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SOTA on tour


#81

Sunday 15th April 2018 - Wendover Woods G/CE-005

I instructed my satnav to go via Aston Hill on my route home from Brick Lane Music Hall, London. After parking up I tried to solicit some potential VHF QSO partners using my mobile rig. I thought this might make for a quick and easy handheld-only activation once I’d made the short walk to the trig point.

Just one station - 2E0ESU - was attracted. Meanwhile, Marc G0AZS surprised me by turning up at my parking spot! We had a natter then walked together to the trig point on Aston Hill, 1 km away from the true summit, but we’ll within the AZ at only 1m lower.

2E0ESU was able to work me with me on the FT70D. Getting subsequent contacts was slow work though not too bad on reflection. I managed to qualify the activation in less than half-an-hour, with Marc himself providing the all important contact, having gone home after I made my second QSO.

Marc then kept me company on 2m as I drove off and out through Aylesbury and towards Bicester. It was great to catch up with a good friend who I had not seen for ages.


#82

Photos now edited into the reports above.


#83

Back on the road again with Joe tomorrow for the Bank Holiday weekend. Three gigs in Essex, all different venues. I’ll try to include some SOTA on the journey south, and maybe some on the way back depending on how long I sleep for in a lay-by (if needed), and I’ll be frequently calling on 145.500MHz FM. So if you’re anywhere between Cheshire and Essex, leave your 2m radios monitoring the calling channel and we might snatch a bit of a natter!

Of course three days in Essex probably means no SOTA on the middle day, not without a long and tedious round trip to Detling Hill or Crowborough anyway. So maybe a little day trip to go and have a look at Radio Caroline 648 on the River Blackwater.


#84

Currently at Watford Gap Services.

Friday 4th May 2018 - The Cloud G/SP-015

My usual summit was the first stop this morning as I wanted to try for a S2S into JA. Well I didn’t manage this, though I did get a S2S (with YO6EVA/P) and a QSO with a JA station!

So a fair return even though it was raining a bit.

Friday 4th May 2018 - Bardon Hill G/CE-004

Onto Bardon Hill which was not far off my route to Essex. Three Land Rovers at the top, and three personnel working at the mast.

I tried C4FM from this one, but couldn’t attract a contact, nor even any activity in the SOTA-LINK WIRES-X room, which I connected into via MB6AH node (Stoke-on-Trent).

Good old 2m FM analogue came to the rescue with several QSOs, including Martin M1MAJ and Caroline M3ZCB, both /M en route to Birkenhead for the overnight ferry to GI.

Before descending, I put out a call on S20 specifically mentioning that I would be calling on 144.6125MHz C4FM Fusion. This resulted in Vic M0VCS giving me at least one DV contact for the day.

Only one QSO so far on 2m FM while mobile. May put some more calls out as well as listening to Radio Caroline 648kHz MW as I continue the long drive south.


#85

Saturday 5th May 2018 - Cheriton Hill G/SE -015

From our band hotel in Romford, I first headed for Detling Hill G/SE-013. However, the main road near Maidstone, from which you access the White Horse Woods car park, was closed due to a police incident - and would remain closed all day. I wasted some time, trying unsuccessfully to find another way round, before giving up and deciding to drive down to Cheriton.

At the top of the lane, I could see that there was building work going on around the trig point and covered reservoir. A sign on the locked gate expressly forbade access.

I chatted with the friendly man, the new homeowner at the adjacent property. After some deliberation, he invited me to park on his drive, and set up my aerial in his garden!

I didn’t bother with CW as I thought the Palm Cube needed a new battery, and I had so far been unable to find one at petrol stations I tried en route. As the resident of the house and his wife were watching with interest, it was probably more suitable to use phone anyway.

Conditions were poor, but I did scrape the required QSOs, helped considerably by a triple S2S with G stations activating in OK. Next stop, the dreaded Crowborough G/SE-007.

Saturday 6th May 2018 - Crowborough G/SE -007

I followed the satnav to the nominal summit point o a residential street, but turned back due to lack of feasible spots for setting up and operating. A little further down the main road, I spotted the Blue Anchor pub. This is easily in the AZ, and I recalled that some activations have taken place in the beer garden in the past.

