August 2009 SOTA and other adventures
11th August 2009 G/SB-009 Ros Hill
From Heaven to Hell with a view
The drive from our near perfect cottage in the North East of Scotland to the North East of England would have been uneventful but for a couple of things. Firstly Helen had insisted that the price of fuel must be cheaper somewhere other than Brora, as it was ten pence dearer than at home and secondly we encountered the same one-hour delay we had met on the way up a week earlier. The later was mostly avoided by re-routing according to the Sat-Nav, although we had a small delay because lots of other people have Sat-Navs too and were taking the same diversion. The fuel on the other hand seemed to be getting no cheaper until near Aviemore we had no choice but to turn off into the town for fuel. Bad move! It took about half an hour of queuing before we reached the pumps and then another half an hour to get back on to the A9. Apart from that it was plain sailing for three hundred miles.
We could not get in to property number two until 1600hrs (local) and eight hours after leaving Brora we arrived in Seahouses. I should have been glad we had arrived but I realised with a sinking feeling I had been here before. The small town centre comprises of chip restaurants and amusement arcades and is as tacky and dirty as Blackpool, but without the lights or the tower. We had visited on a trip out on a previous occasion and I declared it a waste of petrol.
Worse was yet to come. The ‘cottage’ we had booked was not a cottage at all but a second floor apartment. Firstly we could not get the Land Rover Discovery in to the tiny courtyard parking area. A call to the keeper revealed one apartment was rented to someone with three vehicles, the smallest of which was a BMW 4x4. After much discussion with the property manager we were sent down an impossibly narrow alleyway, which required a three-shunt manoeuvre just to turn left down it and then we were able to park under our apartments bay window. Then we had to hump all our belongings up a narrow staircase and in to a dirty, flea bitten matchbox. The whole apartment was smaller than the kitchen in the house we had just left. To make it worse the main bedroom was on the ground floor and accessed by a spiral staircase in the lounge. The lounge was ten feet square and the door impacted, half open on the banister for the staircase, which was six feet square. The other side of this was a useless dinning table, because no one could get between the banister and the table or the wall and the table to sit down. This left a gap of ten feet by four into which was fitted a two-seater settee and three arm chairs, a round table with a lamp on, a nest of three tables and a television. Sitting down in the grotty chairs it was hard to move without elbowing one or other of the family in the side of the head. There was really no-where to store the walking gear or radios and certainly no-where for the kids to set up their games consuls and laptops. In fact there was not really anywhere to put the clothes we brought either. The view from the picture bay window was the only redeeming feature; it was stunning looking out over the quayside and across to the Farne Islands beyond and Banburgh Castle. I kept repeating my new mantra “it’s only a base, it’s only a base it’s only a base”.
We awoke late Sunday 9th August 2009 morning to bright blue skies, which as we ate breakfast, looking out over the Harbour turned dark and threatening. “Ros Hill” I enquired. “Looks like it might rain”, said Helen. I enquired what we were going to do instead and Helen suggested Banburgh Castle, probably because she was looking at it across the bay. At 11:40 BST we were sat in the castle car park waiting for the rain to stop. We had nearly been here when we were previously in the area but were put off by the entrance fee, fortunately we were a little better off these days, but I think we had both been hoping it was National Trust so our membership would get us in free. The weather could best be described as changeable all day. As we got out of the Discovery and headed for the entrance the rain seemed to be going off and I even managed to fire off a few shots with the camera before putting it safely out of the rain. We took a look at the entrance fee, took a sharp intake of breath and then paid. Two or three other parties who were in the queue looked at the prices said something unrepeatable and turned on their heels.
As we entered the castle proper the rain turned torrential and like everyone else we followed the signs for the house tour and legged it. The tour of the house lasted long enough for the rain to subside and for us to dry off. I don’t know who came up with the idea for the walking trousers I was wearing but it was a stroke of genius to make then from a thin cotton like material because they dry really quickly, whereas other people in their “normal” clothes were still sopping wet. I laughed at more than one person with a heart shaped damp patch on their rear end. As we explored the rest of the castle there was the odd shower but not enough to put us off. Lunch in the café was at least more reasonable than the entrance fee and by the time that was over there was the makings of a nice afternoon and the beach down bellow was filling up with typical British holiday makers all carrying their regulation buck, spade and four cans of lager. Lots of photographs later we headed back to the car and I tuned on two metres. We seemed fairly high up but the two-metre band was dead.
The next day we awoke to more rain. No SOTA today then. The kids had found a leaflet that announced “Harry Potters Castle” so we headed for Alnwick Castle. The Harry Potter connection is that it was used for some of the Hogwart scenes, in particularly the part in the first movie were he learns to fly the broomstick. We figured we could do the same as yesterday and tour the house until the rain went off. There was no need because as we parked in the vast but extremely busy car park for Alnwick the sky cleared and the sun came out. This stately home is also privately owned so our National Trust membership was no good here either. The entrance fees were even worse than those at Banburgh with a separate fee for the gardens and the castle, but if you wanted you could use the tickets for entry on two days.
