Time to write up some more of this nonsense I’m afraid. I blinked - and suddenly it’s less than 36 hours before another leg of the tour gets underway - and I don’t want my activation reports and photos to fall into the same desperate backlog as my website http://tomread.co.uk has. So here goes:
Thursday 13th September 2018 - The Cloud G/SP-015, Gun G/SP-013 & Wendover Woods G/CE-005
Gig: Joe Longthorne
Venue: The Old Regent Ballroom, Stanford-le-Hope
I was a little later than intended setting off - around 8am - but not so late that I could “warm up” with my two easy local summits. In true lazy style, I ascended Bosley Cloud with just my handheld, and made two contacts on 2m FM.
The first of these was Greg M0NZO in Holmes Chapel. It seems Greg is first to answer any CQ SOTA call I make on 2m FM at present! Tom M6MDB in Oldham was the other contact.
I didn’t need the usual four QSOs as the point was not on offer anyway, so with no other callers I descended and drove over the valley to Gun G/SP-013.
First to respond was Greg M0NZO (of course), followed by Tony G4ERQ. It looked like a second consecutive two-QSO activation - but then it became three - sort of - when I worked Greg M0NZO again, but this time on C4FM (Fusion) mode.
Now it was time to hit the road properly and make my way to the flatlands of the south.
Somewhere near Coalville I found a portacabin cafe in a layby. The “4x4 breakfast” looked interesting. Four sausages, four bacon, four fried eggs, three toast, beans, mushrooms, tomatoes, hash brown, black pudding, a pint mug of coffee, fresh orange juice and a Twix - for £8.95. Stuff the diet - this had to be done…
What also needed to be done was to not eat another thing all day. No discipline was required - I was too full! Wendover Woods G/CE-005 was nicely on route without much detour, and I simply drove up the road to the trig point on Aston Hill - about 1km away from the true summit (Haddington Hill) - but only 1m lower!
After a short walk across the field to the trig, I set up the 20m GP. Conditions weren’t brilliant, and just five QSOs were made on FT8. One of these was Fabio IK2LEY who chases me on practically every 20m SOTA activation I do at present, regardless of what mode I’m using. Another chaser was KK1W, so I did at least get over the “Pond”.
When we completed soundcheck, some of the band members went in search of food. That wasn’t required for me, so I volunteered to stay backstage and help out the first time dep guitarist who was on the gig that night - he wanted another look through the sheet music before the show.
We had a successful concert, then drove in convoy to the Travelodge in Basildon where we were stopping for a couple of nights.
Friday 14th September 2018 - Botley Hill G/SE-005, Leith Hill G/SE-002 & Crowborough G/SE-007
Gig: Joe Longthorne
Venue: Palace Theatre, Southend-on-Sea
Despite the late night, I was wide awake at 0530 BST. I quietly got dressed and slipped out of the room so as not to disturb the drummer - ironic, as he’s a noisy so-and-so. I programmed the route into the satnav - 150 miles or so (the reality of SOTA activation in the South-East) - and got cracking.
The satnav didn’t drop me quite where I was expecting on Botley Hill, and it took a bit of work to find my way to the highest point by the water tower and masts. This is a pretty dismal spot, but it’s just a case of setting up and making do!
I operated again on 20m FT8. Fabio IK2LEY led the way, as is typical, following which I enjoyed a couple of “DX” contacts - EA8DFQ (Gran Canaria) and A41ZZ (Oman) - provided a nice little DX fix. Just three more stations were worked - two RA and one SP.
I wanted to get at least two summits done in the day, and I especially wanted not to be late for soundcheck. Bearing in mind that I still had at least 100 miles to drive, probably to be completed on a Friday afternoon - on the M25 near London - I decided to pack up promptly and get on my way to Leith Hill G/SE-002.
Last time I satnaved it (is that a real verb yet?) to Leith Hill, it landed me with a much steeper ascent than I’d recollected a few years earlier when Jimmy was my guide. This time I continued to follow the road round and found the main car park from where the main easy track heads up to the summit.
At the summit, I was pleased to see that the snack bar and tower were open. I hadn’t had any breakfast yet, so I ordered a beef & ale pasty and coffee before thinking about activating. The pasty was delicious - locally made by an artisan butcher. I overheard the lady at the snack bar inform the next customer that the sausage rolls had just been baked.
I bought a ticket to enter the tower, and climbed the spiral staircase to the top. This was most unenjoyable for me, what with my dislike of heights. I wanted to see if a 2m handheld activation was going to be possible though.
I was slightly more comfortable at the top of the tower than on the spiral staircase - but only slightly! The plan worked though. Inside 20 minutes, I made four distinct QSOs on 2m FM just with the handheld and rubber duck.
Next came the unpleasant task of going down the spiral staircase. Slightly less enjoyable than going up had proved to be.
At this point, temptation really did get the better of me, and I couldn’t resist sampling one of those sausage rolls from the snack bar. And I was very glad I did - it was quite simply the best sausage roll I’ve ever had!
