Sunday, 5 January 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, 4 January 2020

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

Saturday 4th January

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

GM/SS-201 Beneraird

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

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

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

Friday, 3 January 2020

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

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

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

Friday 3rd January

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

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