The “knock knock” joke is a peculiarly puerile form of humour but I couldn’t help bringing some of the most pathetic ones to mind as I set off up the Knock of Braemoray (GM/CS-115). My sense of humour has barely progressed from schoolboy level, even although I can now barely remember that far back!
This particular “Knock” - the word derives from the Gaelic “cnoc” and means small rounded hill - is just a 456-metre one-pointer but set amidst the glorious Highland scenery north of Grantown-on-Spey and close to some of the world’s most famous whisky distilleries. It hadn’t been activated since 2017 so I thought it was about time it deserved another activation. What threatened to be an uphill slog across boggy moorland turned out to be a pleasant upward stroll on a narrow but easy to follow track through the heather that took barely half an hour, even at my snail’s pace.
Map courtesy of OS. © Crown copyright, Ordnance Survey 2023
The starting point is at a narrow but adequate lay-by on the east side of the A940 Grantown - Forres road which crosses the impressive Dava Moor.
This unforgiving moorland was also the route of the original Inverness and Perth Junction Railway - the original Highland main railway line - which opened in 1863 but which was all-but rendered a backwater when the new, more direct, main line from Aviemore to Inverness over the Slochd Summit was opened in 1898. Railway buffs might enjoy spotting the board indicating the summit of the Dava line - 1052ft - which can still be seen from the road a little farther to the south. This route closed in 1965. I’m getting way off track, though.
From the lay-by, there is a distinct, though narrow, track up through the heather almost straight to the summit.
There is a helpful white stone three-quarters of the way up to aim for, although the underfoot going is quite straightforward. It can be boggy in places when wet, though.
The path hangs a gentle left as it flattens out toward the summit which is marked by a Triangulation Pillar. Here you can savour the wonderful 360-degree view from such a modest hill.
To the north can be seen the Moray Firth coast and the mountains of Caithness beyond.
To the west lie Ben Wyvis and the Black Isle, the top of an oil rig moored off Invergordon poking up behind it, and further west the mountains of Torridon and An Teallach. To the south is the magnificent and familiar vista of the Cairngorm massif - still streaked with snow - with Britain’s second-highest mountain, Ben Macdui, emerging behind it.
What a privilege to have such an all-round vista for such a relatively moderate uphill effort.
Unfortunately, the welcome sunshine was diluted by a bitterly cold and increasingly strong wind that felt like it came from the Arctic but, confusingly, which was blowing from the other direction. No matter, it was time to stop gawping as there was still the matter of an activation to do. I came armed with my KX2 and my trusty homebrew 53ft end-fed antenna with a 9:1 UnUn supported by the excellent Sotabeams Carbon 6 mast, all of which fitted snugly in a small rucksack.
My loyal Aberdeenshire SOTA colleagues were listening out for me on 40m and my first CQ’s delivered contacts with both Fraser @MM0EFI and Simon @GM4JXP, although signal reports were far from brilliant for me. The band seemed to be in one of its contrary moods but I persevered and a spot on SOTAwatch set the ball rolling.
Neatly, I was able to work chasers in Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland but only one in Europe - Pedro @EA2CKX in Spain - as conditions came and went like the heavy showers pelting down over the Moray Firth, just missing us by a few miles.
After just a couple of contacts, I was hammered by QRM from another station nearby on the band which wasn’t there when I started but which made continuing difficult and so I decided to QSY elsewhere. However, every time I announced I was going to QSY, another chaser came through with a strong signal and I paused to work them. This happened a number of times which must have totally confused them. Sorry about that. However, I very much appreciated their perseverance in calling me and I ended up with 12 in the log before I really did have to move.
There was almost no response from European stations or any further afield, though, which was very different from my activation of Fourman Hill (GM/ES-083), a similar-height one-pointer activated just two days earlier with the same rig. Bands and propagation are always a challenge. “Knock knock. Who’s there? Almost nobody, apparently…”. Maybe it was because it was the first day after the Easter holiday weekend?
A quick last-minute call on 2m on my FT-4xe handie with my Diamond SRH77ca whip brought a welcome response from Ron @GM4KJQ in Findhorn, his village visible far below me on the coast, but no other replies. Time to pack up and head down, although Mrs MWL, Ann (who hails from the Highlands), and SOTAdog, Sula, were somewhat reluctant to leave their splendid viewpoint.
It took less than 20 minutes to get back to the van and to begin the process of re-heating chilled bones now that we were out of that biting wind. This is a wee hill, easily climbed, but offers a big reward with excellent views and a splendidly spacious summit for antennas, albeit boggy in places.
As we drove off, Mrs MWL asked why I was smiling. Actually, she already knew the answer. I’d clearly remembered another pathetic “Knock knock” joke…
Radio not, here I come…
Actually, after a few successful brief CW chases in recent weeks, my first CW activation is getting close, whenever I finally gain the courage to press the key.
Look out. Radio not, here I come - soon…