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GM/SS Trip report: September 2008


#1

We (M1MAJ and M3ZCB) had a week’s holiday in SW Scotland in September
where we managed to do at least one SOTA activation each day, despite
far from optimal weather. Our base was a lovely self catering cottage on
a farm near Maybole in Ayrshire. We intending trying 2m FM on all hills,
though expected that some of them would not have good paths to centres
of population. Weather and time permitting Martyn intended to try 5Mhz,
and we both might try 80m SSB if we had time with 40m and 20m possibly
being tried if we had both time and good weather.

Several people have encouraged me to write up activation reports,
especially of less activated hills, so I hope you aren’t too bored
by the end! It will come in several installments.


#2

12/09/2008 Middlefield Law SS-184

Our first activation was on the way to the cottage, leaving the A70 at
Muirkirk to find parking at NS 6852 2968 for Middlefield Law. There are
several oversized passing places on the single track road where it is
possible to park, the best one is on the N side of the road just past a
fence boundary on S side of road. From here a rough and often boggy
track heads over rough ground to the summit, which has a trig point and
large cairn. We had driven through rain, but though cloudy it was now
dry and we could see several surrounding and mostly higher
summits. Despite the surrounding hills Caroline managed to get 8
contacts on 2m FM, including 2 into the Lake District, followed by 10 on
80m making this her most successful hill in terms of QSOs. A short but
pleasing walk to start the holiday.


#3

13/09/2008 Beneraird SS-201 and Knockdolian SS-267

The following day the weather had turned to low cloud and intermittent
rain, but the forecast promised better weather coming from the SW during
the day. We headed south to try to get the best weather, with the
previously unactivated Beneraird our first target. The hills were still
obscured by cloud as we headed down the A77 coast road, we headed inland
south of Ballantrae to look for somewhere to park on the narrow Lemon
Glen road: there were few passing places and nowhere obvious to park
without causing an obstruction, but near the end of the road we
eventually found a grassy verge at NX 1110 8137 where we could pull off
the road.

We set off along the hill track towards New Luce in low cloud and
drizzle. The old drove road provides a long (about 3 miles) but very
gentle ascent - generally good walking, but with some boggy sections,
with the final short ascent to Beneraird’s trig point being just off the
track. We were in cloud for the whole ascent, with little visibility
though it had at least stopped raining by the time we reached the
summit.

Caroline set up 2m FM on drier ground near the trig point: she had
expected a good path to Cumbria, but contacts were all within Scotland,
until just before closing down when she heard M3TMX - it was good to
work Jordan in South Cumbria, despite the bulk of the Lake District in
the way. One local contact remarked that he had done VHF Field days
from this hill, and had found the best VHF position was not the summit
but down by the drove road (some of which would be in the activation
area). Martyn worked a good number of stations on 5Mhz and 80m,
including summit to summits with GW0AOD on NW-011, and G7AAU and G7AAV
on the Wrekin (Caroline also working them on 80m). Just as we packed up
the cloud lifted from the south, transforming the feel of the hill and
giving good views to Luce Bay and the Rhinns of Galloway. As we retraced
our steps it was good to see the views we had missed on the way up,
including invitingly on the other side of the valley, our next target:
Knockdolian.

We parked on the verge of the B7044, where there was room for one car
near the Stinchar Valley Trails sign to Knockdolian (800ft ascent)
around NX 1205 8485. There is probably further parking a little further
SW opposite Finnart Cottage. This walk was a complete contrast from the
previous walk: a short steep walk in sunshine, ascending a field to the
ridge and then meandering up mostly grassy paths round and over rocky
outcrops, until the trig point came into sight. From there there were
good coastal views, including out to Ailsa Craig. Caroline stuggled to
qualify the hill on 2m, succeeding thanks to GM3VNW, GM0FSZ and MM0LGR
travelling in the same car along the A77, and then moved to 80m, Martyn
having easily qualified on 5MHz. Although one of the smaller hills, the
weather and position made it my favourite hill if the week.


