First an apology for the lack of pre-warning and confusion with alerts on this trip - unfortunately plans had to be kept very fluid, and the nature of what I was attempting meant there was plenty of scope for things to go wrong (and they did!). Also for sticking mainly to 60m. I did try 40m from a couple of summits, but generally got nowhere with it; and the wind levels on most summits made deployment of the SOTAbeam for 2m too potentially destructive!
To keep this report short(er), I will post expanded access details in the “Tips” for each summit as and when I get time.
As a general note, several of the summits on the Shetlands have either good roads or at least tracks passable by 4 x 4 vehicles, right up to or very near to the actual summits. In these cases I used the roads, applying my “Ruardean rule” of walking at least 100m from car to operating position, carrying all the equipment packed in the rucsac exactly as I would if the walkin was longer. I like walking, but I principally do SOTA for the radio aspects; if by driving part of the way on a properly made track (where vehicle access is permitted, of course) I can get in an extra summit, I will do that rather than trudge up miles of metalled track!
Hill of Garvock - GM/ES-085
Having decided I was going to try and get to Shetland, this hill looked like an obvious candidate to activate on the way up to Aberdeen to catch the ferry, being only a mile or so off the A90. There is a wellkept picnic area to park in, and the walkin is through several fields used for livestock - unnervingly inquisitive cows on this occasion! There is a beautiful folly on top of the hill - well worth a visit in it’s own right, and it provided some welcome shelter from the steady rain that was falling throughout the activation.
Set up the Norcal doublet on the SOTApole, then discovered that I’d left the lead to connect ATU and radio a mile away in the car…So up went the SOTAbeam, half an hour calling on 2m ssb produced nothing. I did hear GM0HTT calling from Orkney, but he couldn’t hear me.
Changed to FM, and eventually bagged 2M0HGS, GM4AWA, GM4IKU and MM3XGP to qualify the summit. Then a quick sprint down the hill and on to Aberdeen just in time to catch the ferry.
Ward of Scousburgh - SI-171
Here the anticipated glitches started kicking in. I had called my wife with a list of alerts for the day based on the ferry timings - unfortunately the ferry had engine trouble and the sea was quite rough, so did not disembark in Lerwick until 0800BST rather than the anticipated 0700. As a result I changed plans and went for this summit first, as it was closer and had good road access - a chance to check I had everything in the rucsac and it was working before tackling a hill with a 3-mile walkin…
When I arrived at the summit, the sun was shining and the view stunning, with a gentle warm breeze.
The summit has a crop of telecom masts, and the base of a dimantled tower some way distant from the remaining ones provided an excellent anchorage for the Sotapole, which soon sported the Norcal doublet. The requisite lead was packed this time, so was soon up and running on 60m and worked four stations who were to become “regulars” on this trip - GM0AXY, GM4FAM, G4OBK, and GW4BVE. However all contacts except with Phil 'OBK gave me borderline reports.
Further calling produced no more replies, and since a thick cold mist had crept in I called it a day and moved on, wishing I had taken pictures of the amazing scenery and surreal semi-dismantled radar dishes when I’d arrived and they were visible…
Fitful Head - SI-160
Although a track to the summit is shown on the maps, all info I could find said it was not accessible to vehicles so I was expecting a long slog in. When I got there the track was a good metalled road, but signed “No unauthorised vehicles”. As the track was through established farmland rather than open country, I enquired at the farm at the start of the track whether it would be OK to go up there and was offered the information that the tarmac extended right to the summit, and it would be in order to drive up provided that I took great care of the animals. (The fields were full of sheep with young lambs of a suicidal nature, enjoying playing “chicken” with passing vehicles…)
So drive up I did at walking pace, and parked by the installation atop, a large radome and a few smaller timber masts. The trig point was in a fenced (but not locked) compound round the installation, but I walked the requisite 100m or so down the line of the fence that crossed the summit and set up the Sotapole and Norcal Doublet tied to one of the posts. The mist had cleared, but the wind had strengthened and was bending the top of the pole quite alarmingly! (On subsequent summits I set up the antenna lined up with the wind to make it “self guying” to a degree, but here because of the line of the fence the antenna was perpendicular to the wind direction)
Called for 15min or so on 60m, without luck; tried 40m also with the same result. Back to 60, to hear G0PZO/P calling on 5.3985 from LD-044, and worked him for the first and only S2S of the expedition. Moved to 5.4035 and worked GW4BVE, GM4FAM, GM0AXY, and GM4YMM, although with very poor reports from the more distant stations. No further replies were heard, so packed up and prepared to move on.
