Now you see it, now you don’t – John Heys G3BDQ

My early training as a Geographer (Physical Geography) means that I have an inordinate interest in maps. I can look at a map for ages and if it is contoured can visualise and draw a picture of the countryside represented. When Mrs Thatcher rose to power and became P.M. there was soon a quiet revolution in the map business. Places that had previously graced every edition of the Ordinance Survey or its copyists vanished overnight. Security was the name of the game.

It reminded me of the crazy logic in removing every British sign post. The German Army could read maps so this move mystified many folk especially those trying to reach a town or village in the dead of night and not having a map to hand. But I digress. The Nuclear Establishment at Seascale became Sellafield where today visitors are encouraged and shown Disney-like cartoons to reassure them that it is very safe really. How many of the senior staff bathe regularly at the local beach. It is occasionally done for the media cameras.

At one time not so long ago our maps had a little symbol to signify radio masts. Some remain but many have vanished. You won’t find the tower structure by the A21 near Flimwell on any map; nor indeed any of the 200 or so similar structures over the country.

There is a huge US Radio Listening Station in Yorkshire. During the last war Harrogate was chosen as the seat of Government should the invasion take place. West of that town along the A59 where it meets a cross roads made by the B6451 there is on the north side an extensive gaggle of radio masts. This has always been shown as the ‘Admiralty Wireless Station’ on earlier maps. It is nowhere near the sea and is no doubt a part of the Harrowgate plan. Just over the road from those masts on the other side of the B6451 is a giant complex of dishes and other antennas.

I counted at least 15 huge dishes a few years ago. This is Menwith Hill, a US establishment that works hand-in-glove with GCHQ. Almost every radio emission in Europe is monitored there. Let’s proceed -. There is a similar US base for secret listening at Chicksands in Bedfordshire. Can you locate it on your new map? Here there are antennas, some huge structures as big as a tower block which were built to eavesdrop the messages of the old Warsaw Pact countries. A QRP tank transmission was easily received with the backscatter and over-horizon antennas. One of the antennas is a third of a mile across.

Submarines, especially those engaged in long distance nuclear armed patrols must be in listening contact with their home based HQ. Only very low frequency (Very long wave) signals can penetrate just a few metres of sea water so a transmitter of enormous power on VLF and with a really gigantic antenna is needed. In 1985 work began on constructing a giant antenna. It is not on your map – I know I have looked on them all ….. Find a map which shows detail (a 1 inch to 3 miles at least) of northern Scotland. Locate Fort William then follow the NE run of Loch Lochy and to its west lies Glengarry Forest.

The big antenna is there. Originally it was to be 12 miles long, running around the mountain but later a 14 mile one inch diameter cable was put down. . Yes put down – it is buried except where it has to pass over a rock outcrop. The chosen site is remote enough to deter the curious and I understand its siting is related to the geological conditions and the earthing system. How on earth (no pun intended) do they feed this monster? Is it giant size coax, balanced feeders (spreaders 20 ft. long)? or just end fed tapped on to the output tuned circuit. We shall never know.

There are other places of mystery that have vanished from maps although surprisingly I found Greenham Common with a little outline of the airfield. Who slipped up there, on a fairly recent map too? There is an antenna cluster near Bude in Cornwall and of many overseas such as Hong Kong (that will vanish soon) various Islands in the Indian Ocean, Cyprus, Germany etc. I don’t have detailed maps of these places so cannot say if their establishments are marked.

As you go by rail on the Charing Cross line you pass (on your left) a cluster of blue and white factory buildings. This is just north of Petts Wood. I have seen men in all white overalls going between the buildings but there is nothing to say what it is. Look at the early (1960’s) London A to Z street map and you will find the place. Each building is shown. It is named as Aquila and it said to be part of the Ministry of Technology. In a later ABC London street Atlas there is just a dot which says ‘Aquila’. I once learned that one of my Top Band DX characters who I contacted quite often had been on a day visit to Aquila. When I said I knew he had been there recently he became very uptight and shirty. He asked how I knew about it. The Ministry of Technology is no longer with us but Aquila goes on. What do they do there? I am rather a nosey character so make allowances.

N.B. What is the resonant frequency for a 14 mile antenna, and does the Vital Spark need to submit to ‘D’ notices?

John Heys G3BDQ – September 1995

Return to the index of Vital Spark articles or you may like to look at a selection of John Hey’s interesting and quite rare QSL cards.

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