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Travel North - 29: Sightseeing Made Easy, Eastward to the Sea on Yorkshire's* Eskdale Line

Updated on May 21, 2019
alancaster149 profile image

Through his writing here, Alan enjoys sharing his knowledge of the region's historic rail connections. Travel with him and enjoy the trip

From the hubbub of the big town...

Leave behind bustling Middlesbrough and take yourself to another starting point - the town grew with the railway's diversion from nearby Stockton-on-Tees out of small beginnings and accumulating industry.
Leave behind bustling Middlesbrough and take yourself to another starting point - the town grew with the railway's diversion from nearby Stockton-on-Tees out of small beginnings and accumulating industry.
Thomas Prosser's 1877 Middlesbrough Railway Station for the North Eastern Railway included an overall roof, seen here a little later that century, and was built the same year as his grander York station, which suffered heavily at the same time as..,
Thomas Prosser's 1877 Middlesbrough Railway Station for the North Eastern Railway included an overall roof, seen here a little later that century, and was built the same year as his grander York station, which suffered heavily at the same time as.., | Source
Middlesbrough, August Bank Holiday, 1942, where a 10 year old lad was miraculously pulled alive from the wreckage
Middlesbrough, August Bank Holiday, 1942, where a 10 year old lad was miraculously pulled alive from the wreckage | Source
Compare this picture with the one above the August Bank Holiday 1942 view - much modified with no plans for restoration (it would cost an absolute fortune anyway).
Compare this picture with the one above the August Bank Holiday 1942 view - much modified with no plans for restoration (it would cost an absolute fortune anyway). | Source
The route: from Middlesbrough via Battersby and Grosmont to Whitby along a picturesque route that draws a meandering line between the northern and southern Moors
The route: from Middlesbrough via Battersby and Grosmont to Whitby along a picturesque route that draws a meandering line between the northern and southern Moors
Iconic 1958 view of Battersby Station facing east to - now demolished - signal cabin that guarded the junction with the Middlesbrough line through Ayton. Signals on for A8 4-6-2 tank loco and local passenger working. Unknown tank class on the right
Iconic 1958 view of Battersby Station facing east to - now demolished - signal cabin that guarded the junction with the Middlesbrough line through Ayton. Signals on for A8 4-6-2 tank loco and local passenger working. Unknown tank class on the right | Source

The route takes you from Middlesbrough eastward out of the station and south to Marton (ersthile Ormesby, renamed due to the proximity of the James Cook Birthplace Museum at Marton), Gypsy Lane (fairly new halt compared with the others), Nunthorpe, Great Ayton, Battersby (reverse to), Kildale, Commondale, Castleton, Danby, Lealholm, Glaisdale, Egton, Grosmont (change for North Yorkshire Moors Railway - NYMR), Sleights, Ruswarp and Whitby Town (there was a Whitby West Cliff Station, used in one of the 'Dracula films' before much of it was demolished). At Whitby Town Platform 2 has been adopted for the NYMR's own use, with a run-around loop for locomotive release.

*The reason I've specified 'Yorkshire's Eskdale Line' is that there is another Eskdale. This is in Dumfries & Galloway in SW Scotland, not far from Gretna and across the border from Carlisle. This Esk rises high up near Langholm, flows south through Longtown and south-west past Gretna and Redkirk Point into the Solway Firth.


Battersby again, on the branch Beeching couldn't close...

