26 Jan

We post things from time to time to tell people there are issues on the network due to weather; especially snow. For most of our customers, I'm sure this then provokes an internal monologue about the weather not being that bad surely.

Most of our masts live on the tops of hills; the radio signals we use need a clear line of sight, so the simple rule is that the higher the hill, the more chance it will have an unobstructed view of a larger area.

In the summer months, it can even be quite pleasant up on the hills; we have had t-shirt and shorts days, even in Scotland. But those are never the days that things go wrong!

We've had quite a lot of snow recently, and while it's not uncommon for Scotland, it has made access to the masts that bit more challenging. This photo was from the Pentland Hills at the weekend when we managed to get up and clear the solar panels off one of the masts there - but needed x-country skis to get up to it. Snow was around 50cm deep, with some parts closer to 1m. Enough for the dog to disappear up to his ears... On days like this, it could even be classed as enjoyable!

And then there are days when it does go wrong and people go offline; but the weather isn't quite as nice. What follows are a selection of photos from an intrepid helper who has been up to restore power to a mast today. Next time you see a message from us about weather affecting the signal, spend a moment to think of the people who are braving the elements to keep things running.

Borders mast in the snow

This is what the mast looked like this morning (26th Jan) when he arrived. You can just about see the dishes - the ice and snow have completely covered them.

Close up of the antenna dishes

This particular mast is around 3 miles from the closest road; sits at around 650m above sea level and from the road, is over 350m (>1000ft) of a climb; a good day's walk - without the snow. It only has solar panels to keep it running; we've tried wind turbines there, but they don't last. Either breaking due to the high winds, or pulling out their supports, as it's about 1m thick peat on this hill; no firm anchors. We - as a rule - don't use concrete foundations at all - the aim is to have a light touch on the environment, with everything able to be removed if a mast is no longer needed. This is what it looks like in 'normal' conditions; albeit an older photo when it still had a wind turbine.

Getting up to this mast in the summer is a full day out; even with a quad bike. In the snow, it takes specialist kit - and fortunately, there are people with the right tools for the job. These aren't employees or people contracted to do the work - they are usually customers willing to give a little back in order to help the community.

Tracked quad

So next time you see the message about the weather affecting the network, enjoy your coffee and the warmth - unless you are one of the small number of people that are out there keeping it running for everyone; to whom, I think a lot of people owe a debt of gratitude.

As for the intrepid soul that ventured up the hill, he got the batteries changed and those remote farms and cottages who depend on their service for schooling and work are now back online. He may have even left a box of Milk Tray up there; but only a fool would head up to check whether he did or not.