When we were planning this trip it had seemed like it would an idyllic weekend away in the Lake District. The kids were off for a week and Helen had the bank holiday Monday off, so I booked the Monday off too, my fellow workers jumped at the chance of a twelve hour shift on treble time. We had booked a cottage just outside of Ravenglass, it looked pretty good in the photographs on the Internet, maybe not the sort of place you would want to spend a week but okay for a weekend. We were planning an assault on Muncaster Fell G/LD-055 for Summits on the Air, a visit to Muncaster Castle and maybe a visit to the beach.
I spent Friday morning loading all the usual gear in to the Discovery. One by one the bags of clothes, radio gear, cameras, laptops, rucksacks, walking books and poles went in and when it was finished I looked at it and thought "Not bad we have only half as much stuff as usual". That lasted until everyone arrived home from work or school and one by one more things were added until we could only just see out of the rear window.
We had a reasonable trip up to the cottage. It is only about 90 miles as the crow flies from here but about 155 miles by road. Theoretically it should take a little under three hours, which was what it took us coming home, but the bank holiday traffic and road works mixed with the usual rush hour turned that in to a four hour journey. At least we were not in the gridlock trying to get in to North Wales, which must have been fifty miles long at least.
When we arrived we were disheartened to see we were in a house without a view, we were surrounded by trees. We come to look at lakes and mountains and what could we see? The cottage was an end terrace of four which used to be the servants quarters for a big house, Holmbrook Hall which burned down in the 1950s, which was ironic seeing how it was named HMS Volcano when used by the Admiralty to train bomb disposal officers. The only remaining feature of it once opulence was an arched gateway.
We arrived at about 8pm and quickly unpacked the contents Discovery before taking a quick trip in to Whitehaven were we knew there was a 24 hour Tesco supermarket. As we headed out of the tree-line on the A595 we spotted the outline of the Sellafield nuclear power station, which in an beautiful area like Cumbria is like a lump of dog dirt on a wedding cake. My sister was involved with a lot of building at Sellafield in her previous life as a quantity surveyor, how can she sleep at night? We once visited the Sellafield visitors centre, if you ever get the chance then don't go there.
Apologies to anyone who lives there (that is you Derek 2E0MIX) but if you ever get the chance to visit Whitehaven then don't go there either. It appeared to be the dirtist town I have ever visited. It was full of drunken Geordies and Glaswegians (probably contractors working at Sellafield) and what looked and sounded like Polish prostitutes most of whom wore very little and some of whom I am certain were men in drag. Tesco in Whitehaven was the worst supermarket I have ever had the misfortune to visit too. The floors were dirty and rubbish strewn, every time we picked up anything we had to check the date as lots of the stock was either out of date or short dated, the biggest problem was the fresh meat, most of which was festering, some with blue mould growing on it even though in some cases it was well in date. I have visited Tesco stores all over the UK and have never seen anything like this place.
The cottage might have been okay if it had not been for electric storage heaters that meant it was like a refrigerator in the evenings and an oven first thing in the morning. The kids were also disappointed to find that the big flat screen digital TV did not have all the usual Freeview channels, just those from the big four BBC, ITV, and Channels Four and Five. Freeview everywhere else seems to have upwards of sixty channels although many of them are pointless shopping or dating garbage. To keep everyone happy we usually watch some of the comedy shows on Dave when we are away, but no Dave this weekend so the rubbish on TV drove me in to the kitchen were I was amazed to find that my purchase from China of a magnetically mounted collinear antenna meant I had a full scale signal on my 3 broadband dongle. For the first time ever my mobile broadband came in to its own.
Saturday morning I was awake at the crack of dawn as sunlight shone straight in through the paper thin white curtains and the storage heaters brought my blood up to near boiling point. I went down stairs and had a drink before doing a bit of web surfing. At about 9 am there was a hammering on the door, it was the owner who had just popped round to check we were all right. I resisted the urge to tell her to take a running jump in the nearest lake, smiled and nodded and said everything was fine. It was a good job I was already awake. What I wanted to say was "I am on holiday and that means I do not want to be woken by anyone before lunch time, now sod off".
When the rest of the crew finally emerged the early sun had hidden itself behind a vale of dark threatening grey clouds. It had rained over night but it was holding off. I expected Helen to suggest we did something else but she seemed to think it might be even worse tomorrow so we headed for Muncaster Fell. As we arrived at our starting point from the Muncaster Castle car park we heard Derek 2E0MIX/p on Dent G/LD-045. Derek needed one more contact to qualify and I was able to give him that while Helen and Caroline added a couple more to his log. Derek was glad to be getting off his summit and suggested we might have a rough time on top on our fell.
The walk up Muncaster is pleasant enough and even with the slightly dodgy weather it was not a chore. On a good day it would be nice enough to spend a good deal of time on the top as the views of Lakeland's more substantial peaks is terrific. Today was not a good day. As we reached the summit the wind was howling and the rain could be seen as a greyer mist than the rest on the distant hills and out over the sea. Helen commented that we might not be able to get the masts up but we dropped down a few feet from the trig point to the East in the lee of the hill and it was relatively comfortable there for a while. For some reason I felt very hungry and I changed my usual tactic of radio first and had lunch before setting up.
