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Cheesy youth hostel

Wednesday 20th April 2011 - Beacon Batch G/SC-003

Jimmy, Liam and I were ordered off the premises by Marianne, who hinted that Liam wanted to go back to visit Minehead again. Minehead Youth Hostel did not have availability, so I booked a couple of nights at Cheddar Youth Hostel, which had Minehead within day-trippable range. In my mind, I worked out a formula which might allow both boys - and me - to enjoy the break.

We set off from Macclesfield around 10am on the Wednesday morning and made good progress down the M6 and M5. Jimmy navigated me into Cheddar village, and after finding the location of the youth hostel, we went for a peek at the Gorge. I had never been to Cheddar Gorge before, but Marianne gave it high recommendation. I did rather like it, and we walked a little way up and down it before selecting a big chunk of Cheddar flavoured with cider, herbs and garlic to take with us.

Now we drove all the way up Cheddar Gorge, admiring the high imposing cliffs. Jimmy directed me to the small parking place on the B3134, by Ellick House. The route was familar, for we had done this one less than a year before, and an identical approach was followed.

By the time Liam and I were on level walking along the broad ridge, we could see Jimmy setting up at the trig point. We soon joined him, and I set up for 40m. We all sat on the stones surrounding the trig point, sharing out the cheese as mountain bikers bemoaned that they could not ride their bikes right up to the pillar because of the stones.

Jimmy made 8 QSOs on 2m FM, while I managed 27 on 40m CW. That was plenty though, and it was time to be checking into the hostel, making up our bunk beds, and seeking out some food and beer. This came courtesy of the Bath Arms in Cheddar, and Steak & Guinness pies for the lads, and trio of sausage & mash for me. Jimmy and I also sank a couple of pints each of local ale.

I was grateful to finally reach the comfort and respite of the youth hostel bunk bed that night, and had a good night’s sleep. We looked forward to the next day’s planned trip to Minehead, and Selworthy Beacon G/SC-005.


Thursday 21st April 2011 - Selworthy Beacon G/SC-005

Selworthy Beacon is one of the easiest SOTA summits ever, and out of all those that lie in national parks, there can barely be a more trivial approach. I had promised Liam his daytrip to Minehead this day, so intended activating this summit in the afternoon. It could either be a long “play radio” type activation, or we could have sneaked Will’s Neck G/SC-002 in as well. In the end, it was the former option that took place.

First port of call in Minehead was the Oggy Shop in the town centre, or the Oggy Oggy Pasty Company to give it its full name. Here we had freshly baked hot pasties for breakfast, together with our choice of beverage - tea for Jimmy, juice for Liam and coffee for me.

Then we walked onto the front to the arcades, another treat for Liam. As usual, he thrashed me at the driving games, but I thrashed Jimmy at the air hockey. After playing various 10p machines and other games, we had a stack of tickets, which we gave to Liam to exchange for model cars and chewy sweets at the counter.

Next stop was the beach. Yes, the beach, in April! It was another beautiful hot sunny day, blue skies and about 25 degrees. Definitely beach weather. Except for the sea that is! Jimmy remained on the sand, basking in the sunshine, but Liam and I went for a swim. The air temperature might not have been typical for April, but the sea temperature was! We swam for about ten minutes, but that was the limit.

After returning to the Oggy Shop for lunch, it was time to head out of town, uphill, and to Selworthy Beacon. We parked a the side of the track, between the road and the sign which said “Strictly no vehicles beyond this point”. It was only a fairly flat five minute walk to the top from there anyway.

Liam baggsed himself the shadow of the trig point to sit in and play on his DS, while Jimmy and I set up our aerials. It was a slow-going 8 QSOs for Jimmy on 2m FM, but I was here to play and had carried three antennae with me. First up was the MM12 for some fun on 24MHz. Despite hearing a CQ from YB0AKM with a massive 599 signal, my replies were not heard. I did work four Russians, one English (very close) and a station from Cyprus though.

I replaced the MM12 with the MM20 and settled down for a long run on 14MHz CW - 51 QSOs in 49 minutes. The WFF reference for Exmoor of GFF-006 was utilised to maintain interest in my operation when things started to tail off. Finally, I put the 40m dipole up. I worked 18 SOTA chasers on 7.031MHz CW, before switching to 21MHz CW and offering the WFF again. This brought a further 15 contacts, including nice DX in the form of VE3, EA8 and TA. Finally, it was back on 40m CW to work another 15 SOTA chasers.

The final total for me was 105 contacts. During his 2m activation, Jimmy had worked Peter G3TJE, who had kindly invited us round to his home QTH in Brent Knoll for a drink and a bite to eat. When we arrived, a wonderful spread of cheese, pate, bread, salad, olives, quiche etc awaited, nicely accompanied by a glass of local farm cider. We spent a most enjoyable couple of hours with Peter chatting about amateur radio matters amongst other things, and enjoying the fine spread. Very many thanks to Peter.

It was only a short drive from Brent Knoll to Cheddar, but I was tired by then so took it nice and easy. Like the previous night, getting into bed was rather enjoyable!

The next day was originally scheduled to be our last, with an activation of Dundry Down G/SC-010 thrown in.


Friday 22nd April 2011 - Dundry Down G/SC-010

Well, Good Friday was scheduled to be our day to drive home from Cheddar, perhaps via a morning activation of Dundry Dump. However, Jimmy, Liam and myself were enjoying our little break so much that we rather fancied extending it by an extra day. Liam also made the valid observation that we hadn’t been to a curry house on the holiday yet, so we couldn’t go home.