I got a fresh orange juice from the bar (I’m currently off the booze) and had a chat with the landlord. I set up the 20m GP in a corner of the beer garden, using just three of the four radials so as to minimise potential obstructions.

Again it was fairly slim pickings on 20m SSB, but an Italian contest enabled me to pick off the QSOs required. I was not minded to hang around.

There was only time for one more activation before soundcheck, so I now tried again to get to Detling Hill G/SE-013.

Saturday 5th May 2018 - Detling Hill G/SE -013

The A249 was still closed. Vehicle entry to the summit car park remained impossible. I followed the country lanes around in a clockwise direction until I eventually found the ascending back road on which I parked on my first visit some years ago.

Thus time, I parked tight at the top of the lane at its dead end. I didn’t have a clue which part of the country park this would lead me into, but to my surprise, it was very close to the summit car park!

I set up at the picnic table, and had another unmemorable activation of answering four contesting stations.

My next call was the Circus Tavern at Purfleet for soundcheck ahead of the night’s show. I remembered the important thing - to pay the Dartford Crossing charges online!


#86

Today - Sunday 6th May 2018, I had a brilliant walk. Only slightly radio related - and non-SOTA - but superior in every way to the three rotters of the previous day!

I had another day to kill, between breakfast in Romford, and soundcheck in Ongar. I fancied a trip further into Essex to try and catch a glimpse of the Radio Caroline ship, the Ross Revenge, anchored in the River Blackwater estuary.

The closest vantage point would be the sea wall path near Tollesbury. My iFootpath app suggested a 6 mile circular walk from Tollesbury. It was a beautiful hot sunny day, so I liked the sound of this.

I left my bandmate’s in Romford, and drove out towards Maldon. I parked in the car park in Tollesbury and set off. The route was excellent, taking in super views and good public footpaths.

Early in the walk, I came across an adder basking on the path ahead. It disappeared very quickly, but nonetheless, this was a first for me. It was pretty big as well - 2-3 feet long and similar diameter to a toilet roll tube.

Most of the walk was atop the sea wall, and it was just fabulous walking in the sunshine. I was able to see the Ross Revenge from which Radio Caroline was broadcasting on 648kHz, though the sun was not in the optimal position from a photography point of view.

I’ve done two non-SOTA circular walks from the iFootpath app now, and am rather impressed. I expect I’ll be using this quite regularly. Here’s the photos from this excellent route:


#87

Hi Tom,
Did you know they do boat trips out to the ship? You’ll need to time your visit to the area to coincide with one some day!

http://www.radiocaroline.co.uk/#boat_trips_background_info.html

73 Ed.


#88

I do know that Ed. None this weekend though - I did enquire. The walk was splendid though, and far superior to any of my five SOTA walks the previous two days.


#89

Photos for the Bardon Hill G/CE-004 (quarry), Cheriton Hill G/SE-015 (someone’s front garden), Crowborough G/SE-007 (pub beer garden) and Detling Hill G/SE-013 (pay and display car park) have been edited into the reports above.

I’ve also posted some photos from my circular non-SOTA walk in Essex, for interest.


#90

The start of June brought another batch of tour dates, a few hundred road miles, and of course SOTA opportunities.

Friday 1st June 2018 - Rombalds Moor G/NP-028

Gig: The Ragdolls
Venue: The Octagon (Penningtons), Keighley

It was not difficult to work out what summit I would activate on the way to a gig in Keighley. Nor was it difficult to work out which mate to suggest a joint activation to! Despite the last-minute Facebook message, Colin M1BUU was available and arranged to meet me at the parking spot at the end of the driveable section of Ilkley Road.

I was rather cross with myself, as I had intended to play with FT8 on my activations away from home - but I left the bag with Windows 10 tablet, ZLP MiniProSC interface and cables in my shack! Nonetheless, I still fancied some 6m, even though it wouldn’t be 6m FT8, so packed the SOTAbeams SB6 and guying kit.

Colin and I made the short walk along the flagged path to the trig point. Colin was operating CW on 20m and 30m, although finding the QSO rate very slow. Not as slow as I was finding it on 6m though! In contrast to recent days, the band was dead - or was it that I was not using FT8? Anyway, I did eventually manage one QSO - with Terry G4AFS in Bingley! The other three QSOs for the qualification came on 2m FM courtesy of my Yaesu FT70D handheld.

