Devon and Cornwall summits March 2008
Our trip to Cornwall came about when Helen and I both realised we had to use our 2007 holidays before the end of March. Unfortunately both the way my shifts fell and Helen’s workload meant that the more usual Easter week vacation was not possible. Fortunately this meant that by going a week earlier we missed the usual queues of traffic, the cottage was more than 50% cheaper and as it turned out I think we got the best of the weather.
One of the reasons we chose Cornwall was that I have an Aunt who lives in Tintagel and she has, like Helen, been researching the family tree. It would be a chance for them to compare notes. As this was intended to be a family holiday my initial idea was just to do the nearest summit G/DC-002 Brown Willy. However during discussions with Helen this got expanded to ‘one on the way there, one on the way back and Brown Willy’, but as Helen delved into all the usual web sites for information on access we realised that due to the nature of the hills there was a good chance we could fit in all seven DC summits if the weather was good, still have days out with the kids and see my Aunt in the evenings.
Thursday the 13th of March was not a good day for me and I woke with a sore throat, coughing and sneezing, just what I needed to enjoy my break, a cold.
Saturday 15th started damp in CQ town as I loaded up the Discovery, but as soon as we were on the road the weather started to look brighter. We were getting a good clear run at it and the sun was shinning as I worked Tom M1EYP/P on the Cloud G/SP-015 at 10:05 GMT while on the M6 about 10 miles from M5 Junction. At 11:35 we stopped at the Michael Wood Services on the M5 for a bathroom break and on returning to the vehicle 15 minutes later both Helen and I worked M3VXX/P Tristan on G/CE-001 Cleeve Hill and it started to rain.
The rain got heavier and heavier until it was beginning to really slow our progress but we still had a fair way to travel and I had high hopes it would dry out further south. As we got closer the rain did abate but it remained very dark and gloomy overhead. Unfortunately with the satnav showing only 10 minutes to G/DC-005 Christ Cross the rain started again. We arrived at the parking spot for the summit about 30minutes before our alerted time and we had lunch while we waited for the rain to stop again. It did not stop but got worse and worse, but as the car was rapidly becoming like a steam bath with five bodies I decided to put on my waterproofs and check out the summit.
I got well and truly drowned simply putting on my kit and I wandered down the muddy lane to the summit working Helen /M and Don G0RQL from the handheld on 2m FM. By the time I had returned to the car Helen had her waterproofs on and we threw caution and common sense to the wind and decided to activate.
Access to G/DC-005 Christ Cross is via a muddy farm track and on this occasion it resembled a small stream, it at least proved that our boots were as waterproof as they claimed to be and my feet were the only dry part of my body by the time we finished.
The track leads to a transmitter building at which point the GPS told us we were at the summit. An initial scan showed no sign of the now almost mythical trig point but hopefully I will return one day in better weather and prove to myself if it is still there or not. I set up on HF running the linked dipole over the barbed wire fence surrounding the building while Helen set up on the opposite fence with the 2m beam.
I rapidly worked my way through the pile up on 5mHz and Helen got three on 2m FM before coming on to grab David G3RDQ on 60m to make sure of qualifying the summit. We were too cold and wet to bother with any other bands but before I packed up I managed a quick 23cms contact with Don G0RQL from my little Icom. I headed back to the car once again and then worked Helen from outside the activation zone while she was still at the summit. The two older children had waited in the car but my youngest Emily gets the award for being as daft as her mum and dad and joined us getting as wet as a wet thing while we play radio. We got such a soaking that I was fairly convinced that none of the radios would ever work again but so far everything still seems to work.
After another hour of driving we saw the welcome sight of our holiday cottage. Once we had changed into some dry clothes and turned the place in to something resembling a Chinese laundry we started to appreciate how lucky we had been in our choice of accommodation. The place had only been done up 18 months earlier and was one of the nicest we have ever stayed in. The 36 inch wide screen HD TV was most appreciated by the kids for use with the X-Box and the views of the Atlantic out of the upstairs lounge diner French windows were superb. Someone had really thought about this place in a lot of ways, but building it upside down with the bedrooms and bathroom on the ground floor was inspired. There was soon an inverted vee dipole running out of the windows to the corners of the garden and I felt well at home.
