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Return to Galloway

Paul and I had planned to activate summits around Fort William this September including Ben Nevis GM/WS-001, but events for both of us conspired against this. We therefore postponed the trip and decided to use the limited amount of time available to us to return to Galloway to activate a couple of summits. We decided upon an overnight stay at Ayr Travelodge, along the lines of previous visits to the area. On this visit we would activate Corserine GM/SS-033 and the Merrick GM/SS-028.

Sunday 15th September 2019

A fairly lengthy walk to Corserine required an earlier than usual start. I left Northampton at 01:15z and reached Paul’s at 02:45z. After a welcome cup of coffee and transferring my kit to Paul’s motor, we set off and arrived at Tebay services, our customary breakfast stop, at 05:50z. Unfortunately we found that the servery was not open until 06:15z, so we decided not to wait for our customary breakfast, but to have a cereal bar and a bottle of water and get on our way again. This meant that we arrived at the car park at Burnhead Bridge (NX552862) on the Forrest Estate at 08:07z, over half an hour early. As it was a Sunday, I had wondered whether there would be cars in the car park, but we arrived to find that there were none. Perhaps the low temperature (3C) was putting people off spending a day on the hills. It certainly put off the few midges that were around from biting. Even so we put on a layer of repellent… just in case.

The Forrest Estate is owned by the Fred Olsen Line and unusually the roads and tracks are named after members of the Olsen family and long term employees of the Company. We thus set off along Birger Natvig Road at 08:35z following instructions that Paul had found online. As we progressed, it became apparent that significant improvements had been made to the route, indeed the stone surfaced track now extends right out onto the open hillside. The previously boggy section with red topped posts has been completely bypassed. Obviously the Estate is doing everything to assist access to the hills - even the sign at the car park directed us to Corserine.

Birger Natvig Road

The track extending onto the hillside

Once out of the forest there is evidence of an increase in use of the access route. Rather than being a faint grassy path, the track up to the summit is now plain to see snaking its way upwards over the hillside. Some of the sections are quite steep and we were pleased to reach the cairn / shelter at the top of the incline. Paul took an altitude reading at this point and we appeared to be within the AZ, but as planned, we pushed on to the trig on the other side of the summit, arriving at 11:31z. The wind was quite strong on the top and rather cold creating significant wind-chill, so we sought out what shelter we could find on the rather bleak summit, which wasn’t much.

View back towards the parking spot

Not a lot of shelter here… and it’s not actually sunny!

I set up both the 2m beam and HF linked dipole on the pole, which was probably not the best idea given the wind strength. Once I was set up, I had some food and drink and it was 12:04 when I got onto 2m. Being early no-one responded to my calls. I was about to self-spot when Don G0RQL popped up saving me the task. Brian G4ZRP followed and then Mike G4BLH/P and Don G0NES. Signals were generally excellent all round, so after signing with Don, I spent some time looking for further 2m contacts without success. It was time to move to 30m. A check on SOTAwatch revealed that Andy MS0TA/P was on the band. His signal was rather weak, but an S2S with him was soon in the log, Andy obviously pleased with a new Complete.

My set up, positioned where I could find a little shelter behind a few grassy tumps

Moving up the band a little, I found that my preferred frequency was in use, so I moved up a little further and called. The RBN soon found me and David G0FVH was the first into the log at 12:47z. Another 8 QSOs around EA, F, DL, SM, SP, OH and YO followed, including an S2S with Armin F/DL6GCA/P on Ballon de Servance FL/VO-009. When the frequency went quiet, I decided to move to 20m and found Guru EA2IF/P on Erreniega EA2/NV-092 calling and another S2S was soon in the log. A further check on SOTAwatch netted me a contact on SSB with Sylvia OE5YYN using the special event callsign OE15SOTA on Pfenningberg OE/OO-129. After this I returned to the CW end of the band and the RBN helped me achieve another 12 QSOs around CT, HB9, DL, SP, HA, EW, S5, UR and IS0. When I went QRT at 13:50z, the total for the summit was 26 contacts.

Like me, Paul took some time to have some food and a drink to make up for the breakfast missed at Tebay. Once set up, he started on 60m SSB and Michael EI3GYB was quick to respond at 12:08z. After the contact with Michael, Don G0RQL called in and placed a spot for Paul. A number of regular chasers then followed to provide Paul with 9 contacts on the band. The next band of choice was 80m where the first to be worked was Barry 2W0PXW/P. Michael EI3GYB provided Paul with a second contact to be followed by Justin MW7JRB/P. Paul placed a spot at 12:49z which brought Damien M0BKV and Bill G4WSB onto the frequency.

