I’d only done one SOTA activation since September last year. Life got in the way of living. But I’m in my campervan and before I left home Mrs P helped me devise a planned route to collect some decent winter bonus points over the next few days.
I spend the first night in the car park at Buckden in the Yorkshire Dales.
(Below - typical Yorkshire Dales scenery)
Day 1 27/02/2022
I’m planning two activations today.
From Buckden car park it takes me 1hr 10mins to reach Buckden pike G/NP-009.
My SW-3b, SOTA Beams linked dipole and my tiny Russian ‘spy key‘ are unpacked and I’m in the shelter of the stone wall on this fine sunny day. Even though there are snow patches and drifts of snow against the walls I don’t need my bothy bag. My CQ is quickly picked up and the first in the bag from the pile up is F4WBN on 7MHz, quickly followed by a succession of regular CW chasers, one which asks for my callsign. Before I have a chance to tell them I hear someone send, “listen - listen”. The caller again asks for my call. Maybe I’d not sent it for a while so I reply, “de m6guy/p” and we quickly swap RSTs. A few more chasers check in before it goes quiet - 21 QSOs in 23 minutes + 1 S2S. A QSY to 10mhz produces another 11 QSOs and 2 more S2Ss I also note that one of the chasers is EA2IF/Guru - now SK. 10 more minutes on 14mhz gets another 5 in the log and yet another S2S. TOTAL QSOs = 35
Time moves on = I’d also posted another alert for today and I want to keep to my alerted times so I pack up and get a move on to my next objective, Birks Fell G/NP-031.
I make the mistake of stopping off at the van to have a ‘quick’ coffee and a bite to eat. I make another mistake by popping off to the shop to buy a Sunday paper to read in the evening. I’m running late and walking fast. I arrive at the summit 1hr 15mins later and set up office in the shelter of a roofless building. I make myself a seat from what was once a stone roofing slate and make myself a small stone table for the morse key. I find a quiet frequency on 14mhz, run a few yards to the east to get a phone signal and post a self spot. Within 15 minutes I have 16 chasers in the bag including several who chased me on Buckden Pike. I’m pleased to have AC1Z in the bag too. My last few CQs go unanswered and and I’m not in the sun anymore. Its getting colder. I drop a link on my aerial, post a spot and call on 10mhz. I only get one reply from DL1FU. I’m getting chilly and its 3pm. I pack up and decide to return to Buckden. Rather than return via the marked bridleway, I decide to cut off across the hillside and drop down directly to Redmire farm, Buckden. Its easier than it looks and avoids all the wet bits of the bridleway. I make a short detour to a barn and discover that the roofing timbers are made from large tree trunks some of which have been shaped with adze or axe. Where needed the timbers have been adzed off to make sure the roof itself is flattish. Timbers are held in place by large wood pegs as are the roofing slabs themselves. I have no photo. My phone has decided not to work. Another 11 QSOs.
**Day 2 **
What to do? The weather forecast isn’t too good. The suns gone. Its thick cloud, rather damp and the forecast is for heavier rain moving in from the west later on. I waste a lot of time dithering. I drive up the narrow twisting road to Tor Dike. Here in the mist and wet I leave my van in the care of several highland cattle and head off to Great Whernside - G/NP-008 against a strong wind and in very wet cloud. It is rather grim! I know there are a couple of large sheltered cairns at the top and its here out of the wind I set up office and get into the shelter of my bothy bag. I hope no one trips over my dipole. But no one else is daft enough to summit in this weather.
There’s no signal on my phone but i’m soon picked up by the RBN and 25 minutes later I’ve 23 QSOs in the bag, all on 7 MHz. Many were also those who chased me yesterday. I intended to change frequency but on leaving the shelter of my bothy bag and the cairn it was obvious the weather had worsened . The wind had increased and with now driving rain I soon got cold. I decided to shut up the office and descend to the van and a brew. I donned an extra jacket and goretex mitts to dismantle the aerial in the strong winds.
After a brew in the van I drive to Settle via Malham Tarn and I find a campsite with hook up. I needed to dry my kit out.
Day 3 01/03/22.
Today I decide to activate both Pen Y Ghent and Fountain Fell from Silverdale The day looked good and sunny, the temperature hovering around freezing meant the road up the dale had a couple of icy patches which my van didn’t like. A fresh breeze was blowing cold.
