Ramblings of an untidy mind by Steve GW7AAV
A tale of two Mells.
Oscar Wild said “Work is the refuge of people who have nothing better to do” and I must say that I agree with him. I have always had more hobbies than I had time and work is a necessary evil in my mind. I haven’t always hated my work but various changes over the years have left me feeling under stress, because I feel under stressed. It sounds contradictory but it is not, somehow the job I am doing at the moment is so mind numbingly simple that I cannot get interested enough to remember anything. The present culture of the safety Gestapo has me running around doing the impression of a headless chicken and I have started to have dreams of my colleagues and bosses heads neatly stacked inside my fridge. I really should never have watched ‘American Psycho’, but hey it was a great film.
Well I wasn’t going to start chopping off heads or murdering my way to the top job in my company, but I needed to get away. Helen needed a break as well. She enjoys her job but problem employees, problem customers, mechanical breakdowns and end of the financial year meant she had been under massive stress too. The grey men with thin watches were the final straw because after a week with the auditors she came home and spent the night on the Internet looking for a weekend break.
Helen booked a weekend at the cottage attached to the Kirkstone Inn in the Kirkstone pass at the foot of G/LD-017 Red Screes and we made plans to activate on Saturday 14th March. This was an ambitious plan for us as it was somewhat bigger than we normally tackle. Maps, GPS info and every written description of the route we could find were sourced. We were quite excited by the prospect.
24 hours later our plans were in tatters. Apparently although the holiday company had accepted the booking and the cottage remained un-booked for the weekend/week the owners of the Kirkstone Pass Cottage has rejected the payment and informed the holiday company they no longer wish to let the property for short breaks.
More long hours spent trying to find somewhere to stay put us some way from our original target summit and neither of us fancied getting up at the crack of dawn to ensure a car parking spot in Kirkstone Pass. A quick look at Memory map revealed we would be able to see G/LD-037 Little Mell Fell less than a mile away from the new accommodation and G/LD-035 Great Mell Fell was not much further. It was a bit of a come down from Red Screes but we would want to do them at some time, so we made plans to do these two.
Our plans to do just one ‘big one’ gone and having all day on the Friday to travel up to the Lake District we decided to pick off a few South Pennines Summits en route. I had four in mind and posted alerts. I thought we might have got three of the four done because of how long I tend to operate for, but the weather had other ideas.
It was Friday the 13th and I am not superstitious but maybe I should be. We packed the car the night before and should have been ready to go at 09:15 hrs GMT after dropping the children at school but I found Helen searching for the GPS. Some time later she found and programmed said tool with the walking routes. We then found that we had lost the mount for the Sat Nav, which Helen had programmed with all the parking spots. Time for another treasure hunt! We ended up with the Tom Tom stuck to the dashboard with ‘Blue Tack’ and we still haven’t found the mount. Seems silly really because the Discovery has a built in Sat Nav but there is no way to get all those useful parking spots, places of interest and amateur radio repeaters locations across to it.
An hour or so wasted and we were on the move, but we only got twenty feet before Helen realised she had left the details of the accommodation behind. She dived back in to the house. Twenty minute later I went to see where she was. She was on the telephone to the holiday company asking if they could email her the details they had sent in writing. The email duly arrived and she lent over to turn her printer on, and there on top the paper tray was the document she had been looking for.
Finally on the road we headed for G/SP-017 Billinge Hill. We parked just off the road near to a transmission tower at SD522018 and followed the footpath sign along the road past Beacon Farm towards the other masts. At the end of the road we did not need to cross the stile by the gate because the gate was missing. We walked alongside the radio compound with the fence on our left. At the end of the compound we turned left and walked along the field margin and thus up to the summit. It was extremely muddy.
At the summit the sight of a lone girl sat on the bench by the stone building greeted us. She stared aimlessly into space and seemed to look right through us. Unrequited love? Drink or drugs? She seemed a sad character. We headed for the trig.
As I set up the HF dipole along the fence it started to spit with rain. Helen set up her mast with the J-pole near to the trig and we were just about to start when we were ‘muggled’ by a series of dog walkers all with questions. After discussions ranging from what we were doing, to dogs, to family tree research, the state of the weather and if there was any truth to the global warming myth. At 11:40 we started to call CQ.
