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Coast to Coast – Day by Day

14 Jul

If you have been following my posts, you will know that I recently walked the Wainwright Coast to Coast Path, a 200 mile route across the north of England. I have already blogged my experiences but I thought I would post one last entry giving a very brief summary of each day as I remember it, mainly for anyone who is thinking of completing this great walk. The idea is to just give a flavour of the paths, terrain, difficulties on the route etc to help with your planning.

Day 0 – St Bees to St bees Head – 3 miles

A day spent mainly travelling up so just a few straight forward miles along the coast path to reach my first accommodation.

Day 1 – St Bees Head to Ennerdale Bridge – 13 miles

Good cliff top path to start, some roads, some slightly muddy paths at Stanley Pond, steep climb up Dent Hill (350 meters), steep drop down other side, lovely walk through Nannycatch, road/roadside into EB. Some tiny kissing gates to negotiate, plus one high stile. Care re route needed at Stanley Pond, when leaving Cleator and at Dent Hill.

The path beside Ennerdale Water

The path beside Ennerdale Water

Day 2 – Ennerdale Bridge to Borrowdale – 18 miles

Road to Ennerdale Water, rocky path beside lake, wide forest track to Black Sail, steep and rocky climb to Brandreth (600 meters), old tramway down to Honister, good paths or road into Borrowdale. Care re route needed when leaving Black Sail Hut and when crossing the top from Brandreth to Honister in bad conditions.

Day 3 – Borrowdale to Grasmere – 9 miles

Good but rocky path along valley, steep rocky climb up Greenup Gill, boggy across the top of Greenup Edge (600 meters), good ridge walk, steep drop into Grasmere. Care re route needed when crossing the top of Greenup Edge as it is boggy and the path can be indistinct.

The path to Angle Tarn

The path to Angle Tarn

Day 4 – Grasmere to Patterdale – 8.5 miles

Road and good track to Great Tongue, steep and rocky climb to Grisedale Hause and Grisedale Tarn (600 meters), rocky but good path beside Grisedale Beck down to Patterdale, and then mainly farm track or road into the village.

Day 5 – Patterdale to Shap – 16.2 miles

Generally good paths via Boredale Hause to climb steadily to Angle Tarn, good path to the Knott and across Kidsty Pike (760 meters), steep descent to Haweswater, rocky and undulating path alongside lake, flatter and lower level paths to Shap. Last part can be muddy. Care re route needed on Boredale Hause and on the approach to High Street in order to not miss the Kidsty path.

On Kidsty Pike

On Kidsty Pike

Day 6 – Shap to Kirkby Stephen – 22 miles

Roads and fields out of Shap crossing railway line and motorway, boggy across Crosby Ravensworth Fell, road and fields to Sunbiggin, moorland tracks to Smardale, more moorland tracks with some road and fields into Kirkby Stephen. Care re route needed on Crosby Ravensworth Fell.

Day 7 – Kirkby Stephen to Keld – 13 miles

Road and then wide moorland tracks out of Kirkby Stephen, extremely boggy with indistinct paths across much of the Pennines (depending on which route you take), some road walking on the Green Route, better paths after Ravenseat Farm. Avoid the high level route in bad weather. Expect lots of surface water if the weather has been wet. Great care re route finding needed on the boggy moors.

Day 8 – Keld to Reeth – 14.4 miles

I took the low level route where there are good straightforward paths mainly beside the River Swale, some climbing, many narrow gated stiles to negotiate, many small fields to cross. No real route finding problems on the low level route although some care is needed on the high level route.

Narrow gated stiles

Narrow gated stiles

Day 9 – Reeth to Bolton-on-Swale – 20 miles

The day starts with a lovely walk beside the River Swale and part way up the valley side with lots more narrow stiles to negotiate, followed by farm land across mainly rolling hills plus some road walking. Richmond is a busy and bustling town. From Richmond, the walking becomes a bit tedious with A roads to negotiate and flat farm land to cross. There is currently a detour near Colburn/Caterick Bridge but no real route finding issues.

Day 10 – Bolton-on-Swale to Osmotherley – 19 miles

Country lanes, wide farm tracks and flat farm fields mostly until Ingleby Cross, then steeply climbing forest track followed by road into Osmotherley. For me, the most tedious day on the whole route. No route finding issues to speak of.

Day 11 – Osmotherley to Blakey Ridge – 18 miles

A day of two halves. The first half tough with many steep climbs – a roller coaster – but most on very well paved moorland tracks. The second half much flatter on high level wide moorland tracks. No route finding issues. Good way marking.

Looking back to Cringle Moor

Well paved paths on the North York Moors

Day 12 – Blakey Ridge to Littlebeck – 19 miles

Wide moorland paths or roads again for first 10 miles and all downhill till Glaisdale. Lower level walking along good tracks or road to Grosmont but a steep climb up roadway over Sleights Moor (700 feet) before dropping down to Littlebeck. No real route finding issues.

Day 13 – Littlebeck to Robin Hood’s Bay – 12 miles

Lovely walk along good paths through Littlebeck Wood, climb on roadway to Sneaton Low Moor, very boggy section across the Graystone Hills, mainly road walking from there to the coast, good walking along the coast path to finish. Care re route needed on the Graystone Hills.

In Littlebeck Woods

In Littlebeck Woods

This is not intended to be an exhaustive detailing of the route, just a snapshot of the route. The walking can be difficult with sections which are either very boggy or very rocky, paths which climb or fall steeply, paths which are indistinct and not way marked etc, but with common sense and a good map/guidebook there is no reason why anyone should get hopelessly lost. Obviously care is particularly needed in poor conditions.

I hope this brief summary will prove useful and that you will enjoy the walk as much as I did.

Thanks for stopping by.

Until next time,

Your friend The Dorset Rambler.

Comments and feedback on this blog are welcome. If you would like to contact me, my details are on my website which is http://www.yarrowphotography.com.

If you would like to join me on my walks, my Twitter feed is http://twitter.com/adorsetrambler.

All photographs, poems and words in this blog are the copyright of The Dorset Rambler and must not be reproduced without permission.

Coast to Coast – On Reflection

2 Jul

As you may know, I have recently completed the Wainwright Coast to Coast long distance path that runs from St Bees on the west coast to Robin Hood’s Bay on the east coast and I have been detailing my experiences over the last few weeks. This blog entry is a summary of hints and tips for anyone thinking about doing this walk, or indeed any long distance end to end walk. It is of course not an exhaustive list but rather a summary from my own experience. I hope you will find it interesting and helpful.

