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SOTA on Tour part 2 - The Sequel


#1

Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the shack…

Saturday 14th July 2018 - The Cloud G/SP-015

Gig: Joe Longthorne
Venue: Imperial Hotel, Blackpool

Another day, another gig. Another one where location, soundcheck timings etc are not conducive to a point-scoring activation. So another trip up The Cloud!

I’d not done FT8 on 6m for a while, so I took the SB6 Moxon, this time remembering to add the coax to the antenna bag! Five contacts were made from a very hot summit - four to G stations, and one into EI. The first two contacts were with SOTA chasers, so that was a bonus.

I also tried 6m SSB, 6m CW and 2m FM - but failed to solicit any contacts on any of those.


#2

Joe Longthorne’s 50th Anniversary Tour hits the road properly tomorrow. The next few days will see concerts in Edinburgh, Leeds and Blackpool. The next few days will see activations in G/LD, GM/SS, G/SB, G/TW and maybe G/NP.

20m FT8 / 2m FM.


#3

Thursday 30th August 2018 - Hutton Roof Crags G/LD-052 & Arthur’s Seat GM/SS-272

Gig: Joe Longthorne
Venue: The Brunton, Musselburgh

So to the start of an intensive few weeks of tour dates with the show through the Autumn. The first one demanded a “bit of a drive” from Cheshire up to Edinburgh, so I set off first thing and programmed in a couple of activations.

First stop was the Plain Quarry car park and picnic area, near Burton-in-Kendal, Cumbria. Hutton Roof Crags is an easy walk up only a gradual gradient for about 20 minutes. The limestone landscape is pretty striking.

I didn’t have a map with me, but I’d done this ascent several times and was confident I could find my way through the maze of path options - which aren’t on the map anyway!

On all of the activations on these four days, I would carry FT-817, SOTA pole, 20m groundplane, Windows 10 tablet for datamodes, interface and Palm Paddle and microphone. On all summits though, I attempted to qualify using just 2m FM on the handheld with rubber duck. It was a work trip after all, so being on time for soundcheck was always at the back (and sometimes the front) of my mind.

On this activation, I easily qualified with five QSOs - 3 on 2m FM, and 2 on 2m C4FM (Fusion). The final contact was S2W (SOTA-to-WOTA) with Reg 2E0LDF/P on LDW-011.

The walk down was an easy amble, then it was time to head up to the border, and clock the miles in towards Edinburgh. I arrived in Scotland’s traditional capital city in plenty of time, and the activation of Arthur’s Seat was feasible.

I followed the one way system around Holyrood Park to the highest point of the estate road, from where wide green paths strike up pretty directly to the lofty looking summit. Even from the roadside, you could see that the hill, and especially the summit, were very busy indeed.

This was still the case up by the summit trig point, where the ground was very rocky. My thoughts quickly turned to trying to get away with a simple VHF handheld activation!

I didn’t really want to be up here too long anyway. A group of young guys (early 20s) were up there with a crate of Brewdog ales. They was very loud, and inappropriately vulgar, given that there were families with young children there.

Five contacts were made on the handie, 4 on 2m FM and 1 on 2m C4FM. It was great to speak to Ken GM0AXY and Christine GM4YMM.

The small summit was far too busy, and I was pleased to vacate it. It was now just a short drive to Musselburgh for soundcheck. We had a great show, made all the better by a fantastic audience. In fact, all the audiences in Scotland are brilliant, and I have to say, significantly better than their counterparts south of the border.

It was a longer drive back into Edinburgh city centre for the youth hostel I had booked. The late check-in rendered me to a top bunk in the dormitory, but it was comfortable and I slept well.

Friday 31st August 2018 - The Cheviot G/SB-001 & Ros Castle G/SB-009

No gig - day off!

I hadn’t really thought of activating The Cheviot until an online chat with Steve 2E0EFP where a possible joint expedition was mentioned. As it turned out, a mutually convenient time was not going to be possible, but with the idea festering in my head, I decided to go for it anyway.

I had only ever done this summit once, and that was on the Pennine Way, so this waould involve a completely new route for me. I parked on the grass close to the furthest place you are allowed to drive to on the road from Langleeford, then set about walking down the lane towards the border ridge.

Part way down this road, I spotted a footpath sign marked “Cheviot 2.25km” pointing up the hill. I originally intended walking right up to the saddle between The Cheviot and the very short-lived former SOTA summit Hedgehope Law, before doubling back on the Pennine Way to the summit of The Cheviot. A group of three girls and a lad that I was trying (but failing) to keep up with seemed to be heading that way and went off ahead.

The climb up this section was mostly along a defined path, but the last section up to the ridge was rough and undefined. Firebreaks in the heather, and the unusually dry ground, made progress easy enough however.