And with that, it was time to pack up, descend, and check-in at the youth hostel. Cheap accommodation is an issue when touring, but on this occasion I had a bed at Haworth YHA - much more pleasant than most guest houses and motels, and much cheaper at only £10 for the night. They did have a doors-locked-at-11pm policy though - potentially not compatible with a typical gig - but this just meant I needed to check-in at teatime and make sure I had the door code to get back in later.

Finally, it was down to the Octagon venue for set-up and soundcheck, and the show. It was my second time working with The Ragdolls, which is a show in tribute to Frankie Valli & the Four Seasons. This is a gig I enjoy greatly as the music is lovely to play and hear, and songs like Let’s Hang On, Working My Way Back To You and December 1963 have cracking basslines.

Saturday 2nd June 2018 - Sharp Haw G/NP-029 & Normanby Top G/TW-005

Gig: The Ragdolls

Venue: Grange Leisure Park, Mablethorpe

After a good night’s sleep at Haworth youth hostel, I enjoyed a huge YHA cooked breakfast. I was good though, and honestly entered all the calories into the MyFitnessPal app on my smartphone. The total was pretty frightening, but at least it made it clear what I could (or more-to-the-point, couldn’t) eat for the rest of the day! It’s a good system though, and I am successfully losing weight with a combination of calorie counting, exercise, and teetotalling.

The obvious summit to head for was Sharp Haw G/NP-029, and my satnav successfully routed me to the 90 degree road corner from where the usual walking route begins. There’s parking here for about four cars, and mine was the first to arrive today.

It was, unfortunately, raining - but I was not in a position to hang around. I had a long drive ahead for that night’s gig over on the East coast, and was hoping to slot another SOTA activation in en route. I put my boots and waterproofs on and went for it.

I was quite lucky, for the rain eased for most of the walk, and the ground underfoot was pleasantly firm - unlike the very boggy conditions when I walked up here with Marianne in 2017! I made good progress to the top, and made sure that the Google Fit pedometer app was working on my smartphone, and feeding the data through to the MyFitnessPal app, and getting rid of some of those calories from breakfast!

The rain returned as I reached the summit and bgean to get heavier, so I abandoned any idea of setting up for 20m - and tried for a handheld-only activation. On my last two visits to Sharp Haw, it has been a challenge to muster up the four QSOs, and I failed on one of those occasions. Hence I was pleased to quickly have six locals in the log on this occasion!

Now it was time to get a good chunk of road miles in.

Normanby Top G/TW-005 is a rubbish summit. It’s just a big expanse of flat, private farmland that just so happens to drop away >150m in all directions, probably some considerable distance away! I did once have a relatively enjoyable activation here when I happened to meet the farmer, who granted me permission to walk to the trig point.

Today though, I just went into the yard beside the large radar tower, and set up my 20m groundplane. The person-powered final ascent from my car must have been around 5cm vertically, and 25m horizontally!

I’d gone straight for 20m, as I’d monitored 2m while driving and heard no activity whatsoever. When I came to connect my Mini Palm Paddle and Code Cube, I found the keyer was playing up again, so needed to be reset. This involves removing the 30-32 battery - which I stupidly prised out with the jack plug from the cable I use between the Code Cube and the 817. The tip of the jack plug broke off. Botheration.

No FT8, no CW, no FM. I now had to resort to SSB - not really a favourite mode of mine! I was a bit concerned about time marching on too. The Lincolnshire Wolds were not too far from Mablethorpe, but it was still important to be on time for soundcheck, the same as punctuality is generally expected for all types of work!

I self-spotted, and SOTA chaser Manuel EA2DT worked me - but then, silence. I went off in search of CQ calls, and managed to get another three good contacts in the next ten minutes, included my first special World Cup call of the year - AO18FWC.

I was now able to complete my journey to Mablethorpe, and meet the guys again who I had worked with the previous night in Keighley. It was another enjoyable gig, and we were finished before 11pm, so I was able to get on the road and see how far I could get in the direction of home!

I drove until about 1am, and then found a nice dark spot in a services on the M18 near Doncaster. I set my smartphone alarm to wake me after 90 minutes, as I noticed that there was a two hour limit for parking, with registration plate camera enforcement. I always take a couple of pillows with me on the road, and find that with my driver’s seat fully reclined, I can get some decent quality rest.

