August 2009 SOTA and other adventures
29th August 2009 G/WB-008 Hergest Ridge
Half a century on
Helen asked me “Do you want a party?” it was a hard question but I had already thought about it “No” I said “Lets just you and I have a weekend away.”
I have always loved parties. Some people need a few drinks to get them up on the dance floor. I just need the right kind of music. Start playing that disco crap and I sit and sulk. Put Abba on and I will put my fingers in my ears and hum very loudly, Brown Sugar by the Stones will on the other hand have me strutting my stuff and making a complete ass of myself. Someone once said to me that they never believed it possible to dance to Pink Floyd until they saw me. From other peoples comments and maybe they were right, it is not possible but I do like to boogie and I know what I like.
Other people’s parties either rock or I go home early, but our last few parties, for my son’s 18th & 21st birthdays and our 25th Wedding anniversary left me feeling more stressed than partied out. In particular the inability for disc jockeys to play anything other than what they want to play gets on my nerves. The jocks involved were all told “we are a rock crowd” well in advance. They all said they could provide a rock disco and then played dance music and wondered why we all sat on our hands. Better not go there again if it were my party I would probably kill the guy if he played Abba. I still feel like killing the chap at my wedding reception for playing ‘The Birdy Song’ even though my own bloody father asked him to play it because he knew how much I hated it. Very funny Dad!
So we were going away and Helen started trawling the Internet for somewhere to go.
I fancied Stratford upon Avon but I wanted to make up for the lack of SOTA during our main holiday. Maybe it was because I had visited the Isle of Lindisfarne, which was like a musical pilgrimage, "Lady Eleanor" by Lindisfarne having been an all time favourite of mine, but Hergest Ridge came to mind. Hergest Ridge was Mike Oldfield’s second album and one of the first LPs I ever bought. Helen started searching around Hereford for somewhere to stay. A place was found in Middleton on the hill, which is between Leominster and Ludlow. It looked a bit small in the pictures and Helen warned me, mindful of our last outing.
Friday 28th August and Helen had half a day off work. Well almost half a day, she was delayed several times as she was leaving as people said “can you just sort his before you go?” We got on the road okay as the Discovery was almost packed when she got home. I just needed her stuff. The journey down was uneventful but the traffic was busier than we had hoped for due possibly to the later than planned start. Still we had time to chill out and change and still be at the pub for our evening meal an hour before opening. The cottage was superb and by no means as small as it appeared on the net.
Instead of going back to wait we explored the area and found a pub who’s food I had seen well reviewed on the net. We stopped and asked for a table. The chef was on holiday. What kind of place lets their chef have a busy bank holiday off? The bar staff recommended the Ship in Tenbury Wells. The place was tiny and the well-starched tablecloths gave an impression of a nice place but when we were seated the stains from previous customers raised our suspicions. The real ale was good, although I forget what it was but the food was distinctly mediocre and I would not recommend this place to anyone. We returned to the cottage and settled down some of the contents of the fridge we brought along.
G/WB-008 Hergest Ridge 29th August 2009 –
We had slept like logs but were up far too early the next morning and over breakfast I opened the cards and presents I had been given. Strange but only my mother-in-law, my kids and my wife had sent a card with fifty on. I had a total of well over £100 that might pay for something radio related off eBay plus a DVD I had been dying to see. Somewhat slowly we gathered our gear and packed our rucksacks and headed out to the car.
We parked at the recommended parking spot at the end of the lane just past the Hergest Croft Gardens, which looks like it deserves a visit sometime and followed the obvious path to the summit. Well obvious until you reach the brow of the hill and need to veer off left to find the trig point. We found the trig and then moved about 100 feet away to a clump of boulders and erected the masts. I had actually alerted for this one and much to my surprise I was set up on the summit at spot on the alerted time, 1200UTC.
After a quick drink I started on 5mHz with Paul G0HNW and got a brilliant 15 in the log. It was great to see the band in such good shape for a change. Helen on the other hand told me she could not get anything at all on 2m and suspected an antenna fault. She took down the J-pole and tried the SOTA beam, which was no better. Eventually she gave up and doubled up on four of my contacts on 5.3985mHz before logging for me. Another 13 on 40m made it 28 with a surprisingly strong and stable signal from Gert ON7TWA/M who was driving in Antwerp. 15 more followed on 80m with Heinz-Josef DK5WL amongst the inter–UK contacts and a special events call GB4MO from the Military Odyssey Show in Kent. Final call on 3.666mHz was from Ted G7AIR who’s direct QSL with a picture of my favourite airplane arrived home almost before I did. Ted was contact number 44 and I had set my sights on surpassing my best ever number of contacts from a summit of 47 by getting at least 50. One for each year it being my fiftieth birthday. A QSY to 20m took me by surprise, but it should have been no surprise to find wall-to-wall contest stations. I gave up looking for a free slot and called the nearest 5/9 station to my intended frequency. I was running 25w from the linked dipole set as an inverted vee and this guy would be running kilowatts into a beam and he had a massive pile up. One call was all it took. I was amazed. I worked five and it was like shelling peas, but it did not seem like SOTA as I was answering their CQs rather than the other way around.
