Getting the most out of the weekend

What a stunning weekend weather wise. And what a perfect weekend therefore to squeeze every drop out of it for fun and recreation.

Things didn’t get off to a great start at work on Friday afternoon, when the message went round at 3.30pm that there had been a couple of drop-outs and we didn’t have enough players for staff football. So we didn’t play football and just went straight to the pub. But thereafter, things just got better and better!

The evening of Friday 16th May 2014 saw us welcoming top DL activator Martin DF3MC back to SOTA’s premier curry house, the Weston Balti Raj in Macclesfield. Martin had been activating from the summit of Helvellyn only a few hours earlier, and it was great to spend another evening with him over a typically fine meal. Joining the occasion were Sean M0GIA, Jimmy M0HGY, Liam and Marianne.

The morning of Saturday 17th May 2014 brought an early start for Liam and I. We had a lot to do! First was a drive down to Tunstall where my car was booked in a garage for some necessary work on the brakes and a wheel bearing. While the was being undertaken, the walking for the weekend started - 3 miles or so through this constituent town of Stoke-on-Trent, taking in a cooked breakfast, a haircut and beard trim, a swim in the local pool and a pint with a mate (former work colleague) in the pub.

The car was ready by early afternoon, so we hit the M6 and went to Blackpool. First we spent a couple of hours with a piano player, Andy Mudd, I used to work with 20 years or so ago. An enjoyable couple of hours were spent at Andy’s recording studio “The Music Factory”, before we hit the promenade around South Shore.

The sun was beating down, and the beach and South Pier were jam packed. A couple of hours of arcades, hot roast gammon rolls, Arabian Derby and the occasional wander into a pub to check on the latest FA Cup Final score ensued. And then, at last, finally, it was Destination SOTA! We returned the opposite way down the M55 and then up the M6 past our accommodation for the night - the Travelodge at Burton-in-Kendal services.

We then drove along the A590 South Lakes road to Ulverston, and then up to Kirkby Moor G/LD-049. This represented a trivially easy summit to squueze in on the Friday evening, and we used the tarmac by-way (on which motor vehicle access is permitted) to get high onto the hill. I didn’t fancy this quite so much when the tarmac gave way to gravel, so parked up, and we walked the remainder of the tracks through the gate and up to the large summit cairn.

Of course, the gamble of activating after 8.30pm BST on 12m is that propagation might be absent. And so it appeared, as I called and called and called on 12m CW, but without any joy. After twenty silent minutes, I grabbed the VX7R handie and called on 145.500MHz FM. It initially seemed that 2m was faring no better, but eventually I got a response from Dave G1CCL over the bay in Morecambe. I persuaded Dave to QSY onto 24.940MHz SSB for that all-important Challenge multiplier, and managed the contact with him. I then made two easy contacts with OM & XYL team Tony M3NHA and Sara M6NHA, followed by a nice surprise with a 59 signal coming in from Norman 5B4AIF in Cyprus.

Liam and I then hit the road back across to the M6, and the slight annoyance of having to drive southbound to J35, then turn around and return northbound to Burton-in-Kendal services. A spot of supper from the Burger King there was taken to our cheap motel room and we had a decent night’s sleep.

On the morning of Sunday 18th May 2014, Liam and I checked out of the motorway Travelodge on the M6 and attempted to drive to Gummer’s How G/LD-050. It was a rubbish attempt and I found myself on the A591 instead of the A590. A glance at the road atlas later, and a recalculated route across country lanes got me to the normal car park just south of the summit.

Gummer’s How is a short and easy approach, but I always seem to remember it as even easier than it is! It was actually a new one for Liam, who had walked along the approach path before with his mum, but never topped out. Even at 9am, the sun was beating down ferociously, and we were keen to sit in shade and keep our sunhats on.

24MHz was still quiet, but I managed 7 QSOs, 3 on CW and 4 on SSB, before packing up and descending. We now drove across to the village of Far Sawrey for an activation of Claife Heights G/LD-053.

The second activation on Sunday 18th May 2014 was Claife Heights G/LD-053. We only just managed to access the road to Far Sawrey in time, before it was due to be closed for the “10 Marathons in 10 Days” event in the area. I mused over a similar “10 Snickers in 10 Minutes” charity stunt, but decided against it.

Parking in the village was in the village hall car park, with a suggested £2 payable into the honesty box. Liam and I grabbed our rucksacks, sunhats and trekking poles and marched off along the track opposite, by the Sawrey Institute. The first part was lined with tall trees providing welcome respite from the blazing sun.