As the sun was now shining we headed for the gardens. The scene that greets you is an enormous cascading fountain that makes you stand and stare. It also caused Helen to spend about twenty minutes waiting for it to repeat the sequence it was doing as we first went in so she could photograph it. The gardens are fabulous with curious water features but do seem to lack the variety and colour of flowers seen in some less impressive gardens. They are also nearly symmetrical so you only need to visit half the garden to have seen it all. After touring the garden we had lunch in the garden restaurant, which provides a great view of the fountain and then headed for the castle. There is certainly a lot to see and I would recommend anyone going gets there early and takes advantage of the two-day ticket. We managed to miss the falconry display while we ate lunch and there had been other demonstrations we also missed. The house, the grounds and the garden are certainly notable and unlike some places I have visited I would not simply cross it off as done, but would like to return maybe at a different time of year as long as someone else was paying. The other side of the car park to the entrance there is a massive tree house that houses a restaurant, which in the fading light as we left seemed to have an ethereal quality, like it had been plucked from a fairy tale. It doesn’t quite maintain that feeling in the bright sunshine or when you get up close and you are staring down though the gaps in the boards but it is pretty ‘cool’.
The morning of Tuesday 11th started like Monday afternoon with the sun shinning so after breakfast we packed up the walking bags and headed for G/SB-009 Ros Hill. At last, I was getting the shakes, I had not been on the radio since Friday and I was experiencing some RF withdrawal symptoms or at least I thought I was. Helen on the other hand said I was always a miserable old git and so she had not noticed.
We were only 15 miles away from the summit and from the A1 South bound we turned right at North Charlton following the signs for Chillingham until we reached the parking spot downloaded, to the TomTom, from Richard G3CWI’s site. There was a car park shown on the map a little further on and we checked it out but returned to park on the grass verge near the start of the path to the summit. Despite the day starting sunny and it only being 30 minutes away fro the holiday accommodation the sky was looking ominously dark.
The ascent was easier than it looked and within ten minutes we were on the summit. At the trig there was an elderly couple so we moved to the other side of a viewing platform built in to a wall that runs across the summit and started setting up. Once we were set up we ate a little lunch and waited for the couple to leave before starting up. 5mHz SSB yielded eight contacts starting with Peter EI7CC but by Helen was calling in vain on 2metres and we shared a handful of contacts so she could qualify the summit and then started logging for me. The wind was now getting up and there were spots of rain. A QSY to 80m SSB only got another four in the log including Steve G1INK who was very weak but readable on his vertical antenna. 40m SSB started slowly but the Europeans suddenly started coming in thick, fast and loud. It was really raining heavily now and the children took the keys and headed back down the hill to the car. I was desperately trying to keep the rig dry but water kept getting in the fuse holders causing the power to go off. I kept going as long as I could and worked another thirteen before packing up to save the rig. The only G station on 40m was Mike GM0BPU/P on South Uist. I believe left a pile up of probably disappointed EU station un-worked, but it was going well while it lasted. By the time we had packed everything away and were stood in our rucksacks the rain had virtually stopped. Leaving Helen at the trig I descended the hill to grab the chaser point via the handheld and get one 70cms contact in the log for the activation to go with the only 2m contact I had from working Helen on her ascent. The descent was much trickier than the ascent. What was a nice natural step on the way up was a slippery trap on the way down after the rain and every one seemed to be just stretching that bit too far. It was still quicker going down than going up and from the bottom I warned Helen to be careful and then got the camera out in case she wasn’t. She managed it safely but complained that the stretching had caused her calves to tighten up so we headed back to Seahouses and a swim in the pool (maybe this place had another good point) to ease the not all that tired muscles.
What followed was a nice evening with the hope that it would be better tomorrow. We spent the evening watching the lifeboat from the picture window, which was exciting and fortunately only an exercise, before sun turned the sky strange shades of orange, pink and yellow. It made me realise that the East coast is to sunrise as the West is to sunset and the only way to get a sunset over the Farne Islands was on a boat and I was not getting up a dawn each day to get a sunrise photograph no matter how much I wanted to get one.
Wednesday 12th was definitely the better tomorrow with warm clear skies and the sea like a mirror. Perfect for the planned boat trip to the Farne Islands. We walked down to the harbour and tried to book a trip on one of Billy Shiel’s Glad Tidings boats, but due to the appearance of a great flaming ball of hydrogen in the sky everyone else had the same idea. We booked our tickets for a later trip and walked back to kill the next 90 minutes.
The sea was still very calm as we took our trip around the various Farne Islands photographing seals and sea birds. It was just a great pity we were too late for the Puffins and Gullimots, which nest there. Our skipper kept up an informative commentary telling us all about the wildlife and the Longstone Lighthouse, which was built in 1825. It was made famous by Grace Darling and her father William Darling who was the lighthouse keeper. On the night of the 7th September 1838 they rescued nine survivors from the Forfarshire, a paddle steam ship bound for Dundee, which ran aground on Big Harcar in stormy seas.
