Fell of Fleet GM/SS-181
This is one of those Galloway Hills hills. They have a fearsome reputation that is well deserved although this one wasn’t as bad as I was expecting. Strange to be activating on a Friday, but as already stated elsewhere, I have left over vacation to use so whenever the WX is good, I’m off activating. This activation was prompted by Paul G4MD’s desire for an FT8 morning. Checking the WX forecast showed wall to wall sunshine for 2-3 days although sub-zero temperatures during the day at even moderate altitudes. I was planning going North and bagging near Banchory / Ballater / Braemar but suggestions of snow on Thursday evening put pay to that idea. Instead it was down to Galloway in my attempt to activate all the SS summits South of Glasgow/Edinburgh… only 4 remain now and 3 are real basta^W tough ones.
Up early to defrost the car, -3C when I started it. The roads where quite dry but I had lots of extra water and screen wash with me. I took a longer route down sticking to major roads that would have been treated. They had been and the roads where all quite dry, hardly any grot, dirt or salt thrown on to the screen. I’ve got an estate car now and with a flatish back it does suck lots of dirt onto its rear, so only the rear washer used. Despite travelling in the morning rush hour, the traffic was light for all the roads. It was almost exactly 100miles to the start and that took about 2hr30… I wasn’t rushing with the temp dropping to -6C on the way. Despite the road being treated, there were still a few dodgy bits and even with a light throttle, I had the traction light flashing away at times.
The hill is situated down a long forest track. Lots and lots of people drive down here to cut a lot of approach walk out. But doing this without permission leaves you liable to big fines and confiscation of your car if caught. I know there’s lots of harvesting taking place around here and I was sure I’d bump into someone to ask. Sure enough, just after getting my boots on a huge timber transporter arrived. A chat with the driver suggested the site manager would have kittens if he saw me driving up in a nice road car and there was going to be lots of traffic. So walking it was.
Loads of parking at the start of the track, which is just by Clatteringshaws Dam. Yes it was cold but lovely as there was no wind at all.
From here there is a 4.2km walk on the tracks. Very easy and very bikeable. The mud on the road was frozen hard. Plenty of forestry vehicles on the track too. I had to walk through a section where harvesting was taking place to the side of the track. So much is happening that it makes the maps a bit difficult as the wooded areas marked may have been recently felled, felled a while back and replanted or still with mature trees. It was impressive watching the machine grab a 60ft+ pine tree, saw it at the base then strip of branches, saw it into smaller lengths without letting go. I’d hate to think how much those John Deere harvesting machines cost… big money.
Eventually you get to where there is “the path”. This is not shown on my 2013 maps but is online. It’s also clear on the Google view. Google Maps says imagery is dated 2019 but the track looks very different to the sky view. Anyway NX 551 714 is where it starts and reports say it is well hidden. I’d studied the Google views and with the GPS and ref had a good idea where it was amongst a few mature trees that don’t look like they are going to be felled. Pushing through the branches I wasn’t convinced due to the amount of shrubbery through the trees, but a few metres along and the hardcore base of the track could be seen through all the plant growth.
Here’s the google view, the main track runs N/S and you can see the wiggly path, Google Maps Going to the right of the view is climbing up the hill and the summit is in the bottom right corner. The path climbs easily and then veers South crossing a firebreak before ending at some mature trees. You can also see areas of mature trees, recently planted trees and felled areas.
So what does the path look like?
It’s almost completely overgrown. It was quite hard to follow in places being complete covered in plant growth. But follow it you can. I was pleased to be on the path that makes ascending this hill considerably easier than I was expecting.
As you climb up the views start to improve after 45mins of being hemmed in by pine on all sides. The big hill in the distance is Cairnsmore of Fleet GM/SS-065. The WX was stunning. Still well below zero but the sun was warm. The absence of any wind made this a special day.
Another view of the path… you can see it better through thinner overgrowth.
Also I’m in a replanted area. Those young conifers are maybe 4m tall so they must be over 5 years old, maybe nearer 10. You can also see a recently replanted area followed by mature trees.
