Friday 17th December 2021
A visit to check on the /A location in Northumberland after Storm Arwen and Storm Barra provided me with the opportunity to make another visit north of the border to activate a couple of summits before the year end. After considering various options, I decided that with the limited daylight hours available there was really only one option available that offered reasonable points. This would require a drive to the edge of the Cairngorms National Park, almost four hours from Northumberland.
In order to arrive at the parking spot at dawn, I set out at 04:15 with a 175 mile journey ahead of me. It was 1C when I set out and temperatures varied widely. There was a particularly steep rise as I approached the Torness nuclear power station near Dunbar, the temperature going from -1C to +9C within the space of 5 minutes.
Following an exchange of emails with Fraser MM0EFI, I had decided to approach the first summit from a parking spot near Dalnaglar Castle (NO149644). The temperature dropped to -3C on the A93 near Bridge of Cally and there was no sign that the road had been gritted. I wondered about the short stretch of the B951 between the A93 and the parking spot. A gritting lorry passed me about 2 miles before I turned off the A93… better late than never I suppose. Thankfully, the B951 had been gritted as it was -1C when I arrived at the parking spot, but with virtually no air movement, it was not unpleasant. The light strengthened as I prepared for the ascent, though I had to use the interior light of the car to see to lace up my boots.
Dawn as I am about to set off up the first hill
Mealna Letter (Duchray Hill) GM/ES-043 NO161672 IO86hs 702m asl
It was 08:10 when I set off up the forestry track and there were signs of wildlife stirring. There were ducks quacking loudly in the woods to the right which was quite unexpected and I must admit a little eerie. As I walked along there was suddenly a noise close behind me and I turned to find a fox standing about 5 metres away. Rather than running away, it actually approached me and did a little dance, looking like it wanted to play. I’m not sure what this behaviour meant, but I didn’t have time to find out, so I took a couple of photographs and then continued along the track. The fox followed getting closer and I stopped to find it little more than a metre behind me. It continued to follow me for about 400 metres to the point where the track entered more open ground.
Fox not on the run!
The track took me to what to what had been the edge of the forest where is reduced to a grassy quadbike track. A short way along this a grassy path headed uphill towards the summit of Cairn Derig, where I could see a stag on the skyline. Unfortunately it disappeared before I could take a photograph. The path soon faded out and I followed the grassier sections between the heather, periodically coming across the path which continued in the same direction. I reached the wall at Cairn Derig and crossed over a collapsed section to join the very obvious grassy path on the other side. This took me to the summit, the path passing through several snow drifts against the wall, though most of it was clear. It made for pleasant walking in the morning sunlight and the views all around were excellent.
The view up from near Cairn Derig
Approaching Mealna Letter summit
Mealna Letter cairn which appeared to be slightly lower than where I was
A set of fence posts runs parallel with the wall, but I decided to use the wall to support the pole so that I could take advantage of the wall to get out of the light, but rather cool breeze that was blowing at the summit. I arrived at the summit at 09:40, the time that I had scheduled. It was easy to set up both the 2m beam and HF dipole on the pole and I was ready to go at 10:00. Mike G4BLH had gone out to his local Lancashire high spot specifically to work me, though his time was limited. Thankfully we were soon in contact on 144.333MHz, though it was immediately apparent that I had an intermittent on my feeder. I managed to overcome this by manipulating the cable and we exchanged 58 / 56 reports. As I signed with Mike, I was surprised to hear Damian M0BKV down near Bude in Cornwall call me – 57 both ways. Then Don GW0PLP in south-west Wales followed with 59 reports both ways and Don G0RQL near Holsworthy in Devon qualified the summit for me with 57 / 56 reports. There was a lot of QSB on Don’s signal and it appeared that he was on the edge of the tropospheric duct. Further calls on 2m solicited no more contacts and which left me somewhat surprised that there was no-one heard from the Glasgow – Edinburgh area.
