The Cambrian Way 2010

Author: George Tod

This walk is illustrated with photographs. Click on small photo to enlarge in situ, or click caption to enlarge into new window.
Part 6 - Days 10 and 11 - Rhandirmwyn to Ponterwyd


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Day 10 - Thursday 10th June - GPS 20.5 miles - 2,525 ft ascent

Rhandirmwyn to Pontrhydfendigaid via Doethe Valley and Garn Gron

The GPS mileage figure is what I recorded from accommodation to accommodation, and includes any small detours, meandering around, and errors in route finding. In general this is about 5% to 15% greater than the mileage calculated from a map, depending upon the type of terrain, but in some cases is considerably more.

Breakfast didn't start until 8.30, which was a bit unfortunate because I had a long and difficult day and could have done with an early start. To save time, I decided to get everything ready before breakfast and wear my walking clothes rather than changing after I had eaten. I had managed to dry the remains of yesterday's washing over an electric heater. The shirt I wear at night, despite being put over the top of my rucksack all day, where it was caught in a few showers, was dry enough to wear last night, and my feet had recovered reasonably overnight.

There were two others down for breakfast at the start, with another table set for one, who arrived at nine o'clock. The weather was rather overcast but with not many dark clouds, so there was less chance of rain. As there was quite a bit of walking over rough ground with no defined paths, there was potential for navigation to go wrong, so I had taken the trouble to enter a few key waymarks into my GPS to help me along. The thick socks I had worn yesterday had elastic that was quite tight around the ankle and I wondered whether that had been restricting circulation and adding to the problems I had had with my feet, so I decided not to take any chances and wore another pair that were not so tight.

I managed to get off by 9.15 and made my way back down to the river Towy, crossing over the bridge and joining the riverside path. It wasn't all that easy going, there being tree roots and a few fallen branches to contend with, but it was far preferable to walking along the road. After a while, the path left the riverside by some steps up a steep bank and joined the road for the rest of the way to Towy Bridge, which I reached at 9.50 (checkpoint 15).

A little more road walking led to a track that followed the river for about a mile. It was a little overgrown in places, but not too bad, and came out onto a road that led to the Doethie valley, passing some waterfalls on the way. A footpath then followed this lovely valley for the next few miles. At first the views were a bit restricted because of the trees, but further along they opened out and I stopped for a rest at 11.35. All the way along the river there are rapids and small waterfalls as it winds its way along the steep sided valley. Unfortunately, the sun wasn't shining to bring out the best of the scene, as it did on my first visit ten years ago, but it was still very good. My feet doing quite well so far after about six miles of walking, and I was able to progress along without having to think about them all the time. However, the walking had been quite easy so far and there was still a long way to go, with a fair amount over uneven ground.

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River Towy towards Dinas Nature Reserve
River Towy towards Dinas Nature Reserve
Waterfalls at Dinas Nature Reserve
Waterfalls at Dinas Nature Reserve
River Doethie
River Doethie

At 11.50, I set off again. It was getting quite chilly higher up the valley, so I put on my fleece. The walking was generally quite easy with just a steady ascent following the river up the valley with good views all the way, so I was just enjoying the walk and not worrying too much about the miles ahead. After two and a half miles along the riverside footpath, there is a choice of routes. One climbs up out of the valley and heads for the road by the Soar y Mynydd Chapel, whilst the other continues to follow the Doethie valley past the Ty'n-y-cornel hostel. The latter used to be an alternative route for hostellers only, as there was not a general right of way further on, but following the Countryside Rights of Way Act, which made this into access land, there are no restrictions and this has been become the recommended route with the other route as an alternative. I have been along both routes before and was a little undecided as to which to take this time. The Ty'n-y-cornel route is slightly shorter and has considerably better scenery, but involves some difficult walking over rough ground, whereas the Soar y Mynydd has a few miles of rather tedious road walking, but is easier and quicker. As I came to the fork in the path, I decided on the Ty'n-y-cornel route, being swayed by the better scenery and the fact that it is now the main route.