After a short period I reached the end of the track as I could find. I knew there was more but that just ascending in a firebreak was also OK. That’s what I did and that’s when the easy walking ended and someone switched on Galloway. The slope wasn’t much but the grass immediately became knee deep. Worse it was a mixture of Tussock Grass and Heather. So when you put your foot down it may hit a plant body that supports your weight, or vanishes into a hole between the plants. Anyway every step has to be checked with the walking poles and taken carefully as it’s really quite easy to get very wet, or stuck or twist/break an ankle. You cannot rush on this terrain. The computer says 1.2km and 125m of ascent to the summit, should take 25mins if it was ordinary hill grass. In fact it took 1hr and a lot of the walk was on the level. But with the WX be extraordinary I didn’t feel tired or harassed. I was in regular SMS contact with Paul as he wanted this for a complete.
Looking North to a real bad boy summit, Cairnsmore, Black Craig of Dee GM/SS-170. It looks so simple and easy. Hahahahaha! That’s killer ground! I expected a 40min ascent when I did it… took over 1hr30. It took about as long to come back down. Every step could be your last! But my oh my, it looks fantastic in the sun.
Looking North West from the summit of Fell of Fleet GM/SS-181 at (L-R) Lamachan GM/SS-061, Millfore GM/SS-092, Craignell GM/SS-178, The Merrick GM/SS-028, Craiglee GM/SS-150, Craignaw GM/SS-096, Mullwharcher GM/SS-073 and Corserine GM/SS-033. Some of the hardest walking in Scotland for height gained.
A panoramic view North.
View North East.
At the summit it was on with the big Down Jacket. Paul’s last message was he had run out of FT8 battery whereas I’d not been able to get my FT8 tablet to stay working. I set up the 60/40/30 dipole. I also had the 80m dipole. This was so I had some LF antennas to give Paul a chance at getting his complete. This was only the 5th activation in 16 years of SOTA. Two of those activations was when Paul and Gerald did it together. You can wait a long time for some completes in Scotland. On 60m Paul was a simple and loud contact. Complete done with ease for him. 60m was buzzing, 14 QSOs including another 3 S2S with M0JLA, GW4VPX and G8CPZ. Of course I’d had a moment when I first set up the 817 as it would not go into TX when I hit the mic. Much replugging followed by a power off on the button then disconnection of the battery. The battery and on and now it would TX. Must be the cold what did it!
Next band was 30m where there was huge QSB. A few stations faded out never to be heard again but 7 QSOs not bad for Friday lunchtime. Then 40m SSB where it was hard work to get 4 QSOs, 2 South of England, 1 France and EA1DHB. 40m CW provided 6m QSOs in 6 countries, G, DL, PA, OM, ON & HB9.
All in all not a bad tally. With the WX being so brilliant I only need 1 QSO to be honest so I could claim the unique. In the end 31 QSOs and 4 S2S. That’ll do nicely.
A view North of Cairnsmore, Black Craig of Dee. To the distant left is Cairnsmore of Carsphairn GM/SS-038,Windy Standard GM/SS-071 and Blackcraig Hill GM/SS-070.
A zoom onto Cairnsmore of Carsphairn GM/SS-038,Windy Standard GM/SS-071 and Blackcraig Hill GM/SS-070. A lenticular cloud is forming over Cairnsmore of Carsphairn.
The FMF shack and shack view when operating. Hard to concentrate looking at that.
Cocooned in Down at the summit. Toasty warm as it was sub-zero.
The lenticular cloud develops nicely on Cairnsmore of Cairsphairn.
Cairnsmore Of Fleet GM/SS-065 across Loch Grannoch
Zoom on to The Merrick GM/SS-028, Craiglee GM/SS-150, Craignaw GM/SS-096, Mullwharcher GM/SS-073. Hard to believe it’s 40 years this December since a USAF F1-11E flew into Craignaw at highspeed killing pilot and weapons officer.
The Craignaw memorial to two USAF officers taken when I was on Craignaw 12 years back.
Finally Fell of Fleet summit cairn and the view East North East.
Return was a reverse of the route. I had had a wonderful day so far and took the walk back nice and steady. I was surprised how steep the ascent was in places, didn’t seem like that when I was struggling for footings on the way up. It would have been so nice to have my bike for the 4.2km back to the car but it was Shank’s Pony. I knew I’d be having a beer and good meal later so the effort was worth it. Back at the car it was still -3C and the sun was lost below the trees. A quick squirt up the A714 and I was in Newton Stewart. I had a free night from a popular hotel booking site so my room in a 3* hotel cost £9.15 which meant there was more money for beer.
What a fabulous day out and a big thanks to Paul G4MD (as G6GGP) for making me spot some top WX and having fun. No FT8 but who cares when the views are so good.
Report on the cluster-doodah attempt on Craiglee to follow.