Thursday 27 June 2013

G4OBK SOTA Freeholds Top G/SP-011 May 2013

After visiting my mother in Leyland on my way back to North Yorkshire, I made for the M65 leaving it at junction 5. I then passed through Rawtenstall on my way to the parking spot for Freehold's Top SP-011 which lies between Bacup and Todmorden in the A681. 

I drove up the rough track a short distance and parked by a gate at grid ref SD 8913 2384. There was just room for one car there. It felt secure as the car could not be clearly seen by passing traffic. I set off with my Border Lakeland Terrier Treacle on a lead at 3.45pm. She loves doing SOTA, there are always plenty of interesting smells on a moor like this one.....

Distance walked - 3.5 miles with 280 feet ascent
From the gate I used the little walked Rossendale Way which proved to be quite boggy. If you take this route make sure you keep to the left of the fences and walls along the way to the summit. The walk up took me 33 minutes with minimal ascent. 

I set my antenna up near the trig point and pond. Take off was reasonable and I worked 9 stations with a Yaesu VX-170 and vertical dipole. I worked G4ZRP on The Wirral, but only just, as Hailstorm Hill SP-009 was right in the line of sight:

If practicable I prefer to take a different route back and as my walk up was over boggy land I went back down via the Liners Gate track (a route since favoured by Tom and Jimmy M1EYP/M0HGY). This proved be a good move, although I had to climb back up a spoil heap to reach my car at the gate. The walk back took me 29 minutes. On the way I passed some former coal mines and a radio mast - use not known:

Not my antenna!!
All in all a pleasant activation which was accomplished in under 90 minutes all round. 

G4OBK SOTA Billinge Hill G/SP-017 May 2013

I wanted to visit my mother in Leyland in May so I opted for an early start to activate Billinge Hill near Wigan. This summit at a mere 179m ASL is the lowest Marilyn in the South Pennines and one of the easiest to climb.

I didn't take any photos but the summit and its environs were much better than I had been led to believe from older reports. I felt the lane in which I parked my car, Beacon Road (SD 528010), was secure being in front of some houses. I parked near the top of the road. I followed the same path as taken by G0EWN in his report of October 2012. The summit of Billinge Hill was reached in just 12 minutes. The footpath was well defined and partly tarmac. At one point I overshot as you can see from the map. This was near a compound containing a generator which was being powered from the methane being bled off the former landfill site. I think the council should be proud of what has been achieved here - Billinge Hill now sits above a pleasant country park.  

Take off was pretty good on 2m FM with just 5 watts and a vertical dipole - perfect for working the locals at an early hour. I was on the air for around 15 minutes before the callers dried up:

I drove on after this activation to my mother's QTH in Leyland with my thoughts ahead of an activation of Freehold's Top, near Todmorden on my return to Yorkshire later in the day.

Wednesday 26 June 2013

Good Tropospheric Propagation in 50 MHz Contest 25th June 2013

Inter UK Radio propagation conditions were excellent in last night's Radio Society of Great Britain 50 MHz Activity Contest.

VHF Antennae at G4OBK - a 50/70 MHz hybrid yagi was the contest antenna used
As part of the Travelling Wave Contest Group I operated from 8:00pm until 10:30pm, completing 114 contacts with UK amateur radio stations in 20 locator squares. 

My best DX (Long Distance) contact was with G8BCG. a 6 Metre band specialist,  who lives in Liskeard, Cornwall. 

Here is map of where all the contacts I made were located:

Best DX Peter G8BCG Liskeard Cornwall - 493 Kms from Pickering North Yorkshire

Tuesday 11 June 2013

SOTA Cycling Weekend - June 2013 - SB-005 Sighty Crag

Sunday 9th June 2013 (am)

It was the first ever SOTA International Cycling Weekend and I made a late decision to take part in the action by spending two further days in Northumberland around the Scottish border bagging and activating my last four Marilyn summits in the region.  The previous day I made an on-line booking to stay in the YHA Bunkhouse in Bellingham. This was the day after I returned from the same area when I climbed The Cheviot and Housedon Hill with my friend Nick G4OOE, who thankfully did the driving on what was a long day. 

