Not such a leisurely start today although the leg should be easy and almost as short as yesterday. However, I have a train to catch at around mid-day. My ticket, bought long ago before the shin splints erupted is from Corrour, which at one point I had hoped to get to by now. However that plan has been abandoned and I am pretty much committed to go up the west, rather than the east, of Rannoch moor now. Less exciting but easier to bail if the splints flare up. Anyway, I can catch my scheduled train from Bridge of Orchy. I should have plenty of time, but if I miss it I will be buggered as I will not then be able to get to Glasgow to catch the connecting train I am booked on.

A nice short, easy day today. I am looking forward to it until I look out of the hostel window and see it had been raining. Weather has been a subject for much discussion. The hostellers of Crianlarich are in great contrast to the tourists and BT engineers of Stirling. Apart from me they all seem to be Munro baggers and the forcast is for rain and high winds on the tops. Not that it seems to have put anyone off. There are not even any other West Highland Way walkers which is a bit surprising. But Crianlarich is surrounded by appealing Munros (mountains over 3000 feet) none of which, as it happens, I have climbed.

Up earlier than I would really like because there is only one bus I can get to Callander to link up with the little bus to Kingshouse, or else I will have to wait two hours. The BT engineer has a day off so does not wake me with his teeth brushing, which is a plus, but on the other hand I don't have time to stop for a cappucino in the Burgh Coffee house, having to make do with a paper cup of tea in the bus station cafe.

Up fairly early after an unsatisfactory night. My calculation was, after the last visit, that at least on a Thursday night in Stirling at this time of year I might get a room to myself. Not so. Two loudly snoring Belgians, a BT broadband engineer and another guy shared the room.

Back on the road after a couple of weeks, back down to Euston in the dark. My left leg and ankle have stopped hurting but the ankle still feels a bit stiff and tight. I probably should have been to see a doctor but I just did not get round to it.
The Virgin Pendelino whisks me up to Glasgow where I have a spot of time between trains so I nip into Tiso in Buchanan Street and buy a walking pole as I have not yet retrieved the one I left in Edinburgh.

This is not good. This is not good at all.  My room in the hostel is up a flight of stairs and going down to the member's kitchen for breakfast is excruciating. I woke a few times in the night with pain in my left leg but fully expected it to be better by the morning. But better it most definitely isn't.

I had planned to have a fairly easy day today. To maybe get a bit beyond Bridge of Allen on the way to Callendar as I have decided to go that way (more old railway lines) rather than what looks like a more difficult route to Crief where I could have picked up old drove routes to Skye.

I can see clearly now the rain has gone...  Nope,
actually,  my sight is a bit blurry from too much red wine last night. The rain has gone though. Nick and Susan have the luxury of a leisurely Saturday morning. Nick starts checking out the horses on the internet, which Susan tells me is his Saturday ritual.

It's been raining but has stopped when I leave the house in West Edinburgh. There is a fair bit of cloud but blue patches too. More worrying is the wind. The tree tops are shaking away. If things go well I may be trying to cross the Forth Road Bridge today, and for that I need it fairly calm.

I'm not much looking forward to today. A long A road slog seems to be by far the easiest option and the weather forecast is dire, making any alternatives less attractive and the prospect of the A68 even less inviting. If you are reading this blog for pretty pictures of the British countryside it might be an idea to skip this entry altogether.

Oh shit! I wake up after nine with rain rattling the windows. It is so overcast that it seems dark still.

I am very tired. Four hard days have taken their toll. Worse, my toe is still sore. This problem started on Saturday on the way to Hawick. The skin started to rub on the top of my left big toe. Because it was not a blister as such I put a normal plaster on it it yesterday morning but that just rubbed off. So now I try compeed which, if you are not familiar with it is slightly scary, but very effective, sort of artificial skin.

My route  today is nearly all via the Borders Abbey Way and by coincidence this goes right by the door of my B&B.  The trouble is I have not seen Hawick apart from junctions and a supermarket. It is a long leg and I am still feeling tired so I don't want to linger or detour, but I decided I have to at least have a quick look at the historic centre. The landlady says I will have to ignore the debris of Friday night, and in fact a civic minded chap is going around collecting it.  There are few other people except a posse of identically kitted out cyclists who suddenly hurtle by.
             Having taken some photos of the centre and "Ken the Horse"" celebrating a victory by local youths over the English Army, I set off back past the B&B and up the hill. In stark contrast to yesterday's entrance to Hawick over a couple of miles I am out of it in no time today. The road turns into a country lane and I meet two dog walkers in quick succession both of whom stop for a chat about the weather.  Friendly folk but I need to get on.

