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Fieldnotes by A R Cane

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Burpham Camp (Promontory Fort)

As Carl says, there's not a great deal to see here as the interior of the fort has been used for farming for centuries and any trace of earthworks at the Northern end near the pub have all but disappeared. No other earthworks were necessary as when this fort first came into being it would have been surrounded on three sides by either the sea or the flood plains of the River Arun. Indeed the Arun and one of it's tributaries still surround it. Later on it was a Saxon Burh and now just adjoined to a quaint little Sussex village, though worthy of being bombed by the Luftwaffe in WW2 apparently.

Scorhill (Stone Circle)

Two days prior to the visit of Scorhill in the North East of the Dartmoor National Park we had tried to take friends to see Yellowmead concentric stone circles over on the Western side. We'd spent about an hour sloshing around an area of no more than a quarter of a square mile in driving rain and high winds and failed to locate it, even though we'd been there a couple of years before. So it was a relief to locate this circle so easily in profoundly better conditions. That's what Dartmoor is like!

Having visited numerous stone circles and ancient sites on the moor over the years I have to say this is one of my favourites and also very easy to get to. You don't really see it until the last moment as it's in a slight valley and the stones themselves are not really very tall, the biggest being about two metres, but with the strong sunlight and brooding skyline they appeared to shine invitingly.

Apparently it's never been tampered with in the sense of re-erecting some of the fallen stones, though it's obvious that stone cutters have tried to split some of them in more recent times as they bare small drill holes, so it has an air or pure authenticity.

Well worth a visit!

Waltham Down (Barrow / Cairn Cemetery)

Camping at East Dean a few weeks back I noticed on our OS map a small collection of barrows nearby just off a trackway. One of them was evidently bigger than the others as the symbol for it was a star with a surrounding dotted line. Intrigued we set off into the woods, the setting sun behind us.

Waltham Down barrow cemetery sits on the edge of the South Downs near East Dean, consisting of an arc of four reasonably large barrows and one particularly large mound. They're quite well hidden in the deciduous forest there and it's quite magical as you wander through and one by one they're presented to you, but the trees were only planted just after World War Two, so it may have been quite open originally and easily seen, not too dissimilar to the relatively close 'Devil's Jumps' site further West just off the South Downs Way. The largest barrow in the group is slightly isolated from the other four and has been dug into at some time and almost hollowed out, giving it the appearance of a sleeping volcano. Still standing over 2m in height it appears to be unusually constructed of flint nodules, more like a cairn than a barrow, as most barrows in this area are chalk rubble and earth constructions. We wandered around for a while and followed a sort of fossilised cart track through the woods until we came out into the opening overlooking Heath Hill, then retraced our steps through the woods into the dying rays of the setting sun.

Cherhill Down and Oldbury (Hillfort)

I called here on my way to my parents near Swindon and hadn’t been here for more than 20 years prior to this. It’s very easy to locate owing to the Lansdowne Monument, a 38m stone obelisk on Cherhill Down visible from both the A4 and the A361. Because of its proximity to Avebury, Silbury Hill, West Kennet Long Barrow, et al., the area is littered with sites from the Neolithic to the Iron Age and also includes more recent works like the white horse cut in 1780. I parked at the run off East of the hill fort in what must have been the Old Bath Road before it was metalled and straightened somewhat and made my way past the gallops and up towards the top of the Down. The path isn’t very obvious from this direction, but you do get to see a lot of earthworks which may, or may not, be connected with the hill fort. Some may be hut circles or animal pens, others might be dew ponds or slightly unambitious chalk quarries. Reaching the South East corner (it’s not round!) of the hill fort you get great views of the surrounding hills to the South and West including the linear Bronze Age barrow groups on Morgans Hill and also an impression of the scale of the mighty banks and ditches of the fort itself. Early evening is almost always the best time to visit these kind of sites, particularly if you have low raking sunlight. It brings out the best definition and colour in the landscape and makes it almost heartbreakingly beautiful and, for me, tinged with nostalgia. Moving around the earthworks in a clockwise direction you come past the Lansdowne Monument and get a good view of the long barrow, the oldest element in the vicinity, standing on a slight promontory just below it. By this time it’s becoming clear that the Western horizon is filling with rain clouds and so I head North East again taking in the white horse and then exit via the hill fort’s Eastern opening descending back towards the A4. As you get to the bottom of this track you’ll notice a fine barrow in the corner of a field (Cherhill 4 - not very romantic is it?) and if you turn right you’re back on the Old Bath Road track which is where the parking place is. By now the weather was going into overdrive and though the torrential downpour I’d been anticipating hadn’t yet materialised, the sky was now leaden and a fantastic rainbow appeared at the end of the track urging me onwards. Before you get to the parking spot there’s another large barrow right beside the track which, although I didn’t notice at the time, has a World War Two bunker built into the North side of it. This makes strategic sense in terms of the now disused Yatesbury airfield just the other side of the A4. I reach my car just in the nick of time as the raindrops descend. What luck! What weather! What poetry!