I left home at 5.45am and within ten minutes I hit a problem on the A170. A road traffic accident had occurred just after 5.00am in the village of Wrelton and this is the scene which presented itself:

I later discovered that a Ford Fiesta had crashed and rolled over. 5.00am was a funny time for that to happen, and I wondered if it was anything to do with the Modified Car Show which was due to take place later that day in Pickering.... A diversion was in operation but it was only a short detour and I was soon on my way up to the east side of Cumbria travelling via Alston and the North Pennine road which passes NP-003 Burnhope Seat.

I reached my parking place at 9.00am, marked on the OS map as The Loan, grid reference NY 5616 7853.  

My bike - next day on Tosson Hill G/SB-007
My bike was inside the car. Although I ride a lighter bike than this one locally on an almost daily basis I hadn't ridden this machine for around two years, so the previous day I serviced it by way of cleaning it down, pumping the tyres up to 70 psi, cleaning and lubricating the chain and gears and adjusting the brakes.  I also removed the front mudguard on account of the rough tracks to be encountered on my SOTA tour and to help ease loading the bike into my car. The recent weather had been dry and it was expected to remain so. 
The first obstacle was a locked gate into the southern corner of Kershope Forest, so the bike was lifted over the gate and off I went, travelling two miles before a steep hill became too much so I dismounted for a short section before continuing to ride. I realised that I could not ride to the summit of Sighty Crag, or even push my bike up to it. I left my bike in a small quarry at 5872 8056 after 3.4 miles and didn't feel the need to lock it in this remote location.  From there I set off on foot to head towards The Hewn Block - some crags on the tussocky moorland to the east of my bike park. At 5917 8056 I hit a barbed wire fence and handrailed along it in the hope of finding a gate or stile.

My view from the barbed fence on my way to Sighty Crag - and before the mist rolled in
There was none, so at 5925 8028 I scaled the fence to eventually reach another fence (non-barbed) which ran along the line of the summit. it was slow going over the tussocks but I reached my goal at 1035 am. 

The most remote and least visited of all England's Marilyn Summits - Sighty Crag
I can understand why G/SB-005 is the least visited of England's Marilyn's (and probably the least activated for English SOTA). This is due to its sheer remoteness, the long walk/ride in regardless of which route is taken and the summits lack of redeeming features when you get there, especially when the mist is down as it was on my arrival!

A friend of mine sent me this poem about Sighty Crag - writer unknown but whoever it was, the poem gives a good appreciation of why this place is the least visited Marilyn summit in England:

We guys who hills in Blighty bag
Might shy away from Sighty Crag.
It surely is a mighty drag
Enough to make the sprightly flag
When faced with forest, mire and hag
Shrouded in a whity clag.
But conquer and you'll rightly brag
'I found the top of Sighty Crag!'
Descending is a further fag
And goes to show we're slightly mad.

The website shows today that 977 registered users have climbed Helvellyn - the most visited Marilyn in England. Sighty Crag is the least visited - only 61 registered users have been there. It was 60 before I called in. Next least visited is Peel Fell with a score of 72....I went there after Sighty Crag. Housedon Hill is 3rd from the bottom with a score of 73....I was there with Nick G4OOE two days before Sighty Crag. It's great to go to places that the herd don't visit, it gives me a good feeling, a feeling that the explorers of old must have also felt. That's wanderlust for you! 

My route showing where I parked the bike on my way to Sighty Crag
My QRP SOTA station was set up for HF CW and VHF 2m FM using homemade dipoles - a vertical for 2m and a link dipole for 40m, 30m and 20m. Conditions were good and 32 stations were worked for SOTA, 25 on HF and 7 on VHF. This was the first time that the 20m and 30m bands had been used out of the 17 previous activations of the summit. The last activation being in August 2011 when Paul G4MD/P visited.

Activity complete I chose to head across the moor to an unmarked cairn at 5978 8071:

I was back at the quarry to collect my bike at 1255 pm and chose the steeper route back to The Loan where my car was left. This was a white knuckle ride, exhilarating to the limit  as I reached a speed on 28.5 mph on the downhill, only to receive a puncture on sharp stones near the bottom, however there was just enough air in my rear tyre and enough speed to take me to the forest gate! 

