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7 weird British customs and traditions

We Brits are a bit of an odd bunch – we like to roll cheese down hills and dance around with bells, sticks and handkerchiefs. In fact, a lot of our modern culture is awash with a myriad of myths, legends and bizarre traditions that date back hundreds of years. But where did they all originate and why do we still celebrate them?

Cheese-rolling in Gloucester

Cheese rolling festival, Gloucestershire, England

With records of cheese-rolling in Gloucestershire, South West England, dating back hundreds of years, the annual tradition is still a world-famous event. Why the locals first decided to roll a cheese down an extremely steep hill all those years ago is highly debated. Some believe it was a requirement to maintain grazing rights on the common, whereas others suggest it stems from a pagan ritual of rolling objects down hills to encourage a successful harvest.

Jack in the Green, Hastings

The Jack in Green festival, Hastings, England

If you visit any May Day procession in Britain, don’t be alarmed if you see someone covered head to toe in foliage – that’s Jack in the Green. The custom began in the 16th century, when procession-goers became more and more competitive with making garlands for the parade – so much so that they started to cover an entire man in greenery. Hastings, on England’s south coast, has an entire annual festival dedicated to Jack in the Green.

Pancake races, Buckinghamshire

Pancake races, England
On Shrove Tuesday, people across the UK tuck into pancakes, and the residents of Olney in Buckinghamshire gear up for their annual pancake race. The race-goers run through the town whilst also flipping a cooked pancake in a frying pan as they go. The story goes that this started in 1445 after a wife who was cooking pancakes heard the church bells shriving (indicating parishioners were expected in church) and rushed out with the frying pan still in her hand.

Ottery Tar Barrels, Devon

Ottery Tar Barrels festival, Devon, England
Every 5 November the people of Ottery in Devon set barrels of tar alight and carry them on their shoulders through the packed streets of the town. The reasons behind this daring tradition, which has been taking place for hundreds of years, are disputed. It’s most likely to be connected to the gunpowder plot of 1605 but may have been a way to warn against the Spanish Armada.

Lady Godiva, Midlands

Lady Godiva legend, Coventry, England
According to legend, Lady Godiva rode naked through the city of Coventry on horseback, with only her long hair to cover her modesty, as a way to convince her husband to lower the taxes for the people of the town. Although, as with most legends, her story has had its historical accuracy questioned, the love for the tale of Lady Godiva’s generosity has remained.

King Arthur and Excalibur

King Arthur's Excalibur legend, England
The legend of King Arthur is one of the most famous in Britain, with many stories of bravery and romance featuring in his character. Although his existence is debated, his tales live on in British folklore. Probably the most famous is the tale of the sword and the stone, which sees Arthur pull the sword of Excalibur from a stone and, in doing so, reveals himself as the rightful King of England. Some believe the London Stone is in fact, the stone that Arthur drew his sword from, and you can see it for yourself at the Museum of London(link is external).

Morris dancing

Morris dancing, England
With their bells, sticks, swords and all-important handkerchiefs, there’s something distinctly English about Morris dancing. The traditional folk dance is thought to have originated in the early 15th century and derived from a Druidic fertility dance. The dance remains popular, with many believing that it has magical powers to ward off evil and bring good luck. Throughout the years, different regions of the UK have developed their own styles and nuances of Morris dancing – whether that’s the wearing of clogs in the North West or the use of short sticks and feathers in the Borders.

This article was contributed by Premier Inn(link is external), with 700 hotels all over the UK.
All images courtesy of alamy.com

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Bill Bryson on Great Britain

Bill Bryson must surely be one of Britain’s biggest fans – and in his latest book From The Road to Little Dribbling: More Notes from a Small Island, he sings the country’s praises once more. Here are some of his quotes about Britain we can’t help agreeing with:

London is the best city in the whole world.’ (source: Visit Britain Blog)

‘Britain is just about the perfect size for a country – small enough to be cosy and embraceable, but large enough to maintain a lively and independent culture.’

Audience watching a play at Regents Park open-air theatre, London

‘There isn’t a landscape in the world that is more artfully worked, more lovely to behold, more comfortable to be in, than the countryside of Great Britain.’

