Crewe & Nantwich circular via Wistaston & Willaston

Unless you’ve been stranded on a desert island or living under a rock somewhere, you’ll know how much impact COVID-19 has had on everyone’s ability to travel … even over fairly short distances, unless absolutely necessary. I’ve been taking the opportunity under the UK (or more specifically English) restrictions for my one session of exercise a day and, more recently, the increase to unlimited exercise sessions each day (don’t ask, I didn’t create the guidelines!) to get some walks in around the town … this has led me to discover quite a few green routes crisscrossing Crewe that I was not aware of. After a while though it soon became repetitive and boring. That, along with being stuck at home due to furloughing since 1st April, plus no chance of getting into the country for a long hike has had me climbing the walls.

In order to claw back some of my limited supply of sanity I decided I’d sort out a good length towns walk which, as long as I remembered the social distancing guidance, would be safe and hopefully a little more challenging/enjoyable than the short local walks I’d been doing. The final route came out at 16.65km (10.4 miles in pre-decimal!) and is highlighted below … here’s my usual Google Earth file link if anybody wants to walk along with me.

Route starts at the top next to the arrow and travels clockwise

Before I let you get to the Gallery, a little background. I decided I wanted to show images that said something about different aspects or places on the walk. Anything peculiar to the area, personal to me, historically interesting, etc. I’ll add an addendum with links to other sites relating to some of the images for anyone who has a few hours to spare … which seems to be all of us at the moment!!

SatNOGS part IV – the v dipole antenna

So we come to the final instalment of my current journey along the highways & byways of satellite observation and bring my story up to date. After the disaster that was the QFH antenna I stumbled across this post whilst searching for possible fixes, outlining a simple dipole build. “It can’t be this simple!” I thought to myself, after all the effort I put into the QFH build and now someone’s telling me I can get results with 2 short lengths of aluminium rod! Desperate to get my observation station back online I invested in a couple of 1m lengths of 4mm dia aluminium rod from the local B&Q (I had everything else I needed already) and set about the really simple build. The part that took the longest was the 3D printing of the mast mount.

The images below sum up how easy the build was …

Ironic how the longest post was about a failed antenna build and the shortest post about a successful one! I’m thinking of investing in a low noise amplifier next … after that I may look into a directional antenna assuming I have room to site it in my back garden (I’m thinking possibly not but it warrants further investigation).

Finally, my ground station is named MerCre1 (not too hard for those that know me to work out how I came up with it, plus I think it sounds a little like a name you’d give to a satellite 🙂 ). If anyone feels the urge to check out my observations on SatNOGS you can find me here.

A couple of people have asked about source files for the mast mount. I’ve created a zip file containing the original FreeCAD design file plus the STL & GCODE files, please feel free to download it here.

Thanks for reading, hopefully I’ve tempted 1 or 2 of you to join the fold.

SatNOGS part III – the QFH antenna

And so begins the bitter sweet tale of Merv’s QFH antenna build … hang on in there until the end to find out why. By the way, I am in no way an expert in any of this. I am a complete noob so please feel free to leave a message if I’m talking rubbish anywhere in the post and I’ll get it corrected.

As you’d expect, there is a ton of useful info on the SatNOGS wiki pages. I’d recommend hitting the first menu option at the top of the page for their Build articles.

After a few observations of various satellite passes and delving into the SatNOGS forums to get a better understanding of what’s what I decided it would be interesting to capture the transmissions of the NOAA weather satellites. They are polar orbiting and pass North-South which fits in nicely with my urban location so I started searching for a suitable stationary antenna design (as opposed to a tracking antenna which is basically controlled by motors such that it can follow the satellite as it travels across the sky … this could be one for the wish list!). The design that kept appearing in my searches was the QFH or Quadrifilar Helix antenna … basically it promised excellent horizon to horizon gain (where you need it most as the distance from satellite to antenna is at its greatest) and minimal signal loss vertically (when the satellite is overhead and at its closest).

After much reading I plumped for the design from this site … disclaimer, without wanting to reveal the outcome of this endeavour, in no way am I laying blame at the doorstep of this website and the design contained therein!

And there it was, standing proudly atop my recently acquired aluminium mast waiting to receive it’s first signals from space. It even survived storm Ciara …

Despite all the effort I put in to produce what I thought at the time was a pretty awesome antenna it never received a thing, bupkis, nada, zero, zilch … empty waterfalls all the way! Early into my investigations of what might have gone wrong I discovered I’d wired the elements out of phase which meant rotating the wire connectors in the top of the antenna tube by 90° … fiddly but simple enough. Great excitement preceded great … disappointment as it still refused to work.

I spent a couple of weeks on and off trying to get to the bottom of the issue, trawling the Libre Space (and other) forums, checking continuity in the antenna, running various tests which had to be on a Linux machine (yet another challenge for someone who’s spent most of his working life supporting Windows!). It just wasn’t to be and the antenna is now sitting up in the roof space of my garage waiting for me to decide what to do with it. I invested a lot of time in the build and I’m loath to scrap it so I might come back to it when time allows.