It was my intention to activate SI-194 Scrae Field next; however the marginal nature of the qualifications of the first two summits, and the steep climb to this one, persuaded me that the best course would be to get myself to my accommodation and do a bit of work on the antenna systems to try and improve matters. This was at the northernmost end of the northernmost island, 60 miles and two ferry trips away at Saxa Vord. This place is so amazing I’ll do a separate write-up non it!
Saxa Vord - SI-157
By the time I got up here, thick mist, heavy rain and half a gale were the order of the day. I had prepared a dipole for 60m using computer ribbon cable, a la Norcal, hoping this would improve my signals.
Having been requested by my hosts not to enter within the perimeter fence of the old radar installation, I set up tied to a convenient post and sheltered the equipment as best I could within my old metal framed backpack. A short call on 5.3985 brought back respectable reports from GM0AXY, GM4YMM,G4OBK,GM4FAM and GW0VMZ; and not so respectable ones from GW0DSP,G8ADD and G0NES. No further replies, by this time the mist had cleared enough to get a picture of my antenna in the shadow of the old radome before I packed up and retreated to a much needed hot bath and meal.
Valla Field SI-195
My host kindly offered to drive me up the rough track to this summit in his 4 x 4 ( and you certainly needed it - don’t try this one in your car!) so I applied my “Ruardean rule” again, and walked back from the end of the road to a point where there was a gap in the fence between the road and the summit ridge and climbed through, thus avoiding climbing the wire fence.
Nice sunny conditions, but once again an eye-watering wind. The trig point formed a good anchor for the Sotapole and 60m doublet setup, and a very satisfying activation with good reports from G0HNW, GM0AXY, GM4YMM, G4OBK, GM4FAM,GW4BVE,GW0DSP, G3RMD, G4BLH, G0NES, AND GW7AAV ensued. Half way through the activation, the antenna fell down when in the strengthening wind the loop at the top of the feeder pulled through it’s cable tie (this makes sense if you know the construction of the norcal doublet…) This I temporarily repaired to complete the activation, and did a proper job incorporating inslating tape and two cable ties this time while waiting for the ferry to take me to the island of Fetlar, for my next summit.
Vord Hill - SI-219
Note this summit is within a closed RSPB reserve, and permission is required to access it. (see Tips for this summit).
I was advised by the warden that the best approach was to park at the end of the “airport” track, from where it is a more or less straight walk to the summit. What he didn’t tell me was that this takes you through the middle of a quaking peat bog, and I ended up sinking to my knees in it…Still I’d dried out by the time I’d reached the summit and strapped the kit to the trig point. Again beautiful sunshine but half a gale blowing.
A call on 5.3985 quickly brought back G0NES, GW4BVE, G3RMD, G4JZF, G0HNW, GW7AAV, GM4COX, GM4FAM, G4OBK, AND GW0VMZ. During the qso WITH 'OBK, the top of the Sotapole snapped and the contact with 'VMZ took place with the aerial lying on the ground - explains that poor report you gave me Alistair! Was then called by G4CPA, but could not make a contact of it - your report from me was 4x4, if that is of interest.
John 'BVE did (somewhat cruelly, I thought!) liken my antenna system to a dummy load, I’ll carry out some tests back in civilisation to find out just how well computer cable does perform as an open-wire feeder.
