High Willhays DC-001 and Dunkery Beacon SC-001
Monday 18th February 2008
Half term week in Northamptonshire gave us the opportunity to go down to Cornwall to spend a few days with our daughter, son-in-law and grandchild. Ever the opportunist as far as SOTA is concerned, I was quick to suggest that I might be able to escape during our stay to activate a couple of summits and so allow a day for Bev to enjoy a one-to-one day with daughter Nic. This suggestion was readily accepted and so arrangements were made to activate High Willhays and Dunkery Beacon in order to grab the nearest two winter bonuses on offer. Even so, this meant a round trip of over 230 miles on the day.
I left Lostwithiel in Cornwall at 08:20 and dropped son-in-law Phil off at his work in Bodmin a quarter of an hour later. The roads were reasonable if rather damp, but once out onto the A30 and heading east it was evident that fog would cause me some delay and the combination of roadworks and slow lorries added further problems. Once in Okehampton, it was easy to find the right turn at the crossroads in the town centre, but I initially missed the further right turn in the direction of the station. Having corrected my error, the next problem was icy roads once I was outside the town boundary… apparently the military don’t need such nambi-pambi assistance as road gritting and it was rather slippery and although the fog had cleared to a certain extent, it was still difficult to see which of the multitude of roads I should be taking. In the event I ended up following a 4WD vehicle and parking in a spot at New Bridge (SX595904) close to East Mill Tor at 09:55. This position turned out to be one track east of where I should have been (SX591906) according to the directions that I had received from John M0JDK via Paul G4MD. The handheld Garmin failed to work properly inside the car and one hand out of the window while driving over the potholed access road had definitely not been an option, so I was pleased to be reasonably close to where I had intended to be.
In order to ensure that I could find my car again, I waymarked the spot and then set off at 10:03 towards Yes Tor guided by John’s track which was showing on my satnav out on my starboard side. Opposite the tor I traversed the heather and a small stream and joined the main track up to the summit and then turned south to High Willhays. The additional distance and traversing cost me a few minutes so I was not at the summit until 10:36, already past the time that I had posted for the activation. There was a desire to rush and activate 2m, but I resisted this and got all three bands set up. This was relatively easy in the light breeze, as I had chosen my position to take maximum advantage of the shelter provided by the rocky outcrop at the summit. As I was completing my set up operations, the first of a number of walkers passed by showing just how popular this part of Dartmoor is, even on a Monday.
Opening up on 2m at 10:58, I received a prompt response from Frank G3RMD and we QSY’d to 144.320MHz since my usual working frequency was in use by a very strong French station. Signals were reasonable though not spectacular into Cheltenham as the path was slightly obstructed. Frank kindly spotted me and the run continued with John M0JDK, who by contrast was well over S9 despite being considerably further away. In all I worked 13 on 2m SSB, the more unusual contacts being with Roger G4OCO in Newquay who advised that he has 70cms and 23cms capability, Graham G3OHC near York whom I used to speak to on a regular basis many years ago when he lived in Sutton Coldfield and Jon G4TSN/M on the M1 near Nottingham running 100 watts to a 5/8 wave vertical. Paul G4MD managed to make contact from his work QTH at Bristol despite the local QRM at his end.
At 11:45 I changed over to 70cms SSB and worked Don G0RQL, Graham G3OHC and Frank G3RMD in reasonably quick succession, with signals being very similar to 2m. The prized fourth contact on 70cms was not to be, so at 12:00 I advised Don G0RQL that I was moving to 23cms and came up on 1297.500MHz with the C710 handheld (280mW) linked to the 15 over 15 beam at 4.5 metres via a length of LMR400 semi-rigid coax. Signals were excellent - I was able to give Don 58 and he gave me 57. Don’s power was 35mW to a 19 element yagi. We managed a chat before I tore myself away, though I did put a call out down towards Newquay before closing just in case Roger was listening. Unfortunately he wasn’t.
After managing to dismantle the 3 band station in a near record 17 minutes, I set off at 12:27 and half an hour later was back at the car where I had a quick lunch before setting off for my second summit. The route north was via the A30, M5, A38 and the dreaded A396, the road up the Exe valley. A combination of slow vehicles and icy patches on this section prevented me from making up any time, so I did not arrive at the car park for Dunkery Beacon until 14:40 where I had to change batteries and get the kit ready for the second activation.
The route up Dunkery is a comparative motorway and despite a few brief stops en route, I was at the beehive cairn on the summit in 22 minutes. After a quick reccy I decided to set up on a small hump to the south west of the cairn, this time leaving the 23cms beam off the pole as the wind was now quite fierce and somewhat colder than earlier in the day. I opened up on 2m at my predicted delayed time of 15:30 and this time Don G0RQL was ready waiting. We moved to 144.333MHz, my usual frequency and Don kindly spotted me. The run of 12 contacts on 2m were with regular chasers with the exception of Malcolm 2W0END located at Newbridge, 20 miles North of Cardiff. At 1600 I announced a move to 70cms where I worked Don G0RQL, Frank G3RMD and Matt M3WDS in quick succession, but again no fourth contact. Don and I moved up to 23cms and although I had to hold the 15 over 15 above my head, we managed to make contact with signals 41 both ways. I had visions of Don jumping about in his shack, such was the exuberance that clearly came over the air.
Before packing up, I tried a few calls out on 433.500MHz FM, but to no avail. Some local repeaters were in use, but I was not in a hi-jack mood, so at 16:25 I started to dismantle the kit. After taking a few photos it was a quick romp down the hill to decant everything into the car, have a bite to eat and set off back down to Cornwall.
As usual, many thanks to those that came on to work me, especially those that placed spots on the website. The day was very enjoyable, particularly the time spent on Dartmoor in the wintry sunshine that eventually came out to disperse the mist. I can recommend the route from the east as this avoids a long trek up from the reservoir. The roads are nowhere near perfect, but they are driveable with care - just don’t take the low-slung sports car! The activation of High Willhays concluded my activation of the DC’s so activations coupled with visits to Cornwall are unlikely from now on, unless I decide to tackle SC-002, 3, 4, 5 and 6 from there…
73, Gerald G4OIG