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 9 - Days 16 and 17 - Dol-ffanog to Bronaber


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Day 16 - Wednesday 16th June - GPS 14.6 miles - 3,630 ft ascent

Dol-ffanog to Barmouth via Cregennen Lakes

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.

It was a lovely sunny morning again, but I hesitated about getting up, as I had built up a phobia about taking my first steps in the morning and awaiting the reaction from my feet. However, with some shorter days recently, they had been a lot better, so I need not have worried. It is the combination of long days and hard walking surfaces that tend to cause the foot-ache problems and, although I had done a few miles of road walking yesterday, the total walk was only 14 miles as measured on my GPS, which was several miles less than some of the days earlier on.

My washing was not quite dry, but the sun rose over the mountainside at eight o'clock, so I was able to put them out again whilst I had my breakfast, though I noticed that there was an electric heated towel rail that I could have used to dry them had the weather not been so good. The owners had returned last night, so it was they who served breakfast in my apartment, with several trips back and forth from their house to bring everything across.

The main reason that I had chosen to stay here was that King's Youth Hostel was full and it was too far to walk all the way to Barmouth yesterday. However, the advantage was that I was now near the more interesting approach of Cadair Idris via the Minffordd Path past Llyn Cau, rather than the route from Bwlch Llyn Bach, which goes along the length of the mountain along a broad ridge, and doesn't give such good views.

It was 9.15 when I set off back along the road to Minffordd, which was now quite busy and, at one point, there was a large transporter carrying a digger passing a car coming the other way just where I was at a point with no verge to step onto. A bit before Minffordd, I joined a footpath that I had noticed last night through some large metal gates. It was easy to miss from this direction as the fingerpost was hidden behind the gates. This took me to the start of the ascent at 9.35, where a notice board showed a view of the mountain and the various routes up.

The path is steep, but has steps most of the way to make things easier. They were wooden at first, and then stone, then a mixture of the two, running beside the stream and a number of waterfalls, though there was very little water flowing at the moment. The shade provided by the trees helped to keep me cool during the steep climb. Eventually, the path emerged from the forest and took a gentler route round the hillside towards Llyn Cau. It was hotter in the sunshine, but occasionally a cool breeze came along to help matters, and these got more frequent as I progressed towards the lake, which finally came into view at 10.20.

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Approaching Llyn Cau, Cadair Idris
Approaching Llyn Cau, Cadair Idris
Llyn Cau and Craig Cau
Llyn Cau and Craig Cau
Tal-y-llyn from Craig Cau
Tal-y-llyn from Craig Cau

At 10.25, I stopped for a fifteen-minute rest with a view of Llyn Cau. There were two walkers around the other side of the lake, but I had seen nobody else so far. This is one of the finest examples of a cwm, with high mountains and steep slopes three quarters of the way around, with a boulder choke forming a dam to create the lake. It was perfect weather again as I took a grassy path back up to rejoin the main path after my short detour, and made my way up the steep, rugged path towards Craig Cwm Cau. A lone walker came up behind me at quite a pace. He was carrying only a small daypack, but even so it was still a very steep slope to maintain such a speed. It was not long before he overtook me and disappeared off into the distance. I half expected him to break into a jog at some point, as some infuriating people do sometimes.

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Cadair Idris from Craig Cau
Cadair Idris from Craig Cau
Llyn Cau from Craig Cau
Llyn Cau from Craig Cau

I was in no hurry, and was making good enough progress at my steadier pace, taking in the breathtaking views on the way. Llyn Cau gets hidden from view on the way up the ridge, but there are partial views of it from time to time and minor detours at various points allow better views if desired. The ridge towers over the lake, giving bird's eye views, with a stunning one from the top of Craig Llyn Cau. Four walkers were sitting there chatting, and I stopped just past them for a rest, a drink and to soak up the view at 11.30. There was a good view down into the valley to the south and I could just see the Ty'n-y-cornel Hotel by the foot of Tal-y-llyn Lake, with Plynlimon in the distance. The main summit of Cadair Idris was now in view, as were the mountains I climbed yesterday, though these are rather round-topped and not very distinctive.