Halnaker Hill (Causewayed Enclosure)

Like nearby Court Hill there’s not a great deal to see here in terms of the Causewayed Enclosure which once dominated this hill top, but there has been a great deal of activity since then and you certainly get your money’s worth. The most noticeable thing is the windmill (visible from the A27 between Arundel and Chichester) which has been here since 1740, though the original mill was built in 1540 for the nearby Goodwood Estate. The 1740 mill was destroyed by fire in 1913 and then vandals came back in the summer of 2015 to try and torch it again which is why it currently has no sails and you can no longer go inside. The enclosure is largely defined by a bank surrounding about 2 hectares, with the main entrance in the Southern part, where the modern gate stands today. The outer ditch has largely disappeared through centuries of ploughing. There are also three WWII structures, one inside, one in the bank and another just outside to the west of the entrance. These were either searchlight emplacements or Radio Directional Finding towers (nobody seems to agree which!) that would have served Goodwood and Tangmere airfields. It’s clearly always been a strategic and prominent point as Bronze Age and Roman artefacts have been found here as well and the Roman Stane Street runs about 200m to the South past the bottom of the hill. The views from here are also quite stunning with the rolling South Downs to the North and Chichester and the Channel to the South.

Court Hill (Causewayed Enclosure)

Maybe there should have been a notice placed near the top of Court Hill saying ‘Move along now, nothing to see here’, but that wouldn’t be strictly true. Having conveniently parked at the little church at East Dean village we made our way up the track, past the ancient droving tracks descending from the Downs, and onwards to a copse which covers most of the hill top. The only evidence of the enclosure is a slight bank which comes around the South Eastern edge of the hill before disappearing through the fence into the copse. You can’t get into the copse because of a barbed wire fence and there seems to be a lot of stuff connected with the pheasant slaughtering industry in there, but you can definitely see evidence of the bank running through the trees (this is more evident if you look at a satellite image). Also from the top you get wonderful views along the valley towards Charlton, Goodwood Race Course and The Trundle (which has a Neolithic Causewayed Enclosure inside it’s Iron Age fortifications) and you’re also only about 3 miles from Halnaker Hill, another NCE.

Whitehawk Camp (Causewayed Enclosure)

I was going to post about Whitehawk more than a year ago after I volunteered for the dig which took place there in August 2014. I refrained from doing so at the time as I was supposed to be photographing (for Brighton Museum) the ‘more interesting artefacts’ which they hoped to uncover in the process of the dig. Sadly, despite intensive digging in 3 separate areas on Whitehawk Hill nothing particularly interesting was found. Geo-physics had shown up some anomalies on the Southern side of the hill which the archaeologists hoped might be a fifth outer ring, but this proved to be unfounded. Most of the very small things found were pieces of worked flints (possibly Neolithic), masses of broken glass, the inevitable willow-pattern ceramics shards and miscellaneous bits of ironware which were probably bits of broken gardening tools (most of the hill has been given over to allotments in the past and still is today). I personally found a 1945 farthing which back then would have bought you a whole house in Brighton. The other thing that was found in abundance were pieces of relatively modern cars and scooters which is quite interesting in itself. The practice of sacrificing expensive offerings to the gods on this site was still happening in the here and now, a clearly continuing tradition, except now they like to torch them first rather than burying them or flinging them into a watery place.

