My education in the dark arts of SOTA continues and today’s lessons included what to do when you can’t get a mobile signal and organising things better so you are not forced to cut the activation short due to time constraints.
We are staying for a few days at the campsite attached to the Hereford Rowing Club. I can recommend the site, not expensive by UK standards (£7.50 per person) and is close to the city centre and right next to the river Wye.
After a few fairly inactive days with just gentle local walking I drove this morning from Hereford to Hay on Wye then turned south (paying £1 to cross the Wye on a toll bridge ) and headed towards the Black Mountains. Our destination was GW/SW-041 which is named in the SOTA Database as the Black Mountain although there is no name shown on the OS Map, just the 703m spot height.
There are a number of possible approaches but the one involving least ascent is the path starting from the start of Gospel Pass where there is conveniently a car park. There was only one space left when we arrived (phew!) but the other parking area by the stone circle has much more space and is surrounded by smooth grass which I’m sure must be used as an overflow area when it’s busy.
My wife accompanied me for the first part of the climb, which is initially fairly steep. This photo is looking back soon after the start towards the Gospel Path car park. Our 3.5t campervan is in there somewhere.
The top of the ridge is soon reached from where there were excellent views. The summit on the left in this image looking north west is the strangely named Lord Hereford’s Knob.
Looking north east. The road running along the bottom of the ridge is the approach road to the car parks and Gospel Pass. In the middle distance you may just be able to see the line of the river Wye. Hay on Wye (bookshop central) is in there somewhere.
Hay Bluff (677m) is where the path turns south east and where Mary left me to return to the camper. I trudged on to Black Mountain on a mostly level path which on this stretch is along the line of Offa’s Dyke. This is an ancient boundary between Mercia in the east and Powys in what is now Wales. In other places along its length vestiges of raised earthworks can be seen but up here, if there ever was any fortification it has been washed away by the rain.
At one point along the path there is a short step above which you are probably within the activation zone even though it is at least 600m to the summit. I went on further, which was a mistake because when I did stop I couldn’t get a mobile signal. I moved again but still couldn’t connect. The third place was luckier although initially I drew a blank here too. It was a curious situation because at this location my phone was showing a strong 4g signal but there was no data. I was at a position with far-reaching views but I might have been on the Moon with respect to a mobile signal.
Then suddenly I was connected and the screen responded quickly. I spotted on 145.450 FM and called… and called… but I seemed to be calling into a void. Silence. I was back on the Moon.
I was using an RH770 clone antenna off eBay as I couldn’t find anyone with the Diamond version when I was looking. So I put the stock rubber duck back on, changed to 145.500 and called CQ. Almost immediately G7RHF responded. Based near Ludlow he said my signal was wavering between 53 and 54. With his agreement I put the RH770 back on and my report jumped to a 57.
So I returned to 145.450 and called CQ SOTA again. This time M5RJC responded from Hereford. By a curious twist of symmetrical fate we had had a QSO yesterday when Rick as MW5RJC had called from GW/SW-020 and I had replied as M0WIV from Hereford. Now it was my turn to add the W designator. As an aside the Black Mountain is on the border between England and Wales so you can choose, I guess, to activate from either country depending where you decide to activate from. But as the mountain is listed in the GW Association it seemed polite to activate from Wales as MW0WIV. There may well also be something in the SOTA rules which stipulates this. My wife is also Welsh so this seemed a good choice for marital harmony.
After a few more minutes calling into the void I had to pack up. I had wasted too much time trying to find a mobile signal and I had promised Mary I would be back in time for lunch.
Yesterday when listening to MW5RJC calling first on 145.500 then moving to another frequency his first contact offered to put up a spot for the new frequency. This sounds like a good plan especially where you can’t get a mobile signal but of course it depends on the other operator knowing about SOTA.
An early activation report I read of this summit mentioned it was a bit boggy. There’s now a stone pavement although my dog Charlie preferred the boggy bits either side of the path. A feature of our camper is we can open the rear doors and the shower hose is long enough to reach outside. This was put to good use on our return to the camper before Charlie was allowed inside.
So, my first Welsh activation but no points. I’m not too dissapointed - I do SOTA to get into the hills and these were nice hills.
During the return journey back to Hereford we found a cluster of electricity company vehicles beside the main road. This road had been closed on our outwards journey forcing us to take a long detour. My guess is they had been stringing new power cables across the road. Did this explain the lack of mobile signal? Was a mast taken out by a power cut?
And other lessons learned? Avoid lunchtime and days when England are in a soccer final and everyone is out buying crates of beer.