Southern Scotland one day outing
Friday 24th June 2011
With Paul G4MD heavily involved with his work, this month’s SOTA activations had to be carried out without the benefit of his company. It was therefore a case of determining where to go without impacting upon the activation programme that we had set ourselves. This meant the summits would need to be in Scotland, preferably away from the M74 corridor. I had already earmarked the Lammermuir Hills for such an outing as they are further east and therefore not easily accessible from Paul’s QTH in Stourbridge. I had already carried a number of activations in the area while based in Northumberland on holiday and 4 conveniently grouped summits in the area remained. The question was, could I activate all of them in one go without having to book overnight accommodation?
After looking at a basic itinerary for the 4 hills, I decided that with an early start, all of them could be activated within a day. To get that early start would mean leaving home some time during the previous evening and allowing time for a break en route, I found that I could leave it as late as 11 p.m. before leaving home if I kept that break down to an hoiur. The post activation return journey could be a more protracted affair and I set myself a nominal target of 8 a.m. to get back to Northampton which allowed for a decent sleep in the car en route.
It was actually 21:05z (10.05 p.m.) when I set out on the evening of Thursday 23rd June. The route was a familiar one - north up the M1 to join the A1, past Newcastle and onto Berwick. Only then would I be in relatively unknown territory. I took it steady as I had time in hand and the traffic flowed well until I met a diversion off the A1 at Catterick for a short distance, but otherwise there were no delays. Just north of Morpeth I parked up in a convenient lay-by at 00:50z to get some rest. I wound my seat back and used my jacket as a pillow and was quickly asleep, waking about an hour and a half later feeling quite refreshed.
After a snack (breakfast?), I was back on the road and it wasn’t long before I turned left off the A1 and headed towards Duns. This was where the driving became more challenging – avoiding the numerous wood pigeons that sat in the road. As if this was not enough to contend with, the area was alive with rabbits and I saw 3 hares as well. Just after Duns, on a winding stretch of road, I came around a corner at around 20 mph to be faced with a Red Deer doe. Once it had recovered from the shock of my headlights (it was daylight, but I was still running lights for safety reasons), it cantered off up the road before disappearing down a driveway. It was an absolutely marvellous sight.
It was 04:00z when I pulled up at the parking spot for my first summit, Meikle Says Law GM/SS-148. I had not passed one vehicle since leaving the A1 – absolute bliss! The weather was cloudy and grey and the temperature a “seasonal” 4 degrees C. I was 45 minutes early, but I decided to get on with the job in hand and it was 04:15 when I started my descent. Yes, the route to this particular summit starts with a 60m descent, a fact that I was well aware of on account of the report by Andy MM0FMF. I walked past Faseny Cottage to the ford crossing the stream which was in quite deep on account of the recent rains. After trying to find a crossing point upstream, I decided that there was no option, but to use the ford and risk getting wet feet – not what I wanted at this early stage. Fortunately, I got across without any water getting into my boots. While at the ford I was hounded by a noisy Oystercatcher that obviously didn’t like anyone on his patch. The pole sticking up from my backpack certainly kept him at bay.
The track ascended up to the 385m contour and then turned right towards Dun Side and on to Shiel Rig. The higher I got, the worse the track became. This route has largely been abandoned by the Estate for vehicular access and with a patchwork of burnt moorland, new heather and older vegetation, it got increasingly difficult to navigate. I was using compass and map for this outing as my daughter now has my GPS for Geocaching and I’ve not replaced it. I could certainly have done with it to lay in a few waypoints for my return journey. Anyway, my navigation got me to the trig at 05:28z – far too early for an activation alerted for 07:00z.
I took my time setting up and erected both the 2m beam and the HF linked dipole. Before getting on air, I phoned home to let Bev know I was okay and I then spotted myself wondering whether there would be any chasers in their shacks at this early hour. I need not have worried as both Graham G4JZF and Mark G0VOF were there on 2m SSB, but after working them the frequency went quiet. I tried CW and worked Mark again, but further calls on both modes bore no further contacts. I therefore decided to try FM and found Dave GM6SZJ/M on his way into work. After a pleasant chat, Ken GM0AXY called in to qualify the summit for me and John GM7PFY/M in his lorry near Stirling made the log look decent. I returned to 144.333MHz SSB at 07:00z and spent several minutes calling there in case anyone had not seen the spots. Unfortunately I later found out that Don G0RQL had called me on frequency at 06:45z which was when I was speaking to Ken.
