Lands End to Cape Wrath

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      > 6. Carlisle - Ardrossan
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Lands End to Cape Wrath
 

ARDROSSAN TO OBAN
Ups and downs, destinations, meeting Mark, synchronicity, Arran, Loch Fyn, Oban

Sunday 10 July                                

A little lesson.

ďIt is needful that a man should know what he is doing when he goes upon the heatherĒ  to mis-quote Robert Louis Stevenson and corrupt the context.

Back on the mainland, Kintyre in tent, swarming hoards without.

10.00pm comfortable cooler and calm now but a little while ago very hot and flustered. Trying to stay on top of things through the onslaught, clegs joined forces with midges to entertain. Humid airless sweating and cross with myself.

Up the path from Skipness this evening and deciding to cut out over the top; across the open hills north towards Tarbet, a mile or so and find a windy spot to camp. After an hour Iíd covered less than half a mile. The most difficult moor-land recipe yet encountered on the hottest most humid evening; relentless deep (up to chest high) tussocky grass and head high bracken. Hidden ditches and bogs and unwelcome insect interest if I stopped for more than 10 seconds. Exhausted, no possibility of anywhere flat enough to pitch and no real running water to wash off the sweat and drink. AAh! frustration but not panic despair quite.

So retreat to the path. Down into the valley of the Skipness River, tossing my pack over a 7 foot Deer fence and here I am. Glenskible, sweaty humid cooking zipped up tight on a bright summerís evening.

Bit of a low point.

7 feasting ticks. 2 on my back I canít reach to exrtract.

The Fowl Fiend bights my back.

Poor Tomís a hot and sweaty.

All things that arise pass away however, this wonít go on for ever and here I am relaxed and fed feeling safe and survived.

I could have taken this path up through the valley beside the river and been here in 20 minutes. I didnít want to be down in the valley on this still evening, wanted to be up top in the wind looking back at the Arran sky line and also had to test out these Scottish hills. Am I going to be able to handle them? How cross country can I go? If there is more of what I came across up there this evening well not very far! Learning this.

Anyway.

Back on the mainland. Took the Lochranza too Claonaig ferry this afternoon after walking round the coast from our camp site. Past The Cock of Arran, rocky up and down through tumbling birch and oak woodland.

An Oh Yes! Venison casserole lunch in Lochranza. Beautiful bright clear day. Smooth sea Kilbrannan Sound with a school of dolphins and the mountains of Arran just there to touch.

Fantastic shapes they are, swoops and humps and jaggedy bits. Rocks, discovering the Arran geology from a £1 pamphlet bought in Brodick.

Came across ďHuttonís UnconformityĒ this morning. Described as ďThe first certain proof of the great age of the earthĒ. No small thing for poor mad Homo Sapiens consciousness eyes opening whatís going on where are we?

Discordant uncomfortable collections, greenish Cambrian Schists dipping inland beneath red Devonian Sandstones dipping out to sea. Jumbled on top of each other this is very old and this is older and how come they are the wrong way up?  Layers also of a sedimentary rock like concrete cast with a mix of big smooth pebbles. Permian, 270 million years old and described as a flash flood in the desert. Think of that! there was a flood in a desert somewhere and there it is left behind cast solid on a wild Scottish coast that once was sitting on the Equator.

Raised beaches, river terraces, pyramidal peaks, Arran has it all.

Mark and I did walk out of Brodick (after Beer and a Venison Casserole), Friday eve and full of good cheer and excited meetings.

2 or 3 miles and we camped in Glen Rosa a little way into this perfect round glacial half pipe. Then in the morning up to The Saddle, the pass below Cir Moor hidden in the clouds. This was the dotted line on the map, from there going down a steep 100m into Glen Sannox, wet and slippery scrambling which was almost too much for me with my up to max 60 odd pound pack. But Iíd not looked too closely at the contours and probably just as well cos it was exciting, scary that is, and we made it fine(in this universe).

Down to Sannox and round the coast to camp on the shore near Millstone Point. All the while marvelling at all things around, which was lovely to be sharing.

 
Mark and I night spot 80 on the Arran coast.

Enthusiasm with a friend who could point out to me Mergansers and Eiders and we could exchange raptor stories and build a big fire and jump and laugh on the beach and leap naked into freezing streams.

