G/WB-012 High Vinnalls, G/WB-016 Shobdon Hill, G/WB-017 Wapley Hill

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The Sun Rise

So this was it, my last activation before the winter bonus season starts and I find I am travelling further each time to get enough 1 pointers to make the journey worthwhile.  Three weeks ago I had activated Hergest Ridge and Bradnor Hill, these two hills form a chain of five hills running roughly east-west.  Because of time constraints I could only activate those two plus two others on the way home so it made sense to go back to that line of hills and finish off the job.  There is in fact another summit in the line but that a 2 pointer so subject to another trip.  So it was off to High Vinnalls, Shobdon Hill and Wapley Hill with a 4.30 departure on a cold frosty morning.  The journey across took about 3 hours 15 minutes and I experienced light traffic and good road conditions.

Equipment

FT-817 5 Watts, 4.2Ah LiFePO4, 60m/40m/20m linked dipole, 7m sotapole and a palm paddle.

High Vinnalls G/WB-012

Arriving at the car park at about 7:45 (SO 474731) the first thing on the agenda was a nice hot cup of coffee to get me set-up for the day.  Suitably refreshed I kitted up and set off up the track to the top.  As is typical of most forestry areas there is a myriad of tracks and paths leading all over the place and rarely an obvious direct route to the top.  However, with my route downloaded into the GPS it was a case of following the arrow.  I have been using my current GPS (Garmin GPSMAP64) for about 6 weeks and have been very impressed with its accuracy.  On a recent walk I had downloaded a copy of Phil G4OBK’s track.  Whilst crossing a large field I was distracted by the views and as I approached the edge of the field I looked ahead for the style but couldn’t see anything.  A quick look at the GPS showed that I had drifted left of track.  Walking to the right until the arrow touched the line I looked at the hedge and there straight in front of me was the style.  Very impressed – accurate to within a couple of feet in open spaces and to about 5 feet when in tree cover, the advantage of using both the US and Russian GPS systems simultaneously.

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The view of Titterstone Clee Hill on the right and Brown Clee Hill on the left

Anyway I digress!  Following the arrow I got top the summit is good time and with little effort.  There is not a lot to see until virtually the last minute as you break the tree cover and the summit.  The view to the east was impress looking across towards Titterstone Clee Hill and Brown Clee Hill, both 2 pointers and on the radar for the coming winter bonus season.  There was a good thick layer of frost on the ground and I wasn’t relishing sitting on the cold ground.  Well much to my pleasant surprise I discovered that there was a bench seat placed as though it was meant to look out over the hills to the west.  However, the trees had grown so high that you just stared at conifers – maybe that’s was what the donor of the bench wanted – to have the last laugh.  Either way it served as the perfect shack.  Distance 0.7 miles ascent 400 feet time 25 minutes.

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Self spotting on 7-SSB I called for what seemed like an age with no response when finally I heard those lovely words “Texas United Honolulu” and I knew that at least Mick could hear me albeit with a 44 QSB report.  This was followed by 3 more QSO’s then silence.  Several more calls brought nothing new so a change to 7-CW and 11 QSO’s later the log was full and the band was silent again.  Time to pack up and head off to my next appointment with Shobdon Hill G/WB-017.

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The magnificent view of the trees!!

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The shack on a frosty summit

One little moan though.  Whilst I appreciate that QSB and QRM can play a large part in not being heard if you do call a station have the courtesy of listening to them.  I had one station whom I can’t name because all I have of his callsign is ‘9A’ and a report of 439.  Now whilst that report may suggest I was very weak, on SOTA we are dealing on the whole with QRP stations so the chaser would be used to listening for the weaker signal.  However, when I asked for a repeat of the callsign I got a reply of “GL 73”, when I asked again I got “dit dit” !!!!  Now it doesn’t bother me that he is not in my log as I had already qualified the summit but that station will now log that QSO when it was incomplete.  Chasers please listen to what we are saying/asking – moan over.

