The Road goes ever on and on; Down from the door where it began;
Now far ahead the Road has gone; And I must follow, if I can;
Pursuing it with eager feet; Until it joins some larger way;
Where many paths and errands met; And whither then? I cannot say.

[JRR Tolkien, Lord of the Rings]

Thursday, 16 March 2017

Wisp Hill and Pikethaw Hill

Wisp Hill (NY386993, 595m) and Pikethaw Hill (NY369978, 564m)

At 6.30 this morning I sprang out of bed, almost in the manner of a scalded cat, when I realised that it wasn't raining and didn't seem overly windy. Alas, by the time we were breakfasted and back opposite the old Mosspaul Hotel, conditions had deteriorated.

The combination of Mick watching the rain blow horizontally past Bertie's windows, his observations of 'it looks awful out there', combined with his not making a move towards waterproofing himself, gave me the first hints that he was having second thoughts about coming with me. It was a sensible decision to stay behind; no point having two sets of wet stuff to need to get dry in a confined space.

Off and up I went, with the rain blowing full in my face. The going involved a mix of useful sheep trods and yomping across the rough stuff.

I'm not sure what else I can say about my ascent. I'm certainly glad I got to see the loveliness of this area yesterday, as it wasn't something I could appreciate today. Before the top, low cloud had been added to the rain and headwind, so it was wet and hard work without any rewards. A good time to remind myself again that I have the privilege of choosing my suffering, and having chosen to go up hills in full knowledge of the weather forecast, I had no right to moan.

The top of Wisp Hill was reached more quickly than expected, and the descent down to Ewes Doors (another cracking name), which lies between Wisp Hill and my second objective, was also speedy, being downhill and with a fence to follow.

From Ewes Doors, Pikethaw Hill looked rather steep, and I found myself often standing contemplating what lay before me, rather than getting on with it - even though I was blessed with being out of the wind for a while here. Accordingly, it was a slow ascent.

I was very pleased when the top of Pikethaw Hill came into view

I had asked Mick to meet me in a layby a mile and a half down the A7 from my start point and as I sheltered in the lee of the large cairn at the top I gave him my ETA. The spanner in the works was that he found that layby to be closed and he had to go another mile down the road to find somewhere to turn. Had I been 15 yards ahead of myself, that would have worked out nicely, as that’s how far I was from the road when Mick sailed past (from the wrong direction) without noticing me, meaning I didn't get to avoid a road walk.


I would have been 15 yards ahead of myself if I hadn't paused to snap there - just two interesting machines in a farmyard stuffed full of various types of relics

A gap in the cones allowed him to squeeze into the closed layby from a southerly approach, and that's where I arrived, fairly well dripping, a few minutes later (and only 2 minutes off my ETA).

The outing had come in at 5.2 miles with around 570m of ascent.

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Rubers Law and Ellson Fell

There were no hills yesterday. Waking up to find Bertie taking a battering from the wind, it wasn't a hard decision to extend our stay on Melrose campsite and to do a bit of culture, in the shape of Melrose Abbey. This morning was much calmer, so off we headed for our next hill:

Rubers Law (NT580155, 424m)
The popular way to do this one seems to be a quick raid from West Lees to the east of the hill. It seemed an unnecessary detour for us to get there, so we started from a residential street in the village of Denholm instead (to the NNW). I figured that the worst case would be having to walk around the hill to the West Lees side, but I also thought, based on the 1:25k map, that we should be able to get up semi-directly from Denholm.

Plan A didn't go entirely well. I'd hoped to follow the track I've marked in purple on the snippet below, followed by the track I've marked in blue.

The purple bit went fine, but either the blue one doesn't exist anymore, or the start of it is so overgrown that we just couldn't find it. We didn't resort to backtracking all the way to the Border Abbey Way (the green diamonds), but rather implemented Plan C, which saw us cut through the woods, stumble upon this...

The wooden hut behind the metal roof structure houses a composting toilet on one side and a sink on the other
...and find a gate, at the location marked with a flag on the map snippet above.

