Thursday, 3 January 2019

Two days activating SOTA in the Scottish Borders - Ward Law GM/SS-119

A poor walk route up on the right side and a good route coming down on the left side of the map
I don't recommend the route I took climbing up to Ward Law - poor ground for walking over and onwards from Ramseycleuch Kip into a depression on rough ground, before climbing again.
On the ascent of Ward Law - before the ground got rough Ramseycleuch Farm is at the bottom of the hill
When I reached the summit I found a ladder stile, a deer fence and the Jubilee Cairn - not just a rough pile of stones like I had encountered on Ettrick Pen earlier that day. I set up initially on 2m FM with my handheld and dipole and immediately heard Colin M1BUU/P calling CQ SOTA from the summit of G/NP-004 Whernside - first contact summit to summit which bode well for a successful activation.  Next call it was Derek Edge 2E0MIX in Whitehaven, good DX for the equipment used at my end for sure.... 20 minutes later when the FM radio signal broke the squelch it was a call from G3TQQ/P - so I left HF CW to one side for a couple of minutes to work another two S2S contacts - Nick G4OOE with Dave G3TQQ who were both on G/NP-016 Dodd Fell. That was me done on 2m FM, so like on Ettrick Pen earlier, the summit could have been qualified with just 5 watts and a dipole on VHF thanks to other operators mainly operating from high places.  Good to see that part of the radio spectrum getting plenty of attention in Northern England and Southern Scotland by the SOTA gang...
Summit of Ward Law - 5m pole inverted vee link dipole - KX2
15 contacts on 20m and 40m CW: USA (2) and EU (13) were worked

From the summit when it was time to leave, I looked below for where the sheep were grazing and headed for them, grazing on the few green areas of grass left on the flank of the hill. It was far drier and smoother than my chosen route up for sure - and an effective quad track was found leading to the sheepfold at NT 26181524 (Slightly out of position on the OS 1:25K map). I had parked in the parking area at NT 273142, but on reflection I would have been better parking at the former School or Memorial Hall at 266144 and climbing the hill from there, the way I came down.
The sheepfold I made for at NT 26181524 (Slightly out of position on the OS 1:25K map)
Walk started 12:57 - Ward Law reached at 14:04 - 67 minutes.
Ward Law departed 15:09 -  my vehicle reached south of Ettrick at 16:03 - 54 minutes.

The GPX track was shared in the SOTA Mapping Project, and I recommend the downward route.

Below the sheepfold mentioned looking to the row of houses (No access) and sheep pens to the right
The white house on the extreme right middle is Ettrickhill NT 2627 1440

I'll be heading up north again as soon as I get the chance, and will stay overnight at the Tushielaw Inn, Ettrick Valley again. The evening meal and bed and breakfast were excellent - too excellent in fact, I ate too much. Next time I will be targeting Broad Law SS-029, Dun Rig SS-052 and Deuchar Law SS-144. Let's hope the snow stays away, I don't enjoy getting cold sat on the top of a snowy summit.

Two days activating SOTA in the Scottish Borders - Ettrick Pen GM/SS-074

My walk route
After a good nights kip and big breakfast at the Tushielaw Inn in the Ettrick Valley I drove south west to the end of the road near Potburn and parked at NT 189092 - which is the end of the public road.  On the way I passed by Ward Law - a summit I planned to climb in the afternoon. 
Parking place for Ettrick Pen
Unoccupied farmstead at Potburn
The steady walk to the summit took me 75 minutes and I stopped off to look inside the Over Phawhope Bothy at 181081 and meet Maud from Edinburgh by chance, who had just got up after staying overnight in the bothy. The bothy was extremely cosy and Maud told me she'd slept on the sofa in the property overnight.

Over Phawhope Bothy - inside & out
Proceeding on the track gave way to moor near the sheepfold shown on the map at 190076 and I found a foot beaten track around some newly planted trees which took me up towards the fenceline and then south east to the highest point where the three fences meet and where there is a big pile of stones for shelter. The route taken has been shared in the tracks section of the SOTA Mapping Project. 
The pile of stones on Ettrick Pen
I set up and spent 45 minutes on the air. I could have qualified this summit with my VX-170 handheld and vertical on 2m FM - five contacts were made with this, including a summit contact with G4OOE and G3TQQ on G/NP-015 Great Knoutberry Hill in the Yorkshire Dales. The 40m band kept me busy though, with 26 EU callers in Morse but only 2 contacts on phone, despite repeated CQ calls. I gave up at 11:16z and packed up, reaching my car at 12:28z for my lunch prior to driving back up the valley for the final summit of my two day trip, Ward Law.  

