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!