Amazing views

Amazing views

Overall assessment of the route
The first thing to say is that it is a fabulous walk with amazing scenery, awesome views, a generally good choice of accommodation, friendly people, and lots of interesting things to see on the way. That said, it is a tough walk – you will climb the equivalent of Mount Everest and descend as well of course. It is officially 192 miles from end to end but with perhaps a few extra miles to reach accommodation on some days, this will probably increase to 200 or so. There are some steep climbs, rocky paths, boggy parts, and not being a national trail, it is not always well way marked. Oh, and lets not forget the weather as you will pass through the wettest place in England. It is however all perfectly ‘walkable’ provided you have a level of fitness and are able to use navigation aids. More than that, it is a thoroughly enjoyable experience. No wonder it is an internationally acclaimed route.

To backpack or not to backpack
There are a number of ways to complete the route – to backpack it and carry everything, to use baggage transfer, or to do short sections only. I chose to backpack it for a number of reasons which I can sum up in just three words – purist, challenge and freedom. I enjoyed the challenge of not relying on anyone or anything else, and I enjoyed the freedom to stop wherever I wanted without having any prior set agenda, meeting difficulties as they arose. This freedom is particularly enhanced if you can wild camp but in my case, the conditions were against me this time. Only 2% of people backpack the route but for me, nothing can replace the feeling of having won through as I walked into Robin Hood’s Bay.

Using baggage transfer has obvious advantages and is comparatively inexpensive on this route. It does mean though that you need to pre-book accommodation so that they know where to deliver your bags, so taking some of the spontaneity out of the walk. On the positive side though it does mean that you can probably enjoy each day’s walking a little more since you don’t have to focus on just getting over each hill with a load up.

Having completed it once by the ‘purist’ method, I could be persuaded to use baggage transfer if I did the route again.

To backpack or not to backpack!

To backpack or not to backpack!

Time of year
I don’t think that there is a right time of year to do this walk although you need to bear in mind that it is a popular walk and becomes very busy in peak season and on bank holiday weekends. Equally, conditions in winter will not necessarily favour walking. My view is that spring or autumn is probably the best time but it is down to personal preference. If you are backpacking of course, walking in warmer weather means you will have less to carry.

Navigation
This is probably the worst way marked of the popular long distance walks. I took four navigation aids with me – a GPS with the route downloaded, strip map and compass, guide book, and an iPhone map Ap (UK Map) and I used all these. Having walked with others who used different maps etc, I would recommend A-Z Adventure Atlas which has Ordnance Survey maps rather than the strip map that I took. It fits neatly into a waterproof cover too. Care is needed with the GPS download as the route may vary slightly from the guide book, which can be confusing. I used the Stedman guide book which proved helpful and generally adequate although there may be better ones. You do need to be aware that guide books go out of date so you might need to double check if it states for example that there is a shop in a certain village – I was caught out several times during my walk.

Hit and miss way marking

Hit and miss way marking

Navigation can be particularly difficult in bad weather. Thick mist is an obvious issue but even on a clear day when it is very wet and windy, it can be really difficult to read a guide book or map without it being destroyed! There are also some notorious navigation hot spots where people regularly go wrong but I will detail these in a separate entry. The good news is that although I took an occasional slight detour, at no point during the 200 miles did I stray too drastically from the route.

Paths
Paths are a mixed bag. Some road walking, some lovely grassy paths, some very rocky areas, some cliff tops, some ‘paved’ moorland paths, some forest trails, some farm tracks, and some wild, exposed and very boggy moorlands. I will try to detail these more specifically in the next entry.

Great paths on the North York Moors

Great paths on the North York Moors

High level alternatives
There are a number of alternative high level routes that you can take and, depending on your fitness, I would recommend taking at least one of these if the weather conditions are favourable. The main ones are the High Stile/Haystacks ridge (my day 2), the Calf Crag to Helm Crag ridge (my day 3), Helvellyn and Striding Edge (my day 4), Nine Standards Rigg (my day 7), Gunnerside and Melbecks Moors (my day 8). Haystacks and Helvellyn are particularly fine routes.

West to east or east to west?
Wainwright recommended west to east so that the prevailing weather will, in theory, be on your back which makes sense. However, it does mean that you will have the most climbs and arguably the best scenery in the early days. Walking east to west will mean a slightly easier first half enabling you to get fitter and stronger before you scale the greater heights which also makes sense. Most would also probably say it will ‘save the best to last’. At the end of the day, you ‘pays your money and takes your choice’ :) !

How many days?
This is like saying how long is a piece of string as it depends entirely on your fitness level and what you want to achieve. Most people take around 2 weeks, slightly under or slightly over. Some take a rest day in the middle. I averaged 16 miles a day carrying a 20Kg pack which was about right for me. Remember, you want to enjoy it and anything good should not be rushed.

Plan well but be flexible
One of the things I like to do when preparing for a long walk is to research and plan it well, looking at guide books and reading accounts written by others who have completed the walk (one of the reasons I blog my walks afterwards is to help others who are considering doing the walk). I think preparation is essential but I also think it helps to leave some space for changes along the route – prepared but flexible is my approach and it works for me. That is of course one of the benefits of backpacking the route.

On the boggy moors

On the boggy moors

Organising the day
This is of course down to personal preference as well as meal times if you are staying at B&B’s but for me, it worked to get up and go to bed with the sun……assuming there is any sun ;) ! I was usually out on the trail between 6.00 and 7.30am and aimed to arrive at my stopping point for the night whilst there was still some sunshine (hopefully) in order to dry the tent which was invariably wet from the previous night. Starting early can also help to avoid the ‘rush’ as most walkers will leave after breakfast. In terms of distance walked, this will depend on the terrain and fitness levels. The most important thing is to enjoy the walk and leave enough time in the day to ‘stand and stare’ as there is plenty to see.

Food and drink
With food, there is a need to think ahead as there may be days when no food is available along the route you have chosen. I found it useful to always carry extra food that will travel well such as cup-a-soups, pork pies, breakfast bars, nuts etc., plus some dehydrated meals provided you have a stove. I carried water, but I also carried a light water filter just in case I ran out for any reason. Depending on where you stay, there will usually be a pub available for a main meal and often they will offer packed lunches too. As mentioned earlier, don’t rely too much on the guide book for shops and cafes on route as they may have closed down since the book was last revised.