It is the road for me today. Last night I found that I had left my computer printed map of the dodgy footpath in my lost jacket or back home and as I cannot find anywhere to sell me a proper OS map, blundering about the moors on a hard to follow path would clearly be madness.

I wake to the patter of rain on the window. It is nearly 9.00 and I have slept for over ten hours straight. Creaking out of bed I examine the damage. Apart from stiffness the worse is some chafing/burning on the backs of my upper thighs. I apply ointment and hope that this helps. Then I go for a big cooked breakfast which is excellent. When I mention my compasslessness in conversation the friendly folks who run the Blackcock Inn tell me that someone who took my proposed route north from Kielder over the moors got so lost recently that they had to be rescued by helicopter. Oddly they also say the guy got charged thousands of pounds which seems very odd as British mountain rescue is free. Anyway it doesn't make me any more sanguine.

It is still dark. Far too early for a tube. As I wait at the bus stop I decide to replace my second best compass with the new one I bought to replace the one that broke some stages back. I always keep a compass attached to the map pocket of my waterproof to ensure that I remember it.

The bus comes and it turns out to be a night bus that goes straight to Euston. Semi-conscious I get a coffee and find my train. I finish reading Middlemarch as it whistles through the country, through the midlands and Lancashire and on and on and on, all the way to Carlisle. It is late though and I have to run to make my connection to Haltwhistle. I make it with seconds to spare, jump on the little train, sit back and relax.
And then I remember that I have left my waterproof and both compasses on the pendalino and it is now en-route to Glasgow.

I sleep well in the little room I have to myself. I am a bit surprised to have no blisters after walking so far in wet boots yesterday. But I am really tired. I can tell that the effort took it out of me. No breakfast here so I put on my still damp boots and, after a cup of tea, set off via the co-op to buy something to get me going.
     It starts to rain as I set off again and I take shelter in the quaint little market square thingy (I am almost sure that that is the correct technical architectural term) and put on my overtrousers. For once this turns out to be the right decision.

There is no gear shop in Dufton. Actually, there is no shop in Dufton. There is a pub which is not serving food the night I arrive because of a bereavement. But I got an adequate enough meal in the hostel. I had to share a small room with two very tall cylcists. But I have had a decent sleep and the sight of a red squirrel in the garden cheers me up. I spot another one as I set off. It is another grey and overcast day and it is raining gently as I set off through the village.

Too much wine last night. Not masses too much, just that extra glass that makes you feel a bit jaded. Or maybe it is the weather which is overcast and threatening.  The hostel provides breakfast cereal which I take advantage of. The YHA is franchising out some hostels and this is one of them. And it seems much better than the official ones have become.
      To start off I walk through the rest of Kirkby Stephen which proves to be as pretty a wee place as it is well provided with shops and chip-shops. What it doesn't have is an open gear shop.

Up early again. But this time it is actually neccessary as my train really does leave at 6.00 am. I'm semi conscious until Leeds where, like last time, I am startled into some sort of wakefullness by the rush hour. Trains empty of commuters who go charging by in great herds and you have to avoid them. I get a coffee and something to eat and jump on the Carlisle train.

This is nearly empty until Skipton when suddenly it fills with a great party of people who all seem to be retired and enthusiastic about trains. The couple who join me at my table buy a guide to the Carlisle-Settle line when the tea trolly guy comes round. It is crowded enough for me to be glad to get off at Dent and to step into solitude. And solitude it is. As I charged up the hill in much hotter weather to get the train last time, I only have a gentle rise to deal with as I carry on up The Coal Road. Immediately I come across orchids on the verge. There are dozens of them, almost drifts in places. 

I wake up early in the grim and cramped bunkhouse. It is a gorgeous morning. Lambent light makes the cloud round Pen-Y-Ghent into a glowing halo. Nothing to keep me here. No inclusive breakfast, and no means of making tea. I need water though and am wondering if the bathroom water is potable when I remember that there is a campsite almost next door to the pub. So I set off and make a quick detour. Sure enough the campsite has a water tap so I refil my plastic bottles. Off again munching a museli bar. Not much of a breakfast but the shop is still shut so it will have to do. I don't mind too much. The morning light is too delicious to mourn lost sausages for long.