As stated in older posts there’s not much to suggest that you’re standing in a Causewayed Enclosure when you’re up there as most of it has been encroached upon by modern progress, allotments and the enlargement of Brighton Race Course, but here and there you’ll notice a slight undulation, a small squeak to remind you of the sheer scale of the site. The positioning of it too, is wonderful and a true focal point, commanding expansive views over the sea and South Downs of which it forms part. The panoramic images posted here were commissioned recently by Brighton Museum for educational purposes to highlight the importance of this truly ancient and wonderful place.

Fiddlers Hill (Standing Stone / Menhir)

This will probably end up on the 'disputed antiquity' list as it doesn't appear on any maps or on MAGIC, but it is a very big sarsen standing stone, almost 6 foot high, in a quite interesting position in relation to the Marlborough Downs, Avebury and Winterbourne Bassett. Very easy to locate as it's just off the A3461 (between Swindon and Avebury) if you turn off at Broad Hinton towards the Hackpen Hill White Horse, it's less than half a mile on your left. You can pull up for a quick shufty, but you wouldn't want to block the gateways to the fields there.

Gallows Hill (Barrow / Cairn Cemetery)

Gallows Hill, as the name suggests, was once a place of execution, but long before that it was a Bronze Age barrow cemetery (if you can count four large mounds as a cemetery). It's part of the larger Graffham Common area which contains quite a large number of tumuli, with barrows at Little and Great Bury nearby. These heathland barrows are typical of the surrounding area, occurring in patches along the northern side of the South Downs at places like Lord's Piece, Sullington Warren, Lavington Common and Iping Common. In fact it's fair to say that there are probably more monuments in these areas than directly on the ridge of the South Downs where they are more noticeable, though any signs of habitation, defence, etc. have long since disappeared from the heathland areas, buried by cultivation, villages and towns.

The barrows at Gallows Hill are once again openly visible having spent the last hundred years covered in pine forest with trees actually growing on some of them. Recent cutting and clearance reveals four quite large and handsome mounds in a fairly lofty position on the edge of an escarpment overlooking swathes of woodland and the valley of the River Rother.

Alfriston Church (Christianised Site)

It’s difficult to wander around here and not think that it must have been an ancient site. There are give-away signs almost everywhere you cast your eyes. Firstly there’s the church built on an almost circular mound with its stout flint retaining wall and then you notice its proximity to the Cuckmere River built in a bend which could almost have formed an oxbow lake. Possibly more than 2000 years ago it was an island, this being a low lying and marshy area, giving more weight to the idea of it being a sacred place. Within the retaining wall on the Eastern side is a large stone, though I’m not sure if it’s a sarsen, as it looks more like a piece of sandstone. A few metres from that is another large stone, definitely a sarsen, laying next to the entrance of the Old Clergy House (the first ever NT property). Unfortunately I couldn't get a clear photo of this as it was almost hidden by Valerian on this occasion. Just a few more metres South is a group of three sarsens nestling under some trees looking slightly neglected and unloved. I looked around the foundations of the church to see if any stones had been built into that and was surprised to discover none, although this is often the case with christianised sites. There are, however, more stones built into walls and buildings around the village.

Ashurst Lodge (Enclosure)

Stumbled on this small charming enclosure while ambling around the New Forest. It's not very big, popular with local bovine herds, probably no more than about 20-25m in diameter and the banks no more than 1.5m high (mostly on the southern side). I imagine in the winter months it's probably very boggy around here and the northern and eastern sides are bounded by the beginnings of the Beaulieu River which acts as a natural defence. Pastscape describes the earthwork as a Bronze Age enclosure or early Iron Age univalate Fort. I'd go for the former as the earthworks don't seem like they were ever defensive and more about preserving a bit of dry ground in a very flat area. There are also a number of (presumably) Bronze Age barrows nearby which might support that.

Another interesting feature about a mile to the west is Row Hill which has 3, or possibly 4, long mounds on top of it. These are quite substantial, the biggest being about 2m high and about 15m long all running parallel. I've no idea how old they might be and would hesitate to call them long barrows. WW1 activity in the forest might be one explanation for their presence as there are currently notice boards all over the place warning you against straying from the path due to unrecovered ordnance. After a hundred years - I ask you?!

