Posted by: GW7AAV | September 18, 2010

Highlands and lows

I cannot believe how time has flown and just how busy I have been since my trip to Scotland. I came back totally chilled out only for life to kick me swiftly in the place that hurts the most and it has not stopped kicking me since. One disaster after another with topping of disappointment and a desert of raised hopes dashed on the rocks. After the warm friendly reception in the Highlands everything since seems to have restored my distrust of human nature.

For various reasons legal, personal and having been sworn to secrecy I cannot discuss most of what has been happening, but I can tell you that having my credit card ripped off for £1,030 was just one of them. I had been experiencing a twelve hour day of shear hell at work last Thursday and after getting home late I walked in to the credit card’s fraud department on the telephone. All I wanted to do was shower, eat and fall in to bed, instead I had two hours of question and answer on the telephone. After destroying our credit cards I had something to eat and then went for a shower. When I came back in to the shack I turned on eighty metres only to realise I was meant to have been taking part in the RSGB’s 80m Sprint. I sent an email to the contest group but I felt bad about it, particularly as I missed the last one while I was away in Scotland. I was available for that one too, but I had used most of my mobile broadband allowance talking on Skype the first couple of days and as a result did not get the reminder email until the day after, when we went for a coffee at a place with free WiFi.

Apart from missing the Sprint the Scotish trip was a great couple of weeks. We stopped at a cottage just outside Evanton on the Cromerty Firth. It was the kind of place you see in those glossy magazines, “Homes of the rich and famous”, we loved it. All the bedrooms had en suite bathrooms and flat-screen TVs and you could get lost in the bed in the master bedroom. The ever changing views over the Firth were enhanced by fields of golden barley waving gently in the breeze and the whole place had a laid back atmosphere.

On arrival I quickly set up a linked dipole using an ex-army mast and a couple of trees as supports. We managed to bag a handful of local summits for Summits On The Air including one that appears to have not been done before. In between doing the usual touristy things I worked plenty of HF from both the cottage and the car. It was great to work so many lighthouses for International Lighthouse Weekend, but Helen drew a line in the sand when I said I wanted to do a lighthouse activation down at Chanonry Point lighthouse.

It was during one of our SOTA activations that Christine GM4YMM told us of another reason to visit Chanonry Point and that was to see the dolphins. She also invited us to visit her and husband Ken GM0AXY when we were stopping close to Edinburgh on the way home. That evening after an early meal we headed to see the dolphins, but the weather was rough and the wind bit through our clothing, reminding us that what works well when you are plodding up hills sweating like a horse does not necessarily work stood still for hours on a storm battered beach. We saw some dolphins and took some photographs but vowed to come back another day when the weather was kinder. That day came later in the week when I hooked up with Tom M1EYP (operating as MM1EYP/P) who was on the same summit as I had been on a few days earlier. I mentioned the dolphins at Chanonry Point and Tom said he was aware of them and was going to watch them that evening. We joined Tom and his family and had a lovely time watching the dolphins from the beach and chatting away until we all started to feel the cold again.

Tom was up on holiday but had been invited to give his SOTA presentation by the Inverness amateur radio club. Adrian 2M0ETR had been in touch before our trip with the intention of joining us on an activation and although that never worked out he came around to the house and showed us the way to the Inverness club for Tom’s talk. It was brilliant to put faces to call-signs and meet some new guys who hopefully will call in when they hear us in future. I must say the the Scots we have met during our expeditions have been some of the most welcoming people I have ever met. I left Scotland with my faith in human nature at an all time high, but as I mentioned that feeling was soon reversed after we got home.

Tom’s talk was interesting mainly because of the different ways we do things on the hills. I learnt a few new tricks but did not hold back when I thought I knew a slightly better way. Maybe I should have kept my mouth shut but then I would not have been me. There were some more good ideas floated by us by another Adrian, MM0DHY who is not only a SOTA activator but an accomplished mountaineer and whom tackles summits Tom and I would never consider and even does them in the dark in winter. He has successfully activated Sgurr Dearg – The so called Inaccessible Pinnacle GM/SI-002 for SOTA and told us of his plans to scale some difficult sea stacks. Adrian seems one of those rare thing these days a a nice guy and a gentleman. He is a real character with a hint of eccentricity and based even on our fairly brief meeting I suspect an IQ off the scale, but maybe it was his bow tie that fooled me.

After tea and biscuits it was time to head back to the cottage from the former secret bunker where the Inverness guys have their well set up club. RAYNET is finely woven in to the club structure and they work extensively with the county emergency planners, who let them have use of the bunker and a communications mast. I was most impressed with how they use packet radio links out to the islands off the East coast to cover most of Norther Scotland. As one who was convinced packet was dead it came as quite a surprise.

Getting back was not as simple as it might have been as the access road had been closed for overnight repairs, but it was fun driving down the diversions that had been set up down what under normal circumstances are foot paths. I was glad I was driving a 4X4 though as some of the potholes were quite deep.

After a wonderful fortnight we left Evanton on Saturday 28th August and drove down to a place called Seton Sands. We had chosen this location as it was halfway on our 416 mile journey home. After spending two weeks living in luxury it was always going to be a downer stopping in a Haven caravan, but it was only for a couple of nights and it was advertised as a “luxury” model. It was not luxury it was a skip, except dirtier. The shower was broken, the beds uncomfortable, the crockery and cutlery unwashed, the tiny TV only picked up one channel and that was unwatchable as it had lines and rolled every few minutes. The site its self is quite nice but the accommodation and service left a lot to be desired. The main issue was the poor state of everything in the van but the fact that we had just come from a house where the en-suite bathroom was bigger than the whole thing did not help me drifting off in to a mild state of depression.

We just had to get out and on Sunday morning we visited the “National Museum of Flight” at East Fortune and had an enjoyable few hour wandering around the exhibits, that included Concorde, a Vulcan bomber and much more. After lunch we headed back to Seton Sands where my two daughters had booked an archery lesson. Then we headed out to Edinburgh to visit Ken and Christine. Once again we were astounded at the welcome we received, what wonderful people! Ken and Christine are SOTA chasers and activators and I have worked them on their activations and they have worked us on ours, but that is as far as it went. We spent all evening together and found plenty to talk about. Christine dished up a delicious meal and Ken and I demolished several bottles of red wine. I was sad to leave and more than a little jealous of Ken’s StepIR HF antenna.

On Monday we headed for home and had a pleasant, uneventful journey until we pulled up on the driveway. As we unpacked the Land Rover Discovery we heard a hissing, the front off-side tyre had a hole the size of your fist. My problems were just starting. Next morning I was told a replacement for the big chunky off road tyre would be £210 plus fitting and sales tax. I would never replace only one so that was a quick £500 out of my pocket that had been seriously depleted due to our holiday. That was not the worst bit; there was a six week (mimimum) wait before they could get them for me and we needed the car for work. Eventually a friend located some tyres for £100 each including fitting and tax, but when they came to remove the wheels the wheel lock had been stripped and so it goes on; one disaster after another with topping of disappointment and a desert of raised hopes dashed on the rocks.

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