We foundered again after cutting across the field we had just entered, but mainly because we got distracted by a vehicle track we hoped might be heading our way (it dead-ended at another of those metal roof/composting toilet structures). Another tiny backtrack had us onto my originally intended course, from where things went incredibly smoothly, as we picked up a trodden line leading the whole way to the top of this prominent hill fort.


onto open ground, following a good trod

another fine summit

We made less of a meal of getting back down to Bertie, knocking half a mile off our outward route, bringing the whole outing in at 5.4 miles with around 340m of ascent.

Ellson Fell (NY410985, 537m)
The wind was forecast to pick up again this afternoon, but I thought that my chosen route for Ellson Fell would be sheltered, so off we tootled to park in the layby opposite the Mosspaul Hotel (or, by appearances, ex-hotel).

Glancing up at the way I had chosen to go, I uttered an 'urgh', as it looked like it was going to be awfully rough and hard going. A few moments later Mick declared his intention of choosing his book (he's on the third of the Aubrey-Maturin tales now, Conrad) over the walk.

I can fully understand why he chooses not to join me on the Marilyns which look unduly rough or uninteresting, but on this occasion the initial impression was very deceptive and it proved not only to be very straightforward (if a touch steep on the final pull to the top), but also one of the best hills of the trip so far.

Sheep trods along the crystal clear Mosspaul Burn took me very gently upwards, and my expectation was that I would have to go out of my way to go around the end of the forest before heading back towards my objective. I was, of course, keeping my eye out for a break in the forest, even though the 1.25k map didn't show any in the right place, and I was rewarded. As the burn split, the branch that headed directly up through the forest was accompanied by a break so wide and straight that I could clearly see that it went the whole way to the top of the trees.


it was obviously the day for finding unexpected structures in forests

It was steep, and slippery in places, but it did the job nicely, and with far less effort than expected I was on the top of the fell within 50 minutes of setting out.

It was a fine place to be. In fact, as I took this panoramic shot just before I reached the top (taking advantage of still being out of the wind at that point)...

... I marvelled that all I could see was lumps and bumps spreading out around me. The only manmade features within my sights were the forest and a cairn atop Carlin Tooth.


A splendid place to be! On a less windy day I would have fancied walking the whole ridge.

Retracing my steps, I got back to Bertie having covered 2.8 miles with something like 320m of ascent.

Even with the wind whipping up the road, I was tempted to take advantage of the fine skies and go straight back out for the two Marilyns on the other side of the road. There probably was enough daylight remaining, but the end I decided against, knowing that if the weather is as forecast tomorrow (i.e. wet and windy) then it'll either be a miserable outing, or they'll get left for another trip.

Monday, 13 March 2017

Meigle Hill, Eildon Mid Hill and Black Hill

I have a reputation for living my life by spreadsheets, but I’m not always that technical. My key planning tools for Marilyn bagging are an old road atlas and a notebook. On the road atlas, I note the approximate locations of the hills in which I’m interested and assign them a number (with a general rule that if I mark Marilyns on one page of the atlas, then I have to mark all the relevant hills on that page):20170313_191507Then in the notebook I list the hills on that page and make short notes as to how I might approach them:

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very much scrawled on this example, not in my bestest writing

I can therefore see at a glance what hills are in a particular area (far more clearly than trying to navigate the Relative Hills of Britain (RHoB) book), and can record any research I do on those hills, even if I don’t get around to visiting them until a future trip.

It wasn’t until we were parked up last night and I was looking for yesterday’s hill in the RHoB book that I realised that I had gone against my general principle of marking none or all of the hills on any individual page of the road atlas, and was thus surprised to find that there was a Marilyn right by where we were parked (plus a couple more nearby).

A perusal of the map suggested that to ascend from where we were parked was not going to be the easiest option (too many field boundaries), so this morning we relocated ourselves to Clovenford, to visit:

Meigle Hill (NT466360; 423m)

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“Are you doing the Marilyn?” asked the farmer tending a shed of sheep, as we passed through his farmyard at the start of this outing. A remarkable question, as usually when Marilyns are mentioned in the context of hill classifications, a blank look is received in return.