I've heard of carrying cooking pots but this is ridiculous :)

I’ve heard of carrying cooking pots but this is ridiculous :)

Weather
I think it is fair to say that in the mountains of the north of England, weather is at best mixed so prepare for the worst. Borrowdale, and indeed the Lake District generally, is one of the wettest places in England so be prepared for rain. During my 13 day walk I encountered lots of heavy rain, sleet, below freezing temperatures, gale force winds, lots of surface water, mist, low cloud, but also beautiful sunshine. In terms of wet weather gear, I carried a waterproof jacket and trousers, gaiters, waterproof cover for the rucksack, and waterproof cover for the camera. I also needed gloves and a woolly hat even though it was May. Everything in my rucksack was stored in waterproof stuff sacks.

One thing I did try this time was to carry some waterproof socks and these proved invaluable when putting on boots that were still wet from the previous day. Oh, and I always carry a change of shoes for the evening so that I don’t have to go to the pub in wet boots. Don’t forget that wet grass can mean wet boots even if it is not raining.

Prepared for all weather!

Prepared for all weather!

People
One of the features of this walk for me was the friendliness of the people, both the local residents and fellow walkers. I lost count of the number of times locals chatted to me and pointed out the route, and I walked with people of several different nationalities. There was a real community feel about the walk and that was one of the highlights.

One of the strangest things was when I came to sign the book at the end of the walk and the name immediately above mine and completing the walk on the same day as me was a girl who lives just a couple of miles from me in Dorset. What a coincidence…….and not only that but by chance I shared a room that night at the local hostel with her father.

Electrical equipment
Keeping mobile phones etc charged up can be a potential issue if you are backpacking. I like to keep in touch with my family and I like to Tweet the walk as I go, plus of course I am a photographer. This means that I have at least two things that need charging regularly. I researched solar chargers which seemed the ideal solution but was unable to find one that was small, light and yet charged well…….unless you live in Florida with permanent sunshine! I resorted in the end to a battery pack that would charge an iPhone seven or eight times. Ultimately I didn’t have to use it that much because I found that pubs and cafes are more than willing to allow you to use their sockets to charge equipment. One thing I did do though is to carry a second cheap pay-as-you-go phone on a different network to my main phone in case of emergency.

Mobile signal
Be aware that a mobile signal is not always available in a lot of areas, notably in the Lake District where some of the pubs in the valleys do not seem to have any wifi either.

I hope this has been useful but if you want to ask anything specific, please do feel free to comment on the blog or email me. In my next blog entry I will try to give a very brief summary of each day, including potential difficulties.

Until next time,

Your friend, The Dorset Rambler.

Comments and feedback on this blog are welcome. If you would like to contact me, my details are on my website which is http://www.yarrowphotography.com.

If you would like to join me on my walks, my Twitter feed is http://twitter.com/adorsetrambler.

All photographs, poems and words in this blog are the copyright of The Dorset Rambler and must not be reproduced without permission.

Coast to Coast – Part 5

12 Jun

Day 8 – Keld to Reeth – 14.4 miles

I was up at 6.30am and peered out of the tent to see beautiful sunshine. It had been a really cold night in the tent and the morning was still cold despite the sun, partly because my tent was in the shadows. I had breakfast and was packed and out on the trail before 8am. The valley looked beautiful in the low early morning sun.

Early morning sunshine across Swaledale

Early morning sunshine across Swaledale

I made my way down the lane into Keld, a delightfully unspoilt village despite the volume of foot traffic that passes through – it stands on the intersection of both the Coast to Coast and the Pennine Way. Keld is a tiny village today but it hasn’t always been thus. In the mid 19th century it was a thriving and busy centre that stood in the heart of the lead mining district. There are many relics from that era littering the surrounding hills. Today though, those hills are quiet and still.

The path soon dropped down to meet and cross the River Swale before following the north bank of the river, passing a very full and flowing Catrake Force – a 17th century traveller was right when he once said, ‘The Swale rusheth rather than runneth’! This waterfall in fact has four levels as the river flows down the hillside.

One part of Catrake Force

One part of Catrake Force

Even this early in the day, I was already passing debris from the past, old barns, mine workings and even machinery. I paused to look back at Keld nestling in a hollow in the hillside.

Looking back at Keld

Looking back at Keld

There are two alternative routes to Reeth, a high level and a low level route – the former climbs over Melbecks Moor and is all about industrial archaeology with a myriad mine workings, and the latter follows the very beautiful valley beside the river. I really wanted to do both! I still wasn’t sure which to do so I compromised. Dropping my rucksack out of sight, I spent some time climbing up the high level route taking in the amazing views and passing the much photographed Crackpot Hall. The original building dating from the 16th century was a hunting lodge but the current ruin was in fact a farmhouse built some 200 years later. It may also have been used by the mining industry. Abandoned in the 1950’s, it is now cared for by the Gunnerside Estate to prevent any further deterioration.

Crackpot Hall

Crackpot Hall

Ultimately I retraced my steps, retrieved my rucksack and headed down the lower path to join the river. With the wide and comparatively dry path, this was easy walking and I was accompanied by many oystercatchers and lapwings with their cries blending with the rippling stream.

The River Swale

The River Swale

At times, the path left the riverside and crossed verdant meadows with a perhaps unusual request for walkers to cross in single file. I was walking alone so complied quite easily with the sign :) !

Single File!

Single File!

There are a few things that stand out in Swaledale and one of these is the number of dry stone walls and of course old barns! And after all the rain, the pastures within shone verdant green in the sunshine.

Dry stone walls

Dry stone walls

Another feature of this part of the route was the huge number of very small gated stiles that have to be squeezed through in order to pass the equally numerous dry stone walls. No easy matter when carrying a 20 Kg pack! But the route is undeniably pretty.

Swaledale

Swaledale

Following the riverside path eventually brought me to Gunnerside where the ever widening river passed under the road bridge. I joined the road and made my way into the village where I was pleasantly surprised to see a cafe. I stopped for lunch and while I was sat outside, Stuart, my walking buddy from yesterday arrived. We were to walk the rest of the day together.

Bridge at Gunnerside

Bridge at Gunnerside

Leaving Gunnerside, the route took us partly up the valley side where we could look down on the valley floor. The pictures below probably sum up this part of the walk with its now broadening and flattening valley, beautiful pattern of fields, barns, dry stone walls and small green pastures.

