SOTA on Tour 3

Saturday 8th December 2018 - The Cloud G/SP-015

Gig: Ragdolls
Venue: Chateau Impney Hotel, Droitwich

Droitwich was a word I first learned when I got into short wave radio listening and started looking up BBC World Service transmitter sites. The only feasible transmitter site between Macclesfield and there was the summit of The Cloud.

I managed to get up and down the hill within a short break in the otherwise heavy rain, and make four QSOs on 2m FM. I then resumed the drive to Worcestershire for the night’s work with the Frankie Valli & Four Seasons tribute show “The Ragdolls”.

Sunday 9th December 2018 - Billinge Hill G/SP-017 & Winter Hill G/SP-010

Gig: Joe Longthorne
Venue: Viva Blackpool

Why wouldn’t you want to visit this delight of the SOTA scheme? Well the above photo might be a clue.

Quick walk to the summit, 2m FM with the handheld, nice S2S to Red Screes G/LD-017 with Mike G7HEM/P, four QSOs, then off to work.

The usual ‘variety show’ style opening to the show didn’t happen, so it was just the stand-up comedian then Joe. So work for the night was finished before 10pm and I had plenty of time to do a “double-bubble” activation on Winter Hill.

I enjoyed getting above the fog and going for a late night wander along the service road under starlight - and of course the red lights of the very tall mast. My fingers didn’t enjoy the biting cold though!

Just using the handheld, I made 4 QSOs on 2m - 3 on FM and 1 on C4FM.

Monday 10th December 2018 - Winter Hill G/SP-010

Well, no gig to append to this one, though I guess I was still on the way home from the last gig! A very early morning activation with four QSOs on 2m FM.

Tuesday 11th December 2018 - The Cloud G/SP-015 & Gun G/SP-013

Gig: Joe Longthorne
Venue: Bellavista Restaurant, Milnrow

Billy Whizz today!

Two summits activated within the hour, 42 minutes apart. Total of 7 minutes operating - 3 minutes and 4 minutes respectively - on 2m FM, total of 11 QSOs (5 & 6 respectively).

The journey to work near Rochdale was a total contrast. 3.5 hours to drive 41 mlies. Awful.

Friday 14th December 2018 - The Cloud G/SP-015

Gig: Joe Longthorne
Venue: Shaftesbury Casino, West Bromwich

It was a case of “spot the difference” from my point of view with my first activation using WSJT-X 2.0. Everything seemed to be exactly the same, initially at least.

I soon worked out that I could call CQ SOTA M1EYP/P IO83 - which I definitely couldn’t before. I couldn’t get the ‘SOTA’ bit to stick and had to keep putting it back in manually. I didn’t get round to experimenting if the IO83 could be replaced with a version of the SOTA reference, so I continued to use my free text line at the end of the QSO for that.

6 QSOs made on 20m FT8, including one into the USA, followed by a couple on 2m FM, including S2S with GW4HQB/P on Foel Fenlli GW/NW-051.

And of course, another gig. My first ever in a casino, and preceded by the promoter taking us to a nearby Indian restaurant and treating all the band and sound crew to a very good curry.

Saturday 15th December 2018 - Billinge Hill G/SP-017

Gig: Joe Longthorne
Venue: Lytham Hall

So it was a different venue, a new one for me, but a familiar commute up to the Fylde coast. Therefore a familiar summit.

There was a slight inconvenience of the strong winds and heavy rain battering everything from Scotland down to Wales at the time, so it was back to handheld activating for me. Erecting a wire antenna and operating FT8 was not feasible!

I operated for a few minutes and got five chasers in the log on 2m FM. Most told me I was mad. I admitted it.

The gig at Lytham Hall was a really good one, playing for an event for the Joe Longthorne Fan Club. I was handed a copy of the newsletter, I which I was featured this edition - with SOTA getting a mention, of course!

Sunday 16th December 2018 - Winter Hill G/SP-010

Gig: Joe Longthorne
Venue: Lytham Hall

The last Joe gig of the year, and a better it was. Joe was in great voice and was received warmly by a super audience.

This was the second of a two-nighter at this venue, so I stayed over in Blackpool at the musical director’s house. Fortunately he’s a football fan and has Sky Sports PL HD, so that was the afternoon’s entertainment taken care of.

For lunch we found a local cafe that did a lovely three course meal. Leek soup followed by roast beef, Yorkshire pudding and all the trimmings, then ginger sponge and custard. £4.75 each. Yes, I couldn’t believe it either. A place called WE5 at Squires Gate - an excellent food option for Norbreck 2019.