After our journey down we were in no mood for an early start but when we finally crawled from the pit we were greeted with stunning blue skies and so despite being sceptical of activating on a day when half the chasers would be at Blackpool rally the machine was set in motion and we headed for Kit Hill.
G/DC-003 Kit Hill, situated between Bodmin Moor and Dartmoor, is an excellent hill in a number of ways but the choice of car park is nice. If you are of average fitness you can choose to park in the bottom car park on a nice day and enjoy the walk from there. The less fit can choose to park at the top car park or there is a middle car park if you are somewhere in between or suspect the weather may be changeable.
There are dramatic views stretching across the Tamar Valley toward Dartmoor in the east and Plymouth and the sea to the south. There is a monument on the top of the summit that has been somewhat spoiled by the addition of a number of mobile phone masts and microwave dishes all held in place by rather unsightly steel bands around the brickwork. Kit Hill features a Neolithic Long Barrow dating back to about 3,000BC on its lower eastern slope, along with several Bronze Age barrows and is also an important habitat for wildlife, flora and fauna, much of which is protected by law. Not surprising then that one or two activators have been asked what they were doing there so in an effort to avoid a confrontation we chose a spot well away from the trig, the monument and the fifty or so dog walkers who had turned a perfect beauty spot in to a minefield of filth.
The weather did not quite hold up to the early morning promise but although overcast and fairly cold we stayed dry and we remained undisturbed by questions from either muggles or the ranger. 5mHz brought a good run of the usual chasers plus some new call signs for me while Helen struggled on 2m FM. She tried 2m SSB and was unable to even work some of those she had worked on FM, which was disappointing for us both as making the beam had been seen as being possibly the difference between success and failure on VHF. However thanks to Don G0RQL dragging the locals from their secret (to us) frequencies, the local repeaters and I suspect making a few phone calls Helen got six on 145mHz and well qualified the summit. On 80m I grabbed another eight contacts including the Welsh Mafia’s own mission control Barry 2E0PXW who tried to persuade me to head back to DC-005 again. Sorry Barry it was a bit out of our way but maybe next time I go down it won’t be raining cats and dogs. A QSY to 7.096 brought only Don G0RQL but a change to the much quieter 7.115 got me Andy MM0USU and Jozef ON3TL. By the time I packed up Helen had returned to the car and I made a quick QSO with her on 70cms so she could grab the chaser points. With the hand held I also called Don G0RQL on 70cms and set up with a contact on 23cms. For a short while I thought we were not going to make it until Don suddenly boomed through. Apparently Don’s rig works better with the aerial connected than into a dummy load. Note to other potential 23cms activators; most base stations are horizontally polarised so try tilting the radio on its side if you using a rubber duck antenna.
Tuesday would have been another reasonable if somewhat cold day for activating but we had promised to take the kids out. We headed for Trethorne Leisure Park and wasted £30 for a family ticket plus one. It is an awful place and we walked around the whole place in about 15 minutes. My son Stuart went on the Death slide and Caroline milked a cow. None of us wanted to go on any of the rides because it stank, looked filthy and it was too cold to stand around. The one saving grace was that a meal in the restaurant was quite pleasant and at least it was warm and did not smell like the inside of a muck spreader. After lunch we went into the ten-pin bowling alley, which was great fun. It is separate to the park so you don’t need to pay to enter the park if you just wish to bowl; I wish someone had told me that at the desk.
Wednesday 18th March again started quite nice and we headed for G/DC-002 Brown Willy. We parked by the sign that said “No vehicles beyond this point” and walked from there. There was a stiff cold wind blowing but it was at our backs as we set out for the fairly long walk in. Helen told us it was about two miles but it looked more like ten and I was feeling the effects of my cold on my breathing even on the flat. It took us about twice as long as I expected to reach the actual assent and by that time I was struggling a bit however at about halfway up after a good cough I suddenly found my second wind and managed to get ahead of the others. This allowed me to work Helen who was outside the activation zone so she got her chaser points on 70cms. I found a nice bit of rock just down from the trig that sheltered us from the wind and called Mike GW0DSP to get a spot on for us.