Shobdon Hill G/WB-017

Just a short 18 minute drive and I was parked up just up the road from the farm entrance (SO 407643) on a broad verge on the left.  This is a nice easy hill to walk up, good quality forestry track and a gradual climb.  Not a lot to say about the navigation here except to say that the AZ is huge.  It covers the whole of the ridge, so once I was at the top of the climb I moved along the ridge a little to ensure that I was well inside the activation zone.  Distance 0.95 miles, ascent 540 feet, time taken 30 minutes.

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After self spotting on 7-SSB and calling several times I was answered by G7BQM with a good 56 report followed by silence again!  Two minutes later all hell let loose starting with Mike (TUH) again and 12 other stations all of which seemed to be calling at the same time.  Eventually all were resolved and answered before peace and tranquillity resumed to Shobdon Hill.  A quick change to 7-CW brought is just 4 more QSOs.  Total time on air was 20 minutes and 17 stations in the log.

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Wapley Hill G/WB-016

The next hill was a short 5 minutes drive away to a reasonable sized car parking area (SO 359621).  There are two obvious routes from the car park to the top of this hill, so the plan was to do this as a round trip to add some variety to another routine forestry track walk through the woods.  Setting off up the track out of the park until the main tracks bears left and a smaller track heads off to the right (SO 354622).  Take the right hand track and proceed in a northerly direction until you come top a T-junction.  Turn left and follow the track until you come to Warren House.  Take the small track to the right of the house leading up into the hill fort.  The return route follows the very obvious hardcore road from the house back to the car park.  Once in the hill fort I located a suitable way marker post to attach my aerial to and settled onto the ground for the final activation.  Distance 1 mile, ascent 333 feet, time taken 25 minutes.

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I found a clear frequency and called a couple of times to ascertain its occupancy status before self spotting on 7-SSB.  I started calling and was immediately told to QSY as the frequency was I use – well at least I knew that my signal was getting out and annoying someone – result!  A quick QSY and re-self spot and I was away with 14 stations getting themselves into the log in 9 minutes before the pile-up ended.  QSYing to 7-CW I called and logged a further 12 stations over the next 10 minutes.  In all 27 stations logged in 21 minutes, a really good activation.  A gentle pleasant walk back to the car was rewarded with a nice cup of coffee and a marmite sandwich before getting ready for the 3 hour journey back to Southampton.

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This had been a very good day walking and activating.  All three summits were enjoyable and made even better by the fact that all day I only came across 2 other people out walking their dogs.  It is very nice to be returning to good radio conditions again, with plenty of stations to get into the log – long may it last.  That will be the last of my November trips with the next foray not planned now until early December.  Not sure where I will be heading to next but it will either be Exmoor or South Wales.

Thanks as always top all the many chasers for checking in today.  No chaser of the day this time as there were several stations who managed to get me on all three hills, some even in both modes as well!

73 Glyn G4CFS

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G/SE-015 Cheriton Hill & G/SE-013 Detling Hill

With the prospect of Winter Bonus season approaching I had no intention of returning to South Wales until after 1st December.  A quick look at my colour coded map of Southern England Marilyn’s showed that I had 2 summits left in G/SE to complete the region.  Both of these were one pointers and in the opposite direction to any other hills that I would be likely to ascend.  Both were ‘drive-on’ summits so this was more of an exercise in ticking boxes rather than a day out walking.  There would be plenty of that over the next few months as I work my way through South Wales.  Departing at 06:00 the route took me via the A3, M25 and M20 to Folkestone and then to Paddlesworth arriving at 09:00 thanks to a crash and half hour delay on the A3.