I hadn’t intended doing my Sunday night activation of Winter Hill thing, assuming the uplands would be submerged in the white stuff from the forecasts I’d seen on Friday. That didn’t seem to occur, and so I made a last minute decision to go for it.

2m FM handheld activation - 2 QSOs.

Monday 17th December 2018 - Winter Hill G/SP-010

Well I was there anyway.

Two QSOs on 2m FM. No further replies to my CQ calls. Cold and wet, and very thick fog. Thankfully, no sign of snow or ice.

Coming up later on Monday, all ears will be on my son Liam (M0HGY’s brother) who will be active on the 3m band… (102.8MHz FM in North-East Cheshire, or online via )

A bit of an activating lapse here these past few days, due to work commitments, family commitments and general downright laziness. I even technically missed doing an activation on a gig day. But nonetheless…

Thursday 20th December 2018 - The Cloud G/SP-015

Gig: Liam Read
Venue: Swan With Two Necks, Macclesfield

Well OK, the gig was the previous night, Wednesday. I’d intended an activation in the morning, but I had arrangements to write, so I put that off to the afternoon. In the afternoon I had an unexpected visit from a nervous guitarist wanting to talk through the sheet music - and then it was time for Liam’s gig - aargh!

So this particular “SOTA on Tour” activation needed to be the morning after the night before. Does this weaken the integrity of the thread? Most definitely. Still, it is what it is.

Good intentions to get up and activate early on the Thursday morning were scuppered by me sitting up until gone 3am writing out more orchestrations - stimulating and addictive work that is. After another session scorewriting in the morning, I finally forced myself out to get some much needed fresh air.

Well I got my fresh air alright. There was plenty of it for me to feast upon on the summit of Bosley Cloud G/SP-015 between 20m FT8 QSO number 1 - G4RRM in Crewe @ 1559z, and 20m FT8 QSO number 2 - K2IAM in New York @ 1653z. After then working VE3MGY at 1705, my tablet was running low on charge, so I packed the 20m GP away. I had expended a lot of time chasing DX on FT8 - ZS, NP4, 5V, 3V1 etc - but no joy.

2m FM was much easier - five QSOs in the next seven minutes to complete the activation. That would do. The cold air meant it was taking an eternity for me to write each log down in my notebook, so I called it a day and arranged to meet M0HGY for a couple of pints and a game of pool.

Friday 21st December 2018 - The Cloud G/SP-015

Gig: Matt Philips
Venue: Bury Town Hall

Just a quick wander up this ‘slightly familiar’ hill before setting out to Bury. A few contacts, with chasers, on 2m FM followed by one on 2m C4FM. Much warmer and drier than recently.

Now for some Motown!

Saturday 22nd December 2018 - The Cloud G/SP-015

Gig: Motown Gold
Venue: Bolton Abbey, North Yorkshire

I figured I couldn’t make enough time in the day to activate a scoring summit in the Yorkshire Dales, as I’ve already done most of those around Skipton in 2018.

Nice little walk up The Cloud though, and a remarkable sequence of three S2S into GW/MW in the first five minutes!

5 QSOs in total, 2 on 70cm FM and 3 on 2m FM.

Monday 24th December 2018 - Christmas Eve - The Cloud G/SP-015

Gig: Busking with Liam
Venue: Exchange Street, Macclesfield Town Centre

Just a daft idea for a bit of seasonal fun. Repertoire included Mud’s “Lonely This Christmas” and East 17’s “Stay Another Day”.

But before all that, I got up at 6am after a poor night’s sleep (got about 3 hours). Straight to Cloudside, straight up to the summit - no pausing for breath (it wasn’t always this way).

20m GP antenna must have been due a refurb - no less than three of its four radials snapped off during this activation! The activation continued after twisting the wires back together, but I’ve now got a little repair job to do before Christmas Day morning.

Eight QSOs made, four each on 20m FT8, and 2m FM. A glorious clear and sunny morning with superb visibility, albeit a bit chilly. That’s it for advent-activating; I’d better start thinking about what to get Marianne for Christmas…

Here’s a picture of me being silly having met Marianne in a pub in town around 2pm. I fully appreciate that the scarf-hat combo is a bit of a colour-coordination fail. The beer is Hobgoblin - always a fine seasonal ale for Christmastime. Marianne on the posh stuff.

Have a lovely Christmas everyone.

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Merry Xmas to you and your family, Tom!

Busking is perhaps the most honest form of music making. The punters haven’t paid to see you and will only donate if they like your sound.