Wednesday, 2 January 2019

Two days activating SOTA in the Scottish Borders - Law Kneis GM/SS-168

Parking for Law Kneis by B709 NT 280130 - exit on foot via frosty footbridge to Forest Track - Start 14:30 return 17:30. 
My research on climbing Law Kneis led me to the walkhighlands sub2000s web page where I found several "tales of woe" describing efforts from hillwalkers who had climbed it. In the end I opted for the steep and awkward climb by the side of White Sike burn to reach the forest track. I then followed an awkward and difficult forest ride to the summit itself. You'll see from the map that I did not return alongside White Sike - it was too dangerous to contemplate descending this way in the dark, the wide graded forestry track traversing the side of Deephope Hill was an excellent alternative, and as I was walking down I wished I had gone up that way:

I don't recommend the rough walk route up by White Sike. Future activators may have no choice but to tackle the forest ride which heads east from 286133 though, unless they know of anything easier. There were around 10 fallen trees to negotiate in this forest gap on the ride and the boggy sections were all frozen, so it wasn't all bad - not that I will be returning for what is just a one point 498m high summit.
At NT 286133 on the graded track looking down on the Angecroft Cottage Caravan Site 
As I exited the forest almost on the highest point it was approaching dusk and I found a place along the old fence. The posts were rotten, but strong enough to support my aerial pole and home brew link dipole:

Darkness fell and my headlight was used to allow me to continue the activation....

HF operation on 20m, 30m and 40m was successful, 18 contacts were completed, including K3TCU and K4DY in USA. The usual lightweight KX2 and link dipole at 5m AGL were used.  Unsurprisingly from such a remote place, VHF with a handheld with long whip fastened to the fence post was ineffective. Constant monitoring on 145.500 MHz for almost an hour proved fruitless...

Here is the bag I won in the SOTA raffle at Ham Radio in 2018 - I use it stowing my aerial etc in my rucksack:

Walking off was most enjoyable with the headlight illuminating the sparkling frost in the ground surface throughout the length of the forest ride. The decision to take the safer track pictured above was made - once I overcame the bad step down the bank on to it. My car was reached exactly 3 hours after leaving it. The GPX track for this route both ways is lodged in the SOTA Mapping Project Tracks page. 

Two days activating SOTA in the Scottish Borders - White Coomb GM/SS-030

The long range weather forecast on New Years Eve was settled for several days ahead so I decided then to have an early start on January 2nd and head back up to Scotland to visit summits I had seen, but not climbed.  I booked in for an overnight stay at the Tushielaw Inn, which lies in the Ettrick Valley - a pub which is surrounded by Marilyn Summits, some of which I had already climbed.  The pub had been fully booked for the New Years Eve festivities, but the landlord Rab told me on the phone there were vacancies the following night, when I was the only resident and as it turned out, was the only customer having a meal and enjoying a few drinks.   

Tushielaw Inn
On my way to the pub I climbed White Coomb GM/SS-030 near Moffat and Law Kneis GM/SS-168 which is only three miles south of the pub. 

Leaving Pickering at 5.50 am, I was walking from the Grey Mares Tail Car Park in Moffat Dale to White Coomb at 9.20 am. Car parking is £3 per day or free if you are a National Trust Member. The popular route up to Loch Skene was quiet and empty as I climbed up beside the waterfall following the Tail Burn. The temperature when I started my walk was -4.5c, on what was a clear and beautiful morning. Without paying attention to the map of my proposed route I continued on the path for almost a kilometre more than I should have done, crossing the Tail Burn just before I reached Loch Skeen and then doubling back on myself across the moorland to rejoin the beaten path just below Rough Crags.  My navigational error made me late and I reached the summit after almost two hours walking at 11.15 am.  I stayed on the summit for one hour. It was cold even in the sun - but not unpleasant. The summit was visited by just one other walker while I was there. From 11:30 until 12:00 I operated on the 145 MHz FM band for SOTA and completed 20 contacts using 50 watts of power to a vertical dipole on a 5m pole. The contacts included summit contacts with G4VFL/PAndrew  on Shillhope Law, 2E0MIX Derek on Blake Fell and G4OOE Nick with G3TQQ Dave, on Great Mell Fell. The map below shows the contacts made - the one mapping error is the contact shown in the banner. This was with G4YTD/P Tim, who was not near Hull where he lives, but Tim was actually in a camper van near Penrith!