He walked away back to catch a bus and a boat early on Sunday morning, very sad and gloomy there I was alone again.

What am I afraid of at present? because out of the Zone. But this is what itís like; you go for a walk and just like life itís up and down.

Iím fearing:

-To find I canít cope with the wildness that is to come. Too inhospitable for different reasons. Less of the comforts of the workings of men, shops and beds and company and more of nature with gradient and rocks and bogs and aggressive flora and fauna. All of the latter in fact marvellous but exhausting so will it wear me out until I lose strength and confidence,  will I lose the excitement and the motivation. How long can I keep going in a flat indifferent state?

Iím fearing getting stuck on the ending. Head down and counting down the miles and days. I DONT WANT THAT

Out here to be in the present. One step.

Idea dawning of settling for Cape Wrath as my destination. Looking at days and miles and I think running out of time. So being able to relax and stay wandering, enjoy all this not just have to cover it. Discussed this with Mark and he agreed and we also talked about freedom, he asked me something like how I would feel if I had no destination and time boundary and was completely free to wander endlessly everywhere? So we got into talking about this freedom I have at the moment which is particular in that it is a good stretch of time and a light happy landlessness but itís going to end and I know where Iím going, not exactly but itís a linear thing from here to there, itís clear and firm in my mind. Iíve committed myself to this direction so Iím not free of it. So time and direction and destination, Iím free to wander inside that box which suits me.

Do this for ever everywhere?

And then we talked about exchanging one set of hang ups and anxieties and boring tasks for another. Does this way of life become as meaningless and stress-full as everyday working life can be? Hay ho but Iíll do this for a little while yet.

 

Monday 11 July

Day 82. 64 walking I think.

THE WAY THINGS CAN CHANGE.

8 things happened today that changed my mood. To take me from an apprehensive, anxious and quite negative place, how am I going to cope with this? Whatís going to happen? Into; This is my playground, itís all here for the taking.

Rich and beautiful and just dig it!

Up and out of the tent early, packed and away before breakfast. Temperature soaring as soon as the sun hit the tent and still under siege, no possibility of staying zipped up and firing up stove for essential caffeine. So up the hill into the wind with heavy heavy legs, just doing it, running on resources of experience and organisation. A mile or so up into the breeze and then breakfast and drying out the condensation dripping tent.

Hot, not a cloud 80į by 9.30.

Up along the path towards Tarbet, sweat pouring and continual checking and swiping at klegs. Up through conifer plantations (spruce?) and at this point just keeping going. Digging the landscape but through a haze of ďBlimey this is hardĒ.

Then the changes: chronological.

Number 1.

Discovering that Klegs donít like Eurika! A generous coating makes them bounce of as soon as they land on my legs.

So relax that bit.

Klegs by the way. The Scots name for the horse fly. Malevolent devilish looking but fortunately (for the human race), slow thinking and slow reacting blood sucker. Itís possible to swat them as they land on bare skin. They approach without caution and take their time before activating their tye-tanium drilling equipment, which will find a way through a cotton T shirt.

Hard (that is a little bit of a nuisance!), to walk an uneven forest path with a big rucksack and be constantly bending and swatting legs and arm and neck.

Eurika! Patented herbal insect repellent. Made a few miles up the way from here in Lochgilphead, 2 or 3 days hence. Actually sweet smelling and pleasant to apply.

Hallelujah.

Number 2

Half way up to the top of the hill, Carn Chalum maybe and along came 2 guys riding pillion on a quad bike, mowing the path cheerful and friendly. They explained the route down to Tarbet. Fantastic, this wild inhospitable country has a soft side, the people are going to make easier. Spirits lifting

Number 3

Mowing men finish their job and return to their van where I catch up with them. The top of the forest track at Cruach Lagain.

Theyíre keen to talk and routes and paths, long time forestry workers, their mountains in fact. I tell them of how Iím heading for Lochgilphead to stay with a friend of a friend.

They say whoís that then, I tell them Andy, they say Andy and Sue and I say yes and of course they know him and they know him well.

Iíve been following the wooden way posts that he makes in his workshop and installs up here. Been building that house for years he has.

The country suddenly becomes super friendly and hospitable. Iím part of something, a network that might just carry me along. Iíve arrived out of the blue and now safe and on the inside.

