Wednesday, 26 February 2014

G4OBK G4OOE G0VWP SOTA road trip to Hownham Law SS-197, Rubers Law SS-210 & Belling Hill SS-244

Wednesday 26th February 2014

Our designated driver Nick G4OOE pulled out of my drive in Pickering at around 6.00am and we made our way north for about 150 miles via the A170 and A1M to the middle land of the Scottish Borders. Riding shotgun in the back was Terry G0VWP. I was on the maps in the front seat.

Due to our limited operating time for completing three summits in one day, our strategy was to use 2m FM at a power level of 40 watts with a vertical dipole about 3m off the ground. Our experience on the day proved that the chances of qualifying each summit by making four contacts from the eastern side of the border country on 2m FM were not feasible.  Wisely, NIck was carrying his Yaesu FT-817, a 40m dipole and a 7m fishing pole.  

Equipment used

Yaesu FT-1500M on 2m FM powered by 3S1P LiPO battery - 40 watts 
Yaesu FT-817 on 40m CW/SSB powered by internal battery - 5 watts.
Palm morse key, standard microphone.
Antennae: 2m home made vertical dipole & 40m half wave dipole on 5m pole

Hownham Law GM/SS-197

42 minutes ascent and the same to come down - I'm not sure why
Hownham Law SS-197 seen above us as we climbed it
We were walking by 0940z and reached the summit within 42 minutes. The route was straighforward over fields with gates and finishing on roughish moor towards the top. The wind was strong.

G(M)4OBK and G(M)0VWP take the station down on Hownham Law SS-197
The 2m FM band dried up after we had worked G1ZJQ and GM7LUN so we erected the dipole and with the FT-817 worked another 17 stations on 40m SSB before closing down and returning to the car. 

Nick (left) and Terry (right) stood on a sheep grid on our way back from Hownham Law
Our next destination was Rubers Law SS-210 - resting, eating and driving time being 75 minutes before we were walking again to the next summit....

Rubers Law GM/SS-210

GPS traces of our walk to SS-210 - the south track is the best one to take both ways
The prominent Rubers Law from where we parked at the drive end to Billerwell 
It was a 40 minute walk to the top where there is a beautiful topograph, various plaques and a painted trig point. This is a summit with a history and is well worth a visit. 

Operation on 2m FM was more successful on Rubers Law which meant we qualified on that band only. As the above picture of Terry and Nick shows it was extremely windy and we would have had difficulty had we needed to erect the pole. We worked only five stations however, so it was a close run thing:

View from Rubers Law GM/SS-210
We chose a different route down but the fields were much wetter and in retrospect we would have been better using our track to the south on which we walked up. 

Leaving the parking spot at Billerwell we were parked up at Falside for Belling HIll, SS-244 and walking within 30 minutes. This summit is only four miles from Rubers Law. 

Belling Hill GM/SS-244

Belling Hill is forested with little prominence to the immediate surrounding land. The hill lies nine miles west of Hawick. There is a large parking area on the roadside at Falside grid reference NT 644114:

To reach the best operating position at the corner of a wall on Feast Knowe we turned sharp left on to an overgrown forest track from the main forest track.  Within ten minutes we were at the summit. A CQ call on 145.500 produced one caller - a GM/M station on the M74 at Beattock. The contact was not completed...further CQ calls on two meters proved fruitless, so the 40m dipole and pole were erected against the wall. Nick and I took turns on the key on 7032 KHz, but it was obvious some chasers were getting confused about who they were working despite sending our own callsigns for every QSO. We won't be operating like that again.... 

Stations logged by all three operators
Nick and I enjoyed a CW summit to summit QSO with our friend John G4YSS who was on Black Hill G/SP-002 near Holmfirth. John was operating GX0OOO/P, which is the club callsign for Scarborough Special Events Group. 

After we finished on CW Nick and I had a few SSB contacts before Terry got stuck into the pile up of callers - twelve stations were logged before he closed down.  

G(M)4OOE G(M)0VWP & G(M)4OBK about to leave Belling Hill SS-244
We headed south and found some sustenance at a KFC near Gateshead before heading back to North Yorkshire after a great day out on the fells with our radio's. One thing we proved - don't expect to qualify the summits in that area on VHF FM, even when you are running power. Lesson learned!

73 Phil G4OBK (Mountain Goat achieved in Wicklow, Ireland January 2013)

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

SOTA in the West Country - February 2014 G/SC-004 Staple Hill

My XYL Judy and I normally book a short break once Xmas and New Year are out of the way. Last year it was Southern Ireland - this year we opted for Cornwall. The holiday usually involves some element of walking and activating summits for SOTA. We also enjoy good food and visiting stately homes and other places of historic interest. Good hotels within our budget are easy to find in the winter months. 