There were more walkers around now, with others up ahead aiming for the summit, as I continued on my way at 11.45. From Craig Llyn Cau, there is a dip before the rest of the ascent. It seemed a pity to lose some of the height that I had already gained, but it was a price worth paying for this most spectacular route up the mountain. Another steep climb brought me up towards the summit with spectacular views of Llyn y Gadair below and the Mawddach Estuary and Barmouth beyond, with the Lleyn Peninsular just visible in the far distance. I reached the summit at 12.20 (checkpoint 23) and found a moderate number of people around there, though it was not overcrowded considering what a beautiful day it was. There was a strong breeze at the top, so I found a sheltered ledge overlooking Llyn Cau to settle down for my lunch. Taking advantage of the good drying conditions, I laid out my damp socks in the sun. Although Llyn Cau is visible from near the summit, there is only a partial view, which is not nearly so good as the one from Craig Llyn Cau that I enjoyed earlier.

After a good break, I set off again at 13.10 to make my way down towards Barmouth. On previous occasions, I have been staying at King's Youth Hostel, so took the Pony Path route off the mountain, but this time I was following the main route, which goes further along the ridge before making its way down directly towards the Cregennen Lakes, and to make sure I didn't miss the turning, I put the grid reference into my GPS. As I started down the path from the summit, I met a couple on their way up. They were very interested in my walk and envied me having the time to be able to do it, as they were still tied down with children. I took a small detour to the summit of Cyfrwy (The Saddle) for the views it gave of Llyn y Gadair with Cadair Idris behind, before making my way west to rejoin the main path down. There were quite a number of people coming up this way, as well as others going back down and I got stuck behind a group of eight who were slowly ambling down the path, and it was some time before I found a convenient place to get past them. I was not in a hurry, but always find that it is more tiring if I have to slow down below my normal easy walking pace.

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Llyn y Gadair from Cadair Idris
Llyn y Gadair from Cadair Idris
Penygadair from Cadair Idris
Penygadair from Cadair Idris
Cadair Idris Summit
Cadair Idris Summit

I passed the Pony Path turning and headed for another mountain along the ridge, Craig-las, which, though not a steep ascent, was still a little tiring after the previous climbing. At the grassy summit, I stopped for a drink and a fifteen-minute rest at 14.35. From this vantage point, there were fine views looking back towards Cadair Idris, and further along the ridge to the west, where there were wider views of Craig-y-llyn and Craig Cwm-llwyd. The path down from Cadair Idris forms quite a scar down the mountainside and would benefit from some pathway work to repair the damage. No doubt this will be undertaken in the fullness of time, as has happened on other eroded mountain paths, though it all takes a lot of time and money. After leaving the Pony Path, there was nobody else around to share the stunning views I had over the Cregennen Lakes and Mawddach Estuary from closer quarters.

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Cadair Idris from Craig-las
Cadair Idris from Craig-las
Llynnau Gregennen, Mawddach Estuary and Barmouth from Craig-las
Llynnau Gregennen from Craig-las
Ruins of Hafotty-fach Farmhouse
Ruins of Hafotty-fach Farmhouse

Further along, I found the turning off the ridge down a steep path heading for the ruin of Hoffety Fach Farm below. The steep descent was quite a strain on my knees and legs, so I was heartily glad when I reached the bottom and was able to walk on more level ground along the road to the Cregennen Lakes. There were a few fishermen in the water and a number of people relaxing in the sunshine in this lovely beauty spot with Cadair Idris as a backdrop. I walked on past the lakes until I reached a point where I had a view overlooking Barmouth at 16.05 and had a twenty-minute break.