The path further up the valley is a little less well-trodden, but is still not difficult. After a couple of miles, as it approaches the hostel, it joins the access track, where it crosses Doethie Fach, a tributary of the Doethie, by a footbridge beside the ford in a steep sided dip. The hostel was a convenient place to stop for lunch. This used to be owned and run by the YHA but was scheduled for closure like so many remote hostels. However, it was saved from closure and is now managed by the Elenydd Wilderness Hostels Trust, though it still listed by the YHA and has been re-classified as a bunkhouse. When I arrived, it was locked by a key-code lock, though I was able to eat my lunch on the balcony outside, and it is possible to shelter either in the porch or in a shed at any time, if the weather is bad. I arrived at 13.25 and had lunch of cheese, malt loaf, a scone and crisps - all things I had bought in Llandovery, and there was some still left for tomorrow.

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 Looking back down River Doethie
Looking back down River Doethie
Ty'n-y-cornel Bunkhouse
Ty'n-y-cornel Bunkhouse
River Doethie and forest above Ty'n-y-cornel
River Doethie and forest above Ty'n-y-cornel

I set off along the track again at 14.00 with the weather still quite cool. There was a brief patch of sunshine that suddenly made it very warm, but that went away as quickly as it came. The going was easy for the first mile but then the route turned off from the track onto a footpath, which soon started to peter out. There was then a dilemma as to which route to for the rest of the way to the road at Nantymaen. There was thick clumpy grass with boggy bits in between over much of the area and I decided to make my way along close to the forest fence, thinking that there may be something of a path there. In trying to reach it, I got caught up in a horribly boggy patch. Whichever way I tried to step my feet kept sinking in further and I ended up with water in my boots, though they didn't get completely saturated. Beside the fence were a couple of drainage ditches with a mound in between, which did help me some of the way, but there were other places where I had to struggle through clumpy grass and bogs. Where the forest ended, there was a particularly bad patch, but then I heaved a sigh of relief, as it gradually got better until I was walking on good, solid, dry ridge overlooking the Nantymaen road junction with its iconic old red telephone box. The general consensus seems to be that it is best to keep to the higher ground over this route, as it tends to be less boggy, even if the ground is rough.

It was 15.40 when I reached the road and it had taken me one hour and forty minutes to cover 3.1 miles, and the first mile had been covered fairly quickly at that. The worst of it, however, was not the extra time, but the extra effort required and the extra wear and tear to my feet. A strong northerly wind also helped to make it a more unpleasant experience, as well as the drizzly rain that came along for a short while. After all the effort, I stopped for a fifteen-minute rest - I needed it!

The telephone box was in a sorry state with nearly every pane of glass smashed as well as the telephone handset. There is no mobile reception around here; so isolated telephone boxes like this can be a lifesaver for motorists who get stuck in the snow. BT are constantly trying to rid themselves of the responsibility and cost of their upkeep, so mindless acts of vandalism like this are only likely to hasten their demise.

With a firm track under my feet, it was a great relief, and I was able to make reasonable progress again to Nantymaen Farm and beyond, but gradually the good tracks and paths disappear leaving only faint paths and sheep tracks that are not always going in the right direction. For quite a way, I could see Garn Gron, the next checkpoint and highest point of today's walk, so it was just a matter of trying to find the best route over the rough ground. The going wasn't easy, but at least it wasn't as bad or as boggy as that I had encountered earlier. Nearer to Garn Gron, it became hidden by the curvature of the hillside and some foothills. However, I had entered the grid reference into my GPS so it was easier to keep heading in the right direction until it came into view again near the summit, which I reached at 17.15 (checkpoint16).

On a good day there are extensive views from here, but it was dull and hazy, which limited the views to the north, though it was better to the south. I had a drink and a fifteen-minute break, sheltering from the cold wind by a large cairn near the summit, before making my way onwards towards Pontrhydfendigaid on the alternative route, the main route going directly to Strata Florida. There was more rough walking from the summit for a while, but I had entered the grid reference of the footbridge near a ruined chapel into my GPS. This was the place the guidebook said was the exit from the common, and I managed to pick up a path that was heading in that direction. The path had a tendency to peter out every now and again, but I managed to pick it up again for most of the way. With paths to follow it was not as difficult as walking over rough ground, but it was still not easy going, and I was quite relieved when I finally reached the footbridge and the road, though I never saw any sign of the ruined chapel.