The summit was not conducive to putting up the 80m version of the linked dipole so as I had both I erected the smaller one, that gave me 60m/40m and 20m. Conditions on 60m seemed poor but not a poor as the log seemed to show. After 10 minutes calling I was answered be Dave G3RDQ in Stockbridge Hampshire. Dave was 57 with me and I was 55. Four minutes later I got Brian G4ZRP on the Wirral who was 51 with me and gave me a 33 report back. Finally I got Don G0RQL down in Devon who said it was nice to hear a decent signal on the band and we exchanged 59/58 reports. It seemed a little surprising that there was no-one else on 5 MHz who could hear me, but the skip was long.
Helen had been having problems. Her mast came down which chopped the 2m J-Pole in half. A swift temporary repair finished off with a sticking plaster (who removed the insulation tape from my rucksack?) and she got herself up and running, but nobody was answering her CQ either. Eventually a signal boomed in that was 59 plus end stopping, it was Graham GW0HUS who lives on Halkyn Mountain in North Wales after Helen and Caroline had Graham in the log I too grabbed him for my qualifying contact. The girls went on to work Graham's wife Shirley and I went back to try my luck on 40m.
Forty metres was going as bad as sixty had. After 15 minute Don G0RQL called me again to let me know I had been spotted. Don was a fairly good signal on this band but not as good as on sixty and I was considerably down on what I was. Don's spot eventually paid off and I was called by Ambrosi HB9AGH followed closely by a superb summit to summit with Lutz DL3SBA on DM/NW-204 Nordhelle. As I worked Lutz the rain started to get heavier and I said I was about to pack up, this brought HB9BIN, 9A7W and DJ5AV out and I quickly worked them before making a mad dash to put everything away out of the rain. Helen and Caroline had found two more stations on 2 FM and so had qualified the summit. Typically as soon as we had everything stowed away the rain stopped and the mobile started to bleep away as spot after spot came in for what might have been potential S2S contacts.
Dropping down off the summit and away from the wind the walk back to the car was as pleasant as you could have wanted. A big steak washed down with a pint of Theakston's Old Peculiar followed. Back at the cottage batteries went on charge and we called it an night. The only real disappointment was not being able to work Derek 2E0MIX from the summit to return the chaser point we had given him. We had spoken to Derek a couple of time recently on the local 70cms repeater GB3CR. When conditions are up he has a pretty good signal from his home in Whitehaven in to North Wales.
On Sunday the sun was back and we were woken early by renovations next door that seems to start by drilling through our bedroom wall at three am. We visited Muncaster Castle, which we were keen to see, but which unfortunately is not part of the National Trust so we had to pay to get in. Fortunately it is better value than most stately homes and is worth a visit for the owl sanctuary and gardens. The house itself has some nice things on display but we were not that impressed. The history of the house tells me they were on the wrong side in the English civil wars wars (you need to know a bit about my own family history to understand why), but I can almost forgive them for their connections with England's greatest hero Admiral Lord Viscount Horatio Nelson. Probably the best portrait of Nelson I have seen hangs in the dinning room at Muncaster.
One problem with our visit to Muncaster Castle was their Festival of Fools. Having grown up with a father obsessed with circuses and his magic shows I have an abiding aversion to clowns and the place was full of them. Much as I pleaded my family would not let me kill the clowns and as I took my photographs I took great care to avoid getting any of the stupid buggers in the frame. "No I don't want my portrait painted! ", No I don't want my face painted!", "I will stuff that balloon dog were the sun doesn't shine if you are not careful!", "No I have not seen your wings. You big fairy!" and so it went on. I am sure most people would have found it entertaining but I grew tired of clowns by the time I was about eight when I realised most peoples parents did not dress up in big shoes and baggy pants or wear scary make up. Despite the clowns the day was good and the weather fantastic. The food was excellent too, I had a burger that was all Angus beef (I usually avoid burgers) and thick chips (Fries for the Americans) like mother used to make and even the salad looked good (I don't eat salad).
Once back at the cottage we rounded off the weekend of healthy eating with a massive fry up of whatever we found in the local store attached to a service station. I have never eaten roast potatoes with gammon, bacon, sausage and eggs before but when you are hungry anything goes. We had hopes of catching a sunset over the sea and after eating we set off for the beach. As the great fiery ball dipped lower it looked like we were going to get our pictures but suddenly the sun dropped behind a low layer of mist and was gone. We headed back. We settled down with a pint of Newcastle Brown Ale and watched 'Great British Geniuses' on TV before heading for bed.
This morning we were up ten minutes before the alarm thanks to the cockerel in the field opposite and after a bowl of cereal and a coffee we loaded up for the journey home. It had been our intention to activate Longridge Fell G/SP-014 for SOTA on the way home but we had forgotten to gather the information on where to park and set up the GPS with the route so we had to give it a miss this time. The run home was as near perfect as could be and we were home for 1pm having stopped off and done a weeks shopping at the local supermarket as well. For those leaving Wales that day the prospect was horrendous and we waved at the standing queues of traffic calling out "Thanks for visiting Wales, now go home!"
Planning is now in progress for our SOTA invasion of Scotland in August. One week is already booked near Inverness with lots of potential summits available to activate. We need to decide where we are going the other week, back to the lakes? , North East or South Scotland?, So many choices!