Monday, 13 September 2021

GM/SS-220 Blaeloch Hill (Kelburn Wind Farm)

A 55 mile drive from Grey Hill via Ayr and Irvine brought me to the parking place by the A760 near Largs, for GM/SS-220 Blaeloch Hill, on which Kelburn Wind Farm is located. The parking place is located adjacent to The Clyde Crematorium which looked quite new. There is no vehicular access to the site for the public, however a bridleway gate is fitted by the locked gate for horse riders, cyclists and walkers, who are encouraged to access the site for leisure purposes.

Parking place for the public to use - the Clyde Crematorium can be seen to the left

The plan was to activate this summit via bicycle with the last section over the moor on foot. One way this was two miles by bike and about 600m on foot to reach the highest point which was "trigless". The ride up on my Bergamont e-bike took me 14 minutes and the walk just 7 minutes. I bought the bike over two years ago and apart from one SOTA ride to activate Round Hill G/TW-001, it has just been used for social riding around where I live. The bike is standard as it came out of the factory, except I fitted a saddlebag and a pair of Schwalbe Smart Sam tyres, which are more suitable for the types of tracks and terrain I need to ride on. I carry the radio, antenna and battery in the saddlebag and transfer it to the rucksack when I leave the bike. I was pleased to finally use the bike to bag some unique Scottish SOTA Completes. As a very active Chaser the only contact I had with SS-220 was with Helen MM0YHB/P in July 2014 on 40m SSB - this was despite the summit already having been activated 32 times prior to my visit. After the ride up I locked the bike up on the ground near the turbines and proceeded on foot to the small cairn on the summit, which was able to support my 5m pole and link dipole:
 

HF band conditions were fair - 25 contacts were accrued in 30 minutes on 60m, 40m and 30m in CW and SSB. I cut the activation short as I had another wind farm summit to go to - Corse Hill GM/SS-236, which is a few miles from East Kilbride, and a 38 mile drive from my location. Once again, Victor GI4ONL was my first contact:

GM/SS-256 Grey Hill - September 2021

From my digs in Creetown I drove for an hour to reach a good parking place for activating Grey Hill GM/SS-256. It was an enjoyable early morning drive via Newton Stewart and then north on the A714 via Barrhill. There must have been over 20 Wind Farm installation staff in their oncoming vehicles going to work on the latest project in the area, and they weren't hanging around... I parked on the backroad between Pinmore and Lendalfoot near Knocklaugh Farm and walked down the hill to start my walk. A field gate 100m off the lane takes you on to open fell and there was just one wall to climb to reach the summit. 
Parking just above Knocklaugh Farm

The field gate at NX 1712 9188 gives access to the flank of Grey Hill from the south

Good route to SS-256 - there were some quad tracks to follow higher up

The view from the top towards Ailsa Craig GM/SS-246 took me back to the memorable trip organised by Jimmy M0MGY and his Dad Tom M1EYP in August 2009:


I pegged out my link dipole for 60m-20m into the strong wind, which was coming from the south. It's quite surprising when the land falls away like it does on both sides of Grey Hill and the dipole ends fall close to the ground on a 5m pole, how well you can progagate a signal on HF - my best DX with 10 watts CW on 20m was Indonesia, with a contact with YC2VOC - operator Galih who penned me this message after our QSO, very nice:
I started operating on 60m at 0822z. My friend Victor GI4ONL was waiting for me on 5354 KHZ CW. I finished at 0907z on 20m CW with another good friend, IK2LEY Fabio (I always think of ILKLEY whenever I hear Fabio's call - a town in West Yorkshire!).  There were a nice handful of S2S contacts including Armin EA/DL6GCA/P on his holiday in the Navarra region in the Basque area of Northern Spain. 40m SSB was dissapointing with only one QSO with GM7NZI Ray, who lives near Glasgow, then there were unanswered CQ calls on a clear frequency. Yet minutes before I had scored 11 contacts on CW on the same band. 
Grimacing in the wind on Grey Hill after packing up my station
It was time to move on so the DXer headed back down the hill after 34 QSOs.  There were two more activations planned for later in the day some distance away from this one so I had to get going...