This isn’t the prettiest hill summit…

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…but as one might guess from all of that infrastructure up there, there’s a track the whole way up, although, surprisingly, not a surfaced one.

The track made it a quick and easy bag, and just a bit over an hour after setting off, we were back, having walked 3.25 miles with around 260m of up.

Eildon Mid Hill (NT548323; 422m)

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Like East Cairn Hill, which I visited on Friday, we have been in the immediate vicinity of the Eildon Hills at least twice before, if not three times, in the course of Big Walks. Perhaps it makes matters worse that the second time we opted to go over one of the hills and, because it was in our way, we chose the eastmost one. It’s the middle one which is the Marilyn, so today we returned to Melrose, abandoned Bertie in a public car park and toddled off.

Just below the ‘n’ of Dingleton Mains on the map above, a signpost told us to turn right. We opted to go straight on as there was clearly a trodden line that way and it looked a lot less muddy than the official route. Then we rounded a bend and found ourselves on the muddiest mudfest known to man, made worse by being on a very narrow path hemmed in by gorse. It was so bad that about half way along it I pondered out loud whether we had gone too far to turn back and go the other way. Mick opined that we had.

It would have been a miracle to have negotiated that path without either of us slipping over, and miracles weren’t with us today. As a result, one of us needs to have his trousers washed.

I’m not sure upon what I can blame the aberration which occurred at the col, when I was absolutely insistent that we were going up the hill to our left, whereas Mick was adamant that was the one we’d been up before, and it was the one to the right we were visiting today (I am always navigator on our joint outings, so, making matters worse, it was me with the map in my hand). He’s usually right in such cases and so he was again today. (I feel sure this aberration will never be forgotten, like my famous ‘there are two boxes next door and three just here, so that’s six’ incident at work many years ago.)

Anyway, we did make it up the right hill, from where the views were hazy, although the ‘wrong hill’ was close enough to be clear, just behind me in this shot:20170313_121750

And then we went back down again, ready for a late lunch before moving on to our final objective of the day. This one had come in at 3.3 miles with 350m of ascent.

Black Hill (NT585370; 314m)

imageWhat a lovely hill this one was, with a very pleasing summit! It’s a striking looking hill from a distance, but turned out to be quicker and easier than it looked.

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This isn’t the striking view of it, but I didn’t snap it from the other side.

I’m always a fan of clear signage of the path through farms, and you couldn’t get much clearer than the plentiful signs on the initial parts of the route:

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The signs disappeared once I was past the farm, but at the next gate my way was clear: straight up the side, which looked steep, but thanks to well-grazed grass and heather, proved to be easy. 

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I think the Eildon Hills were behind me in this shot, but with the sun where it was, they’re bleached out

Mick opted not to join me on this one, as although the parking area was big enough for us not to block a gateway, leaving Bertie in a non-blocking position would have required leaving him in mud of an unknown depth. He didn’t have to wait for me for long as I was only gone for just over half an hour, with the outing coming in at just 1.3 miles with 180m of ascent.

Sunday, 12 March 2017

Sell Moor Hill (NT480444, 424m)

Almost due north of this hill is a cattle grid on a B road, adjacent to which is a layby. That is where we ate a lavish* Sunday lunch before setting off for an unexciting bimble up this untemarkable hill.

A field of cows, a gap in a wall which was guarded effectively by a deep poor of slurry/mud/water...

...and a walk up another field took us to the top in just over 15 minutes. From there the extensive views told us that: a) there are a lot of wind turbines in these parts; and b) we were going to be lucky and dodge the shower we could see to the north.


The cows ignored us almost as much on our return leg as they had on the outward one, the feeder full of tasty hay being more interesting to them than two walkers.

A whole mile and three quarters had been walked with 90m of upness.

(*I may be exaggerating extensively as to the grandness of our lunch.)