#4

14/09/2008 Shalloch on Minnoch SS-042

On Sunday the weather started fine, but with some cloud and the forecast
of rain coming over in the afternoon. Despite this we decided to risk
one of the higher Galloway Forest hills. We parked at the Forestry
Commission car park at Stinchar Bridge, and started off on the Forestry
trail to Cornish Hill, which was easy walking. We emerged from the trees
to get views of our target, but noted that that higher hills including
Merrick beyond it were cloud topped. Past the summit of Cornish we left
the made path to make our way southwards towards a fence which we
followed west for a while before heading towards the ridge line. This
was hard pathless going in at times boggy knee deep vegetation, and as
we reached the ridge line we were relieved to spot a faint path which
headed up the ridge. We followed this until it faded on the steeper
final ascent. As we made our way slowly up, we heard Robin GM7PKT
calling from CS-002 - we weren’t yet in the activation area but worked
him as chasers.

Once on the summit plateau we made our way towards the trig point, just
as the the clouds settled on the hill obscuring all views. The trig
point isn’t the highest point but is well within the activation area and
the adjacent shelter gives the only available protection from
wind. There was plenty of room to set up the dipole and Martyn qualified
the hill on 5MHz. This hill gave good 2m FM take off, and Caroline
worked into G, GI and EI as well as GM. Robin called us back to give us
both summit to summit contacts, interestingly with poorer signal reports
than from the ascent. Just as we were about to pack up we heard G1JTD on
the Old Man of Coniston, who we managed to work before his battery died.

Though we were in cloud it hadn’t started raining, but we decided that
we should get pack up and start our descent before it did, so gave 80m a
miss. We tried to find the true summit, but visibility was now so bad it
was hard to find the exact spot on the mostly featureless top. After
less then 100m of descent we were back below the cloud descending along
the faint ridge path over Caerloch Dhu and Cairnadloch to emerge by a
passing place sign on the minor road around NX 3944 9480: an easier
descent path than the ascent. We had also managed to stay ahead of the
weather front and the rain didn’t arrive until we were back at the
cottage. We had made the right decision and had a good walk and good
activation.


#5

15/09/2008 Hill of Stake SS-155

We woke the following morning to find heavy rain, and the forecast of
more rain, though with a suggestion that going north or west might be
less bad. This was our day for making wrong decisions. The first one was
to try to get a summit in despite the weather. We dodged the rain for a
while by stocking up on food for the rest of the week, but then made the
second wrong decision to head north and make Hill of Stake our
target. It was still raining heavily when reached the Muirshiel Country
Park. We spoke to one of the rangers who advised that "beyond the mines"
the route to the summit was pathless and boggy at the best of times and
said that he would not go up there in today’s weather!

We had itchy feet, so decided to go into maximum waterproof mode and at
least walk up to the mines. The ranger had told us that one of the
ruined mine buildings had a green door behind which was a room with
benches and a table where we could take shelter, and after a 4km walk
along the old mine track this provided a welcome refuge. Having refueled
ourselves with cake here we should have made the decision to head
straight back along the track. Inexplicably we didn’t and instead headed
up a faint path southwards on the west side of the stream. The path
disappeared and we picked our way southwards over a flattish boggy area
in poor visibility. As we contemplated turning back as time was running
short, the cloud briefly lifted enough for us to see the summit not far
away, tempting us to the final ascent. It was still raining heavily when
we reached the trig point with adjacent small cairn, and we decided that
the only option was a “hit and run” activation on 2m FM, using VX7 and
rucksac antenna. The hill has a good take off to the Central Lowlands,
and it took less than 15 minutes to get the minimum 4 contacts each, and
be off back down the hill: not very satisfying, but the best we could do
in the conditions.

On the return we headed to the east of the stream, walking down one of
the old mine inclines until it stopped abruptly where the stream had
washed it away: with the stream in spate we could not cross it so
continued along the east of the stream until it crossed the mine
road. Although the mine track was easy walking, the rain was now driving
into our faces, and penetrating our waterproofs. We had to drive through
several flooded roads on the way back to the cottage. What had we been
doing walking in that much rain? That was an activation too far!


