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Archive for the ‘Nature’ Category

Just outside the village of Stanley in Perthshire there’s a small car park that’s often filled with vehicles sporting colourful roof rack items.

The colourful items, which are generally canoes and kayaks, are brought here by their owners and carried along a narrow pathway across the road. You could easily miss it if you didn’t know where to look (right of centre in this picture, to the left of the red car):

After a short walk on the flat you come to a long set of steps going downhill:
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe reason for carrying canoes along this path is to reach the River Tay at the bottom, where there is apparently some challenging paddling to be had.

Here’s the river, looking quite benign:OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA On the occasion of these photographs there were no canoeists in sight, but Delightful Assistant no.2 and I enjoyed a pleasant riverside stroll, ducking underneath low-hanging trees:

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On the other side of the river we spotted a small beach, where a lady and her dog were enjoying the sunshine:

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The path we were walking along was built up a bit from the water, but there were one or two opportunities to get down to the waterside.

I opted for a route which was made of a sort of stone ladder, just visible in the next photo on the left, but more clearly shown in the picture after that, taken from down below looking up to the higher path:

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Although it was lovely down by the river, we were on the shady side and I thought it would be nice to hop into a small boat and row across into the sunshine.

Some time soon, on a similarly sunny day, I’ll take the delightful assistants to the path on the other side of the river, and perhaps we can have a little seat on the beach and pretend we’re on our holidays.

It’s a bit too snowy for that today though.

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Today we had a little visitor in the garden, snuffling amongst the leaves next to a hosepipe:

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Hedgehog with hosepipe.

Jolly good for the garden, hedgehogs, as they enjoy a diet of slugs and other such pests.

They’re so useful, in fact, that people have been known to steal them.

I remember an occasion in my childhood (a time that was filled with hedgehogs, in my memory) when I was playing in the garden with a chum who lived up the street. After playing at mine we went up to her house and told her dad about a hedgehog we’d seen in my garden. He asked us to show it to him, so we took him back to mine.

On being shown the hedgehog, he promptly pinched it and took it back to his own garden in the hope that it would eat his slugs. My mum wasn’t too pleased.

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Welcome, little visitor, do call again. Prime slugs are supplied free of charge.

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One February morning, under a blue sky with winter sunshine, I whisked delightful assistant no.1 off to the lovely Loch Earn.

I don’t know why it’s taken me so long to post about it but, alas, I’m not as well organised as I would like to be.

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Lovely Loch Earn, Perthshire.

Loch Earn is one of many long, narrow, freshwater lakes dotted about the Scottish highlands, and is known as a centre for watersports.

If you’re interested in statistics, the loch is about 10.5 km long, just over 1 km wide and, at its deepest point, goes down for 87 metres. Loch Ness, by contrast, dips down to about 227 metres, which is perhaps why Nessie chose to make her home there rather than in Loch Earn or any of the other numerous smaller lochs.

We were very struck by how still the water was, and how magnificent the reflections. Here are a few shots to demonstrate:

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Mountains reflected in Loch Earn with stony shoreline.
I think the snowy peak in the background might be Ben Vorlich.

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Reflections of individual trees on the far side of Loch Earn.

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Uprooted tree with reflections.

It was remarkably warm for the time of year, no doubt thanks to the lack of wind, and we enjoyed ambling along the shore soaking up the old Vitamin D.

Here’s the delightful assistant getting her daily dose:

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Coat- and hat-less in February at Loch Earn.

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Stony northern shore of Loch Earn bathed in warm February sunshine.

We had been hoping to have lunch at a nice hotel on the lochside but unfortunately it was closed, so we scooted off to the nearby small town of Comrie instead.

The delightful assistant recommended The Royal Hotel, an establishment in which she had enjoyed one or two satisfactory luncheons with her dear spouse.

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Reception area of The Royal Hotel, Comrie.

She opted for chicken chasseur, which came with mashed potatoes and green beans:

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I had a bowl of very interesting hummus which was packed with all sorts of things, including black olives, coriander and red peppers. It was served with thick slices of grilled toast and a side salad:

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Very interesting hummus at the Royal Hotel in Comrie.