I tied my mast to a convenient sign and started up on 5mHz and worked 13 mainly regular chasers but with a couple of new calls in the log. Before I tried 80m I gave Don G0RQL a call on 23cms and we made it again, three out of three! Seven contacts on 3.666 including Barry PXW again and Carolyn G6WRW who did not have a NoV for 5 mHz at the time plus at least one station who could not hear me on five made it all worth while.
I have lost count of the activations were I have called on 40m in vain but today was different. First up on 7.096 was Michael DJ5AV, followed by OK1DSB, Ambrosi HB9AGH, Don G0RQL and Frederic F4EMK. Five calls and five countries so it proved that even if few stations are coming back I am getting out. I announced my usual QSY to 7.115 but was disappointed to find wall-to-wall broadcast stations.
Helen’s activation mirrored the rest of the week and I admire her determination to make it work on VHF. Eventually after calling herself almost hoarse she logged six contacts on 2m FM. 2m ssb was a resounding failure as it was all week and her final contact was with me on 70cms as I skipped down the hill out of the activations zone.
I did not skip for very long and I was almost on my knees by the time I was back at the car my cold and the winter’s inactivity taking its toll.
As we packed up a young lad from the farm that owns the land appeared on a motorcycle and asked what we were doing. When we told him he said we probably wouldn’t have been stopped but we should have asked at the farm first. This is a bit of a problem because all the signs for permissive access say not to approach the farm. Also approaching the farm on foot would have added a couple more miles on the route and it would have been devastating if we walked all that way and they said no. The alternative would have been to drive down to the farm and ask first, but before you drive to the farm you would need permission to drive onto their land. Arrg!!!
On our way back we paid a visit to some standing stones and I attempted to perform the Rite of AshkEnte (TP fans will understand) which failed due to either not having either 2ccs of mouse blood or any chalk or because my SOTApole was a poor substitute for a Wizards staff made from Sapient Pearwood. At least I think it failed there was a white horse standing over in the distance.
I slept well that night but I was stiff as a well-starched collar the next day as we all were. Our previous experience has taught us that the best cure is to do some more walking so we headed for G/DC-004 Hensbarrow Beacon.
The journey took a little longer than it should have because despite the satnav having the latest up-dates it did not have the extensive changes to the A30 and once we were on the new bit of the road we could no longer get off were we needed to. Eventually we parked up in a small car park near to the quarry entrance and looked around for the summit. The GPS pointed us in the right direction and I got out the binoculars and spotted the trig on a small mound of rocks a short way off. This summit is a bit of a joke because the waste clay from the quarry is piled higher than the natural summit on three sides. This means VHF contacts are only possible in one direction, but Helen still managed to drum up five contacts thanks to Don on 2m and so did not need either the now obligatory 70cms contact from me grabbing the chaser point or the quick one on HF we thought she might from here. 5mHz was more of the same for me with mainly regular chasers, a couple of newcomers and a couple of calls, which although I had never heard before this trip, were becoming familiar. Seven on 80m but no sign of Barry this time, but at least I worked his dad and my old buddy Arthur GW1LDY on 5mHz. A quick QSY to 40m told me it was a waste of time, the noise level was horrendous below 7.100 and above was just full of music from Radio China or some such. By the time I packed up it Helen was in the car and once again I used the hand held to give her the chaser points on 70cms. This summit was unfortunately not really the walk I needed to loosen everything up so I was glad when the next one had a decent walk in.
We had seen the weather forecast for the next few days so it was on to G/DC-007 Watch Croft. This didn’t look much when we got out of the car but is worth the visit for the views alone. Look one way and you have the brilliant blue of the Atlantic. Turn 180 degrees and there is the channel. To the southwest you can see Lands End and to the northeast undulating hills and valleys. It would have been perfect later in the year but a biting wind was blowing off the Atlantic.