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Llynnau Gregennen and Bryn Brith
Llynnau Gregennen and Bryn Brith
Llynnau Gregennen and Bryn Brith
Llynnau Gregennen and Bryn Brith

From there the route follows a minor road downhill before heading across over the hillside to the top of the Arthog Waterfalls. The path was waymarked, so it was fairly easy to follow and I then began the descent down a steep path through the trees beside the waterfalls. There was not a lot of water flowing down the steep gorge, so the falls were not as impressive as they are at times of heavy rain. The path attempts to follow the stream as much as possible, but sometimes the gorge is just too steep sided and the path has to take a wider route down. This, and the abundance of trees in the gorge, means that only a fraction of the falls can be seen clearly, though there are so many of them that there are still plenty to see.

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Llynnau Gregennen and Craig-las with Cadair Idris just visible beyond
Llynnau Gregennen and Craig-las
Footbridge above Arthog Waterfalls
Footbridge above Arthog Waterfalls

At the bottom, the route goes near the estuary, through an area of wildlife habitat, crossing the Mawddach Trail. At first there is not much of a view, so it was a little tedious until the golden sands of the estuary came into view, with its rail and footbridge crossing to Barmouth. A causeway cuts off the corner on the way to the bridge, though this can be impassable at high tide, when a wider route has to be taken. However, the tide was well out at the moment, so I was able to take the shorter route with no problems. The wooden bridge seems to go on forever, but there were fine views across the estuary to look at on the way and the weather was still beautiful. I had prepared myself for the toll by making sure I had 70p in change in my pocket rather than having to search around in my rucksack when I got to the toll booth, but when I got there at about 18.05 (checkpoint 24), the booth had closed for the day, and I passed through for free.

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Mawddach Estuary
Mawddach Estuary
Cadair Idris and Craig-las from Barmouth with the rail and footbridge beyond the boats
Cadair Idris and Craig-las from Barmouth
By the Harbour, Barmouth
By the Harbour, Barmouth

I was feeling quite a bit wearier than expected from a walk that had not been all that long, but there had been a lot of steep climbing both up and down on the way. I reached my hotel, which was at the other side of Barmouth town centre, in Marine Parade at 18.20. My climbing was not yet over, as my room was on the third floor, right at the very top with 55 steps to get there, though it did have a lovely view overlooking the bay. I had a much-needed shower, as it had been quite hot once I dropped down from the mountains. I then went back into town to have a stroll around and to find something to eat, but first I called at a cash machine to top up my funds with enough to last me for the rest of the walk. I called in the Tal y Don for a pint of Wizard's Staff, one of the Wychwood brews, and ordered a venison and vegetable pie from their specials.

On the way back, I called in at the Co-op supermarket to get a few things for lunches, though with the warm weather, I had to be careful not to get things that would go off. Then it was back to my room to watch some television for a while before going to bed.


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Day 17 - Thursday 17th June - GPS 20.2 miles - 4,440 ft ascent

Barmouth to Bronaber via Diffwys, Y Llethr and Rhinog Fach

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 reflects the holidaymaking nature of the B&B business here, so I didn't get off to a very early start. I chatted for a while with the landlord about the state of business during the recession, and he painted a similar picture to many others that I had spoken to along the way; namely that they had not noticed a lot of difference. It seems that, for various reasons, including shortage of money, many people had decided not to travel abroad for their holidays and were spending more of them in Britain, which helped to compensate for the loss of those who were not going on holiday at all. Local hotels had also recently had a bonus from strikes at BA and the volcanic ash clouds from Iceland, both of which helped to prevent or deter people from going abroad for holidays. This is in stark contrast to places that rely upon commercial trade, where there has been a serious downturn in business with very little else coming in the way of compensation. It was not just our hotel that had suffered, as I heard news from home, whilst I was on this walk, that a large hotel very close to ours had just gone into the hands of the receivers, leaving thirty staff in fear of losing their jobs.

It was 9.25 by the time I set off, with a ten-minute walk through town to the point where I could join the route up some steep steps leading up the hillside near the harbour. There were five walkers just ahead of me and I caught up with them when they stopped. It was Richard plus two couples. He had left behind the couple he was with the other day and been joined by more of his walking friends. They had taken two cars, parking one at Cwm Nantcol, about two miles off the route to the west, half way along the Rhinogs, and then driven here. I, on the other hand, was staying at a B&B over four miles off the route to the east.

