, which was one job out of the way. It took me about 20 minutes to shower, shave and change before I was back in reception asking where I could get some food. I spent most of the next hour sitting in Burger King with a burger, chips and coke working out the details for Brown Carrick. Later I programmed the satnav and also changed my alert from Middlefield Law to Brown Carrick Hill ready for the following morning.
Brown Carrick Hill GM/SS-260
I had decided upon a relative lie-in and the alarm woke me at 04:50z. Quite refreshed after almost 8 hours sleep, I ate a good sized bowl of cereal, packed the few bits I had taken into the Travelodge and was out at my car half an hour later. Now the satnav did not know the A77 has been restricted to a 50mph limit over part of its length, so I lost some time on the journey to the summit. It was also very misty on the hill and I had to take care in the dark to find a suitable spot to park the car near the end of the road leading up to the transmitter stations (NS296165). It was therefore 06:00z by the time I was parked up. So what do you do when you are running late? Well, phone home for a chat of course! Anyway, with a significant number of Brownie points duly earned, I got ready with the aid of my headlamp and set off through the mist at 06:17z, just 12 minutes adrift of my scheduled time.
Navigation on this hill was by memorised OS map and knowledge that the wind was coming from the east. I prayed that it would not change during the activation period! The initial part of the ascent up the tarmac road was easy, though rather unnerving at times as cows appeared out of the mist. Once past the transmitting stations and out onto open ground, it was a case of keeping the wind fair and square on my back as visibility was no more than 10 metres. Somehow I managed to find all the stiles and walk straight to the trig point where I set up the station.
Having made up the time deficit on the ascent, I came up on 144.333MHz at 07:00z as alerted. Ten minutes of calling produced nothing. I was beginning to wonder whether I had a transmitter fault, so I moved to FM and put a call out. Neil 2M0NCM on his way to work came straight back and we had a chat of several minutes before I returned to SSB. A few CQ calls later, I was called by Dick GM4PPT which confirmed all was well with my equipment. It was only when Colin G4UXH called me when I had signed off with Dick that I found out why no-one had been waiting for me; the system had somehow swallowed my alert. Colin had thought it was strange that I had not alerted for an early morning activation and had decided to check on my usual frequency. A spot brought in another 4 contacts, so securing qualification on 2m.
I moved to 5MHz at 07:46z to work Colin again and he placed another spot for me. A steady run got underway and I had 18 logged on the band around G, GM and GW by the time I signed with Roger G4OWG at 08:06z. Roger had also been my last contact on 2m earlier. However, I had promised Don G0RQL that I would return to 2m before I packed away and doing so enabled him to work me on the band. I went QRT at 08:10z, some 25 minutes behind schedule.
Navigating face on into the wind in the poor visibility, I managed to find my way back to the car in just 19 minutes. I was back on the road by 08:46z, but soon found that the Council was investing in infrastructure repairs and these seemed to be centred upon the A70. Therefore I was unable to make up any time en route to my final summit of the tour. Oh well, it was only around quarter of an hour which is nothing in most people’s book.
Cairn Table GM/SS-120
I arrived at the walkers’ car park at Kames (NS696265) near Muirkirk at 09:47z. Ignoring the information on the noticeboard, I initially took a slightly circuitous route following the tracks shown on the OS map. It was not long before I was avoiding the boggy sections of track that make up much of the bottom half of the ascent. I was certainly pleased to be wearing my 4 season boots, but they are quite heavy and by the time I had reached “The Steel”, my thighs were aching with the effort of walking on the spongy ground. Usually it is my calf muscles that ache. I am quite slow on ascents anyway, so stopping to get some relief from the aches caused further delay. In all it took me 1 hour and 32 minutes to get to the summit. It was now 11:22z and I should have been QRV.
After taking a few photographs in the mist, I erected the pole using a fence post conveniently positioned between the trig point and cairn to support the pole. It was 11:38z when I got onto 2m where I found Bob G6ODU patiently waiting for me. Immediately it was clear that this summit at just a little below 600m asl was a much better proposition than the previous summits. I had 8 contacts in the log when Jack GM4COX called me for another short chat and with the beam turned round to the north, contacts with Steve GM7UAU and Mike GM0OAA followed. Turning the beam back south netted a contact with Mike GW0DSP and then the frequency went quiet. A few calls on CW netted a second contact with Frank G3RMD who I had worked on SSB, but no-one else. We attempted to make contact on 70cms CW, but neither of us heard anything on that band.
I moved to 5MHz at 12:11z where Brian G8ADD was waiting. A total of 15 contacts were made on the band in just under half an hour, including ones with George GI4SRQ and Gerald LA0HK to put some different countries into the 5MHz log. After working Mike G4BLH the frequency went quiet, so I announced a move to 10MHz. Mike informed me that 28MHz was wide open, but I had alerted for the lower frequency, so 10MHz it would be. 10.119MHz was in use, so I slid up around 800Hz and called CQ and the result was another instant pile up. It just amazes me when this happens. First into the log was John G4WSX and the first 8 contacts were 599 both ways. Activity was not as protracted as it had been the day previous, but I still worked a total of 21 contacts around G, DL, LA, GM, PA, EA, HB9, SM, F and OM. The frequency went quiet at 13:03z, so I decided to take a quick look at 28MHz before I dismantled the station. I put a couple of calls out on 28.318MHz, but the antenna was not matching very well and I was only putting out a couple of watts, so I did not spend longer than 5 minutes calling. To be quite honest, non-SOTA DX doesn’t really interest me when I am on a summit. Give me chasers any day; they are the ones that will be there when contacts are needed.
I started my descent at 13:27z, almost an hour later than I had intended, but I am reasonably quick on descents. It took me 46 minutes to get back to the car and for the final part I took the grassy undulating track that the car park noticeboard shows as being the direct route. After stowing the kit, changing footwear and clothing and a snack, I set off for home, another 329 mile drive ahead of me. In fact it was quite some journey. With the motorways flowing freely for once and the boost provided by two days activating the hills, I did not bother stopping and 4 hours and 45 minutes later I arrived home: 48 minutes earlier than my estimated time of 20:00z.
So another 5 summits in the bag and not the ones that I had been planning. Despite the mist and lack of views on some of the summits, I enjoyed the activations and the combination of 144MHz, 5MHz and 10MHz worked well. As usual I am grateful for all the contacts that I made and my particular thanks go to those that took the time to place spots. A special thanks to Colin G4UXH for being curious and not accepting that I would not be up a hill at daybreak! I am not sure where my missing alert went, but in the end nothing else went awry, so I am very pleased with the way things turned out. Hopefully I will be back up in Scotland quite soon.
73, Gerald G4OIG