Number 4

Off down the hill, beautiful gravel forest road winding through the most darling heath and plantation with sunny clear views north along Loch Fyn and a breeze to blow away the midges and klegs. Gone; the day is turning itself around.

Hot and clear with rocks and green tumbling forest hillsides down to blue sea shores. Positively Adriatic.


Adriatic hills above Loch Fyn.

Internal inhabitantís beginning to shuffle, old serious Mr Grumpy packing up, moving out.

Number 5

On down towards Tarbet. Lunch in a spot of shade beside the wide sweeping forest track. Sardines, oatcakes, cheese, apricots, nuts and raisins. Doze with no fear of stabbing sucking mouth parts.

Path more and more groovy down past Tarbet Castle and into town. Oh a lovely little harbour and town.

Large cappuccino and chocolate ice cream.

My goodness, back on the Cornish coast. Cup running over.


Down into Tarbet

Number 6

Out of town around 3.30, biting the bullet and taking the main road north.

Learning accepting. These moors up here are not for random stepping out across. Itís paths tracks or roads for the moment except for perhaps the odd mile or two.

Go with that and be happy.

Number 7

A mile or so out of Tarbet along the A83. I stopped to knock on the door of what looked like a castle gate house. It stood at the top of a track that slipped down to the right and followed the coast for a few miles. Was this a private road? Would anyone mind if I walked on down? And lovely people, a couple came out and we chatted for over an hour. The late afternoon sun outside their house.

Easy friendly open chat about all sorts. The woman (Elaine or Eileen I wish I could remember), was born and grew up in Skipness, I left there yesterday evening.

Welcome welcome warmth and human contact and again; to cross this country on foot is hard but itíll be just so much easier with lots of friendly people. In fact a joy.

Number 8

Down along the track, the old main road in fact. Past Barmoor Island and Stonefield Castle (Hotel) and along the very shore. Rhododendrons, (very bad invasive pest that I rather like), sunny perfect evening and finding just the most idyllic spot to camp.

Aird nan Ron, grassy salt marsh pitch behind a little rocky promontory into Loch Fyn. Fresh water from nearby stream, salty swim in the last of the sunshine, woops! a sparrow hawk being chased by two swallows low over my head as I climbed out onto the rocks, cheesy chilly chorizo and apricot bulgar surprise and a miniature of Bells.

So far, little insect interest.

Oh gosh, Arrived. Home on the range.


Food and shelter night spot 82.

So there they are, the eight factors that served to effectively turn things around and now I feel (just at this moment); Hey Western Scotland Highlands and Islands Iím coming to get you.

The way I used to feel about north Wales when I began to explore it on my motor cycle. Dolgellau, Barmouth, Penmaenpool, Kings youth hostel. Time up out and away.

(One down side; no mobile signal so I canít share all this with anyone and talk to Vivienne on the evening of the first day in her new job. Sad).

10.30. Light only now fading. Iím perched on my Thermarest seat on top of a rock amongst yellow Lichens, 20 feet above the a gently rippling Loch Fyn. View south down to Arran and the stretch of coast where I camped with Mark 48 hours ago, north up to mountains which must be around Inveraray.

A breeze has just (just) sprung up from the north.

Gannets circling quite high and Chunk Chunk, as they auger in, just for me.

Walnut fudge and whisky.

Sea-weedy smell, quiet and calm pretty much perfection.

You see; just so fickle! Up and down up and down and realising Iím getting into making lots of lists of things, this and this and this; thatís a very male thing isnít it and more than a little autistic. Very autistic self absorbed world out here.

And now, you wouldnít believe it a dolphin (although a little one so porpoise I suppose), breaking the surface with a ChoofÖÖ   just there maybe 30 yards off shore. Breaking the surface ďChoofĒ every 10 seconds and heading north up the Loch.

All these things!

Also a developing flow of Synchronicity.

A west coast human being synchronicity thing going on. Links in the ether entertaining my adventuring and overly romanticated mind.

Jane and Julian down at Cadbury Camp. Deciding to visit old friends from Plymouth on my way up and strange connections extending from there:

Number 1. Finding myself the night before meeting J and J, arriving by chance at Janeís family home camp site at Cowslip Green. Spooky.