It was a good feeling to be walking on flagstones on flatter ground; I knew I must be close to the summit. The tall trig point soon came into view, and it did look like the hill was trying to sink beneath it!

I put out a call on 2m FM with the handheld, and my good friend Jim G0CQK came straight back. I was keen to get away with just a handie activation again, and try to squeeze a second summit into the day. There was a bit of a gap and I was starting to look for patches of ground firm enough to erect the 20m GP. But then a couple more stations from the Tyneside area came back, followed by Lesa M0BQD and George G2ARY who I’d not heard for years!

M3RNO made it a sixth contact for the activation, as the group of four seen earlier arrived at the trig. They were faster than me on the lower ascent, so it really must have been a longer way round via the saddle for them to arrive half-an-hour later than me. Indeed Jim G0CQK advised me not to descent that way, which I was considering.

To start the descent, I went back down the way I had approached the summit, but instead cutting right down to the track, I remained on the ridge and went over Scale Hill, passing many significantly engineered grouse shooting hides.

This path dropped me down right at the car park, and was probably the way Jim G0CQK assumed I had ascended.

The next target was the very easy Ros Castle G/SB-009. I let the satnav lead the way. It told me I had arrived, but I could see the road ascending much higher, so I continued up to it’s highest point, from where I could see the distinctive little hill rising to my left.

I turned the car around to face the direction to be heading off later, and pulled it onto a spacious verge. Fatigue was setting in after a long hot day on The Cheviot, and I hobbled slowly up the short and well-defined path, spiralling up to the summit.

Unfortunately on this hill, I couldn’t buy a contact on 2m FM - well not with just the handie and helical antenna anyway. I was on a time limit to make the youth hostel for an evening meal, but made the decision that it would be faster overall to set up for HF.

It seemed conditions were pretty rubbish, and it took me 26 minutes to record five QSOs on 20m CW. I had guessed that CW would be faster and easier than FT8, but I think I was wrong! Anyway, three of my five QSOs were into the west / mid-west of the USA, while another was special event station LZ1146SPS, so it wasn’t all bad news!

I hurriedly packed away and got down to the car. I had the thick end of 100 miles to drive to get to the YHA at Osmotherley. I telephoned and asked if I could order a meal for my arrival at 8.30pm BST. These was agreed - I just had to get there.

Fortunately, I did arrive at Cote Ghyll bang on 8.30pm, and got stuck straight into the locally made steak pie, double-cooked chips, mushy peas and gravy, accompanied by a bottle of local ale. Absolutely delicious!

As if things couldn’t get any better, apart from two couples in private rooms, I was the only hosteller booked in - so I had a whole dormitory to myself - and it was en suite too!

I had a shower, change and put my gadgets on charge. It seems the YHAs all now have a light, plug socket and two USB charging points at every bedside - a very welcome development.

I went back downstairs for another bottle of ale, before having a very comfortable and restful night’s sleep.

Saturday 1st September 2018 - Gisborough Moor G/TW-003, Urra Moor-Round Hill G/TW-001 & Cringle Moor-Drake Howe G/TW-002

Gig: Joe Longthorne
Venue: City Varieties, Leeds

I was wide awake at 0530 BST in the YHA at Osmotherley. I hadn’t ordered breakfast, so decided to get straight out on the hills. I had eaten quite late the night before, so wasn’t too hungry anyway.

I popped the researched postcode in the satnav and allowed it to direct me up onto Gisborough Moor. Which, strangely, is not spelt like the nearby town of Guisborough…? I pulled the Dacia into the side of a wide farm drive entrance, and started walking along the track opposite.

There is barely any ascent on this track. Well there is, but it goes on for such a long way that it feels almost flat. In fact, it went on for a much longer way than I remembered when I did this hill previously, many years ago with Jimmy and Liam when they were kids. I started to wonder if I was on the right track (as you do)!

Anyway, I plodded on and eventually got to the right turning on the track that I was anticipating. I could now see the large summit cairn and shelter. I started on the handheld, hoping for a quick and easy activation, but only managed two QSOs, one of whom was a leading SOTA chaser and activator in Phil G4OBK.

It was necessary to deploy the 20m GP in order to qualify the activation, which I did easily by adding four QSOs on FT8. The walk back “down” to the car seemed quicker, and I was soon on my way to Urra Moor-Round Hill G/TW-001.

I parked on a very large layby close to the point where the Cleveland Way national trail path crosses the road. This is another easy walk, mostly flat, and on a very good surface - good hard ground, or in many places, flagstones from former mills.

After the initial little climb, the view over the moorland ahead opened out. I could see 9 or 10 vehicles parked closely together in the distance, but close to the path I would be following. Hang on, had I parked as close to the summit as I could? (This is a useful consideration when attempting a three summit day with an early afternoon deadline).