Saturday, 11 March 2017

Edinburgh ParkRun

We know from past experience that there is good TV reception at Edinburgh Caravan Club site and, whilst we have managed nicely for 19 days without such entertainment, Mick was keen to watch the rugby this weekend. A booking was made and we arrived here yesterday (Friday) lunchtime.

After a week of hills, I thought that equated to a weekend of sitting around with my book, with maybe a gentle stroll along the Firth. Then Mick wondered out loud whether there is a local ParkRun – even though his calf is yet again crocked and he is sworn off running until after the TGO Challenge.

A quick search told me that that the most local event starts 1.5km away from the campsite entrance (and, indeed, then runs past it on the Firth-side promenade). How could I resist? 

With legs feeling a bit tired, and various tiny niggles from falling off tussocks and the like, I had no illusions of a fast (for me) time, but I was up for a gentle jog, so at just after 9 this morning, we left Bertie for a brisk walk up to Cramond. At 9.30 the ‘Go!’ command was issued … and I didn’t move. There were 524 people there today (rather a contrast to the field of 8 in Toulouse in December!), and whilst the promenade is wide, it still took things a while to get moving. It took much longer for gaps to open up to be able to pass anyone.

Using my usual trick, I found someone (or, in this case, a trio) running at a nice pace and I followed them, earwigging as I went. These were obviously serious runners and I was pleased to be keeping up – until there was a casual mention of their having run 10 miles to get to this morning’s run!

At the half way point I realised that the going was easy and that I could go faster (it’s a flat course and today there was almost no wind), so I left my trio of pace-setters behind. At the 4km marker, I picked it up again.

I crossed the line 3 seconds behind my ParkRun Personal Best, which was annoying from the point of view that I could easily have run three seconds faster, but was very pleasing considering how long it had taken to get moving at the start. Moreover, even with the slow start, based on the stats recorded on my GPS, my average pace was higher (i.e. it was a PB really, it’s just that the course measured slightly longer*).

So, quite a pleasing start to the day considering I was just going out for a gentle jog. If only any of our local ParkRun courses were that easy!

(*ParkRun courses are diligently measured with a wheel. The thing is that if there are lots of twists and turns, or corrugations on dirt/grass sections, then if you take the racing line and don’t take micro-steps, then you’ll flatten and straighten it out and end up running less than the officially measured 5km. Our local run at home is very twisty and is all on dirt or grass and I’ve consistently measured it at around 4.75-4.8km (it’s also hilly, so even though it’s short, it’s not a PB course). Today’s course was entirely on a hard surface and had no twists or turns, hence there were no shortcuts to be made and it came in at the full 5km.)

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I am in this photo, but looking a bit blurred. Fortunately, you can’t see how muddy my trousers are, having not had the time to get them washed and dried since yesterday’s bogfest on East Cairn Hill.

Friday, 10 March 2017

East Cairn Hill (NT128593; 567m)

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If I’d known a few years ago what I now know myself to have become, I wouldn’t have needed to make a special trip up East Cairn Hill today. In 2008 (on our LEJOG walk) and in 2010 (on our Kent to Cape Wrath walk), we passed half a mile to the west of this hill, and in 2014 (on our Home to Edinburgh walk) we passed a mile to the east. On any of those occasions I could easily have dropped my pack and have nipped up and down, but, of course, I had no idea even three years ago that hills with 150m of prominence would become of interest to me.

All of which means that this hill was calling to me, as we were so close by, so having dragged Mick out of bed earlier than he would have liked, we relocated to Little Vantage, and I left Mick breakfasting whilst I set out, overly optomistically dressed in tights and trail runners, for a speedy up and down of this objective.

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Conrad – you wouldn’t have been pitching a tent on the bed of Haperrig Reservoir today – it was rather more full than it was in June 2008!

My quest for speed was thwarted as it turned out the ground was too waterlogged to make me want to run even the flat and downhill bits, so I just walked as fast as I could – which at times wasn’t awfully fast as I fussed around the boggiest bits and tried to remain vertical.