My routes both ways -  The contacts made on 2m FM - The summit with my aerial in the cairn
I took the more direct and correct route back, following a broken wall down to the Tail Burn, where a crossing was again made. It was just a case of climbing down this bank and crossing where the burn looked the shallowest:

Once on the main path it was like a procession. 2nd January is a Bank Holiday in Scotland and there were tens of people making their way up to Loch Skeen alongside Grey Mares Tail. The earlier empty car park was now rammed with car, vans and campers when I reached it at 13:30, after taking 75 minutes to get back down from the summit:

I now had a 22 mile drive to the parking place from which to climb to the remote summit of Law Kneis GM/SS-168. On my drive there by St Mary's Loch I was to hear G4OOE and G3TQQ on t2m FM again whilst driving - and completed a mobile contact with them when they were activating from the summit of Little Mell Fell.

Tuesday, 1 January 2019

My Amateur Radio SOTA Review of 2018 at G4OBK

Phil (G4OBK) has had a very active year in amateur radio and in particular taking part in Summits On The Air (SOTA). I have done a lot of work to improve my radio station at home and I believe this has paid off.

In the shack today with Treacle:

On the hill - on the way to White Coomb GM/SS-030 last week:

Fixed & Portable Stations:

My Activator station equipment remained the same as it did in 2017:
HF Rigs - Yaesu FT-857 - Elecraft KX2 - YouKIts HB1B with 20/30/40m link dipole on 5m pole
VHF Rigs - Yaesu FT1500M (50 watts) - VX-170 (5 watts) - FT270 (5 watts) with vertical end fed dipole on 5m pole or RH770 handheld whip on the handhelds.

My Chaser station equipment was upgraded considerably in 2018 as a result of getting back on the air from a new QTH on 1st Jan 2017.

The most important part of the station after being there…

It took 15 months and an appeal to the England & Wales Government Planning Inspectorate to secure permission to erect a 12m high Tennamast in my back garden to support a Hexbeam and a 4m/6m dual band yagi. These aerials were in place by June 2018. The coaxial feeds are all Ecoflex 15 buried in the ground in BT ducting where possible. I continued to use an 80m band OCF dipole I erected in a tree in 2017, however I improved the feed arrangements for that, and raised it in the tree I have to a greater height of 48 feet. In September I fixed a 7m pole to the opposite side of the same tree and fed that from the tree base as an inverted L with a 50 feet vertical section and 80 feet long top wire at an average height of 45 feet. I now have approximately 1500 feet around and in my garden to tune the inverted L against. This aerial I use on the 160m and 60m bands. On 144 MHz I continued using a Wimo 2m 7+7 cross yagi fixed to the house. The two rotators I have are Yaesu G-1000DXC and G-450C.

All base station radio’s used for chasing were purchased secondhand in the last 5 years:

HF Rigs: Yaesu FTDX5000 (2010 model), Icom 7300 (2016 model), Icom 7400 (2009 model), Yaesu FT-1802 (Age not known).

The FTDX5000 is in daily use on HF up to 50 MHz, the IC7300 is my HF backup and also provides the 70 MHz band, the IC7400 has just been used this year on 2m CW/SSB. The only transceiver purchased this year came from a ham in Northern Ireland - this is the IC7300 which I collected at the Blackpool Rally in April. I had one major repair to pay for in 2018 - this was replacement of the two MRF150 PA devices in the FTDX5000 which went POP in the autumn for no apparent reason when I was running with 120 watts on FT8 on the 12m band. Yaesu UK did the repair which took just two weeks. Good job.
So how did I do with all this equipment in my armoury? Well with more I time on my hands having fully retired at the end of March from my work as a Magistrate I spent more time in the shack, and ended the year 8 pounds heavier than when I started the year! Yes, sat on my backside in the shack does no good for keeping ones weight down… Unfortunately family members bought me chocolate, licourice and toffee for Xmas and I am slowly getting through that afterwhich I will make an effort to cut down on eating rubbish. Activating helped I’m sure to keep some weight from going on, so I hate to think what my weight would have been with without it! I was 66 in November, and the older age and extra weight means I have noticed that I am now slower climbing to the summits than I was when I stated SOTA activating in 2005.