#6

16/09/2008 Brown Carrick Hill SS-260

On Tuesday it wasn’t actually raining when we got up, but that didn’t
last. We decided to be less adventurous, and decided to take a look at
the nearby Brown Carrick Hill. We drove out and found that there was
room to pull off the road near the toposcope at NS 2991 1644. However it
was now raining heavily, and we could not even see the three antennas on
the hill. We decided to employ plan B and visit Culzean Castle a little
further down the coast. By 4pm we had been round the visitor centre, the
gas house and the castle itself, it was no longer raining, and the cloud
had lifted a bit.

The choice was between exploring more of the Culzean estate or going
back to Brown Carrick: no contest really, and we headed back to the
toposcope. We could now see both hill and antennas, and were soon
walking up the meandering track to the transmitter stations. We walked
past them, taking the gate to the right of the final MoD station with
its warning notices, and then a vague path down into the boggy area
between the two summits of Brown Carrick, over a fence and the along the
rough top. We followed a faint path on the ridge, but as we approached a
stile in the final fence the rain suddenly returned. Then we noticed
that the stile had exposed barbed wire above. We thought about setting
up the station by the fence (well inside the activation area) but
spotted a gate we could climb a little further along, and headed to the
trig point.

There was little hope of a hit and run 2m FM activation here, so we
needed to be able to set up FT-817s and dipole. It was time to deploy
our new 4 person bothy bag (having previously found that our 2 person
one didn’t really have room for us and radio gear). Martyn set up the
dipole and Caroline’s rucksac stayed outside holding up the rucksac
special antenna. Caroline needed to qualify this hill to reach 250
activator points, but only managed 1 contact with 2 callsigns on 2m
FM. Martyn found 5Mhz quiet until he self-spotted, and when that went
quiet Caroline took over the dipole on 80m to get another 5 contacts.
The last contact, Carolyn G6WRW, remarked that we were out late, and
this was a timely reminder to pack up and get off the hill before the
light completely faded. We still ended up the day pretty wet, but not as
bad as yesterday.


#7

17/09/2008 Craigenreoch SS-135 and Troweir Hill SS-257

The forecast had been for a better day, and we had hoped to do
Cairnsmore of Cairsphain, one of the more challenging hills in this area
and probably close to the limits of our walking capabilities. However
although it wasn’t raining it was still misty with low cloud, so we
decided to stick to lower hills.

We headed along the pleasant single track moorland road from Crosshill
and up the Nick of the Balloch. As we headed up the pass we noticed an
oversized passing place where we might park, and then near the top
another similar at around NX 3485 9238. We parked here, and walked a few
yards back along the road to where we had seen a rough rocky track
ascending steeply. Where this reached the forestry fence it turned back
and then faded, and we continued up. Before long we were on Rowantree
Hill which lies in the activation area of Craigenreoch: however the true
summit and trig point are still about a mile south west. A path
re-emerged running in roughly the same direction as the fence but at
varying distances from it. We followed this to the trig point: it was
worth the extra effort for the drier slightly higher ground near the
trig point and wider views. The trig point has a hole in top which can
be used for an antenna support. Caroline managed just 4 contacts on 2m
FM before moving to 80m for another 12, Martyn having had 11 contacts on
5MHz. Surprisingly, Craigenreoch had only had one activation previous to
ours: it’s by far the easiest walk we’ve had in Scotland for a 2 point
hill: only about 175m of ascent and the activation area is less them 1km
from the road.

Did we have time for another hill? The only one nearby we might be able
to fit in the time available was Troweir Hill, but despite being only 1
point was both more ascent and a longer walk than Craigenreoch. Martyn
had been the first activator of Troweir in 2005, and that activation had
been one of the significant triggers in Caroline deciding to get
licenced herself: she had been impressed by armchair copy on 2m SSB with
stations in Devon and Kent! In 2005 we had done a circular walk starting
from the car part at the south end of Girvan, walking east on the “hill
track to Barr”, returning on the track south of Piedmont Hill.