I went on ahead, but warned them that I was not the best person to follow, as I had a bad record when it came to going the wrong way. This was particularly true over this section, where I had highlighted the wrong route on my map, so had taken a different route up onto the ridge on both of my previous walks. It is quite tricky at the start, as there are several paths zigzagging up the steep hillside, and I started to take the wrong one a couple of times. Richard was better off with his 1:25,000 map, which show more detail to help route finding in awkward places, whereas my 1:50,000 map, although it shows the rights of way, is lacking in fine detail. Ninety percent of the time, the less detailed maps are fine, but there are always some places where they fall down, though errors can generally be corrected before too long, either by backtracking or by cutting across to rejoin the route.

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Barmouth Harbour
Barmouth Harbour
Mawddach Estuary and Fairbourne with Richard and Friends just behind
Mawddach Estuary and Fairbourne
Cadair Idris across Mawddach Estuary
Cadair Idris across Mawddach Estuary

The weather started off a little overcast, but it was not long before the sun was out, making it quite hot, but giving rise to good views of the scenery around the Mawddach Estuary, with just a little distant haze. This is the first time I have had good visibility on this section of the walk. After meeting up with the others and walking with them for a while, I made my way ahead again, as there were one or two in the party who were slower than the others and finding the steep climbs rather difficult. Past the wireless station, I took care to find the right path up onto the ridge, as this is where I had taken a lower route on previous occasions, joining the ridge further along. This is marked as the February 5th route on the map from the times when it was necessary to close off any path over private land for one day a year to prevent it becoming a right of way by common usage. The land along the ridge is now access land, so this archaic rule is no longer valid, as access is permitted at any time of the year.

The first time I took the lower route was in horribly bad weather, with gale force winds and driving rain, so the lower route gave me some shelter from the worst of the weather, and was definitely a route worth taking, even if I had realised that it was not the main route. The next time, though, I just took the same route without realising it, though it was misty on the hilltops, so I wouldn't have had much more in the way of views.

I reached the trig point of the first, unnamed summit along the ridge at eleven o'clock and stopped for a drink and a rest, now with a bit of a cool breeze to take away the heat of the sun. From here, there would be no problem finding the way, as it was just a matter of following the wall along the ridge all the way to Y Llethr. Although the ridge is rather round topped in places, there were still some fine views across the bay to the Lleyn Peninsular, north to the Moelwyns and Snowdon, and east to the Mawddach Estuary and Cadair Idris. Just as I was setting off again at 11.20, the others were coming up behind. It was not very easy going over this first part of the ridge, as there were a lot of ups and downs as well as stony paths to contend with. Further along, though, the way was less rugged, with smoother, grassy paths and more rounded hilltops.

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Ridge towards Diffwys from unnamed summit
Ridge towards Diffwys
Lleyn Peninsula from Ridge
Lleyn Peninsula from Ridge
Diffwys
Diffwys

More cloud was forming over the mountains now, with the best of the weather along the coastal areas, though there were still a few sunny spells on the ridge. At first it was a problem keeping cool, especially when the path was on the east side of the high wall along the ridge, which gave shelter from any breeze. Later, however, the path crossed over to the other side of the wall giving more breeze, and that, along with a drop in temperature due to the increasing altitude and a bit less sunshine, made it considerably cooler. I decided to stop for lunch at 13.00 on a rounded, minor, flat-topped summit just before the main ascent of Diffwys. As I had progressed along the ridge, Y Llethr and Rhinog Fach had come clearly into view, so I could now see the remaining climbs that were left today. Although I had felt weary at the end of yesterday's walking, I felt quite fresh today and was not finding it difficult either on the ascents or with my feet. My blisters seemed to be pretty much all right now - not completely healed, but only causing me minor discomfort.