Number 2. Lunch in Wales. Day 26 Sunday 15 May. Across the Severn Bridge and eating that very good Roast Chicken Sunday lunch in a pub in Chepstow.  Chatting with a family in the pub garden and describing my west coast route.

Geologist father (specialising in fossil beds), knows well and lived for a while when mapping fossil beds, in the right out and away spot Scourig and Badrallach on Little Loch Broom near Ullapool. That is where J and J have their croft, and where I am headed to meet with them in August.

Number 3. Mark, the one person who has engaged with me enough to find time to come and walk with me. Back in Plymouth 1981, he and Jane were college sweethearts.

Number 4. J and J have connected me with their friends near Lochgilphead just north of here and everyone seems to know them (well those 2 blokes yesterday). Iím being sucked along into something. A strange resonating vibrating in these Devonian Sandstones and Greenish Cambrian Schists. Ear to the ground what else will transpire? What does it all mean?

And the welcome return of Neil Diamond in Aviators; (SUI)

Cracklin Rosie get on board

We gonna ride till there ainít no more to go

Takin it slow

Had me a time with a poor manís lady

Na na na na na na na.

 

Texted this morning to Monday afternoon ward round regular check in:

Scotland hot by the sea today Oh Boy! Flesh pots of Tarbet on Loch Fyne. Cappuccino and sardines.

Kwame.

Great to hear from you. Having messages is a high point. It feels like we are making some of the journey. We missed you at the ward night out Kariokee. We needed help.

What a shame, should have popped back.

 

Thursday 14 July

LOCH SCHAMMADALE.

Skipness Ė Tarbet Ė Lochgilphead Ė Kilmichael Ė Ford Ė Loch Awe - Kilmaha Ė Dalavich Ė Loch Avich Ė The String of Lorne Ė Loch Scammadale.

Oban tomorrow.

Oban and I think maybe two days off? Certainly one. Perhaps Friday and Saturday night in the Youth Hostel (must ring ahead to book if I can find a signal tomorrow morning), then Sunday just cross over to Mull. To Craignure and get into the campsite there. Just do that on Sunday.

Ready to get going into the hills of Mull on Monday. Thatís the plan.  

This part of the world, Kintyre, Argyle and Bute. Low hills and big forests and a lot of water. Green and mist and rain. Getting into it finding it and finding a bit of a claustrophobic feel especially buried in heavy plantations. Not been up on top and seen the spread.

But a wondrous open walk this afternoon. From Loch Avich up northward following an old herd road, sheep to Oban. The String of Lorne (Sreang Lathurnach. Lorne being the ancient name for these parts), a fancy and romantic path to be following.

Over past Loch Na Sreinge and down through the enormous steep gully of Alt Braglenmore. Heavy rain all the way and low cloud sitting just above the tops of the hills, the heaviest rain I think of the trip so far, so properly into Scotland. Into tent and retreating from the weather by 5.00 on the grassy shore at the eastern end of Loch Scammadale. Little out of the way loch nestling between steep grassy hill sides. A couple of houses a quiet (1 car so far) road along the northern shore. Evening 9.15 fed and warm and reading Robert Louis Stevenson. Hissy mountain rain and the ripple of the lake shore.

Pic 85 01
Night spot 85 on Loch Scammadale.

These hills with quite a grumpy aspect, more stormy whipped up sea than the soft swell of the Southern Uplands. Wind against tide with waves breaking, tumbling over rocky drop offs.

Pic 85 01
The String of Lorne.

Aah and water-falls into steep gullies cutting down and full of dwarf forests. Developing a thing for these sharp little valleys with woods nestling. Green and misty mysterious tucked away private too steep and tangled to get into. Let them be.

Delighted to suddenly find this bit of countryside. Choose a line on the map, tramp along  and surprise, it turns into something.

If I had really studied the contours I might have thought hey that could be interesting; the path looks like itíll take me up into the wilds over a pass and down through a steep valley with lots of hanging tributaries between lumpy round hills; but I hadnít. Think Iíve been a little down and pre-occupied with tiredness and needing rest, lots of roads and dense plantations, sore feet.

Then I find myself feeling stronger and covering the miles without having rested. Very satisfying that is to find Iíve moved through tiredness and come into an energy seam.

