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Days out in sunny Wales

  1. Great Orme GW/NW-070

Saturday 16th April 2011 was nice and sunny, and we went for a family day out to Llandudno. We reached the McDonalds in a service area on the A55, just over the border, around 11.30am and went in for an early lunch. On reaching Llandudno, Marianne directed me to her favourite parking spot, at the end of the road that the Empire Hotel is on and close to the cable car station. Free parking if you know where to find it!

We first dropped down to (almost) sea level and went onto the pier to play in the arcade. Jimmy thrust 50p in 10p coins into my hand saying it was payment of the bet I won last week. I decided to deposit these in the 10p machine. However, within five minutes, such actions had converted this 50p into £2.50 in 10p coins. I had to find a more effective way of getting rid of them, so I thrust them into Marianne’s hand, and she wasted no time in losing the lot.

The four of us climbed back up to the cable car station. Marianne tried, without success, to persuade Jimmy and I onto the cable cars. While it is true that I am pretty terrified of anything like that, my more burning wish was to walk up to the summit from the bottom, something which, to my shame, I had never done. All previous activations of GW/NW-070 had followed a person-powered final ascent of about 200m horizontal and 15m vertical from the car park in front of the summit complex!

As Marianne and Liam shot off above our heads in the cable car, Jimmy and I commenced the pleasant walk through a Victorian style park and then alongside the dry ski slope and cresta run - Alpine World at Happy Valley. The height was gained quickly and we were soon homing in on Halfway Station (tram). Marianne and Liam were met here; they were now descending on foot, and we agreed to meet them later.

Close to the trig point, Jimmy set up the SOTA Beam for 2m FM, while I erected the MM20 for 20m CW. We had an enjoyable activation, Jimmy making 10 contacts and me making 31, the highlights of which were USA, Canada and Kazakhstan. We had lots of visitors enquiring as to our activity, and Jimmy was just as busy as I was in fielding the questions and explaining about SOTA, and amateur radio generally. One chap - an electrical engineering undergraduate at Bradford University - even said that he was now going to Google ‘amateur radio’ and find out more about getting a licence. He said it was “Right up my street”.

At around 5.30pm, we packed away, and then decided to be daring. We descended the hill by cable car. Without doubt, the best bit for me was arriving at the bottom station. My dislike of heights was confirmed as still present!

A quick drive around Conwy did not reveal any suitable eateries, so we made for Colwyn Bay and the Bengal Palace. Except that it is now called the Madras Restaurant. A fine meal was enjoyed before the drive back to Macclesfield.

Tom M1EYP

  1. Cyrniau Nod GW/NW-034

Sunday 17th April 2011 was confirmed as a SOTA day out for Jimmy and myself, so we were back on the roads west out of Macclesfield at 5.50am BST. Good progress saw us arrive in Bala at 7.35am. Too good progress - none of the breakfast options were open until 8am, including the supermarkets. Instead, we sat and waited.

Two large cooked breakfasts and mugs of tea were worth the wait, and we enjoyed being able to drive all the way to the parking spot for our target hill, unimpeded by snow and ice. We parked in the area at SH946273, 500m ASL, opposite the start of the track. This was to be a long walk!

I was carrying my new Vango 60 litre rucksack. My old Berghaus pack had been used to death, and too many of its features were now now working properly. The Vango had a better design for everything I want to do and carry, although I haven’t quite got all the adjustmnents right yet. We were also carrying new bladders in our rucksacks. The new ones have a really good design with turn-to-open/close bite-valves and bite valve covers and a much better way of opening/closing the reservoir.

Once the track had climbed the angled bank from the road, it turned Eastwards for an undulating meander towards the summit. After an intermediate highpoint of 640m on the shoulder of Pen y Boncyn Trefailw, the track turned ESE for a series of long curving descents, as far down as 570m ASL. But that heralded the final ascent to the highest point of the track at SH988284, where we turned right (SE) on a narrow path through the heather to the fence. Here we turned right again, following the fence through bog and peat groughs to a junction of fences where we turned left (south) to the summit cairn.