Beacon Hill (Hillfort)

My memory takes me back to 1972 and I have just queued up with my family for what seems a lifetime on a drab day outside the British Museum. We have just managed to get into the room where the treasures of Tutankhamun are on show and I am finally in front of the famous death mask taking in the awesomeness of it all, when an over zealous mother elbows me out of the way and thrusts her own children forward, the brief vision now fading away in a milieu of struggling families. Goodness, it was like a rugby scrum in there!

Forty two years later I'm walking around the top of Beacon Hill towards the grave of Lord Carnarvon, sponsor of Howard Carter's 1922 excavation in the Valley of the Kings. It's a beautiful day and being a Monday there's hardly a soul about, just the ever present hum of the A34 a long way below me. The last time I came up here must have been before 1972 when my parents would bring us here for a Sunday afternoon runabout and tell us about the Tutankhamun stories. It's all pretty much as I remember it, the grave surrounded by railings, the view to Highclere Castle, the stout earthworks of the hill fort, the wild flowers and butterflies and the singing of skylarks above. In fact the only thing that has changed is the A34 which must have been a very quiet affair pre-1972. It's the A34 that got me back here as well, having travelled up and down it on numerous occasions, always strongly aware of the hill's presence, but it was always a case of 'in too much of a hurry, not the right weather or nobody else in the car wanting to do the mammoth climb to the top'. Well today is my day and all the conditions are spot on.

Shipley Bottom (Round Barrow(s))

I was actually trying to get to the Giant's Grave further down the road and turned off far too early. Another car pulled up shortly after me and a guy got out and put on walking boots which further confused me. After twenty minutes walking along the valley bottom I realised my mistake, but as it turned out there was something to see after all. Shipley Bottom (or Shapely Bottom as I like to refer to it) doesn't have a huge amount to offer archaeologically, but it does do 'serene', which is not surprising considering its proximity to the Ridgeway path less than half a mile to the west and Liddington Castle a mile to the north. There are two or possibly three barrows along the valley bottom, the western one being the more impressive and better preserved. The eastern one(s) are almost flattened or ploughed out, difficult to say as they just looked like a patch of weeds, but at least that shows that somebody made the decision to stop degrading them.

Grime's Graves (Ancient Mine / Quarry)

It's strange where you end up sometimes. We just happened to be up near here collecting a moped from nearby Thetford and decided to pop over to take a look. It was of particular interest to me as living near Cissbury, another flint mining site, it would give an opportunity to actually go down inside a mine, which you can't do at Cissbury as they're all filled in. The visitor centre is quite interesting, but you can't help feeling it's primary function is to enthuse parties of young school children, not a bad thing, but the real draw is the mine itself.

Living in a safety-conscious and litigious age you have to wear a hard hat, descend the ladder one at a time and listen to the man carefully, though he is very friendly and informative. Unfortunately once you've descended the ladder and grown accustomed to the dark you realise that that's as far as you can go! All the galleries are barred after a few feet, but lit just so you get a tantalising idea of what might lie beyond. Having seen Neil Oliver on TV scrambling around on all fours down here, I imagined that we'd all be allowed to do that. Damn.

The overriding feeling is one of slight claustrophobia and it must have been quite an arduous task bashing pieces of prime flint out of chalk with nothing more than a deer antler and a weak light to guide you, but the lure of those massive layers of shiny black stone was very strong. The other thing that strikes you is how did these prehistoric miners know that this stuff was down here? I can sort of understand it at Cissbury as nearby chalk cliffs east of Brighton have seams of flint running through them, so it would stand to reason that if you dug down through chalk hills you might find unspoilt layers of flint. At Grime's Graves it seems to be a completely different proposition. It's mainly flat, forested and the only clue might be the chalk just beneath the turf. Because Cissbury, Harrow Hill, etc. predate Grime's Graves I wonder if that mining knowledge was passed on to people living in East Anglia. Maybe there were nomadic miners roaming the country searching for tell-tale signs of the treasures beneath their feet?

Later when we arrive at the home of the guy selling the moped, covered in chalk, we explain how we've just been down Grimes Graves. He tells us that as a kid he and his friends used to descend the shafts down rope ladders with torches and you could crawl around large areas of the subterranean galleries and ascend from different mine shafts! We should have come here 40 years earlier, or maybe 4000.