When I reached the collection of vehicles - one tractor with a large trailer, and several 4x4 “Chelsea tractors” - it was clear that this was a grouse shooting party about to commence. As I walked from that point to the trig point on the summit, this convoy also drove along the same section of track, parking up a little beyond the trig.

As I stood at the trig point and about to activate, I could see that the beaters and their dogs were arranged in a long line, and would be progressing either side of me! Soon, the air was filled with the sound of gunshot - though at no point did any of the shooting party suggest I shouldn’t be there.

It was fairly slow going on the radio, but in quarter-of-an-hour, I had collected my four QSOs on 2m FM with the FT70D, and no need to set up for HF. I was pushing it a bit, but it did seem I would be just about able to squeeze in the planned third summit before getting to my gig.

Like with Gisborough Moor G/TW-003 earlier, the descent seemed faster, and I made my way over to the Lord’s Stones Cafe at Carlton Bank for Cringle Moor-Drake Howe G/TW-002.

The car park at Lord’s Stones Cafe was incredibly busy, but fortunately, there is not one, but two large overflow car parks. I went to the second one and parked close to the gate to start my walk.

I was pretty tired now, so the initial section up the flagged stairway to the viewpoint was sluggish. From there it is a fairly flat walk along the ridge to the summit - where I found another shooting party. This group had just completed their shoot for the day, and were enjoying a boozy picnic beside the summit cairn.

They had many dogs with them, but all well behaved and pretty tired! “You don’t have a problem with dogs do you?” they asked me. I replied “Yes I do actually, but not as much as I have a problem with guns”, looking at the weapon on the ground by my feet. Sharp intakes of breath all round…

We ended up having a friendly natter after that. I looked longingly at their delicious picinc - it was now nearing 2pm BST, I was on my third summit, and I still hadn’t eaten during the day! Oh well, a bit more hunger won’t do any harm!

I made six QSOs on the FT70D handheld, five on 2m FM and one on 2m C4FM. One station had worked me on Gisborough Moor G/TW0-003 earlier, and sounded like he was now going to commence proper SOTA chasing.

It was still a fairly long drive to Leeds for my gig, and soundcheck was at 5pm, so I needed to get cracking. After soundcheck, some of the band went round the corner to the historical Whitelocks Ale House for dinner and beer. I had a vegetarian chickpea, spinach and mango curry, with coconut rice, and it was absolutely delicious. The show was well received by a great Leeds audience too.

Sunday 2nd September 2018 - Cracoe Fell G/NP-032

Gig: Joe Longthorne
Venue: Viva Blackpool

After the Leeds gig, I overnighted at Haworth YHA, this being the second time I’ve stopped there this year on a gig night. It was a bit stressful escaping the Leeds and Bradford city centre Saturday night traffic in order to make check-in!

I had already done Sharp Haw G/NP-029 and Rombalds Moor G/NP-028 this year, so the only logical choice for a summit en route to Blackpool was Cracoe Fell G/NP-032.

The day started with a hearty breakfast at the youth hostel. When I reached the layby on the bend in the road between Cracoe and Rylstone, it was already full, so I parked in Rylstone itself.

I followed the bridleway out of Rylstone and up to the Rylstone Cross end of Cracoe Fell. This was the same route I did with the lads when this summit first got added to the programme some years ago. A couple of walkers caught me up here, and we had an enjoyable chat while climbing up the end of the fell to the Rylstone Cross.

From this point, it is a flattish and easy ridge walk to the obelisk at the summit, and we were treated with nice weather and decent views too. I had a little more time available this time, and so set up the 20m GP as a matter of choice rather than necessity.

Just four QSOs were achieve on 20m FT8 in half-an-hour of operating, so I then went to trusty old CW, adding eight more. Conditions were definitely not great! I put out the customary call on 2m FM before commencing descent, and added Alan M1DHA from Barnoldswick, a regular SOTA chaser of old. It was good to hear that Alan was resuming active SOTA chasing.

I noticed people descending off the summit in the direction of Cracoe village, rather than the Rylstone Cross, so I gathered that a circular route must be feasible. I followed down the same way, and indeed it was, so that ended up being a very pleasant half day’s walking. I completed my journey to Blackpool, and was on time for soundcheck.

We’ve got an intensive tour schedule coming up this Autumn, but if it’s all going to be like these first four days, then I’m in for a real treat - and I’m talking about both the concerts and the SOTA!


#4

Thanks for the the interesting report - not just the SOTA but what you are up to with the music also. I tracked down who the Soul and Motown band were that I was talking to you about when you were on the summit and I will send you a private message about them.

