Sunday, 5 January 2020

GM/SS-116 Almost New Year in Scotland - Colt Hill

Our final day as we departed from Gatehouse of Fleet in Dumfries & Galloway. I had put off activating Colt Hill on our arrival day three days earlier due to wet weather, however today was no better - it was wet, but we had no choice. We stopped off in Castle Douglas en-route for supplies. This is a lovely little town which even has a large Tesco Superstore, although we got our supplies from a small convenience store in the main street. From Castle Douglas we took the A713 north towards New Galloway and then cut across country to Moniave to follow the Dalwhat Water up the valley to the parking place for the walk to Colt Hill at Cairnhead, grid reference NX 702971. The last mile of road is unsurfaced, but safe to drive on with a normal car at a reduced speed.

The outdoor landscape artist Andy Goldsworthy lives nearby in Penpont and in and above this valley are four large Dumfriesshire sandstone sculptures he designed and led the building of called The Striding Arches - one of which is on Colt Hill itself.  One of the other arches is linked into Cairnhead Barn so before starting the walk from the nearby car park area we checked it out:
This like the previous day's walk up Beneraird, was a very straightforward walk which would have been excellent on a bicycle for most of the way. This time we walked a graded forestry track to a junction at NX 692991. If a bike had been used it would probably be best left here and then walk the rest of the way. From the junction a rougher and steeper path leads east for 550m to the Striding Arch and trig point on Colt Hill, GM/SS-116 at 598m ASL, the height qualifying the summit for SOTA winter bonus points. It took us 90 minutes to reach the summit over a distance of 3.35 miles with an ascent of almost 1300 feet. The pack was heavier today as we had a packed lunch and I had drawn the short straw so was carrying the 1 litre stainless steel flask of tea...

It had rained most of the way to the summit. We took shelter behind the arch and set up the VHF antenna by fastening the pole to the nearby fence:

I was again encouraged by the number of stations workable on 2m FM with a simple vertical dipole and 40 watts in England and Scotland, being Sunday and wet I guess that helped with plenty of amateurs home in the shack, including first in the log Geoff GM4WHA in Annan:

There were two S2S contacts made - with Colwyn MM0YCJ/P on Andrewhinney Hill GM/SS-083, and M7MVD/P on Dent G/LD-045 who was not particulary aware of SOTA despite the operator telling me he went up Dent regularly to extend his range on 2m FM... I was grateful for the S2S point either way.  After 15 minutes activity in foul conditions it was time enough to get packed up and head back to the car - a walk of around an hour. Once there we changed into dry clothing and drove home via Dumfries with our first rest stop at 1545 hours at the Tesco supermarket on Lockerbie Road, Dumfries for a toasted tea cake and tea in their cafe. The store remaining open until 2200 hours as Sunday trading laws in Scotland are different to England, where supermarkets have to close at 1600 hours. We reached home in North Yorkshire around 1930 hours. 
 ©Crown copyright 2020 Ordnance Survey. Media 010/20
Track above - GPX file shared in SOTA Mapping Project

Saturday, 4 January 2020

GM/SS-201 Almost New Year in Scotland - Beneraird

Saturday 4th January

The Murray Arms in Gatehouse of Fleet was proving to be a friendly welcoming hotel. There was nothing flash about it, but the food was good, the rooms clean and we would stay there again for sure. A full Scottish breakfast for me and we were heading towards Stranraer by around 9.30am. The previous day when we went to Cairnsmore of Fleet we had bought sandwiches from the Spar shop in Gatehouse, but as today's foray to Beneraird was a shorter walk we planned to have a late lunch in Stranraer, so the rucksacks on this occasion were considerably lighter...

GM/SS-201 Beneraird

Approaching the lodge from the south via New Luce a single track road (shown as a yellow on the OS map) but rough for the last mile or so, takes you to the gate and cattle grid for Lagafater Lodge. There was an unofficial sign around one mile back from the lodge gate, advising no access to vehicles, so its advisable to park up near the sign and walk north towards the lodge. 