That reminds me (rather obliquely) of a long time ago when in search of expanding my improvisation horizons I joined a “free jazz co-operative” for a while. Free jazz only has a chance of working if the participants really listen to each other, half these guys never learned that! One day the leader decided to stage a free jazz “happening” in the outdoor Birmingham Bull Ring Markets, which I was unable to attend because of another gig. Apparently on several occasions the market traders paid them to move to a different part of the market before the market police closed them down! (I think my finest hour in music was when I slowly and [I admit] maliciously subverted one of their sessions by inserting the odd phrase here and there to gradually nudge them into a good old twelve bar blues. I think they enjoyed it. The leader was furious!)

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True story: My dad used to run a free jazz cooperative, which went by the name of “Avant Garde A Clue”.


Thursday 3rd January 2018 - Bishop Wilton Wold G/TW-004

Gig: Joe Longthorne
Venue: Hull New Theatre

I was very last minute choosing my summit to put ahead of this gig. I couldn’t decide between Bishop Wilton Wold G/TW-004 (the highest point of the Yorkshire Wolds), Normanby Top G/TW-005 (the highest point of the Lincolnshire Wolds) or whether to just bag The Cloud G/SP-015 or Gun G/SP-013 at the start of the journey. In the end I was a bit last minute setting off, and the made the decision for me - this dismal roadside summit it would have to be!

But I wasn’t prepared for just how dismal the experience would prove to be. I set up the 20m GP antenna, and connected my FT-817 and tablet - which this time had held its full charge. I was soon decoding lots of mainly North American FT8 traffic on WSJT-X, with some South American DX.

I tried three approaches: I tried self-spotting and calling on 14.074MHz. I tried self-spotting and calling on 14.092MHz. I tried searching & pouncing on 14.074MHz. None of the above resulted in me getting any contacts. For a final throw of the dice, I tried working on 14.018MHz CW, but no joy there either. Time was now marching on, and I reluctantly made the decision to pack up, contactless, and head for soundcheck in Hull.


The Hull New Theatre was lovely, and offered great backstage facilities following a significant investment. After soundcheck, we found a fantastic pub around the back of the theatre. The Old English Gentleman was a proper old fashioned back street boozer, but served delicious Hobgoblin Gold ale, and a superb homemade steak & ale pie and chips. Just the job for the six hungry musicians/soundcrew that had just turned up.

The box office was good for this one, and the theatre was nearly full for Joe’s show in his hometown. After a cracking 90 minute show, I felt wide-awake and full of energy. I knew I shouldn’t, but I couldn’t resist and started thinking about Bishop Wilton Wold again!

I dismissed the idea as daft, knowing that I would be back this way for work several times during 2019. But then I found myself flicking around the 2m FM frequencies. Finding several lively nets all in full flow, I gave in to temptation and added G/TW-004 as a waypoint in my satnav! I guess I had this in the back of my mind all day since the earlier “failure” - I never have been one to take defeat lying down.

By the time I reached the layby on summit, only one net was still in progress - on 145.450MHz FM - but it included a good number of stations, many of them pretty strong on Bishop Wilton Wold. It was a calm and pleasant night, and felt quite mild to me. I was expecting the temperature to be a lot colder with all the gritters I had seen out earlier on.

I wandered up and down the opposite side of the road to the layby, trying to determine the best spot for peak signals. I felt this was by the roadsign opposite the junction of the road that goes off at an angle beside the compound for the covered reservoir.

Not all of the stations in the net could hear me well enough to work me. I was stranded on three QSOs - Alan M7AGB, Sid M3CNU and Ken G3SPX. Ken was asking me about my handie, and when I said “Yaesu FT70D”, he followed up with “Oh is that the one with C4FM?”. So Ken and I QSY’s down to 144.6125MHz C4FM for a QSO, but I would still need one more. To my utter surprise, immediately that QSO was complete, another station broke in on C4FM. Steve M6KIZ therefore qualified the summit for me, and at last, at 2334 UTC, and over 8 hours after first calling CQ on this summit, I had my activator point for 2019!

It was now so close to midnight that I decided to hang around and record a further activation.

Friday 4th January 2019 - Bishop Wilton Wold G/TW-004

I kept myself warm waiting for the UTC rollover by walking briskly along the pavement beside the A166 York to Bridlington road. By the time I’d finished, I’d recorded 3000 steps on my Fitbit watch, more than I would for an activation of The Cloud G/SP-015!

At 0013z I invited myself back onto S18 and worked Ken G3SPX and Alan M7AGB again. Of course, this time there were no activator points available, so there was no compulsion to achieve four distinct QSOs. However, I did put a few calls out on S20 before walking back to my car and resuming the long drive home.