At 11:45 Mike GW0DSP was first in my log on 5.3985 ssb, followed by Brian G4ZRP, Paul G0HNW and finally Arthur GW1LDY. By 11:55 with no further callers I had to pack up because the rig was so wet I never though it would work again. Propagation was as abysmal as the weather because even running 100watts from the FT-857 I was struggling for contacts and reports from the ones I got were not brilliant.
Helen was struggling on 2m as well but for a different reason. Desensing was evident even on 5 megs, seen as short bursts of dead carrier, but on 2 metres FM it was horridly difficult to make a proper QSO even though everyone was 5/9 when the transmitters went quiet. Helen only got five contacts in her log and so between us we did not even get into double figures. A somewhat disappointing result but at least we qualified it. I did give a quick half dozens calls from both the four metre and 23cms handhelds after packing up but not surprisingly I got no replies. I cannot see us rushing back to this do this one again any time soon.
Back at the car we dried off and debated what we should do. We headed for G/SP-010 Winter Hill and hoped that by the time we had arrived and had eaten some lunch the rain would have ceased. No such luck! The rain proceeded to get heavier all the way there and by the time we were eating lunch it was officially declared torrential. Half an hour later we headed for the motorway and all thoughts of any more summits that day were forgotten.
Arriving at last in Lakeland the rain had finally stopped but we splashed through muddy puddles unloading the car into the adequate accommodation leaving a few marks to be removed later from the cream carpet. Whatever else was wrong with the cottage we had booked it was not the view. There are few poor views in the Lakes and we had a great one of the two Mells to keep our targets in mind.
After unpacking and a quick coffee we changed and headed for the Sportsman Inn, Troutbeck (http://www.cumberlandtaverns.co.uk/sportsman.htm ) which is just off the A66 between Penrith and Keswick for an early evening meal. I can thoroughly recommend this one, so much so we went back on Saturday night for another try. On approaching the bar I was delighted to see a fine range of good ales. For a moment I was torn between Jennings Cumberland Ale and the Marsdon Pedigree, but I opted for Jennings Sneck Lifter 5.1% ABV which turned out to be a good choice, a superb tasting rocket fuel if ever there was one. The meal was excellent and our early arrival meant that we had good service before the evening rush started just as we left. It was a totally relaxed AAV with a slightly silly grin that crawled into bed a few hours later.
That bed wasn’t the most comfortable I had slept on but the beer probably helped me getting good nights sleep. It did not however prevent the wind rattling the windowpanes from waking me up a bit on the early side. I crawled out of bed but immediately crawled back in again; the cottage was as cold as the inside of a refrigerator. Eventually we braved it and sat eating our breakfast cereal and drinking coffee in the lounge huddled together under a duvet.
We had intended to activate both LD-035 and 037 on Saturday but as I stepped outside the cottage it was hard to remain vertical. If it were like that here it would be awful on the summits. Discretion being the better part of valour, when the going gets tough the tough go shopping, so we that is what we did. A trip to Keswick and then on to Cockermouth picking up a few trinkets for the kids before heading back to the cottage to eat lunch.
By the time we had eaten it looked as though the wind had dropped a bit. It would still be blustery, but we might just be able to keep the mast up. We headed for Little Mell Fell and reasoned we might do Great Mell on the way home on Sunday.
We parked at the spot recommended by Richard G3CWI in the lay-by opposite the grass covered water service reservoir at NY423235, crossed the stile and followed the path to the summit. It should have been easy but it seemed steeper than it looked, we had been a bit inactive of late and the wind was making things tricky at times or at least that was my excuse for being passed by a dog walker who was coming down after passing us on the way up.
On the summit there is no shelter but we sat with our backs to the wind and set up the station. The fishing poles for both the HF and the VHF antennas were almost bent double and we expected them to snap at any moment. The views from the top were in true Lakeland tradition excellent but my eye kept being drawn to the Sportsman Inn and my thoughts to the evening meal and another few pints of Sneck Lifter.