Paul similarly finding little shelter

Before moving to 40m, Paul decided to check SOTAwatch and found Martyn MM1MAJ/P spotted on Carn na Cairn GM/CS-039 on 60m. A return was made to the band and the S2S was quickly in the log. Once onto 40m, Paul’s initial CQs around 7.118MHz produced no response, but noticing that Caroline MM3ZCB/P was now spotted on 7.151MHz, Paul moved up the band to look for her. Unfortunately the frequency was very heavily affected by QRM and Paul could hear nothing of her, so he decided to find a clear frequency near his usual 40m frequency and then spot himself. This worked well and Manuel EA2DT was the first to call in, closely followed by Don G0RQL and Pedro EA2CKX. Paul was then called by a couple of PA special event stations before being called by GB5FLR operating at the Fenland Light Railway. John M0VCM completed the session of 7 QSOs on the band, making a total of 22 for the summit.

Looking back on our descent

We set off down to the car at 14:12z, taking care on the grassy track, especially on the steeper parts. Once off the top and out of the wind, we warmed up quickly and a stop to take a layer off was required before we entered the forest. A few stops to take a few photos also delayed us and it wasn’t until 16:26z that we reached the car. The journey to Ayr was uneventful and we checked in just 20 minutes later than planned. After a shower and a phone call home, Paul and I met up and we went out to find something to eat. After that it was a relatively early night with a departure time of 05:00z planned for the morning.

Monday 16th September 2019

We managed to set off from Ayr at 05:02z, but a minor discrepancy in the timing on the itinerary had us arrive later than planned at the carpark at the end of the narrow road up Glen Trool (NX414803) at 06:14z. Having once been almost eaten alive by midges at this location, it was with some trepidation that I opened the car door. Thankfully for the second day running the low temperature (3C yet again) kept them at bay and we were able to get ready without interruption. It was 06:35z when we set off up the standard route to the Merrick via Benyellary, still 15 minutes behind schedule. The signpost advised that the distance was 4 miles (6.4km), though later we noted that the GPS actually recorded a little more at 7.1km.

A stream runs along side the first section of the ascent

Paul striding out towards the bothy at Culsharg

The bothy sporting its new roof… and a lot of litter inside!

Steady progress was made to the bothy at Culsharg where we spent a few minutes looking around. We stripped off a layer of clothing before making the ascent up to the forestry road. The following section up through the forest was easier than we had anticipated and we were then out into open countryside and heading steeply upwards for the summit of Benyellary. Unfortunately, despite quite a strong breeze, we were in mist from the 600m level and there were no views to be had.

Benyellary summit and it’s about to rain

As we arrived at the summit cairn on Benyellary it started to rain, so we stopped once again and the waterproof layer went back on. Thankfully the rain did not last for very long and conditions started to improve as we crossed over Nieve of the Spit. Once at the col, it was a slog up the trig on the Merrick which seemed to take absolutely ages, but we reached the summit at 09:45z, just 5 minutes behind schedule.

The weather conditions were similar to the previous day, so it was a case of finding the best shelter that we could. Food and drink once again took priority. This time I decided to set up just the 2m antenna and was up and running at 10:10z. Mike G4BLH was ready waiting on 144.333MHz and he told me that Nick G0HIK/P was active on Kirkby Moor G/LD-049. A minute later Nick came up on frequency and not having had a contact for some time, we had a brief chat before I continued my activation. Don G0NES was the next to call with signals as strong as the previous day. A steady run then ensued, much like years ago and I worked a total of 9 on SSB. It could have been 10, but Carolyn G6WRW had difficulty hearing me. I completed the session with a pleasant chat with Esther GI0AZA who I had not worked before on 2m.

2m antenna on the mast before I lower it to move over to HF

Before setting up for HF, I went over to see how Paul was getting on. He was on 80m and had yet to try 40m, so I went back to my kit and set up for 30m. I had alerted for 10.124MHz and found the frequency was clear. After placing a spot, I found that Jack OH3GZ was there waiting for my call. Progress was quite slow and I had to make a few CQ calls, but I made further contacts with EA, ON, PA, DL, I, HB9, LY and 9A, including S2S contacts with Mark HB9DBM/P on Hochwacht / Homberg HB/AG-012 and Kurt HB9AFI/P on Chaux Ronde HB/ VD-024. When the frequency went quiet, I looked over to see that Paul was dismantling his station, so I went QRT at 11:29z with 22 contacts in the log.