That morning, I had delivered Liam’s radio show to Canalside Radio ahead of next Monday evening’s broadcast slot. This was via memory-stick, which was still in the car. I started the journey operating as M1EYP/M and chatting on the S18 net, but as I passed Leeds, and all stations became unworkable, I switched the audio source to USB and relistened to the Late Night Liam Christmas broadcast! This was very enjoyable and kept me alert for the remainder of the journey.

Friday 18th January 2019 - Leith Hill G/SE-002 & Chanctonbury Ring G/SE-009

Gig: Ragdolls
Venue: Inglenook Hotel, Bognor Regis

So I had a late call to do a dep gig with the Ragdolls - a Frankie Valli & the Four Seasons tribute show - in Bognor Regis. It’s a bit of a trek for a one-nighter gig, but I had an offer of free and comfortable accommodation for the night at my sister-in-law’s in Hampshire - and therefore my mind turned to SOTA possibilities.

I consulted directly with the G Association Manager, who suggested Leith Hill and Chanctonbury Ring to be part of a feasible route between Macclesfield and Bognor. This worked well, and I had a decent run down to the Surrey Hills for the first activation.

It was useful that I’d made good time, as that meant a possibility of making a S2S contact on FT8 with Roger F5LKW. I parked at the Starveall car park and walked the 3/4 mile along the easy and mostly level woodland track to the summit. Well, near to the summit. As I would be setting up the SOTABEAMS Bandhopper 4 linked dipole, I stopped just short of the summit and set up on a large expanse of grass with a fantastic view - and hopefully take-off - to the south.

With everything set up, I checked the spots and noticed Roger was already QRV on 40m FT8. I was receiving his CQ calls really well, so tried to go back to him. Initially, my system played up and I needed to reconnect some cables and restart the Windows 10 tablet. I tried again, and worked Roger first time.

40m FT8 - 7.074MHz - M1EYP/P on G/SE-002 to F5LKW/P on F/AM-362

I don’t know if this was an all-time first FT8 S2S in SOTA. I suspect not, but you never know! Anyway, I was delighted to have made the S2S QSO. I couldn’t then raise any further FT8 QSOs for love nor money, but the shine was not taken off the satisfaction. I complete the activation with 6 QSOs on CW. They took me a total of 4 minutes, compared to the half-an-hour I’d spent getting one QSO on FT8.

I then allowed my satnav to direct me to the parking spot for Chanctonbury Ring on the South Downs near Worthing. After driving up a ramp track to the small car park, the walk to the summit took around 20 minutes. I was now keeping my eye on the time, bearing in mind the soundcheck time for the gig.

As I completed setting up the Bandhopper 4, I overtensed the back-guy and caused one of the radials to snap away from the centrepiece - doh!

I tried to raise some interest on 2m FM with the handie to save time, but it is a bit of a VHF desert down here, and I got no response. Fortunately, I did have the 20m GP with me, so I quickly set that up and got going on CW.

Inside three minutes, I had four QSOs - all from North American SOTA chasers. Many grateful thanks to Phillip @VE1WT, Larry @K0RS, Bob @AC1Z and Walt @NE4TN. I packed up quickly and raced back down to my car.

I made soundcheck on time and had a great gig with the guys, the rest of whom are from Worksop. The venue supplied a complimentary fish supper for us all, and one of the happy ticket holders bought all the band a very welcome pint of Peroni lager after the show - which went down a treat.

When I reached my sister-in-law Charmaine’s in Chandlers Ford, she’d left me a note saying “Tom - turkey sandwich and beer for you in the fridge”. Sometimes, you just have to wonder if life can ever get better!

After a good night’s sleep, I drove back to Macclesfield without any SOTA stops. This meant I made kick-off at the Moss Rose for Macclesfield Town v Oldham Athletic in the football, ahead of going out to see Francis Dunnery (remember him from ‘It Bites’?) and his amazing band at Manchester Academy with Liam.

Liam had received two “guest pass” tickets as a result of his radio show ‘Late Night Liam’ - which is on again this evening around 2215z:

Friday 25th January 2019 - no SOTA

Gig: Liam Read & Dan Toft
Venue: Unicorn Inn, Hanley

A last minute gig came in for me and Liam and Jimmy M0HGY jumped in for the ride, mainly on the promise of a pre-gig curry in Stoke! The gig went on later than I anticipated, and this demotivated me for activating The Cloud G/SP-015 on the way home, as I wouldn’t be able to record it on the date of the 25th. I hadn’t completely discounted the possibility though, but Jimmy “advised” me that it would be better to go straight home.