The last part of the Farne experience was landing on the bird sanctuary of Inner Farne. Here at last I could save a few pound due to our National Trust membership, which was a good job because it was not really worth the landing fee. Here we ate our lunch and watched Acrtic Terns, Gulls and Shags swoop and dive. It was nice to be able to get so close to the birds nesting below you on the cliff face and them to seem so unperturbed by the presence of so many humans.
The swell started to pick up on the way back and the odd wave sprayed everyone with seawater. Something stirred that may be in my DNA from my seafaring ancestors or maybe I just like watching other people get worried, who knows?
Thursday 13th was another great day and we headed North following the coast and then over the causeway to Lindisfarne or Holy Island. The plan was to play some radio and visit the castle and the priory. We got to the main car park on the Island and it was very full but we found a space. I had seen a place back down the road a little where I could set up the radio, but decided seeing how we had squeezed in one of the last spaces in the car park we would go and visit the castle first.
The castle is interesting but not very big and we spent as long queuing as we did in the castle. This time our National Trust membership was good and it cost us nothing. Chatting to one of the staff they said that the Priory was English Heritage not national trust and decided to get some lunch instead. We found a pub and I ordered a bacon baguette and a pint of Guinness. The kids had ordered pizzas and when they came they where about the size of a cartwheel. I had finished my meal and my beer before the kids had eaten one slice of their pizzas and it was a hour later that we left the pub with only Stuart having demolished his completely. We headed back to the car doing a little shopping on the way and then we drove back towards the causeway. We parked up alongside the road and I set the linked dipole running parallel with the road and the dunes.
I switched on to 5.3985mHz and was delighted to hear Phil GM4OBK/P on the mass activation of GM/SS-246 Ailsa Craig. I worked Phil but was concerned as he was a good signal to me but I got a worse report back. This did not seem right as I was running the full 100watts from the FT-857D in the car. I later managed to work Peter EI7CC and Brian G8ADD who also gave me poor reports and then Peter M0COP who gave me a good one on 5mHz. A QSY to 80m brought only one response from the old faithful and nearly always the Paul G0HNW who said I had a problem and I was seriously over driving the rig. Moving the microphone further away did a little but reducing power to 30watts made most impression. I tried 40m hoping some EU stations might like EU-120 Lindisfarne in the log for IOTA but nothing. I still haven’t had chance to do any tests with the mobile HF set up but I suspect something is amiss. I was kicking myself after for not just setting up the normal portable station as it was in the rucksack in the back of the Discovery. If there is a problem such as RF feed back it might explain why the Atas antenna has been a dead loss except on ten metres where I have made a few good contacts while travelling at 60 to 70 miles per hour, chatting to France and Spain 5/9 each way for 20 minutes with Helen at the wheel of course.
On Friday 14th we had planned to do G/SB-007 Tosson Hill but the weather had other ideas and it was throwing it down with rain. We had all the bags packed from the night before; the SatNav had been programmed with the parking spot and the GPS with the walking route. After much discussion we set out for the stately home of Cragside, which once belonged to Lord Armstrong of Armstrong Siddley fame and is now in the hands of the National Trust. We hoped it might dry up as before we got there. On arrival the car parks seem full, very full. It seemed like everyone from a hundred mile radius had the same idea. The idea was to visit the house and get out of the rain. Duh! After one and a half hours queuing we got into the house and sloshed are way around.
If you look up Cragside you will see it was one of the first houses in England with electric light and the electricity was generated by a hydro scheme in the grounds. It is famous for the iron footbridge in the grounds and contains some great inventions such as a water-powered lift and a water-powered spit for roasting. The gardens are vast and exploring them probably requires a couple of days.
Once we came out of the house we headed for the restaurant about 10 minutes walk from the house only to be told that they stopped serving 30 minutes earlier. “Well if we hadn’t been queuing in the rain for an hour and a half we could of eaten then?” I asked snidely then turned on my heels and left followed by about fifteen other wet and annoyed visitors. We eventually found a greasy spoon café, which was obviously a biker haunt by the posters on the notice board and had a good old-fashioned all-day breakfast. There is nothing like it for reviving the spirits when you are cold, wet and hungry.
Saturday 15th we were up and out of there but with mixed feelings. I hated the apartment and the town. I loved the harbour and the view. It had mostly been a great holiday but I wanted to do more SOTA. I loved the islands and there are plenty of places of interest so we will be back sometime to tick off a few more Scottish Borders summits but we will have to be oh so careful picking future holiday accommodation next time.
I had hoped to grab some chaser points on the way home but although the alerts kept going off and I tuned the bands I never heard any SOTA on any band from 40m to 70cms. I did work GB2TS at the Tollerton Village Show and grabbed GB4LL Leasow Lighthouse UK-0014 as I was Mobile M56, but that was all. It was a long and boring drive and we all arrived home feeling like we needed a holiday just to get over the drive. All that was rapidly forgotten as I soon had a screwdriver in my hand to repair what my eldest had broken while we were away including the shower, which he managed to blow the relief valve on. Oh joy! It is good to be home. Never mind I was back to work on Sunday night. It must be good to have a job you still enjoy.
To be continued…