Field patterns

Field patterns

Swaledale

Swaledale

Looking back at Gunnerside

Looking back at Gunnerside

Still climbing, we eventually reached open moorland for a time although this was not the bleak open moorland of the Pennines. The views were just gorgeous, especially on a beautiful day such as this. I should perhaps mention here another thing that seemed to typify this valley and that is……dead rabbits :( ! There were literally hundreds of them all along this stretch of the walk, in various stages of decay. It was quite gruesome unsettling. Despite researching this since I have been home, I have not been able to establish the cause of this phenomenon. One possibility is that there has been a flare up of one of the rabbit diseases such as Myxomatosis or Hemorrhagic Viral Disease and another is that they are being shot for some reason. Even the local wildlife trust weren’t able to help me.

Swaledale

Swaledale

Continuing on our way, the route dropped gradually down to the road and through the village of Healaugh where I saw a somewhat unusual sight, coal being delivered to houses. This was once a common sight but now is much rarer especial as it involves lifting hundredweight sacks of coal on the shoulders. Maybe this is still a feature in the northern parts of England.

Coal Delivery

Coal Delivery

From Healaugh, the last couple of miles followed the river bank again, a lovely flat, grassy walk in the most picturesque countryside. One interesting feature of this last part was the suspension bridge that provides a crossing over the Swale. The original bridge built in the early 20th century was damaged in a storm in 2000 when the level of the river rose by 3 meters in 20 minutes.  It was rebuilt by the National Park Authority although in reality, there is no public right of way over the river and no-one has claimed ownership of the bridge.

Suspension Bridge

Suspension Bridge

From the suspension bridge, it is a very short walk into Reeth itself, and a delightful town it is too, with houses clustered around a large green. The first thing I did was to go to the post office and pick up the map covering the second half of the C2C walk – I had inadvertently left it at home so my wife posted it to me. Then I headed for the local camp site where I was very kindly offered the use of a caravan to save putting my tent up. This is something the owner does regularly and bearing in mind how cold it was last night, it was an offer gratefully accepted :) !

I sat in the caravan drinking a welcome cup of tea with the late sun streaming through the windows thinking back over the day. What an amazing day, one of the most enjoyable so far, with fabulous scenery, great walking, and beautiful weather. I wasn’t sure that tomorrow would be as good!

Reeth

Reeth

Day 9 – Reeth to Bolton-on-Swale – 20 miles

Despite being in the caravan, it had been a cold night with below freezing temperatures again. I was glad I hadn’t slept in the tent! I was out on the trail again before 7am and made my way out of Reeth, stopping at the local shop for food on the way. It was a beautiful morning again although I knew that the forecast wasn’t promising!

Morning Light

Morning Light

The first part of the walk was a gentle stroll beside the river before crossing the road to climb partly up the valley side. The river look beautiful in the early morning sunshine and it was quiet and peaceful.

River Reflections

River Reflections

The valley had a very different feel now from when I first entered it. Back at Ravenseat it was a deep, steep-sided gorge but now it was flatter and broader, giving a very spacious feel to it. The grass was wet with dew but the walking was easy and in the distance I could see the next point of interest on my walk, Marrick Priory.

Wide Open Spaces

Wide Open Spaces

This was to be a continuation of yesterdays obstacle course though. In fact the stiles seemed to be getting ever thinner, so much so that it was difficult to even squeeze a leg through :) !

Stile!

Stile!

Marrick Priory was a Benedictine Nunnery established in the 12th century. It was closed at the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1540, the nuns being evicted and given pensions. The church continued to be used for worship by the local community until 1948 after which it became a farm building. Ultimately the Priory was renovated and extended to become an outdoor education centre for young people.

Behind the priory is a series of 375 steps known as the Nun’s Steps as they were said to be used by the nuns as a walkway down to the abbey. These climb steadily up through Steps Wood to reach the village that gave the abbey its name. With the sun filtering through the trees, this was a lovely walk.

The Nun's Steps

The Nun’s Steps

I passed through the lovely quiet village along the road before once again branching off cross country, crossing yet more small pastures and gates to reach the hilltop in the picture below. The countryside ahead of me was much more like my own Dorset, rolling hills and shallower valleys. It was very pleasant walking.

Across the Farm

Across the Farm

One interesting feature was that at the bottom of the valley was a renovated cottage which was now lived in but which unusually had no road or farm track for access. The only way to get to it was across fields…….which maybe explains the use of the old railway sleepers across the field in the picture below. Clearly, in wet weather or snow it would be difficult to get up that hill :) !

Sleepers

Sleepers

The route eventually took me out onto the country lane and quite a long road section through the village of Marske before crossing more fields and climbing steeply up to the foot of Applegarth Scar, a craggy outcrop on Park Top. I sat and rested awhile beside the cairn just enjoying the view across the flatter land that I had just walked. It was a lovely spot. Behind me were the sheer cliffs enjoyed by climbers but my route onwards was along the ‘shelf’ below the cliffs.

View from Applegarth Scar

View from Applegarth Scar

The ‘shelf’ gently drops down towards Richmond and it was along this section that I met two other walkers, the only ones I had seen all day. They were a lovely elderly local couple who were out looking for wild flowers. We chatted for a while before I continued down through Whitcliffe Woods into Richmond passing the interesting long eared lamb in the picture below. This was in fact a Mule, a cross breed from a lowland ram (usually a Bluefaced Leicester) and an upland ewe (probably a Swaledale in this case). It combines the strong points of both.

Mule

Mule

Although Richmond is a delightful town, it came as a culture shock! After nearly 10 days away from civilisation, this was a busy and bustling town with lots of people and traffic around. I bought lunch at a cafe in the square and made use of their Internet before hurrying on – I wanted to be out in the quiet of the countryside again!

As I left the town, I looked back to see the church and castle standing guard oner the river.

Richmond across the River Swale

Richmond across the River Swale

Most walkers tend to overnight in Richmond as there is much to see with its cobbled streets and interesting buildings. That means a long day of over 22 miles the next day though as there is little accommodation along that part of the route. I knew of one farm that the guide book said offered camping facilities so I continued on my way. What I did know was that the next 20 miles or so were mainly across what I call ‘triple F’ – flat farm fields :) ! Wainwright himself states that unless you have an interest in rural scenes and farming, you will find this section ‘tedious’. It is the flattest part of the whole route crossing the Vale of Mowbray from Swaledale to the Cleveland Hills. For that reason, I thought it best to get some of those miles done today.