A panorama in the Lake District

‘The makers of Britain created the most superlatively park-like landscapes, the most orderly cities, the handsomest provincial towns, the jauntiest seaside resorts, the stateliest homes, the most dreamily spired, cathedral-rich, castle-strewn, abbey-bedecked, folly-scattered, green-wooded, winding-laned, sheep-dotted, plumply hedgerowed, well-tended, sublimely decorated 50,318 square miles the world has ever known.’

Cottage in English countrysideFLPA/imageBROK/REX Shutterstock

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2016 commemorates 400 years since the death of William Shakespeare

Death of most performed playwright in the world to be marked in Stratford-on-Avon, London and across the globe.

The world shares him and London claims him, but Stratford-on-Avon intends to spend 2016 celebrating William Shakespeare as their man: the bard of Avon, born in the Warwickshire market town in 1564, and who died there 400 years ago.

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Portrait of Shakespeare, 1598. Photograph: Alfredo Dagli Orti/The Art Archive/Corbis

Stratford remained hugely important throughout Shakespeare’s life, argues Paul Edmondson, the head of learning and research at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust. “People have seen Shakespeare as a Dick Whittington figure, who turns his back on Stratford and his family, goes to London to earn his fortune and only comes back to die,” he said.

“[But Stratford is] where he bought land and property, where he kept his library, where he lived and read and thought. We are going to spend the year re-emphasising the importance of Shakespeare, the man of Stratford.”

The 17th-century diarist, antiquarian and gossip John Aubrey, born 11 years after Shakespeare died, was at pains to point out there was nothing so very special about the bard. Aubrey, university educated unlike Shakespeare, said that he acted “exceedingly well” and that “his Playes took well”.

The world has not agreed with Aubrey. The anniversary of the death of the man from Stratford, the most famous and the most performed playwright in the world, will be marked across Britain and the globe.

Macbeth is about to open in Singapore, Romeo and Juliet in Brussels. Shakespeare’s Globe is completing the first world tour in the history of theatre, in which it has taken Hamlet to almost every country – North Korea is still holding out. The production will arrive back in London for the anniversary weekend of 23-24 April. They are also creating a 37-screen pop-up cinema, one screen to showcase each of Shakespeare’s plays, along the South Bank.

The National Theatre, the Royal Shakespeare Company and virtually every other theatre production company in the country will be marking the anniversary. Interpretations will range from the resolutely traditional to the Brighton-based Spymonkey’s Complete Deaths, a romp through the 74 deaths – 75 including a fly squashed in Titus Andronicus – by stabbing, poisoning, smothering and smashing across the plays. There will also be hundreds of lectures, recitals, international academic conferences, films, concerts, operas and major exhibitions.

For a man famous in his own lifetime there is little documentary evidence for Shakespeare’s life and times. The plays would scarcely have survived if his friends and fellow actors had not gathered together every scrap of every play they could find – drafts, prompt scripts, scribbled actors’ parts, and 17 plays not known in any other version – into the precious First Folio published in 1623, seven years after Shakespeare’s death.

The actor Mark Rylance has called it his favourite book in the world, and most of the surviving First Folios will be on display – including those belonging to the British and Bodleian libraries, and a tattered copy recently discovered in France.

Some of the most precious surviving documents will be gathered together in an exhibition at Somerset House in London, opening in February and jointly organised by the National Archives and King’s College London, including four of his six known signatures, which are all slightly different.

By Me, William Shakespeare will include his will, the court papers relating to the audacious move when Shakespeare and his fellow actors dismantled a theatre on the north side of the Thames and rebuilt it as the Globe on the South Bank, and accounts showing payments from the royal treasury for Boxing Day performances of James I and Queen Anne.

The outgoing Globe director, Dominic Dromgoole, recently jokily claimed Shakespeare as a true Londoner – albeit conceding “some spurious claim” by Stratford-on Avon. Stratford, however, will be insisting that the town made and educated Shakespeare His old school room is being restored with a £1.4m Heritage Lottery grant, to open as a permanent visitor attraction.