Equipment

FT-817 5 Watts, 4.2Ah LiFePO4, 60m/40m/20m linked dipole, 7m sotapole and a palm paddle, VX-170 plus RSS 2M dipole

Cheriton Hill G/SE-015

I pulled up at the end of the lane leading to the Water Board compound containing the trig point on the top of Cheriton Hill just as the rain and wind decided to pick up.  I had already been delayed by over half an hour due to an accident en-route so I parked on the left hand side of the road opposite the house drive-way where I blocked no entrances (TR 199395).  I could see the trig from the car so slinging my rucksack over my shoulder I walked the 30 metres into the compound hoping to be able to use the fencing to support my SOTA Pole.  In the end, due to some on going ground works I secured the pole to the trip point and operated from its flat top. Distance walked 30m, ascent 10 feet time taken 2 minutes.

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Standing with my back to the wind I used myself to protect the rig from the driving rain, so thankful for a full set of Goretex!  My original plan had been to operate 7-ssb and 7-cw but given the current conditions I decided to try and activate the summit with just 7-ssb.  Self-spotting I opened the log with G6TUH exchanging 58/59 reports so at least the band was playing ball today.  Over the next 15 minutes 15 stations got into the log predominantly G’s with a few F’s and ON’s. and an EA.  As the pile-up ended the rain increased in intensity so any thoughts of trying 7-cw went completely out of my mind and a rapid pack ensued and a return to the car to check-in with the XYL and a warming cup of coffee.

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The operating position on the trig with the car parked in the distance

From here I had a 35 minute drive back up the M20 to Detling Hill.

Detling Hill G/SE-013

Having read the activation reports and comments of a few activators I decided to go for the southern approach to the hill.  This was the most direct route as I was coming from the south and also the cheapest as there was no car park fees to pay!  My original plan had been to drive to the top of Castle Hill and park there (TR 808585).  However, as I ascended Castle Hill I noted the laybys on the right were empty so opted to park here and take the southern path onto the summit. (TR 808582).  5 minute walk and I was at the trig point and millennium viewing stage and this time the rain had cleared, the wind dropped and the views to the south were excellent.  Distance 0.2 miles, ascent 21 feet time 5 minutes.

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To the south of the trig point is a field accessed via the kissing gate a short distance from the trig.  Positioning myself by the field fence close to the trig I set-up and self spotted on 7-ssb.  This time the pile-up lasted for about 20 minutes with 23 stations getting themselves into the log.  Again conditions on 40m were very good with 58/59 reported being exchanged with the majority of stations.  The skip was predominantly UK with a handful of HB9, EA2, PA & DK getting through.  This activation had been far more pleasant than Cheriton Hill because of the weather conditions however, as the ssb pile-up ended the rain started again so packing I headed off the hill and back to the car.

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At one stage during the activation I am not sure if I was passed a compliment or insult!  I was asked if my callsign was rejuvenated or original, when I explained that I was the original holder of the licence the response was “oh – well done old man”.  All I can think is that because my call was issued in 1972 he must have thought I was hill walking in my 70/80’s.  Little did he realise I got that callsign at 16 having held G8FHU from the age of 14.

I was glad to have this hill under the belt is this was my activator complete for G/SE with just a couple of hills to chase to make it a full complete.

As I stated earlier this was a tick the box activation in order to complete G/SE.  Living in central south England there is little reason for returning to Cheriton Hill again though I may go back to Detling Hill as my step daughters partner lives in Sittingbourne just up the road so may call in when doing the duty visit.

As always I wish to thank the chasers for keeping me company again on a very wet and windy day in Kent

G/WB-011 Bradnor Hill, G/WB-008 Hergest Ridge, G/WB-020 Burton Hill, G/WB-023 Hegdon Hill

Monday 2 November 2015

As we start November I am starting to run out of one pointers that are within a realistic one days drive from home and I am loathed to start on the higher hills this close to the winter bonus points season.  The ‘Range’ tool on the SOTA Mapping Project is a superb tool that helps with my planning.  I decided to work my way further north into the Welsh Borders but where to go?  Then I came across an article on a favourite musician of mine – Mick Oldfield and the fact the it was 40 years ago this week that his third album entered the British charts.