My combined QSO total in 2018 was 6090 contacts with 136 DXCC Countries.
Out of the 6090 contacts 3189 were CW, 2311 Phone and 590 were DATA. I started using FT8 in March, to supplement my RTTY and PSK31 operating. Hence the higher than usual DATA QSO total this year. Just a handful of these FT8 contacts were SOTA Chaser QSOs however.
Total fixed station QSOs (Mainly Chaser contacts) were 4184.
Total Activator QSOs made operating from 9 countries in two continents were 1906.
As an all round SOTA operator I increased my SOTA Complete total to 741 by adding 143 SOTA Completes. This was helped by activations in VK2 (With VK2IO), OK (with GI4ONL and OK2PDT), and a holiday tour to Friedrichshafen with my XYL taking in activations in FL, DM, ON and OE (with OE9HRV). I further added a few activation days in GW (Solo and with M0PYG) and in GM (Solo and with M0PYG).
I made 17401 Chaser points in the year and was top All G scorer.
I made 756 Activator point in 2018 and was top G scorer, but was beaten by GI4ONL in the All G activator category.

Looking forward to 2019 I have several Tours already booked, and I must get back to Hensbarrow Beacon later this month when I am in South Wales to Re-Complete England.The fell top assessors (The Meddlers) moved the summit reference from the trig point to the top of the slag heap some time ago and I haven’t yet got back there. I believe no one else has Completed England, so I must go back and retain my mantle!

Plans for 2019 are already made with overseas tours planned for March, May and IN July to coincicide with the Tour de France in the FL/VO region. Thee may be something for September, we will see how the year passes and decide later.


Reasonable with a few issues - I have a minor cardiac issue - an irregular heartbeat which surfaced a few months ago after I submitted myself to a general anaesthetic to check for Prostate Cancer, of which I am clear. However, during the tests it was discovered that I have this irregular heartbeat, so the GP has put me on a tablet for it to thin my blood as the GP says I am more likely to succumb to a stroke because of it. We carry on in SOTA activating for a few years more… I cannot see me ever giving up SOTA Chasing which I really enjoy also. As a walker anyway I continue being a part of Ryedale Walking Group of which I am the 2019 Membership Secretary. I organise at least one holiday every year for the walking group which usually includes SOTA activating as part of it.

The SOTA MT get my heartfelt thanks for all they provide by way of the SOTA infrastructure, reflector, database, website, awards and the SMP (So useful - thanks Rob DM1CM, also Andy MM0FMF for providing the much improved SOTA Cluster and to the many activators who share their information to help others via blogs, the reflector, personal messages and in the tracks page of the SMP.

Tuesday, 11 December 2018

SOTA GM/SS-139 Cairnkinna Hill

I was staying in the Lake District for a short pre-Xmas break and decided to venture north of the border into Dumfries & Galloway to activate some unique (to us) SOTA summits. My friend from Malvern, Geoff M0PYG, headed north up the M6 and we met at Rheged near Penrith at 9.00 am on Tuesday 11th December. 

Our ambitious plan was to activate two summits in Scotland that day - in the event we only activated one.  Due to the lack of daylight remaining we headed back to the Lake District to activate an easy summit there at 5.00 pm. 

Cairnkinna Hill was the target - a 554 metre hill seven miles north west of Thornhill. We parked up off a narrow lane in a small worked out quarry at NS787005:

We had fine drizzle and mist as we set off uphill through the remains of an old wood. The walking was tough with bramble and brash underfoot but once we reached the broken wall at 789004 things became a little easier, albeit at a slow pace, on what was initially a steep climb.  It took 84 minutes to reach the trig point and large cairn on the summit, which was longer than I anticipated for what was a distance of under 1.5 miles.

We easily made the required number of contacts on VHF (145 MHz) to qualify the summit for SOTA and then made our way back to the car.
Geoff M0PYG at our operating position behind the cairn of Cairnkinna Hill - equiment used was Yaesu FT-1802 - a 50 watt transceiver and half wave dipole on a 5m high pole

Our plan was to then go east and climb Queensberry GM/SS-072, however time, daylight and the weather was against us, so we headed back south to the Lake District to activate Little Mell Fell G/LD-037, before returning to our hotel for showers and a dinner.