I did not want my 50th contact to be another contest station and as Helen had given up on 2m I decided to give it a try. We needed to prove the J-pole anyway. I called out CQ on 145.500 and gave out my QSY frequency. My first reply and number 50 in the log was Steve G4TRA 2 years and 11 days since I last spoke to him as GM7AAV/P on 5mHz from a cottage at Wanlock Head. The next call was a summit-to-summit from Chris M1DTJ/P doing a last chance to get G/SP-016 Raw Head activation. There followed another S2S this time from Geoff 2W0BTR/P on GW/SW-016 Ysgyryd Fawr who we last met on our activation of G/WB-010 The Wrekin on 13th September 2008. Nine calls on 2m Fm and we were getting a bit cold so I decided to give 2m SSB a try but despite a spot the only reply was Steve G8OBV who was mobile on the M5 and who I had already spoken to earlier on FM. That made 59 contacts so I was fairly happy with the days tally and we disassembled the station while I finished my lunch. As we set off we noticed the huge string of ponies that had gathered.
The ponies were responsible for the 60th contact of the day because we stopped to watch them and I tried to take some photographs, which proved more difficult than it should have. With my Canon digital SLR you press the shutter and you have your shot, it is instant. I am also used to using a viewfinder both on the Canon and every other camera I have owned in the last fifty years, except for a Leica twin lens reflex. I was using Helens Fujifilm Finepix S1000. It has a viewfinder but why it is there is a mystery because you cannot see anything through it and it was impossible to see anything on the screen due to the bright sunlight. Added to that you press the shutter release and go and can make a cup of tea before it actually takes the shot so that the ponies had moved out of position almost every time. I also found that using the screen to align a shot makes it almost impossible to hold the camera steady. Consequently I took a lot of photographs in the hope of some good ones.
It was time well wasted as we were still well within the activation zone when an alert came through in the form of a text on my mobile from Martyn M1MAJ’s SOTAwatch to Twitter service. It was Jimmy MW3EYP/P on GW/MW-025 The Begwns for the third summit-to-summit of the day and caused a mad scramble to recover one of the two Kenwood dual band handies from Helen’s rucksack. Jimmy was a great signal with us but gave us a disappointing 5/1 but who cares it was a good easy contact. I always used to use a rucksack antenna for listening on the ascent/descents but seem to have got out of that habit and started putting the rigs away. It probably started when we had no juice in any of the batteries, but the contact with Jimmy reminded us how useful it can be to monitor the 2m calling frequency on the way up and down.
The walk up was pleasant enough even with the rucksack full of gear, but the stroll down was one of the easiest we had done. I feel that if I lived in the area I would make this my hill and even buy a dog just for an excuse to walk up there. The views are nowhere near as stunning as some of the one pointers we have done but the shear peace and quiet of the place, even with all the walkers made effort worthwhile. We noticed how far sound travelled as some children ran excited to see the ponies calling to each other and I hoped my calling CQ for a couple of hours had not carried as far and disturbed anyone. I was glad we decided to set up well away from the trig and the centre of activity.
We both wanted a coffee but the Hergest Croft Gardens with its café closed in half an hour and it was £6 each to get in so we gave it a miss and headed for our cottage. After coffee I put all the batteries on charge, had a shower and got changed to go out. We headed down the lane for a mile or so to the Stockton Cross. “Have you booked the barman asked in broad Scouse?” We shook our heads. “It will be quarter past eight before I can fit you in,” he said. “No problems, it will give me chance to try all your real ales” I said. He seated us at a table and took our order. At quarter past the barman looked at me and swore under his breath before apologising to us for not putting our order through the computerised till system. It was half past before we got our meal. Normally I would have been fuming at this but I was in a good mood, enjoying the previously un-tasted real ales and I had been kept informed. That is the key; keep your customers informed and they may be more understanding. The meal was well worth the wait, it was one of the best steaks I have had in a long time, but if you cannot get a good steak in Hereford where can you? I had eyed up the desert menu on the way in but the beer and the large portions had taken its toll, no room even for an XL like me. We headed back to the cottage. I had a bottle of celebratory Champagne in the fridge but I had no desire to drink it so it stayed there. So it was off to bed for an early night and a planned early start next morning.
To be continued…