Now what has Mick Oldfield got to do with the hills of the Welsh Borders?  Well quite a lot actually.  After the success of his first album – Tubular Bells, he decided to escape the lime-light and bought a cottage called ‘The Beacon’ near Kington, Herefordshire.  Whilst here he wrote his second album Hergest Ridge inspired by the hill close to his home and where he found peace and solitude.  Although this album was recorded in Oxfordshire his third album Ommadawn was written and recorded at The Beacon again inspired by Hergest Ridge and the music of the local area.  It was this album that entered the British Album Charts this week 40 years ago so I felt it just and fitting that I should go to Hergest Ridge.

The plan was to do Bradnor Hill G/WB-011 at first light as this was in the middle of a golf course, followed by Hergest Ridge G/WB-008 and pick up Burton Hill G/WB-020 on the way home.  However, due to my (as always) over generous time estimates I was also able to take in the drive-on summit of Hegdon Hill G/WB -023 as well.

Equipment

FT-817 5 Watts, 4.2Ah LiFePO4, 60m/40m/20m linked dipole, 7m sotapole and a palm paddle, VX-170 plus RSS 2M dipole.

Bradnor Hill G/WB-011

Setting off from home at 04:30 the journey across to Herefordshire was a little hairy at times due to the fog, especially when crossing the Cotswolds.  The approach road to Bradnor Hill takes you through the Kington Golf Course.  Drive past the club house and continue on through the course until you reach a sign stating ‘No cars past this point’.  There is plenty of room to park up here SO 286581.  This is an active golf course hence the reason for coming here at first light, the added bonus today was the fog so I knew I would be relatively safe on the short journey to the summit.  From the car park if you look roughly NW you will see a tall black pole in the distance – that is very close to the summit and is the point to head towards.  Very close to the summit is a shelter at the 11th Tee with a convenient post adjacent for the mast, this became my shack for the activation.  Distance walked 0.4 miles, ascent 130 feet, time taken 10 minutes.

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Despite being at first light and shrouded in fog I couldn’t believe that there were actually golfers out on the course.  So not wanting to upset the locals I chose to make this a CW only activation as this produces no noise whatsoever.  Relying on RBN to spot me I was quickly picked up by Roy G4SSH and given an excellent 599 report, the band seemed to be open for a change and wow what a pile-up ensued.  Sixteen stations logged in 10 minutes from the UK and across Europe.

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The golfers were now approaching the 11th so it was time to pack up and leave them to their ‘blind’ game of golf.  As I finished packing up the fog started to clear and the views became beautiful.  I also over heard an interesting comment from the group of golfers who seemed to have realised that they had missed a couple of holes in the fog – strange as each tee is well numbered!!!

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The view from Bradnor Hill across the fog filled valley to Hergest Ridge

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My shack set up in the hut on the 11th Tee. Hergest Ridge in the background

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Plenty of parking by the No cars beyond this point sign

Very quickly back to the car and off to Hergest Ridge, the prime target for the day.

Hergest Ridge G/WB-008

A short drive of 15 minutes brought me to the parking area at the eastern end of the footpath up Hergest Ridge SO 280567 where there is plenty of room on the right hand side of the road to park.  The path to the summit is very well sign posted and very obvious.  This is a very pleasant walk of about 1.75 miles up a gentle gradient onto the ridge.  Initially I was walking in fog but I quickly broke through the top into a clear blue sky and a warming sun.  The views all the way to the summit are excellent with all the surrounding valley shrouded on fog so only the higher hills and ridges stuck prominent above.  Once at the summit I went to the highest point before returning to the trig a mere few feet lower.  Distance 1.75 miles, ascent 505 feet, time taken 45 minutes.