At the gate near the road I feasted on a few ripened blackberries before getting back into the car and driving north to Largs for my next summit.

Sunday, 12 September 2021

GM/SS-170 Black Craig of Dee 12/09/2021

The summit is also known as Cairnsmore by some - but as we also have Cairnsmore of Fleet (GM/SS-065) eight miles away, I'll stick with the alternative name for the summit of Black Craig of Dee. My advice for this summit is stay away unless you have to. As a SOTA Completist I felt I had to go there - but there were other summits in the area offering more points that would have been much easier to reach than this meagre one pointer. My choice of route was bad for sure - I wish now that I had noticed the route notes of Gerald G4OIG on the SOTA website before I went there rather than after... In 2007 Gerald wrote that he used a parking place on the Raiders Road beyond The Labyrinth and walked from there, rather than using a bike as I did, from the Clatteringshaws Reservoir Visitor Centre. Here is my route:


The 3 mile route took me almost 3 hours to negotiate, despite using my bike for the first mile! Here I am on the car park (£3 for the full day) preparing to set off at 10:20am on the Sunday of the G/LD weekend, in the hope that from GM/SS-170 I would work some of the Lakeland stations across the Solway Firth, which was 23 miles south of my summit:

My plan was to ride to the Rocks of Laggan (see map above) lock my bike there and cross the Nick of Benniguinea to reach the summit via a wide ridge. I chose a bad route for the bike section though and should have continued on the graded track to the hairpin at NX 565766. I could then have ridden up to the Rocks of Laggan no problem. The rocks are just below the radio mast on Benniguinea. However, I turned right at NX 559764 and went south - thinking the track was a goer on the bike. At around NX 561760 the track became an unrideable path, so after pushing the heavy e-bike uphill for a few hundred metres it was ditched amongst the bilberries and locked up:
Bike dumped at NX 562760
It was 10:44am when I rejoined the graded track at NX 563761. I walked the rest of the way to the summit, reaching the top at 13:10pm!  It wasn't so much a walk as a stagger - stop - rest - stagger - fall over - stop - rest - stagger - fall over. It took me almost two and half hours to stagger the two miles to the trig point due to the horrible terrain. Coming back was a little easier, but not much, and I never saw a soul all day. The ground was almost pathless after leaving the track near Benniguinea, amongst tussocks, bilberries, bracken and marsh grass. I've activated the majority of summits in Dumfries and Galloway region but this was undoubtedly the hardest for me, although my level of stamina and overall health is now diminished from what it was a few years ago.
Clatteringshaws Reservoir from the flank of Benniguinea
Black Craig of Dee from the flank of Benniguinea - it looks easy but isn't

Summit of GM/SS-170 Black Craig of Dee (Cairnsmore)
The trig point had the theodolite fitting cap removed so the hole provided an orifice for my 5m pole fitted with 2m vertical dipole. I was carrying a "pocket rocket" - the old Yaesu FT-1500m 2m FM radio with a 4.2 Amp LiFePo battery, which I flattened whilst running 50 watts over the 50 minutes I was on the air, making 21 contacts. The log contained only four G/LD activators though, which was a little dissapointing. Using the higher power meant I was able to work M0NOM/P, M0JKS/P G4OOE/P and G3TQQ/P in the southern part of the G/LD area. The best DX contacts were another Mark - G1PIE who lives between Chorley and Preston, an area I know well. Then John GW4ZPL came in, who lives near Anglesey. Mark M0NOM/P was on Whitbarrow Scar, who was not as strong as the other G/LD stations. Hardly suprising when you look at the path profile, 78 miles is not exceptional - but the path goes straight through the large lump of Great Gable G/LD-005:
GM/SS-170 Black Craig of Dee left - G/LD-045 Whitbarrow Scar right

The best part of the day was logging contacts - here is my log:

I was hoping to go to nearby GM/SS-181, Fell of Fleet by late afternoon, however as it was 14:45pm when I left the summit the alert was deleted and I took the re-ascent over Benniguinea at a slow pace, lying down from time to time amongst the sweet and tasty bilberries.
Before packing up my gear on GM/SS-170 Black Craig of Dee
After collecting my bike and enjoying the one mile ride down in just a few minutes, I reached the car at 16:53pm before heading to my accommodation in Creetown, where I was able to cook myself a meal and enjoy an Amstel lager, purchased from the nearby convenience store - open until 8.00pm on Sundays.

