As usual for October, Young Mr. Grace (Brian G4ZRP) came up to stay and play SOTA. The WX looked good for the 1st few days and fair for the rest of the week. I’d prepared a list of hills for us to work through ranging from some seldom activated 1pt hills up to bad boy 10pt hills. I was after increasing my unique count where possible. The only downside from Brian’s point of view being that as I’ve done 145 uniques then the nearest uniques are starting to become a longish drive. C’est la vie.
Moncreiffe Hill SS-276
This is the wooded hill visible from the M90 just as you arrive at Perth. Nothing exotic or strenuous, a nice warm up hill. WX was very misty with a huge high pressure area building, the East of Scotland was under some anti-cyclonic gloom. Possible good tropo for VHF was predicted for the week. This hill has a number of waymarked paths but for anyone wanting to bag it for SOTA, a direct route is what was needed. There’s a car park at NO137210 with space for 30+ cars. Follow the path as it zig-zags up the hill to the gate. Through the gate and follow the path into the forest. At the junction turn left and keep climbing. Pass the wooden dinosaur and when this path finally levels off look for an exposed hilltop outside the forest with some obvious muddy tracks. Up there and you come out at Moredun Top. This is the high point and the trig point is much lower down. We set up on the edge of the cliff overlooking the M90 and operated on 5MHz. Didn’t take more than 30mins to get to the top and setup. After packing up, we did the contrived chaser ritual on 70cms which was to become the norm for all activations.
Creag na Criche SS-284
After Moncreiffe Hill we wandered back to the car and drove on to the newest summit in SS. This is no more than 30mins drive but we played sad hams driving through Perth and observing the stunning number of Band I and Band III TV antennas that remain on the buildings. VHF TV closed down 25 years ago so these antennas must be 30+ years old. Growing up in Liverpool which is LOS to Winter Hill, most people had an X for Band 1 and a 3 ele Yagi for Band III. But in Perth there are bayed 8 + 8 ele Yagis, X and stacked H Band I antennas. Right, the thought of all the TV nostalgia is getting me all excited again!
There’s a big ford on the road to Creag na Criche. The depth gauge goes to 6ft but it was 4in or so today. There’s parking either side of the ford at NN988339 and space for 20 cars. From the southern car park, take the footbridge over the river and when this reaches the road, there’s a gate and track in front of you. Up the track and keep following it. Once it levels out a bit you can cross the fence and attack the steeper grassy slopes. As it was we continued on the track till NN989350 and then followed a sheep track to the hill. We sort-of climbed it round the back and then went SE to the top. That meant more climbing was done on the path. You’ll notice a piece of missing barbed wire from the fence as you walk along. This is the correct place to cross. You can see an obvious grassy steep path between the crags. We came down this way but going up wouldn’t be hard. By now it was very murky and getting cold but 5MHz played for us again. We decided there wasn’t enough time to play on 40m and fit in another hill. So it was a 5MHz (and contrived 70cms) summit again.
We were going to do Knock Of Creiff but by the time we got there it was getting late and the boss was cooking a nice roast for us. Rather than spend 40mins walking up and down plus however long on the radio, we decided to leave this hill and reccy Torlum Wood parking before high tailing it back home. So these two 1pts are marked out as standby summits which can be done with out a map etc. if the opportunity arises.
The Stob SS-048
I got the ref. wrong on this. I tried to blame Brian for that but it was my mistake. Anyway, this is a nice wee 4pt hill near Balquidder. There’s a shedload of nice summits all on top of each other here, Creag Mac Rainich, Meall an t-Seallaidh, The Stob, Stob Binnein, Ben More, Stob a’Choin, Stob Breach, Beinn Stacach and Creag Mhor. My work colleague who is a double Munroist (and Graham, Donald and Corbett completist) rates The Stob as one of his all time favourite hills. I couldn’t see why on the map but as it was unique I thought we try it. Being Stag season, I checked with the hillphones site. We spoke to one of the stalkers who was happy for us to do a linear walk from Loch Voil up Glen Crotha to The Stob and back as this would not bother his stalking the next day.
Another gloomy day but the reports were the cloud was low and thin and 850m upwards was above it. Hmmmm, an inversion and tropo was smelt. We took a SOTA 2m/70cms beam and Brian was made to “mule up” a 70cms 35W PA and slab. We parked in a car park at NN513205. This is wonderful as there is naff all parking on the road here. From there we followed the forest track up to NN501204. At the car it was 7C but the end of the track it was 13C and we’d stripped off many layers. The path is very boggy for 200-300m to the big style over the deer fence. From here it’s wild walking to the top. We bashed across heather and rough grass to around NN501231 and then started working up the steep grassy slopes. There’s 5 steep sections and 5 flatish sections. Around 650m we were through the cloud into the scorching sun. It was a bit of a slog to the top but well worth it. The views were breathtalking. This summit is surrounded by big hills with 1185m Ben More SS-001 right close by. We had a fantastic view over the clouds to the south and to the north, a vista of Munros over 1000m. It was nearly 20C in the sun and with no wind we sat in T shirts soaking up the heat. We had plenty of time to play so we worked 5MHz, 7MHz and 144MHz SSB.
We could hear PI7CIS on 2m at S7+ but there was no, none, zilch, nada, rien DX on 2m. Likewise 70cms. We can’t have been too high or PI7CIS wouldn’t have been audible at all. So no tropo but the views made up for. By the time we got back to the car it was perishingly cold as there wasn’t a cloud left.
Now I know why my mate rates this hill. Do it when there’s a blue sky and you’ll be glad you did. It’s one to do again and again and again. Really superb.
Green Lowther SS-056
Tuesday was for something not too long as Young Mr. Grace was suffering a little from the walking. We planned to make a slack handfull of antennas for 20m, 17m and up. But we had an emergency plumbing job as the float valve on the downstairs lavvy was leaking. Not the output side, but the input. After getting some fibre washers, removing, cleaning, fitting and checking it was fixed we didn’t have time to make anything. We did decide on a quick 4pt blast up Green Lowther (complete with body warping GW of 23cms ATC RADAR). We took a 20m halfwave endfed I’d made along with a little matching unit that fits in a 6cm x 4cm x 3cm box.
Another cracking day but the inversion cloud was much more watery and see through today. We made good time up the hill and bumped into the landlord of the Colebrook Arms, Crawfordjohn. We explained radio and SOTA and he extolled the virtue of his pub lunches. I must call in and sample a pie and pint. On the way up, a 4x4 with a bunch of elderly site seers drove past. How did they get past the serious locks on the gate? We walked past the big dome and bimbled to the far end. Again fantastic views over the inversion. As there is a 2m repeater on Green Lowther, plus the other RF junk we were HF only on this trip. The big array of dishes have now gone from the ex-British Gas site. Microwave links have been replaced with fibre. To give an idea of how wonderful a site Green Lowther is, the array of dishes were LOS to Cambrett Hill down near Gatehouse of Fleet. The GB3LA repeater is easily accessed from the A75 much to the south.
We met up with the car and its passengers. Given that they had got in I wanted to know how they got a key. Easy… one of the women was the wife of farmer who had worked the land and hills including Green Lowther since 1951 so they had their own key. Could I borrow it (so I could get a few tons of microwave contest gear up there). No! They were tenant farmers and I would have to write to the Duke of Buccleuch who owned it. Unlikely with all the NATS stuff up there. Well it was worth a try.
So we played on 5MHz and 7MHz SSB and worked the usual crowd. It was noticably noisy on HF. Not something I’d noticed before but not surprising considering the location. Anyway, I set up the end fed, tweaked the matching unit, SMS spotted myself and called on 14.285MHz. I didn’t think the antenna was working till Jeorg HB9BIN called me. He was S9+ and gave me an S6 report. He said I was stunningly loud for SOTA and 5W (nearer 4.5W on my 817). So it worked but nobody else called in. More work needed here to confirm this antenna is worth carrying. More photos of the inversion and then back down home.
Carn a’Gheoidh CS-030
A long drive for this one as the normal route is up from the Glenshee Ski Centre. We were joined by Sarah, Mrs. FMF so everyone who worked us can claim bonus glamour points! It was grotty weather on the drive up with a fair amount of proper rain. That wasn’t predicted. Anyway, by the time we got to Blairgowrie the rain had gone and it had warmed up a little. If you think the VHF TV antennas are good in Perth well they’re absolutely stunning in Blairgowrie. I’ve been interested in electronic stuff since my grandmother gave me an electricians screwdriver when I was 5. We had a colour TV when full time colour transmission started in 1969 and I can remember beginning my career of looking up at antennas and then spotting all the people who had UHF antennas installed. (In our case the telly arrived a week before the aerial. Longest week in my life, a brand new colour TV and no twig for it!) Anyway, Blairgowrie has 5 ele Band I Yagis, the only place I’ve ever seen them. One house has multiple bayed and stacked 8 ele Band III Yagis. Sorry I must stop as I’m starting to dribble…
We parked in the huge car park and walked up by the ugly ski tows. You can do the world’s easiest Munros here. From car park to summit of Carn Aosda in 25mins. Then back down and across and up The Cairnwell (or Chuirn Bhalg in Gaelic). But we didn’t. Young Mr. Grace and Sarah don’t get out as often as I do so we decided we go up and along to Carn a’Gheoidh only. Of course the cloud descended to spoil the views and went quite cold. Most of the climbing is done in the 1st 2.5kms which is steep at times. After that it’s a bimble along the ridge. Navigation is not hard as there is a Munro trade route along the ridge (a big trench) although Mrs. FMF did question what myself and Young Mr. Grace were following at times. It was definitely cold in the mist though so we kept up a good pace.