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Setting up on the trig I self spotted on 7-ssb and first into the log was Karl M3FEH with a stonking 58 signal from his 10 watts.  It was clear that conditions were still very good although the skip had shortened slightly with the pile-up being predominantly British.  29 QSO’s were completed in 17 minutes the vast majority being with very good signal reports.  Once the pile-up had finished I dismantled the station before exploring the summit area and finding a secluded place to sit and listen to excerpts from Mick Oldfield’s Hergest Ridge and Ommadawn albums.  I can remember as a teenager listening to Hergest Ridge looking at the photograph on the album cover and wishing that I was there in the location that inspired what to me was magical music- and here I was sitting on that hallowed ground feeling very emotional.

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I was unfortunately brought back to reality by the swarming dog walkers and their yapping dogs, so it was that I finished backing up and set off back to the car.

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The trig point looking back towards the Whet Stone and the clump of Monkey Puzzle trees.

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Shack on the trig

Burton Hill G/WB-020

I had looked at two different routes up Burton Hill, one from the west and the other from the east, even as I was driving across I couldn’t make my mind up which to take.  The one from the west had the shorter distance but greater climb whilst the one from the east was the complete opposite.  I was approaching the fork in the road so had to make a decision when a large slow moving tractor took the road to the western end – decision made and I headed to the eastern end.  I parked at the end of the lane to the right of the gate, probably room for a couple of cars SO 415487.  The track to the summit is clearly defined and has a gradual rise presenting no real problems.  Distance 1.35 miles, ascent 235 feet time taken 30 minutes.

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I decided to follow the same MO as earlier and open up on 7-ssb.  Setting the station up a short distance from the trip point I realised I had left my phone in the car so just selected a clear frequency and started called CQ SOTA. Within a short time Damian M0BKV answered my call kindly offering to spot me and quickly I had the stations knocking at the door.  The skip was much the same as it had been from Hergest Ridge and I quickly had 24 QSO’s in the log in 17 minutes.  I also had the first and only S2S contacts of the day with Martyn M1MAJ and Caroline M3ZCB on Butser Hill G/SE-004 which is ironic as that is my local summit only 7 miles from home.  Again, as with this this morning, the majority of the signal reports were very good and all were easy copy.

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I toyed with the idea of 7-cw and 14-ssb but I realised that I was in a position time wise to make a slight detour and activate the drive-on summit Hegdon Hill G/WB-023.  Having come this far it made a lot of sense especially when thinking ahead at future planning and the sequence of hills left to do in this area.

Hegdon Hill G/WB-023

This hill was a 30 drive away and was a complete non-event when I got there.  Personally I hate drive-on’s because I feel a cheat and they are normally difficult to find somewhere near the trig to activate from.  This summit was no different as I found loads of suitable places for the aerial except for the overhead power cables in the way.  Not wishing to get fried by the aerial touching the cables I decided to sneak into an adjacent field and use the gate to support the mast.  This meant having the two halves of the dipole at right angles to avoid the power lines but needs must as they say.  Car parked on the grass verge at SO 584539 .  Distance 100 feet, ascent 0 feet, time taken 10 minutes (most of that faffing around).

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Not wishing to change the habits of the day I self spotted 7-ssb and almost straight away I was being called by several stations.  Activity was brief and rapid which was just as well as the rain was now starting to fall.  I managed to get 9 stations into the log in 5 minutes before the calls stopped and the rain really started.

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A wet miserable location but at least it was partially clear of power lines

It was now time to back up and get on with the 3 hour drive home back over the Cotswolds and along the M4 in the still lingering fog.

Overall this was a great day that almost never happened.  I had been somewhat concerned about the fog and had almost decided to go back to bed and forget the trip.  It was my XYL that persuaded me to give it a go and if the weather was too bad I could always turn back.  The trip to Hergest Ridge was both a brilliant walk and also a musically emotional experience.  The radio all day was fantastic with conditions back to the way they should be.  Would I do those hills again?  Hergest Ridge and Burton Hill yes most definitely, Bradnor Hill maybe, Hegdon Hill not a hope in hell.  This is a part of Britain I love and will be returning very soon.

Thanks as always to all the chasers because life is lonely without you.

73 Glyn G4CFS