In the meantime, the story isn’t quite over. Hang on in there for SatNOGS part IV – Return of the Satellite Signal … coming to a screen near you soon!

SatNOGS part II – the slim jim antenna

Before I start, a warning … this isn’t a step by step tutorial on how to make a slim jim antenna, it’s just an insight into how I made mine. I’ll include links to sites and resources where you can get detailed information as I go along.

I think it’s safe to say this is a pretty basic, omni-directional antenna. It’s certainly cheap and easy to make but, like all antennas, you need to keep your dimensions pretty accurate as the relationship between the effective length of the antenna and the wavelength of the signal you want to receive is critical to its operation (even more so with antennas that are used to transmit as well as receive … who remembers messing with SWR meters on their CB radio setup!).

If you haven’t already, swing by the HackSpace website, download yourself a free PDF copy of issue 18 and ‘turn’ to page 110 for a full article by the now almost legendary Mr Jo Hinchliffe! There you’ll find a full list of materials, a proper step-by-step construction guide and some handy links to further information online.

Without further ado, below are a few images outlining my antenna construction …

SatNOGS part I – An Introduction

A while back I wrote a post about my ADS-B setup for tracking aircraft. Around the same time I’d read that it was possible to track and receive signals from satellites but I’d thought it must be far too complicated & involved to do such a thing … until I received my copy of issue 18 of HackSpace magazine that is!

For anyone interested in further reading I’d recommend following the link above and downloading the free PDF file so you can read up a little more on the background to SatNOGS and more detailed information on what is required to setup your own ground station …

  • Information on the Libre Space Foundation which grew from the SatNOGS project can be found on pages 46 & 47
  • If you should feel the urge to create and launch your own small satellite, check out pages 36 – 41
  • How to build a SatNOGS ground station is outlined in pages 42 – 45
  • Making a slim jim antenna (my own experiences will follow in the next post) is described on pages 110 & 111
A little tease, my SatNOGS setup (top) and my PiAware ADS-B setup (bottom)

Hare Hill & Monk’s Heath from Alderley Edge – Mar 2020

My third weekend walk in a row, I think this is some kind of record! I got an early start on this one so it was nice and quiet when I arrived at the National Trust car park … just as I like it. The few people who were there seemed to be getting ready to walk their dogs.

This was another go4awalk route, listed as 9¾ miles but ended up a little over 10 by the time I finished. As ever, the kmz file is available for download here for those who like their Google Earth, and the route outline is shown below.

Some areas of the walk appeared to have been updated with new fencing and stiles since the route was first published, so the day got off to a slightly shaky start. Once in the groove though it was a joy (despite the abundance of water and mud in the fields!) with plenty of beautiful countryside and chances for photography.

As the route goes through the National Trust owned land at Hare Hill the directions make reference to viewing the Gardens, via tickets available at the ticket kiosk … open March – October. What it fails to mention (and maybe this wasn’t the case when the route was published) is that the gate at the rear of the property and the main entrance gate on the other side are both chained and padlocked outside these dates, effectively blocking the route! Not one to be deterred I climbed over the metal fencing at the rear (easy enough), walked through the site and climbed back out on the other side … damned if I was turning back. It was a little tricky at the front as there was barbed wire, but I made it unscathed with all my dangly bits intact 🙂

About ¾ of the way round, the route takes you through the churchyard of St. Mary’s at Nether Alderley, which is worthy of it’s own little gallery. Anyone who follows me knows I’m an atheist yet I have a love of religious buildings and architecture … this one was glorious and dates back to the 14th century.

Crocker Hill from The Hanging Gate – Mar 2020

I seem to be on a roll this year! I normally wait until Spring has arrived but this time, despite all the rain sodden ground, I’ve thrown caution to the wind (and the rain) and gone for it. This is another walk from the peeps at go4awalk and is located South East of Macclesfield in Cheshire. A generally easy going (there were a couple of rises that had me breathing hard!) 8½ mile hike with some great views across the Cheshire plain.

Added bonus, my Galaxy watch decided to play nice this time so there’s a route image for you below and a kmz file for Google Earth should you decide to walk along with me … aw go on, you know you want to 🙂

Route courtesy of Google Earth … as always!

And there you have it. Hope you enjoyed the images … there’ll be more coming up from the next walk soon (hopefully!) …

Shutlingsloe & Wildboarclough from Ridgegate reservoir, Langley – Mar 2020

If I’m totally honest dear readers, I’ve been needing this walk for some time. My head’s not been in the best of places for the last couple of months and I find a good, long hike works wonders to reset my balance.