We were set up by 16:00 and the activation started well with a summit-to-summit contact with Martyn MW1MAJ/P on GW/SW-008 Cefn yr Ystrad. I would normally have been disappointed with just 8 contacts on 5 megs but it was twice what I got on Friday and conditions were equally poor on that band. A QSY to 80 metres was more successful taking the total to 26 in all and included a summit-to-summit with Martyn’s XYL Caroline MW3ZCB/P also on Cefn yr Ystrad. Helen struggled a little on 2m FM and decided after the fourth and qualifying contact to give up and log for me. She also grabbed Caroline for the chaser point to take our joint tally to 31. CQ calls on 7.115 and 7.090 remained unanswered as did hand portable calls on 70.450, 433.500 and 1297.500. I did not expect anything from the last three but if you do not try you will never know.
By 17:00 we were packed and on the decent. The cottage being less than a mile away we had showered, changed, and where walking through the door of the Sportsman Inn at 18:00. Two minutes later I was sat with 2/3rds of a pint of Sneck Lifter waiting for my meal. What started as a disappointing day finished being an exceedingly satisfying one.
Sunday 15th March started early and badly. Our neighbours in the adjoining property were obviously insomniacs and the sound of Radio two played at 130 decibels permutated even the three-foot thick walls of the cottage at 05:30. We lay in bed for a full hour and half trying to blank the noise and get back to sleep, but at 07:00 they decided to run a bath, at that point we realised that hot water system for all of the cottages was located in the loft space above our bedroom. I resisted the temptation to impersonate Vlad the Impaler by impaling both my temporary neighbours and the owner of the cottages on my SOTA poles and had breakfast, followed by lots of coffee.
The owner had told us there was no hurry to be out of the property as no one was coming in and was quite surprised to have us deliver the key to back him before 09:00. It was a gorgeous morning and all my wicked thoughts quickly disappeared and my state of mind more resembled a Disney cartoon with Bluebirds and butterflies flitting about than a Hammer House horror film, by the time we parked up on the verge at NY407247.
We followed Richard G3CWI’s directions along the lane to the second stile on the right at NY404245. After crossing this we followed the obvious path with the fence on the left at first along the edge of the wood. There appears to be more than one path that leads to the summit because although we followed the GPS track we had plotted in advance on the way up we came down another way but ended back on the same path along the fence at the same point. I am at a loss to figure out where we went wrong or where we got back onto the right path and we neglected to activate the GPS on the way down so we do not even have a record on that.
The assent was a little steep in places but we have done much steeper and higher summits, so no real worries, however due to it being mostly grassy it might be a bit slippery just after the rain. We had no rain just baking sun; it was great but a little sapping. We took our time, enjoyed the views and finally set up on the summit at 11:00.
First up on 5 megs was another summit to summit with Andy MM0FMF/P on GM/SS-143 Trahenna Hill. As he was on 5.3985 I tried 5.3715 with limited success and got four more contacts. Eventually I QSYed to 3.666 for another seven including summit to summit contacts with John GM8OTI/P on GM/SS-254 Cairnpapple Hill and Caroline MW3ZCB/P GW/SW-009 Mynydd Troed. After trying 40m without any takers I gave 60m another go and got a further nine contacts on 5.3985 which maybe proves nobody bothers listening anywhere else than channel Fox Echo on 5 megs anymore.
Helen managed six contacts on 2m FM and also grabbed Andy on GM/SS-143 on 60m and Martyn MW1MAJ/P on GW/SW-009 to make our joint tally 29 contacts.
By 12:30 we were on our way back down to the car. En route back to North Wales at just after 14:00 Helen and I grabbed some chaser points from Rick M0RCP/P on G/NP-005 Ingleborough while travelling down the M6. Back in the shack after a fairly uneventful journey I was early enough to grab chaser points from Carolyn GW6WRW/P on GW/MW-006 Pegwn Mawr and then John G4YSS using GX0OOO/P on G/LD-008 Blencathra which added even more to my good mood.
The ups and downs of SOTA, after an unpromising start it was a great weekend.
Regards Steve GW7AAV