Shakespeare bought the splendid New Place, the second best house in the town, where he died according to literary legend on St George’s Day, 23 April, the same day as his birth. “You don’t buy a house like New Place and not live there,” Paul Edmondson said. “The general public and many academics have consistently underestimated the importance of Stratford to Shakespeare.”

Shakespeare bought the splendid New Place, the second best house in the town, where he died according to literary legend on St George’s Day, 23 April, the same day as his birth. “You don’t buy a house like New Place and not live there,” Paul Edmondson said. “The general public and many academics have consistently underestimated the importance of Stratford to Shakespeare.”
Article source

2016 commemorates 400 years since the death of William Shakespeare; this special anniversary year is a truly unique opportunity to visit his home town Stratford-upon-Avon in Warwickshire to celebrate the lasting legacy of the world’s greatest playwright. Start planning your visit to Shakespeare’s England in 2016 to see one of his plays performed at the Royal Shakespeare Company, tour his Birthplace, pay your respects at his grave at Holy Trinity Church or simply walk in his footsteps and explore the place he called home.

Our popular Bards and Battles Day Tour visiting Stratford upon Avon departs daily from central London and our private customised tours can easily be arranged fro small groups and families.

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Escape London and Explore Britain’s Countryside

London is one of the world’s most exciting destinations, however, the surrounding countryside is brimming with beautiful villages, ancient cathedrals and amazing historical sites. Explore the historic charms and wealth of English culture that lies outside the capital and explore the ‘Real Britain’.

Country Lane Exploration

Country Lane Exploration

Escape the city in style with one of our coach a ‘small group’ mini-coach guided tours. Follow the River Thames as it winds it’s way through Royal Windsor and Britain’s oldest university town, Oxford. These famous destinations are suitably close to London and ideal for day trips.

Go further afield and discover the delights of Shakespeare’s birthplace, Stratford Upon Avon, set back upon the banks of the weeping River Avon. Head from there to Warwick and see the countryside unfold before you like a fairytale kingdom from the towers of England’s finest medieval fortress. Soothe your aches and pains with a trip to the beautiful spa town of Bath or discover the remarkable monuments of Salisbury and mystical monoliths of Stonehenge. Let us be your guide to the treasures of the English countryside.

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10 Amazing Day Trips You Can Take From London

It’s important (and easy) to travel around England when studying abroad in London.

LONDON DAY TRIP

Studying abroad in London is great: there are an infinite number of possibilities in such a massive city. It can be amazing but it can also be overwhelming, and sometimes you just need to get out of the city for a day. It is also important to remember to explore the other parts of the United Kingdom while you’re abroad in order to truly understand your host country’s culture. Due to my slightly unfortunate class schedule, I can’t take weekend trips, so I have been spending my weekends taking day trips around England, both to see some items on my bucket list and also to discover all the charm that England has to offer.

If you buy a 16-25 Railcard for £30 when you arrive to London, you save 1/3 on all rail journeys throughout the UK for one year. You’ll most likely make up your money within a couple of train trips. I’ve saved so much money because of my railcard and it has definitely encouraged me to take as many day trips around England as possible! Here are ten great day trips you can take around England while you’re abroad, both common tourist destinations and off the beaten path towns. England has something to offer for everyone, and everything is just a train ride away! (the ticket prices listed below are including the 16-25 Railcard discount).

St. Albans Cathedral

St. Albans is a great little town just north of London with some fabulous pubs and a beautiful cathedral. If you’re studying abroad in the fall, you can visit St. Albans near Christmas and go to their fantastic Christmas Market, which is located right next to St. Albans Cathedral (free admission). Grab a bite in the pub called The Boot. It’s incredibly charming and old and has great food. All in all, St. Albans is perfect for wandering and relaxing, especially if you need a little break from the hustle and bustle of London! Return tickets from London Blackfriars and Kings Cross are £7.90 and train rides are about 40 minutes. (Trains that terminate at Bedford call at St. Albans and are much faster than the trains that terminate at St. Albans itself!)