From Silverdale the walk up to Pen Y Ghent G/NP-010 is quite simple and easy but you may just need your hands to steady yourself as you pass a couple of bands of rock. Even though it was not yet 10am there were quite a few other folk around. I soon find a sheltered spot in a dip behind the wall. Out of the wind and sat in the warmth of the sun I quickly got 28 QSOs all on 7mhz in the space of 25 minutes. At 1105 it was time to pack up and I’m back at the van some 40 minutes later and up onto:-
(Below = My van and Fountains fell beyond)
Fountains Fell G/NP-017 .
In the shelter of another wall and in the sun, I set myself up and plugged in my little key to the radio. A string of dits came out. I switched the radio off and re–inserted the key and switched it back on. Another string of dits. Maybe the key’s lead & plug had shorted. I unscrewed it and examined it. There were no shorts or poor connections. I tried again. Another string of dots or dashes. Panic! Some one sent a couple of ??s on my alerted frequency. I tried again. No amount of trying again made a difference. Again I heard a couple more “??” on the frequency. An impatient chaser perhaps?. Then I remembered I’d packed my palm paddle in the van. But was it in my bag now? A desperate rummage in the bag confirmed I’d thrown it in… Problem solved!!. Almost. The paddle was recognised by the radio, but the paddle, which I’d really not used since buying it some years ago had lain neglected in a drawer and wouldn’t work properly. More random dots and dashes followed by another “?” on the radio. I found out if I squeezed the body I could get it to work reasonably well. I sent out my CQ - rather badly as the speed was set at over 25wpm. I Instantly I heard a cacophony of callsigns in reply. I quickly worked a string of regular chasers - 16 in as many minutes and hoped they would understand that I was having problems. Every time I moved my grip on the paddle to log the chasers the key started misbehaving and either wouldn’t send dits or dots as I wanted them. It is 56 years since my morse was this bad and I admired the chasers for their patience and perseverance. How they managed I just do not know. I decided to slow the key down. Less speed meant less mistakes per second. I just remembered how to do this and let the keyer in the radio go right down to its lowest speed planning to then increase it back up to a more reasonable speed. But I could no longer remember how to increase the speed. I was now stuck with the slowest speed. 10wpm? 10mhz had gone quiet and as it was now approaching 3pm for some strange reason I decided to stay and continue the activation. I changed to 14mhz and sent out a CQ. I discovered it wasn’t as easy as I thought sending slow morse on a paddle that wouldn’t work probably, and I could see I was going to embarrass myself again. I worked a few more chasers including an Indonesian YC2VOC giving me 229 and an Israeli, 4Z4DX, giving me a 559. Both were 599 with me. It was only when I later checked them out on QRZ.com back at the van that I realised what countries I’d just worked.
After an hour on the hill I decided to return to my HQ in the van, drive to Hawes and recover from the stress. Luckily I’d brought my other radio - a You-Kits HB1b so I could continue my planned activations.
(Below - my office on Fountains Fell)
Day 4 = 02/03/2022 **
Dodd fell G/NP-0016
** WX Cloudy, damp and windy. (again)
Dodd Fell is a doddle to get to if you are feeling lazy. Just drive as far as you like along Sleddale and there’s ample parking. I chose to park at the junction with the Oughtershaw road as I was in thick cloud and the road ahead narrowed. I didn’t want to meet an oncoming vehicle as I couldn’t see any passing places on the road ahead.
On foot I set off along the road for a couple of KMs before turning off up the fellside and following the wall and county boundary and up to the summit. It was now turning wet. Somewhere near the summit trig point I discovered a deepish sink hole and set myself up at the bottom warm in the shelter of my bothy bag.
I called CQ at 1100am on 7mhz. 40 minutes later I had 32 QSOs in the log, including Gerald/G4OIG - a regular poster and a few other callers I recognise from The Reflector. I also worked another M6. caller, M6BLV/John . No clue as to his background given in his QRZ.com entry, but his morse was good…
I decided to pack up as it was getting much wetter and I was getting colder. I had an extra jacket in my bag and put it on… Returning to the road, a woman in a Landrover stopped for a chat. I mentioned SOTA - I fed little bits of information to her and she didn’t fall asleep or yawn like my wife does when I mention anything to do with radio or SOTA. We chatted a little more before she offered to take me back to my car. A pleasant relief. I don’t really like roadwalking.
Day 5 = 03/03/2022
Great Shunner Fell G/NP-006
Thick mist/fog again.
1hr 25 minutes to the top using compass and pacing from the parking place at the cattle grid on the Buttertubs pas. It was only on the way back I realised the fences I’d come across on the way up took me directly back to the cattle grid/parking. Never mind.
