Posted by: GW7AAV | February 18, 2011

Wine, Roses and Mud, it must be a Dirty SOTA Weekend

Here I am back at work after a short break and some portable amateur radio from three Welsh Borders SOTA summits. Helen and I decided we needed a break after some particularly hectic and stressful months. We found a little cottage near Ross-on-Wye for a romantic long weekend and packed the chocolates and Champagne. I was told this was a no SOTA weekend and I of course said okay and was prepared to just chill out.

Maybe it was Helen’s little test for me to see which I loved more her or ham radio, but she then said that because she was off all day Friday and we did not have the cottage until 4pm we could do a couple of hills en route. There were six within easy reach. All were one point hills, so no winter bonus.

The trip down seemed to take much longer than it should have done and we seemed forever stuck behind some slow-moving truck or other. Eventually we arrived at G/WB-013 Garway Hill and while I did 60 metres SSB Helen did 2 metres FM. The top of Garway Hill has the remains of a WW2 radio direction finding tower on top and a couple of benches. Neither bench was out of the wind unfortunately. We decided not to do any other bands or modes as by the time we had exhausted our contacts we were both very cold. We packed up and as soon as we were on the decent we were out of the wind and so almost thawed by the time we reached the car.

After a little shopping in a supermarket in Ross-on-Wye we found ourselves snuggled together on a sofa in the cottage. We had taken a few unwatched DVDs with us and settled down to watch one. Hitch one: The DVD player advertised was none existent and we had left our portable one at home. So it was Freeview or nothing and half the channels we have at home seemed to be missing. I found a music channel to listen to and Helen got out the Netbook. Hitch two: The battery was flat and the PSU we missing. Hitch three: Was the dining table that was in an unheated conservatory. Lunch on our knees then!

Despite the hitches we had a nice evening and then headed for bed. It was great to not have to get up for or be woken up by the kids and after late a lie in we got up and realised we had bought nothing for breakfast. So for the first time in a long time we ate bacon on some of our rolls we intended to use for sandwiches later. Eventually after lunch I was ready to go and burn some calories and suggested we walk along the River and take some photographs and then explore the town. The sun was shining and Helen said “It is too nice let’s do some SOTA while the sun is out?”, “But you said” I started and she laughed.

Forty minutes later we were sat on G/WB-019 May Hill and had a great time made all that bit longer by the curious muggles who asked us a longer stream of questions. May Hill is a nice hill with a copse of trees on each side of the trees is a seat that makes an ideal operating position. I opted for one of the benches while Helen moved away and put out a picnic blanket for her operating position. Again only 60 metres and 2 metres were attempted as time was getting on and we needed to get moving.

From May Hill we headed for G/WB-021 Ruardean Hill and were surprised that on this roadside summit the local RAYNET group had set up station in the cricket club for the monitoring of a motor rally through the Forest of Dean. The trig on this summit is out-of-bounds but there is a small park down a gravelled track called Pan-Tod Beacon. The beacon area is no more than a couple of feet lower than the true summit and well within the activation zone. I set up on 60 metres and as I ran the dipole out Helen called out to me that the fishing pole mast was being bent too far. From my position it looked straight and although I slacked of the tension something had broken. I still have not found the break but when I called the SWR was far too high. I made two contacts on half a dipole and then we swapped over to 2 meters FM were we had a great run of contacts including a summit to summit with Eleri M3NYR on G/WB-005 Long Mynd – Pole Bank. By the time we packed up it was so dark we needed head torches. 

After a fantastic day we rounded it off with a nice steak in peppercorn sauce with baked potatoes and a few glasses of something ice-cold and bubbly. Hitch four had been the dipole breaking and now when I tried to charge the batteries the charger refused to work and the spare was still where I left it after charging the batteries before we left. Not that it was needed because we were woken earlier than planned by the loft door bouncing in the wind and rain hammering the windows. We pulled the covers over our heads and hoped it would go away.

The rain never stopped all day so after a bowl of porridge we had a little discussion and came to the conclusion we would just chill out and spent the day watching inane TV programs in our pyjamas. Helen was a little upset when she saw the Mr Men had changed and were now exploring space, it was just not the program she knew and loved from when the boys were little. An episode of Time Team seemed like they were trying as usual to make an archaeological mountain out of a thimble full of nothing. A couple of episodes of Scrap Heap Challenge were the usual big build up to a whimper rather than a big bang. Finally Coach Trip reminded me why I do not watch much television, a guide who I could happily strangle and a coach load of the most objectionable thick morons making idiots of them selves. I did enjoy however seeing some of the interesting Spanish locations they went to, which reminded me there is more to Spain than Benidorm, drunk Brits and scorched earth.  In truth it seemed like a wasted day but it had the desired effect of leaving us totally chilled out.

Next day before we headed home we went to take those pictures I had wanted by the river. Unfortunately the river had recently been over the top and the pathways were half an inch deep in mud. I took photographs of two riverbank sculptures and then we headed for the town where I took pictures of another sculpture outside of the Man of Ross pub and of Market House. We had intended to look around the town but for some reason neither of us was too bothered and we were both a little cold so we headed for the car and were back home for lunch time.

We had a great weekend but back in work on Tuesday and within two hours it felt like I had not been away. By 9am it felt like 4pm and my stress levels were as high as ever. Was it worth it? Too right it was. If you have children and you have never been away without them I cannot stress how much you need to get away without them for the occasional weekend. I just wish we had realised this twenty years earlier.

Today I had a few chores to do including finding out why the colinear had stopped working. I guessed that as the mast had been moving in the wind at least three feet in any direction that the coax had pulled out. I was right but not only had the centre pin of the N-type retracted but the braid had disappeared into the insulation. After digging out the sealing washer and re-cutting and soldering the plug I was able to reassemble the plug with a new rubber o-ring and as soon as I reconnected it to the antenna the local 70cms repeater was coming in at 5/5 with it on the ground. After an hour and a halves work the mast was back up and I was getting good reports again. The 2 meter crossed Yagi however is still in a heap, but I needed sleep before I went to work on 12 hour nights.  Hopefully this weekend the weather will be kind enough to get that sorted out.

On getting back on the air on two metres one of my chums asked how my “dirty weekend” went, I replied “Great! I am sure the mud will wash out eventually.”  I should have added that the Land Rover will need a trip to the car wash too. Dirty weekend indeed! It depends on what one defines as dirty, I am pretty sure my output is clean at least until the batteries start to run down. Time to plan our next trip? There are still three more summits we can do from Ross-on-Wye. Mmmm! More days of wine and roses.

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