73 Phil


#5

Hi Tom,

Very interesting. Your success in activating these summits gives me the idea that a YHA based summit tour would be entirely feasible. I will factor that into my dreamings about a future visit to the UK.

73 Andrew VK1DA/VK2UH


#6

Hey Andrew - want the ultimate YHA-based summit tour? Walk from YHA to YHA along a linear route, like one of the National Trails. Jimmy M0HGY (then M3EYP) and I did the Pennine Way this way back in 2006 - 268 miles south-to-north. There wasn’t a YHA available at every stop, so we did stay in other accommodation occasionally, but most were YHA.

http://tomread.co.uk/pennine_way_on_the_air.htm


#7

Hi Tom,

Thanks, that’s an interesting suggestion. I have re-read your story and it does seem like something to consider.

Cheers
Andrew VK1DA/VK2UH


#8

Tuesday 4th September 2018 - Great Whernside G/NP-008

Gig: Motown Gold
Venue: Golden Lion Hotel, Northallerton

When looking for a suitable SOTA activation opportunity on the way to this gig, Great Whernside stood out a mile. It was right on the direct (though not fastest) road route to Northallerton, and, despite it’s hefty 6-point SOTA banding, a very easy and quick walk.

Richard G4TGJ/P was heard calling CQ SOTA from Cracoe Fell G/NP-032, where I had been just two days earlier, so was worked for a couple of chaser points. Just after this QSO, I noticed I was driving past the Rylstone Cross on the fell to the right of me - ie Cracoe Fell G/NP-032!

As the satnav directed me through Kettlewell, I was reminded of just how stunning the landscape is in this area, and scolded myself for not visiting for a number of years! At the top of the steep (1:4) windy road, I though I was at the parking area on the saddle with Buckden Pike G/NP-009, but something didn’t look familiar. I decided to get out and have a look - which was when I noticed the public footpath sign, stating “Great Whernside”, lying on the ground! I was indeed in the right place.

The footpath is well established on the ground on this route. In places, it can often be boggy, but the ground was mostly still firm after our long spell of hot and dry weather this summer. On the brief part of the ascent that is steep, the path seems to follow up a wide scar. I recalled from the past that this can be very slippery and best avoided. An alternative path could be seen working its way up to the left through the grass, so I followed that up (and down) with no problems.

Soon I was at the stile, which meant I now had an easy gradient along to pick up the ridge and then the summit. It had been a number of years since my last activation here, and some happy memories of youth hostelling trips with Jimmy and Liam came back. I was OK for time, so I set up the 20m GP for some FT8 operating.

Conditions weren’t the best, and I made just five contacts before deciding it was time to pack up and get to work. The last of those five though was WB2REM, so at least I knew I was getting out. As usual, my attempts to reply to the rich array of DX CQ calls came to nought.

The gig was a belter. The venue laid on a fantastic buffet of delicious food exclusively for the band before soundcheck. The calories I’d earned from Great Whernside were soon accounted for, and more besides. Motown Gold was out as a 10-piece band for this gig - keyboards, guitar, bass, drums, trumpet, alto sax, tenor sax and three vocalists - so was a really satisfying gig to play.

Not so satisfying was the journey home - the fatigue kicked in and I stopped for 40 winks no less than three times. I got home at 0730, greeting M0HGY about to leave for work as I did!


#9

I was listening out for you on 2m from home but never heard you. Now I know why!


#10

Wednesday 5th September 2018 - Billinge Hill G/SP-017

Gig: Joe Longthorne
Venue: Theatre Royal, St Helens

The original intention was to bag a quick (pointless) activation of this appalling “summit” on the way to soundcheck in nearby St Helens. (This hill is the “county top” of that well-known country St Helens Unitary Authority, and formerly was the county top of Merseyside). Having only got home from the previous night’s gig at 0730 that morning, I ran out of time to do even that.

So, first to the theatre for set-up and soundcheck, and then to a fabulous Indian restaurant in St Helens for some very delicious food. I had a house special dish which was lamb served on a sizzling hot plate and flambed with brandy when served at the table - stunning.

With the walk back through town to the theatre, I’d got up to 5000 steps as indicated on my Fitbit watch. We did the show, which went really well, and I got away quickly after packdown in order to grab my activation for the day.

The good thing about theatre gigs is that you can be on the road away from them by 10pm - for wedding gigs it’s more like 1am! Earlier, I had switched the order of the theatre and Billinge Hill on my satnav, so it was now directing me home - via Crank Road!

I backed into the space in front of the gates to the transmitter compound beside the road, which I assumed would be OK at this late hour. The headtorch was not required for the first part of the walk up the private lane to some business and residential properties, but I flicked it on once into the field behind.