Whilst I was walking down the hillside, I heard a sound resembling that of a large crowd at a football match with a mixture of cheering and booing. Just returning from the wilderness to somewhere where there were only a few small villages, it seemed out of place, and I spent some time trying to work out where it was coming from and what was causing it. Eventually I realised that on the hillside across the valley, there was a very large flock of sheep that looked as if they were being rounded up and were making all the commotion.

Although I was now down from the hills and on the final leg towards my accommodation for the night, all the problems were not yet over, as the waymarking of the footpaths in this area is very poor and the paths are not well trodden. After climbing up over the next ridge, the route became more difficult to follow and I just had to head in the general direction of the caravan site that I had to go through on the way to the B4343 road into Pontrhydfendigaid. At one point I had to pass through a large boggy field full of cows with no obvious route into the caravan park, but after a bit of wandering around I found my way through. This is another case where the 1:25,000 OS map would have been more helpful than my 1:50,000 map aided by my GPS, as I would have been aided by the layout of the field boundaries that the more detailed map shows.

Once I reached the caravan site, I was as good as home and dry, with only the final half mile along the road to the Red Lion, which I reached at 19.15. I was very glad to get into the shower to freshen up after a long, tiring day of walking through one of the wildest areas of Wales. My feet were feeling a bit tender, but not as bad as they were last night - in fact it they were not much of a problem until I was nearing the end of the walk when they started aching, so I couldn't complain too much. As was to be expected, there was no mobile reception down in the village, but I noticed that I could get reception on the top of Garn Gron. However, there was a payphone in the pub, so I was able to call home from there.

It was quite busy down in the bar with quite a number of people eating, though most of them had already had their meals and were starting to drift away. Most of the people were speaking in Welsh, which tends to be the case in rural areas of Wales. It often amuses me when listening to people speaking Welsh, as they seldom seem to speak for very long without switching into English for the odd word or phrase. Occasional words of English are only to be expected, as many of these have crept into the Welsh language unchanged, except perhaps for their spelling, but some of the phrases obviously do have Welsh translation, but individuals presumably decide that some things are easier to say in English. Here was no exception, and a woman on the next table, who was speaking at length in Welsh, suddenly said 'eleven and a half hours' in English in mid-sentence.

I ordered a sausage casserole and had a couple of pints of bitter before retiring to bed, where I could rest my aching feet whilst watching the television for a while. When they get like this, even just wearing footwear is uncomfortable and they are best with as little touching them as possible. I tend to sleep face downwards so that the soles of my feet are uppermost, which gives least discomfort. The blisters on my heels were not doing badly and were starting to heal over, but they were still rather tender to the touch. Both Compeed dressings had come off during the walk after being in place for two days. Getting my feet damp obviously didn't help the adhesive to keep them in place, though they are designed to come off after a while. I noticed that the new ones I bought were thinner than the ones I had left from a few years ago and the adhesive didn't seem to be as strong. The packet also only claimed to give 24-hour protection, so I don't think they are as good as they used to be. The only drawback with the older ones was that the adhesive from around the edges of the dressing tended to stick to socks more, and could be more difficult to remove from skin, but I would rather that than dressings coming off too easily. Although my blisters were on the way to recovery, I didn't want to risk doing walks of twenty miles or more without some protection, so I will put on new dressings in the morning.


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Day 11 - Friday 11th June - GPS 22.6 miles - 3,090 ft ascent

Pontrhydfendigaid to Ponterwyd via Teifi Pools and Devil's Bridge

The GPS mileage figure is what I recorded from accommodation to accommodation, and includes any small detours, meandering around, and errors in route finding. In general this is about 5% to 15% greater than the mileage calculated from a map, depending upon the type of terrain, but in some cases is considerably more.

With another long walk ahead, I was up early to get everything ready for a quick getaway after an eight o'clock breakfast. The sun was streaming in through the window, so I put my damp boots and socks on the windowsill to help them to dry. I also did the same thing as yesterday and went down to breakfast in my walking clothes so I didn't need to get changed again. I had a good cooked breakfast, but there was no fruit juice or marmalade to accompany it, though the breakfast itself was enough to fill me up.