Winchester

Love Jane Austen and green spaces? Head to Winchester to see one of the best preserved medieval Great Halls, Jane Austen’s final place of rest in Winchester Cathedral, and a lovely city with a lot of green space. You can also see some otters at one of the longest running mills in England. It’s the perfect destination on a sunny day-St. Giles Hill, which lies at the south end of the city, offers breathtaking views of the city (and good exercise). If you head to Winchester on a Saturday, wander around the town market. Return tickets are about £22 from London Waterloo and trains are about an hour and a half.

Oxford

Oxford is the oldest school in the English speaking world and definitely one of the prettiest campuses there is. You feel like you step back in time upon arriving at the city. You can visit individual colleges as well as the ones that were used in the filming of Harry Potter. However, opening times listed online are sometimes not accurate and the college visiting hours are short. The best thing to do is make a list of the colleges you want to visit, and just walk to each of them while in Oxford. Also, make sure to bring your student ID in order to get student prices (usually around £1) for visiting the colleges. If you want to visit the famous Duke Humfrey’s Reading Room at Bodleian Library (where they filmed the library scenes in Harry Potter), you need to book a tour ahead of time or at the ticket booth, which will cost about £7. Off-peak return tickets are about £16 from London Paddington.

Cambridge

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Kings College Chapel

Fancy seeing what is continually ranked the best school in the world? Cambridge is the place to go. The buildings are extravagant and the famous Kings College Chapel is a must-see. Be sure to check the opening days and times of the colleges you want to visit and bring your student ID for the student entry fees into the colleges that charge admission. Off peak return tickets are £10.90 from London Kings Cross on the weekends. Unlike most cities, the train station is about a mile from the campus, so be prepared for a short walk before you actually start seeing the colleges!

Cardiff

Cardiff is the capital city of Wales and full of culture. There is so much to do and see so check out my 12 hour guide on exactly how much Caridff has to offer. You can even extend your trip to a weekend excursion if you find you want to do everything on the list! It is about a two hour train ride from London Paddington and return tickets range from £28 to £48 depending on how far in advance you book!

Canterbury

Canterbury is a medieval town that is home to the famous Canterbury Cathedral from Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. It has 1,400 years of history and is the site of Archbishop Thomas Beckett’s murder, England’s most famous murder. Tickets are £9.50 for students and well worth it. Other attractions worth visiting are St. Augustine’s Abbey, founded in 597 by St. Augustine, marking the rebirth of Christianity in Southern England, the ruins of the Norman Castle, and the Dane John Gardens, which date back to 1551. Return tickets to Canterbury West are £19.80 from St. Pancras International.

Bath

Bath is home to the famous Roman Baths and the city looks like it has been untouched since the 1800s. After you see the baths (be prepared for crowds of schoolchildren), grab lunch at one of the several pubs around town (my favorite was the West Gate Public House) and then spend time at the Jane Austen Centre (Bath was the setting of two of her novels), Bath Abbey (right by the Roman Baths), and the Royal Crescent. Jacob’s Coffee House is a great place to grab a cup of tea, or if you feel the need to splurge, Bath has a wide selection of tea houses for afternoon tea! Train tickets to Bath can get quite expensive if you don’t book them far enough in advance, so be sure to plan ahead to get the cheapest tickets!

Brighton

In need of a beach day? Head to Brighton! Wander around Brighton Pier, relax on the beach, and check out the flea market. Go to the Royal Pavilion, built as a pleasure palace for King George IV between 1787 and 1823. It’s a great example of exotic oriental architecture and perfect if you want to add a little history to your day trip! Return tickets from St. Pancras International or London Blackfriars are about £6.95

Salisbury/Stonehenge

If you want to see Stonehenge, Salisbury is the best place from which to do it. The Stonehenge Tour company will pick you up right at the train station and drive you direct to Stonehenge and back, including admission to Stonehenge itself, for £26 (Entrance to Stonehenge is £13 if you can find your own way there and tickets must be booked in advance). The bus also takes you to Old Sarum, the site of the earliest settlement in Salisbury. When you get back to Salisbury, head to Salisbury Cathedral, which has tallest spire in England and one of the tallest spires in the world. Hitler even ordered the Luftwaffe not to bomb Salisbury because they used the cathedral spire as a marker when flying over England. The cathedral, absolutely gorgeous in itself, also houses the best preserved copy of one of the original four copies of the Magna Carta. Train tickets to Salisbury from London Waterloo are £25 and about an hour and 20 minutes long.