There was still no sign of the other party, though some of them seemed to be slower than the couple that Richard was walking with previously and were probably holding the rest of them back. I met a group of young men coming the other way with large packs. They were heading for Fairbourne, which is on the opposite side of the Mawddach Estuary from Barmouth. Further along, I met a couple of women with a small terrier, which was barking furiously, so one of the women picked it up as we passed each other. Apparently it was very territorial, as terriers often are, and thought of the Rhinogs as its back garden. I could empathise with that, as our own Jack Russell is very much like that and has always felt that the whole of North Wales belonged to him. It was getting a bit cool now, so I set off again at 13.45 and just as I got up, Richard and the others came along minus one lady, who had turned back when the going had got too tough for her.

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Llyn Dulyn and Y Llethr from Diffwys
Llyn Dulyn and Y Llethr from Diffwys
Towards Crib-y-rhiw from Diffwys
Towards Crib-y-rhiw from Diffwys
Llyn Dulyn and Y Llethr from Diffwys
Llyn Dulyn and Y Llethr from Diffwys

I walked along with them on the moderate climb up to the summit of Diffwys. The sun was coming out more now and, on our way down, the views opened up towards Llyn Trawsfynydd and Arenig Fawr. The others stopped off for a rest before the ascent of Y Llethr but I continued on to the summit, which I reached at 15.10 (checkpoint 25). This was the highest point of the day's walk at 2475ft. It was rather windy at the top, so I continued on to the point where the path started its descent to Llyn Hywel and was able to get some shelter there for a ten-minute rest and a drink. The path down the gulley was very steep and eroded, so I sidestepped down the grass for some of the way, where there was less chance of slipping. The path then levelled out and soon started the ascent of Rhinog Fach. Here the route goes up to the summit and then comes back down the same way, as the other side of the mountain is very steep with no path down. I took the opportunity of dropping off my pack at the bottom and travelling light to the summit. After carrying the pack for so long, walking and particularly climbing, was so much easier without it, and I made my way up the steep scramble, hardly stopping for breath, reached the summit at 16.05 (checkpoint 26). As I neared the summit, I could see the others just starting to climb up from Llyn Hywel. There were some fine views from the summit, but to get a better view, I went over to a ledge overlooking Llyn Hywel and Y Llethr and had a ten-minute rest there.

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Crib-y-rhiw and Diffwys from ascent of Y Llethr with Cadair Idris behind
Crib-y-rhiw and Diffwys
Tremadog Bay  from Y Llethr
Tremadog Bay from Y Llethr
Llyn Hywel, Rhinog Fach and Rhinog Fawr from Y Llethr
Llyn Hywel, Rhinog Fach and Rhinog Fawr

On my way back down, I met the others coming up minus the Scottish lady, who had decided to miss out the summit. I picked up my pack at the bottom and then made my way further down towards Llyn Hywel, where the route over the rocks and boulders beside the lake looked rather difficult. Hopwever, it was not as bad as it looked when I got there and it wasn't long before I reached the path towards Bwlch Drws Ardudwy. On the way I passed the Scottish lady who was having a rest overlooking the lake. The footpaths around here have improved over the years. When I first walked this way ten years ago, I could hardly see the path through the narrow gap in the heather and there were lots of hidden rocks that were easy to trip over, whereas now the paths have been worn wider. There are still plenty of stones and rocks, but at least it is now possible to see them. Nevertheless, progress is still neither rapid nor easy, but I eventually reached the pass of Bwlch Drws Ardudwy.

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Llyn Hywel and Y Llethr from Rhinog Fach
Llyn Hywel and Y Llethr from Rhinog Fach
Cadair Idris from Rhinog Fach
Cadair Idris from Rhinog Fach

At this point, I turned east to head for my B&B, whereas the others would head west to where they had parked their car. Time was now getting on, as I headed up to the top of the pass and down through the forest on the other side. The going was still rather slow until I picked up a good forest track leading to a minor road. At first I thought I would reach my B&B by about 18.00, but it was now looking more like 19.00, and I would then have to walk about a mile and a half from there to the pub to get something to eat. Once out of the forest, the landscape changed quite dramatically from wild, craggy hills to smooth grassy plain and, as I walked along the road, I could see the holiday village at Bronaber across the valley, with the Rhiw Goch pub above. It was about the same distance to the pub as it was to my B&B further south, so it seemed more sensible to call there first for a meal and then go to the B&B afterwards. I couldn't really do this, though, unless I could let them know that I hadn't got lost. Fortunately, I had a signal on my mobile phone, a rare event on this walk, so I was able to let the B&B know what I was doing and also to phone home.