Deflated back tyre!
I loaded the car and had my lunch before driving to my afternoon summit of Peel Fell G/SB-004, on the Scottish Border. I decided to walk in to this one and repair the bike at the end of the day.  I put Newcastleton into my Tom Tom and that set me on my way around Kershope Forest via a gated road and then from Newcastleton I went on towards the top end of Kielder. (See next blog for Peel Fell G/SB-004). 

Bike: Ideal Traveller Hybrid
Distance cycled: 5.9 miles
Distance walked: 2.5 miles
Total ascent: 1800 feet
Time taken out and back: 3 hours 55 minutes
Radio's used: YouKits HB1B 5 watt CW Transceiver and Yaesu VX-170 5 watt FM Transceiver both internal batteries
Antennae: Homemade 3 band link dipole, homemade 2m vertical dipole 
Amateur Bands used: 40m CW, 30m CW, 20m CW, 2m FM
Contacts made: 32

SOTA Cycling Weekend June 2013 - G/SB-004 Peel Fell

Sunday 9th June 2013 (PM)
After puncturing returning from Sighty Crag back to my car I decided to walk to the summit Peel Fell from the parking spot near Deadwater (NY 6086 9643). My intention was to replace my bike inner tube that evening when I reached my accommodation in Bellingham. 
Walking route to Peel Fell G/SB-004
The rarely activated summit of Peel Fell lies on the Scottish Border.  More details provided by Jim G0CQK can be found here (Thanks Jim). The walk to the summit took 1 hour 36 minutes and was straightforward - despite this I took a wrong turning on a forest track which wasted around 12 minutes. I had to fight my way through fallen trees to get back onto the right track. My GPS track is in fact inaccurate. I think the device was receiving skewed signals owing to the tree cover adjacent to the track. This is why the map appears to show that I used a different route through the wood on my return. 
Peel Fell G/SB-004 looks a long way off on the track at Deadwater
Once Rushy Knowe is reached at 6144 9900 you are in Scotland. A broken wall and the remains of a fence can then be followed up to the summit. The walk becomes steeper and much more strenuous before the summit of Peel Fell (602m) is reached. This height means Peel Fell meets the 600m UK limit and can be classed as a mountain.  My path was blocked in one place by a fallen tree and the forestry fence had to be climbed to get around the obstruction:
Route blocked
I reached the summit at 4.00pm, weather was cloudy but mild as I set up my station. 
G4OBK/P on Peel Fell G/SB-004
HF band conditions were very poor. I completed only nine contacts with the following stations in 25 minutes before packing up:

2m FM M6EPW/P Flat Fell (Western Lake District)
40m CW G0NUP (England)
40m CW G4SSH (England)
40m CW G4OOE (England)
40m CW PA9CW (Netherlands)
40m CW PA0SKP (Netherlands)
40m CW MW0IDX (Wales)
30m CW CT1BQH (Portugal) (1st time 30m activation of Peel Fell)
2m FM M0RCP/P Summit to Summit - Calf Top, North Pennines

There were no contacts on the 20m band despite me making repeated CQ calls, so I gave up. 

The nearby Deadwater Fell Communications Station (571m ASL) as seen from Peel Fell 
View leaving Peel Fell on the English / Scottish Border
The walk back down to my car took me 64 minutes and at 6.30pm I was on my way to the YHA Bunkhouse at Demesne Farm, Bellingham. This took me through Kielder Forest and past the reservoir. When I arrived I changed the inner tube in my rear tyre so the bike was ready for the two remaining summits on Monday - Tosson Hill G/SB-007 and Long Crag G/SB-008. 
Success - puncture repaired and bike ready for Tosson Hill and Long Crag tomorrow
Job done I settled in at the bunkhouse, took a shower and then made my way to the nearby Cheviot Hotel in the village for a good meal and several drinks. 


Bike: Out of action due to puncture
Distance walked: 7.16 miles
Total ascent: 1550 feet
Time taken out and back: 4 hours 5 minutes
Radio's used: YouKits HB1B 5 watt CW Transceiver and Yaesu VX-170 5 watt FM Transceiver both internal batteries
Antennae: Homemade 3 band link dipole, homemade 2m vertical dipole 
Amateur Bands used: 40m CW, 30m CW, 2m FM
Contacts made: 9

SOTA Cycling Weekend June 2013 - G/SB-007 Tosson Hill

Monday 10th June (AM)

With two summits remaining to bag and activate I rose early, leaving the Bunkbarn in Bellingham at 7.30am for my drive to the Simonside Hills, around 20 miles away. The YHA bunkbarn I stayed at Demesne Farm  was excellent value for a single traveller -  clean, modern and very well equipped, a fine example of farm diversification if there ever was one.