Windmill Hill (Causewayed Enclosure)

This is another (once) local site that I haven’t visited for probably decades, but today I’m here with my sister making our way from Avebury Trusloe the day after we’d been down to Devon for an uncle’s funeral. The weather looks like it’s on the point of raining all afternoon, but today we are lucky and it holds off and the air is suffused with the fresh smell of Spring. Walking through the hamlet the first thing that strikes us is the number of large sarcens in peoples garden walls (particularly Swan house in Bray Street) and, given the proximity of Adam and Eve across the adjacent field, we can’t help wondering if some of these stones came from the Beckhampton Avenue? Maybe not as whole stones, but perhaps pieces from destroyed stones.

Making the gradual climb up to the top of Windmill Hill it seems odd that a hill as low and unremarkable as this seems to have been so important, acting as it were, as a springboard for the whole Avebury ritual landscape. So much activity in quite a small space though, as you begin to take in the faint rings of the inner circles, the lower tumuli beyond the outer circle and, most obviously, the large bell barrows nearer the centre of the monument. The position of the hill is also quite interesting as it affords views down on to Avebury (though you can’t see any stones due to the surrounding trees and vegetation, but maybe you could when it was being built), Silbury Hill to the South, the Ridgeway to the East and Cherhill Down and Oldbury to the South West.

Having walked around the outer ring we discover some recent mole activity and begin to kick over the little spoil heaps. Almost immediately I’m rewarded with a small piece of ceramic about 2.5 x 1.5cm in size and shaped roughly like the Isle of Wight. There are two very faint parallel grooves incised on its outside curve. In addition to this we find two small globules of iron that look like failed castings of musket balls (any ideas?). We sit for a while and contemplate our surroundings before making our way back down across the fields to Avebury and the circle. Just in time for tea.

The Agglestone (Natural Rock Feature)

The day was bright and having found a place to park up we set off over the wild heathland behind Studland and meandered our way through muddy lanes and low trees. We’d just stumbled on some of the best cep mushrooms we’d ever found when Mrs. C looked up and suddenly exclaimed “Is that it?” pointing through the undergrowth to a monstrous boulder on the horizon. And there it was, looking completely out of place and out of scale with its surroundings, more like Dartmoor than Dorset.

Having lived 3 years of my life in relatively close proximity to this amazing natural feature I was surprised that I’d never heard of it, let alone seen it and I’d been anticipating something much smaller like a gnarled old standing stone. As we got closer we noticed that we weren’t alone. There was a climber there, which slightly annoyed me, and for the first half an hour we had to endure this annoying twat doing the same clumsy climb over and over again. Well I guess that’s what sandwiches were invented for and eventually he got bored and fell off (or did I push him?) and we had the place to ourselves.

It really is awe-inspiring in its size and sheer strangeness and really looks otherworldly, like an organic UFO that’s crashed into a small hill. If you’d lived in this area thousands of years ago how could you not venerate it, there’s nothing like it for miles around and it’s set off with that glorious view over Poole Harbour and Brownsea Island. Even the hillock on which it stands doesn’t seem entirely natural, though to be fair there are other smaller hillocks thereabouts, some of them perhaps man-made.

Kingston Russell (Stone Circle)

After the surprisingly wonderful ruined circle at Rempstone I have to say that I was slightly under-whelmed by Kingston Russell, not a feeling that I’m used to when encountering prehistoric sites. Did Burl have the same feeling too? Maybe that’s why it doesn’t appear in his book. It just didn’t seem to have the oomph factor and the views from this setting are kind of so-so rather than wow! (as at Hampton). I think possibly the flatness of it all as well, the anticipation built up by the spotting of two very large stones in the hedgerow (one next to the farm entrance where you can just about park and the other about half way between there and the circle) and the lack of a dramatic sky to set it off probably didn’t help either. The only thing that I thought might redeem it would be to go there at night with a clear sky, some time in the near future, and try some very long exposures. That should do it.

Rempstone Stone Circle

Everyone seems to be in agreement on this one, in that this is quite an enigmatic and peaceful place and I have to agree that we found it be so too. Maybe it’s that romance we have with ruins that does it, as obviously there’s only about half of the original circle remaining, the rest scattered about, moss-covered and (almost) forgotten.