I was joined on my descent by a friendly chap who’d been helping out in the snack bar and was very interested in the work I was doing. It was an enjoyable chat and the short walk passed by in a flash.
I was now well ahead of schedule, and I was confident of squeezing one more activation in, possibly even two. I decided to head for Crowborough G/SE-007 next, and then Detling Hill G/SE-013 if time allowed.
I wasn’t sure what tactics or location to use for Crowborough. I never am. It’s a really terrible SOTA summit. I really didn’t want to set the GP antenna up - there’s just nowhere to do so that doesn’t attract disapproval from some quarter or other, be it the clearing behind some houses, the golf club car park, the covered reservoir or the pub beer garden.
On the final drive into the AZ, I’d been working a station on 2m FM. I suggested to him that he might continue monitoring the frequency in a few minutes time when I would be calling on my handheld! He did - but we didn’t make the contact, despite me spending half-an-hour walking all round Crowborough!
Of course, I only needed one QSO to be able to record an activation - the number of QSOs was irrelevant as I’d already collected the activator point earlier in 2018. A good job too, as it was looking increasingly likely that I was going to be lucky to even get one!
I thought I’d got a QSO when a loud and clear station came back to me, and kept giving me my report - but failing to offer his callsign. I concluded this was a pirate and started again. G8VPS in Hastings stepped up to save the day! I called QRZ? but didn’t expect anything. I was right.
With all the time taken to get even one QSO, there was now no chance of Detling Hill. Well, there was technically time to do it, but the words “London”, “M25” and “Friday afternoon” were ringing alarm bells in my head. No, best get to work!
Good job I did. Traffic was really sluggish approaching the Dartford Tunnel from the south. AARGH! As I type this, I’ve just realised I forgot all about paying the tolls for my two crossings! Anyway, just done it now, and it seemed to accept my payment and send me a receipt - so hopefully I’ve got away with it! The signs tell the motorist to pay “by midnight tomorrow”!
Anyway, another splendid gig at the Palace Theatre, Southend, and another quiet and early night at the Travelodge in Basildon. Well that was the plan before one of the soundcrew produced a big box of Stella Artois in the hotel reception… Good job for the diet that I was hitting my 10,000 steps target each day while away otherwise the diet would have been shot to pieces.
Saturday 15th September 2018 - Wendover Woods G/CE-005
Gig: Joe Longthorne
Venue: Harlow Town Football Club
Yeah, a stadium gig. Big time. Except that it wasn’t. We were playing in a marquee at one end of the ground. Not quite Live Aid.
Before that, we had a day to kill. I didn’t have the stomach for another long day of driving hundreds of miles just to activate uninspiring hills - most of which are not even hill-shaped - plus I had that night’s late drive back to Cheshire to consider.
I decided to repeat the Tollesbury sea wall 6 mile circular walk, just up the Essex coast. I persuaded the drummer, Andy, to join me for the pleasant route beside the River Blackwater estuary, including a view of the Radio Caroline ship, the Ross Revenge. I had been listening to Caroline a lot while driving around the past couple of days, tuned to the big 648kHz MW signal.
Anyway, Andy really enjoyed the walk, as did I, and he mentioned that he might try and join me for more on future legs of the tour. Before setting out, we’d had a big “all-you-can-eat” buffet breakfast from the Toby Carvery opposite our hotel in Basildon - which cost just £3.39 each! As such, lunch and tea were again not required. We both killed some time between soundcheck and the show by reclining the seats in our respective cars and getting some sleep. Rock and roll. (Think of the line in the movie “Wayne’s World” - backstage at an Alice Cooper concert with Alice himself carefully explaining the history of the city of Milwaukee - and Wayne exclaiming “Does this guy know how to party OR WHAT?”).
Don’t worry though, outrageous behaviour is hardly unknown to M1EYP, and straight after the gig, I drove back to Wendover Woods G/CE-005 - well, Aston Hill really - to activate it again - for zero points again - twice!
It was quite a gamble whether to go for 2m FM or 20m at “stupid o’clock” at night. I tested the water on 2m by calling CQ as M1EYP/M from the parking spot. My only respondent was another silly pirate. I left the handheld in the car, and walked with the rucksack and HF gear to the trig point.
I tried and tried to get some contacts on FT8, as conditions seemed really poor, as though the band had closed - which I rather suspect it had. Like I said, quite a gamble at this time, but I didn’t have 40m or 80m with me. I could see activity on FT8, but none of the activity could see (hear) me.
I nervously glanced at my clock which showed 2350z. I was fast running out of time to record an activation for the day! I tuned around the CW portion of the band and heard a couple of loud signals - but yes, just two of them. SK3W was calling CQ TEST. I didn’t have time to consult the excellent SM3CER contest resource, so just crossed my fingers that I would be a valid station for him to work. I put my call in, and was delighted to hear “M1EYP/P 599 334”. Yes. I replied with “599 001”. Back came “TU” - and relax!