Moving to 60m SSB, I called for a few minutes without success before Robert GM4GUF called me. We had a brief chat, then I suggested I go back to 2m SSB where we reconvened with 58 / 56 signals off the back of Robert’s beam. Once again there were no callers when we signed, so back to 60m it was to call for quite a while before I gave up on that band. Obviously it was still asleep. Thankfully 30m was in good fettle and I worked 27 stations around DL, S5, EA, OK, F, 9A, HB9, OM, SP, PA and SM in half an hour. It was 11:10 when I went QRT, ten minutes later than planned.
The set up on Mealna Letter
I started my descent at 11:30 and was part way back to Cairn Derig when I met a lone walker ascending. He told me that the more frequently used route up the side of the forest from the B951 was now restricted by a new deer fence, so the lower boggy section could not be avoided. I described my route and he said that he would use that for his descent though it would require an additional road walk to get back to his car. It was 12:24 when I reached my car – time for lunch before I moved my car around to the parking spot for my next summit.
Mount Blair GM/ES-035 NO167629 IO86hs 744m asl
I started my ascent at 12:45, walking along the road for the first 400 metres. The notoriously boggy section at the bottom of the track was living up to its reputation. Higher up, the grassy section wasn’t much easier as the sun had not got fully round to that side of the hill and the surface was rather slippery in places. I was somewhat annoyed with myself for forgetting to bring my walking poles… they were not much use to me around 400 miles south at the main QTH. Not only did I have no assistance on the slippery surface, but I find poles help enormously on steep gradients and this was steep for quite a distance. All I could do was take it steady… essential with around 11kg on my back.
Mealna Letter and Monamenach GM/ES-028 on the right, taken on the ascent of Mount Blair
Temperature inversion to the north west - the Cairngorm mountains on the horizon sitting on a sea of mist
As I approached the summit, a young couple came up and we struck up a conversation. They had just moved to Blairgowrie and were starting to explore the local hills. After a quick look at the topograph, I moved to set up by the fence. They wished me all the best as they left and hoped that I would make some good contacts. It was now 14:10, once again spot on my schedule.
On this summit, I started on 60m SSB to accord with the alert I had posted. John MM0GGi responded to my first call at 14:30 and we had a brief chat. No-one called when we signed, so I decided to self-spot. Seeing a spot on SOTAwatch by Fraser MM0EFI for 2m SSB, I decided to go there to work him for the S2S. The faulty cable needed my intervention once again, but we made contact with 59 / 57 reports. I had heard Fraser sign with Simon GM4JXP so I moved to my usual working frequency of 144.333MHz and called. Unfortunately I didn’t copy anything of Simon, nor indeed anyone else which was rather surprising. So back to 60m SSB it was…
I self-spotted for 5.3715MHz and John GI4OSF was soon in the log to be followed by Don G0RQL who once again qualified the summit for me. A steady run of contacts ensued, including calls from an old friend Kevin G4SVN and my usual activation partner Paul G4MD. After signing with Paul, I was called by Paul G4EQQ/P on his canal boat near Burton on Trent. As we were about to sign, the 817 stopped putting out a signal and it took me a few minutes to find out why. This turned out to be due to condensation in the microphone, something that has happened before. I did manage to get the microphone working sufficiently to work Rod M0JLA for my final contact.
The set up on Mount Blair
The moon already well up at 15:32
t was now 15:32 and the temperature was dropping rapidly. The sun was almost on the horizon and the near full moon was up as well. Checking the pole I could see ice beginning to form, so I decided to call it a day and not activate on 30m CW. The light started to fade as I packed away the rather damp kit and I was pleased to have made the right call.
I set off down the hill at 15:55, soon finding it much easier and safer to walk down the heathery margins of the track than set foot on it. Lower down I used the long grass alongside the track which I hoped would help me avoid the boggy part, but in the gloom I still managed to find some of the black stuff. It was 16:42 when I reached the car, where I carefully removed my filthy gaiters and boots before having a snack. The return journey took just under 4 hours and I arrived back at base at 20:52, just two minutes late.
All in all it was a very long day, but a successful one. I would have liked more time to work 30m on the second summit, but with a 175 mile return journey I was keen to keep to the times that I had scheduled. Many thanks to everyone that came on to work me, especially to Mike G4BLH for going out to work me on the first summit.
73, Gerald G4OIG