It is wet when I get up, the road outside the pub slick with light rain and it is still drizzling slightly and overcast. This is not such a bad thing as I have lost my brand new hat. I rememeber coming into the bar with it but not what happened after that.

 At least I have some sunblock if I need it later. But losing this hat after one day is annoying. The last one I bought, in Haworth, I lost after one afternoon!

Too early. Too too early. I have to get up at quarter to five but end up waking before the alarm and I am out of bed before half four. This is insane. Human's were not meant to endure...  nice morning though. It is just dawning as I stumble around the flat getting breakfast number one of a long series.

Few people are about as I leave the house, not even the usual bus drivers from the garage. There are a few drunkatics shambling around and when I get to Archway, some shift workers. The tube is locked. Panic. My train is at 6.00 I read the timetable and there is just enough time to get to Kings Cross if the first tube train is bang on time.

I am a little sad to be leaving Hebden Bridge. Making its aquaintaince was more than thirty years overdue, but I am delighted to have belatedly done so.
    OK, so it may be true that it is becoming a bit yuppified, and it is so alternative as to be a somewhat unsettling. But it is a charming place with a lovely canal and fine old stone buildings, and it has a real sense of community. Best of all it is set in truly gorgeous countryside, threaded through with a denser network of footpaths than I have ever seen, anywhere.

I awake to another grey day. It has been raining but has stopped by the time I got going. The wind is evil though.

After a cooked breakfast I say goodbye to the B&B and retraced my footsteps for half a kilometer or so. There is an apparant short cut but I can't see it goes and it involves climbing a rickety style which my knees don't like the look of much.. So I go the long way round and give the old joints a bit of time to warm up.

Rock Farm must be named for the craggy outrcrop lining the edge of the plateau. It is literally a few feet below the moor level and so very soon I am back in moorland. Immediately the larks start up again. They are with me almost all day today.

So I find myself in Royston Vasey again, and I am arguing with myself in the station car park. Walk! No, get a taxi for Tubbs's sake. The walk is along that railway track, it's flat.

I go a little way into town, hesitate. Turn back to the waiting cab and ask  how much it would be to take me to Crowden. He is not sure but thinks about £16.00  I mumble thanks but think I will leave it and set off to walk back up the valley to Crowden.

Should that be stage 12. 1. If we were to go for a sort of Wittgensteinian Tractatussy system of blog post enumaration, perhaps. But I think the simplest thing is to just call it 14.

For this one, you see, is out of order. If you had been paying proper attention instead of reading that comic at the back of the class, you would remember that I missed a bit because I had to get the train from Hathersage to Edale and then to walk to Crowden for my YHA booking I did not have time to go back for it.

With another chunk planned next weekend, I nipped up for a quick expedition to fill in the blank.

For once I did not set off insanely early. My train was at 7.55. This was not so good as it sounds. For one thing I set off in unsure hung-parliament territory and had stayed up too long and drunk too much wine on Thursday night to be right, body clock wise. So I woke up early anyway.

There was a reason that my rucksack was too heavy on my last, four day jaunt through Derbyshire. It had too much stuff in it.

Some of this was clothing. You need a certain amount. Maybe I can cut some down but that modern base layer stuff gets very smelly quickly. I will do without a pair of trainers to change into next time. Then there are things like maps, which you need and books which... well there was a fair amount of train travel to be got through.
First aid kit, camera equipment, walking pole, water and tea flask (whether it had tea or wine in) etc etc...

Is this really a stage? Time will tell. But if it is it is a very short one.

I realised that after the hump over Kinder and Bleaklow Head, after three days of hard walking whilst trying to recover from a virus, that I needed a rest and was in no state to tackle the ominously named Black Hill. Indeed, I had a recollection of Wainwright saying it was the hardest bit of the Pennine Way, a black peat bog that you could disappear into like something our of The Hound of The Baskervilles. 

The eagle-eyed amongst you might have noticed something fishy in the title. I didn't finish in Edale the night before but in Hathersage.