I hadn’t reckoned though on two things. The first was a detour that was to take me for some way along a very busy A road, and the second was the almighty downpour that was about to hit me! They coincided! The drains were unable to cope with the deluge and the roads flooded which meant that in addition to the rain that was pounding me from above, I got drowned in spray every time a car went past…..and this was a BUSY road!

A rape field shines out of mist and rain!

A rape field shines out of mist and rain!

I only passed one person, a local, who knew of no nearer accommodation so I continued, crouching to avoid the wet which seemed to be coming at me from all directions. Eventually I reached Bolton-on-Swale where the church was open. I went in to shelter for a while. It is in fact a walker friendly church that provides snacks and drinks for passers by and the vicar’s telephone number was there. I rang her and asked if it would be possible to spend the night sleeping on the church floor or even in the porch but unfortunately because of insurance restrictions, it wasn’t.

I headed back out into the rain, tramping across sodden fields to reach the farm and I knocked on the door. ‘Do you still do camping’ I asked. ‘No, but you can’, came the reply. The farmer took me round the back to the old camping area and showed me where the disused shower room and toilet were. I looked outside to the flooded grass and looked inside to the somewhat cluttered and dirty shower room…..and I chose the latter! ‘Can I just crash in here?’ I asked.

And so I spent the night amongst farm debris, spiders and goodness knows what other creatures! But at least it was dry :) !

My Des Res for the Night

My Des Res for the Night

Thanks for stopping by.

Until next time,

Your friend The Dorset Rambler.

Comments and feedback on this blog are welcome. If you would like to contact me, my details are on my website which is http://www.yarrowphotography.com.

If you would like to join me on my walks, my Twitter feed is http://twitter.com/adorsetrambler.

All photographs, poems and words in this blog are the copyright of The Dorset Rambler and must not be reproduced without permission.

Coast to Coast – Part 4

5 Jun Walls, Gates and Barns

Day 6 – Shap to Kirkby Stephen – 22 miles

As I have been typing this blog from notes made at the end of each day of the walk, I find myself thinking, ‘I didn’t have very good weather did I’! I seem to be regularly talking about wind and rain and cold. Well today is no different! I woke to the sound of…….RAIN! However, as they say, the walk must go on……or should that be ‘show’ :) ! By 7.30am I was packed up, had donned every bit of waterproofing I had, put on my rucksack and was out on the trail.

I wasn’t really looking forward to the day as I was leaving the wonderful Lakeland mountains behind for a 20+ mile walk across the much flatter ground of the Westmoreland plateau. The guidebook describes it as, ‘A grassy stroll across well-drained limestone bedrock’. Wainwright puts it thus; ‘As every walker knows, a limestone footing invariably means easy travelling on velvet turf’! Hmmm, clearly neither of the writers had walked it on a day like this :) !

Shap had not been a particularly inspiring town. In fact the things that stay in my memory are the granite works and quarry, the mainline railway, and the M6 motorway, all of which had to be passed, crossed or circumnavigated in the first few miles of the day.

Shap Granite Works

Shap Granite Works

Mainline Railway

Mainline Railway

Motorway

Motorway

As I left the final obstacle and started out across the first tract of moorland, the conditions became even worse with driving rain, gale force winds and of course mud, mud, mud and mud! Route finding was not easy although this was perhaps more down to the conditions as everything got soaked whenever I took out the guidebook or map. I was grateful for a weather proof GPS. It was also very difficult to keep the camera reasonably dry.

In fact, I think on a day of good weather this would have been a very pleasant days walking as there was some lovely moorland scenery including lots of limestone pavements, and much to explore.

Limestone Pavement

Limestone Pavement

Understandably, with the conditions, I passed few other people. One, in the picture below, was riding a quad bike which had two guns laid across it. The rider was obviously out hunting but for what I do not know – initially I thought perhaps it was grouse but it wasn’t the season for that so it might have been deer or rabbits. Whatever it was, I heard no shots fired.

Out Shooting

Out Shooting

Just after passing the ‘hunter’ I passed two other walkers coming in the other direction along a farm track looking like drowned rats. I figured I must look exactly the same! They had stayed in Kirkby Stephen last night and had been given a lift for the first few miles to shorten the day. We stood for a while in the rain and compared notes before putting our heads down and heading off into the wind again.

Down the Farm Track

Down the Farm Track

There were actually quite a few things of interest along the way, such as Robin Hood’s Grave (not Robin Hood’s Grave at all :) ), stone circles, limekilns and so on but it wasn’t a day for lingering or exploring – apart perhaps for the last mentioned which provided some brief shelter from the elements :) ! It was a day to just keep walking, and yet in a strange masochistic way, it was still an enjoyable day. But then, I always enjoy walking whatever the weather.

Walls, Gates and Barns

Walls, Gates and Barns

In addition, there were a lot of dry stone walls…..and I love dry stone walls, even if they do mean lots of gates and stiles to negotiate. The field in the picture above was inhabited by lots of Shetland ponies who were most inquisitive as I walked across their patch.

Eventually, I emerged from the fields onto the moorland road below – I think the picture probably conveys well the conditions I was walking in :) ! Down to the right was Sunbiggin Tarn which Alfred Wainwright describes as, ‘Little more than a large reedy pond in the middle of a morass’! He also describes it as a popular picnic spot since the road is nearby, and I can certainly imagine that it would be very busy in warmer, dryer weather. More importantly though, it is an important bird sanctuary and wildlife refuge.

Long Lonely Road Across the Moor

Long Lonely Road Across the Moor

Skirting round the tarn being driven along by the fierce wind on my back, I continued across more of the Ravenstonedale Moor and before long things started to improve. First of all the rain eased and then stopped, and shortly afterwards the sun made an appearance……and what a difference that made as I gradually dried off. It was a pleasure to reach Smardale and to shelter from the wind by yet another dry stone wall looking down into the valley.

Smardale

Smardale

And what a pleasant surprise the valley was with its disused railway, nature reserve, river (Scandal Beck), old viaduct, abandoned railway cottages, and its now defunct limestone quarry. It was a fascinating place and I would love to have spent an hour or two exploring but the day was drawing on and I had some miles still to walk so I continued on my way.

