It might be autumn, half term might be coming in thick and fast and you're worried about activities for your kids but fear not, this article is here to help convince you to get your kids into the exciting, and hugely rewarding sport of climbing. Note, I didn't specify rock climbing there as, despite the sport of rock climbing being highly established in the UK and around the world, most kids will start doing this naturally - even over the sofa, if yours are anything like mine. It all starts somewhere and you may have already done a google search for 'kid friendly rock climbing near me' or 'kid climbing wall near me' but don't worry if you didn't find anything, this article is here to help.
As a dad to two 'causes of chaos' and being a lover of all things outdoors, it is only fitting that as soon as their eye lids were strong enough to lift themselves open on their first morning on this earth, they would be subjected to parental influences driving them towards my hobbies and interests. Fortunately, they're not going to the pub and getting leathered every weekend or being dragged to a football stadium to watch neanderthals kicking a pig-skin around each other. We're talking climbing, mountaineering and anything revolving around being self sufficient in nature while exploring what Gaia has laid before us.
My interests started when I was a boy at the tender age of 16 where there were, at the time, due to where I was brought up there were limited kid activities near me. The primary influence of mine at the time had been a school friend who had the means and knowledge to show me the ways of rock climbing. We would pack up his classic Land Rover and head off to our nearest crag, the wonderful and historic Roaches in Staffordshire. It was here that these weekend trips became the foundation of my outdoor career and despite leaving the area to study engineering at university time spent outside had helped me to become confident in myself, keep me fit and healthy and foster an appreciation for being nature and the environment. This is the aspiration I have for my kids and hope they'll have similar adventures like this too; they were truly wonderful.
Having my children enjoy my hobby with me is one of the huge benefits I've begun realise as a parent. Before my eldest could even walk I started bringing her to a climbing wall. Although I'll happily overlook the day I took her as a 2 year-old and my 2 year-old nephew to Craggy Island in Guildford when both proceeded to have the most phenomenal tantrums that upset everyone in the venue. I'll also admit that despite my encouragement for them to climb, failing to teach my daughter to abseil before she scaled her first top-roped climb at 3 years-old on the German-Austria border was not my finest climbing instructor moment. Needless to say, as enthusiastic as she is about climbing now, my 13 month old son, who is at his happiest when up-side-down, will certainly benefit from the lessons I learned during early parenthood climbing instruction.
I'm sure you've taken your children to softplay. You'll see them climb and jump and leap from place to place. Well, this has the same benefits... and more! They're outside which is a bonus, particularly when access to indoor play is restricted at the moment. They get to channel some of that energy into a tangible skill - tying knots (think shoe laces) for one!
Forgetting the being outside and active benefit which is enough reason itself, climbing has been proven to increase confidence, mental resilience and cognitive skills, memory retention and problem solving (Climbing and Physiology of Children). There's also this next article from the BMC on the benefits on mental health, not just for kids but adults too. Check it out.
Despite my ramblings, the important part you're really thinking is what do you, as a parent, need to know to get your kids into climbing? A good place to start is with this guide from the British Mountaineering Council who recognise the importance of getting children into climbing and mountaineering at a young age.
So, it's pretty simple really and we'll take it one step at a time to help you through it. Starting with...
I have been been lucky enough to travel extensively and climb at numerous places around the world. As an example, visiting .... in Chamonix, it's common to see families with young children out climbing, or schools conducting routine sports activities. For them, going to the crag is a normal sports session like we'd do hockey, football or rugby, for instance. But let's get the big misconception out of the way first. Yes, while it is risky, the most risky thing you're likely to do is drive to a crag or indoor venue. Once climbing in a responsible manner, the chances of severe injury are quite low. For those who are inexperienced but still want to have a go, the suggestions I'll outline below all include information about where you get help and advice from to operate safely. For indoor walls, where novices are recommended to try in the earlier stages of their climbing journey statistics show that...
...between the 1960s and 2008 there were approximately 50 million climbing wall user visits in the UK alone. During that period there was one fatality at a wall in England and Wales and that involved an adult. There are 13 million young people in this country. Approximately 700 have fatal accidents every year. Of these, 457 are land transport accidents (National Statistics). This compares with approximately one child death per year in organised adventurous activities. - BMC Young People, page 2.
