I hadn’t posted an alert for today’s activation as the weather forecast for the entire week was suggesting that it would be doomed to failure. I was in any case planning a trip to France for some shopping, so it still seemed worthwhile to take the radio along just in case.
On the road by 0430, heading for the Tunnel, the omens did not look good. Intermittent heavy showers soaked the motorway, whilst Radio 4 comforted me with warnings of torrential thunderstorms and a breeze increasing to gale force in the Dover Strait by afternoon. It was drizzling as I boarded the shuttle, and, upon arrival in France, the ground showed that a heavy shower had just passed. After a pause for breakfast, I set off north along the A16 to Dunkerque, before turning southeast on the A25. By now it had stopped raining and the sun was trying to break through. Perhaps I was going to be lucky after all. As I left the coast behind, the flat Flanders plain gave way to a few hills. On the right Mont Cassel and its neighbour Mont des Recollets were first to be seen, and then Mont des Cats (with its TV transmitter mast) and Mont Noir appeared on the left. None of these are SOTA summits, as they either fail to reach 150m or are overshadowed by my destination – Kemmelberg at 159m.
Leaving the autoroute at junction 12, I followed the D933 into the centre of Bailleul. In the market square, at the traffic lights, I turned left onto the D23 towards Ieper. This French road enters Belgium almost imperceptibly, the actual border being marked by two petrol stations advertising cigarettes. To my left loomed the summit of Rodeberg, also non-SOTA, as I entered the village of Loker. The turning here is tricky to spot. There is no signpost, merely what looks like the entrance to a carpark just before the church. However, it IS the road to Kemmelberg which now appeared straight ahead. Ignoring the minor roads to left and right I continued towards my target. As the road becomes steeper it turns to pavé, which makes it a regular feature of the Ghent to Wevelgem cycle race each spring.
The road actually traverses the summit, and I easily found a parking space near the memorial to the French soldiers who died defending this hill in WW1. In such a tranquil wooded spot it is difficult to envisage such slaughter in a very short but bloody encounter on 25th April 1918 – those who are interested can visit http://www.webmatters.net/belgium/ww1_lys_4.htm for more details. The ferocity of the encounter is demonstrated by the presence of an Ossuary at the foot of the hill with the remains of those who died in the bombardment.
This is an easy hill to activate. Not only does the road take you to the summit, but there are many seats amongst the trees perfect for setting up. There is a military installation at the opposite end of the hill. It looks like an airfield control tower, and has lots of VHF antennae on the roof. I didn’t actually listen to find out whether this would cause problems for a 2 metre activation.
Having set up at a convenient location, amongst the trees opposite the memorial, I called CQ on 7032. My second call attracted the attention of Roy G4SSH, and his spot attracted more takers until I had thirty different callsigns in the log from seven countries. Once the queue had been cleared, I announced a QSY to 10116. In fact I ended about 500Hz HF of that, and called CQ several times with no response. Just then I felt a few spots of rain, so I felt it was time to make a tactical withdrawal. As it transpired, I need not have worried. The hill was soon bathed in sunshine again, although I could see some heavy rain falling on Ieper a few miles north of me. Before I descended I took the opportunity to photograph the monuments and the view. The marvellous panorama across the Flanders plain shows just why Kemmelberg was such a strategic prize ninety years ago.
My thanks to all those who worked me through the QRN, and apparently deliberate QRM. I was aware of it, but it was so weak with me that I found no difficulties at my end!
This could be a fun hill to activate for anybody passing through the area. There are two bar-restaurants on the spot, one next to the military site, and the other down the hill next to the Ossuary, so it could be a family detour to combine a rest stop and an activation too!
73 de Les, ON/G3VQO/P