Smardale and Viaduct

Smardale and Viaduct

Smardale Limestone Quarry

Smardale Limestone Quarry and Abandoned Railway Cottage

Finally I dropped down off the moor and onto farm land where I could see Kirkby Stephen below me. I had already made a decision to stay at a hostel for the night to enable me to dry everything out and I walked into the village looking forward to sleeping in a bed.

Approaching Kirkby Stephen

Approaching Kirkby Stephen

At the hostel, a disused Methodist Chapel, I was greeted by Denise who immediately asked, ‘Would you like a cup of tea?’ – after 22 miles of tough walking in wintry weather, this was the best thing she could have said :) ! Whilst I was sat enjoying my drink on the sofa, an equally wet Stuart, my walking buddy from a few days ago, walked in. It was good to catch up and we agreed to walk together again tomorrow.

I hoped the weather would improve by then!

Day 7 – Kirkby Stephen to Keld – 13 miles

I was up at 6.30am after a great night and I looked out of the window to see SUNSHINE :) ! Sigh, it wasn’t to last!

After a continental breakfast, Stuart and I left the hostel at 8am and almost before we had left the town, the rain started again. In fact we were to walk in gale force winds, driving sleet and below freezing temperatures for most of the day, often knee deep in water – it could easily have been a mid-winter day, such were the conditions. The last mentioned was not really a surprise as the guide book warns that the one thing most people remember about this day is the peat bogs that have to be negotiated!

Leaving Kirkby Stephen

Leaving Kirkby Stephen

This was to be the day we were to climb up over the Pennines and move from Cumbria into North Yorkshire and I had really hoped to pass Nine Standards Rigg, the series of cairns at the summit, on the way. As it happens, I was once again foiled by the conditions! Battling against the strongly gusting wind and stinging sleet, and with freezing hands, it just didn’t make sense to climb over the high point with poor visibility.

Rigg Beck

Rigg Beck

Dropping down to the road, we had some easier walking for a time…..at least, there was solid ground under foot :) ! I paused for a photograph – well this was something of a milestone as I was entering Yorkshire and this evening I would be at the half way point of the walk.

Spring Weather!

Spring Weather!

This area is of course the Watershed where many rivers spring so there were becks aplenty. In fact the map shows a whole spiders web of blue lines. It was also an area of disused and abandoned buildings such as the one in the pictures below. I often think it is such a waste when there are homeless people, but in these conditions, maybe no-one would want to live there.

Beck Meetings - The Pennines

Beck Meetings – The Pennines

Beck Meetings - The Pennines

Beck Meetings – The Pennines

Unfortunately, the comparatively easy walking came to an end all too soon and we had to leave the road again to strike out across the moors. It probably goes without saying that route finding across the moors was not easy and at times, well most of the time, it was difficult to tell the indistinct paths from streams. We often found ourselves just trudging across open moorlands knee deep in water trying to follow the little line on the GPS. Two heads are better than one though and we managed to avoid straying too far. I did wonder though what would happen if the mist came down!

The birds seemed to have less problems than us :) ! Lapwings were everywhere, as were grouse – strange and funny creatures aren’t they! They always make me smile as they rise up from the ground making comical noises. Clearly they were unaware of what the grouse butts were for otherwise they would have made their escape. We could hear many waders too, including the plaintive cry of the curlew.

Crossing the swollen becks was fun at times!

Wot, No Bridge!

Wot, No Bridge!

There were other less comical creatures too, like the Swaledale sheep. These are totally functional – tough like the earlier Herdwicks, and great for keeping on these high moors with the sparse vegetation.

Swaledale Sheep

Swaledale Sheep

As with yesterday, things improved as the end of the day neared. Firstly the rain stopped and the day brightened up, and then Ravenseat came into view, but best of all, at the farm there was a sign advertising cream teas :) ! After all that the weather had thrown at us, how could we resist :) !

Ravenseat

Ravenseat

It was a delight to sit in the barn out of the wind with a hot drink and a scone laden with jam and cream. Despite the weather, there were others there although not walkers.

Ravenseat is a sheep farm at the head of the Swaledale valley run by Amanda Owen, the Yorkshire Shepherdess, and her husband. Amanda, a TV presenter and author as well as farmer and cream tea provider :) has written a book about her life and how she changed from city girl to shepherd. She told us that she had recently sold the film rights to her book. In addition to all the other things that she does, she has found time to give birth to seven children with number eight due soon. She was a great host and talked non-stop while we were there, telling us all about life on the farm.

Cream Teas!

Cream Teas – Amanda Owen on the right!

It was almost with regret that we left Amanda’s company to continue on our way. What was to come though was one of the most beautiful parts of the whole walk, the Swaledale Valley with its myriad deserted barns and farmhouses. I don’t think I have ever seen so many! The old farmhouse below would make such a great place to live!

Deserted

Deserted

We made our way along the side of the valley in beautiful sunshine. What a transformation from the wild and wintry weather earlier as we crossed the Pennines.

And what an amazing valley this is too. In places it is like a deep gorge with steep sides and with a very full river flowing along the bottom. Add in the great views all around, and you have a delightful evening walk!

Swaledale

Swaledale

Gradually the path took us lower until we were walking along the valley floor beside the River Swale, brown from the peat. There were numerous waterfalls along this section – the power and noise after all the recent rain was immense.

Wain Wath Force

Wain Wath Force

Catrake Force

Rainby Force

I pitched my tent right beside the waterfall above and later that night would drop off to sleep with the sound of rushing water in my ears. What a great lullaby!

I dropped off to sleep replaying the days events and thinking about tomorrow – there were two alternatives, a high level or a low level route, and I wanted to do both! Sigh, which to choose…..?!

The Wainwright Coast to Coast Path – Intro

14 May Great Fryup Dale

I have just returned from an amazing 13 days spent backpacking the Wainwright Coast to Coast Path, and what a fantastic 13 days it has been.  The weather man threw everything at me, below freezing temperatures, heavy rain, sleet, blizzard conditions at times, thick mist and low cloud, and beautiful sunshine.  The paths ranged from very nicely ‘paved’ sections to treading knee deep through almost swamp conditions as there had been so much rain.  But all of to was just awesome!