I was merrily making progress towards the pass of Cauldstane Slap, from where I was going to turn towards my objective, when I happened to look behind me and spotted that I’d just walked past a path that was obviously heading up my the west side of my hill. I duly doubled back and followed it, finding it to be a very steep, quite eroded and remarkably slippery line. I was soon resolving not to return the same way.

The benefit of steepness is that it causes you to gain height quickly, and I was pleased when the ground levelled out and a large cairn/shelter was before me, although not because I was at the top (I still had half a mile of walking, involving a very boggy dip, to go), but because at least the significant climb was over.

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Looking back at the large cairn on the first of this hill’s two summits

A patch of drizzle, significant enough to have me stop to change from windshirt to waterproof (and five minutes later back again) was almost the only thing that had me pause, after I’d dropped off the side of the hill (deep heather and killer tussocks). The only other distraction was stopping to record this early frogspawn:

20170310_100752

Mick had a cup of coffee and a croissant waiting for me by the time I got back to Bertie (not by his psychic powers, but because I’d sent him a text message asking him to put the kettle on). The stats were 7 miles with around 350m of ascent, in 2 hours 25 minutes, which equated to a distance a mile less than I’d expected and a time 25 minutes longer than I’d hoped.

 

(As an aside: When I write these Marilyn blog posts, I usually start by referring to Alan Dawson’s book ‘The Relative Hills of Britain’ to obtain the relevant OS Grid Reference and height information. In doing that for this hill, I was temporarily alarmed to find West Cairn Hill, not East Cairn Hill, to be listed (they sit opposite sides of the pass of Cauldstane Slap). For a few moments I questioned whether it was possible that I had erroneously gone up the wrong hill before thinking to look at the list of updates made to the hill list since the book was published. Panic over. I hadn’t gone up the wrong hill.)

Black Hill and Scald Law

Black Hill (NT188632; 501m) and Scald Law (NT192611; 579m)

I’d not even looked at a weather forecast for yesterday, much less considered any potential hills, as I had expected us to spend a good chunk of the day loitering around a caravan workshop in Livingston*. As things turned out, we were free to go by 9.30am, and found ourselves with a blue-skied day and absolutely no plans.

What to do in such a situation? Well, repair to the nearest supermarket, obviously! (Obvious to us, anyway, as supermarkets generally have level car parks, generously sized parking spaces and, most importantly on this occasion, they sell croissant).

The map was considered over second breakfast, whereupon Bertie’s nose was pointed towards the Pentland Hills, via the worst quality road that we’ve driven in a long time. The hastily-made plan was Black Hill and Scald Law.

Arriving in the Threipmuir Reservoir car park, lunch became our first priority (yes, lunchtime already; second breakfast had been a prolonged affair), but by early afternoon off we strode towards our first objective, which was set off nicely across the reservoir:

20170309_125153

There may well be a path up all or most of this hill, but after following a well-trodden line for a short while we struck off uphill and from there just followed trods through the heather until there was no more uphill to be had, and a surprisingly small cairn was found:

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The views over Edinburgh and the Firth of Forth were clear, as well as towards our next objective (the lump on the right in this snap):

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A reasonably straight line was taken to pick up the good path which runs from Bavelaw to Penicuik and from the col it was a simple ascent up to Scald Law, passing  on our way a chap making hard work of pushing his mountain bike up; his companion waited for him on the top:

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Our return route saw us skirt around the end of Black Hill, but otherwise was a repetition of our outward route. Given an earlier start we probably would have made a circuit by nipping over East Kip and West Kip, but we hadn’t, so we didn’t.

It was still the perfect day for a walk as we returned to the (now largely empty) car park having walked 8.2 miles with around 600m of ascent.

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(*A week or so ago, I noticed a fault on Bertie’s bed, the nature of which suggested it needed looking at sooner rather than later. An appointment was thus made at Knowepark Caravans in Livingston for next Tuesday, but they’d agreed that, if we popped by on Thursday morning this week then they would have a quick look to try to work out what was causing the problem.

