Richard to the Rescue

Out of the blue came a last minute invitation for Jimmy and I to join Richard G3CWI and daughter Mai Ling on a two day SOTA trip and campover in the western Lake District. This was received enthusiastically, and preparations were soon underway.

Domestic priorities meant that we embarked at the ‘luxurious’ time of 10.30am on Friday 29th May 2009. With breakfast already a distant memory, and a long drive ahead, it meant that lunch was taken at the roadside in the Lakes, somewhat unusually before any walking had been done! G3CWI and daughter were on posh Marks & Spencers sandwiches, while M1EYP and M3EYP were quoffing broccoli and stilton soup.

The first target of the expedition was Whitfell G/LD-032. As we headed into the vicinity on the country lanes, we noticed a large gathering outside a pub, all in white shirts and black ties. Parking looked difficult, so we first tried the end of the cul-de-sac and closest point to the path start, Bigert Mire SD178926. The cluster of cottages here were all deserted, and there was no-one around to ask at all. We decided to retreat and find something back on the lanes.

After finding what seemed to be a suitable roadside spot, we were approached by a farmer on a quadbike. He invited us to drive back up the road, turn left and park in front of one of his gates. He told us that all the local residents were at a funeral, presumably the gathering we had seen at the pub.

From this new parking spot, SD179922, it was only a short walk back up to Bigert Mire, where by now people were returning home from the funeral. On the way up the road we were asked to assist in blocking the way of five errant sheep as they were channeled back into their field, and then pointed in the direction of the bridleway behind the farmhouse.

The first part of the walk was easy going on a solid track, but this faded away into rough pasture after five minutes. The distance to cover was short, and Whitfell loomed up in front of us, and slightly to the left. At the stile, we regrouped, redistributed some weight from Jimmy’s pack to mine, and refuelled on some Eccles cakes.

It was also time to apply some suncream, as the sun was blazing down in oppressive fashion. Except I had forgotten mine. Richard had plenty - Richard to the Rescue!

From this point, Jimmy, Richard and myself chose to contour around the hill to its far side, then to turn sharply and attack the summit. Mai Ling however turned left there and then and aimed for the direct approach up very steep grassy slopes. Ultimately, her decision was correct, as contouring around to the other side offered very little advantage, despite what it initially looked like on the ground, and indeed how it appeared on the 1:25,000 sheet.

Richard operated on 40m CW, me on 20m CW, and Jimmy on 2m FM. After having a look at the spots, I QSY’d to 20m SSB and worked a summit-to-summit to a TK Corsica activation, which was very pleasing. Jimmy tried to tail-end this to repeat the feat, but QSB kicked in and it didn’t appear that the TK activator got Jimmy’s callsign correct. Oh well, just another of SOTA’s many “gotaways”.

The descent was reasonably quick and easy, especially by following Mai Ling’s steep grassy route back down to the bridleway. We drove up to the Old Post Office campsite in Eskdale, and pitched our two 2-man tents right by a stream. It was a lovely little spot, albeit a little crowded on this very busy site. Thankfully, and perhaps unusually, it was completely midge free.

Right on the side of the campsite was the Bridge Inn, and this was the target for our evening meal and samples of the extensive selection of Jennings Ales. The steak & kidney pie with fresh veg and roast potatoes was a truly stunning dish, and I would definitely eat at this hostelry again. We also made a note of the fact that breakfast was served to non-residents - useful to know for the future, if not on this trip.

Jimmy and I slept in our new cheap £17 tent from Sainsburys. It was single skin, no flysheet, and I wouldn’t really want to put it to the test in lesser weather. But it was warm and dry, and it did the job of giving us a night’s sleep without the considerable time implication of putting our deluxe four-man tent up.

We retired to our tents after hot chocolate, looking forward to our main expedition the following day.


The following day was Saturday 30th May 2009. I woke up to incredible light and heat from blazing sunshine poking through my single skin tent. I assumed the time would be at least 8am, but it was just before 6am. By the time that Jimmy and I were up, with Richard and Mai Ling, the heat was incredible - and still not yet 8am. We agreed to being slightly unnerved by the heat at not yet 8am, with a significant full day’s mountain route ahead of us.