The End
The End :) – outside the Bay Hotel, Robin Hood’s Bay with a pint of Wainwright’s Ale

The route, the brainchild of the celebrated Lakeland walker, Alfred Wainwright, is officially 192 miles long and stretches from St Bees on the North West coast of England to Robin Hood’s Bay on the North East coast of England.  I say ‘officially’ because often it is not possible to stop on the trail itself which adds some miles – my GPS in fact clocked 205 miles in the 13 days.  The pedometer Ap on my iPhone tells me that I walked 475,000 steps :) !  It takes in three National Parks, The Lake District, The Yorkshire Dales and the North Yorkshire Moors and includes coast, mountains, moorlands, rivers, valleys, farmland, in fact every type of landscape.

Bannerdale
The high Lake District Mountains

It is very much a multi-cultural walk with people from all around the world coming to the UK specially to walk across this country, such is its renown around the world.  It is also a friendly community trail – I have walked with and talked with some lovely people who were either following the same route or were local residents only too happy to welcome walkers such as myself – and to put us right when we took a wrong turn.

The Pennines
On the bleak Pennines

It has to be said that it is a tough trail to walk, especially when carrying a 20Kg pack up over mountains over 2,500 feet high and where conditions under foot are not always great.  It is of course possible to use baggage transfer companies and carry less but one of the joys of carrying everything on your back is the pure and exhilarating freedom to stop when and where you please, although it naturally makes sense to have some sort of schedule – for me, a very flexible one.

Crackpot Hall
Crackpot Hall in Swaledale

A year ago I completed the Pembrokeshire Coast Path, another great trail, but the difference with this one is that good route finding skills are essential – in Pembrokeshire with the sea on one side of you and the land on the other it is hard to go wrong :) !  This time, I took a GPS, map and compass, and a guide book……oh and I still had to resort to the iPhone map Ap to establish my exact position at times :) !

All in all, it has been another fabulous experience and I have returned with not a single blister…..although I do have a pair of split boots as they didn’t wear quite so well as my feet!

Over the coming weeks I will be blogging each of the days walked as I kept a journal running each evening.  I will include photographs (naturally), some of the hardships, the delights (of which there were many), the people I met on the way, and much, much more.  I hope you will join me.

Thanks for stopping by.

Until next time,

Your friend The Dorset Rambler.

Comments and feedback on this blog are welcome. If you would like to contact me, my details are on my website which is http://www.yarrowphotography.com.

If you would like to join me on my walks, my Twitter feed is http://twitter.com/adorsetrambler.

All photographs, poems and words in this blog are the copyright of The Dorset Rambler and must not be reproduced without permission.

Holloways and Sunken Paths, the Mysterious Ancient Highways

20 Feb

Holloway

There are thousands of ancient paths criss crossing Dorset’s wonderful countryside but none more fascinating than these labyrinthine paths like the one in the picture above which goes by the interesting name of Hell Lane! These are known as Holloways, although they do have other names such as shutes, bostels or grundles depending on the area they are in, and they are only seen in areas where the bedrock is soft – West Dorset is predominantly sandstone and therefore has many Holloways.

So what are Holloways?

Well the name Holloway comes from the anglo-saxon word which literally means ‘sunken road’, and they date from at least 300 years ago, many going back as far as the iron age. They started life as either drove trails used to move cattle and other animals from farms to markets, routes from inland to the sea ports, pilgrimage routes, or simply boundary ditches. I am not sure whether the term Holloway would have been applied much when the usage of these ‘highways’ was at its peak – I suspect they might well have been referred to as simply ‘lanes’.  Holloway, as a name, seems to have come much more to the fore in recent years having been popularised by Dan Richards’ and Robert Macfarlane’s book of the same name.  In terms of literature, they also feature strongly in Geoffrey Household’s book Rogue Male, where the main character fleeing his pursuers goes to ground and hides out in a disused Dorset Holloway.

They certainly wouldn’t have started their lives as Holloways because most would have initially been at ground level but centuries of use by cattle, carts and people gradually eroded the soft surface creating a ditch which was then deepened and widened by yet more ‘traffic’ and also by water running off the surrounding land as the ditch became at times a river. Eventually, many have become as deep as 20 or 30 feet creating in effect gorges rather than paths.

Coombe Down Hill

Holloways, and indeed all the ancient byways, are a record of the habits of our ancestors with hundreds of years of repeated use and that makes them rich in heritage and mystery……which is why I love walking them. With walls towering on either side and trees growing out of the top with their network of roots holding the walls in place, these paths have a real air of mystery. You feel like you are walking a natural and secret tunnel as the mesh of intertwined trees and branches above makes you feel shut in.  And there is lots of wildlife too! Gilbert White, a pioneering naturalist from the 18th century once said that to walk the holloways was to ‘Access a world of deep history, an unexpectedly wild world, buried amid the familiar and close at hand’. He wasn’t wrong!

I have a number of regular walks that take in one or more holloways and they are always a delight to walk. On a grey, stormy day you could almost fear to walk them as the gloom and darkness created by the high walls and overhanging branches creates a feeling of shadowy threat. On a bright sunny day with lovely dappled light filtering through the trees, they take on an altogether different feel!  But always secret and mysterious. So where are these Holloways?  Well the truth is they are many and varied, ranging from the gorge-like to simply shallow sunken paths, worn by feet, wheels, and hooves.

These are a few I have walked.

Holloway
Hell Lane, Symondsbury

Hell Lane is perhaps one of the most impressive and interesting.  With Shutes Lane it connects Symondsbury with North Chideock, climbing up over the ridge near Quarry Hill.  It is interesting because the eastern part is much more gorge like than the western half – to walk from the ridge down to North Chideock is a bit like walking a shallow river bed!  The reason for this difference might well be the fact that the church and other buildings at Symondsbury were built with stone from the quarry.  You can just imagine how the constant traffic of heavy laden carts running between quarry and village would have considerably deepened that part of the track to the gorge it now is.

The Winniford Valley
The Winneford Valley – the Holloway runs into the trees, top right

There are others in this area, tracks such as the one, now part of the Monarch’s Way, that climbs from North Chideock, through the Winneford Valley up over Coppet Hill.

Henwood Hill Henwood Hill
On Henwood Hill

And a smaller, but none the less beautiful, path that runs across the ridge at Henwood Hill.  This is a lovely path to walk in spring when the bluebells and wild garlic are in flower.

Coombe Down Hill Coombe Down Hill
Coombe Down

Moving away from this immediate area, there is a fine Holloway that climbs from the A3066 south of Beaminster up over Coombe Down.  This is deep and wild with gnarled tree roots growing out of the steep sided walls, holding them in place.  It is a well walked path, forming part of The Jubilee Trail.