Fact was I had a bit of dillemma. I could not get in to the youth hostel at Hathersage. Indeed I had a lot of trouble getting into a youth hostel anywhere. I had not stayed in an English youth hostel for years and they seem to have got much worse in the interim. One that I would have liked to have stayed at would only book me in if I stayed for two days. Two days! The YHA was set up to enable ramblers and cyclists to get from place to place. But now they are more and more set up for the convenience of car drivers.

Up early. Too early. No one else was around. A fine morning. After a bit I tried again. Still no sign of life. Damn it I was wanting to get off but needed to pay my bill. Plus I was not going to go without the inclusive breakfast.

Eventually, people stirred and I ate a predictably immense cooked breakfast. I paid my bill and set off, taking a couple of photos first in the lambent morning light. I am a bit burned from yesterday and this looks like another hot one, but at least I have the sunblock ready today. I just hope it is not so ancient that it no longer works.

For some reason involving stupidity the alarm goes off a t five past five. I could have had another 25 minutes of sleep. The day is trying to dawn but seems to be having trouble because of the cloud of volcanic ash that has grounded all the planes in the UK for 24 hours or so.  Yesterday it was invisible in London but this morning the dawn is shrouded in a Cormac McCarthyite emulsion of grey. It isn't thick. Already dead above the sky is an only slightly smudged blue, but the rising sun on the horizon is almost smothered.

This ought to be me last day on the Midlands line. I pass the old friends once more but I am too tired to tick them all off. But I try to get a photo of the Leagrave, Lee source sentinels as we whistle by. I miss the chance to get one of the Sharpenhoe Clappers enveloped in grey dust. Perhaps I should stop using punctuation and adopt some pseudo-Biblical prose style.

I leave at dawn. Sound's good doesn't it? Well, it looks good too. A beautiful cloud free sky with a sliver of crescent moon still shining as I slip out of the door. I decide to get the tube for once and am so semi-conscious that I get out at Euston and have to jump back on the train to Kings Cross.

Having got the tube I have lots of time at St Pancras, so I go to the comedy Costa by the Eurostar arrivals door. It is neither the South Asian crew or the Horn of Africa (in both cases I am guessing) bunch but a motley collection this time, presided over by a great freindly bear of a man who sounds Eastern European. He is exactly the sort of guy that you might get indulgently/tyrannicaly running his own Greek Taverna or, smoke filled Bulgarian cafe. How he has ended up here, a slave to the Costa Corporation is anyone's guess.

Oh, hang on, I buy a lot of coffee in Costa rather than little Greek or Bulgarian cafes. So his sad servitude is probably all my fault.

There is a stain on the seat opposite me. It is the same place as the masses of vomit I moved places to avoid last time I came home. It occurs to me that it might be the same carriage and the same seat. It has been cleaned though and there is no smell, for which I am very thankful.

The sun comes up as we pull out of the station. Brilliant, blinding, light pouring through the side of the shed. I try to take a picture through the dirty glass of the train without outstanding success.

Once again we cover a lot of old ground. Harpendon Common. A bit of the Lee. Luton sewerage farm. The three cream and terracotta tower blocks at Leagrave guarding the source of the Lee, The Sharpenhoe Clappers then off to Bedford. And, then as we speed through green country, still hazy with sunlit morning mist, I look up from the suffocating jungle of the Congo to see a swan flying through the fields. Parallel to the train but not fast enough. We outstrip it quickly and leave it in our wake.

I go back to reading Heart of Darkness. Marlow's boat is penetrating deeper into the jungle. Slowly, inching its way into the mad centre of a savage world. Just like this train. Well, except that we are going fast and it is all tidy farmed country. Oh all right it is nothing like it. But I wrote a comic story once called "Heart of Duckness," about a sailor going deep into the fens and we cross the River Great Ouse which slowly eases out to the sea at Kings Lynne as we speed out of Bedford. And there are plenty of ducks around.

And I do feel that I am coming to the very heart of England. There are, I find, endless pointless squabbles about where the very centre of England is but none of the systems make around 6 miles north of Coalville. Still, it feels like the middle to me, for some reason. Is it the heart of darkness though? Truth to tell, Coalville seemed alright to me. And for all the roads and ruined country England is not so bad. I have walked though a lot of woodland regenaration from the Heartwood forest in Hertfordshire. And people have been generally friendly. Certainly, no on has tried to put my severed head on a post. Not yet, anyway.