To save time we parked by the cemetry at NX 1867 9556 and headed up our
previous return route, a pleasant track, though unsurprisingly wet in
places after yesterday’s rain. After heading east and then north we left
the track just after a stream to head up the hill, finding a gate we
could climb in the fence below a small rocky outcrop, to reach the true
summit beyond it, marked only by a small cairn with a stick. Caroline
attached her Sotabeam rucksac antenna to the stick and worked her way to
7 2m FM contacts, including two in GI. Meanwhile Martyn had a good run
on first 5MHz and then 80m, making a record for him of 25 QSOs, before
Caroline managed to persaude him to let her have a go on 80m. It turned
out to be a pleasant and successful activation: the cloud broke while we
were up there, with the low evening sun turning the grass golden.
Troweir is an unspectacular hill, but we’ve had good propogation on our
two visits. It was again starting to get dark as we got back to the car,
but we ended the day drier than we started!


#8

18/09/2008 Craiglee SS-152

There are two SOTA GM/SS Craiglees, only a few miles apart; our target
was the more northerly and slightly lower one near Loch Doon. The
morning was again cloudy and misty, but the mist had lifted by the time
we were parking by Loch Doon Castle (a reconstruction of a ruin rescued
when the loch was raised to turn it into a reservoir).

A made forestry path signed Craiglea (sic) leaves from opposite the car
park, and we followed this up until it turned to descend, after which we
followed an unmade, boggy path which faded as it climbed up the Wee Hill
of Craigmulloch. From its summit we had good views of Cairnsmore of
Cairsphain which was now clear of cloud and looking very
inviting. However we had to turn away from it to descend over rough
ground to the Nick of the Mahim and then find a way through the rocky
outcrops of Craiglee, to its trig point. There was now a cold wind
blowing, and Caroline improvised some shelter from her rucksac and the
trig point, while Martyn set up the dipole slghtly downhill away from
the wind. Caroline took 20 minutes to get her first 2m FM contact, and
another 20 minutes to qualify the hill, after which she moved to 80m,
Martyn having easily qualified the hill on 5MHz.

Despite having both put on 3 extra layers of clothing and thermal hats,
we had become chilled so were glad to be moving again. We headed off in
a more southerly direction aiming for a break in the trees near a fence,
finding a faint path down firebreaks. Unfortunately as we were almost at
the forest road, the path was completely blocked by fallen trees: we
spent some time trying to find a way through, not helped by the
difficulty of manouvering rucksacs with poles attached through
trees. Eventually we found a way through by a stream, emerging onto the
forest drive with a fair bit of vegetation attached. The forest drive
then provided an easy walk back to the car. A shorter walk as we
needed to pack up to leave the cottage.


#9

19/08/2008 Cairn Hill SS-194

The weather forecast had suggested that the weather would be reasonable,
so we had arranged with Martyn’s mother to break our return journey in
Blackpool to allow us to try to get another hill in. Unfortunately the
weather didn’t match expectations, and it was cloudy and drizzly as we
packed up the car, and we left in persistent drizzle and passed through
heavier rain. By the time we reached Sanquhar the rain had stopped,
though the hill tops were still in cloud.

Cairn Hill is a one point hill on the south side of the Lowthers, which
unlike its more impressive neighbours had not previously been activated.
It lies not far off the A76, which was on our route home. Coming from
the north we missed the minor road sharp left at the north end of
Enterkinfoot, and had to turn round. The road (signed Coshogle) is very
narrow with no obvious passing places between the railway bridge and the
river bridge, where there is a room for a couple of cars to park at
NS 8576 0532. The map shows a path heading towards Kirkbride, we didn’t
find a path, but the grassy valley gave an easy route to the partially
derelict Kirkbride, where we turned right through the yard and took the
faint path north over Stroquhain Burn and through another field. Beyond
that we headed up Holebrae towards the ridge line, and then west over
Kirkbride Hill to Cairn Hill itself.