I was off at 8.30 with an easy walk along the road and then on a path beside the river to the ruins of Strata Florida Abbey. My feet had recovered somewhat overnight, but it still took a bit of steady walking before all the aches and pains had been kicked into submission and I was able to walk a little faster. From the abbey there was another mile and a half of road walking along the valley before taking the track up towards Teifi Pools. The route used to go round Tyncwm Farm, but there was now a new waymarked bridleway cutting off the corner and bypassing the farm. It led to a new bridge over the stream before climbing the bank on the other side to rejoin the old route beyond the farm. It was quite hot in the sunshine to start with, but cloudier higher up and quite cool near Teifi Pools.

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River Teifi towards Strata Florida Abbey
River Teifi towards Strata Florida Abbey
Ruins of Strata Florida Abbey
Ruins of Strata Florida Abbey
Church near Strata Florida Abbey
Church near Strata Florida Abbey

On the way, whilst trying to avoid a long, deep puddle along the track, I put my foot in the peaty mire and sank in up to my shin. Though I quickly extracted it, thereby avoiding too much wet getting into my boot, there was still a fair amount that managed to get in. This was the last thing I needed early in the walk, but there was nothing much I could do about it unless I stopped to change my socks, so I just carried on and hoped that it would gradually dry out as I walked along. I reached the access road to Llyn Egnant, the first reservoir of the Teifi Pools, where the weather was quite dull, though the scenery was still good. As I made my way past, I saw another red kite, the fourth one I had seen in the last few days. I was never quite sure that I could identify them properly, as any redness tends to be lost when they are viewed in silhouette and it was only their size that I was relying on, but I learned that the fanned-out tail feathers are a better means of identification. In fact, when they are hovering, as they often do, the feathers on their tails and wings tend to spread out a lot, giving them their kite-like shape.

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Looking back down River Egnant towards Tyncwm Farm
Back towards Tyncwm Farm
River Teifi
River Teifi

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Llyn Egnant Dam
Llyn Egnant Dam
Llyn Egnant
Llyn Egnant
Llyn Teifi
Llyn Teifi

The next part of the walk is undefined, though there are a number of landmarks along the way. The first of these is Claerddu, an old farmhouse now used as a bothy. Although this has a footpath running past, the start of the path is not all that clear until a little way after it departs from the road, causing me to miss it as I went past. I realised that I must have gone too far and turned off on a faint footpath along the next ridge, though I then had to drop back down when I got near to the bothy, which is well maintained and functioning. I am not sure how many people actually stay there overnight, but quite a few call in there for a rest or shelter, as I decided to do, arriving at 11.20. The last entries in the visitors' book were from some people also doing the Cambrian Way, but starting a few days before I did.

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Inside Claerddu Bothy
Inside Claerddu Bothy
Claerddu Bothy
Claerddu Bothy
Llyn Fyrddon Fach and Llyn Fyrddon Fawr
Llyn Fyrddon Fach and Llyn Fyrddon Fawr

After twenty minutes, I set off again, following a ridge north of the bothy, which now has a footpath of sorts, at least to start with. The ridge runs between some more reservoirs about a mile further on, and these act as further landmarks for the route to Domen Milwyn, the next checkpoint and the highest point of today's walk. By this point, the path had more or less petered out. Domen Milwyn was clearly visible, but was lost from view in the next dip and it was not clear which route to take across a large, boggy area on the way. Previously I had skirted around to the east, but this time tried a different route to the west. However, this proved to be not as good, as I got caught up in a network of small streams that drained the bog and had to keep taking wider and wider detours to cross them without getting my feet wet.

The slopes of Domen Milwyn were well drained and free from bog. The ascent is fairly steep, but there is only a short climb to reach the summit, which I reached at 13.00 (checkpoint 17). It was cold, windy and overcast at the top, but the view was clear, with sight of civilisation down towards Cwmystwyth. I found a more sheltered spot just to the east where I could stop for lunch and from this side the views were of complete desolation as far as the eye could see. It was still cool even with shelter from the wind and I was definitely in need of my fleece that I had put on a bit earlier. Taking a half-hour break, I finished off my malt loaf and cheese and ate the remaining scone, which was starting to get a bit stale.

