One of the (many) great and life-changing things about SOTA is the inspiration derived from the activities and stories of others. I read reports of people doing things I thought weren’t realistically possible - Jon @G4ZFZ combining SOTA with overnight backpacking wild camping, Gerald @G4OIG and Paul @G4MD getting up at ridiculous o’clock in a morning to do 700 mile round-trip daytrips in order to bag a new one-point unique, making arrangements to visit private estates and uninhabited islands, climbing 12,000 foot volcanos abroad, operating on FT8 - that sort of thing.
Well with every summit in G, GW, GI, GD, GU and GJ now activated, it was time for Jimmy @M0HGY and me to cross another off the list - a daytrip to Scotland!
We had some really good advice and information from Andy @MM0FMF and Phil @G4OBK in the days ahead. Thanks guys. Where the planning went wrong was that instead of going to bed ay 10pm ahead of a planned 5am get-up, I went to bed at midnight. And then could I sleep? No chance. At 3am I PM’d Jimmy to let him know when he woke up to have another two hours - 7am was now the get-up. I eventually managed 2.5 hours sleep, which was far from ideal, but come 6.30am I felt alert, rested and ready-to-go. Even so, I was acutely aware that this could prove to be a huge problem, so I made a promise to myself to curtail the day at any point I saw fit, and also to take service station naps on the way back home as and when required!
As it turned out, we activated 3 of a planned possible 4 SOTA summits, and I got home safely without needing a nap or even a coffee. The self-discipline from my band touring days gave me assurance that I would be cautious and rest appropriately as and when required.
We set off from Macclesfield around 7.15am BST and made our way up the M6 to Tebay Services. Here I picked up a Cumberland sausage bap each, and a tea for Jim and cappucino for me. We next went to Southwaite services in the hope of buying the OS Explorer maps for the day, but the map shop there now seems to be a Greggs! It was OK as we had already the printed out sheets we needed from my online OS Maps subscription, but Jimmy likes to collect the paper maps for summits visited. What Southwaite did have was a West Cornwall Pasty shop. We’d only just had breakfast, but we fancied the Steak & Tribute Ale pasties, and figured that if we had those, we wouldn’t have to worry about food until teatime on the way home - and we had a definite plan for that!
Hightown Hill GM/SS-273
We’d started out in heart-sinking grey drizzle in Macclesfield earlier, but as we passed the large metallic Saltaire on the Scottish border, it was brightening up to be a glorious day. Jimmy was, as usual, in charge of navigation, both on the roads and in the hills, and he directed me unerringly to the farm at Hightown, immediately to the west of Hightown Hill, and NNE of Dumfries. We dropped a little further down the road north until we found a suitable place to park the car.
We walked back up the road to the farm, and the left (east) onto a good track aiming initially straight up the hill. This then swung right to gain height in a more gentle and graded way around the westwern flanks of the hill. We finally veered off the track at its highest point to strike directly for the summit. It was a simple climb of around 15-20 minutes. The official Marilyn top is now on the adjacent hillfort - a twin peak - so at some point this hill will have a new location and a new SOTA reference - so we were glad to ‘bag’ it!
We had a great activation. As would be the M.O. for the rest of the day too, Jimmy operated on 2m FM with an FT-817 and SOTAbeams MFD, while I had my own FT-817, 20m groundplane quarterwave and various modes available. We would “hot-desk” and swap stations when phone-mode S2S opportunities came up that we knew each other would wish to work!
20m CW: 12 QSOs
20m SSB: 16 QSOs
2m FM: 4 QSOs
2m C4FM: 1 QSO
S2S: EA1/BU-061, EA2/SS-046, HB/TI-142, HB/FR-030, GM/SS-056, SP/BS-029, DM/BW-010, EA2/BI-064, S5/PK-026, LA/OL-046, GM/SS-033
20m SSB: 3 QSOs
2m FM: 12 QSOs
2m C4FM: 1 QSO
S2S: HB/TI-142, GM/SS-056, SP/BS-029, LA/OL-046, GM/SS-033
See Morris Hill GM/SS-274
From north-ish of Dumfries, we then drove to the west of the “Queen of the South”. We’d heard various conflicting experiences and advice regarding the barrier on this potentially drive-to-the-top summit. As we arrived on the minor road from the east via Riddingshill, the barrier was chained up and locked, so no decision needed to be made. There was a spacious parking area here, so we left the car there and walked up - just a ten minute walk up the remainder of the access road to the transmitter compound and trig point on the summit.
20m CW: 18 QSOs
2m FM: 1 QSO
20m SSB: 1 QSO
2m FM: 4 QSOs
Bishop Forest Hill GM/SS-228
We now drove a short distance further west, parking on a patch of firm grass in a wide gateway at a T-junction of roads, at Marglolly Bridge to the west of the hill. From here a quadbike track led over rough grass, meandering all the way to the summit. The first 10-15 minutes was a steep slog, but the final few minutes to the summit was pleasant remote upland hiking. The summit was lovely with great views, but our instinctive decision to set up using the trig point and cairn to shelter from the breeze proved to be a schoolboy error!
20m CW: 8 QSOs
20m SSB: 2 QSOs
2m FM: 1 QSO
20m FT4: 8 QSOs
S2S: SV/PL-158, GW/NW-021
2m FM: 8 QSOs
The S2S contact(s) with Mal MW0NLG on Rhobell Fawr GW/NW-021 on 2.5 watts, 2m FM was a particularly satisfying one, and I got the impression that Mal was as delighted as we were with it. The stupid decision to set up in a sheltered spot now came back to haunt us. The sun became more intense, the temperature soared, the breeze vanished - and the Scottish midges arrived. I copped for a few bites, but they particularly enjoyed the taste of Jimmy, and he has the “tattoos” to prove it!
Time for a sharp exit. We both agreed that the fourth planned summit was not feasible. It was time to go in search of supper, and head home. We found a chippy in Annan for our battered haggis, chips, mushy peas washed down with Irn Bru (of course). I still felt fresh and alert and was able to drive back to Cheshire with just one brief rest stop at Tebay, where we found these amazing bottled drinks called “Zingi Bear” - a refreshing drink originally made for thirsty Cumbrian farmers, and made from ginger, lemon and honey. Absolutely delicious, and we will be stocking up when next passing!
A wonderful and enjoyable day. Shirt sleeve order and sunglasses all day. Scotland will be getting a reputation for its nice easy hills and fantastic weather…