I resumed my journey and was home around 5.30am - and of course, went straight back to bed. I allowed myself to wake up naturally, but then it was back on the road for another gig!

Sunday 3rd June 2018 - Easington Fell G/SP-012

Gig: Motown Gold
Venue: Mitton Hall, Whalley, nr Clitheroe

Again this was an easy choice of summit, given the venue. I parked in the usual parking area on the side of Waddington Fell, and made my way over the cattle grid to the track (PROW) which gives faster and easier access onto Easington Fell.

I noticed ahead of me, a group of cattle stood right on the track. They had noticed me too. I continued to walk towards them, hoping they would disperse - but they stood their ground, and appeared to be getting edgy. I moved off the path and onto the moorland to try a take a wide arc around them. They also move across to continue to block my progress! I moved back to the path - and so did they, appearing to get ever more unimpressed with my presence.

I decided to admit defeat, and retreated all the way back to the car park. This time, I followed the faint path directly over the access land, on the opposite side of the wall from the cattle. Fortunately, the ground was firm and not too boggy, apart from a couple of sections, so it wasn’t as slow or tortuous as it could have been.

I made it to the trig point and set up my 6m Moxon antenna (SOTAbeams SB6). This time I had remembered my Windows 10 tablet (running WSJT-X) and interface/cables, so was able to try FT8. Spectacular it was not, with three QSOs coming from G stations in the North of England, but OK1FLZ was the other one. It was a summit point earned exclusively by FT8, so I was satisfied with that.

It was a nice gig with Motown Gold - and I looked forward to seeing them the next day in West Cheshire. Tiredness hit me while driving south down the M66 near Bury, so I exited and pulled into a retail park. I strategically parked behind a HGV so as to block out the security lights, reclined my seat and reached for my pillows. I had a “reet good kip” and it was daybreak that woke me up! I completed my journey home - and went back to bed!

Monday 4th June 2018 - Moel Gyw GW/NW-053

Gig: Motown Gold
Venue: Peckforton Castle, Tarporley

Getting some SOTA to combine with this venue - in the middle of nowhere on the Cheshire Plain - was more of a challenge. But it was a lovely sunny day, and I felt like a decent little walk. I set the satnav to route me via a stop at the Clwyd Gate Motel on the A494.

This is always a delightful hill to walk up and activate. It starts by following the Offa’s Dyke Path down a road track and into a steep field. I followed the tractor tracks up by the fence to ease the gradient, but a lady down below, assertively shouted"It’s that way", pointing directly up the steep slope. “I know the route” I replied, and continued.

There was a tractor driving around cutting grass, and I had to walk across one of the sections just attended to. Cue a massive hayfever sneezing attack - deep joy. I ploughed on, and soon I was at the wooden stile beside the water trough, and onto the better path along the side of Moel Gyw.

I left the Offa’s Dyke Path south of the summit, to switch back and ascent to the trig point. Again I set up the 6m antenna, again not knowing what conditions would be in store. The answer was - decent ones. 13 QSOs were made, all 6m FT8, and into 9A, CT, DL, EA, G, I and SP. FT8 signals from North America were appearing on WSJT-X, and I longed to have been able to stick around and play - but duty called.

Thankfully, the gig at Peckforton Castle was an early start - and early finish - and I was on the road home to Macclesfield before 10pm. I was more delighted than ever to be getting into my bed!

Tuesday 5th June 2018 - Gun G/SP-013 & The Cloud G/SP-015

This was a most welcome day off from an otherwise hectic gig schedule - but not a day off from a hectic SOTA schedule. First port of call was Gun G/SP-013. I arrived at the parking spot and noticed Mike 2E0YYY’s car there. I turned on the radio, hoping for a cheeky chaser contact. Steve M0VFR/P was operating, and I worked him.

I made the short walk up to the summit where I met Baz 2E0YVX at the trig point. She was not activating today - but was hanging on to a Staffordshire Bull terrier that was not-at-all pleased to see me! Steve M0VFR and Mickey 2E0YYY were busy on 2m FM down by the hawthorn tree and looked like they didn’t want to be disturbed, so I went to the other end of the band and called on C4FM on the handheld. Gary M0XGS was soon in the log, and I made my way downhill.