The south west corner of England contains seven Marilyn Summits and the plan was to visit all of these over five days. The wet and stormy weather that is currently hitting the UK curtailed this aspiration and we only visited five of the seven, plus one extra summit, Staple Hill, south of Taunton on our way south. I'll start my blog with a report on that one. 

Operating from Staple Hill near Taunton
We were booked into a Holiday Express on the Saturday close to the M5  on the outskirts of Taunton and arrived in that area by mid afternoon. Staple Hill is located in woodland five miles south of the town. I chose to park near the crossroads of the B3170 at Ringborough House and use the route suggested by previous SOTA activators. We think we found a better route on our way back when we passed through North Down Plantation - see highlighted route on map above.  It took 18 minutes to reach the trig point which Judy located in the woodland. We set up there, the rain had fortunately stopped. Checking back in my logbook it had been four months - October 1st since my last SOTA activation on HF. This was in Scotland. Since then I had concentrated on activating summits in the Lake District, Welsh Borders and Wales on VHF with my friend Geoff 2E0NON, who lives down there. My operation on Staple Hill commenced on 2m FM and the summit was qualified with four contacts into Wales, and the south west. I moved to the 30m band using Morse and was inundated with callers. I completed the activation on the 20m band on CW and SSB, the furthest contact being to N1EU Barry, another SOTA chaser and activator who lives in New York. It was starting to rain so after 40 contacts I packed up the station - a Yaesu FT-857 running 50 watts powered by a 5 Amp LiPO battery. The antenna on HF was a link dipole cut for the 20m, 30m and 40m bands. I used a vertical dipole at 12 feet above ground on the 2m band. 

The track into the access land of North Down Plantation at ST 232163
As the way to the summit had been extremely boggy we decided to stick to forest tracks on the way back to the car and found a suitable way back to a gate at ST 232163 where there would have been room to park. The walk back took 15 minutes. I would choose to go that way if I revisit Staple Hill again. We had spent 70 minutes on the summit and it was now ten past five. We motored back to Taunton in the rain, turning back at one point due to a flood which the council were pumping out. The Holiday Inn Express was a good place to stay. There was a Harvester Pub called the Griffin by the side of the Holiday Inn. It was Saturday and very busy but we had a good meal there. The plan for Sunday was to activate two summits on our way down to Mullion in Cornwall where we were going to spend the next four days.  

SOTA in the West Country - February 2014 - G/DC-005 Christ's Cross

There is very little to say about this activation. It was pretty miserable and wet....

Roadside Parking at DC-005 Christ's Cross
The summit top has a road running almost over the top of it and I chose to activate the summit against a muddy fence in a field at SS 96612 05020. This was 255m above sea level which is 6m below the highest position at the trig point. 

We had motored down from Taunton where we had stayed the previous night. I turned off the M5 at Cullompton and turned right into a very narrow lane in the village of Bradninch. I parked roadside at Christ's Cross and carried my gear into the field to set up. VHF 2m FM was a disappointment. All I could hear was a loud buzzing sound on most frequencies and calling CQ SOTA produced nothing. Reverting to the good old 40m band proved worthwhile though and 36 contacts were completed on CW and SSB. Part way through the activation it started to rain really hard. I ran back to the car to get my umbrella - at least the radio then remained dry.

Operating position near a muck heap on G/DC-005 Christ's Cross
The rain meant I had to cut the activation short so 20m operation was ruled out. The brown mud in this part of the country left my rucksack and gear well coated. It certainly clings to stuff more than the northern mud!  I packed up and we motored south for some lunch near Okehampton and our activation of High Willhays DC-001 on Dartmoor - see my later blog.

SOTA in the West Country - February 2014 G/DC-001 High Willhays

After activating Christ's Cross G/DC-005 we used TomTom to take us into the outskirts of Exeter passing St David's Railway Station. This looked more like a bus station. This was due to the problems on the rail network brought on by the horrendous weather which the south west of England had been experiencing over the previous six weeks. As a result buses were being substituted for trains. We left the A30 at Okehampton and made our way up on to the Dartmoor Ranges. An MoD website provides useful guidance as to when access is allowed and we knew that on Sunday 2nd February 2014 the whole moor could be guaranteed as having public access (see link).