It didn’t take me long to hatch the revised plot for Good Friday. Job One was to book the extra night at Cheddar Youth Hostel. The availability was there, but it did require a change of dormitory, so we moved everything and remade the beds before setting off that morning. Cheddar is a sleepy town where nothing much happens before 10am, so the hunt was on for breakfast.

Although everything else up through the Gorge was closed until 10am, the Costa Coffee establishment was open. Here we enjoyed tea/coffee/juice along with our hot breakfast sandwiches sat outdoors on the large first floor terrace, bathed in sunshine. A lovely start to the day.

This took us to beyond 10am, and Cheddar Gorge came to life. We drove back down to the bottom and parked in the car park for the caves. I purchased the tickets for the three of us, and the package began with an open-top bus ride up the Gorge while the guide explained all the features as we passed. He pointed out a climb that Chris Bonnington did on the tallest inland cliff in Britain, which apparently got christened “Coronation Street Climb” - because it went on, and on, and on"!

The first item on the agenda was Gough’s Cave, which was very good - and we could see the local cheese being taken in there for “cave maturing”. This was followed by Cox’s Cavern and The Crystal Quest, and then the museum of prehistory, which was really good. Finally came Jacob’s Ladder of 274 steps to the lookout tower atop the cliffs. Jimmy and Liam climbed to the top of the tower, but such a feat was well beyond my vertigo - I stayed at the bottom!

We were now at the start of the optional gorge cliff-top walk. Jimmy led the way (no surprise there) as we climbed steadily on a good path that was busy with the cave tourists. The crowds thinned out as we crossed the highest point and began to descend through the woods to the road at the top of Cheddar Gorge. After crossing the road to continue the route, we were mostly alone, with most others having given up and turned back on the other side, or taking the road route back down the Gorge.

It was a much easier walk on the other side, and it did not take long. Soon we were dropping back down to the road opposite the cave entrances. We adjourned to The Galleries Inn for a few drinks and a brief rest.

Now, in the middle of a hot and sunny late afternoon, it was SOTA time once more. Jimmy directed me up to the village of Dundry, near Bristol, and we parked in the area at the start of the access road to the transmitter compound. The three of us walked up the road, an easy five minute stroll leading us well into the activation zone. I selected a shaded spot by the wall at the edge of the field, adjacent to a small wood, and began to set up.

Jimmy, as ever, took the camera for an extra little walk to the trig point. The first contact was GW0GHF on 2m FM using the VX-7R handheld, but then it was business as usual and onto HF CW. 10 QSOs on 30m CW, 9 contacts on 40m CW including a S2S with DK1HW/P on DM/BW-224 before trying out 15m CW on the 7MHz dipole. I made just five QSOs on 15m CW, but this included Kyrgyzstan, Turkey and USA so pleasing nonetheless. Jimmy made just four QSOs on 2m FM.

After driving back to Cheddar and depositing the car at the youth hostel, we walked back up to the bottom of the Gorge to visit the Shahnaz restaurant - http://www.shahnazindiancuisine.co.uk/ - for our evening meal. We wandered up the stairs to the first floor dining area, listening to the typical background Indian classical music. Then something that completely made my night - the music was coming from two live musicians on a small stage, Ricky Romain on sitar and Jon Sterckx on tabla. Their performance was outstanding and I thoroughly enjoyed watching and listening to them during the meal. See more at http://www.jonsterckx.co.uk/ and http://www.indian-music.org/

The standard of the food matched that of the live music, and this restaurant is highly recommended. I started with chicken sheekwa - minced chicken stuffed with paneer, followed by the house special biriyani. A great meal, and somewhere to which I would like to return. I understand that Ricky and Jon perform there once per month, so if I am likely to be in the area again, I will be checking the restauarant website to try to match the night that they are on.

We returned to the hostel, but this time struggled to get to sleep as the night was so hot and humid. Another multi-activity day awaited for Saturday.


Saturday 23rd April 2011 - Cleeve Hill G/CE-001

After checking out of Cheddar Youth Hostel, we found a cafe in the village for breakfast. This was necessary to delay things to the magical 10am time when the shops in the Gorge would open! The shopping was to collect a cool bag full of cheese selections to take home, a variety of Cheddar Ales, and a few small presents for Marianne.

Now it was onto the M5, and we headed for Cheltenham. In fact Jimmy directed me south around the town to the east, and up the lanes to Cleeve Hill for another SOTA activation. From the car park by the transmitters, this is a very short and almost level, easy walk to the trig point.

Jimmy M3EYP made 9 QSOs on 2m FM. I put up the 40m dipole, but opened on 21MHz. Five contacts included a highlight of 6W - Senegal which was very pleasing. on 40m CW, I made a further 26 QSOs, but at 1.15pm it was time to pack up and move on. I had another activity in mind!

The fact that Macclesfield Town were away at Cheltenham Town in n-Power Leage 2 action no doubt softened me to Liam’s wish to extend the trip. It definitely influenced the choice of summit for the Saturday! We arrived at the ground and went into an adjacent community centre for a couple of beers and a pastie - after first cooling off with a Mr Whippy ice cream from the van outside the ground.

We then filed in through the turnstiles in the away end to join the rest of the Macc supporters who, unlike us, had travelled south that morning. I took the camera into the stadium and managed to get a funny shot of the Cleeve Hill transmitters standing just above the top of the grandstand! Tyrone Barnett scored the only goal of the game to give Macclesfield a deserved 1-0 victory before hitting the M5 and M6 north to home.

The weather was still glorious, and we had friends, including M0GIA, round for a barbecue. Most of my bottles of Cheddar Ale didn’t last the evening!

A very enjoyable few days away, and, as ever, some SOTA activations weaved in with other stuff. Many thanks to the many chasers that worked us.

73, Tom M1EYP