Lagatfer Lodge - if you go there walk left once over the bridge
The walking track crosses a bridge just before the occupied Lagafater Lodge. Unseen dogs were barking and cars were parked up, but there were no people present as we passed the front of the Lodge on our right, going into a short section of woodland before exiting on to a moorland track. It was then a 1.5 mile straight walk North to the trig point at Beneraird GM/SS-201. My GPX track has been uploaded into the SOTA Mapping Project. This was an enjoyable activation as we had the fairest weather encountered on our three day tour. 2m FM was again deployed for speed with 40 watts and a vertical dipole on a 4m high pole. A thirty minute session produced 15 contacts with a mix of Northern Irish and Scottish stations. With being so far west and on a summit of limited height without a beam, meant we were out of VHF FM range of the English stations in Cumbria, but I was delighted to speak with so many in GI and GM including old friends from the GM/SS-246 Ailsa Craig SOTA Expedition of August 2009, Jack GM4COX and Robert GM4GUF.  Packing up we returned to the moorland track, pictured below. It was a 40 minute walk up and 35 minute walk back down - 1.7 miles each way with 650 feet ascent, measured from the cattle grid to the summit. 

We drove into Stranraer and enjoyed a pub lunch at The Customs House - a pub that allowed dogs in, and was rather like a Weatherspoons place, although owned by another company. A hot lunch for two with drinks cost around £15 - an excellent deal. After a walk around Stranraer we headed for Newton Stewart to visit some elderly relatives of mine of who live in the town. Then it was back to The Murray Arms in Gatehouse for our dinner. Report for Colt Hill GM/SS-116 to follow. 

Friday, 3 January 2020

GM/SS-065 Almost New Year in Scotland - Cairnsmore of Fleet

With no SOTA activations since I spent a week with Victor GI4ONL in the Czech Republic in September and no holidays since, we decided to head off to Scotland on the Scots 2nd January Bank Holiday day for three days walking with SOTA. The plan was to activate Colt Hill GM/SS-116 on our way to Gatehouse of Fleet where we were booked in for 3 nights at The Murray Arms. "We" being me Phil G4OBK, XYL Judy and our terrier Treacle. The hotel allow dogs in the bedrooms and bar at no extra charge. 

With Thursday being a washout weather wise we held off Colt Hill until the Sunday return journey and spent the day,after a late start, travelling to the hotel in Gatehouse of Fleet. 

Friday 3rd January

Cairnsmore of Fleet GM/SS-065 was therefore first on the list, and the hardest walk of the three on the short tour. We took what is known locally as the tourist route and came back the same way. We started from the car park (NX 4624 6328) near Graddoch Bridge, Palnure.  Being unfit after a period of ill health meant slow going for me and it took us two and a half hours to reach the summit over a distance of 4 miles with 2300 feet of ascent. 
Phil G(M)4OBK with Treacle takes a break at the memorial bench located at NX479647

©Crown copyright 2020 Ordnance Survey. Media 010/20
We started the walk in fine weather that soon deteriorated to rain, sleet and then snow, which invaded the shelter whilst the 2m FM activation took place. With 40 watts from the Yaesu FT-1500M and dipole we made 11 contacts into England, Scotland and Northern Ireland in a 15 minute smash and grab activation and got the hell out of it. Two highly valued S2S contacts with Grange Fell SS-249 and GI/SM-005 Mullaghmore were completed with Andrew GM4VFL/P and Ian GI0AZB/P. We were very lucky with the timing to get them... 
This photo of Judy and Treacle was taken after we left the shelter at the memorial to the airmen lost on the mountain in nine previous crashes on Cairnsmore of Fleet:
The weather was too inclement to eat our lunch on the summit, so we stopped off once we reached the shelter of the treeline at NX490652 and ate there. We left the car at 1012z and returned to it at 1514z. 

