I was kicking myself on the Sunday for not having an outing, so good was the weather. But Monday 16th August 2010 was also forecast as a decent day, so I planned to visit the relatively local Black Hill G/SP-002 for SOTA activation #993.
First consideration of the day, of course, was breakfast. After failing to locate the previously used cafe in Ashton-under-Lyne, and getting to Stalybridge station buffet before it opened, we ended up at Stalybridge Tesco. Here, we got a “Good Morning All” £3.99 special, which was sausage, bacon, black pudding, hash brown, beans, mushroom, scrambled egg and fried slice, complete with a bottle of fresh orange juice. This was a pleasing start to the day.
From Stalybridge, it is only a short drive up through Mossley and up the A635 to the parking spot for SP-002. As usual, we used the Wessenden lay-by, which is right by where the modern (current) route of the Pennine Way crosses the main road. The old route of the Pennine Way is still shown as a major footpath on most maps, but it is dreadful - a trackless and disheartening trudge up and down peat hags to the summit.
The weather was lovely, with complete blue sky and warm sunshine, even better than had been forecast. Jimmy, Liam and I covered up with high factor sun cream, donned out packs and set off along the very good Pennine Way path. This is on flagstones for most of the way as it curves around to the right, and gently upwards onto the large summit plateau.
Liam had not maintained his lightning pace of our recent G/DC & G/SC holiday, and treated me to a very slow amble to the summit. But then he did have a very late night the night before! I was late myself finishing the preparations, and went to go to sleep at 1am, came out of the kitchen into the lounge, only to find Liam on the settee watching ‘Road Wars’ on Sky 3! He had sneaked out of bed and downstairs for some clandestine late night telly!
So Jimmy had marched off ahead as usual, and for the last 10 minutes of mine and Liam’s ascent, I listened in to the first 10 minutes of M3EYP’s activation on my handheld transceiver.
On arrival at the trig point, I set out where Liam and I would sit, using the large base of the trig as shelter from the brisk breeze. Liam commenced his customary session on his Nintendo DS, but I barely started setting up. For soon after, the summit was alive with more people than I had ever previously seen on Black Hill.
There were day walkers, multi-day walkers and even two sets of Pennine Way full length hikers on their second day. One was a woman and her teenage son, who were backpacking the route. Hence I was drawn into several most interesting conversations, and felt no urge to rush into setting up. Another chap was an officer in the Royal Signals, and was keen to talk to me about the directional properties of Jimmy’s SOTA Beam, and the merits of horizontal and vertical polarisation for HF. His partner was with him on summit, and their seven week old baby, asleep in a sling on the chap’s front! And I thought I had started mine young…
Some of the day walkers arrived at the trig point having walked the aforementioned horrible line of the old Pennine Way from the A635. They had not enjoyed it at all. Some walkers arrived via the current route and were asking me where the old route path was, as that was part of their intended circular walk. I pointed across, perpendicularly to the flagged path, to the desolate sea of heather, peat, grasses, bogs and hags. Their facial expressions deteriorated!
Eventually, the summit cleared, and I set up for 17m using the MM17. It was rather slow going on here, and perhaps the band was not in great shape at this time. I did not help my QSO rate myself though. Early in the operation, I spotted a black rucksack by the side of the trig point. I double checked, and just as I thought, we were the only ones on summit. A rummage through the rucksack revealed a mobile phone, which switched straight on without any security features when I tried. This was good, as it meant I could access the contacts list!
Unfortunately, there weren’t any contacts in there like “Mum” or “Dad” - just names, that obviously I did not know. I was able to ascertain the name of the woman that had lost the phone though, so when I saw another name that matched her surname, I had a family member to call! Hence I quickly established that the rucksack owner was the partner of the army officer and the mum of the 7 week old baby. The lady I called was the sister-in-law of the rucksack owner, and she promised to keep trying to call John, the army officer, until he got the message. I advised her that about half the section back to the A635 may not have mobile coverage.
And on I got with my activation, with 3 QSOs in the logbook, and trying hard for a 4th! Until John arrived back on summit that it, so I quickly sent a QRX. The chap was very nearly back at the car when he got the call, so had certainly got more walking than he bargained for!
And back on with the activation I got. Thankfully, the small assembly of chasers on the frequency I had when I was interrupted, had waited patiently, and I now worked through them. I finished on a very modest 10 QSOs, and Jimmy was delighted that, for once, he had not only got his requisite 4 contacts before I had even started, but ended the activation with more as well - he finished with 12 on 2m FM.
Lest we forget - soup of the dap was Baxters’ Courgette and Gruyère, and was enjoyed by all three of us for our outdoor luncheon. As usual, Liam commenced his head-start on the descent as soon as he detected Jimmy and I taking our aerials down. I set off next, but was soon caught and overtaken by Jimmy when I got sidetracked with a long natter with a walking couple from Leek, Staffordshire. I had to give the gentleman a double take, for he was the image of Alfred Wainwright!
Astonishment reigned as I learned that this couple, who had walked regularly in the Lake District, Yorkshire Dales and Peak District for many years, had only had their first ever walk up Shutlingsloe in the last fortnight! Furthermore, they had never been up The Cloud, despite their admission “Oh yes, everyone tells us we should walk up there. It’s on our doorstep and we’ve never been up”. I added my signature to that growing recommendation.
Back at the car, Jimmy and Liam were nagging on about Stalybridge station. I gave in and pulled in there early in the drive home. In the pub, I enjoyed a couple of pints of superb real ales, and the lads and myself had a fantastic tea of black pudding, black peas and bread and butter.
Another customer invited us to join their “sing” in the back room of the station. We went in there to find six people enjoying a quirky day out on the railways, singing old traditional north country folk songs and playing 12 string guitar (with ‘DADGAD’ tuning - so that’s how the folkies get that sound!) and playing accordion. Then it was stories and even the recital of a poem about when some big horse went into a pub in Affetside, near Bury!
Time for a sharp, but polite, exit! Homeward bound, after an excellent and very relaxed day out in the sun.