The cloud level was above the level of the hill, and we had views over
the Nith valley below the cloud, but the Lowther hills remained in
cloud: this was the right height of hill for the day! There is no trig
point, just a modest cairn at the junction of three fences. Martyn set
up the dipole for 5Mhz slightly down the hill, and after a slow start
had 14 contacts, then trying 40m but only making one contact. Caroline
found a fence post by the cairn to support her rucksac antenna, but
didn’t really expect to be able to qualify this relatively enclosed hill
on 2m FM: however her first call was answered by M0SKY in Whitehaven
with 58/59 reports: ah ha we have a good path to Cumbria! Despite the
good start it took 45 minutes to get 5 good contacts (also failing to
exchange reports with MM0RWJ/M despite several attempts - sorry Rab),
which she followed up with 8 80m contacts in 10 minutes. Then we needed
to be on our way down the hill and heading towards Blackpool.


#10

Finally a summary for anyone still reading:

Over the week in Scotland we achieved:

  • 10 activations, 2 of them first activations
  • Caroline reaching 250 activator points and 100 activator uniques
  • Between us 271 QSOs from summits all using 5w, 70 on 2m FM,
    83 on 80m SSB, 117 on 60m SSB and 1 on 40m SSB.

Equipment used on the hills:

Radios: 2 Yaesu FT817s, Kenwood TH-F7E (for mobile operation), Icom
IC-E91 (for Martyn to use D-Star DV to GB7DW which was accessible from
several of the hills), Yaesu VX-7R (for when the weather was too bad for
anything else)

Antennas: Inverted V Linked Dipole (10,20,40,60,80m),
Sotabeams Rucksac Special for 2m Fm, Telescopic whip for 2m/70cm.

Batteries: Various 3-cell LiPo packs.

Caroline M3ZCB


#11

In reply to M3ZCB:
Thank you for an informative and interesting account of your SOTA holiday in Scotland.
You certainly made the most of a rather wet week, and you did well to activate in the circumstances.
Enjoyed working you both on some of the rare ones.
73,
Frank


#12

In reply to G3RMD:

In reply to M3ZCB:
Enjoyed working you both on some of the rare ones.
Many thanks for the spots you provided, especially the moves to 80m.

Some of the hills are not only rare for SOTA: We didn’t see any other
walkers out on the hills for the whole week! We saw the odd person near
some car parks, and a handful of 4x4s, but otherwise had the hills to
ourselves.

Caroline.


#13

Thank you Caroline for some extremely useful information about your trip. I am also a fan of the Galloway Hills and sometime activator there myself. The details you have placed in the summit pages will be of great use in the future and is much appreciated. I hope to return there next year.

Phil G4OBK


#14

Yes, thanks Caroline. Useful stuff for me too - we are in that area in the first week of August. I hope we get better weather though! Thanks too for posting your notes and tips in the Summits pages on here - very useful.

One we are looking at is the previously unactivated Ailsa Craig GM/SS-246, on the tiny island of the same name. I know from internet accounts that there is time to climb to the summit within the time window afforded by the boat crossings, but what kind of activating time could be spent I don’t know. Someting to look forward to anyway.

Tom M1EYP


#15

In reply to M1EYP:

Thanks too for posting your notes and tips in the Summits pages on
here - very useful.
If time allows I’ll try to add some more for GM/SS hills done on previous
trips. However I’ve been promising myself to make studying for the
intermediate my next radio target, so should give that priority!

One we are looking at is the previously unactivated Ailsa Craig
GM/SS-246, on the tiny island of the same name. I know from internet
accounts that there is time to climb to the summit within the time
window afforded by the boat crossings, but what kind of activating
time could be spent I don’t know. Someting to look forward to anyway.

I did a bit of research on Ailsa Craig before our trip, but decided that
besides the boat logistics, one might also need to obtain permission to
set up a station in the nature reserve, and decided to stick to dry(ish)
land. It is a lovely interesting looking island. Good luck on getting out
there.

Caroline
M3ZCB.