Called Ingleby Junction when the line opened in the 1880's as the North Yorkshire & Cleveland Railway with an incline for ironstone wagons to/from Rosedale and line from Picton - later renamed Battersby Junction and finally plain Battersby
Called Ingleby Junction when the line opened in the 1880's as the North Yorkshire & Cleveland Railway with an incline for ironstone wagons to/from Rosedale and line from Picton - later renamed Battersby Junction and finally plain Battersby
Ingleby Incline - gravity worked by cable from a winding house at the head of the incline. There's a 'brake' hut here at the left to ensure that there were no runaways. Didn't always succeed!
Ingleby Incline - gravity worked by cable from a winding house at the head of the incline. There's a 'brake' hut here at the left to ensure that there were no runaways. Didn't always succeed! | Source
Commondale in the 60's, already semi-derelict - a halt with a single shelter. The station's only claim to fame was its adjacent siding to the brick works
Commondale in the 60's, already semi-derelict - a halt with a single shelter. The station's only claim to fame was its adjacent siding to the brick works | Source
Castleton Station, stop off for a quiet drink at the pub beside the station or walk uphill into the village - again only one platform on this mainly singled branch
Castleton Station, stop off for a quiet drink at the pub beside the station or walk uphill into the village - again only one platform on this mainly singled branch | Source
Grosmont on a busy summer's day. Several trains halt here on the way to Whitby each day during the summer holiday season. With a NYMR dedicated platform at Whitby there may be more traffic scheduled
Grosmont on a busy summer's day. Several trains halt here on the way to Whitby each day during the summer holiday season. With a NYMR dedicated platform at Whitby there may be more traffic scheduled | Source
Another view of Ruswarp Station with a steam working back to Pickering from Whitby
Another view of Ruswarp Station with a steam working back to Pickering from Whitby | Source
A local passenger train in the mid-1950s before diselisation of sevices passes under Larpool Viaduct, built in the late 1880s to carry the Whitby-Scarborough Railway
A local passenger train in the mid-1950s before diselisation of sevices passes under Larpool Viaduct, built in the late 1880s to carry the Whitby-Scarborough Railway | Source
2004, the much changed Whitby Town Station - within a decade steam workings would reach here from Pickering on the NYMR, and a new platform added by the NYMR the left  backing onto the Co-operative supermarket on the left in the middle-distance
2004, the much changed Whitby Town Station - within a decade steam workings would reach here from Pickering on the NYMR, and a new platform added by the NYMR the left backing onto the Co-operative supermarket on the left in the middle-distance | Source

This is seeing the place without moving yourself - except maybe to find a different perspective.

You might have boarded the Esk Valley train at Middlesbrough, having reached there by train from Darlington or Stockton. I have broached the subject of Middlesbrough's origins elsewhere, so I shall just brush over it here. We're on a train journey elsewhere and what we are going to see on the trip takes precedence here.

There are a few sights and sites you might like to look at on your way, however, such as the Transporter Bridge over the Tees. Some time ago the fourth in a series of 'Auf Wiedersehen Pet' (with Jimmy Nail and Kevin Whateley amongst others) featured the dismantling of the bridge, to be rebuilt across the Colorado River in Arizona. As you can see that was fiction. The bridge is still here. It would take an (improbable) earthquake to move it! The bridge is described elsewhere, so let's pass to the nearby Riverside Stadium, home of Middlesbrough Football Club. The club's original home was Ayresome Park, where Brian Clough played in the 1950s and Wilf Mannion played in the 1940s and 1950s.

Our first stop is Marton (formerly Ormesby, renamed in for the nearby birthplace of James Cook, latterly Captain, RN), where the large Stewart's Park encloses a menagerie that's worth stopping to look at, especially if you've got children with you. Beyond that is the Captain Cook Birthplace Museum and a new leisure centre in what were previously college buildings. The railway climbs here, past Gypsy Lane to the summit at Nunthorpe. Just past the newer village around the station (Nunthorpe Village lies a couple of miles to the south), is the site of Nunthorpe Junction where the Guisborough branch veered off eastward via Pinchinthorpe and Hutton Gate. The line was closed in 1966 after the Beeching report recommended closure. Receipts per annum were around £6,000, the cost of keeping the branch open was £60,000+! The line was opened by the S&D for carrying ironstone to Teesside, but when the mines closed in the 1940s-1950s the line was naturally threatened.

Great Ayton is next, the little station built close to Aireyholme Farm where James Cook grew up. On the village green at Ayton is a bronze statue of him, nearby the school he attended. Before arriving at Ayton you get a foreshortened view of Roseberry Topping, a walk target.