The end of the road on the Dartmoor Ranges 
Picking up information from previous activators who had been there I drove as far as I could. We were delighted to find that we could now drive as far as SX 5908 9127. A narrow strip of tarmac had been laid that far. This was being used as a downhill run by the local skateboarders who were enjoying themselves and were fully kitted out with helmets and protection in so doing! 

For a GPX file of this track visit the SOTA Mapping Project provided by ROB DM1CM
Navigation up to High Willhays was easy using an established track up to the col between Yes Tor (619m) and High Willhays (621m). From the col a well used path exists across the moor.  We got well drenched on our way up towards Yes Tor but the heavy shower was short lived and by the time we reached DC-001 it was dry.  The walk to the summit took us 42 minutes.

Selfie pic of Phil and Judy at the highest point in Southern England - High Willhays on Dartmoor
The top has a large pile of stones and just down from the summit was a pointed fixed stone which was tall enough to support my 6m pole, suitably strapped. One of my gloves was used to prevent abrasive damage from the granite affecting my pole....

The summit was qualified within five minutes on 2m FM using 50 watts to a vertical dipole. First chaser logged was my friend Don G0RQL who lives just up the road in Holsworthy. We've never met, but we've enjoyed 100s of contacts over the years on ham radio. Two of the five FM contacts were with GW8SBN and MW0FGH in South Wales. 

G4OBK activating on High Willhays - February 2014
Continuing on HF I used 40m CW and SSB and then finished off with 10 minutes on 20m CW where I worked some Europeans, VE1WT in Canada and N4EX and N1EU in the USA.  The final contact was with my friend Jurg HB9BIN/P who was activating in Switzerland on HB/SO-013 and we made a Summit to Summit contact.  A total of 57 contacts were completed in 40 minutes, it wasn't fair on my XYL Judy to stay any longer.  We returned to the car and continued on our journey down to Mullion on The Lizard, where we stayed for four days. 

SOTA in the West Country - February 2014 G/DC-007 Watch Croft

We had hoped to be activating Watch Croft DC-007 on Monday, however the weather prevented that. Instead we went to look around Godolphin House, a National Trust property. In the afternoon we went down to the end of The Lizard, and struggled to find a tearoom. Everywhere was closed, so we returned to the Polurrian Hotel where we were staying for a clotted cream tea. 

The BBC weather forecast for Tuesday was giving heavy showers as opposed to heavy rain. so we drove across to Penzance and then towards the north coast to the parking place for Watch Croft, G/DC-007. We parked on the C Class road 1 Km south of the summit at spot height 193 and used the bridleway track to reach some cottages. Here we left the track to cross heathland to the trig point where there is a large pile of stones and a substantial shelter.

At the trig point on G/DC-007 Watch Croft
We were glad of the shelter - just after we arrived the heavens opened so we hunkered down for 10 minutes or so until the rain stopped. It was only then that I got the radio gear out of my rucksack and set up the station. The middle of the trig point was missing and this made mounting my 6m pole easy. The HF link dipole was pegged out and I started on 40m CW with a Morse contact with my friend NIck, G4OOE in Scarborough. After a while I changed mode to SSB and Nick was again the first contact on voice mode.

Making contacts for SOTA on Watch Croft
Watching the sky it was apparent that it would rain again, so I left the 30m band out and went quickly to 20m CW. 10 contacts were made on that band, with only one contact outside Europe. This was with N1EU, Barry in New York. After 40 minutes operation it started to rain again. I had 61 stations in my log so we packed up and returned to the car to head to St Ives for a look around and some lunch. Cornish Pasty and beans being the order of the day....

I was hoping to activate Hensbarrow Beacon DC-004 in the afternoon, so we motored there after visiting St Ives. A road runs across the activation zone which is in the midst of an enormous China Clay Quarry, not a nice place to be with heavy lorries coming and going every few minutes. It was now raining extremely hard and this ruled out an activation. The intention was to set up and operate near to the road but this was not to be.  There were also overhead power cables and this concerned me somewhat. My intention was to try again the following day when hopefully the rain had stopped. 

SOTA in the West Country - February 2014 G/DC-006 Carnmenellis

Most of the day was spent visiting the Eden Project near St Austell. It was raining again but the BBC (accurately) forecast a few hours of dry weather around 4.00pm. After leaving the Eden Project mid-afternoon we once again drove to the top of Hensbarrow Beacon DC-004, to see if it was possible to activate that. No chance - the rain was torrential and the place looked just as horrible as it did the previous day.  So we made off back towards Mullion where we were staying, hoping that when we passed the turning for Carnmenellis DC-006, that the rain had stopped. 