Windsor Castle

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Fancy a visit to the Queen’s residence? Windsor Castle has been the home of kings and queens for over 1000 years, making it the oldest and largest inhabited castle in the world. Windsor is a great destination if you’re feeling particularly #royal and want to see some of the great treasures from British history and wander through the rooms the Royal Family sometimes lives in! The Semi-State apartments are open between late September and late March, so plan your visit around that time to make the most of your Windsor Castle experience. After touring the castle, walk around the town of Windsor and grab some lunch at one of the pubs across from the castle itself. Return tickets to Windsor & Eton Central Station from London Paddington range from £6.85 to £10.40 depending on when you leave. Bonus: your castle ticket (£17.50) can be used as a yearlong ticket. Just check the website before you go to make sure that the castle and famous chapel are open! And opt for the complementary audioguide.

By Alex Mathews, Davidson College

Article source: By Alex Mathew: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/college-tourist/10-amazing-day-trips-you-can-take-from-london_b_6894136.htm

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Reasons to visit Great Britain in winter

Britain may not be the most obvious choice for a winter break, yet it has a great deal to offer the more adventurous visitor. Of course our weather is ‘challenging’ but as long as you come prepared for rain, drizzle, wind, hail, sleet, snow and even the occasional burst of sunshine, you’ll be fine.  So, assuming you have the right gear, what are the positives of visiting our green and pleasant land?

Lancaster Canal by Zoe Dawes

  1. There are far fewer visitors so you can easily get into places that have big queues in the summer months.  This is especially relevant in London, which has so many fascinating museums, art galleries, historic houses, theatres and major attractions like the London Eye.  Imagine being able to visit Madame Tussaud’s without waiting in line half way down Marylebone Road or getting a spectacular view from London Eye within minutes of arriving. However, this also applies to places all over Britain.  Edinburgh and Belfast, York and Cardiff are all much quieter and more pleasant to get around in the winter.
  2. Accommodation is much cheaper.  You can get some excellent deals at this time of year and lots of hotels, B&B, holiday homes, caravans and camp sites are open to a bit of negotiating if you call and ask what their best price is.  (Although make sure to check school holidays such as half-term and Easter.)  Rates can often be up to 50% less than in July or August.
  3. Many attractions have ‘out-of-season’  reduced rates and often lay on special events to encourage people to come along and see what they have on offer.   Why not take a train ride through the stunning Yorkshire Dales, over the Ribblehead Viaduct and into the Cumbria countryside on the famous Settle-Carlisle Railway – if you’re lucky you may even get a seat on one of the iconic steam trains.
  4. Nature provides a beautiful plus to observing her glorious scenery by stripping many of our trees of leaves, enabling you to see through impressively skeletal trees to views that you can’t usually see once those branches are bedecked with green leaves, blossom or fruit.  Check out our National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty for a selection of stunning outdoor destinations throughout the UK.
  5. Outdoor light is very different from other seasons of the year.  You can get incredibly clear skies which give an amazing clarity to your photos of those mountains in the Lake District. A misty fog swirls evocatively across a Scottish river.  The low-lying sun filters through bleached-out clouds above a deserted moor. Rosy dawn breaks over a the pier in a tranquil seaside town …
  6. Of course some days you just don’t want to venture far due to heavy rain or strong winds, or one of our infrequent but curiously immobilising snow storms.  But then you’ve got a great excuse to duck into one of our welcoming country pubs or cosy tea shops.  Britain is made for ‘changeable’ weather and some of our most traditional attractions come in the form of an oak-beamed inn or a quaint cottage art gallery. Or maybe you feel really brave and will just wrap up warm and go for a bracing walk along a Cornish beach or a Midland canal towpath.
  7. People have more time to chat, to help and show you around. Travel and tourism businesses that are open in the winter rely on visitors like you and really appreciate that you have taken the time to visit their establishment.  The important thing to remember is that you need to plan a bit in advance. For example, many National Trust properties are closed in the winter months but their gardens are open, so do check websites or contact the regional Tourist Office for latest information.