I had been using a new Sony 12 megapixel compact camera, which had been bought just prior to the start of the walk. Two alkaline AA batteries powered it, and I had substituted them with some Phillips 2,300 mAh NiMH rechargeable batteries, which had worked well so far, but were now running low. I had some Maplin 2,000 mAh NiMH batteries that I was carrying as spares for my GPS, so I put those in the camera and it almost immediately powered itself off after showing a low battery indication. Swapping them with the ones from my GPS gave the same result, so I put the alkaline batteries back in and it was fine. It appeared that the Maplin batteries were just not up to the job of powering the camera, even though they were a similar type to the Phillips ones and only of slightly less capacity. I tried this again later after recharging all the batteries and got exactly the same result - the camera showing full battery charge with the Phillips batteries but a low/broken battery indication with the Maplin ones.

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Summit of Domen Milwyn towards Cwmystwyth
Summit of Domen Milwyn towards Cwmystwyth
Cwmystwyth
Cwmystwyth
Waterfall at Nant Cac-glas, Cwmystwyth
Waterfall at Nant Cac-glas, Cwmystwyth

There was more rough walking as I headed off towards Cwmystwyth, but it wasn't long before I picked up a path to follow for the rest of the way, though I wasn't checking my map and came down the western side of Nant Milwyn when I should have been on the eastern side. I only noticed this when I came to a farm road, which wasn't the road I expected. I checked the map and found that I could carry on the way I was going and then double back down to the bridge over the river. As I made my way past the farm, I was confronted with a flock of sheep being herded up towards me. Rather than try to pass them in the lane and create an impasse with the farmer trying to send them one way and me sending them back again, I stepped back into the driveway of a house so I was well out of their way until they had passed. The farmer nodded his thanks and I continued on my way. All of this didn't matter too much, but it added about half a mile onto an already long walk.

From the bridge, there was a steep hill up the road to Cwmystwyth followed by a steep path up the hill above the village. The weather had brightened up quite a bit by now, so the scenery was looking much better, but there was still a cool breeze. Up the hillside the route goes past Ty'n-y-rhyd, a building with fenced off land, right next to the steep sided valley of a stream, and I have always had difficulty finding my way past there. This time I tried to take extra care, checking from my map that the footpath should indeed go to the right of the building. Before I reached it, I saw a path going down to cross the stream by a footbridge, but ignored it because it didn't seem from my map that I needed to cross the stream. However, near the building, the only way to get past the right was to scramble down to the stream and up the other side to join a footpath over there. Shortly afterwards, the path forked, with a path on the left waymarked with posts in the direction I needed to be, so it looked like I should have taken the path over the footbridge after all. Later, I checked the 1:25,000 map online and found that not to be very clear either, with the right of way marked along the stream at that point.

From there onwards, the route was quite clear, going up a boggy path, then up a steep bank to the roadway and into the forest. I stopped for a fifteen minute rest at 15.20 before making my way past Gelmast Farm, which was built circa 1801 and was established as an experimental farm by Thomas Johnes of Hafod to show how his ideas on dairy farming could be put into practice. It is now a listed building and has been renovated in recent years after many years of neglect. Past the farm, I met a couple of chaps on mountain bikes who were bemoaning the fact that, although we were on a bridleway, some of the gates were locked and they had to lift their bikes over them, but this is only one of many instances of the neglect or abuse of rights of way in Wales, and in particular in Mid Wales. The route then re-entered the forest, emerging onto the road again by the stone archway built in 1810 to commemorate George III's Jubilee. The arch used to be over the road, but following some road improvements, now stands on its own bit of the old road to one side of the new one. This means, at least, that visitors can take a look at it without the risk of being run over.