Nicely filled with savouries, we moved on to the town of Crieff about 12 miles along the road and called in at a cafe and furniture shop called The Loft, for coffee.

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A deliciously foamy cappuccino at The Loft in Crieff.

The delightful assistant was too full for pudding but I managed to put away a slice of moist carrot cake:

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Carrot cake at The Loft.

Content with our lot, we tripped off home full of happy memories of our glorious day out in sunny Perthshire.

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Winter sunshine at Loch Earn.

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During a country walk a few days ago I happened upon a peculiarly shaped ash tree.

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Peculiarly shaped ash tree, with two ‘legs’

It reminded me of a giraffe.

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As ash tree that looks like a giraffe.

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In global terms, Scotland is a small country. (In terms of size, it’s apparently smaller than Austria, Tasmania and the US state of Maine.)

Although I’ve spent virtually all of my life in Scotland, there are still many parts I haven’t yet visited and a number of long-held ambitions as yet unfulfilled.

I did manage to tick one off recently though, when the delightful assistants and I buzzed up north towards the Moray Coast, to visit the Findhorn Community.

One of the many nice things about the area of Moray is that the council provide cheerfully coloured bins, and these were in evidence in the community’s streets:

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The Findhorn Community is rather an unusual place, and has grown considerably since it began in 1962.

Findhorn Community Centre near the entrance to the community.

In its early days, the founders created a bit of a stir by growing enormous vegetables, herbs and flowers, the girth of which they said had been achieved by communicating with the spirits of the plants.

For example, an average sort of cabbage weighs about 3lbs, but some of the cabbages grown in Findhorn weighed in at a whopping 40lb! That’s about 18kg, or nearly 3 stone (or the weight of an average 4 year old child).

I wish I had a picture of one of these enormous cabbages, but we searched the grounds of the community during our visit and found not one single outsize vegetable.

These days the community is more concerned with hosting environmental and spiritual workshops and promoting environmentally friendly practises in its ecovillage, so perhaps their days of growing gigantic vegetables is past, I don’t know.

As interested as we were in having a wander round the place, luncheon was calling so we headed straight for the community’s Blue Angel Cafe, tucked in amongst burgeoning foliage with seating outside as well as indoors:

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Soup of the Day was green split pea, and delightful assistant no.2 and I both went for that.

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He had his with cheese and onion sandwiches on the side, and I had rice cakes. The soups came dished up in bowls made in the community pottery:

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Delightful assistant no.1 had cheese and tomato sandwiches, which came with a lovely fresh salad, but unfortunately my photo of it is a bit blurred.

When we’d finished our savouries we went for a trot round The Park, the area of the community containing ecohouses, various small enterprises and gardens.

Beneath the signpost at the entrance to The Park there was an encouraging message:

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As we walked around, I must say I didn’t feel in the least bit worried. The sun was shining, the birds were singing and there were lots of interesting things to look at.

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The Findhorn Pottery Shop, a place to purchase a souvenir or two.

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The weaving studio, where you can perhaps buy woven things to take home with you. I didn’t go in, but I did see some colourful woven items hanging in the window.

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The Boutique – a small building with all sorts of things in it. I believe it’s a kind of swap shop where you can bring something you no longer want and swap it for something someone else has left.

In addition to the businesses there were many ecohouses of interesting design, some leading directly off the quiet paths through the village and others popping up from amongst clusters of trees.

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A curious roof emerging from the canopy.

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An unusual little house nestling beneath its curious roof.

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One of several ‘barrel’ houses, made from massive recycled whisky vats. Very fitting, since Moray is home to the world’s only Malt Whisky Trail.

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The Shire: currently for sale, at offers over £159,000. The outside wood is Scottish spruce and internal wall partitions are filled with sheep’s wool, which no doubt keeps it nice and cosy in the winter. If you want to see the full specification, you can find it here: http://www.lightbringers.info/eco-house-sale.asp

Perhaps my favourite building was this one, the Park Maintenance office:

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A smiley whale, brightening up the ecovillage.

In the middle of The Park there was a wooded garden, designed for contemplation.