We parked opposite the entrance to a track with a sign saying ‘Private no vehicles access to cottage only’ and walked up the track which is marked on the map as a public right of way. On reaching the cottage on the left we turned right and headed up what looked like a fairly well worn path through the heather and bracken between what looked like two overgrown mine shafts towards the summit, however it petered out as we neared the top which was not a problem on the way up but finding it on the way down could have been a problem if we hadn’t got lucky.
Operations on 2m, 60m and 80m went pretty much as expected but we were far too cold and the light was starting to go fast so no 40m was even attempted and I didn’t delve in the rucksack for the 23cms rig either. 70cms was used to grab chaser points off each other. I had not attempted any photographs in the pouring rain on our first summit but here the light had been perfect but the camera decided it was too cold and even with a new set of batteries gave up the ghost on me with only a handful of shots. The best ones of the day including a beautiful sunset escaped.
Thursday 20th and we awoke to howling winds and views of the Ocean crashing on to the rocks and fifty to sixty feet in the air. No summits today then but wow what a view. On our way to Bude to go swimming we stopped to take some pictures of the wild wild sea but although I was having trouble standing upright it was nowhere near as impressive as it had been earlier. We spent the morning in the swimming pool, had lunch in Morrisons and spent the afternoon ten-pin bowling again. It was only when I saw Helen paying over £90 for the three games that I thought maybe this was not a sport I will be doing on a regular basis. At least no one is charging us to walk up the hills…yet!
Friday 21st and horrid weather again so we visited Goonhilly Down, which was enjoyable, but would I suspect be would a nightmare and a waste of time in the school holidays. It was a laugh to see some of the things I have in my junk box such as a Pye Cambridge and some old computers as parts of what is essentially a museum display. We had left the directions to the new Marconi Centre, which was to have been the next place to visit at home and we could find no leaflets so that will have to wait until next time. What will also have to wait until next time is G/DC-006 Carnmenellis, as a dragon apparently defends this summit and we did not wish to have to put up with a possible conflict, particularly with the children in tow. I have come up with a cunning plan (involving hard hats and yellow jackets) and I am told there is now a footpath to the summit, but the footpath was not on our maps and I came up with the cunning plan too late.
Saturday 22nd and we should have been doing G/DC-001 High Willhays on our way home. There was no chance of doing it earlier in the week as it was closed to public access but this would have been the ideal opportunity, it being open for the bank holiday weekend. Apparently the army don’t do wars over Easter or something. It was sad to see that it was blowing a gale and there was no chance of us spending a few hours on a hilltop. The journey home was painfully slow as the wind caught the high sides of the Discovery and seemed to want to use the top box as a wing. The high point was a contact with Carolyn G6WRW/P on G/WB-012 High Vinnalls while the low point was hearing Tom M1EYP/P work Helen M3YHB/P who was with Carolyn and him being 5/9 and then making a contact with Tom on S20 and loosing him on the QSY. On the way home my biggest comfort was seeing flakes of snow and thinking, “at least we picked the better week”.
I now remember why I never went to Devon or Cornwall for less than two weeks, I hate that monotonous journey and I also remember why I used to go, what magically scenery. Having so nearly completed the DC association you can bet I will be going back and the sooner the better if I get my way.
Thanks to all those who supported us in particular to Don G0RQL for his local knowledge and rustling up of the locals and to Mike GW0DSP for his spots and alerts and always being available on the mobile when I needed him. Big thanks also to John M0JDK for his GPS waypoints and to Tom M1EYP, Richard G3CWI and others from whose web sites we assembled the information we needed to tackle each summit with confidence.
I would also like to thank Icom, Kenwood and Yaesu for all making equipment that has stood up to some ridiculous abuse it was not built for and for it being nearly waterproof, my kids for not moaning all that much even when I kept winning at ten-pin bowling and above all my loving wife Helen GW7AAU for her understanding and gritty determination to qualify all the summits on two metres not to mention her organisational skills.
If you just read this thanks for doing so but shouldn’t you be working?
Regards Steve GW7AAV 73
This report is intended to appear on my web site along with photographs at http://gw7aav.googlepages.com sometime when I get around to it. More photos will also appear on my Flickr page http://www.flickr.com/photos/gw7aav/ when I get around to upgrading my account.