Wednesday, 5 June 2019

GW/MW-004 Pen y Garn - 5th June 2019

I was back in Cardiff again in early June for a few days and had one free day to head up into Mid-Wales and do some activating. I had to be back in Cardiff by 5.00pm on the day for a family meal out, so this restricted me to activating two unique mid-Wales summits on 2m FM. Leaving the city at 6.00am after a two and a half hour drive I was parked up and walking to Pen y Garn MW-004 at around 8.45am. The route taken from the south was a good one, (GPX file now loaded into the SMP). This was a 42 minute walk from the car, mostly on tracks, with some long grass initially. Click the map picture for a better view. 
Room to park one car on the grass near the track to MW-004 GR SN 79117535

At the corner of the wood at SN 79207547 there are the remains of a building, with a piece of rusty apparatus fixed to the ground.  I couldn't work out what this machine did:




An excellent track is reached at SN 792758 and this takes you directly to the shelter on the summit of Pen y Garn. I liked this short section of track through the copse at SN 793762, before the track zig-zagged up on to the higher ground.  


I scored on 2m FM using 40 watts and a vertical dipole, with just five contacts in 12 minutes, two contacts were with operators in the same vehicle - GW4VPX/M and GW4ZHI/M. I made my way back to the car as quickly as I could so I could reach the 2nd summit of MW-038 (Disgwylfa Fawr) by lunchtime. 

Wednesday, 8 May 2019

OK8CDX Czech Tour May 2019 - Day 8 Final Day

Wednesday 8th May 2019 (Last day of tour):
OK/ST-041 > ST-042 > ST-044 > ST-035

This was our last half day of activity before going to the airport. The Hotel Na Vyvjoi Havlickova in Vlasim served breakfast at 7.00am, so we were able to to depart promptly. I was operating just one hour later owing to the proximity to Vlasim of our first summit Kostelik OK/ST-041. The summit was reached in a five minute walk from the lane up to top of a steep sided wood. The track is available in the SMP. I logged seven "early birds" from my slatted seat amongst the dead leaves on the Kostelik summit:
Six of the seven were the usual suspects who I had worked many times, including my friend Terry G0VWP who lives in York near to my home QTH:
The four X two point summits chosen today were in a line on our way back to Prague Airport - which is on the north western side of the city, we started from the south east side of Prague in Vlasim. All four summits were easy to access. 

Our next conquest was 10 Km from OK/ST-041 Kostelik and this was Brezak OK/ST-042. This summit was more interesting and comfortable, with seating provided for the operators, however we were both affected by high levels of QRN from the installations on the summit tower, which was open for climbing as a viewpoint for the public. We know there was an FM Broadcast station transmitter on the tower as you can see the photo of the foundation stone below:
Victor OK8VM walking to the summit of OK/ST-042
High wooden tower on OK/ST-042 - a two point summit
Radio Sazavz 89.3 FM Foundation stone - one of the emitters of heavy QRN perhaps on HF?
We moved on another 10 Km to our third summit and found another uphill woodland walk, this time on a gravel track. OK/ST-044 Cerkansky Chlum was an unremarkable summit, not even worth a photo with the activation taking place in long grass with trees more sparse than on the first summit. I took longer to qualify than Victor so he set off back to the car before me, something we always tend to do whether it was he or me who finished the activation first. We always set up two seperate stations so as to work at least two bands, two modes and work as many as we can in the short time we spend operating on each summit. Once again the track is available in the SMP. 