My activation from the trig point/shelter started inside my both bag at 1400 on 14mhz. 30 minutes later I had 26 QSOs in my log including, AC1Z again, followed by UR5IRM - I wasn’t sure whether this was a Russian ham or not. We exchanged RST anyway and it later turned out he was Ukrainian.
Day 6 = 04/03/2020
Rogan’s Seat G/NP-014
WX = Thick mist, increasing drizzle, then snow/sleet for the final mile.
From Gunnerside following the well maintained track to the summit area took me 2‘hrs 30m. On the way up I was passed by a game keeper in his pick-up. Snow was now settling on the ground. I’ve no idea what he was doing up here - but then he probably thought the same about me. I passed a shooting hut not marked on my map. The surrounding moorland is clearly a vast grouse shooting estate and there were plenty of grouse. A fresh set of quad bike tracks passed across the track disappearing across the heather. Another keeper patrolling the estate. I couldn’t find the pile of stones marked on the map. I couldn’t see more than 100m in anyway, so I found a sheltered bank of peat just off the track and set my office up.
(Below - my office. Can you spot your callsign? )
My first contact on 7 mhz at 1115utc resulted in a rush of calls including M6BLV again, quickly followed by an S2S with M1BUU/P operating from G/LD-058. I wondered what his weather was like. I also got another M6 call. M6MPC/Mike an ex merchant marine radio officer who expressed his surprise at finding another M6 working morse. We had a brief chat as he wanted to know what kit I was using and said he hoped I had food & a hot flask. (I had neither as I don’t bother with much food on the hill). As soon as our QSO ended I expected any chasers to have gone elsewhere with boredom. But another 12 QSOs followed, the last one being Gerald G4OIG at 1225 before all went quiet. It was time to pack up. I quickly put my gear away and stuffed my now wet bothy bag into the rucksack. On my way back I stopped off at the shooting house ate my tin of sardines and re-packed my gear before returning to Gunnerside.
Total QSOs = 34 in 50 minutes
(Below - Outside my office)
Day 7 - 05/03/2022
The Hoove /G/NP-024 and my final objective of my trip.
Driving from Gunnerside across the minor road via Lanthwaite I notice two more gamekeepers, one stood outside his dark pick-up shouldering a rifle. Both eyed my van carefully. I wondered what they’d been shooting that day. Buzzards and the like stood no chance on this vast shooting estate. Reaching the Stang Forest I saw yet another gamekeeper as I pulled into the marked parking spot just inside the forest boundary to settle down for the evening. As it got dark I heard a vehicle pull near mine. Peeking through my window I could make out a dark coloured pick-up - yet another gamekeeper in his vehicle with a search light fixed to the cab roof.
I drank the last of of my wine and beer! whilst listening to the tawny owls in the forest. It snowed during the night.
The next morning dawned bright and sunny. I drove the short distance back to the Durham/Richmonshire border and started the easy walk to the flat summit in the bright sunshine and fresh wind arriving just over 30’ later. I settled down in a deep sink hole right next to the trig point and opened the office up. I noticed my phone had a BT signal so I decided to put a spot out using the SOTA Goat app. As soon as I returned to my hole, Phil/G4OBK, pounced on me at 1055, quickly followed by PI4EME and F4WBN Chris, who had managed to be get me within a minute or so of my first CQ on almost all of the week’s activations. I also worked IK2LEY/P on I/LO-422, Also (I think) my first ‘2’ callsign, 2E0FTD/David who lives just across the border in Durham and G3WNQ/Edd an ex merchant radio officer with over 28 years of service at coastal station GKZ Humber radio. I wondered why he was quick!. My last QSO was with EA2DT/Manuel, before it all went quiet. Rather too chilly to carry on, I decided to call it a day, and returned to the van which I could see across the moor. As I did so I could see a pair of ravens searching the moor. I hoped the gamekeepers didn’t see them. The ravens wouldn’t last long if they did.
Total QSOs = 27, all on 7 mhz in 55 minutes.
(Below - my office on the Hoove)
PS Upon arriving home, I discovered the SW3b was working as normal. The Palm paddle wouldn’t though and needs adjusting and/or cleaning - which I haven’t done yet. My phone which also was playing up throughout the trip decided to return to its normal reliable self. Maybe they just don’t like the cold and damp.
An enjoyable outing and many, many thanks to the chasers. Its really pleasant hearing the same familiar callsigns along with many new ones I’ve not come across before.
(below = A photo of the blacksmith’s workshop in Gunnerside. On the door (lower photo) are many initials burnt into the door. Mostly these are of the owner’s initials which were burnt onto sheep’s horns for identification. That is until modern tags took over.)