Friday, 16 November 2018

SOTA GM/SS-161 Larriston Fells Cycle / Walk

SOTA Cycling - is it worthwhile?

In this blog report I will try to analysis if SOTA Cycling is really worth it....

After leaving the track to Calkin Rig the nearest town to which is Langholm, I motored over to Newcastleton which is the nearest significant settlement to SOTA GM/SS-161 Larriston Fells. The plan was to park at the end of the track at NY 529921 near Dinlabyre and then cycle up the Scottish side on a forest track to within 1 Km of the summit trig point on Larriston Fells. From the radio mast I would then walk. 

When I reached Hermitage Bridge, 3 miles from Dinlabyre there was a road closure due to resurfacing work:

An approach to the road worker sat in his van stopping traffic worked, and I was allowed to drive as far as where the road was being resurfaced. I was able to get my car off the road there and ride the rest of the way on the bike to Dinlabyre and onto to the summit track.  Here is my route:

Parking place by the resurfaced B6357 road a miles from Dinlabyre
Progress riding the bike was slow once I left the main road, and on a significant part of the steeper uphill stretches I was forced to push. I'm apparently not so fit now as I was a year or two ago.... When I reached the radio mast and comms cabin where the track ended, I laid the bike down, locked it and proceeded to the trig point on foot. The mast is not within the activation zone. 

There was no trace of any path (a dotted line is shown on the map but was not apparent on the ground) and it was difficult making progress on the rough and boggy moor. Not a route I would recommend, I certainly would not return here again. The day was becoming damp with thick mist forming and I was uncomfortable after putting my leg in a hole full of water on the walk back from Calkin Rig in the morning. I knew when I reached the summit I did not want to stay longer than necessary..... the going on the tussocks was so difficult to be honest, I may have been better setting up at the fence around NY 564917 which was within the 25m drop zone, however when I got there I was thankful of the trig for shelter from the bitter wind and also the shelf beside it which was dry for sitting on and the right height for bending forward and sending the Morse.  There was good coverage at Larriston on the Vodafone network so I was able to spot myself using SOTA Spotter. I only operated on the 40m band on Larriston, cutting my operating time down to 20 minutes due to the failing light and the cold. I heard Don G0RQL in Devon give me a courtesy call at the end of my brief 40m SSB session, Don was 5 & 4 but the lack of power at my end - 10 watts from a KX2, meant there was no chance of a 2 way QSO unfortunately... the only UK station actually worked was the CW QRS operator David G0FVH:  

Relying on my GPS for direction, I headed back to the radio mast which had disappeared into the mist, relishing the thought of the quick ride back down the hill and the clean dry pair of socks waiting for me back at the car! As I made my way back I fell forward at one stage whilst negotiating a peat hag, no injury fortunately for me, just a moan and a groan as I continued on my way! If I had been using my normal walking poles I wouldn't have fallen like that. 

The summit - Larriston Fells GM/SS-161 - now activated 17 times - no view today - the Scottish Border lies less than 1 Km away to the south east of the summit 
I hardly peddled on my way down, reaching speeds of around 30 MPH on the rough track, It was a little foolhardy really as I wasn't wearing a helmet.  I reached the car just after 4.00 pm and the road had re-opened to traffic. It took me just 4 hours to drive home, which included a fast food refuelling stop at the KFC near the M6 roundabout at Penrith. 

Going back to my heading on this blog - was cycling to the summit worthwhile - in terms of the time saved? 

Ride and walk out = 4.6 miles 
Time taken = 96 minutes  (68 minutes ride/push & 28 minutes walk)

Walk and ride back = 4.7 miles 
Time taken = 47 minutes (21 minutes ride & 26 minutes walk) 

Before I rode back down the hill I had to ride around this concrete perimeter track: and I am not the only one to wonder why this concrete circle was laid on a desolate near the Lothians & Borders Police radio mast - does anyone know? 

So what time did I save by riding and walking to this summit? At my normal walking pace on the track I estimate the total distance of 3.9 miles would have taken me 75 minutes walking time on the track and the same 28 minutes on the moor - so by using the bike I saved myself just 7 minutes on the upward journey. 

However, the return is different. On the downhill run at my normal walk pace I estimate it would have taken me 65 minutes walking time plus the same 26 minutes to negotiate the moor on foot.  So by using the bike on the return journey I saved myself another 45 minutes. 