Our final summit was OK/ST-035 Pecny -  almost a drive on, with just a 200m into the woods adjoining a well fenced astronomical site on the summit. The footpath around the site is well within the activation zone at 540m ASL. No photos were taken here. There were plenty of folk around as it was a Bank Holiday. After the activation we got changed into our normal travelling clothes and then headed for the KFC at the Globus Hypermarket complex on the outskirts of Prague.
We overcame the language barrier at KFC Globus Center and "went large" with a 3 pieces classic chicken meal
We had plenty of time for a meal, to refuel the car, put it through the car wash leaving us sufficient time to reach the airport, just a few miles north of the Globus Centre. There is WiFi in the departure lounge at Prague Airport, so that allowed me time to enter my SOTA log for the day whilst waiting for my gate, by that time Victor had gone to his gate for the plane to Ireland. Mine was EasyJet to Manchester. 

Stats

Distance driven by GI4ONL/OK8VM = 960 miles
Distance walked = not calculated
52 unique summits activated for 174 Points (12 x 1 - 12 x 2 - 13 x 6 - 15 x 4)
Bands used: 20m CW/SSB - 30m CW - 40m CW/SSB
Total QSOs OK8CDX / OK8VM = 1180 Contacts (39 S2S)
Cost of Tour each - £££s - a three figure sum - would rather not know!

We hoping to go back later this year and do the same again in a different part of the Czech Republic. 

OK8CDX Czech Tour May 2019 - Day 7

Tuesday 7th May 2019

The plan today was to leave our hotel near Chotebor to drive north and west in an anticlockwise arc visiting one summit in the OK/PA region and six in the OK/ST, in this running order:
PA-031 > ST-093 > ST-094 > ST-091 > ST-097 > ST-101 > ST-090
The route would finally land us into a very nice posh (but affordable) hotel chosen by Victor in the town of Vlasim, 20 miles from the Prague Vaclav Havel Airport:
Six of the summits were close to each other apart from the extra summit to the north, ST-097. They were a mixture of legally "drive on - close to the road", and "walk to" summits. The hotel was almost an hour drive south of the final activation on ST-090, which was necessary to place us in the right location for the early morning activations on our 8th and last day. After 7 days and almost 50 activations we were both finding erecting the stations repeatedly, almost automatic. I calculated it was taking around 8 minutes to set up from arrival, 10 to 15 minutes operating time and then 8 minutes to pack up and walk off the summit. We spent more time driving in effect, than operating and walking, but that is what SOTA is like in the Czech Republic in the area we favoured...

A few summits were worth taking the camera out for, notably OK/ST-091, which was a clear hill on top off an escarpment that was a ten minute walk from the car:
Parking place for the Skoda Fabia hire car at ST-091
Victor GI4ONL/OK8VM enjoys the view on the walk up to ST-091 Oškobrh - 285m, 1 point
Later that day we came upon the most unusual summit of Chotuc OK/ST-097, where the top of the hill is a cemetery. I made a short video in the graveyard itself, where we decided to operate outside of, to respect the dead:


It was approaching 6.00pm local time when we finished on our last summit of OK/ST-090 Zaluznik. A short walk of 200m from the car took me to an area where there were beehives. As there were no bees visible at that time I admit to using one of the hives as a tie off point for my dipole:

Beehive tie off point for an inverted vee on OK/ST-090 Zaluznik
Just 10 minutes on ST-090 netted me 10 contacts on the 40m band in Morse and Voice. before I packed up the station and we headed to the hotel in Vlasim. Victor managed to scrape up 4 contacts in just 4 minutes, although he had to walk further up the road to find a place to set up his station.... 

Go to: Czech Tour Day 8

Tuesday, 7 May 2019

OK8CDX Czech Tour May 2019 - Day 6

Monday 6th May 2019

ST-012 > JC-084 > JC-060 > VY-015 > VY-043 > VY-013 > ST-025

Our last day and night to come based at our hotel in Rozochatec near Chotebor before moving closer to Prague. We stayed for five nights at Rozochatec. The only issue was that breakfast was served at 8.00am - we would have preferred it one hour earlier. Otherwise an excellent hotel, which was formerly a castle. Large rooms, good showers, nice simple breakfast - all we needed. There were a few other walkers staying there over the weekend, but the hotel was othewise very quiet
Breakfast at Rozochatec
We drove south again to revisit the OK/JC area, allowing us to pick off a few more SOTA completes. We activated 7 summits with only OK/ST-025 Horka not being SOTA Complete for me. Hopefully someone will go there then when I am home for the chase, although no one had activated the summit in the previous 3 years prior to our visit, despite it being virtually a drive on....