At Battersby the line west to Stokesley and Picton was closed in the mid-1950s (around here the phrase 'Going west' means deterioration). Battersby was previously Battersby Junction and originally Ingleby Junction when the line was opened for ironstone traffic to Picton via Swainby and Whorlton, where quarries had been opened in the later 19th Century before the North Yorkshire & Cleveland Railway line continued east to Stokesley. Battersby was a railway centre in its own right, with exchange sidings for the Rosedale Branch that brought down ironstone from Rosedale East and West as well as Sherriff's Pit near Blakey Junction. Here was also a three-road loco shed (where the LNER's twelve-wheel NER-vintage dining cars were kept in WWII) and Ingleby Incline, a rope-worked incline for the wagons' up and down movement. In the near distance is Easby Moor, on top of which is the obelisk erected in the memory of James Cook and a view to see!

At about a third of the way, we must needs travel east now, our first stop being at Kildale (see the Hub about the walk from here around towards Guisborough and back), below the historic church. Nearby is the renowned Glebe Cottage Tearoom, usually full when i've been in the summertime. On, to Commondale (another walk Hub page) and Castleton. There was a castle once, but all that rremains is the motte, a farmhouse built on it since some years ago. The River Esk has come down from the high moors here and 'accompanies' the line east, visible from time to time past the trees. The dale widens noticeably past here and the view improves, with the high moors visible on both sides.

On reaching Danby - the Danes' town - we are near the dale bottom, with the Esk bubbling by. The remains of Danby Castle occupy a site to the south of the line, high up on the hillside. The castle was once owned by Lady Anne Clifford, who also owned Skipton Castle. When Danby fell into decline she allowed local people to use the stone for building, and there is a large farmhouse on-site that utilises part of the fabric of the original castle. The view from there is uplifting, affording a wide panorama along the whole dale from east to west. The remains of the castle can be viewed free of charge, too, with an English Heritage marker near the farm buildings. Near Danby Village is also the North Yorkshire Moors National Park Centre, with a cafe, exhibition rooms to see how people lived in the past and a pay and display car park across the road.

Lealholm hides much, the station itself also being near the bottom of the dale, with the Esk running some way downhill through the village. Again tearooms and a visitor centre for the weary traveller. Across the bridge is the Board Inn, a welcoming country hostelry that 'speaks volumes' about its past. Nearby, beyond the railway are the earthworks, ducts and a bridge for a line that was never built. 'Paddy Waddell's Railway' was a scheme to bring a mineral railway from Moorsholm and Lingdale to take Glaisdale and Grosmont ironstone to Teesside via Priestcroft Junction west of Skelton. A station hotel was built prematurely at Moorsholm - out of sight of Lealholm - and there are still visible signs of the civil engineering. John Waddell was an Edinburgh railway engineer who hired mainly Irishmen. He also began the line from Whitby to Loftus and Whitby to Scarborough before the North Eastern took over in the 1880's.

At Glaisdale there is the Beggar's Bridge across the Esk, visible from the station. The story goes that a young man fancied a local farmer's daughter. Her father thought him beneath his daughter and to get together enough money to marry her, the young man went to America. Returning wealthy, he did marry her and had the packhorse bridge built. Romantic setting, too! Beside the line is the riuin of the old coal depot, where a single track left the main running line to go over three 'cells' where coal was loaded into sacks and delivered locally by horse and cart. Very much an uphill task around here! Nearby Limber Hill climbs through woodland towards nearby Egton Village on a 1 in 3 (33%) bank, and 'eases' to 1 in 4 (25%). I've walked and driven, up and down it!

The next station is Egton Bridge. A fine church stands by the station, and an inn named after a local martyr, the recommendable Postgate Inn sits beside the road up to Egton Cross. Here again are the remains of an old coal depot with its cell walls partly intact. There are several inns here, two near the river, two at the top on the old moor road to Whitby. From Egton Bridge everywhere else is uphill! I've stayed here in the past, walking and driving. A road below the station takes you to nearby Glaisdale via Limber Hill!

Grosmont (pron. 'growmont') is an unlikely site for blast furnaces, the site of the short-lived steel works lies behind the stone wall that runs beside the Middlesbrough-Whitby line. Across the other side of the station are the tracks for the erstwhile York line via Pickering and Malton. Now the North Yorkshire Moors Railway, one platform has been extended, a footbridge added (brought in 'kit-form from a station near Hull) that enables users of the overflow car park (where the blast furnaces once stood) to access the station. On steam gala days both car parks get filled bursting, be warned! The river Esk is joined here by the Murk Esk (the Dark Esk, Danish. 'moerk', named for the colour of the water still imbued with a tea-colour from ironstone deposits near here). The NYMR, once the Whitby & Pickering Railway financed by George Hudon, built by George Stephenson in the mid-1830's, was rope-worked uphill to Beck Hole and a series of accidents prompted the owners to have a deviation line built to take locomotive-hauled trains to Goathland.

