The Story of Ros Castle

SOTA summit: Ros Castle, G/SB-009

Activation Date: June 10, 2018

Portable operation: Yes

Radio: Yaesu VX-8 5 watts FM and Elecraft KX2 operating at 10 watts SSB

Antenna: J Pole and LNR End Fed

Bands used: 2m, 20m and 40m

Hike:  ~3/4 miles and ~200ft ascent.  (<–click left for GaiaPro track etc)

Solo operation: Yes

Recommend: Yes

Cell Coverage: Excellent

Photos: Copyright Paul Gacek 2018

Misty Ros Castle at start of hike

It drifted up from the bracken and dense foliage underfoot. At first I thought it was dirt or vegetation kicked up by my feet. A second and third joined the first and I began to wonder if I had unwelcome company. Pulling my woolly cap down and my scarf further up I tried to minimize any attractive landing zone that is my face for the airborne beasties. Waved hands offer a moment of respite as I continue my effort to setup the antenna. In hindsight using a small tree to attach my fishing rod has drawn me into an area that is midge central. Maybe the other side of the stone wall would have been a better choice.

Strapping my fishing rod (wire antenna support) to a tree was a “bad” idea!

They are a pest. The station is up and now that I’m more stationary I become a beacon for the little blighters. I don’t dare sit. Crouching temporarily, I call, I hear, I log and then desperately stand up waving my hands. To add more misery to this and like being out on a winters day being bundled up has its down side for those with glasses, breathing heavy, light or in between fogs them up.

I can’t exactly claim to be enjoying this but everything has a purpose and this is my first of what I hope to be many activations over the coming months and so better midges today on a short journey/activation than on a day with multiple activations and a long journey in and out.

Ros Castle is one of those interesting little pieces of English history that is easy to skip over given so much more potentially riveting stuff exists. From the road it appears to be just another hill and by many standards nothing extraordinary beyond being the high point in possibly a pedestrian range of hill, the Chillinghams that stretch from Berwick upon Tweed to Alnwick. What makes it unique is its Iron Age heritage specifically an earthen fort built 3,000 or so years ago. It’s hard to really tell this ascending and wandering around the summit. Visible from an aerial viewpoint you can see a rectangular “wall” and maybe you can somewhat sense what it was like for people eons ago. It’s actually a very informed location. The views across the Northumberland coast line from Lindesfarne, Bamburgh castle and south are spectacular although not for me as it was a misty morning with the sun struggling to assert itself as I ascended. Looking west The Cheviot is supposedly visible.

Iron Age earthen walls still visible from the air


Looking east toward North Sea and normally spectacular views

HF band conditions seem marginal to bad this morning. 40m in the EU seems decidedly more crowded than in the Western USA and I try to jam myself between loud stations, get overrun and try again elsewhere. I eek out 8 or so contacts. Some out east to Poland and the Czech Republic. France, Netherlands, Spain to the south including a couple of summit to summit contacts including Karl (M3FEH) in Cornwall. There’s something exotic and quite different to operating here than in my more familiar home turf that is the Western USA. A few hundred miles out and Oregon, Utah and Idaho are replaced by what in general is for me exotic DX.

A handful of contacts on 20m show how unexpected propagation is during this solar minima as I’m reaching into places that are closer geographically than 40m which is sort of back to front. France and Germany fall into the log.

One of my long term goals is to gain far more proficiency and experience with VHF, UHF and beyond. While possible in the Western USA, it’s far more of an achievable goal here in the UK. My recent contact with Andy (MM0FMF) between my Intermediate assessment and exam on 13cm was fun and exactly the kind of thing I’m interested in. With this in mind my journey starts by deploying my 2m J pole antenna along with my 5 watt handheld which yields a remarkably clear contact 70 miles south with Simon (2E0NMK) south of Durham followed up with Vin (2E0WDX) outside Newcastle. The handheld enters a catatonic state and really doesn’t want to do anything useful. Powering off and on doesn’t cure it and about two hours after arriving this plus the continued presence of midges has me packed up and heading down.

Trail from road to peak

It’s a short hike and the sun has done a better job asserting itself and the opaqueness that was my view is lifted but not enough to feel I’ve really enjoyed the vistas and so I’ll be back.

I’ve been experimenting with the Ordnance Survey mobile mapping app and comparing it to my old favorite GaiaPro. Prompted primarily by the laters inability to comprehend UK grid references, I’m surprised to see that GaiaPro has the more formative trail to the peak marked while the Ordnance Survey one doesn’t and offers a far more vague one shrouded in undergrowth that I struggle to follow effectively on my descent. Another interesting learning event that could make for an interesting SOTA Reflector topic.

Back at the car I realize I’ve lost round one, as my face has 20 to 30 small bites courtesy of the little airborne blighters.

By all accounts the midges are bigger and more aggressive the further north west I go into Scotland. I’m sure after a beer or two, someone will determinedly claim midges can be the size of a fist and so round two cant be a repeat of round one!

My fellow SOTA activators clued me into how I can even the odds with the little blighters and it boils down to some variation of chemical warfare. Even the renowned British Royal Marine Commandos have suffered at the hands of the midges and arrived at an Avon (as in Avon, calling….) product that seems to stink in the eyes (well nose I guess) of the midges. Other suggestions include a product called Smidge and then there is the nuclear option in the form of DEET. As the later has some interesting side effects, melting man made fiber for one, I’ve opted to acquire and try the Avon product and Smidge on my next outings.

My rented/hire car’s navigation has the weirdest route algorithm that seem to not just favor B roads but relentlessly seek out single lane farm tracks. I follow the route home thinking that the American accented Google lady did a far better job getting me to Ros Castle but it’s an adventure and I really don’t care.

I’m home ready for a pub lunch which was fabulous.

Life is good!

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