Monday, October 11, 2010

On the cliffs in West Cumbria

Cumbria is famous as the county of the English Lake District but it has more to offer than mountain walks. I don't agree with Alfred Wainwright who said he could not see the point of walking round a mountain when you could climb to the top of it. There are many beautiful walks in the valleys and round the lakes which my wife (and my knees) much prefer over climbing and descending even if they don't offer much scope for making radio contacts. Less well known, but just as spectacular, are parts of the coastline. One of our favourite outings is to park in the village of Sandwith and go for a walk along the cliffs. This is where we went last Sunday.

Map of the walk (from Google Maps)
The map of the walk shows the path that was tracked on Google Maps APRS, with some additions by me where my position was not tracked.
I was using my VX-8GR with the 5/8 telescopic whip in my rucksack, as shown in the picture on the right. I operate pedestrian portable like this when I don't expect to encounter too many people who will give me strange looks or think I am a dork. The radio sits in a little mesh pocket on the side of the rucksack which was probably meant to carry a water bottle. The antenna is supported by pushing it through a string loop attached to one of the zips of the main pocket of the rucksack. It is quite stable and does not flex the spring or the mounting at all.

I don't know what the SWR is like. Possibly it isn't that good as the radio does not have me holding it to provide a ground plane. Perhaps I should try clipping a 19 inch "tail" to the outer ring of the BNC connector as a counterpoise? But even without it, it worked well. Most of my position beacons were received by MM1BHO across the water in Scotland so I was able to see the track after the walk. I also received some interesting APRS DX, of which more later.

But back to the walk. The weather was glorious, as you can see from the pictures. The temperature was around 20 degrees Celsius with only a slight breeze. The view from the cliffs was spectacular and always reminds me a bit of Cornwall. To think that people pay money to come on holiday to places like this!

We walked for about an hour along the cliffs, stopping now and again to watch some birds through binoculars or just take in the view. This is an important area for wildlife and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) has set up several places where you can watch them with safety on the edge of the cliffs.

You can walk right along these cliffs as far as St. Bees, where there are people and cafes and ice cream kiosks. But we usually stop at Fleswick Bay, a beach backed by the high cliffs that is always quiet and secluded even in the height of the season because it isn't possible to reach it by car, it can only be accessed by footpaths. We call it our private beach because we often have it to ourselves.

This Sunday we didn't go down to the beach because we saw from the clifftops that the tide was in and the sea was right up to the foot of the cliffs. So we had our picnic lunch in one of the RSPB birdwatching areas instead. I made a couple of FM contacts using the VX-8GR, including one with another portable station on a 2,500ft mountain top in Wales. Then we started the walk back.

On the way back I heard the VX-8GR braaping away constantly such as I hadn't heard since we were in Prague. On my return home I scrolled through the station list and observed that for a couple of minutes between 12:28 and 12:30 UTC I had received beacons from several DX stations including F4EQD-1 and OZ2DXE-2. These beacons had actually been digipeated by a station in south west England but that was still an amazing distance to receive signals on a VHF handheld, even if I didn't hear them direct.

The glorious weather had also produced fantastic tropospheric propagation which was enjoyed by people in most parts of Europe. I wished I had climbed to the top of a mountain as I would certainly have heard more there than I did down on the west coast and perhaps have worked some real handheld VHF DX. But you can't predict propagation and it was still a wonderful day's walk.


Paul Stam PAØK said...

Hello Julian, indeed your are lucky to live in such a nice environment. I never been in this part of England. Closest was Carlisle, and along the coast to Whitehaven. But the Lake District is on my wish list to visit in the future. Today the weather is again lovely, sunny and clear. The weather will change Wednesday or Thursday. Tonight propagations are good on 2 meter again. 73 Paul

PE4BAS, Bas said...

Hello Julian, I've been in Cornwall and indeed the photos you took are reminding me too of that area. Nice autumn weather excellent to take a walk, in combination with radio, a lot of fun. 73, Bas

Steve GW7AAV said...

Fantastic part of the world you live in, when it doesn't rain ;0)It was a glorious day and some nice photographs you have there Julian. I missed most of it as I was trying to sleep after my night shift, but I did manage a page in the log in the hour before I went to bed. Mostly Dutch and German stations on 2m SSB as Helen left the beam pointing SE last night, but also some SOTA on 2m, 80m and 60m. Not a bad tally a whole page in the log before 8am (local). I also grabbed some more SOTA when I got up for a drink at about 1pm and a little DX on 17m before getting back to bed. I still feel I am missing out, but at least tonight is the last one for a few days. Roll on retirment!

Unknown said...

Yes, the scenery is lovely here but it does get in the way of radio signals especially at VHF. I was thrilled to work an OZ from home last night but I too have been feeling that I am missing out and not because of other commitments.

Jspiker said...

What a great way to spend a day. I like the "compass and the digital GPS co-ordinates" display on this HT. There's few things more handy than a multi-functional radio on a hike. My wife and I just finished a 50 mile bike ride on a "rail-trail" close to home. No cell phone coverage on most of this route but a couple of 2-meter repeaters on the trail made up for it. A HT provides a lot of security while out in the country. It looks like you had another great day outdoors. Beautiful scenery!