With some nice weather and plans for a bigger walk on Easter Monday, Sarah, Mrs. FMF fancied a walk up a hill. Or two. The or two bit was my idea as she didn’t want to drive too far. A problem as I have done so many nearby hills, uniques are all starting to get a fair distance away now.
Spartleton SS-182 is a 1pt summit that was still unique, but not quite enough to make the trip worthwhile. Meikle Says Law (Sayers Law) SS-148 is nearby but it’s bigger than we’d have time for. So Dirrington Great Law SS-225 was the only other choice. Meikle Says Law is very indistinct whereas Dirrington Great Law stands majestically clear of the plain. Well as majestically as a 398m mountain can do. It’s one of the several volcanic plugs in the area (Arthur’s Seat, North Berwick Law etc.) and so the area has a feel of Lanzarote to it. Except it’s not hot, it’s lush and green not black lava and is boggy. So like Lanzarote but not really!
Parking for Spartleon can be found outside of Millknowe farm. The grass verge is firm and you can probably get 3 or 4 cars outside without causing any problems. Walk up the path to the farm and you will see a gate. Through the gate and take the path on the right that climbs steeply compared to the other. There is a land rover track right to the summit and the earth here is an amazing red colour. Continue climbing (it’s not steep) up to the next gate, through that as the slope levels off and follow the track. The ground turns from improved to moorland but the land rover track is obvious.
Through the next gate and you begin to get an idea of just how big Crystal Rig Wind Farm is. We argued over the final count but Sarah maintains it’s 101. That’s a lot of turbines and they were all turning bar 3 in a gentle breeze. There’s reason for such a big wind farm here… a 400kV super grid runs close by. That 400kV grid is fed by the last nuclear power station to go online in the UK at Torness, about 20 miles away. There’s 2x 680MWe AGRs on site. We’ll never see the likes of that built again, a reminder of the time when Britain had a real engineering industry. Torness is one of the power stations that can black start the national grid. i.e. from total switch off of all generators in the UK there’s enough diesel generation at Torness to provide the 55MW needed to run the reactor cooling and generation plant. From there you can bring up one reactor to 680MWe and then restart the whole national grid. Sloy pumped storage scheme is a hydro scheme that always has 12hours water in hand so that it can blackstart the grid too!
Anyway, Crystal Rig is big. Surpringsly not the horror you would expect, I think the sheer scale has a hypnotic beauty to it. We followed the track up the last climb and were soon at the summit complete with trig point and cairn. It took about 35mins as were just bimbling along. Wonderful number of birds on the way up, skylarks singing away, Peewits sounding like some kind of video game and putting aerial displays, loads of grouse flapping about. Also lots and lots of sheep with new lambs. All enjoying the lovely blue but hazy sky and warm sun. It didn’t seem too long since I needed 2 fleeces and a down jacket on a summit.
Setup was easy but 60m was iffy. Lots of QSB made it difficult. I knew Brian G4ZRP was fannying about with an attenuator in his feed trying to see how low he can go. He was barely workable with the QSB and was sternly told so! I think it was Mark G0VOF who said 40m was hot for inter G so I QSY’d to 40m SSB for a change. I normally avoid 40 ssb like the plague, I’d rather make a fool of myself on the key but as conditions were a bit hot I thought I’d give the non CW chasers a turn. A well behaved pile up was brewed up with no effort at all. For a change everyone was well behaved, no bad manners, no silly expressions and nobody calling over anyone else’s QSO. Very nice for once. After that I dropped down to 7.032cw and worked just a few contacts. Sarah had left lunch in the car so she decided it was time to go. I could have left her to walk back but as we don’t get to walk very often I apologised to those waiting and went QRT. Sorry, it hurts me to leave people calling but there wasn’t any more time available.
Back at the car we had some lunch before setting off on the 20min drive to Dirrington Great Law. In the time we’d been up on the hill, the entire population of Edinburgh had come for a picnic on the banks of Whiteadder Water and the River Whiteadder. (Yes there is a Blackadder nearby). It had been clouding up on Spartleton but as we went further inland it got sunnier.
The last time I did Dirrington Great Law myself and Brian G4ZRP parked at Dronshiel Farm, wakled about 20m up their drive and then went through a gate and around the farm on a track that lead to the summit. This time there was a big sign which made it very, very clear that there was no access, none at all, private, go back, here be dragons yada yada yada. So we turned around and parked at NT705560 (there’s a 175 spot height on the 1:50000 map) off the road under a tree out of the now strong sun.
We followed a track towards the hill and when that turned away went straight across the field. This had had a sitka plantation at one time and the ground was still hard work to cross. A better route discovered on the way back is to walk diagonally across that field towards the hill keeping nearer to the stone wall and nearer to Dronshiel Farm. This way you intercept the track that runs to the summit. But as we didn’t do that on the way up we went straight up the heather slopes. That turned out to be a lot harder than I expected, climbing 160m in about 400m put some heat in my thighs. We were soon at the top though.
I set up by the dead trig point. I had a crazy idea I’d try to qualify the hill with CW then use SSB. Mark G0VOF was 1st on 60m but there was nobody else even after 10 mins of calling. I couldn’t send an SMS on either hill despite having a good signal. Sarah’s phone only sent an SMS from Dirrington just as we were packing up so I couldn’t spot myself. I QSY’d to 30m and worked only DL9AAS. Calling produced no chasers, so 40m CW it was and I called twice and again brewed up a nice pile up. I’d worked plenty of people when Sarah started suggesting we needed to get back, we’d been up there for about 50mins. I said I’d just try a quick call on 60m ssb and plugged in the 60m links and the mic and that’s when the 817 expired.
No RF output. Since confirmed back in the shack. Master reset failed to unstick any software glitches. My 817 is a 2001 vintage one. I don’t know why it died. The current antenna has been used since Feb 2010 on 30/40/60. There’s never any indicated SWR and the PO guage does what I’d expect. There was no VSWR warning from the 817. Barry GM4TOE suggested I check for shorts rather than opens in the antenna. I’ve had the continuity meter on the feeder and waggled everything but it all looks totally kosher. Beats me why it died. Sarah says it was simply too much bleeping. Anyway a new PA board is on it’s way thanks to Vicky at Yaesu and that should arrive tomorrow. For those with 817s, it costs £26.83 inc P&P and VAT. Hopefully I can get the 817 going for ISW next weekend.
Back to the hills. These two again show that you don’t have to walk miles and miles to have fun with SOTA. Each walk was less than 2km. You don’t have to climb up to the sun either as they’re only 468m and 398m. All you need is a little sun, some nice company (and a blonde too!) and a bit of propagation to have a wonderful day out. Even if I did total the PA in the radio. As a result of no 817, I didn’t go up Cairnsmore of Carsphairn on Easter Monday and work Gerald and John on 23cms. I’ve had my DJ-G7 for about 3 weeks now and still not had a SOTA QSO on it!