Analysing my day I questioned my reasoning to continue SOTA activating after such a gruelling day, with over 200 miles of driving, the cycling and the gruelling walk. Fortunately the next day, when I ventured north, was much more enjoyable and productive and this restored my interest in continuing with what is three hobbies combined into one in what we all call SOTA. 

Tuesday, 31 August 2021

GM/SS-148 Meikle Says Law - August 2021

Our departure day of a 6 night stay near Edinburgh, and the day after the English late summer August bank holiday. I wanted to drive back to North Yorkshire on the east side of the country avoiding the Penrith A66 route and the Lake District traffic. The most appropriate unique summit was GM/SS-148, Meikle Says Law, which I have avoided in the past owing to its fairly long walk in. There was ample roadside parking near to grouse butts at NT 612636. The walk starts with a steep descent to Faseny Water, Faseny Cottage and a black stockholding barn, pictured here on our way back:
We forded the burn, as the water on the day was shallow enough, although there was a footbridge 150m east of the crossing that one could have used. A track goes up on to the moorland from here which peters out around NT 590629 and from then on its sheep tracks and a faint rough path in parts to the summit at 535m ASL, where there is a trig point. Although the picture above shows fair weather, it wasn't like that 3 hours earlier on our ascent when we were had a "dreich day" up until the time we lifted the umbrella and headed back down the hill, when the wind farm near to the summit exposed itself. 

It took us 72 minutes to reach the summit, over a distance of 2.75 miles. Judy had her walking poles, I decided to carry a golf umbrella which proved very handy for settling down underneath with my station and Judy's book when we were on the summit:

We weren't intending to stay long in such miserable conditions as we had a long drive home and an arrangement to collect our dog Treacle from the kennels before 6.30pm. The 60m band did not sound very good, with QRN to S7 eminating from the wind farm (I assumed) nearby. Terry GM0VWP/P who was on a Shetland summit was waiting for me to start up on 60 metres using 5354 KHZ. We got the S2S no problem. I followed this with the usual supects, including my friend Nick G4OOE in Scarborough on both CW and SSB. When 60m dried up I went on to 40m where the QRN static was not as noticable, but it was there all the same. I finished my final 16th QSO on 2m FM with Christine GM4YMM, having earlier worked her other half Ken GM0AXY on 60m SSB. 
Packing up we headed back down much the same route - taking us almost the same time as it took us on the outward journey.

Haste ye back to Scotland.... and I will, and soon enough, after what had been an enjoyable short break with some mostly good and a couple of not so good walk routes.  

Monday, 30 August 2021

GM/SS-154 West Lomond and GM/SS-198 East Lomond - August 2021

On our penultimate day in Edinburgh it was worth driving for an hour across the Forth Bridge into Fife to get two easy completes. The two summits were catered for well with free car parking, picnic tables and public toilets on both. We took the easy option and drove round to the East Lomond car park at NO 252058 after our lunch, which reduced the walk distance somewhat, however one could easily activate both summits from the West Lomond car park at NO 227061. This map shows the summits and also the nearby GM/SS-187 Bishop Hill, a summit I plan to visit later in 2021:

It took exactly one hour to reach the summit of West Lomond, on a good path over a distance of 2.5 miles. My new boots were extremely comfortable I'm pleased to say.  They are over 300 grams lighter than my leather Scarpa's. This made quite a difference in my speed and my stamina.
A grey day on West Lomond - yet there were many visitors on foot and mountain bike
I started operating with my FT-65e handheld and whip and worked Ken and Christine (GM0AXY/GM4YMM) straightaway followed by GM0GAV, GM0VEK, GM6ZAK and MM0JJQ. HF conditions were pretty good too, with 45 contacts completed in less than an hour, including my friend from York, Terry, GM0VWP/P who was staying in Shetland on his holidays. We made S2S from both West and East Lomond as Terry remained on GM/SI-177 for several hours. K4DY called in at 1141z on 20m CW. Leslie is one of the regular USA stations that can be be worked from the UK with QRP power. I was using the usual KX3 at 10 watts and inverted vee at 5m AGL. 

We walked back to the car park to have our lunch and then drove through Falkland (Nice looking touristy village - we must return) to reach the nearest parking place for East Lomond, GM/SS-198. 

East Lomond

A short 18 minute walk took us to the topograph and the highest point on GM/SS-198 East Lomond:

Topograph on East Lomond GM/SS-198

On 2m FM using my cheap FT-65e, I was getting a lot of de-sense from the relay station by the car park making difficult copy of the callers. Moving behind the top of the hill helped and I managed to work the same GM guys that I worked earlier on from West Lomond! Maybe I should have kept hold of my old VX-170 and FT-270 handhelds, but the FT-65e has a better battery pack and is lighter. Condx were typical late afternoon on HF - fairly poor and after 30 minutes I packed up. Judy XYL came up to the summit with me, but having climbed it, went back down before I went on the air:
This was our last full day in Edinburgh - we planned to activate Meikle Say Law GM/SS-148, near Duns on our way back south the following day...  

Saturday, 28 August 2021

GM/SS-167 Black Hill - August 2021

There are three Black Hills within the UK Associations - I've activated the other two - Black Hill G/SP-002 near Holmfirth and GM/SS-253 near Biggar. The Edinburgh one GM/SS-167 is worth 2 points and is 501m high. We chose to make a day of it and walk in from the car park at the Castlelaw Army firing range NT 230637, a distance 3.5 miles with 1100ft ascent and with 350 feet of re-ascent from Glencorse Reservoir on the way back. We were carrying our lunch. I took the litre flask of tea so my pack was considerably heavier than on our previous days SOTA activity. Judy, XYL carried the food and observed her strict rule of not sharing the carrying of the radio gear - c'est la vie! My back started to get sore a couple of miles in, but at least with the tea drunk it was a little less sore on the way back. My feet were a bigger problem though, as they seem to have changed somewhat over the last year or two. The Scarpa Kailash boots I have had for two years of SOTA activating and general hiking use, had become less comfortable this year above my (now) arthritic bent toes and I now had blisters on the tops of my toes on both feet.  More on the boot situation later...

It was a bonny walk in:


Glencorse Reservoir - fly fishing in progress when we passed from boat and shore


The farmer at Kirkton Farm is proud of his work 

Walk route taken - access to the fellside was via a field gate at NT 207632

A track crosses the flank of Gask Hill and curves around to reach the summit of Black Hill easing the severity of the climb. After a dry spell the plateau was quite dry. There were a few fell runner types doing stretching exercises on the summit when we arrived. They vacated within minutes, so we took over their position near the small pile of stones denoting the highest point, and set up the dipole. 

There were plenty of visitors passing over the summit asking the usual questions. HF band conditions were poor compared to the previous day with 29 contacts on HF completed in 45 minutes of activity. I broke off on HF at 1217z for my lunch, and then packed the station up.  At 1250z I worked three GM stations using my handheld on 2m FM before we left the summit. Once we reached the road at the reservoir there were lots of people enjoying the lovely sunny day. We got back to the car hot and sweaty and in case, with sore feet, at 15:50 BST. I realised that I couldn't continue the next few days walking in the now uncomfortable Scarpa boots, so we drove straight to Craigdon Mountain Sports and after trying on five pairs of fabric boots I shelled out £160 on what I found to be the most comfortable - a pair of Meindle Tereno Mid GT boots:

With my new Trespass "Blister Free" socks and these new boots I found my feet were a lot more comfortable when we went up into Fife to activate East and West Lomond two days later. Craigdon Sports has a fine cafe too so we enjoyed tea and some nice cake before going back to our cottage near Musselburgh. 