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In the middle of this wooded glade was something quite magical, a low stone built house with a grass roof and a small garden, where I daresay the forest folk come of an evening to sit and tell stories.

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Little fairy house in a wooded glade.

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The doorway into a magical kingdom.

Just outside the Peace Garden there was another garden, which was fenced off and had a most unusual gateway:

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No outsize vegetables to be seen here.

This garden contained several minibeast hotels (the little wooden boxes attached to posts in the picture below):

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A Mecca for minibeasts

Having exhausted ourselves strolling around in the sunshine, we headed back to the Blue Angel Cafe for a little refreshment.

Most unusually, delightful assistant no.1 didn’t want anything, not even a nice cup of tea, but delightful assistant no.2 had spied a lemon roulade on our previous visit and had been dreaming of it ever since:

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It wasn’t quite as lemony as he’d been hoping for but it seemed to slip down quite well with a cappuccino.

As is often the case, I was lured in by walnuts; on this occasion they came embedded in a toffee walnut tart. It was sweet, sticky and highly acceptable. In company with a cinnamon chai latte it disappeared without any trouble at all:

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All the way round The Park we had noticed little wooden houses a couple of feet off the ground, which I initially thought were mail boxes and then realised were in fact lights. Each one was wired up and had holes at the front with a light bulb inside. I suppose they must double as hidey-holes for wee beasties.

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Unobtrusive street lighting in Findhorn ecovillage.

Before leaving the Findhorn Community we called in at The Phoenix community store:

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I was amazed by the range of goods for sale, particularly in the food area which had the most extensive range of nut butters I think I’ve ever seen, as well as many other interesting goodies of the sort you find in a wholefoods shop.

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They also had a good variety of wines and locally produced real ales, apothecary items, cards, books and gifts. I was prepared for the prices being higher than you’d find in towns and cities, but in fact in some cases the opposite was true. They were even competing with supermarket prices, which I thought very commendable.

Another surprising thing about the Findhorn Community is that it has its own currency, the Eko (1 Eko = £1), although the pound sterling is equally accepted.

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Various Eko notes (courtesy of http://e-info.org.tw/node/70731).

According to an article in The Scotsman last year, several pubs in the Moray area accept the Eko.

In 2012 the Findhorn Community celebrated its 50th anniversary, and I wonder what it’ll be like in another 50 years’ time. Perhaps this sort of community living will have grown in popularity by then and there will be other similar places dotted around the country. I suppose it’s possible that I might just live long enough to find out.

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After my last post, I was thinking it was high time I did a post dedicated my two most delightful assistants.

Then, I thought, they really should be a more permanent fixture on my blog and so instead I’ve written a separate page about them. You can find it as a tab at the top of the blog, or by clicking here.

The picture below was taken last May and is a little corridor in their garden, between a fence and a wall, that they’ve left to grow wild.

It reminds me of the house and garden I was brought up in, where they did a similar thing. There was a section at the bottom of the garden that remained unmown and unplanted, and it was chock-full of long grasses, wild poppies and the like. There was a tree in the middle of it, from which my mum hung a wooden plank on two ropes to make a swing. I remember taking an old pan and a wooden spoon down there and mixing up recipes with soil and grass in, lost in my own little outdoor kitchen. Happy days.

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The small Perthshire town of Blairgowrie sits among rolling hills and farmland in the Vale of Strathmore.

The streets of the town slope upwards towards the north-west, and if you continue walking in this direction beyond the limit of houses, you soon reach the top of a small grassy hill called The Knockie.

The Knockie, being only a few minutes’ trot from where I live, provides an easily accesible bit of fresh air and exercise for someone who spends far too much time sitting at a desk. I try to get out for a little walk most days of the week and yesterday, thinking it was too long since I last did it, I felt inspired to go and look at the views from The Knockie.

The track up the hill is often very muddy, but is apparently being upgraded and will soon be covered in stones. I think it has a nicely old-fashioned look, bounded by lovely dry stone walls covered in moss:

When you reach the top of the hill, you can read a ghost story on a board:

The story concerns a Lady Jean Drummond, who lived at nearby Newton Castle around the 13th century. She fell in love with a chap from a neighbouring castle, but the two families were at war with one another over land rights, and any sort of romance was out of the question. Heartbroken, Lady Jean is said to have wandered out into the marshes, never to return. Her ghost, dressed in green silk, currently divides her time betwen the two castles, ever pining for her lost love.