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Cwmystwyth from near entrance to forest
Cwmystwyth from near entrance to forest
Gelmast Farm
Gelmast Farm
Bodcott and Mynach Valley near Devil's Bridge
Bodcott and Mynach Valley near Devil's Bridge

The way to Devil's Bridge runs via a track running alongside the road but higher up the hillside. This used to be forested, which limited the views, but a considerable stretch of clear felling has opened up the views, making a big improvement to the walk. I didn't need to go into Devil's Bridge itself so, where the path dropped down into the centre, I stayed on the road, which was a more direct route to the gorge. It didn't save a lot of time or distance, but every little helped on a long day's walk like this. I stopped for a short rest before dropping down the long path running diagonally down the hillside through the forest to the footbridge at the bottom. As I was walking down, I was reminded of the fact that I had to climb all this way back up at the other side plus more besides to get over the hill to my B&B for the night near Ponterwyd. I reached the footbridge (checkpoint 18) at 17.45 and crossed over the Rheidol to join the minor road at the other side. There were several people around by the bridge and the nearby waterfalls, most of them having taken the easy option by car.

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Felling operations near Devil's Bridge
Felling operations near Devil's Bridge
Devil's Bridge
Devil's Bridge
Plynlimon from above Devil's Bridge
Plynlimon from above Devil's Bridge

After a short walk by the river, there is a very steep, long, straight path running up through the forest on the northern side of the gorge. For all the effort of going down to the bottom of the gorge and back up again, there is relatively little to see, as so much is hidden by trees on both sides. There is a route with a better view of the gorge, but this would add even more distance to the walk, so it has been omitted from the recommended route, though I did go that way on my first walk, when I was able to find accommodation in Devil's Bridge. The steep track upwards seemed to go on forever, as I was getting tired by this time. I kept stopping for short rests all the way, each time aiming for a point further up where I would take my next rest. After what seemed like an eternity, but in fact was only about fifteen minutes, I came to a bend at the top where the gradient started to level out. Further on I passed Ystumtuen Youth Hostel that was closed down ten or more years ago. It still sported a YHA sign and has presumably remained empty since then.

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Devil's Bridge Gorge
Devil's Bridge Gorge
Bryn Bras from near Ystumtuen
Bryn Bras from near Ystumtuen
Ponterwyd and Plynlimon from Bryn Bras
Ponterwyd and Plynlimon from Bryn Bras

I noted from the latest guidebook that the route now goes along a footpath to the east of the road, meeting up with the main A44 road by the George Borrow Hotel in Ponterwyd, which avoids some ascent and reduces the amount of road walking, which is all to the good. However, my B&B was at the end of the road by the T-junction with the A44, so it made more sense to stay on the road, even if I had to climb the hill ahead, over the shoulder of Bryn Bras. I arrived at the B&B at 18.55, having given an E.T.A. of 19.00, which wasn't a bad estimate. My GPS showed that I had walked 22.5 miles and my aching feet could also testify to that, though the weather had brightened up in the latter part of the day making the walking beautiful. After a very warm and friendly welcome, I relaxed in a lovely, hot bath, which eased some of my aches and pains. Both of my Compeed dressings had more or less come off, but my feet were now not too bad underneath. I came back down for a pot of tea and a chat. The couple used to own the George Borrow Hotel some years ago when it was a thriving business. It has changed hands again since they sold it.

It was nearly 20.00 by now and I got a call from my wife at the B&B, as she was aware that I was unlikely to have mobile reception here. The George Borrow Hotel, where I could get an evening meal, was only about half a mile down the road, and I was quite happy to walk there despite my sore feet, but the couple insisted on giving me a lift, the husband saying that he was going down there himself anyway, so it was difficult to refuse. He took me down there but didn't stay himself, returning a while later to meet up with his friends. I had one of their specials of sweet and sour pork plus a couple of pints of Double Dragon bitter. It was very lively in there, but there was a family sitting next to me with small children, one of which had a bout of screaming at the top of his voice. The parents did try to control him as best they could, but he still carried on until they left at 21.00. By this time I was just about dead on my feet, so made my way back up the road. The husband offered me a lift back, which I declined, as he was still with his friends and then, on my way back along the road, the wife came by, turned back round and offered me a lift as well. By this time, I was over half way back, so I thanked her but said I may as well walk the rest of the way. She had obviously set off just for the purpose of seeing if I wanted a lift.


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