Friday, 27 August 2021

GM/SS-125 Scald Law - August 2021

A short drive from our Air BNB cottage near Musselburgh took us south along the A702 to the parking place for Scald Law. There are laybys on both sides of the road and a really good path to the summit. The main path starts flat for a time and then climbs to a footpath junction where a path comes off Carnethy Hill on the right. From there after turning left it was just a 15 minute climb to the summit, where a young chap had been wild camping overnight:


The 1.5 mile walk took us just 50 minutes. The trig point had had the blanking plate removed, you see this a lot. On this one I extracted enough small stones to allow me to use the hole as a support for my pole, inside one of my fleece gloves to prevent the pole being chafed. The young man wild camping, (see his tent pictured below) asked if he minded him taking a photograph of my activity, which intrigued him. No problem saying yes, go ahead! I set up for an hours of activity on HF and 2m FM. HF conditions were very good on all bands from 60m through to 20m, and there were four summit to summit contacts in my log of 47 contacts.

(KX3 10 watts - link dipole @ 5m - FT65e + whip)

Scald Law Trig Point with wild camper behind inside his tent
The usual suspects and more in the log 
XYL Judy sits reading with Black Hill GM/SS-167 tomorrow's target in front of her
Loganlea Reservoir below and Black Hill GM/SS-167 above it

We left the car at 09:56 and returned to it at 13:18 BST, going back to our cottage for some lunch. In the afternoon we visited the Fort Kinnaird shopping centre and I bought Trespass walking socks, Trespass walking trousers and denim jeans and chinos from M&S - the first clothes shopping I had done since the start of the Covid pandemic 18 months previous!

Thursday, 26 August 2021

GM/SS-272 Arthur's Seat August 2021

It was late on an August Thursday afternoon when I climbed Arthur's Seat, thinking that by around 4.00pm it would be quiet. I was wrong. Due to Covid restrictions and a rockfall on one of the access roads, some of the car parks and roads near to the summit were closed:

The road closure was from beyond the Duddington Loch Car Park where I parked (NT 282727). Just before you enter the small car park on the right hand side, a path leads to a set of stone steps. This is a good path to take to get you quickly to the summit:

The summit and sides of the hill were overrun with folk enjoying what was a lovely afternoon, so after visiting the trig point and topograph amongst the people, I dropped down the side of the hill to the highest placed gorse bush on the eastern side, around 15m down from the trig point. This was higher than the chain link fence near the path and away from most people using the main path. I planted my 5m pole inside the gorse bush and used the bush for cover from the people that were making their way up and down the hill on the eroded hillside, rather than using the stoned footpaths for that purpose. This meant from time to time the public were passing within a few metres of my dipole. Some were asking questions to find out what I was doing. Most were young, non-British and wearing those flat soled plimsoles that seem to be the fashion these days. Lovely far reaching views from the summit and its flanks:


Due to the number of people and the discomfort sitting on the side of the hill against the gorse bush, I kept my activation time short concentrating on the 60m and 40m bands for just 25 minutes, making 28 QSOs, including on S2S with Mikel EA2CW/P on EA2/VI-040 on 40m CW. I now need to Chase Arthur's Seat from my home QTH so if you plan to go there and use HF please drop me a line via the address in QRZ.COM.  Going down only took me 17 minutes, and that included a discreet comfort break en-route. With all the people around it is hard to find anywhere to "go" on Arthur's Seat. I did get written permission from Historic Scotland to transmit from the summit. I wasn't challenged however on the day. The document received by email is reproduced here:
I made a short video from my operating position:
 
Next day I went to activate Scald Law GM/SS-125, more on that activation next....