After all the difficult walking over the Rhinogs, it was a relief to be walking on even surfaces again, as I made my way along the road. Looking at my map, there were a few possible footpath options to reach Bronaber, so I just tried the one that looked the most direct. It started off along a farm track but after that the footpath was nonexistent on the ground, as is often the case in Wales. I was left struggling through thick, tufty grass and bogs and had to climb over fences with no stiles. The other problem was that I had a river to cross and, if the footpath had not been used much, what chance was there of a proper river crossing. When I reached the river, I found that it was not very big and, with the lack of rain recently, there were possibilities of getting across. I managed to find some stepping-stones that were in about the right place for where the footpath should be, but one of the stones was missing, requiring a leap to get to the next one. In this situation, what generally happens is that I take a leap, then slip on the next stone and land in the water, but luck was with me this time and I got safely across. Even though the path became waymarked further along, it was still not easy, with bogs to cross despite the lack of rain. It was a great relief to reach the main road and then take the road up the hill through the holiday village. The pub was still some way beyond, further up the hillside and I eventually reached there at 19.30.

The pub was quite busy with a few large groups of people dining, some in the restaurant and some in the bar. After queuing for a while at the bar, I got a pint of Reverend James and ordered a meal. The food was quite expensive, with the cheapest thing on the menu being a beef burger and chips at 8.75, though when it came it looked homemade and was very large and nicely cooked. The Reverend James went down very well after a long, hard day's walking, and I had another pint with my meal. As most of the tables were occupied, I sat at one just beneath the television. A World Cup football match was on, so I had a row of men all facing towards me, which could have been a little disconcerting had it not been for the fact that they were all so intent on the football that they probably didn't even notice me.

My feet had been rather sore when I reached the pub, but the rest while I had my meal helped them to recover for the walk down to the B&B. I set off at 20.45 to find the footpath shown on the map, cutting off the corner on the way to the main road. It was not easy to see where it started, so I asked a girl who was working at the pub but she didn't know and suggested it might be up a track. That turned out to be a dead end, so I came back and then managed to find an old kissing gate just below the pub and not many yards from where the girl had been standing. This was obviously the start of the path, but it wasn't easy to find the route, so I just had to take my chances, walking over rough ground, trying to head in the right general direction until I found a couple of gates that led to some old farm buildings shown on my map. Even then it wasn't easy to see where the path went, so I headed towards a gateway that I could see by the main road only to find that I was on the wrong side of a barbed wire fence that I had to climb over. The rest of the way along the main A470 road was easy and there were wide verges to walk on to avoid any of the fast moving traffic. I finally arrived at 21.30, having taken 45 minutes to walk a mile and a half. It would have been far quicker and easier to have walked a little bit further by going back down the road to Bronaber, rather than taking another of those little-used footpaths of Wales.

The B&B was in a barn conversion next to the farmhouse. There was also a campsite and a self-catering camping barn. The landlady explained that she and her husband had to go to a funeral in the morning, so would have to leave at 6.00, but the breakfast and room servicing would be left to their daughter, who wasn't good at getting up in the mornings. There were two others staying there for a few days and they had asked for breakfast at nine o'clock, so I said I would oblige and go along with the same time, even though I would have preferred to get off earlier. My room was very nice, except for the fact that the sloping ceiling meant I had to crawl to get to the tea and coffee making facilities. It was also quite hot, but a notice warned about midges coming in if the window were left open, though I hadn't noticed any on my way there. I watched TV for a while before going to bed for some well earned rest.


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