A wooden seat has been thoughtfully provided so that you can sit and contemplate this tragic tale:

Yesterday was not the brightest of days, but on the other side of the hill from Blairgowrie there are good views of the surrounding countryside, and the distant Grampian mountains:

The track on the other side of the hill has a much better surface, being covered in tarmac for some of the way, and there are more mossy walls:

We’ve had a fair bit of stormy weather here lately, and I passed some trees that had not only been uprooted, but had taken the ground with them. I thought it looked as if a giant had come along and lifted up the carpet:

As I rounded The Knockie, the setting sun broke through the clouds casting a warm glow on the hillside to the east:

Over towards the west, the sky seemed to be on fire:

The atmosphere was hazy, but the lighting created this silhouette of a horse on the horizon:

By the time I got home, I felt I’d earned a small snackerel:

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Yesterday I felt the need of an adventure involving tea, cakes, and a bit of Scottish heritage (I have to do this for my next book, it’s all work, work, work…) so I whisked my delightful assistant off to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of New Lanark, in South Lanarkshire (roughly central southern Scotland).

New Lanark is one of 5 UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Scotland (the only other one I’ve seen is Edinburgh’s old and new towns, so I think I should make the effort to visit the rest). It consists of a small village and series of cotton mills that were built in 1786 by a Scottish businessman called David Dale.  It sits low in a valley of the River Clyde, and was built there because of its situation next to the only waterfalls on the Clyde (water power being needed for running the mills).

The reason it’s now a World Heritage Site is due to the innovation and industry of David Dale’s son-in-law, Robert Owen. Owen was a social reformer ahead of his time, and came into partnership with Dale at New Lanark when he married Dale’s daughter.

This is the first glimpse you get of New Lanark if you park at the upper car park and walk down towards the village:

I don’t know if the bunting had been put up for the Jubilee, the Olympics, some other celebration, or if it’s always there, but in any case there were lots of brightly coloured little flags fluttering in the breeze:

Having travelled for more than 2.5 hours to get here, the cafe was calling our names loud and clear (I admit, we had stopped for refreshments en route, but it felt like a long time beforehand).  The cafe was the sort you find in a large visitor centre, not terribly inspiring but providing much-needed refreshments to weary visitors. Having had previous refreshments (hot chocolate and biscotti for me, coffee and croissant for delightful assistant), we decided to share a sandwich and then have a cake each.

The sandwich selection was very carnivore-orientated, but we found a cream cheese and cucumber option that suited us both. I was absolutely desperate for tea by this time and was delighted to find that the tea was just the way I like it – strong, flavourful and Fairtrade:

My only complaint about the tea was that there was only enough for one cup each in the pot for two. However, that was remedied by ordering another pot, along with a coconut tart, a piece of Mars Bar slice and a small pot of grapes:

The cafe had been almost empty when we arrived:

But was very busy when we left, it being the lunchtime rush, and we were glad to get away from all the noise.  It also meant that the exhibitions were nice and quiet for us while our fellow visitors noshed in the cafe.

The first bit we went to was an audio-visual display and we were taken round in little pods seating two people in each one. The pods were suspended from a track in the ceiling that took us slowly round the exhibition, with the voice of ghost child Annie McLeod telling us her story along the way. At the end of the ride I had my picture taken with Annie McLeod and two faceless ghosts:

At the moment, New Lanark is forming Chapter 2 of my book, and I intend to visit it again and see the bits we didn’t manage to get round (there’s a lot to see – too much for one visit, but thankfully the ticket allows you to revisit and see the things you missed before).

Since I haven’t seen it all yet I can’t be sure of my favourite bit of it, but certainly from my first visit the part I liked best was the roof garden on top of one of the mill buildings:

We spent a long time up in the roof garden, having it to ourselves for a while, and it was a welcome relief from the exhibitions. Unfortunately, I had quite a headache all day, and being up there at the treetops with the breeze and the sunshine coming out a little now and then, was blissful.