With such a busy schedule attempting to visit as many summits as possible the average time spent operating on each summit today was just 10 minutes each on the 40 metre band in CW/SSB, with Victor again concentrating on 30 metres CW.  It was a cold damp day with hats and coats being necessary wear. As on previous days there were a few legal drive on summits, but also a few where we walked in from the road for a considerable distance. On the 3rd summit JC-060, I was able to secure a seat at a covered picnic table within the activation zone:
The most interesting summit in terms of history today was VY-015, where a lookout tower was situated - now serving as a cellular radio mast. The plaque above the locked door preventing access, was dated 1940, indicating this tower was built during the German occupation of Czechoslovakia in World War II:

Phil OK8CDX & Victor OK8VM on OK/VY-015 Svidnik - a 6 point summit I have chased six times
As we left the last wooded and non-complete summit for me of OK/ST-025 it was approaching 6.00pm local time, so we headed back to our base near Chotebor, 40 miles from the summit. 

Go to: Czech Tour Day 7

Sunday, 5 May 2019

OK8CDX Czech Tour May 2019 - Day 5

We had been in touch with Jarek SP9MA via text message the previous day and had arranged to meet up on a summit in the morning. What better place to meet an activator in person who you have made many contacts with them than on a summit? After the previous day's early finish due to the rain we wanted to make up for lost time, so we were heading north with the first OK/VY summits near Chotebor, close to our hotel. This was to be our ten summit running order:
VY037>VY-039>PA-036>PA-040>PA-015>PA-041>PA-017>PA-039>PA-038>VY-072

We were looking forward to meeting Jarek, on what was to be an interesting day with fine weather, when we were to stumble across two VHF Contest stations located on VY summits and then go on to complete our first activations in the OK/PA Pardubický region.  
When we arrived on VY-037 we found the first contest station - sited in an ex-military portable building, sporting a 20m high mast with an extremely long 2m Yagi antenna. As I operated in the woods around 100m away I could see the antenna turning, so after I closed down on HF I knocked on the door of the unit and introduced myself with the help of my G4OBK QSL card. The station is OK1KCR Club Station Chrudim, and they have been operating contests on VY-037 since 1950 when their licence (pictured) was issued. It was OK1MHV who opened the door - OK1PI was sleeping after completing the night time operating. OK1FCR was the operator and OK1FPL was the old timer in this photo:
Left to right: OK1FPL, OK1MHV, OK1FCR operating club station OK1KCR station Manager OK1PI was sleeping


The contest station OK1KCR running QRO on 5th May 2019. The station is on the summit of OK/VY-037 Vestec.
There was another VHF contest club station amazingly on the next summit, VY-039 and one of the operators approached me while I was operating. We had a brief chat, but in different languages brief it was.... My mistake was not taking a photograph.  We then moved on to the summit of OK/PA-036 where Jarek SP9MA/P was waiting for us. We had a nice meeting, did our operating and then left the summit to Jarek to erect his antenna and continue with his own station.
Victor OK8VM - Phil OK8CDX - Jarek OK/SP9MA in the woods on OK/PA-036
The next summit was OK/PA-040 Ochoz. When we got there we were looking at a similar situation to Hensbarrow Beacon G/DC-008 in Cornwall where a china clay slag heap was built, causing the summit to relocate. In the case of PA-040 this was a large dump, probably around 25m higher than the previous highest point (behind the radio mast in the picture).


We set up in the activation zone and not on top of the rubbish heap.