Lake Windermere in winter by Zoë  Dawes

As one of our most famous walkers, Alfred Wainwright, said, “There’s not such thing as bad weather, just the wrong clothes.” Now, pack a waterproof, umbrella, sturdy shoes and some warm jumpers and make the most of your visit to Britain this winter.
Article source at Visit Britain Super Blogclick here

We operate a wide range of small group sightseeing tours departing from London.  These include Day tours, half day tours, overnight tours and extended tours of England.  Private bespoke tours for families and small groups can also be arranged.

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Top ten UK landmarks to see before you die: Buckingham Palace, Loch Ness, Stonehenge

THE UK has some of the best tourist attractions in the world, from stunning castles, to Europe’s most famous prehistoric monument, to an indoor rainforest

 Buckingham Palace and Queen Victoria Statue Take a tour of the Queen’s official London residence [ GETTY]

Holidaying at home? Here’s your chance to start ticking off some of the top 10 must-see attractions, according to a poll organised by Travel site CheapHolidayLand.com Some of the attractions got the same number of votes so, in no particular order…

  • See the world’s largest indoor rainforests, created in the giant domes of the Eden Project at St Austell, Cornwall. There special summer dinosaur exhibition runs until September 16. edenproject.com 
Stonehenge, in Wiltshire - Europe's most famous prehistoric monumentStonehenge – Europe’s most famous prehistoric monument. Historians say it was built around 3100 BC [GETTY]
Imperial State Crown at the Tower of LondonMarvel over the Imperial State Crown and other Crown Jewels at the Tower of London [GETTY]
Loch Ness Monster, in the Drumnadrochit area of Scotland Hunt for the famous Loch Ness Monster in Scotland, just south of Iverness [GETTY]
  • Go monster-hunting on a trip to Scotland’s must-see, Loch Ness. This 37 kilometre-long lake is south of Inverness and best-known for sightings of the mystery ‘Nessie’. visitlochness.com/
  • Contemplate thousands of miles of the Atlantic Ocean on a visit to Cornwall’s legendary Land’s End. It’s the most south-westerly part of mainland Britain and stunning scenery have helped make it a top spot. landsend-landmark.co.uk/
 Antony Gormley's Angel of the North near Newcastle and GatesheadAntony Gormley’s impressive 66ft, Angel of the North Statue, located near Newcastle and Gateshead. [ GETTY]
  • See the inspired vision of one of the most recognisable landmarks in Britain, the Angel of the North, created by artist Anthony Gormley and standing watch over the A1 near Gateshead. http://www.angelofthenorth.org.uk
 Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament situated on the Thames in Westminster, LondonHead to Westminster, home to the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben for some political sight seeing [ GETTY]
  • Hear Big Ben, the world’s most famous clock, striking the hour at the Houses of Parliament, on the banks of the Thames. It’s even possible to arrange a tour of inside through your local MP. parliament.uk/
The facade of Westminster Abbey in LondonBuilt around 1000 years ago – Benedictine monks first settled at the Abbey [ GETTY]
  • Step back in time at London’s Westminster Abbey. A church was first created at this spot over 1,000 years ago. It’s also the site from where the world watched the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge get married in 2011 westminster-abbey.org/home
 Edinburgh Caste built in the Bronze Age, home to Scottish monarchs
Built in the Bronze Age around 900 BC, Edinburgh Castle was once home to Mary Queen Scots [ GETTY]
  • See stunning Edinburgh Castle, a real highlight of a trip to Scotland’s capital city. Listen out for Edinburgh’s ‘big bang’ every day at 1pm when the traditional canon there is fired. edinburghcastle.gov.uk/

By: Anne Gorringe
Full article: http://www.express.co.uk/travel/shortbreaks/500735/Top-ten-UK-landmarks-to-see-before-you-die-Buckingham-Palace-Loch-Ness-Stonehenge

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