Demesne Farm YHA Camping Barn Bellingham
The bunkhouse sleeps up to 15 people at a cost of £17 per night. All you need is a towel and toiletries. I booked online the previous day via the YHA website. As it was a Sunday night I had the whole bunkhouse to myself - ensuring a good sleep. 

So on to the parking for Tosson Hill. I started from the forestry car park (free) at NZ 037996, five miles by road from Rothbury.  The forestry track was excellent for my bike up to NZ 0178 9905 and after a short push up a rough steep section I was back on the bike and able to ride to the summit.

My ride to the summit of Tosson Hill G/SB-007
After snapping my short 4m fishing pole the previous day I had to bodge a repair with insulation tape but managed to get the antenna up at  a mere 10 feet. Amazingly, even with QRP I still made plenty of contacts and activated the 30m band for the first time from this summit. I finished with 20 contacts on HF and just one on 2m FM!

G4OBK/P on Tosson Hill G/SB-007 International SOTA Cycling Weekend June 2013
The ride up took me 50 minutes, and the ride down just 26 minutes, over a return distance of 6.4 miles. I left the car park at 11.30am to head four miles north of Rothbury for my final Scottish Border summit on the English side, Long Crag SB-008.

Bike: Ideal Traveller Hybrid
Distance cycled: 6.4 miles
Total ascent: 1050 feet
Time taken out and back: 3 hours 0 minutes
Radio's used: YouKits HB1B 5 watt CW Transceiver and Yaesu VX-170 5 watt FM Transceiver both internal batteries
Antennae: Homemade 3 band link dipole, homemade 2m vertical dipole 
Amateur Bands used: 40m CW, 30m CW, 20m CW, 2m FM
Contacts made: 31
Countries worked: G, ON, GW, EA, HB9, OK, OM, DL, HA, F, SP.  

SOTA Cycling Weekend June 2013 - G/SB-008 Long Crag

Monday 10th June 2013 (pm)

Trig point nameplate on G/SB-008 Long Crag near Rothbury, Northumberland
The parking spot for Long Crag is about 300m off the A697 north of Rothbury at grid ref NU 0918 0723. The gradual ascent to the summit is ideally suited to the bike, especially in such dry conditions - a good well surfaced track and on the moor there had been no rain to speak of for some time, so it was bog free. This route would also make an easy pleasant walk and was without doubt the easiest of the four summits ascended on my two day tour.

Route from Rough Castles to the summit of Long Crag G/SB-008
From my car to the summit on the bike took a mere 27 minutes. My return took 10 minutes, such was the graded quality of the track - less potholes to look for than on the metalled roads in my home town!
Summit of Long Crag G/SB-008
With my broken fishing pole I set up my station around 250m back along the path at around 5m down from the actual top - I was able to use a Waymarker post on which to support my pole. 
Operating position on G/SB-008 Long Crag
With the centre of my inverted vee again at only 10 feet and with the ends of my dipole 3 feet off the ground I was able to make 20 contacts on 40m, 30m and 20m (CW of course!).  Conditions were similar to what I experienced on Tosson Hill SB-007 earlier in the day.  In addition I made just two contacts on 2m FM with George G2ARY and Lesa M0BQD in New York (Near Newcastle!). Best DX was with YO2LIW on 20m with 4 watts and low dipole.  The YouKits HB1B (Purchased recently from SOTABeams) was proving to be a useful tool to have in the rucksack for SOTA - complete with batteries it weighs just 520 grams and is a delight to operate.  

SOTA HF Station: HB1B Transceiver -  Palm Key - earphones - Write in the rain notebook and pencil
After 40 minutes of operation the callers dried up so I closed the station down, satisfied that I had now completed the Scottish Borders SOTA area, to add to my completions of the Lake District and Northern Pennine area. My next target is to finish activating the South Pennines Area later in the summer and make more inroads into the Welsh Border area Marilyn Summits. 