Another passage almost completed. Ardrossan to Oban. The Southern Uplands phase hurtling to an end last Thursday, bombs and leaping over the sea to Brodick. On edge and then off again with Mark, overwhelmed at first by Kintyre then off on another wave before meeting two sets of people and staying with them two nights running. A topsy-turvy experience.

After a long day on the road on Tuesday, north along Loch Fyn, through Lochgilphead and on up to Kilmichael, exhausted I arrived at Andy and Sueís to food and hospitality and chat and getting a picture of what itís like to live up here. Move up from the south lands, put down roots, build a house, find some strength and make a family and a life. Needing strength to do this, not for the faint hearted.  

The next day, Andy passed me on to his friends Maggie and Sid; their small holding buried in the plantations at Kilmaha on the north shore of Loch Awe. So much delight and excitement at newly arrived electricity (generator) and having a go at living off the land and bog myrtle beer and the tricks to keep the mice from eating everything in the polly tunnel.

Pic 84 04 Kilmaha.

Do I aspire to that kind of life? Itís always been an idea Iíve entertained, especially to live out in a wild place. An acute feeling I have as an urbanite, a feeling of alienation from and equal yearning, estrangement and longing to be connected to this wild nature but while Iím out here wandering this is enough. This is how I make my connection. Keep it romantic and perhaps that will be the way it will always be for me but I hope not though. One day horny hands.

A very path moment this morning. Forest track grassed over except for the two narrow strips of wheel tracks, dipping down above the shore of Loch Awe, through some gigantic towering pines, Douglas Fir and some young ish Sequoias I think. Rising up into the mist and drizzle. Dwarfing me and silent. 

 

Friday 15 July

OBAN

Pic 86 01
Carried to Oban.

Some absolute major kind of exhilaration and delight.

Scallops and Dover Sole in Oban.

Walking into Oban! How can that be?

Something like:

Stand and move weight onto left foot while at the same time picking up right foot. Swing right foot forward and place heel and then sole down a foot or two in front.

Move weight onto right foot while at the same time picking up left foot. Swing left foot forward and place heel and then sole down a foot or two in front.

Repeat above allowing forward momentum to enable you to anticipate and begin transferring weight before forward swinging foot is placed down.

Oh my goodness you do that and this is how it tastes. Sweet and soft and lemon tangy with a half a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon. Bustling restaurant, John Coltrane going into one on A Kind Of Blue. Complete.

The Isle of Kerrera and the hills of Mull beyond the harbour.

Lovely day today. Up from Scammadale on the path north over and through a nameless plantation. Up to 280meters, 2 or 3 miles and down to Glen Feochan. Again enjoying the change of energy. I can spend days in a coping and just kicking along kind of place. Covering ground, pre-occupied with the everyday. Aches and pains, routes and food and weather and the weight of the country to come.

Then suddenly the wave comes in and Iím on it and Iím wide open and check this out, what Iím doing and what Iíve done.

The intense silence in the middle of the Nameless Plantation, following the path around twisting winding gullies above Loch Foechan. Shocked for a moment to come face to face for the first time with a big red stag. All squared up to me and antlers and dripping in the mist. Leaping away and gone in a moment.

Stooping to look at the curled and soaked little body. A dead shrew in the grass with the dew sparkly droplets on its fir.

Suddenly all there was. The still and silence. No wind no bird song and then filled with the soft slow pulsing hum of millions of insect wings. Oh still and alive, the whole forest humming.

Intoxicatory.

Roads round to Loch Nell to have lunch with a pair of swanís do-si-do and casually smooching through reeds and bottoms up in the air to take beaks into the mud. Over the top one more time round Cnoc Mor with anticipation building. Oban looking on the map to be the most exciting and enormous human metropolis with promise of all manner of earthly delights and perhaps a massage!

Arriving at the harbour front at 4.30. Down from those rich wet forests feeling strong and on top of it. A tiger, an emperor walking into town: ďVisualise a tiger and soon your steps will become as majestic as hisĒ. (Thich Nhat Hanh).

Sitting on the sea wall along from a group of people. 2 men in kilts and a little group drinking coffee from a thermos.

Husband of Roseanne in a kilt, big Mustachio American in Aviators. Enjoying being just that with lots of jokes. He asks me about my pack and what Iím doing and we swap stories of why weíre there and then.

These are such moments when it all comes together.