So to sum up I reckon on this summit I saved myself around 1 hour by cycling Larriston Fell, however there are drawbacks - I needed to clean the bike the next day, as well as my rucksack which was mud splattered from the fast downward run. The other drawback is that when cycling on tracks, particularly at the easily reached speeds achieved (in excess of 25 mph) when riding downhill you are more at risk of an accident.  Other drawbacks are the fuel consumption on my car on what was a 320 mile journey with the bike on the carrier at the back causing drag. This means my diesel estate car only achieves around 45 mpg, when without the bike on the back I would likely get around 50 mpg.  I was unable to carry my walking poles on the bike - they would have been useful walking on the rough moor and would have likely prevented my falling into the murk - so another drawback there. The final drawback as I see it, is that when riding the bike it was not practical to wear my knee length walking gaiters - these are essential when walking on the type of rough wet moorland on border summits like Larriston Fell. Yes, I could have bagged the gaiters up and carried them in the rucksack and donned them before the moorland section, but I never the realised how rough and wet that moor would be....

So with hindsight, I have concluded for the purpose of saving just one hour in time I should have left the bike at home and walked the whole distance to the summit of Larriston Fell.  Walking the whole way would have meant I would have arrived back home at 9.00 pm rather than 8.00 pm. In terms of physical energy used, I have concluded there would not have been much difference in the effort expounded, whether walking the whole distance or cycling and walking the remaining distance across the moor. 

Thursday, 15 November 2018

SOTA GM/SS-196 Calkin Rig walk

I decided when I got parked to leave the bike locked on to the carrier and walk to the summit... so car and bike were left at NY 312884, part way along the access track to Calkin Rig GM/SS-196:

This is my Focus (Non-Electric) Hybrid "shopping bike" on the back of the car - the only bike I currently have. It is fine for riding on forest tracks if they are a reasonable grade. The frame is aluminium so it is reasonably lightweight. If I'm SOTA cycling I usually pack my KX2 transceiver and aerial bag in the saddlebag, and the pole and ancillary radio bits, food and drink (if needed), are carried in a day sized rucksack on my back. Carrying some items in the saddlebag takes some of the weight off my back. I don't think it is good for balance to have a big heavy rucksack on your back when cycling.  The bike is usually fitted with panniers for carrying shopping, but I remove these when I am riding on rough tracks. 

When I got to the Calkin Rig summit access track there were no restrictions and the gate was undone, so I drove up the track a half mile to the first closed gate at NY 312884, where I could park.  At that point I decided that I would walk to the summit rather than cycle. It took me 23 minutes to reach NY 294885, the point at which I left the track to go SSW. This is where I would have stashed my bike had I ridden it.  After climbing a steep bank I was on the boggy moor following the fence right to the summit of Calkin Rig, which took another 25 minutes. There was mobile coverage on the EE Network on the summit for spotting, but no coverage for Vodafone.  You will see from this map which way I went to the summit, and the way I came down, which was an improvement on the walk up with more level grass on which to walk and less rough moorland. There were still sheep grazing in this area despite the onset of winter:

My activation on 40m and 20m CW/SSB. One QSO on 2m FM was completed with G7THI in Hoff, near Appleby, Cumbria, with the remaining 36 contacts being on HF with all stations within Europe.   

HF CW Operation on Calkin Rig GM/SS-196
Operating a few metres down from the highest point on Calkin Rig
Walking down to Calkin to exit the moor on to the track at NY 301886 - note the drystane sheepfold centre of picture which I passed on the way down
The boarded up property Calkin and the gate on the left of the photo where I exited the moor
Coming down the moor back to the gate near Calkin was a better route than following the fence on the way up, however I did encounter an unseen water hole with my left foot, going down to the knee which left me with a boot full of water for the rest of the day. I was back at my car at 1145z having left it at 0910z.  When I re-programmed the Satnav it told me that my destination - the parking place for my 2nd summit, Larriston Fells GM/SS-161, was 19 miles away.  Blog report on that activation to follow...

Friday, 26 October 2018

SOTA in Scotland October 2018 - Penvalla, White Meldon and Caedmuir Hill

I'm not very fond of winter activating involving driving long distances in a single day, so with a respectable weather forecast I took my chance on October 26th 2018 to drive to the Scottish Borders and tackle three SOTA Complete activations in a day.