My GPS Track to DC-006 - can be downloaded from the SOTA Mapping Project by DM1CM
Approaching the summit of DC-006 Carnmenellis - a summit I liked
Previous activators reports said that the route up to DC-006 was difficult. I found the same. With the amount of commercial antenna hardware on the summit and a covered reservoir there has to be a road up there.  I imagine this is private and goes up from near to Channel View Farm, however there is nowhere to park roadside near there and the road uphill is private.  I found a safe place to park in a layby near the entrance to Phillpots Farm and from there walked back to the bend in the road at SW 690364. A public right of way from there takes you into the access land, which is a short walk through muddy rough gorse and bramble heath land. There is single stranded barbed fence to climb near the trig point. 

The useful "cave" which served as my shack on DC-006
Part of the antenna farm in a compound near to the trig point on Carnmenellis
The rain held off and I was able to fasten my pole to the fence. There were some large stones near the trig point and I set up the station under these. This was an excellent pitch - in a cave of sorts - out of the wind and sheltered from the rain if it started. Once again being so far south west, I didn't waste any time trying 2m FM and went straight onto the 40m band. Nick, G4OOE was there waiting for me on 7032 KHz followed by another 15 chasers using Morse. I switched to SSB and made contact with another 11 stations on voice. It was now dusk and time to head back to the car, where I had left my XYL Judy reading her book. 

This was our last full day in Cornwall and I knew my objective of activating all seven summits in the DC Region on this trip was not to be. With more rain forecast for the following day it looked likely that two or three summits would need to be visited later in the year if I was to achieve my goal of activating from all English Marilyn summits by the end of 2014. 

SOTA in the West Country - February 2014 - G/DC-003 Kit Hill

Our final day in Cornwall and a 450 mile drive home back to Yorkshire. The wet and stormy weather had put paid to my plan to activate all seven summits in Devon and Cornwall over the five days. Three summits remained....

Kit Hill G/DC-003 is a drive on summit which lends itself to an activation on a wet day with a strong wind blowing. So rather than going north to reach the A30 we drove east towards Plymouth to reach Kit Hill Country Park near Callington. 

Arriving on Kit Hill - time to dodge behind the obelisk and set up the station
We spotted Louis Cafe at SX 382708 on the side road on our way up to the top. An ideal place for a comfort stop and cuppa on our way down...

The Obelisk on the summit is actually a chimney which was built in 1858 to serve the mining activities there. A steam engine was sited on the summit to pump water and lift ore from the workings and the chimney got rid of the smoke. Kit Hill was gifted to to Cornwall County Council by the Grand Duchy of Cornwall in 1985 to celebrate the birth of Prince William our future King. The Council made it into a great community asset in the form of a country park. 

Operating behind the chimney on Kit Hill DC-003  - note the capped lightning conductor
I cowered behind the chimney out of the wind and rain and trussed the fishing pole to a topograph. During the 50 minutes I was there the only person I saw was a lady in wet weather gear walking her dog. I didn't have much time to spare with a 400 mile drive ahead of me, so I concentrated on operating on the 40m band. As soon as I switched the radio on it was apparent that this was a noisy location on HF. The interference was induction noise from a motor. The noise blanker on the FT-857 didn't help much. I imagine this was coming from either a generator or a fan unit in the nearby radio cabin. I could still hear stations on 40m through the interference, and the first contact was with Ken, G3XQE from Coventry, a regular on CW.  The next station was DJ5AV Michael who was followed by Gerald G4OIG. After 10 minutes or so I switched over to SSB and was inundated with callers from around Europe. My umbrella once again came in useful, keeping the radio dry, although everything else (including me) got a soaking. Job done, I packed up and we headed back down the hill to Louis Tearooms. 

The two summits I did not activate in Devon and Cornwall were DC-002 Brown Willy and DC-004 Hensbarrow Beacon. 

Hensbarrow Beacon DC-004 was visited twice but could not be activated due to inclement weather.

(Edit - I later activated DC-002 and DC-004 on a visit to Cornwall with 2E0NON in October 2014)

We set off back to North Yorkshire arriving home at 9.00pm, stopping off on the M42 for some KFC - essential fast food for SOTA activators on their drive home. 

SOTA in the West Country Tour Stats:

Dates: February 1st - February 6th 2014
Miles driven: 1158
Summits activated: Five G/DC One G/SC
Contacts made: 265
Equipment used: Yaesu FT-857D with 5A LiPO battery, Palm Morse Key
Antenna: HF Link dipole 20/30/40m bands on 6m Pole, 
2m Vertical dipole