We found it quite easily after parking up almost opposite the site on the road between Corfe and Studland and I was hoping to catch the last rays of sunlight to illuminate the stones. However the fir trees surrounding them were so dense that almost all the light was shut out so I had to resort to long exposures and flash. Having set up we were suddenly surprised by another person marching purposefully through the woods and half expected to be asked to leave (it is apparently private property), but it turned out to be a friendly local pagan who regularly visited the stones and who told us about where and how the circle was originally, before bidding goodbye and disappearing into the now increasingly murky depths of the woods. Having reeled off a few shots we explored the half circle (festooned with coins, well about £3 worth anyway) and decided that it was now too dark to carry on taking photos and that we’d return in the morning.

The following morning, clumping around in the undergrowth and magically finding one stone after another, the better light revealed just how large this circle once was and the relatively large size of the comprising stones. I think if there was a strong candidate for the repositioning and raising of it’s stones then this circle would be right up there. It seems a terrible shame that it should have been so disarranged and neglected and now almost pushed aside by the serried ranks of pines, but in so doing would it not lose it’s enigmatic nature?

Beaghmore (Stone Circle)

This is one of those sites which is a ‘must see’ if you’re in Northern Ireland and, although having seen pictures and read fieldnotes prior to our visit, I was quite taken aback by the size, variation, complexity and general weirdness of it all. It really is like no other place I’d visited before. I mean, sure, there are places on Dartmoor that encompass stone avenues, circles and cairns, but not on this scale, or of this complexity, that I’m familiar with. Seven circles, numerous cairns and possibly twelve stone rows – what was going on here? And, more intriguingly, what else was out there so far undiscovered, because apparently the site was uncovered by peat cutting in the 1940s and there may well be other artefacts still hidden beneath the peat nearby. I’d certainly put my money on it anyway.

When we arrived the weather was on the cusp of a mighty downpour, with massive threatening storm clouds above, and although we were lucky enough to avoid it, the sunny weather was slow to recover so we decided that we’d have to make a return visit in the hope of better light. Of course this also meant there was a dearth of other visitors so we had the place pretty much to ourselves. Over the course of the two visits (day 2 turned out to be perfect with bright sunlight and atmospheric clouds – my favourite!) I must have spent nearly three hours wandering around sucking up the exquisite beauty of the place with its sombre Sperrin Mountain backdrop. Circle E, the largest circle, with its interior scattering of smaller stones known as ‘the dragon’s teeth’ (and on this occasion charmingly interspersed with daisies). Circle G with its larger ‘entrance stones’, almost mirroring each other in appearance, though if you look carefully the right hand stone isn’t actually part of the circle at all. It’s the second stone of a tangential double row aligned roughly East North East, possibly towards the Summer Solstice sunrise, and, like many of the other avenues, the stones on the other side are all small, giving an odd lopsided appearance. The cairn adjacent to circles F and G is also interesting as it seems to be the only one here with a ring ditch with the alignment of smaller stones, just mentioned, pointing straight at it.

By chance on the first day I thought I’d discovered a small cist in a pile of stones near the end of the row coming from Circle B, but as it turned out it was just a small hidey hole in which was secreted a geocache, so if you’re there anytime in the near future you too can add your name in the notes. So, a justifiably ‘must see’ destination and one that’s certainly in my top ten sites visited.

Creggandevesky (Court Tomb)

It seems few people visit this site without getting a soaking or having difficulty finding it. Well the former was true for us, but I think the signage must have improved considerably as we found it fairly easily. It's a bit of a trudge from where we parked next to a waterworks(?) on the main road (why does it always seem to take longer to walk 'to' somewhere rather than 'from'?), but well worth a visit. The tomb stands majestically on a slightly elevated position overlooking the Lough with the Sperrin Mountains as a backdrop. I'm sure it would look even more enigmatic in low Autumnal sunlight on a dry day, but that's for another day.
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I'm a professional photographer living in West Sussex and have been interested in ancient sites since childhood. I was brought up near Barbury Castle in Wiltshire so visits to hill forts, stone circles and various lumps and bumps were routine. The grip of these fantastic places still has a hold on me and I still get a feeling of total wellbeing whenever I come across a new place or revisit familiar places. Much of that is to do with the magnificent or interesting locations in which they're found and equally the mystery attached to them - we know so little and can imagine so much.

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