On to Sleights (proncounced 'slights'), where the Esk widens considerably and a weir divides the tidal river from the downward flow. During floodtides the weir disappears, however holiday homes nearby the river are largely unaffected. A solid-looking, period station house at the back of the platform has been under private ownership (as are others along the branch) for some time since all the stations became unstaffed halts.

After passing under the road bridge that takes traffic from Pickering to Whitby Westcliff, the next station is Ruswarp (pron. 'ruzzup' locally), approached over a trellis bridge. Here the Esk is wide, navigable from the sea in larger rowing or pleasure craft, and did have sea-going traffic until the river silted up too much for commercial vessels. Behind the station, to the north, is where the line from Whitby Westcliff came via Propect Hill towards Larpool Viaduct and the Scarborough branch. The train runs under the high Larpool Viaduct and from here you get your first view of St Hilda's abbey built in the 7th Century, demolished under Henry VIII's orders nine hundred years later. In front of it is the restored Cholmley (pron.'chumley') Hall. The family owned the alum quarries north and south of Whitby in the 17th Century and were supporters of the Stuarts - hence the fate of the hall, reduced to rubble under orders from Oliver Cromwell, like almost all the castles (Yorkshire's famous for its ruins, doncha know)!

Whitby Town station once had an overall roof, like nearby Pickering with its recently restored trainshed roof, designed by George Townsend Andrews. There was a tall, three storey signal box, several sidings, a locomotive shed (still there, used for building boats), a large loco turntable and carriage sidings as well as a coal depot. A small signal cabin named 'Bog Hall' (a nearby fee-paying school) guarded the incline to Prospect Hill. All you can see of the station's former grandeur is from outside, with its Georgian symmetry and low roofline on the booking office and entrance lobby. Large, round-topped windows at the back of the platform still open onto the road behind on the station's north side, albeit largely glassless. On the up platform (south side of the station) is the tile wall map of the North Eastern Railway, characteristic of larger stations in the region like York, Darlington, Middlesbrough, Newcastle and so on. An Indian restaurant occupies the side of the station premises towards the bus station and a cafe the front portico entrance towards the harbour. In all merely a shadow of its former self, the station is a sad reminder of cuts through the decades since the line was singled and stations reduced to unstaffed halts.

You have completed your thirty-five mile train journey. Safe journey back.

*Read about Whitby and its connection with Captain Cook in the Hub-page 'Tees to Esk'.

Getting there and access:

Stations and trains are accessible by wheelchair, assistance is available for disabled passengers when needed.

Middlesbrough Station is located on the north side of town on Zetland Road off the A66. Car Parking charges are applicable. I would recommend parking in Stewarts Park and walking to Marton Station (right out of the park gates), and the summertime timetable would allow for this. Consult closing time for the park gates - a board gives this information near the entrance. Check train timetables: For Esk Valley Railway timetables visit: www.northernrail.org

By public transport: there are good train links from Darlington and York on the East Coast Main Line, also from Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Redcar and Saltburn. See the links above. A good town bus service links Middlesbrough with its suburbs and as far away as Guisborough or Stokesley.

Excursions are recommended to: Captain Cook Memorial Museum, Grape Lane, Whitby, YO22 4BA, ph. 01947 601900 - www.cookmuseumwhitby.co.uk

Refreshments: At Whitby there are untold cafes and public houses that provide hot or cold food and non-alcoholic drinks. You are literally spoilt for choice and a list would spin this Hub-page out to incredible length!

North yorkshire Moors National Park, www.northyorkmoors.org.uk

North Yorkshire Moors Railway, www.nymr.co.uk

To locate your route consult the Ordance Survey Landranger maps 93 and 94 or Explorer maps OL26 and OL27. Whitby and Middlesbrough are easy to find, being close to the coast a) near the mouth of the Tees and b) at the mouth of the Esk.