So that admission out of the way, I give you a 7 ¼ mile (11.5 km) trek around an area South East of Macclesfield on the edge of the Peak District National Park. I’d planned to do this in some fancy new welly boots but the ones I ordered were too big so I took the chance and went for it in my hiking boots. Luckily, despite all the rain we’ve had, the ground wasn’t too bad … although there were a few areas that required some deft footwork!

Unfortunately, my Samsung Galaxy watch decided not to play properly today so I have no GPS route for you to play with. Just some rather nice images. I had lots of sun, plenty of cloud, a little rain and some hailstones … and as for the wind, well it was very windy! The last part of the climb to the top of Shutlingsloe was a little on the scary side as staying vertical was hard going!

And there you go, brief and to the point but I wanted to share it as it was the first of the year. I’m looking forward to many more.

Little Moreton Hall & Mow Cop from Ackers Crossing – Dec 2019

The weather forecast for the last Monday of 2019 looked really promising; <5% chance of rain for the whole day, plenty of sunshine and minimal cloud cover … perfect. The next thing to sort was the walk. I typed ‘Cheshire circular walks’ into Google, hit enter and one of the results linked to which happened to list ’60 easy to follow circular walks in Cheshire’ … 2 for 2 on the good luck stakes! Then I noticed it was a chargeable site … ooh dear. I read on and it’s actually very reasonably priced per walk so I thought why not. We’re so used to getting everything for nothing (or so we think) these days but sometimes it’s worth splashing a little cash, plus the site has a few other useful functions such as being able to upload images you take of the walk for other’s reference and even to find walkers to accompany you on your journeys. A login was created and money changed hands before I downloaded details for today’s walk.

The distance looked good (8 miles / 13 km), grade 4 so easy going and only a 30 minute drive away. With days being so short at this time of year, I don’t want to be travelling too far so this was ideal. I’ve posted the GPS track of my walk below … you may notice I got a bit lost around Mow Cop folly which turned it into a 9 mile walk and meant the sun was very low in the sky by the time I got back to my car!

Walk route
I got a little lost around Mow Cop, you can laugh along with the original kmz file in Google Earth if you must!

There are some interesting links to detail about the places in the walk, and some personal detail I’d like to add, but I’ll put them at the end so you can get to the images first …

So, time for some points of interest. Before I start I will say that I may invest in some ‘walking’ wellies for next Winter … the amount of mud I had to walk through where I couldn’t avoid it was crazy! I don’t mind walking through mud other than the fear that water will get into my boots and I’ll spend the rest of the walk with wet & cold feet.

The first place worthy of note is the 500 year old Little Moreton Hall, a truly amazing National Trust property that is so crooked it’s hard to believe it’s still standing. I’ve visited once and the Long Gallery on the top floor is a real sight to behold.

Next up, Mow Cop and it’s crowning glory folly. Easily seen on the horizon from many parts of my home town of Crewe it seemed to attract everyone I knew as soon as they’d passed their driving test! The folly actually sits on the border between Cheshire & Staffordshire so you get amazing views of both when the weather is favourable. I’ve driven up Mow Cop a few times over the years and the 22% rise shown in the gallery above can catch you off guard in a car, coming as it does straight after a right hand turn … it’s even tougher to walk up, even if it isn’t that long! There’s also a new one to me, the Old Man O’ Mow which I’d not heard of before … I wish there had been time for a little detour now, maybe next time.

Last, but not least, is something that can also be seen for miles around … the historical and world famous Lovell space telescope situated at Jodrell Bank, which is part of the University of Manchester and also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Construction of the Lovell telescope began in 1945 and used ex-military parts such as drive gears from battleship gun turrets. It tracked Sputnik after it was launched by the USSR and one of its companion dishes at Jodrell Bank tracked Apollo 11 during it’s mission to the moon. There’s lots more interesting information to be found on Wikipedia.

So there you have it, hopefully a little something of interest for everybody!

Maiden Castle & Bickerton – Dec 2019

It’s that time of year again, time to get out in the cold and mud for an end of year walk or two. This was an area that I’d made note of when I did my Sandstone Trail walk as the views were brilliant. It was also a chance to try out my new boots in a forgiving environment. You may have noticed my featured image has been updated with those self same boots … if not, focus readers, focus!

360° panoramic tease shot!
360° panoramic tease shot!

The walk I found online as a handy PDF file and was estimated at 3 miles (5 km) in length, taking 2 – 2 ½ hours and only a 35 minute drive away … bonus.

Route map
As ever, there’s a Google Earth kmz file here for anyone who wants to follow my wanderings.

The National Trust do a great job looking after sites like this so everyone can enjoy them. The only downside is that it makes them popular and hence busy. By the time I got back to the small, hardcore car park I might as well have been parked up at a supermarket! If you’ve not already worked out from my previous posts, I like a good amount of solitude when I’m walking … just me and nature where possible. Anyway, that aside, it was a pleasant walk and a few images follow for your perusal and enjoyment …