Itís just so great to say; yes Iíve walked here, all the way, 20 April. I love to say it and well people seem to love to hear it.

Iím hanging just short of cornering anyone who vaguely makes eye contact and declaring how great and clever I am. Volunteering it though with little persuasion.

I feed of peopleís responses. I spend so much time inside my own thoughts and given just a chance I explode out and itís happening over and over. (In fact I conjure it up with my friendly people song. Always works).

Looking out for aaaall the friendly people

In my life

You know I love aaaall the friendly people

In my life

Searching now for aaaaall the friendly people

In my life

Friend to aaaall the friendly people

In my life.

All the way up Iíve told my story and now itís getting bigger or different. More done and less to do.

So on the Oban sea front and surrounded by a Scots family from near Stirling and their cousins from Albuquerquey.

I talk of miles and ambitions and life on the road and they talk of the family gathering and scattering their Auntís ashes. Marvellous instant connection.

Talk and talk then walk on.

I feel bouncy and light and absolutely doing for me a great thing.

I need that (I want it!)

Doesnít happen like this anywhere else in my London eyes down life. Feels like the most open and instant Iíve ever been.

(except perhaps that is 2.00am Sunday at Glastonbury when everyone is just talking to everyone else).

2 things happening: Stepping out of my habitual being me persona, years and years battened down.

But stepping into this other role. So so simple, The Walking Man.

Just that one level. All the complicated stuff left behind.

Here and gone

No hair no hang-ups.

(Oh yeah?!)

A strange twist to that there was on that morning I walked out of the sand dunes at Irvine on my way to cross over to Arran (7July fateful day). Got talking to an early morning dog walking man who asked me where I was going. His reply when I told him was to tell me of an encounter he had had two years before. He met a Nepalese man on a bicycle who was going round the world, been out on the road for a year or more. And my indignant response (only just concealed): hey wait a minute feller we were talking about me me me just then and my wonderful adventure, donít change the subject.

 

Sunday 17 July.

Morning of second day off in Oban.
Fog and rain, donít feel in a hurry to get across to Mull.

Plan to spend the whole day just crossing and setting up in the camp site at Craignure. But raining at the moment so Iíll spend the morning in the Youth Hostel, no rush.

Thinking about the next stage; here to Mallaig. Looking at the route, pouring over the maps I picked up at the Post Office yesterday. Excited looking forward to this, what lies ahead?

Package number 7. (3 to go!)

Thinking itís going to take a week to Mallaig. Winding round the hills, big hills and lochs. Back and forth jagged coastline.

Ardnamurchan! Does such a place exist?

The thing about roads again, working out a balance between roads and paths.

I want to be up in the wild country but finding it has to be on paths. Perhaps just short linking jumps across open ground. I can only guess looking at the map how difficult it might be, how heavy going. Still haunted by that evening (just last week!), floundering in the bogs and swamped by the Kintyre tussocks.

2 or 3 days on Mull. Looking at just one jump of about 3 miles between forestry tracks heading up through Glen Forsa below Beinn Bheag. There are some dense contours there.

Planning to go through Glen Forsa and down to near Salen, perhaps camp on the coast there. Then up along the west side of Loch Frisa and round into Tobermory.  

Ferry back to mainland at Kilchoan then wiggle back and forth round lochs and mountains up to Mallaig.

All I have is the map and some kind of motivation to get across it. Pack again up to full weight with a weeks food.

I think Iíve decided now to settle for Cape Wrath. Make that my destination and let go of John-o-Groats. Iíve run out of time to do that now without really pushing it (by my standards).

To push it and struggle would be unpleasant and not why Iím out here so;

I have 4 weeks odd to wander up the west coast, enjoy it and relax. I can stay for a few days with J and J before the final assault north from Ullapool.

To wander through this country can seem at one moment wondrous and romantic and mythical adventure quest and the nextÖ. an outrageous what am I thinking frightening prospect.

Maybe canít have one without the other.

Well embedded in Scotland now. Gretna day 64. 22 days ago, always been here. England and all those down south miles. Where are they?

And where are all the massages I was planning in getting along the way? I tried in Hay On Wye, lady all booked up, Liverpool the same and no reply from a number on a card I was given at the Oban Natural Health Centre. Just the thought of having aching muscles pummelled but it looks like Iíll be going without.
 

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