It was a nice mild evening under a clear night sky, and the walk was as enjoyable as it could ever be on Billinge Hill. You almost couldn’t see the graffiti. My calls on 2m FM brought in three QSOs. It seemed a fourth was going to be rather trying, but as I’d already bagged the activation point earlier in 2018, I didn’t try to hard, and switched off after a few unanswered calls.

Tiredness won again despite the shorter drive home, and I had to resort to reclining the driver’s seat and getting my head down for an hour in a petrol station in Warrington. That’s the glamour of showbusiness for you.


#11

This last weekend was a bit of a washout, both weather wise, and, uncharacteristically of late, energy wise for me personally. Those are the reasons that this happened:

Saturday 8th September 2018 - no activation

Gig: Motown Gold
Venue: Malt Kiln Farm, Crewe

That was an unacceptable fail and I hated myself. However, I was still tired on the Sunday, and still the rain came down during the daytime.

Sunday 9th September 2018 - Winter Hill G/SP-010

Gig: Joe Longthorne
Venue: Viva Blackpool

Thankfully, it stopped raining during the gig and I was feeling unusually alert and energetic during the drive home. As I motored down the M61 and spied the familiar tower of red lights high on my left, I thought “Well hey, why not?”

After a brief stop at Rivington services, I exited at the next junction and followed my way up onto the hill. Despite the late hour (after 2300 UTC), I made four contacts using just my Yaesu FT70D handheld. There were no breakthrough issues experienced, and I don’t think there were any desensing problems, though that is much more difficult to tell of course.

I walked back down to where I had left my car and sat in there for a while listening to the US Open tennis final on BBC Radio 5 Live, on DAB. As the clock ticked towards midnight UTC, I wrapped up again (it was pretty cold and windy), and went out for another wander along the summit roads and round the back of one of the compounds.

Monday 10th September 2018 - Winter Hill G/SP-010

This time, only one contact was forthcoming, though I guess it was very late. It was a good contact though, and the station in question Mike M6XBQ - in Worsley, Salford - rejoined me later when I operated mobile on the remainder of the drive home.

Monday 10th September 2018 - Gun G/SP-013

After dealing with annoying inconveniences like sleep, medication and breakfast, I decided to set out early for a run of three private maths tutoring sessions in the East Cheshire area. The early start was to facilitate two more SOTA activations!

On the summit of Gun, just one station - Lyndon G0DUI in Stoke-on-Trent - was worked.

Monday 10th September 2018 - The Cloud G/SP-015

I had time to squeeze in an activation of the second home. On this one I worked a bumper total of two stations - which might not seem like much, but nonetheless represented a 100% improvement on my earlier two activations that day!

The tour heads down to Essex later this week - so I will have to be “imaginative” to work some SOTA activations into that schedule!


#12

Tuesday 11th September 2018 - Shining Tor G/SP-004

No work today, but at least my missing energy was back. So after dropping Liam off at work, I continued on up to the Cat & Fiddle. It looked for all the world like I was in for a soaking, but the dense fog quickly cleared as I started walking. It stayed dry, and the sun kept threatening to make an appearance.

I made a last minute decision to leave the rucksack and HF gear in the car - this was due to the strong blustery wind, against which I didn’t fancy the chances of my GP antenna up on the summit. So a lightweight walk it was, with just the handheld and logbook. Four contacts were made on the summit, all on 2m FM.

Tuesday 11th September 2018 - Gun G/SP-013

After Shining Tor G/SP-004, I drove across the country lanes through Macc Forest, Wildboarclough, Wincle, Danebridge and Swythamley, and up onto the side of Gun Moor. The footpath to the summit was again nicely dry, as it has been, rather unusually, for a good number of weeks now.

There was hardly any radio activity going on though - I just worked Greg M0NZO on 2m FM, and then again on 2m C4FM (Fusion). I must admit, I didn’t try very hard or hang around on summit very long - I was really just out for the walk.


#13

Time to write up some more of this nonsense I’m afraid. I blinked - and suddenly it’s less than 36 hours before another leg of the tour gets underway - and I don’t want my activation reports and photos to fall into the same desperate backlog as my website http://tomread.co.uk has. So here goes:

Thursday 13th September 2018 - The Cloud G/SP-015, Gun G/SP-013 & Wendover Woods G/CE-005

Gig: Joe Longthorne
Venue: The Old Regent Ballroom, Stanford-le-Hope

I was a little later than intended setting off - around 8am - but not so late that I could “warm up” with my two easy local summits. In true lazy style, I ascended Bosley Cloud with just my handheld, and made two contacts on 2m FM.

The first of these was Greg M0NZO in Holmes Chapel. It seems Greg is first to answer any CQ SOTA call I make on 2m FM at present! Tom M6MDB in Oldham was the other contact.

I didn’t need the usual four QSOs as the point was not on offer anyway, so with no other callers I descended and drove over the valley to Gun G/SP-013.