Wanting to put in an appearance on at least one HF band, I moved to 5MHz. I could hear nothing there, nor on 7MHz or any other band in fact. I dropped the antenna to inspect the feed point. It took a few minutes to find that the “live” leg of the dipole had neatly separated from the solder tag. I was just getting it sorted out when a member of the Estate management team drove up in his Landrover, arriving at the summit from the south-west - completely the opposite direction from which I had arrived. We had a chat about SOTA and other things and then he left me to get on with my HF operation. At least with the antenna sorted out I could now hear signals, but Volmet on 5MHz was very weak. Several calls on 5.3985MHz brought no response, so I moved to 7.118MHz to find it occupied. After looking for a clear frequency, I spotted myself on 7.148MHz and worked Alan G0JUS in Maidstone. However, it turned out that he was waiting for a sked on that frequency. Fortunately 7.118MHz was now clear, so I spotted myself once more and managed to work 4 regular chasers, though be it those at some distance. The skip was long, but strangely not long enough to get to the continent.
After working Bob G3VXJ there were no more takers, so I decided to go QRT and was ready to depart by 07:52z. The difficulty now was trying to find the track again and I ended up getting too far south and on the wrong side of a couple of streams. When I reached the ford I had to undergo another bout of vocal assault from the Oystercatcher, but at least he kept away this time. Then at the bottom of the final ascending section up to the car, I got cramp in my left calf muscle. This was the first time this had happened to me on an activation while walking and it was to affect me for the rest of the day, but I wasn’t going to let it bother me. I arrived at the car at 09:05z.
The drive to the next summit Spartleton GM/SS-182 was only some 4 miles. I parked on the verge to the south-east of Millknowe at 09:17z. Following the lead given by Derek G1ZJQ, I used what I thought was the gate he described as giving access to the hill, but it turned out that it was not the correct one. The one I wanted was to the left side of the driveway up to Millknowe as it bends right towards the farm. I had gone through a gate that gave access to a field to the south east of the farm, so I had to traverse across to the correct route. The farmer looked at me somewhat strangely, but did not make any comment. The ascent was very easy and the track rose steadily up to 390m where there was a junction with a track going left which took me all the way to the summit at 468m. It was 10:04z when I reached the trig point, my progress having been slowed somewhat by the pain in my left leg, but I was still well ahead of schedule.
I used the trig to support the mast and set up both the 2m beam and the HF dipole once more. The rig was still sat on 7.118MHz and on switch-on I was pleased to hear Steve DL/G1INK/P on Ostenberg DM/NW-225 which got me my first contact. I noticed the SWR kept tripping on the 857, so I resolved to carry out further investigation before using the antenna again. Moving to 2m SSB at 10:30z, I was quickly found by Mark G0VOF and then Robin GM7PKT/P called me from Meall a’Bhuiridh GM/SS-017. Further contacts followed on both SSB and CW with a number of regular chasers. At one point someone informed me that Don G0RQL was on frequency and I wrote his call in the log. I was then called by John M0JDK and having Don’s call in front of me I temporarily confused the two and it was not until the real G0RQL called me later that my brain finally sorted out who was who. Maybe I need more than one and a half hour’s sleep to undertake activations!
The last contact on 2m SSB was with Phil G4OBK. I then spent 20 minutes trying to resolve the HF antenna problem without success. Reluctantly I packed up at 11:25z and was back at the car by 12:04z. Lunch was a brief affair. I decided against sandwiches at this stage as I did not want to get indigestion on the next ascent, so I just settled for a cereal bar and a drink. The drive to the third summit, Dirrington Great Law GM/SS-225 took around 25 minutes which provided a welcome break in the proceedings. I parked up north of Dronshiel Farm at 12:36 and chose to cross the fields to the north of the farm so as not to wind up the dogs which had heard my arrival and were already barking loudly. Unfortunately, trying to get out of the field and onto the hillside was not that easy as the gates had been fixed shut with wire across the top, but I found I could easily stride the one in the corner of the field.