Sunday 16th September 2018 - Wendover Woods G/CE-005, Gun G/SP-013, The Cloud G/SP-015 & Winter Hill G/SP-010
Gig: Joe Longthorne
Venue: Viva Blackpool
There was no hotel stop between these two gigs. The soundcrew went home to Warwick. Andy and Andy (piano player and drummer) drove all the way back to Blackpool. The guitarist stayed with his nanna in Epping. I just decided to do some SOTAs on the way home and sleep in my car as and when, and then catch up on the rest of my sleep once back home!
So, starting early, just a couple of minutes after midnight UTC (1am BST) on Wendover Woods G/CE-005, I went back to the contest call of OG7A for a quick exchange. It was mild and peaceful on Aston Hill, so I allowed myself a few more minutes to try to add some more 20m QSOs, whether they be FT8 or CW. I failed to do so, so reluctantly accepted a second consecutive one-QSO SOTA activation, packed up, and completed the gruelling descent to the parking spot.
A really terrible thing has happened in recent years. Motorway service stations have started employing the services of companies like Parking Eye, to photograph vehicle registration numbers and automatically send parking charge notices of £60 or £100 through the post to anyone that dares to rest any longer than two hours. The result of this on me, as a tired late-night driver coming home from gigs, is that I no longer pull into the services for a break. I exit at the next junction and find a dark layby instead. I am at a loss as to why disincentivising road safety is even a thing.
Anyway, dark laybys it was, and I had a two hour kip in one, and a one hour kip in another. I have no idea where they were. What I do have is two new pillows and pillowcases that are kept in my car for exactly this purpose - and they really do make the difference. Next thing I knew, I was awake, alert, refreshed, and driving along the A50 towards Stoke-on-Trent as the sun rose behind me. I followed the increasingly familiar roads through Leek and up to Gun G/SP-013.
You might have thought I’d just wandered up to the summit with the handheld at this point. I might have thought that too - it would seem logical. However, I set up for HF, hoping for some DX. And DX I got, though not the VK/ZL/JA I was hoping for. Oman A41ZZ was a welcome first caller to my 20m FT8 CQ, and was followed by four European stations.
I’d stayed longer than anticipated on Gun, and was starting to eat into my sleep time, before I would have to hit the road once again. So when I went over to The Cloud G/SP-015, this time I did just walk up with the HT and work exclusively on 2m FM - three QSOs were made - all with OMs who had got up before I’d gone to bed.
First job when I got home was to put the iPads and Airturn pedals on charge - these are for reading music on stage, and they needing recharging before that night’s show in Blackpool. Together with putting my smartphone and Windows 10 tablet (for WSJT-X) on charge, and taking a shower, it was gone 10.30am by the time I got to bed. Marianne was also out at work, and had been overnight too - on a sleep-in. Jimmy M0HGY was up - very early for him on a Sunday - so I told him to check I was up by 3.15pm!
I had a great sleep, interrupted when my radio alarm sprung into action simultaneously with Jimmy giving me a shout. He then brought me a mug of tea up as I began to rejoin the land of the living. Twenty minutes later, I was back on the road, but this time in the more familiar north, and with only 70 miles to go!
Another great gig, although I think all the band were in “automatic pilot” mode by now! Me being me, I had another crazy idea. Out of Blackpool, M55, M6, M61 - then off at Horwich - and up Winter Hill G/SP-010! I had a good chat with Tony 2E0UOG who I’ve worked many times over the years. He reported that I was a great signal to him - but no-one else came back to the call. So Tony and I continued the natter.
Monday 17th September 2018 - Winter Hill G/SP-010
I was having a rather pleasant early hours stroll around Winter Hill, chatting with Tony 2E0UOG. I wandered along the transmitter service roads, up towards the trig point, and around the back of a couple of the transmitter compounds, experimenting for best take-off for a handie with helical antenna. There wasn’t any breakthrough disruption that I could discern. Maybe the installations on Winter Hill are less RF-polluting than they used to be, or maybe the new Yaesu FT70D is more immune than earlier rigs. Either way, things have improved. Of course, desensing could have still been an issue - this is more difficult to tell - but I don’t think there were any callers that I missed. Stuart M0WSW gave me a second contact for the activation.
Tuesday 18th September 2018 - The Cloud G/SP-015 & Gun G/SP-013
Dad’s Taxis was in for a heavy schedule. First was a most unwelcome 6.20am alarm as Jimmy M0HGY needed an early lift into work. Mind you, this facilitated a most welcome posh breakfast in Alderley Edge en route, so that was fine.
Next was to drop Liam at the hospital for his regular volunteering with early-stage dementia patients. In the window between that and picking him back up, I reckoned I could shoehorn in a couple of activations!
On The Cloud, and with the FT70D, I made five QSOs - three on 2m FM, and two on 2m C4FM.
It was almost a carbon-copy activation over on Gun G/SP-013, where it was three on 2m FM and one on 2m C4FM, with all four stations being ones I had also worked earlier on The Cloud!
I just need now to go and pick Liam up - again - from a curry night with his mates, then I was thinking about popping up Shining Tor G/SP-004. Notice the past tense. I’m now not thinking of that; I’m thinking of going to bed.