Notable points about this two day Scottish Borders tour:
  • Miro OK1DVM was the most worked station with 5 contacts. 
  • I never saw a single person along the tracks or on the summits on all four activations, even though the weather was good.  
  • The YHA Bunkbarn concept is a good one. It enables you to have the freedom you want with no time schedules other than your own. Perfect for a one person short tour and very cheap at £17 per night. 
  • QRP CW on HF is effective providing at least 3 bands are covered. This way if conditions are bad you will always make sufficient contacts to qualify the summit - on Peel Fell, the highest summit, I only scraped 7 contacts over the three bands.
  • I'm glad I was carrying a spare inner tube!
  • I can understand the reluctance of SOTAists in staying away from Sighty Crag (activated 17 times, the last time in 2011). The summit is so hard to get to and has no redeeming features, I recall the tune "1000 miles from nowhere" by Paul Hardcastle, and it felt like it was! 
Bike: Ideal Traveller Hybrid
Distance cycled: 4.25 miles
Total ascent: 450 feet
Time taken out and back: 2 hours 2 minutes
Radio's used: YouKits HB1B 5 watt CW Transceiver and Yaesu VX-170 5 watt FM Transceiver both internal batteries
Antennae: Homemade 3 band link dipole, homemade 2m vertical dipole 
Amateur Bands used: 40m CW, 30m CW, 20m CW, 2m FM
Contacts made: 22
Countries worked: G, ON, PA, HB9, OE, OK, DL, OM, YO.

Friday 7 June 2013

G4OBK & G4OOE team up to visit The Cheviot G/SB-001

Friday 7th June 2013 AM - The Cheviot G/SB-001

After visiting all the Marilyn Summits in Cumbria and the North Pennines and activating them for Summits On The Air (SOTA) it was time to turn my attention back to the Scottish Borders where there are 8 summits.  I had only visited two previously, Ros Hill in 2005 and Shillhope Law in February 2013 both with my XYL Judy.  I decided that with a free weekend and after a dry period, that I would dedicate a long weekend to the English side of the Scottish Border. My friend Nick G4OOE was very interested in activating the border summits and offered to do the driving. I purposely chose these two summits, as with the SOTA International Cycling Weekend starting the next day my plan was to return with my bike and activate the last four summits over two days using my bike as the method of transport. See next blog. I was also accompanied on this trip by my Border Lakeland Terrier Treacle, back in her homeland!

Plenty of parking at Langleeford and a perfect day for fellwalking

We left Pickering at 5.30am arriving at Langleeford (NT 954225) in the Harthope Valley three hours later.  The public road down the valley is quite rough and potholed and is very steep in places. This map shows the walking route via Scald Hill that we took on the day:

GPS Track from Langleeford  to The Cheviot - the return route via the Harthope Valley is not recommended
The walk to the summit trig point over a distance of 3.3 miles took 1 hour and 40 minutes. I was quite pleased with that and with the weather having been so dry for two weeks we had no problem crossing several dried up bogs. Once the ladder style was reached and crossed at NT 9142 2068 we were on the plateau at 805m with the summit only 10m higher than this. The path was then flagged to the trig point and beyond. 

The path on the plateau of The Cheviot is now flagged

We were soon on the air taking turns on VHF (5 watts) and HF CW (50 watts). Conditions weren't at their best and I failed to make any voice contacts on HF. Morse was much more productive. 

For the first time on Cheviot the 30m band was activated, by G4OOE, and for the first time 20m was activated by G4OBK.

We completed summit to summit contacts with HB9BCB/P in Switzerland and with S52CU/P in Slovenia. This is me operating pictured right - the SOTA flag was flying.   Visibility was poor, the sun did not reappear until we were back down in the valley. 

A few walkers starting appearing and we had to field the usual questions - once again Joe Public confused ham radio with CB which seems to be better known.  We posed for a photograph at the trig point before heading towards the Pennine Way main route at Scotsman's Cairn. The leg to The Cheviot from the Pennine Way is a spur and not all Pennine Way walkers visit the summit.

Treacle Phil (G4OBK) and Nick (G4OOE) on The Cheviot

Once we reached Scotsman Cairn it was time to take our jackets off as the sun came out.