First to respond was Greg M0NZO (of course), followed by Tony G4ERQ. It looked like a second consecutive two-QSO activation - but then it became three - sort of - when I worked Greg M0NZO again, but this time on C4FM (Fusion) mode.

Now it was time to hit the road properly and make my way to the flatlands of the south.

Somewhere near Coalville I found a portacabin cafe in a layby. The “4x4 breakfast” looked interesting. Four sausages, four bacon, four fried eggs, three toast, beans, mushrooms, tomatoes, hash brown, black pudding, a pint mug of coffee, fresh orange juice and a Twix - for £8.95. Stuff the diet - this had to be done…

What also needed to be done was to not eat another thing all day. No discipline was required - I was too full! Wendover Woods G/CE-005 was nicely on route without much detour, and I simply drove up the road to the trig point on Aston Hill - about 1km away from the true summit (Haddington Hill) - but only 1m lower!

After a short walk across the field to the trig, I set up the 20m GP. Conditions weren’t brilliant, and just five QSOs were made on FT8. One of these was Fabio IK2LEY who chases me on practically every 20m SOTA activation I do at present, regardless of what mode I’m using. Another chaser was KK1W, so I did at least get over the “Pond”.

When we completed soundcheck, some of the band members went in search of food. That wasn’t required for me, so I volunteered to stay backstage and help out the first time dep guitarist who was on the gig that night - he wanted another look through the sheet music before the show.

We had a successful concert, then drove in convoy to the Travelodge in Basildon where we were stopping for a couple of nights.

Friday 14th September 2018 - Botley Hill G/SE-005, Leith Hill G/SE-002 & Crowborough G/SE-007

Gig: Joe Longthorne
Venue: Palace Theatre, Southend-on-Sea

Despite the late night, I was wide awake at 0530 BST. I quietly got dressed and slipped out of the room so as not to disturb the drummer - ironic, as he’s a noisy so-and-so. I programmed the route into the satnav - 150 miles or so (the reality of SOTA activation in the South-East) - and got cracking.

The satnav didn’t drop me quite where I was expecting on Botley Hill, and it took a bit of work to find my way to the highest point by the water tower and masts. This is a pretty dismal spot, but it’s just a case of setting up and making do!

I operated again on 20m FT8. Fabio IK2LEY led the way, as is typical, following which I enjoyed a couple of “DX” contacts - EA8DFQ (Gran Canaria) and A41ZZ (Oman) - provided a nice little DX fix. Just three more stations were worked - two RA and one SP.

I wanted to get at least two summits done in the day, and I especially wanted not to be late for soundcheck. Bearing in mind that I still had at least 100 miles to drive, probably to be completed on a Friday afternoon - on the M25 near London - I decided to pack up promptly and get on my way to Leith Hill G/SE-002.

Last time I satnaved it (is that a real verb yet?) to Leith Hill, it landed me with a much steeper ascent than I’d recollected a few years earlier when Jimmy was my guide. This time I continued to follow the road round and found the main car park from where the main easy track heads up to the summit.

At the summit, I was pleased to see that the snack bar and tower were open. I hadn’t had any breakfast yet, so I ordered a beef & ale pasty and coffee before thinking about activating. The pasty was delicious - locally made by an artisan butcher. I overheard the lady at the snack bar inform the next customer that the sausage rolls had just been baked.

I bought a ticket to enter the tower, and climbed the spiral staircase to the top. This was most unenjoyable for me, what with my dislike of heights. I wanted to see if a 2m handheld activation was going to be possible though.

I was slightly more comfortable at the top of the tower than on the spiral staircase - but only slightly! The plan worked though. Inside 20 minutes, I made four distinct QSOs on 2m FM just with the handheld and rubber duck.

Next came the unpleasant task of going down the spiral staircase. Slightly less enjoyable than going up had proved to be.

At this point, temptation really did get the better of me, and I couldn’t resist sampling one of those sausage rolls from the snack bar. And I was very glad I did - it was quite simply the best sausage roll I’ve ever had!

I was joined on my descent by a friendly chap who’d been helping out in the snack bar and was very interested in the work I was doing. It was an enjoyable chat and the short walk passed by in a flash.

I was now well ahead of schedule, and I was confident of squeezing one more activation in, possibly even two. I decided to head for Crowborough G/SE-007 next, and then Detling Hill G/SE-013 if time allowed.

I wasn’t sure what tactics or location to use for Crowborough. I never am. It’s a really terrible SOTA summit. I really didn’t want to set the GP antenna up - there’s just nowhere to do so that doesn’t attract disapproval from some quarter or other, be it the clearing behind some houses, the golf club car park, the covered reservoir or the pub beer garden.

On the final drive into the AZ, I’d been working a station on 2m FM. I suggested to him that he might continue monitoring the frequency in a few minutes time when I would be calling on my handheld! He did - but we didn’t make the contact, despite me spending half-an-hour walking all round Crowborough!

Of course, I only needed one QSO to be able to record an activation - the number of QSOs was irrelevant as I’d already collected the activator point earlier in 2018. A good job too, as it was looking increasingly likely that I was going to be lucky to even get one!

I thought I’d got a QSO when a loud and clear station came back to me, and kept giving me my report - but failing to offer his callsign. I concluded this was a pirate and started again. G8VPS in Hastings stepped up to save the day! I called QRZ? but didn’t expect anything. I was right.

With all the time taken to get even one QSO, there was now no chance of Detling Hill. Well, there was technically time to do it, but the words “London”, “M25” and “Friday afternoon” were ringing alarm bells in my head. No, best get to work!

Good job I did. Traffic was really sluggish approaching the Dartford Tunnel from the south. AARGH! As I type this, I’ve just realised I forgot all about paying the tolls for my two crossings! Anyway, just done it now, and it seemed to accept my payment and send me a receipt - so hopefully I’ve got away with it! The signs tell the motorist to pay “by midnight tomorrow”!

Anyway, another splendid gig at the Palace Theatre, Southend, and another quiet and early night at the Travelodge in Basildon. Well that was the plan before one of the soundcrew produced a big box of Stella Artois in the hotel reception… Good job for the diet that I was hitting my 10,000 steps target each day while away otherwise the diet would have been shot to pieces.

Saturday 15th September 2018 - Wendover Woods G/CE-005

Gig: Joe Longthorne
Venue: Harlow Town Football Club

Yeah, a stadium gig. Big time. Except that it wasn’t. We were playing in a marquee at one end of the ground. Not quite Live Aid.

Before that, we had a day to kill. I didn’t have the stomach for another long day of driving hundreds of miles just to activate uninspiring hills - most of which are not even hill-shaped - plus I had that night’s late drive back to Cheshire to consider.

I decided to repeat the Tollesbury sea wall 6 mile circular walk, just up the Essex coast. I persuaded the drummer, Andy, to join me for the pleasant route beside the River Blackwater estuary, including a view of the Radio Caroline ship, the Ross Revenge. I had been listening to Caroline a lot while driving around the past couple of days, tuned to the big 648kHz MW signal.

Anyway, Andy really enjoyed the walk, as did I, and he mentioned that he might try and join me for more on future legs of the tour. Before setting out, we’d had a big “all-you-can-eat” buffet breakfast from the Toby Carvery opposite our hotel in Basildon - which cost just £3.39 each! As such, lunch and tea were again not required. We both killed some time between soundcheck and the show by reclining the seats in our respective cars and getting some sleep. Rock and roll. (Think of the line in the movie “Wayne’s World” - backstage at an Alice Cooper concert with Alice himself carefully explaining the history of the city of Milwaukee - and Wayne exclaiming “Does this guy know how to party OR WHAT?”).

Don’t worry though, outrageous behaviour is hardly unknown to M1EYP, and straight after the gig, I drove back to Wendover Woods G/CE-005 - well, Aston Hill really - to activate it again - for zero points again - twice!

It was quite a gamble whether to go for 2m FM or 20m at “stupid o’clock” at night. I tested the water on 2m by calling CQ as M1EYP/M from the parking spot. My only respondent was another silly pirate. I left the handheld in the car, and walked with the rucksack and HF gear to the trig point.

I tried and tried to get some contacts on FT8, as conditions seemed really poor, as though the band had closed - which I rather suspect it had. Like I said, quite a gamble at this time, but I didn’t have 40m or 80m with me. I could see activity on FT8, but none of the activity could see (hear) me.

I nervously glanced at my clock which showed 2350z. I was fast running out of time to record an activation for the day! I tuned around the CW portion of the band and heard a couple of loud signals - but yes, just two of them. SK3W was calling CQ TEST. I didn’t have time to consult the excellent SM3CER contest resource, so just crossed my fingers that I would be a valid station for him to work. I put my call in, and was delighted to hear “M1EYP/P 599 334”. Yes. I replied with “599 001”. Back came “TU” - and relax!

Sunday 16th September 2018 - Wendover Woods G/CE-005, Gun G/SP-013, The Cloud G/SP-015 & Winter Hill G/SP-010

Gig: Joe Longthorne
Venue: Viva Blackpool

There was no hotel stop between these two gigs. The soundcrew went home to Warwick. Andy and Andy (piano player and drummer) drove all the way back to Blackpool. The guitarist stayed with his nanna in Epping. I just decided to do some SOTAs on the way home and sleep in my car as and when, and then catch up on the rest of my sleep once back home!