OK/PA-015 was next, a drive on summit. We operated on either side of a small copse near to an enormous TV transmitter. The QRN (Static interference) from the sender was very high on HF and I struggled to hear the chasers calling me. Victor suffered the same on 10 MHz on what was a brief activation: 


The next few summits were typical of the region in woodland, but OK/PA-039 was nicely in the clear, with far reaching views to a large quarry and as is often the case in Czech, there was a radio mast on the summit:

Today's tally was 222 contacts between both operators from 10 summits using 7 MHz CW/SSB and 10 MHz CW. After we left OK/PA-036 Jarek SP9MA went on to make another 12 contacts there. It was great to meet him. 

Go to: Czech Tour Day 6

Saturday, 4 May 2019

OK8CDX Czech Tour May 2019 - Day 3 & Day 4

Our second and third full days, and a late start on day 3 for several reasons. We therefore decided to extend our day and operate into the evening to make up for the lost time at the beginning of the day. We headed south west of Havlickuv Brod and Jihlava into the heavily wooded Vysocina area on both days. All summits activated are shown on this map, running order on day 3 was:
VY-028>VY-029>VY-017>VY-066>VY-021>VY-012>VY018>VY-025:
  
OK/VY-028 was our first summit and it was raining, so my KX2 was operated inside this plastic case:

Most of the wooded summit areas were easy to reach using the car, however our 3rd summit (OK/VY-017) involved a reasonable walk to the summit from the parking place by the side of this small shelter, Victor OK8VM/GI4ONL is pictured by our Fabia hire car:
And here we are after the activation on the summit:
We then drove a few miles to OK/VY-066 Kobylí hlava where the summit was in the clear out of the woods at the top of a farmers field, and another easy 4 pointer: 
The next summit VY-012 was a little different. We parked near the gated entrance to a holiday / wellness centre and walked up tracks to a radio mast. I set up close to it. The track is in the SMP:
Our last two on Friday were VY-018 and VY-025. Both were unremarkable summits close to asphalt roads. In the case of VY-025 this was the only summit out of 52 activated during our tour that was not SOTA Complete for me. It was 19:30 local time when we finished operating on VY-025 so it was straight to the Pansky Dum bar and restaurant in Chotebor for our dinner and beer (non alcoholic for Victor being the driver).  Considering our late start we had a really productive day with 8 activations  and 204 contacts between us on the 20m, 30m and 40m bands. 

Day 4: VY-002>VY-011>VY-010>VY-022

There was rain forecast again as we headed out to our most southernest point of the tour - Javorice OK/VY-002. Finding a sandwich en-route to eat later was difficult. We stopped at a couple of convenience stores but they didn't sell them. It would have to wait. Not far from the village of Svetla a small herd of Chamois guided by a single Ram crossed the road right in front of the car! It took us a few seconds to realise what they were. I had only seen solitary Chamois before on three occasions, so seeing a group of around ten was a surprise... The long drive and pleasant walk of around one mile each way to VY-002 meant we were starting our first activation later than expected:

There was a large transmitting mast on the summit of VY-002 so we stopped short on the track to avoid the chance of interference from the comms installation. The weather was fine but it was going to change. Here is Victor OK8VM strolling back to the car:

We then went to VY-011, which we approached from the north (see track in SMP), however VY-010 Kremesnik was more memorable as there was a hotel on the summit. Surely if we ever return to the area this would be a great place to stay? I went in to the bar and the staff gave me a couple of postcards when I told them I intended returning there sometime:
We set the stations up behind the hotel in the woods, and although there were people around, no one bothered us.  While on the summit it started raining, and it persisted as we arrived at VY-022 which is a "drive on" summit near an activity centre. We operated in the woods on either side of the tarmac road and got pretty well soaked. After that the rain continued so we decided to call it a day and head back to Rozochatec Hotel.  After a hot shower and a couple of hours rest we went back to the Pansky Dum restaurant in Chotebor - where they have a micro brewery in the restaurant itself: