How time flies. Already, it was the third annual “Liam’s Road Trip”, which has become a pleasant fixture in the February half-term. The previous two Road Trips were Pennine Way in 2010 (including 2 SOTA activations) and Coast 2 Coast in 2011 (including 3 SOTA activations). Reports and photos for both may be seen at http://tomread.co.uk - which will also host same from the 2012 Offa’s Dyke Road Trip, eventually!
Happily, Liam seems much more agreeable towards walking these days, so snatching some activations along the route was not a problem. Many of them were only short walks having said that. There would have been even more but for the poor weather on the last morning, but nonetheless, eight activations in the four days was a very pleasing return.
Wednesday 15th February 2012 - Day 1
Our first stop after leaving the house was a mere couple of minutes up the road - Weston Bakery on Earlsway where we had oatcakes stuffed with cheese, mushrooms and sausage (me)/black pudding (Liam) for our breakfast. Then it was time to hit the road properly, heading south on the M6 and M5. We enjoyed the song “Man or Muppet” from the new Muppets film, as it was played on the Chris Evans Breakfast Show on BBC Radio 2.
It was a lovely sunny day, so the exit for Kidderminster and Halesowen could not be ignored. Walton Hill G/CE-002 beckoned! From the usual parking area, we took the five minute ascent along the muddy path to the summit. I set up for 40m CW with the FT-817, Mini Palm Paddle and half-wave dipole, just a few metres from the trig point. Liam set up for Nintendo 3DS play, reporting that he had added 8 Playcoins on the ascent.
On 40m CW, I made just 6 QSOs on 7.0315MHz before things dried up. I packed up and switched to 2m FM from the handheld, having wandered 30m or so north from the summit to give better take-off over the Midlands. A further five contacts were added to the log, which included SOTA chaser Peter M1CNL and MT colleague Brian G8ADD.
Liam and I descended to the car, an act which earned my son another two Playcoins for future use. We then got on our way back down the M5, with thoughts of a late afternoon activation after first touching base with the start of the Offa’s Dyke Path.
Not so. Suddenly, as I was approaching Junction 13, my accelerator pedal ceased causing any affect on my progress. Nothing. Zilch. Not a sausage. There was clearly a problem in the diesel getting through. I glided across the lanes until coming to a halt in the hard shoulder, agonisingly 50m short of where the entry slip road at J13 joined the main carriageway. This meant that a breakdown vehicle would need to get on at J12 in order to get to me!
Liam and I crossed over the slip road and went down into a handily placed concrete recess for better safety. I called Green Flag, who were eventually with me just 30 minutes after they said they would. Despite 90 minutes of cold and boredom, Liam remained in good spirits and seemed to enjoy his ringside seat aside a busy motorway! It turned out that a pipe into the diesel fuel filter had come adrift. This was easy for Jason from Green Flag (who was excellent) to fix, but as the problem had caused my last gallon of diesel to leak out (I was due to refuel at the services), it was impossible to restart the engine.
This meant a free ride in the Green Flag van for Liam and I down to the services to collect some diesel, before turning round at J14, back up to J12, and down again to the car, which was now receiving its third visit from police / traffic enforcement officers.
At last, we were on our way again. Liam, revelling in Jimmy’s absence, proved to be a revelation with the road atlas, calling out the directions for me to turn onto the M48 and M4 to approach the Severn Bridge. This cost a toll charge of £6 to cross, and then we were very close to Chepstow. Directions were now a bit tricky, and it took a short while to locate Sedbury. But we did, and we left the car on the roadside as we went for a walk down the Offa’s Dyke Path in order to find its start point.
The start of the ODP, atop the Sedbury Cliffs, was marked by a large stone block. The first section of the walk followed along a remaining visible section of the dyke earthwork, and was quite undulating between the cliffs and the village. After a quick look at Chepstow Castle in fading daylight, we drove to Monmouth, which I had decided would be our first overnight stop. We found a twin room at The Queens Head in the centre of town.
The landlord, a South African chap, but living in Monmouth for 34 years, was very friendly and helpful, and a keen supporter of live music. He even told me that he is prepared to take a loss on the three evenings of live music he puts on every week, and that he won’t allow any performers to use backing tracks or drum machines. He even added that he refuses to book any band that describes itself as a “tribute band”!
Liam and I followed the landlord’s recommendation to eat at the Mexican restaurant just around the corner, and a fine recommendation it was. My spicy mushrooms and prawns, followed by paella were both superb. Accompanied by a tequila sunrise and a Desperado beer, this was a most enjoyable meal. We returned to the pub and took our seats to watch the Kevin Figes Trio, playing free-form jazz. They were really good and I enjoyed the performance. I didn’t enjoy the typical thigh-tapping and head-nodding from half the audience who were pretending to understand what was going on and pretending to be into it! Jazz music - great! Jazz audiences - yuk!
So despite the car problems earlier, it has been a relatively successful first day. In fact, we it not for the car problems, we would have been further on than Monmouth and therefore missed out on a great meal and music. We retired to our en suite twin room (very reasonable - £35 including breakfast) and watched a bit of snooker before going to sleep.