That night it was the 2m contests - FMAC and UKAC, so I went up The Cloud G/SP-015. Unfortunately, once at the top, and halfway through setting up, I realised I had left my headtorch in the car! I had to pack away, descend, get the headtorch, reascend, and start setting up again!

I was QRV by 1807z, which wasn’t too bad, but probably already bad enough not to be competitive in the one hour FM contest. I made a total of 112 QSOs on 2m in this activation - 32 on FM and 80 on SSB. I should have done much better on both modes - I think the preparation-fail at the start of the evening affected the whole “flow”, and I never properly got going.

Wednesday 6th June 2018 - The Cloud G/SP-015

Gig: Joe Longthorne
Venue: Elmas, Lymm

A relatively local gig just up the road was just what the doctor ordered. After soundcheck, the restaurant fed us beautiful seafood pizza, complimentary too - probably the best pizza I have ever had. That did mean a lot of calories going into my app though, tempered with alcohol-free beer, and the fact that I’d earlier done a SOTA activation!

It was back to 6m FT8 for me that morning on The Cloud. There was a path open - I worked two Italians and a Croatian - but the rest of my 12 contacts were all G stations. It was still pleasing though, and I felt delighted to finally have my long-anticipated portable FT8 set-up running like clockwork!

Thursday 7th June 2018 - The Cloud G/SP-015

I should have had a gig in the West Midlands on this day, but it got cancelled. This is always an occupational hazard due to the fickle nature of the music/entertainment business. I decided I could therefore afford to set my alarm early, and go out for a dawn activation.

Eleven stations were worked on 6m FT8, and this time every single one of them was a UK call.

Friday 8th June 2018 - The Cloud G/SP-015

Gig: Joe Longthorne
Venue: West End Club, Leicester

This gig would normally have Bardon Hill G/CE-004 written all over it, but I’d already done that summit in 2018, plus I had the guitarist sharing the journey with me! So I simply went out to my beloved Cloud that morning and had another go on 6m FT8.

This time, the band was open, and I made 19 QSOs. These comprised 9 into EA, 4 into G, 1 each into GW, HA, I, OE, S5 and F.

All good fun, and back home in time for lunch - and to get back on the road to another gig!

Saturday 9th June 2018 - The Cloud G/SP-015

Gig: Motown Gold
Venue: The Old Rectory, Bretherton, near Preston

I was on bandleader / musical director duties for this one, so needed to finish off a bit of preparation at home. I nipped down to The Cloud for a quick 6m FT8 activation and made just six QSOs. The stations were there to be worked, if you had patience and time. I didn’t have too much of either!

Not bad though, 2 x G, 3 x EA and 1 x IS0. The gig in Preston was excellent, but I forgot to take my pillows, so the lay-by nap on the way home was less-than-excellent.

Sunday 10th June 2018 - The Cloud G/SP-015

Gig: The Biscuit Brothers & the Liam Read Band
Venue: Swan With Two Necks, Macclesfield

This was an upside down gig for me. Instead of getting paid, I was paying out for it. But then it was for my son Liam’s 21st birthday party! With needing to be at the venue for setting up at 1pm, there wasn’t much time for messing about on the radio, so I just walked up to the summit with my FT70D handheld.

As such, the log wasn’t a bad return - 8 QSOs, including one S2S - Gerald M0WML/P on Sharp Haw G/NP-029. Gerald was later horrified to discover the shirt I was wearing while working him!

Liam’s 21st party was an excellent afternoon with a huge turnout from family, friends and musicans (several people fitting into all three categories simultaneously of course). The main thing was, we filled the venue with a large crowd for Liam to perform to - which he did superbly. A great day - and a licensed amateur count of at least seven.

Liam’s actual birthday was Tuesday 12th June 2018. I didn’t do an activation on this day, as I was too busy practising for a gig I have in Romania at the weekend. But that night, Liam’s radio show was broadcast on Canalside Radio 102.8MHz FM, as it is each and every week. And as we do, each and every week, we sit in the lounge and listen to the radio together as a family - it’s lovely!


#91

The tour resumes tomorrow by the way. SOTA activations to be confirmed.