There’s a good windbreak cairn at the top but no wind. Setup was easy amongst the rocks. We’d done 5MHz and were settling in for some fun on 7MHz when Mrs. FMF said she was off back down. Now normally I’d have let her go but not in this mist. As it was we got 15mins more “tomfoolery time” as she called it. This was up when we’d both worked OK1FFU/p on OK/US-010. 7MHz sounded great but it would have been unfair to have only worked a few stations then gone QRT so we did none bar OK1FFU.
To prove my point why she wasn’t capable of finding her way off with her limited higher mountain mist experience I let her lead the way. I was sure of the features to pass and had the GPS. As it was she admitted quickly how totally disorienting things were in the mist and that she’d not been paying attention due to lack of experience. I still had to cheat and check one bit of the flatter areas with the GPS. Very useful experience for her. I’m sure she had found her way down but it wouldn’t be as easy as she thought. Of course the mist was taunting us all the time. At most it was probably never more than 50m thick and we were soon out of it. Back at the cafe we got the last 3 coffees sold as the cafe is now closed until the snows come.
I thought we’d finish with another trivial Munro and easy 6pts. This one is another fair drive up the hellish A9. There is a huge car park at Balsporran Cottage just before Dalwhinnie. It was raining hard when we stopped so we hung about in the car for 30mins before we set off. There was a little more drizzle on the way up but nothing much really. The route is up to the cottage, over the railway line, along the good stalker’s path, over the ford, over the bridge and then take the path on the right. Up this till it turns to chocolate sauce and the follow the brown stripe up the hill. Higher up it dries off a lot. It’s never steep, just a plod along. The ridge is easy to follow and there are some nice views to A’Mharconaich and Ben Alder etc. We stopped at the cairn overlooking the Allt Choire Fhar for a few photos and to uprate our hats etc. From there it’s an easy stroll over the slightly rocky but nearly flat plataeu to the two cairns at the top.
We set up in a howling wind and were just getting comfy when the rain came. We’d prepared in advance having seen the black sky and were in full wet weather gear when the rain hit. It was horrific so as soon we were qualified Brian was ready to bail. But the rain stopped so we continued until 5MHz dried up. Sadly we didn’t and the rain came again. This meant no 7MHz. A high speed packup followed by a damp retreat to lower ground. Of course when we coming down the sun came out and the views were glorious. Grrr! I’d extolled the virtues of the Ben Alder Inn in Dalwhinnie on the way down. So we set off for a nice coffee and to sit by the fire. It was closed. Not boarded up and closed down closed. But not open closed! The post office/petrol station over the road was open. We served my Scotland’s most grumpiest man. I was all for blasting down to Pitlochry but Young Mr. Grace needed a hot drink there and then. For vending machine coffee it was quite nice though!
Eildon Mid Hill SS-214
We did this after the Galashiels Rally were some bargains were obtained. It took us longer to find the start from Galashiels than it did to get up the hill. It’s not a big walk but it’s steep at the end. We were in a hurry so we parked to minimised the climb. There’s parking for 5 or so cars at NT538316. There’s a gated track on the south side of the loch. Follow this to next gate, through there and follow the track up hill. It climbs through to the col and then you can take many paths to the top which are steep and on scree. Or you can follow the track around the back through the woods and up other marginally less steep paths.
We worked a healthy bunch of chasers on 5MHz and followed up with a nice session on 7MHz. WX was OK apart from the wind again. We were in a depression that helped but it was hard work trying to take photos by the trig. As we came up a very steep path we descended by the back path to keep out of the wind. It still seemed rather steep but we were soon back at the car and the home for another fine roast prepared by Mrs. FMF.
A fine week’s walking that produced 6 uniques and 23 points, my 1st SOTA contact on 20m, 2 temperature inversions climbed through, no tropo DX, 2 Munros and a lot of fun with old hairy face! I’ve put some some pics onto Flickr and will sort out the rest later.