Since the antenna had half-dismantled itself anyway, packed up at this point and made my way back down to the car. Trying to be clever I attempted to skirt the bog, but in fact the route round the edge was boggier than the middle so this time ended up wet and brown up to both knees…
Hill of Arisdale SI-197
The only summit on the island of Yell, the walk up this one was much more pleasant, across open moor with incredibly deep “crevasses” in the peat - never seen the like of them before, 6 to 8 feet deep in places. Going round the worst of these lengthened the walk considerably.
Paid my respects to the summit of Hill of Arisdale, but chose to operate from the trig point at Ward of Otterswick - only 5m lower and well within the activation zone.
Half an hour of quick-fire operating brought contacts with G0HNW, GW4BVE, GW0VMZ, GM4CFS,GW7AAV, GW0DSP,G6LKB, G0RQL, G4OBK, GM4FAM, and G3NIJ. I could hear Don G0NES at 5x3, but unfortunately he could not copy me well enough to make a QSO of it.
A satisfying yomp back down the hill and another ferry ride took me back to my accommodation, an excellent meal in their restaurant and a few pints of the produce of the local Valhalla brewery to celebrate probably the best day’s activating I’ve ever had.
If yesterday was the best, this is definitely the worst day’s activating I’ve ever experienced.
I had planned to do Noss Head on the island of Noss. (Another closed reserve, this time owned by SNH whose permission is required to operate here - see tips) Access to the Island is by a rubber dinghy ferry operated by the wardens on the island. Unfortunately, despite my having prearranged access, they would not take me across as the weather forecast was for an increasing south-westerly wind, which could create a swell that would make it impossible for them to take me back later. Apologies to anyone waiting for me on this one, my wife posted the alert before I knew of the problem, and by the time I was aware she had gone out and could not cancel it.
Plan B was to do Ward of Bressay SI-188. I successfully negotiated the track to the summit and parked just below, in the shadow of a huge pair of masts bristling with antennae and array of dishes, then walked round the summit to the opposite side, where a fence provided a convenient support for the Sotapole and 60m dipole. On switching on, I was met by an S9 wall of noise on 60m and 80m, maybe conditions or more likely from the hilltop installation. 40m seemed fairly clear, but the 60m dipole wouldn’t tune up on that band so swapped it for the Norcal. Spent an hour searching and calling on 40 with no success, but eventually came upon DL100DAN (presumably a special event station), who gave me 3x9 in a quick rubberstamp exchange. Another hour calling produced nothing, I could hear some cw stations around 7030 so in desperation got out the key and put out a tentative CQ on 7032. Was answered by several stations, including PA0HRM who I went back to and made the most horrendous mess of a QSO with. My brain turned to mush, I just could not remember procedure and ended up making a complete idiot of myself, including not being confident enough of the report from him to count it as a valid contact - I read it as 229, but can’t believe I got that right. Sincere apologies Hans, I hope we will work under happier circumstances in future.
After that debacle, I put the key away vowing to learn to use it properly before I did so in anger again. Another hour of searching and calling brought me a marginal contact with Ian GM0NBG/P in Maybole; with time running out I then switched to 20m, and managed a rubber-stamp with Gary, EW1MM but further attempts on 20 and 40 produced no contacts. Finally with the departure of my ferry looming I had to give up and leave the summit unqualified.
So, a sad end to a fantastic trip but I have learned a lot and have definitely got unfinished business in the Shetlands, as someone once said “I’ll be back…”
Thanks to all who contacted me on this trip, espoecially the band of “regulars” that kept me company on most of the summits, and apologies to those whom I didn’t quite make it with. Next time…
Finally, deep and sincere thanks to my long-suffering wife who did not complain once about my swanning off enjoying myself while she stayed at home looking after our daughter during the half-term holiday, nor about the not-inconsiderable expenditure involved.
Best wishes to all,
de Paul G4MD