Saturday 26th January 2019 - Shining Tor G/SP-004

Gig: Funktion & Co.
Venue: Flying Horse Hotel, Rochdale

I was hoping to go for a walk up Kinder Scout G/SP-001 on this Saturday morning, but the weather forecast was a bit grim, and Richard G3CWI didn’t fancy it either. We did decide however to go for a walk up Shining Tor G/SP-004. While driving up the Cat & Fiddle road, I chased Paul MW0PLA/P who was QRV on 2m FM from Moel y Gamelin GW/NW-042.

Richard copied my MO of putting VHF handheld in coat pocket and walking up without a rucksack. It was a pleasant walk despite low visibility, and we hit the limited dry period of the morning perfectly. At the summit I made four contacts on 2m FM. Richard had a fiddle about and listen on 2m on his own HT, but didn’t in the end make any QSOs.

The return walk was equally pleasant, and the post activation pint in Wetherspoons, despite it being only 10am and accompanied by a breakfast wrap, was more pleasant still.

Off up to Rochdale later to play some cheesy 1990s pop - bit of a change from Motown, Frankie Valli and Joe Longthorne!

FB Tom, keep up the reports. I catch up from time to time. Recall watching Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons perform “Oh what a night” at Southport Floral Hall - must have been in the late 70s. Remember all the ladies had their handbags searched due to recent terrorism activity in the UK at that time.
Next week going to watch an Abba Tribute Band in Malton, a first for me. My favourite number Voulez Vous.

73 Phil

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I liked the way Alan Partridge covered Voulez Vous!

We’ve got Mamma Mia in the set tonight BTW Phil.


Saturday 26th January 2019 - The Cloud G/SP-015

Gig: Funktion & Co.
Venue: Flying Horse Hotel, Rochdale

So I got home, caught up on a few emails, Marianne went out shopping, and Richard G3CWI messaged me suggesting an afternoon trip up The Cloud. I had nowt better to do, so I accepted, and this time he drove round and picked me up (I had driven for G/SP-004 earlier).

The Met Office website indicated that we might have two hours to play with before getting a soaking. However, as we were setting up, we could see the grey bank of rain barely a couple of miles away - and advancing rapidly! We both set up on the lower ledge to the north-west of the main summit area, giving significant shelter from the strong wind.

The rain arrived just as we both went QRV though, so we were soon both in our respective bothy bags to operate. Richard was on 40m CW with his very old longwire antenna, while I went on 20m with my newly refurbished groundplane aerial. Conditions were shockingly bad. Richard just about limped to four QSOs, but conditions were the least of my problems.

My tablet was not hearing the FT8 signals through the cable, and was not keying the rig in the other direction. It was able to hear the signals - and indeed decode them - through the tablet’s built-in microphone, but not via the cable. I double checked all the audio settings and poked around, but to no avail. I concluded that another cheap OTG USB to micro USB converter lead had failed, so no FT8 for me.

So, CW then. I got my Palm Paddle out of the Exped Drybag. The I got the Palm Cube. And finally, I didn’t get the mini jack cable out - because it wasn’t there - it was still on the dashboard of my car - where I had sensibly put it after using it in the house for something else earlier in the week - and we’d gone to The Cloud in Richard’s car so it wasn’t there.

Eek. SSB it would have to be. Still, with a self-spot, I’d have a pile-up in no time. I turned the radio on, and the band was so quiet I had to double-check the antenna was connected. It was. I then had to double-check the SWR. It was fine. Brilliant - highly unbrilliant conditions. I called CQ SOTA a lot, with a self-spot - but it was a waste of time. I replied to a powerhouse LZ contest station, who replied “Mike One Echo Japan?” - and that was as good as it got.

The rain was coming down heavier. I could hear Richard chuntering something in my direction. I couldn’t hear what he was saying, but got the distinct impression he’d had enough and wanted to call it a day. Me too, to be honest. I called on the handheld, got a couple of 2m FM QSOs so I could at least call it an “activation”, and swiftly packed up.

Rubbish activation. But an activation nonetheless. Now to cheer myself up by playing covers of Abba, Spice Girls, Bruno Mars, Justin Timberlake, Pharrell Williams, S Club 7, Dolly Parton, Shania Twain, Queen, Bon Jovi and Robbie Williams to a load of inebriated revellers in Rochdale…

There is always a Youtube video for every occasion. I hope your tribute band is as enjoyable as this 1975 clip of the band. n.b. not suitable for minors or elder gentlemen with coronary issues.

The opening still frame is enough for now Andy… better not say anything more or I might get ADD’D!

73 Phil