Thursday: Blackpool (possibly Arnside Knott)
Friday: Tarporley (would have been great for Raw Head in days gone by)
Saturday: YO-land (the G AM says I’m not allowed to even think of it…)


#92

Thursday 14th June 2018 - Arnside Knott G/LD-058

Gig: Joe Longthorne
Venue: Viva Blackpool

I’d often thought about combining Arnside Knott with one of the many Viva Blackpool gigs I do each year. I probably won’t again; it’s nowhere near it! Well, it probably is as the crow flies, but not in terms of road miles. However, the fact that this was a matinee gig on the same day as an RSGB activity contest night persuaded me to go for it.

Research informed that the usual National Trust car park for Arnside Knott would be closed at dusk, so I needed to find alternative parking and approach route. I discovered a large lay-by on the other side of the hill, on Silverdale Road, and a summit path leading through the woods on the other side of the road.

This route took about 15 minutes to ascend before emerging at the trig point. I wasn’t sure what VHF take-off was going to be like; the hill is significantly prominent to its immediate surroundings, especially to the south, despite its small stature, but has lots of trees on the top.

First I set up my homebrew 6m vertical with elevated groundplane antenna, for the FM contest between 7 and 8pm. This was a complete wash-out with not a single contact being made. I only heard two other stations - GW8ASD and EA1HRR - and I contacted both via ON4KST to make a sked - both did call me, but neither heard my replies.

During this hour I did call on the FT70D handheld, and worked Chris 2E0MOW twice - on 2m FM, and on 2m C4FM. So that guarateed the existence of an activation, if not (yet) a qualification.

I had to wait until 8pm and changing over to the SOTAbeams SB6 to earn my activation point, but even then, it was very slow going. There was a lot of disruptive noise on the band, a negative effect of the opening in progress. Many other stations were heard commenting on this. Also, I came to the conclusion that Arnside Knott was not a suitable VHF contest site!

The 2.5 hours were terrible in terms of QSO numbers - just 19 worked, making a total of 21 for the activation - but pretty good in terms of some distances and DX achieved.

DXCCs: EA, G, GD, GI, GJ, GM, GW.
QRAs: IN53, 82, 89, 92, IO64, 74, 75, 81, 82, 83, 84, 93, 94, JN00.

The descent was interesting! Approaching the summer solstice at this latitude, there was still some light in the sky even at 10.45pm after packing everything away. However, I was soon plunged into pitch black as I descended into the woods. Of course, I’d made sure my headtorch battery was freshly charged, so no problem there, but doubt kept creeping into my mind about whether I was following the right path - it all looks so different in the dark!

It was a relief to suddenly see a car’s headlights zooming past about 30 yards ahead of me. I was back at the road - but where was my car - and the lay-by? It seemed I had emerged onto the road at a different point. So did I now turn left or right? I could see a farmhouse, and in my mind it looked further away then it did when I parked earlier. So I turned right and walked towards it. I reached my car - and the ascent footpath entry point - a couple of minutes later.

The drive back to Macclesfield took probably double what it should with coffee stops, power-nap stops and two motorway closures. Today’s gig with Motown Gold at Peckforton Castle, Cheshire, will not include a SOTA activation!


#93

I heard you - and I think in CW too but failed to find you calling CQ! I was wondering what propogation would have given me a path to The Cloud, but thepost above explians all! Maybe I could have a go at Burnhope Seat if I get around to making the 6m Moxon

73
Pau


#94

Friday 15th June 2018 - no SOTA

Gig: Motown Gold
Venue: Peckforton Castle, Tarporley

If only Raw Head G/SP-016 was still a valid SOTA summit! My schedule wouldn’t allow for visiting any other summit.

I do a few gigs at this venue, so at some point in the future I may activate this hill for HEMA - even though I won’t be allowed to enter my log.

Saturday 16th June 2018 - no SOTA

Gig: JK as Robbie Williams
Venue: HeyDay Music Festival, Bucharest, Romania

Jimmy M0HGY and I have a long establishshed pact not to activate a new unique without each other present, so no YO SOTA for me. Realistically, the schedule wouldn’t allow for it anyway.

However, if any YO SOTA friends happen to be at the festival, maybe we can meet and say hello?

Normal SOTA service will be resumed next week!