We were outside an hour before they opened, with the expectation of sitting around for at least a couple of hours after opening before they even squeezed us in. To our surprise, they made Bertie’s bed their first job and we were on our way again by 9.30 (unfortunately, without the bed being fixed and with next Tuesday’s appointment cancelled because they didn’t have, and couldn’t get in time, the part required, but at least with confirmation of what the problem is and with instructions as to how to fix it ourselves once we get hold of the part).)

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Cairnpapple Hill (NS987711; 312m)

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This pleasingly-named little hill was convenient for our whereabouts today, so after we had hunted down some LPG and elevensesed and lunched in between the Forth rail and road bridges* (a popular location), off we tootled to the edge of Beecraigs Country Park (through which we walked a few years ago on one of our Big Walks).

It hadn't escaped our notice that the wind had picked up throughout the morning and there was a squall blowing through as we parked in the litter-strewn car park to the west of the hill. I donned my Paramo and headed out, hoping the rain would have passed, and I would have dried out, by the time I returned (it had and I did, but I only dodged the next shower by seconds).

With the summit of the hill sitting about three quarters of a kilometre from the car park, as the crow flies, and with there being a mast access track leading half way there, it was always going to be a quick outing. The biggest unknown was how I was going to cross a couple of field boundaries. The answer was one convenient gate and one gap in the barbed wire/wall which was slightly more conveniently placed than the next gate I could see. Twelve minutes after setting out I was at the top.



After wandering over to look off the east side of the hill...

... I came to realise that my descent was not going to be as easy, purely because the strength of the wind, which had blown me up the hill, was an impediment in getting down. It kept stopping me in my tracks, making me glad I wasn't any higher up today.

The whole outing came in at 1.5 miles, with around 75m of ascent, taking just 27 minutes, including the detour when I lost control of my hanky and had to go running after it (talking of running - my day started with a trundle on the edge of Loch Leven, just outside of Kinross. Rather a nice location for a jogette, I thought).

(*On the way there Bertie got introduced to cobbled streets, and we also discovered that if he takes a camouflaged speed hump too fast then it's possible for his fully laden wardrobe rail to jump clean out of its brackets. Oops.)

Creag Ruadh (NN685883; 658m)

imageOn the 'old A9', which is now a minor road, running between Dalwhinnie and Falls of Truim, there's a nice big layby (NN 65049 87340) and it was there that we abandoned Bertie yesterday morning whilst we popped up Creag Ruadh, which sits the other side of both the River Truim and the current A9. Handily, there's a bridge over the river and a tunnel under the road.

The white dot is Bertie-the-Motorhome

Once on the other side of those potential obstacles, we opted to turn right, not left towards our hill, so as to make use of the available tracks. That resolution didn't last very long and having cut across country, back to the Allt Cuaich, we discovered a good ATV track which led us all the way to a gate in the deer fence (NN 66402 86761) that was protecting our objective. That was handy, as we felt uneasy with the thought of scaling the fence, given that there was an estate vehicle on the track above us, watching our every move (actually, he may have been doing something industrious and it may just have been a spot of paranoia to believe he was interested in what we were doing).

I'd expected this hill to be a heathery yomp, but again I was surprised. Beyond the gate continued the ATV track. On another day it could have been a mixed blessing due to its squidginess, but for us it was sufficiently frozen to give us easy passage - on the way up, at least. Where we did encounter unfrozen watery wallows there were even, on a couple of occasions, 'bridges':


The track disappeared just after we crossed the 500m contour and whilst we did see evidence of it here and there later on, it was as easy to just continue on our line in the right general direction. Easy that is until the depth of snow, combined with its texture, made me feel like I was on a Stairmaster. That was only the last little bit, until the nobbles which are the summit. I say 'nobbles' in the plural as this was another hill where I wasn't convinced that the summit feature stated in the Hill List was really the highest point. Both possibilities were visited, just to be sure.

That's Loch Ericht behind me

Retracing our steps, the day had warmed sufficiently to make the going less firm under foot - should have set out half an hour earlier!

This time we followed the ATV track along the burn all the way to the tunnel under the A9 and it was definitely the better route choice.

The stats were 6.4 miles walked with around 330m of ascent.