The walled track continued, weaving in and out of small wooded areas and past a raised grassy mound. On this was a landrover and a large mast with a vertical mounted atop. Initially I wondered if it was the date of the first Backpackers contest, but I soon figured that this was communications control for the marathon event. A couple of left turns through the woods, and a bit of a meandering climb, brought us out onto the summit, where again, there was no hiding place from the blazing sun.

Radio wise, it was five QSOs on 12m, with 4 on CW and just one on SSB. Steve GW1INK/P’s activation on Long Mountain-Beacon Ring GW/MW-026 could be heard, but only weakly, and it was no surprise that he couldn’t hear me. Turkey - TA2AO/4 - was an interesting contact.

We needed to get walking again, as this was a rather long plod back to the car. A decent pace was maintained, and we remained on target for a couple more summits in the day. The next summit was Holme Fell G/LD-051, but not before lunch. At Hollands Cafe in Coniston, we enjoyed rather impressive 6oz burgers with chips and onion rings.

Holme Fell G/LD-051, the third summit on Sunday 18th May 2014, was remembered was being trivial. Goodness knows why. We parked by the quarry at the end of the long cul-de-sac at Hodge Close. The car park was very busy, and several people were hanging off ropes on the vertical walls of the stomach-churningly deep quarry. The edges of this quarry are open and unprotected, although a line of fence posts have appeared, so maybe some kind of barrier is imminent.

Liam and I trekked off along the path leading SSE away from the quarry and soon into several uphill sections. Some of the ground was quite boggy and careful choice of line was needed to traverse without too much difficulty.

Eventually, a large summit cairn appeared on a mound in front of us, but another mound to the left looked slightly higher. We edged then towards that one, but then the one with the cairn looked higher. But now we could see ground behind that cairn that looked higher still. The OS 1:25000 map was of little use, showing just a constant patchwork of crags at this point.

There was only one thing for it - phone the Association Manager! I described what I could see to Jimmy M0HGY, who was at home, and asked for his thoughts. Jimmy was unequivocal: “Don’t go to that cairn Dad, that’s not the summit. Look to the higher ground to the right, it’s up there”. Well I had absolute trust in Jimmy’s recollections, and we were soon on the summit, which had to be approached courtesy of about 15 feet of mild scrambling.

Again, I made five contacts on this one, with 4 on 12m CW and 1 on 12m SSB. Concentration was important on the first part of the descent as we had to reverse that scramble to leave the summit. Down safely, it was then a relatively simple amble back to the quarry car park. It was nearing 5pm on this warm afternoon, but I fancied squeezing in a fourth activation - so off to Little Mell Fell G/LD-037 it was.

From Holme Fell G/LD-051, I drove up to Ambleside and then up The Struggle to the Kirkstone Pass Inn. It was then a wonderfully scenic drive through the pass between Red Screes G/LD-017 and Stony Cove Pike G/LD-018. After driving through Patterdale and past the south-western end of Ullswater, we climbed onto the higher roads in the vicinity of the Mells. The usual parking spot for Little Mell Fell G/LD-037 was used, grid reference NY423235.

Liam said he was really tired and wasn’t sure he wanted to do a fourth hill. I kind of saw his point, as I felt the same way! However, I assured him that this was an easy hill that would only take his 15 minutes to climb.

Well in fact, it took us 18 minutes, but it was a pleasant climb, and the going is quite good with the well-established “footprint” steps in the ground. Liam enjoyed walking amongst the frollicking spring lambs. This time, 12m yielded a bumper 9 QSOs with 5 on CW and 4 on SSB. Just as the frequency went quiet, the midges came down, so it was time for a sharp exit. By the time I had packed the kit away, Liam was already long gone!

Analysing the map, I am not sure how this happened, but our driving route back toward the M6 took us through the village of Tirril. A blessing in disguise as it turned out, for we found the Queen’s Head Inn, and it was serving food! Liam started with the bacon and black pudding salad, while I have the haggis and black pudding stack. For mains, I had the game pie while Liam had the chorizo and black pudding pie. The food was absolutely terrific, as was the Hartleys Cumbria ale I washed mine down with. There are news reports today of a serious black pudding shortage in the Penrith region however.

The journey home was consequently late and tiring, and good old Red Bull was used for its intended purpose. I had to conclude that it had been a magical summer’s day in the Lakes, and an action packed and crammed SOTA weekend overall.