I flew out of the UK back to Cyprus on Saturday evening, which gave me the day to see how many G/SE peaks I could activate between sunrise and sunset on that Saturday. On my last trip to the UK, I swung out to the East and worked a series of summits, so this time I aimed more to the south with the intent of stringing together as many activations as I could to include, working east to west G/SE-010, G/SE-011, G/SE-014, G/SE-006, and G/SE-009. However, due to weather, propagation and equipment issues, I only managed to activate the first three, leaving the remainder for the next trip.
G/SE-010: Wilmington Hil
I rented a car at Gatwick at seven in the morning and it took about an hour to drive out to the start of the trail to this site. I put the Church of St Peter ad Vincula into my GPS and then followed the road past the church a bit further to west towards the open field. There are some parking spots at a clearly marked trail head.
The bridle path leading north from here was very muddy, so I took the footpath that parallels it. A few foot paths crisscross, but all run generally parallel to the edge of the field and the bridle path. In the summer these footpaths may be more overgrown, but it was easier going than the bridle path in the winter.
Eventually, the footpath merges again with the bridlepath and not long after, there is a gate on the left, which leads into a field. There is another sign near the gate which instructs hikers to stick to the path to avoid worsening erosion. The bridle path continues northward, but I took the gate and continued along the footpath which then begins to angle upward towards the top of a hill on which a herd of sheep were grazing.
Near the top of the hill, there is another gate, which leads into a field on the right. The actual summit is beyond that gate and the trig point is obscured by bushes.
I walked to the trig point and lashed the antenna to the trig point itself. I then slung the wire over the bushes and found a clear bit of ground on the other side of the bushes, where they would afford me some protection from the wind, which was howling.
I registered a strong 20m signal into Finland on the reverse beacon network and had a good first contact, but then the band got quiet. I did hear an S2S call and managed to complete it (FB, LZ1GJ/P), but after that I kept calling CQ with no takers, which seemed odd for a Saturday morning. Eventually, it occurred to me to check the antenna. When I peered over the bushes the mast — was not there.
The second from bottom fiberglass tube of my SOTAbeams mast had cracked, the mast above that point had slid out, and the halfwave antenna was lying in the bushes. It is a small miracle that I managed to get the S2S contact at all under those conditions. I shortened the mast by that one segment and was soon back in business.
I can’t really fault the SOTAbeams mast — I’ve been using this mast for a long time and it has held up very well. It could be that some scratches from previous activations predisposed it to fracturing. Also, the weather was described the previous evening on the news as “fresh”, which I think is something of an understatement. The wind was howling up there to the point that I had volume cranked to maximum to be able to hear anything at all. As is often the case, this one point peak was more challenging in the end than many other peaks I have worked that were worth more in point value.
G/SE-011: Firle Beacon
I was amazed how popular this site was on a blustery winter day. There is a car park to the east of the site, and I saw a lot of hikers, joggers and horse enthusiasts taking advantage of the trail which runs more or less along a high ridge.
The walk to the summit is mostly a straight line and the elevation is gradual, so it does not feel like climbing.
There is a trig point at the summit, but I decided to pitch the antenna along the fence just south of the summit. I attached the mast with bungee cords and set up operation a bit further along the fence. On one hand, I wanted to stretch the antenna in a straight line, but the wind was blowing so hard that I was afraid I would break either the wire or the mast if I fought the wind too hard. Consequently, the antenna billowed out in the wind.
It still worked, but contacts were not easy. This was true all day, so perhaps it was more a matter of propagation conditions, although other SOTA stations in continental Europe seemed to be raking in the contacts as I plodded along.
G/SE-014: Cliffe Hill
This peak seems to be on a golf course, which is surrounded by a nature area. Some activators have mentioned parking at the golf course club house, asking permission to activate, and so on, but I approached from the other direction. While the highest point lies on the golf course, the activation zone is huge and extends well beyond the perimeter fence.
I parked at the Mailing Down Nature Reserve car park (50.885308, 0.036932) and then hiked up various trails to reach the top. Although there are some clearly marked trails on the OpenTopo map, I found it better to look at aerial photos as I went. The general idea is to walk past the sheer cliffs and then climb the hills to their east.
The trail I went up was relatively steep and not the best footing on a wet day.
After reaching the top, a trail runs westward over the top of the cliffs along the edge of the golf club property. I continued to follow that fence until I reached the highest point that I could reach outside private property. At that point, I once again set up the mast using fence posts and bungee cords.
It was late in the day and 20m was going long. I worked two US stations but had a hard time getting four contacts by calling CQ. I logged my third contact by responding to a German QRP station who had a strong signal. We had a bit more of a rag chew than I am used to for standard SOTA operation, but it was enjoyable. Finally, with the sun setting, I spun the dial and eventually worked a Russian station working in a contest. I’m not sure what contest it was, but I gave him a 001 exchange and called it a day. I briefly called on 2m FM (145.5), but got no reply.