Paul also gave food and drink priority and was ready to go on 60m a little after me. As per the previous day, Michael EI3GYB was first in the log at 10:17z, this time followed by Lawrence EI6KI. Michael placed a spot for Paul at 10:28z which produced a number of contacts, 7 in all for the band. Moving to 80m, Michael was again first in the log at 10:46z and his spot produced a total of 6 contacts for the band. Signals were rather variable on the band and QSB made for some difficulty. To add to this, the move to 40m was not really successful and Paul only made one contact, with John G3RVX, as he was unable to place a spot despite his phone showing good signal levels.

Paul concentrating on a contact on 80m SSB

It was 11:55z when we started our descent. The weather had now cleared considerably and there were a number of people on the summit. This allowed me to take some photographs, both on the summit and on the descent. On the way down we met several people, including a couple of local lasses out on the hills for the first time. I think our commitment to driving the 300 miles up to Galloway just for the two days was a surprise to them. We took a break at the entrance to the forest, again reducing the number of layers of clothing as the day was now quite warm and there was less breeze lower down. We reached the car at 14:35z, thankful to discover that there were still very few midges around.

View on our descent across to Craignaw GM/SS-096 and the dreaded Mullwharchar GM/SS-073

The journey back to Paul’s house was uneventful. We stopped for fuel at Dumfries and bought sandwiches and drinks that we consumed in a lay-by further along the A75. Paul then drove the rest of the way to Stourbridge with just one short break en route. It was 20:51z when we arrived at Stourbridge and I was on my way home just 6 minutes later. Unfortunately closures on both the M5 and M6 meant that section of the journey took 30 minutes longer than usual.

Post-activation thoughts

Although this outing was organised at short notice, our prior consideration of the all the Galloway summits stood us in good stead. Having extensive experience of the area gained over quite a few years, we were able to assess whether it would be possible to combine the driving and walking on the same day. If anything, the access to these summits was rather benign by Galloway standards and this helped us achieve this. Nevertheless, the distance combined with the amount of ascent makes the 4 points for each summit hard earned.

As usual we were very appreciative of the support that we received. For me, running 2m SSB from GM summits was made considerably easier by having Don G0RQL and Don G0NES listening out for me. I didn’t expect Mike G4BLH and Brian G4ZRP also to be there in support and the additional callers on Monday 16th were very much appreciated. The support of Michael EI3GYB helped Paul with both his activations, particularly where spots were required. Running 5 or 6 bands between us hopefully maximised the possibility of chasers working us.

I am “confined to barracks” for some weeks to look after my XYL after an operation, but Paul and I are already planning the next outing which will be between Christmas and New Year. Hopefully the weather will be as good as it was in December 2018. See you then?

73, Gerald G4OIG

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Thanks Gerald, enjoyed that report. Whetted my appetite once more and I feel the Yorkshire Dales calling this Autumn!

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Brian has a QTH with an excellent take off for VHF into the Lakes, Pennines and SW Scotland. I think Merrick to his QTH is nearly true LOS.

Yes, I am often surprised how well Brian does with low power. I could do with a system for giving him the heads-up before I go out with the 2m kit. This time it was a pure oversight on my part that I didn’t contact Mike beforehand, but he had picked up on the alerts and went out portable to work me, much as I used to when Richard G4ERP and Frank G3RMD were activating over a decade ago.

I was extremely pleased to manage 9 contacts on 2m SSB. At one time 10 or more on SSB was the norm. Now I have to have HF capacity to ensure qualification. Sign of the times.

Thanks for the report on Corserine and Merrick Gerald - very useful information for me as I plan to go back to the area soon. Glad you are able to complete such an arduous two day operation as the one you described.

We had a really clear SSB QSO on 2m from Pickering (59m ASL) to Merrick SS-028 (843m), although the path to me is not so favourable like Brian’s. Without a half decent beam at both ends we wouldn’t have made it. The straight line plot from my QTH skims the side of G/NP-001 Cross Fell and crosses the nearby Knock Old Man at 794m. The straight line path length was 258 Km and Cross Fell is 140 Km from the Merrick. Elevation Profile below.

73 Phil G4OBK