It is becoming more difficult to find three unique summits in Southern Scotland that are easy enough to reach and then climb and activate in the one day, from my home in North Yorkshire. In addition to the walking, the driving distance is around 400 miles. This means leaving Pickering before 6.00 am if I want to return home before 10.00 pm.  

The three summits identified were all in the Peebles area, so my route to reach the first was to the village of Stobo, via Scotch Corner, Penrith and Moffat to reach Stobo or the first walk, which is near Peebles. I left home at 5.45 am and reached Moffat within three hours for a comfort break, bacon butty and pot of tea at the Rumblin' Tum Cafe in the Market Place. I had made good time on the journey north, making contact on 2m FM when I was driving on the M74, with Geoff Harper G(M)4WHA/M on his way to work in Penrith. 

GM/SS-145 Penvalla

Proceeding to Stobo took less than an hour from Moffat, and I was walking on the John Buchan Way long distance path towards Penvalla SS-145 at 9.40 am, reaping the benefits of an early start.  I was carrying an Elecraft KX2 transceiver, 5m pole and a link dipole. It took 73 minutes to traverse the three miles to the summit. The first two miles were relatively flat with the real ascent starting when I left the JBW at around NT155385.  I was following the GPX track provided by Terry G0VWP which was loaded into the SOTA Maps website. The track used was perfect and could not be improved on in any way.

Derelict building "Harrowhope" at path junction on JBW (NT164383)

Proceeding towards Penvalla it was interesting to note that wide galvanised metal horse/bicycle gates had been recently fitted at every farm gate / stone wall that crossed the JBW making it effectively, into a bridleway - no doubt this is a popular route for mountain bike enthusiasts - indeed there was plenty of evidence along the way of tyre tracks.  Soon I got a view of Penvalla GM/SS-145 at 537m high and worth 2 Points:

When I reached the top it was featureless and devoid of any rocks, fences or fixtures so I deployed my guying ring to support a 5 metre pole with the link dipole. The 40m band was used and 22 contacts were completed quickly in Morse and Voice.  The wind was turning to the north and for the first time since last winter a pair of fleece gloves and a woollen hat was needed to be worn for the return walk back down to the car. 

SS-208 White Meldon 

A country lane signposted "The Meldons" leads north from the A72 and I followed this to the north west side of White Meldon summit. At NT 217439 there is a stile at the roadside which takes you on to the moorland access land leading to the summit. Car parking is roadside, where you can see the stile: 

Another stile a little further up the fenceline takes you on the moorland proper. The moor here is a mix of heather, bracken and grass and there are sheep tracks and a quad track if you are fortunate enough to find it. I tended to walk from patch of grass to patch of grass interspersed with heather. The going was reasonably easy, allowing me to reach the summit trig point in 25 minutes. 

The view from White Meldon GM/SS-208

The same methods were employed as on Penvalla - using 7 MHz Morse and Voice with my 18 contacts being spread around Europe. I found a quad track for the downhill walk which lasted for part of way before I reverted to walking the rougher moorland again, but walking was relatively easy on this tussock free moor.

GM/SS-219 Cademuir Hill

A good part of the Cademuir Forest was harvested a year or two ago and the public are encouraged to use it as amenity woodland. A car park is provided at NT 247383 where this sign is situated:

It was half term and I noticed a few youngsters riding bikes in the forestry and a few dog walkers using the tracks. Peebles is around a mile away and the forest is no doubt very popular with the locals. When I reached the summit which had been cleared of trees, there was no one there except me for the duration of the activation.  As usual I found a better route down than going up and this is the track which will be uploaded to to the SOTA Mapping Project. It took me 26 minutes to walk up and 18 minutes to walk down. 

The top of Cademuir Hill near Peebles GM/SS-219

The wind had turned north and was bitter so I quickly completed the contacts with the 22 stations who called me as quickly as possible and then headed back down the hill for the long drive home to North Yorkshire.

25th October 2018: Penvalla > White Meldon > Cademuir Hill:

Departed Pickering 5.45 am - returned Pickering 9.00 pm (No meal stop on return journey)

390 Miles driven
8.7 Miles walked
2330 feet ascended
69 Contacts completed (All 7 MHz)

Equipment used:

Elecraft KX2 Transceiver 8 watts output, 1/2 wave resonant inverted vee dipole on 5m pole
Palm Pico Paddle Morse Key, Seinnheiser boom microphone / headset.

Click photo for larger impression