So, starting early, just a couple of minutes after midnight UTC (1am BST) on Wendover Woods G/CE-005, I went back to the contest call of OG7A for a quick exchange. It was mild and peaceful on Aston Hill, so I allowed myself a few more minutes to try to add some more 20m QSOs, whether they be FT8 or CW. I failed to do so, so reluctantly accepted a second consecutive one-QSO SOTA activation, packed up, and completed the gruelling descent to the parking spot.

A really terrible thing has happened in recent years. Motorway service stations have started employing the services of companies like Parking Eye, to photograph vehicle registration numbers and automatically send parking charge notices of £60 or £100 through the post to anyone that dares to rest any longer than two hours. The result of this on me, as a tired late-night driver coming home from gigs, is that I no longer pull into the services for a break. I exit at the next junction and find a dark layby instead. I am at a loss as to why disincentivising road safety is even a thing.

Anyway, dark laybys it was, and I had a two hour kip in one, and a one hour kip in another. I have no idea where they were. What I do have is two new pillows and pillowcases that are kept in my car for exactly this purpose - and they really do make the difference. Next thing I knew, I was awake, alert, refreshed, and driving along the A50 towards Stoke-on-Trent as the sun rose behind me. I followed the increasingly familiar roads through Leek and up to Gun G/SP-013.

You might have thought I’d just wandered up to the summit with the handheld at this point. I might have thought that too - it would seem logical. However, I set up for HF, hoping for some DX. And DX I got, though not the VK/ZL/JA I was hoping for. Oman A41ZZ was a welcome first caller to my 20m FT8 CQ, and was followed by four European stations.

I’d stayed longer than anticipated on Gun, and was starting to eat into my sleep time, before I would have to hit the road once again. So when I went over to The Cloud G/SP-015, this time I did just walk up with the HT and work exclusively on 2m FM - three QSOs were made - all with OMs who had got up before I’d gone to bed.

First job when I got home was to put the iPads and Airturn pedals on charge - these are for reading music on stage, and they needing recharging before that night’s show in Blackpool. Together with putting my smartphone and Windows 10 tablet (for WSJT-X) on charge, and taking a shower, it was gone 10.30am by the time I got to bed. Marianne was also out at work, and had been overnight too - on a sleep-in. Jimmy M0HGY was up - very early for him on a Sunday - so I told him to check I was up by 3.15pm!

I had a great sleep, interrupted when my radio alarm sprung into action simultaneously with Jimmy giving me a shout. He then brought me a mug of tea up as I began to rejoin the land of the living. Twenty minutes later, I was back on the road, but this time in the more familiar north, and with only 70 miles to go!

Another great gig, although I think all the band were in “automatic pilot” mode by now! Me being me, I had another crazy idea. Out of Blackpool, M55, M6, M61 - then off at Horwich - and up Winter Hill G/SP-010! I had a good chat with Tony 2E0UOG who I’ve worked many times over the years. He reported that I was a great signal to him - but no-one else came back to the call. So Tony and I continued the natter.

Monday 17th September 2018 - Winter Hill G/SP-010

I was having a rather pleasant early hours stroll around Winter Hill, chatting with Tony 2E0UOG. I wandered along the transmitter service roads, up towards the trig point, and around the back of a couple of the transmitter compounds, experimenting for best take-off for a handie with helical antenna. There wasn’t any breakthrough disruption that I could discern. Maybe the installations on Winter Hill are less RF-polluting than they used to be, or maybe the new Yaesu FT70D is more immune than earlier rigs. Either way, things have improved. Of course, desensing could have still been an issue - this is more difficult to tell - but I don’t think there were any callers that I missed. Stuart M0WSW gave me a second contact for the activation.

Tuesday 18th September 2018 - The Cloud G/SP-015 & Gun G/SP-013

Dad’s Taxis was in for a heavy schedule. First was a most unwelcome 6.20am alarm as Jimmy M0HGY needed an early lift into work. Mind you, this facilitated a most welcome posh breakfast in Alderley Edge en route, so that was fine.

Next was to drop Liam at the hospital for his regular volunteering with early-stage dementia patients. In the window between that and picking him back up, I reckoned I could shoehorn in a couple of activations!

On The Cloud, and with the FT70D, I made five QSOs - three on 2m FM, and two on 2m C4FM.

It was almost a carbon-copy activation over on Gun G/SP-013, where it was three on 2m FM and one on 2m C4FM, with all four stations being ones I had also worked earlier on The Cloud!

I just need now to go and pick Liam up - again - from a curry night with his mates, then I was thinking about popping up Shining Tor G/SP-004. Notice the past tense. I’m now not thinking of that; I’m thinking of going to bed.