One of the features of New Lanark, at least that we found, was that it had a claustrophobic feel, due to its situation down in the valley. There is no doubt that it’s a fascinating and amazing place, and I’m looking forward to visiting again, but it was nice to get out of it after spending 3 hours there.

When we left the village and were walking back up to the car park, we saw a grassy path leading off entincingly above the valley, and felt an overwhelming urge to investigate:

It was beautiful, with very fresh air, an earthy smell and lots of wild foxgloves:

Looking down on New Lanark, I felt free up there amongst the trees:

Next time perhaps we’ll visit in a different season and see what else is growing along the enticing path.

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One of life’s little pleasures, and something I find very rewarding, is finding hidden gems in my own neck of the woods.

I used to enjoy voyages of discovery of this sort when I lived in Edinburgh, wandering through the streets and taking turnings that I hadn’t taken before, just to see what lay beyond my usual route. I was often delighted by surprising details – a nice architectural feature here, a beautiful garden there.

This afternoon, since we were both in need of a bit of fresh air and exercise, I whisked my delightful assistant off towards Kirriemuir and took a turn off the road that I had seen many times before but never investigated.

The road was marked ‘Silvie’, although I didn’t see any further signs of anywhere with that name. It was a very pleasant discovery; here are a few photos of what we saw:

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“Tearoom of the Week” has been a bit neglected lately, so I thought it was high time I slipped another one in. This tearoom comes to you from the county of Angus.

Angus sits on Scotland’s east coast, with Dundee to the south, Perthshire to the west and Aberdeenshire to the north. If you kept going east out of Angus you’d end up in the North Sea.

This picture was taken bobbing about somewhere in the North Sea last year. I was astonished by the number of gulls sitting on the water so far from land, I don’t know what they were doing there but there were hundreds of them (you might need to click on the picture to enlarge it and see them properly):

This isn’t particularly relevant to the tearoom in question, since it’s not on the coast, I just fancied putting a cool watery picture in because I’m sitting here typing this on a very warm day.

One of the wonderful things about this tearoom is the setting, which is quiet and attractive, surrounded by rolling green hills. Unfortunately I don’t seem to have a photo of the views from the tearoom windows, but this is what it looks like when you arrive. It’s inside an old forge on the right where the window is, and the building on the far left houses a stable (with horse):

Inside, it’s light and airy and has a farmhouse feel, with exposed stone walls, wooden beams, and wooden furniture around the room:

My delightful assistant and I popped in here yesterday for a light luncheon, having just had enormous pancakes at another tearoom not far away. Since we weren’t terribly hungry, we shared egg salad sandwiches:

I think the eggs may have come from some of the free range hens that we saw wandering around the car park. There were some lovely grey stripy ones, which I think were Scots Greys, that were wisely sitting in the shade of a fence:

And there was a very attractive little black one. Its feathers had a greenish sheen that caught the light. It’s not demonstrated brilliantly in this photo, but it had the sort of silky iridescence you see in oil slicks:

After our sandwiches and some cool drinks, we left the car at the tearoom and went for a walk nearby to enjoy the glorious weather and work up an appetite for some spice cake. I had spotted the cake under a glass cloche and was keen to sample it, but I needed to make room by burning up some calories first.

We found a grassy path through some deciduous trees, and the dappled light made it look refreshingly appealing in the heat:

It was indeed very pleasant and peaceful, and by the time we arrived back at the tearoom I found I had a cake-shaped hole inside me.

We ordered a big pot of tea for two, and the spice cake:

I don’t think I’ve ever had this cake before, but as far as I could gather it was a basic sponge with cinnamon and other spices in it. The icing was very nice and spicy too, and I got a jelly sweet into the bargain.

All of the chairs in this tearoom are wooden, but some of them are of delicate design, with prettily frilled cushions on them. These were perhaps my favourites:

As we were leaving the tearoom, a little chap popped up from behind a dry stone wall and thanked us for coming. We thanked him for having us, and I look forward to renewing his acquaintance in the near future:

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