It was 2m FM for Jimmy MW3EYP/P and 20m CW for myself MW1EYP/P. Jimmy managed just the requisite four QSOs to qualify his activation, while I had a similarly mediocre total of six. Not even offering the WFF reference of GWFF-074 sparked any additional interest, so we packed away and braced ourselves for the long haul back to the car on this warm sunny midday.

We reached the car by around 2.20pm. I was going slowly due to a combination of sleep deprivation (only four hours managed the previous night), tiredness and side pain as I struggled to find the best adjustments of my new rucksack. During the walk, we each worked new activator Rufus MW6MGB/P using our 2m FM handhelds. Rufus was activating Penycloddiau GW/NW-054.

At the car, we checked out the road atlas and the OS Explorer maps we had with us. I decided that we were about an hour too late to consider activating Esgeiriau Gwynion GW/NW-031, which otherwise may have been our first choice. Other options were mooted, such as Penycloddiau GW/NW-054, Mynydd y Cwm GW/NW-076, Foel Goch GW/NW-039 and Hope Mountain GW/NW-062. But ultimately Jimmy convinced me to take on another new unique, in the form of Mynydd Cwmcelli GW/NW-052.

Tom M1EYP

  1. Mynydd Cwmcelli GW/NW-052

I had to agree with Jimmy. This summit looked really quick and easy on the map. And it possibly should have been quicker and easier than we made it!

After Cyrniau Nod GW/NW-034 on Sunday 17th April 2011, Jimmy directed me a long drive down to the A470. It was somewhat unnerving driving around after 4.30pm in the afternoon and seeing signs for things like Tywyn and Barmouth. These were 1970s family holiday destinations for us, and gave a persepective of how far away from home we were so late in the day.

We parked in a small lay-by at SH803105, before walking along the wide forest track opposite. Jimmy soon directed me down a right fork on a much more uneven and muddy track. Of more concern was the seemingly vertical wall of hill filling the gap and the end of the forest ride.

As the path bent around to the left, it began to climb, so plenty of height gain was made on easy terrain. This brought us to the south-east end of the hill at SH807097, and an impossibly steep looking path going straight up it! Jimmy made straight for this path and I followed. We were soon regretting this approach with Jimmy getting stuck halfway up it and me not doing much better further down.

After working his way to some vegetation to the side of his path, Jimmy managed to scramble up the rest of the way. I demanded he stay put and offer me some moral support as I endeavoured to join him. My solution was to go onto the grass on the right hand side of the track, cut diagonally upwards, then scramble up some vegetation to where the hill rounded. Made note-to-self to check carefully for ‘visitors’ at some point!

Of course, this was all unnecessary. We don’t normally get into scrapes like this, but Jimmy had not researched this one in detail, it not being part of our original plans. But if we had continued past the steep end to the Bwlch, there would have been a decent path doubling back and onto the summit ridge.

Anyway, the hard work had been done, and we ambled towards the trig point which was now in sight. This time I had taken 40m, because it offered the best back-up for the very real opportunity that Jimmy would fail on 2m from here. And indeed he did, gaining only a very marginal conversation on a VHF repeater. In the meantime, I made 26 QSOs on good old 7.032MHz CW, prepping a few friends to QSY to SSB for Jimmy later. The SSB frequencies were very busy when we surveyed them, but a slot was found and used on 7.169MHz SSB. Jimmy made his four contacts, and no-one else called, so that was that.

We took the better route off the summit before returning down the forest rides to the car. I checked the oil and water under the bonnet first of all, as I noticed that the engine fan had clicked into operation just before parking up. The levels were fine, and we set off.

Good progress was made towards Welshpool, but every pub we stopped at claimed to have finished serving food for the evening. By 8.55am, we were between Welshpool and Oswestry, hungry, and concerned for our stomachs after yet another pub had given us the knockback. If any of them had simply offered to make us a sandwich to accompany our beers, we would have stayed!

We tried the Four Crosses, at, er well, Four Crosses. “Food served until 9pm on Saturdays” claimed the board outside. JImmy and I burst into the bar at 8.58pm and asked the question. Result. The landlady was lovely and didn’t rush us into our choices. Not that it took us long, for we both plumped for the homemade chicken & mushroom pie. This was superb, filled to capacity with huge chucks of chicken and great big mushrooms, and served with peas, carrots, chips and gravy. To accompany the food, Jimmy and I sunk a couple of pints each of Hot Chocolate Ale, a special beer made with chocolate and chilli flavours. Like the food, it was superb.