Fancy a drink and a bite in the countryside?

At Egton Bridge Station (between Glaisdale and Grosmont, within walking distance of the NYMR station), the Postgate Inn named after local martyr Nicholas Postgate - generous welcome with faultless catering and good choice of drinks
At Egton Bridge Station (between Glaisdale and Grosmont, within walking distance of the NYMR station), the Postgate Inn named after local martyr Nicholas Postgate - generous welcome with faultless catering and good choice of drinks

Egton Bridge Station, Postgate Inn, Egton Bridge and Grosmont, North Yorkshire

See description below
See description below | Source

Mike Bagshaw's handy guide to follow: where, how and why - the answer to the last is largely 'because it's the bees knees'. Begins with a history of the Whitby & Pickering Railway (as it started out) from when George Stephenson met the 'Railway King' George Hudson and planned the route and doesn't really end. One of the most popular preserved railways in Britain with annual visitor numbers in the 10K's to prove it.


Track and signalling diagram for Grosmont, NYMR with the Battersby-Whitby section that runs north-west  to east
Track and signalling diagram for Grosmont, NYMR with the Battersby-Whitby section that runs north-west to east | Source

To walk from Grosmont (North Yorkshire Moors Railway) follow the road right out of Grosmont downhill and under the railway bridge past the car park. Keep to your right along the road (to face oncoming traffic on country lanes without footpaths) to the track on the left beyond the humpback bridge. Take this track past a cottage (on your left) to the next road that leads from the settlement at Egton Bridge up to the main village of Egton at Egton Cross. Turn right here and cross the road towards the railway bridge past the former coal depot. Pass under the bridge to the access path for the station and inn.

Enjoy!

Join driver John Middleditch (on a 'busman's holiday' from the south) and fireman Ian Pearson ('stoker' across the Pond, and also handy in NELPG's workshops) as they work a train from Pickering to Grosmont through fine scenery. They draw you into their conversation as they keep British Railways Standard Class 4 2-6-4 tank locomotive No.80135 (built at Brighton in the mid-1950s) going up the long gradient through Newtondale past Fen Bog and the forest near Levisham via Moorgates to Goathland. Then down the 1-in-49 descent past the former mining community of Esk Valley and Deviation Shed through the single bore tunnel into Grosmont station.

Where we're headed...

Whitby Harbour in the mid-1950s, with fishing vessels crowding the water. Fish & Chips could be had at the time for 2/- or 'two bob' (two shillings then, now worth 10p since devaluation of the pound twice)
Whitby Harbour in the mid-1950s, with fishing vessels crowding the water. Fish & Chips could be had at the time for 2/- or 'two bob' (two shillings then, now worth 10p since devaluation of the pound twice)
Whitby Harbour in the millennium. Lined up along the quayside are ocean-going vessels as well as inshore boats that would unload crab or lobster and smaller sea fish
Whitby Harbour in the millennium. Lined up along the quayside are ocean-going vessels as well as inshore boats that would unload crab or lobster and smaller sea fish | Source

© 2012 Alan R Lancaster

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    • alancaster149 profile imageAUTHOR

      Alan R Lancaster 

      4 years ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire)

      Thing is, I could never work it out - which one's Morris (remember Paul Hogan in the Fosters TV ads)?

    • BritFlorida profile image

      Jackie Jackson 

      4 years ago from Fort Lauderdale

      Oh, now you've got me remembering Morris dancing too...

    • alancaster149 profile imageAUTHOR

      Alan R Lancaster 

      4 years ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire)

      'Come here often?

      The Goths come for the Dracula weekend - Bram Stoker lived 'ere.

      The Whitby Regatta is that week as well I think. We were sat outside a pub near the bridge when the Fool with one of the Morris Dancing groups nearly fell backwards over my elder daughter (almost a year and a half at the time) in August, '86.

    • BritFlorida profile image

      Jackie Jackson 

      4 years ago from Fort Lauderdale

      That's it, the creosote smell. And yes, those screaming gulls (they'd nick your chips if you weren't careful). I believe there are goth festivals there now, which seems appropriate.