A Sunken Lane Follow the River
Near South Poorton

Another smaller lane (or is it a river!) runs from the road at South Poorton and drops down to the nature reserve.  With it’s fern lined walls and it’s stony, waterlogged bottom, this is a lovely haven for wildlife and this, together with the nature reserve beyond, makes a delightful walk.

Holloway, West Milton
The track drops down steeply at West Milton

And there is evidence of further Holloways at the other end of the nature reserve as the track drops down to another interesting village, West Milton.

Lewesdon Hill Lane DSC00233-36
Lewesdon Hill Lane

One further path that I feel is worthy of inclusion is Lewesdon Hill Lane, although this is not perhaps a Holloway in the true sense.  I include it because it is ancient and sunken and a beautiful track to walk – it has even been suggested by some to have been part of the Ickneild Way, that ancient super-highway.  With moss covered banks on either side and surrounded by ancient woodlands, there are some wonderful views from this path.

Near Stoke Abbot
The access road down to Stoke Abbot

If you walk Lewesdon Hill Lane, you may well eventually reach the track that drops from the ridge down to the delightful village of Stoke Abbot.  It really is worth walking this part as the deeply cut access road that leads to the village is a Holloway in itself, and of course the village with its pub is a pleasant detour.

The sunken lane near Chetnole
Near Chetnole – this section is fairly clear but later it becomes overgrown Cutty Stubbs
Cutty Stubbs

Sadly, not all of our old sunken byways have been well maintained and with the development of other forms of transport many have fallen into disrepair.  The pictures above show sunken paths at Cutty Stubbs and Chetnole – both are now impassable.  At Cutty Stubbs, I couldn’t even find the entrance to the sunken path and had to ask the farmer for permission to cross his field to find it!  I did once question this with the authorities in an effort to have them cleared and reopened but sadly they ‘fall between stools’ and no-one has a budget that they wish to apply.  The reason is that these are often Byways Open to All Transport (BOAT’s) rather than footpaths and responsibility for these falls with the Highways authority.  The Footpaths authorities have a budget to maintain footpaths and Highways have a budget to maintain roads and BOAT’s………but naturally their funding is always exhausted keeping the roads in reasonable repair, with nothing left for our ‘off-road’ tracks.

Holloways may have been popularised by more recent writings but justifiably so.  They are ever changing, ever different, ever mysterious, but always delightful! And as is often the case when I walk, I travel along them wondering about those who have trod that way before – were they early drovers, were they pilgrims heading for one of the Dorset abbeys, were they smugglers, were they just ordinary people making their way to the port perhaps to emigrate to other lands!  Who were they and what was their purpose in travelling these ancient routes?  If only the walls could speak! These days walkers and wildlife are the companions of the Holloway and to go there is to enter another world.

Thanks for stopping by.

Until next time,

Your friend The Dorset Rambler.

Comments and feedback on this blog are welcome. If you would like to contact me, my details are on my website which is http://www.yarrowphotography.com.

All photographs, poems and words in this blog are the copyright of The Dorset Rambler and must not be reproduced without permission.

What Might Have Been!

11 Feb

What Might Have Been

A strange title perhaps but its actually a very appropriate title :)!

I did a 16 mile walk last week and timed it so that I would reach Corfe Castle in time for the post sunset glow, intending to get some shots of the castle silhouetted against the sky. Now when you are walking that distance, it is not always easy to time your arrival to the minute and I know that as a photographer I should have made sure that I allowed enough time to get there early so that I could get my viewpoint etc right.  This is just good photographic practice, especially as sunsets are so fleeting!  In reality, I did get there in time, the sun had dropped below the horizon and I was ready for the explosion of light……..except it didn’t materialise as the sun dropped into a bank of very low cloud. I ended up with just a picture of the castle against a bland sky.

Corfe Castle

I began to wish I had walked slightly quicker, although in truth the day’s walk was more important to me than the picture anyway, because 15 minutes earlier as I was walking along Nine Barrow Down towards Corfe, there had been a lovely setting sun that would have silhouetted the castle very nicely.  However, that wasn’t really what I had in mind as I wanted that lovely post sunset glow that we often, well sometimes, get.  But the setting sun had been lovely!

The Setting Sun

When I got home, I remembered that I had taken some shots of the setting sun as I walked along the ridge, albeit there was nothing of interest to put in the foreground at the time so I decided to put the two images together. I have never done this before and I am not really comfortable with it because it kind of feels like a ‘cheat’, although in reality I think what I’m not comfortable with is the passing off of a heavily manipulated image as real rather than the actual manipulation itself. This of course is something that came to the fore in the LPOTY competition a couple of years ago.

Most photographers will use Photoshop or Lightroom or whatever to process, improve and enhance their pictures and that in itself is nothing new – even in my younger days of ‘steam driven’ cameras we could be quite creative in the darkroom! But how much is too much?

In this case, both images (the sky and the castle) were taken by me on the same day just 15 minutes apart, and in fact, had I walked a bit quicker during the day and arrived at the castle before the sun had dropped below the horizon, the image at the top of this post is exactly the image I would have finished up with…….even if it wasn’t the image I originally had in mind.

A purist would undoubtedly say that any image manipulation is wrong.  However, others would argue that photography is an art form and much as a painter uses brushes, knives, sponges, rags or whatever to create his picture, so the photographer is perfectly at liberty to use all the tools that he has at his disposal.  After all it is very common, even essential, for landscape photographers to use filters on their cameras to balance the various light sources and tones etc, and this in itself is a form of ‘manipulation’.

So how much is too much?  Well in all honesty, I do think care is needed – I have seen photographs with spectacular sunset skies but where the angle of the shadows clearly indicate that the main picture was taken in the middle of the day.  In my view, creativity is to be applauded but it needs to be carefully applied, having in mind the overall picture.  But at the end of the day, it comes down to honesty and integrity – manipulate an image as much as you like, but be honest about what you have done rather than try to pass the image off as a real and original photograph.

So my confession is that the image at the top is not real……..but it might have been :)!

Thanks for stopping by.

Until next time,

Your friend
The Dorset Rambler.

Comments and feedback on this blog are welcome.

If you would like to contact me, my details are on my website which is http://www.yarrowphotography.com.

All photographs, poems and words in this blog are the copyright of The Dorset Rambler and must not be reproduced without permission.

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