This pub is recommended if you’re in the area activating NWs or WBs. Great friendly service as well as the quality of the food and beer. We will be back.

So, two long sunny days in Wales, three activations, six points, two new uniques and rather a lot of walking!

Tom M1EYP

  1. Long Mountain-Beacon Ring GW/MW-026

Tuesday 19th April 2011 was, necessarily, a long day. The main business was to drop my crocked FT-897 in with Geoff GW4AQU at Castle Electronics. The output power was down and the receive dreadful. When it wasn’t playing deaf, it was playing both sidebands. At least top band could sound busy! Anyway, the filters needed replacing, apparently a common fault with this vintage of 897.

The perfect plan would have been to take a trip with Jimmy and activate our nearest unactivated SOTA hill - Upper Park GW/MW-032. But there’s more chance of catching up with Roy in the chaser table than getting permission from the Powis Castle Estate at present. Next choice would have been to whiz around some of the local one-pointers, and pack them in between drop-off and pick-up. How many of Long Mountain-Beacon Ring GW/MW-026, Y Golfa GW/NW-061, Mynydd-y-briw GW/NW-060 and Stingwern Hill GW/MW-030 could be crammed in between 9am and 5pm? There is also Allt-y-Main GW/NW-059 and Moel y Golfa GW/MW-027, but probably not as part of a 3/4 summit sorte against the clock!

That sort of concept was blown away when Marianne announced she was working on the day the radio was booked in. This brought Liam into the picture, and a big rethink. Inspiring him to get out of bed that early in the school holidays would be challenging enough.

A plan was hatched. Liam’s mate Daniel (son of Sean M0GIA) was invited to join us for a day out on the Welshpool & Llanfair Light Railway. We set off, around 7.40am BST and followed the A534 across Cheshire to the A483. Castle Electronics is just outside the village of Llanfair Caereinion - the other end of the WLLR. However, after dropping the 897 in, we were just too late for the train from there, so I drove back to Welshpool.

As it turned out, this worked well, and the enjoyable return rail journey was punctuated by lunch at the Llanfair Caereinion station tearooms. Upon leaving Welshpool station, we had to drive to Llanfair Caereinion for our third visit there that day, to collect the now fixed 897 from Geoff. And that left me with a little bit of playtime!

From the A458 north of Welshpool, I drove up the narrow country lanes onto the top road across Long Mountain. We parked in a space at the side of the road at SJ268055, virtually opposite the access road to the transmitter site. In gloriously hot sunny weather, we walked up the track to the hillfort. Daniel was fascinated by the Iron Age earthworks and was enthused with the whole area.

In the wooded area within Beacon Ring, we located the trig point, and then the ‘dens’, which appear to have been somewhat trashed! Liam and Dan sat down to play DS and the like, while I set up the 40m dipole. It was a very enjoyable activation with 40 QSOs on 7MHz CW, including three summit-to-summits: OE/DJ5RE/P on OE/ST-366, HA2VR/P on HA/KM-028 and MW0ECX/P on Y Llethr GW/NW-017.

While packing away, I suddenly remembered that I had a SOTA talk to deliver at the Chester radio club that night. Driving back to Macclesfield, then outward to Chester with Jimmy wouldn’t make it in time. Fortunately, Marianne came to the rescue by offering to meet me at Chester services on the M56, passing Jimmy - and my laptop over to me, while collecting Liam and Dan to take back to Macclesfield. That certainly spared me considerable embarrasment that would have been caused by my dreadful oversight!

As it was, Jimmy was prepped up (as ever) with the directions to the club venue, and a good evening was enjoyed there. A decent turn out was there for the SOTA talk, including a few known activators and chasers. The drive back to Macclesfield was tiring to say the least, after the long day. But the radio was fixed, a SOTA talk was given, the WLLR was enjoyed, and I did an activation.

Another long sunny day in Wales! Time for some of the same in England…!

Tom M1EYP