      But we used to go every year to the folk festival (in August?) so I'll add the smell of beer and the sound of concertinas. And lots of gorgeous flowers in hanging baskets outside the pubs.

    • alancaster149 profile imageAUTHOR

      Alan R Lancaster 

      4 years ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire)

      How about the screaming gulls and shouting of boat crews when the fishing vessels get back from out at sea.

      A couple of characters I remember, who came from Whitby (when I was at Scarborough School of Art) said they'd been on a trawler and landed in Iceland. This was a decade or so before the 'Cod War' in the 70's.

      I was in Whitby in mid-September. Had another look around. The North Yorkshire Moors Railway has built an extra platform for their use at Whitby Town, so you can travel all the way to Pickering and marvel at the overall station roof there. Mind you, it amplifies the engine noises - so add the 'creosote' smell of hot oil and coal smoke.

    • BritFlorida profile image

      Jackie Jackson 

      4 years ago from Fort Lauderdale

      Thank you for a wonderful nostalgic journey. This might sound odd but as I was reading I could smell Whitby - the tang of the sea, fish and chips (of course) and some indefinable smell from the boats. Maybe a mix of tar, rubber and fuel? I can smell it now.

      It must be twenty five years since I was there - I hope it's still the same (and smells the same).

    • alancaster149 profile imageAUTHOR

      Alan R Lancaster 

      6 years ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire)

      What went wrong with working your passage?! There are many crafts and business services needed up there. Yours may be two of them.

    • aethelthryth profile image

      aethelthryth 

      6 years ago from American Southwest

      Ironically, right now it's the lack of money!

    • alancaster149 profile imageAUTHOR

      Alan R Lancaster 

      6 years ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire)

      There are many from the London and south-eastern area of England 'upping sticks' and moving up there. I've lost count of the people I've met running hotels, working or just living in the north because they've become fed up with their own environment. My great Grandad on my Dad's mother's side came from St Leonards in Sussex and never moved back again after he left the army. He settled down in Leeds and took a job as a warehouseman. He used to visit his family - lighthouse keepers - with my Grandma in tow, and before they reached London he changed his accent from northern back to southern. Her mother took her to Blackpool where her side of the family ran boarding houses. An agricultural worker, my great Grandad on my Grandad's side moved north - lock, stock and barrel - with his father from Norfolk to find work in the mines in East Cleveland.

      There are people who've moved here from Australia, Canada, USA, South Africa and New Zealand whose parents migrated in the 1950's or earlier. If it's what you want, what's to stop you?

    • aethelthryth profile image

      aethelthryth 

      6 years ago from American Southwest

      One has to be careful about going to America to get rich. My husband's father did that about 50 years ago, and did do well financially, and never got around to returning. Now his descendants have to read articles like this to learn more about North England where he came from. But actually we've loved the area so much on our visits we are trying to figure out how the family could return there.

    • alancaster149 profile imageAUTHOR

      Alan R Lancaster 

      6 years ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire)

      OK, pencil that in on the calendar... First, though, you've got some more visiting to do on the TRAVEL NORTH pages: 7: "WEST TO EAST OVER THE MOORS - Herriott Country over the North Yorkshire Moors to the Coast"; 8: "WHITBY TO SCARBOROUGH, South to the Queen of the Yorkshire Coast"; 10: SEAFARERS AND SMUGGLERS on the YORKSHIRE MAIN"; 18: "SCARBOROUGH FAIR - Scalby Mills Express". Aside from those four there are another 23 in the series on walks and drives between Coast and Dales, east-west and north south. Happy travelling.

    • SommerDalton profile image

      Sommer Dalton 

      6 years ago

      I definitely will! I love how you describe what it used to look like versus today!

    • alancaster149 profile imageAUTHOR

      Alan R Lancaster 

      6 years ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire)

      That's my neck of the woods, Sommer. I can't remember how many times I've been to or through these places. Whitby, now, I must have spent the equivalent of a month there over the years in hours and days! There's a bit more to come on this, so keep your eyes peeled on how to get there...

    • SommerDalton profile image

      Sommer Dalton 

      6 years ago

      The way you write, the reader feels like they are there. So descriptive and intriguing! I want to visit many places you write about! Another great hub, voted up and more!

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