The L shaped band of trees shown on the OS map no longer exists. What does exist is furrowed ground where the trees once stood. I struck out across this area and then tried to cut across to the track that ascends the north-east side of the hill. None of this proved to be an easy task, in fact it was quite energy sapping in the now decent heat of the day. I lost quite a lot of time over the rough ground, but progress improved rapidly once I was on the track which runs on a line west south west from Dronshiel Farm along a line of Grouse butts. Higher up the track turned right, then twisted a bit and as it curved round to the north of the summit I found an access route going steeply upwards. On reaching the fallen trig point, I looked at my watch and was surprised to see that my attempt at cutting the corner had cost me quite a lot of time – it was now 13:42z. Fortunately I was still running early.
I used the trig to support the pole and once again set up both antennas. I was operational by 13:58, but no-one was listening on 144.333MHz. I therefore tuned around and found Robin GM7PKT/P once more, this time on Creise GM/WS-019. After another enjoyable contact with him, I moved to my working frequency and took Ken GM3ENJ with me. Caroline MM3ZCB/P and Martyn MM1MAJ/P followed on from Carn Mearg GM/CS-016 and then Jack GM4COX/P called in for a chat from An Caisteal GM/SS-007. Eventually the beam got turned south and Mark G0VOF got a look in at 14:29z and spotted me. Roger G0TRB and Graham G4JZF followed in close order. The use of CW netted just Mark G0VOF on this summit.
I moved to HF at 14:42z and managed a chat with Angius G3TXL in Devon on 5.3985MHz, but thereafter there were no takers. Steve GW7AAV did kindly spot me, but I was not strong enough at his QTH to be workable. Checking 40m, conditions appeared little better as the skip was still long and I only worked Don G0RQL and Jeff G4ELZ on 7.124MHz. The dipole was still playing up with the SWR indicator being triggered on speech peaks, but it seemed to be working slightly better on this summit than it had been on the previous one. I closed down at 14:58z and once packed up, I set off down the hill at 15:12z to reach the car just 25 minutes later. It is much easier when you know the route to take and which areas to avoid.
I now set off across country to get to the final summit of the day, Black Hill GM/SS-253, which is on the outskirts of Earlston. I arrived to find the parking spot empty and started my ascent at 16:20z. The route to this hill fort summit took me around the back of the hill until it was possible to access the shallower slopes of the hill. Even so, it required quite an effort to climb as I was starting to run out of energy and my leg was still aching. The wind was blowing hard when I reached the summit and I slumped down against the trig and started my activation with a cereal bar and a bottle of water. It wasn’t long before I realised just how cold it was and with the knowledge that the HF dipole probably wouldn’t be any better on this summit, I decided to just put up the 2m beam and see how it went.
At 17:31z I spotted myself and it wasn’t long before Roger G0TRB was on frequency. Next up was Don G0RQL, followed by John GW4BVE and Mark G0VOF, so the summit was qualified in quick time. Now I could relax. Mark made his 4th CW QSO of the day with me, but once again there were no further takers on the mode and a return to SSB did not elicit any further action either. I therefore decided to change to vertical polarisation and try FM. This produced two further contacts. I was in two minds as to whether to set up the HF dipole to extend the activation, but decided against it on account of the fact that the temperature was now descending quite rapidly, so I went QRT at 18:20z. Less than half an hour’s walk saw me back at the car for 19:00z. Now at last I could have my sandwiches!
After phoning home and refuelling the car in Earlston, I set off home at 19:30z down the A68 to just south of Otterburn where I took the A696 towards Newcastle. I only managed an hour and a quarter of driving before I had to pull over for a sleep. Again I was asleep very quickly, but this time I awoke with a headache at 00:00z, most likely due to being dehydrated. After taking a couple of chewable Disprin and drinking a bottle of water, I felt considerably better and got on my way again at 00:20z. I took a second stop at Woolley Edge services just south of Leeds for more sleep and the final part of the journey was achieved between 04:50z and 06:40z to get me home for breakfast. I was surprised to find that I had had sufficient sleep to allow me to carry on as normal throughout the day, though I must admit that keeping my eyes open during the Grand Prix qualifying was rather difficult!
The question now arises as to whether I would do this activation format again. Having thought about it the short answer is yes, though I would definitely leave earlier and get more sleep on the way up. Having a car that has cruise control certainly helped with the travel. There are summits that would suit this type of outing, so I am starting work on an itinerary to see what I can get in.
Many thanks to everyone that supported me, particularly the early risers and those that spotted me. I always appreciate the level of support that I get for my activations. Hopefully next time things will go a little more smoothly on HF.
73 to all, Gerald G4OIG