I decide to get a bus from Loughbourough into the centre. A solitary woman has a loud argument with her mobile phone about whether she is always phoning somebody or not. The morning is still, with almost no traffic, and it is hard not to listen to every word.  There is a strange, overwhelming odour of kippers.

Then the bus comes and takes me to my stop. A Leicestershire electronic lying machine at the bus stop tells me that there is a bit of time so I wander up a pedestrianised street to a little market square in search of second breakfast. I catch a smell of something savory and meaty but it is only a Greggs. But I am really hungry so I have a lemon muffin, which being from Greggs is sickly, sickly sweet.

Then the Coalville bus comes and I have the whole upper deck to myself. It swings around the town a bit and then I see that we are coming to the University and suddenly I realise. The Heart of Darkness Indeed!

Why? You ask. What is so evil and unspeakable about Loughborough University? Sport! Not Sport itself which has its place, but Loughbourough University is the epicentre of the universe for the most evil creatures in creation. I am, of course, talking about games teachers. This is their spiritual home. Whether they actually trained here or not (and it is a good bet that the sadistic child abusing swine who were my own games teachers never did themselves) it is their secret, hollowed-out-volcano headquarters, the Pentagon of PT teachers, their very Vatican.

I shudder with relief as the bus resumes its circulambatory way.

Batman is having his photo taken in a petrol station in Shepshed. Shepshed on a Saturday morning. Never been before. For all I know it is quite normal. Still... Quite a morning and I haven't started walking yet.

At last I recognise the road and get off the bus before the stop I left from for "Swad" last week as I want to walk a little and perhaps get a third breakfast to take the memory of the sickly Greggs's muffin away. There is a butchers shop, very busy for so early. I pass but then stop. Butchers sometimes do good pies, after all. My butcher uncle Barry's pork pies are matchless. I go in but have to queue which I take as a good sign. It is an enthusiastically lardy sort of place, a pile of, what? It looks like lumps of dripping, white but with the odd black bit, in pride of place on the display. I buy a huge meat and potato pie and a half of a big pork pie for later.

Today I am planning on a pub lunch but you cannot be too careful and, anyway, the pork pie will keep.

I set off, past the chip shop where I needed an interpreter last week, and the bus stop which was where I finished. There are a couple of pit head structures down the road. I must have passed them on the bus last time but in my blister wrecked state I had not noticed them. Hard to miss though as they are so big. Part of a mining heritage park it seems.

Turning off into a bit of reclaimed industrial land on its way to being a nature park a nasty little dog runs up and barks at me furiously. The woman with it calls it back and eventually puts it on a lead. But no hint of an apology.  Sadly typical of dog owners in my experience. There is a new path but it soon turns wet and muddy, it doesn't look as if things have dried up that much since the last time I was walking.

The park turns into a path by and then over the railway line and then I cross a busy road before I go into Cuckoo Gap Wood. I pass a young girl on the path and we smile in passing greeting.  The footpath takes me through the wood to Swannington. There is a pub, The Robin Hood and I take a picture as it looks like I am getting in reach of Robin Hood territory. But more interesting is a little hut like structure that seems to be there just to celebrate the village. What makes it so remarkable is that it is so beautifully made, carved wood outside and what looks like engraved stainless steel panels within. I wonder at the self-confidence of this ex mining community that this expensive work would not be vandalised.

It is a road walk out of Swannington though not unpleasant. There is a footpath and it is a strip settlement with glimpses of fields beyond the houses. At Pegg's Green I decide to risk a footpath. It is not a proper path, but soon veers over a winter wheat field. But it is dry. Two weeks have made a watery world of difference.  The land has dried out amazingly quickly - the muddy path I encountered at the start must have been through very boggy ground.. Soon I pick up a big bridle path to Worthington and the view that opens up before me is astonishing.

I should have took a photo but I knew the photo would not look so good as the reality and waited until later. Later, I never got another shot.

Worthington, a tightly grouped village was at the bottom of a long descent through fields. But it appeared to be in a sort of chasm, with steep cliffs on either side. This was very odd as no such dramatic feature showed on the OS map. I got it out and eventually realised what was going on. On the right of Worthington there really were cliffs, the vertical sides of a quarry, which, marked as a quarry did not have any dramatic grouping of countour lines on the map. The left hand cliffs were similarly from a quarry, but this was actually a couple of miles further north. My first glimpse of the astonishing Breedon hill which is being quarried away, leaving a church on the top looking as if it is about to be undermined.