The writer at Scotman's Cairn on Cairn Hill NT 903195

The route to the cairn and then down the hill to Scotsman's Knowe was fine, however from that point on right through to the sheep pens at Langleeford Hope the route was difficult. This involved crossing the burn around 20 times over 2.5 miles. I wouldn't go that way again. It would have been better to stay high and walk over Comb Fell and Hedghope Hill. That route would have brought us straight back down to the car park. 

Nick on the awkward path that repeatedly crosses the Harthope Burn

We arrived back at the car park just before 3.00pm for refreshments before going heading to our next summit Housedon Hill G/SB-010, north of Wooler. 


Operators Phil G4OBK & Nick G4OOE

Distance walked: 8.5 miles
Total ascent: 2575 feet
Time taken out and back: 5 hours 15 minutes
Time spent on air: 59 minutes
Radio's used:
Yaesu FT-857 HF Transceiver 50 watts from 5Ah LiPO battery 
Yaesu VX-170 5 watt FM Transceiver internal batteries
Antennae: Homemade 3 band link dipole, 2m vertical dipole 
Amateur Bands used: 40m CW, 30m CW, 20m CW, 2m FM
Contacts made: 43

Phil G4OBK & Nick G4OOE team up to visit Housedon Hill G/SB-010

On the afternoon of 7th June 2013 Nick (G4OOE) and I left the car park for the Cheviot in the Harthope Valley at 3.15pm and headed north of Wooler to activate the lowest of the Scottish Borders Marilyn Summits Housedon Hill, a mere 266m high. 

The most convenient place to park is close to the end of the C Class public road at Reedsford, (NT 8930 3254). The spacious and signposted parking area is on the right adjacent to some cottages. No one challenged us parking there, as we set out for the summit just after 4.00pm. 
My terrier Treacle (after climbing The Cheviot earlier) needed a rest so she was left sleeping in Nick's car as we climbed to the summit. 

Gorse on the flank of Housedon Hill G/SB-010

We had decided to operate QRP (low power) on this summit so were carrying a lighter load than earlier in the day on The Cheviot. A 35 minute climb took us to the summit, the best and driest route being via a narrow gate in the fence corner at NT 8983 3289, a point where cattle do not seem to gather as they do at the previous gate. 

Views from the summit of Housedon Hill:

The grass topped summit was surrounded by much higher hills some distance away and offered a superb viewpoint, whilst being disappointing from a VHF FM low power point of view - in that working condition our CQ calls went unanswered, so we reverted to HF CW and got out our Morse Keys, both of us setting up our link dipoles end to end using the fence which runs adjacent to the summit, to support our fishing poles. 

Nick in action on CW on the 30m band
Nick was using his Yaesu FT-817 with internal battery whilst I was using for the first time on a summit, my YouKits HB1B 4 band QRP CW Transceiver.

The simple and basic HB-1B 4 band CW Transceiver
With fine weather and no shortage of stations calling we had quite a lengthy activation making 37 contacts between us with 10 European countries.  The best DX (long distance) contact being with UU4JDD in Ukraine on the 10 MHz (30m) band. We left the summit just after 6.00pm, and it took 27 minutes to walk back down to the car park. 

Descending from Housedon Hill on a beautiful evening

After a strenuous day we were both hungry and thirsty so on our way back to Yorkshire we left the A1(M) when we reached Gateshead to visit the KFC. It had been a long 17 hour day, I got home at 10.30pm  - thank you Nick for offering to do the driving.


Operators Phil G4OBK & Nick G4OOE

Distance walked: 2 miles
Total ascent: 670 feet
Time taken out and back: 2hours 25 minutes
Time spent on air: 40 minutes
Radio's used:
Yaesu FT-817 HF Transceiver 2.5 watt internal battery
YouKits HB-1B 4 Band QRP CW Transceiver 5 watt internal battery
Yaesu VX-170 5 watt FM Transceiver internal battery
Antennae: 3 band link dipoles, 2m vertical dipole 
Amateur Bands used: 40m CW, 30m CW, 20m CW, 2m FM (No contacts)
HF CW Contacts made (QRP): 37

More information about Housedon Hill and the Scottish Borders Marilyns can be found on the excellent SB Homepage hosted by Jim G0CQK at Link