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.
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.
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.
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!!!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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