On the way into Worthington I saw a large party of older ramblers, a sign that I was getting into walking country and out of ex-industrial Leicestershire coalfields. And just after Worthington I picked up the Cloud Trail. Another ex-railway cycle track, as broad and level as the one from Northampton to Market Harborough.

I could relax now. It was a fine spring day with masses of wood anemones and white violets by the side of the track, and I soon came across cyclists making use of the route, family parties mostly.

Pressing on as time was moderately tight with a specific train to catch home. I needed a toilet break and  nowhere suitable was evident until a movement caught my eye. Another weasel, dancing over a little culvert that the path went over.  I watched for it but it was gone but there was a bridge beneath the path which I made use of before heading on. A little further down the track, another movement. This time a stoat.

I had only seen two weasels ever - actually that is not quite true because the first one was a mother with several babies, but on two occasions before the previous leg and now I had seen two in two weeks. Perhaps the belated spring had made the need to get out and hunting more pressing than usual. Certainly the birds were going at it in the hedgerows, which plentiful chiff-chaffs as well as the usual belling tits and robins burbling in their imbecilic way 

I was hungry now and had promised myself a pub lunch for once. Pressing on past the first possible stop I left the Cloud Trail at  Kings Newton, on the outskirts of Melbourne. There was a sign placed on the path and I tried the advertised pub which gave me a more than decent meal and massive cappuccino that cost almost as much as the food.

And back on the trail. Almost immediately the land opened up and I was crossing the floodplain and then the River Trent itself.

There have been a lot of milestones on this walk, literal and figurative. The Cloud Trail was full of the literal sort telling me how far I was from Derby every mile and one of the funky ones seeing me out of Leicestershire and into Derbyshire.  Seeing the Midland Plain open up from the Chiltern Escarpment, was a big figurative one. But the Trent is the biggest one so far.  I stopped mid-stream for a minute or two to enjoy the moment. And then on.

On the other side I joined the old railway gave way to the Trent and Mersey canal tow path. For a while I had been seeing a different sort of cyclists. Fat ones. Great, pale, unfit wobbly people cycling erratically down the track and tow path. There were more and more of them. Last time out, along the Grand Union Canal, the only people on bikes, churning up the tow path into an impassable mire were the crazies. Lycra clad, mud bespattered, lean and fanatical of face, grinding their expensive mountain bikes through mud and driving rain.

This was different. And kind of heartening. After all, these people clearly needed the exercise much more than the mountain bike maniacs of two weeks ago. The cycle path, and beautiful weather, had tempted the seriously unfit out to enjoy the spring day and get a bit of exercise and there was something great about that. Something in the cycle path idea seemed to be working anyway.

I ran into two young girls a bit further along. Both dressed in the teenage shorts and black tights fashion one was getting tired. "Can we get a bus back to Chellaston from Shardlow?" She asked. The other one agreed. But then as I pressed on they saw a milestone and the first let out a shriek.  If they had come from Chellaston they must have walked about a mile but clearly this was already too much for her. They began to have a loud argument about turning back, as I continued onwards, leaving the canal and passing under the A50, where the path skirted Chellaston, the outskirts of Derby.

Tiring now it took a long while to get through Derby. The Cycle Path continued clear and straightforward through council and industrial estates. I got a bit lost in a park but soon found my way and hit the River Derwent, which was to be my route and my companion for the next few days.

Having had my head down almost all the way from Worthington, I was in good time by the time I reached Pride Park, the Derby County stadium but too tired for exploring. I passed a bunch of Polish people having a barbecue and drinking beer on some seats by the river. A little further I took a break myself. But I was out of water and tea so did not stop for long. And soon enough, after a minor detour, I found myself passing the handsome brick buildings that line the road to Derby railway station.

It was a gorgeous evening so I had a drink outside the pub opposite the station before going to get my train. For the first time in my life I had a first class ticket. It was £1.00 more than the second class one, and tea and coffee was free!

I had a huge first class table to myself and whistled back, past the bits of canal, the clappers and the Leagrave towers and all, finishing Heart of Darkness in the lap of luxury.


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