Anyway, I had only just started warming the soup on the camping stove when my gas bottle ran out. And I hadn’t brought a spare with me. And there wasn’t a shop on site. Richard to the Rescue again! He had plenty of fuel left for his Trangia stove, so after the first serving of porridge was ready, the soup went on there. And then some more porridge for Jimmy and I. It was a pleasant and tasty breakfast in the hot early sunshine, and none of us were tempted to adjourn a few metres to the Bridge Inn for a fry up.

Unpitching didn’t take long with Richard’s backpacking tent, and my new £17 Sainsbury’s gimmick, and we were on the road shortly after 8am. We didn’t have a long drive. We were aiming for Illgill Head G/LD-029, and Jimmy directed us to a large parking area just up the road at NY121012.

Jimmy and I covered up with suncream and hats purchased from a shop in Eskdale the previous evening, and we commenced our long walk in the most gorgeous - and hot weather. The good path first rose along the flanks or Irton Pike before striking out onto higher ground, with the ridge line always seeming to be moving away - and above us, to the right. Eventually, we decided to head with determination to attain the ridge by the wall, and shortly after doing so paused for a well earned snack of Chorley cakes and beef jerky.

Miterdale Forest, to our right, gave some much needed shade and respite from the blazing sun as we climbed Irton Fell. We could now sense our first major objective of the day, which was the Wainwright summit of Whin Rigg LDW-156. From the small loose stone shelter on the summit, I conducted a quick WOTA activation using 2m FM on the VX-7R. Four QSOs were made, including into North Wales. After the rest this afforded, it was time to press on to the SOTA summit.

It was not far to go. After a very small drop off Whin Rigg LDW-156, we were wandering between two beautiful blue tarns on the broad saddle, and then up the well trodden path for the final 130m vertical push for Illgill Head G/LD-029. Glancing back at the tiny rise back up to Whin Rigg, we all expressed surprise that anyone, let alone the great AW, could consider it to be a “summit”!

We paused briefly at the first cairn on Illgill Head, which was well within the activation zone, but we had to press on to the true summit another 200m away. We met a walking couple at the summit, and took some photos of them with their camera as they requested. Naturally, I got them to return the favour, before dropping off in lee of the wind to set up.

Operation was to be exactly as per Whitfell G/LD-032 the previous day, with Jimmy on 2m FM from the VX-110 and SOTA Beam, Richard on 40m CW with the homebrew rig and dipole, and me on 20m CW with FT-817 and Magic Moggy vertical.

The WPX CW contest meant the space was at a premium on both 40m and 20m, but I managed to establish a frequency on 14.070MHz CW - with a little help from SPOTlite, SOTAwatch and those wonderful chasers. Following this, I worked my way down a few contest stations on 20m, including one from the USA.

Jimmy enjoyed his 2m FM activation, especially as it included four QSOs into GI. Jimmy proudly told these stations of his own Northern Irish heritage due to his mum coming from Larne, County Antrim. The best one was Fred GI4MWA/P on Slieve Donard GI/MM-001. I grabbed the microphone from Jimmy for a quick chat with Fred myself, as Slieve Donard is one of my all-time favourites. The summit time was rounded off with a delicious lunch of Moroccan chickpea & couscous soup.

By 1pm, we were completely packed away and ready to continue the walk. And what a walk we still had to do! Richard’s planned route had us dropping off Illgill Head in an ENE direction, then turning south-west to contour along the lower flanks of the hill on a good path above Burnmoor Tarn.

This bit was really enjoyable, until fences and forest blocked further progress, and the path turned sharp left and steeply downhill. Richard, Mai Ling and Jimmy were down in no time, but I was struggling, gingerly edging my way down. We paused for a snack and reapplication of suncream. Disaster! I had left my suncream on the parcel shelf in Richard’s car. Richard to the Rescue again with yet another benevolent donation of suncream for Jimmy and I.

Down on flat ground, it was tempting to feel “job done” - but it wasn’t. There remained still several kilometres of walking to be done, expertly navigated by Jimmy through farmland and woodland, and finally about one kilometre of road walking back up to the car park. Phew!

All in all, the route was about 20km, and it is fair to say that we were all pretty tired upon returning to Richard’s car! Richard himself was so tired and thirsty that he pulled over at the very first pub we came across, and in we went for some ale (and water and J2O). There remained a very long drive back, but despite a couple of congested stretches on the M6, we made decent enough time.

Thanks to Richard for the driving and the invite.