However, despite these overwhelming statistics there is still a need to operate in a responsible and informed manner to prevent injury to the climber or those within the area.
Unlike some sports where you can get away with cutting corners you can't really do that with climbing - it tends to get messy. Take the time to learn how to do things safely and get help if you need.
Even if you don't like it your kids will and it gets you outside with them enjoying nature, being together and doing something you'll all remember
If you're still struggling and want some more tips on how to approach this with your kids, take a look at this article by climbing instructor Will Legon. He sets out some suggestions for how to approach the mindset to ensure everyone has a great time - which, when you think about it is the main reason you're probably investigating climbing to begin with.
Being at height and being scared is natural. Rarely does anyone start climbing and not experience some of the effects of being at height but it's something that you can train yourself to overcome. The easiest way of doing this is progressively increasing the heights you go to. Start with low level boulders and when your child/you feel more comfortable, increase the height.
To ensure a positive climbing environment (i.e. one where you and your children enjoy it and want to come back), all attempts should be made to avoid negative comments from spectators and peers. Praise your child for small victories, don't force them to go higher if they don't want to. If other kids are going to the top but yours isn't, don't worry. They'll get there in the end, IF THEY WANT TO. Most of the time, my daughter has been apprehensive of trying new things but giving her the space to make the decisions herself has usually resulted in her trying whatever activity we are attempting when she's had time to think about it, or has seen other (usually older) kids doing it first.
The first of our 5 top places to take your kids climbing around York is Rawcliffe Park. This place is awesome. I've only been there once before but it was a delight to go. Not just for the large boulder that's freely available in the play park next to Rawcliffe Park and Ride but also because it backs onto Rawcliffe Pump Track and Bike Park. I took my daughter, MineXE, here on a weekday during the summer holidays and we spent around 3 - 4 hours playing on the bike track and in the park. All for free too!
The great thing about this place is that it's accessible to all and has something for everyone. If you've got really young kids then there's things to climb on in the play park itself, but if you're after something a bit more challenging then you can bypass the park climbing frame and go straight for the boulder. There are routes for most abilities and on a dry day provides hours of fun. For those who are a little nervous or want 'mummy or daddy' to come up with them then at the back of the boulder (to the aspect seen above), there's an access tunnel that takes you up to the top.
Not a lot. The council have installed a 'soft' floor below the boulder to prevent too much damage on impact, however, we took our bouldering pad with us (because we have one). Good spotting technique will also help prevent major injuries that may occur. This is not a difficult technique to master but is clearly one that requires attention from the spotter to be effective. This isn't an activity to be doing while attention is split between what your kids are doing and chatting to someone else.
The only thing that you won't find here is shelter. As with any of the outdoor venues in this guide, at the end of the day, you're outside and that means managing the elements. Taking warm jackets and waterproofs along with snacks (if out for a long time) are all part of it. It's also good to wear specific climbing shoes or, if unavailable, to clean the soles of those you intend to climb in before going on the rock. This helps preserve the surface for longer and also stops mud from transferring from shoes onto hands and therefore clothing and everywhere else kids put their fingers - Urgh!.
For this venue there's nothing on site to tell you how to do it and therefore it's down to 'common sense' and pre-learning. The British Mountaineering Council have a wealth of videos and manuals on their website and via their You Tube Channel. Watch their videos with your kids before you go will ensure all are informed first, and if you decide to have a go your kids can look after you too ;)
It's not expensive...
Most people will come here without any climbing gear and just go and climb. There's 'padded' flooring and so, even though we took our bouldering pad with us, there's no need to have one to have a go. You can climb it in trainers and could get away without having chalk too (unless it's a really hot day in which case, it wouldn't hurt to have some. There's no charge for using the facility and we even got away without paying for any parking too (check local signage and restrictions on arrival). Winner!
Our second recommendation is an indoor climbing centre. There are two places you can go climbing indoors around York that we are recommending - only through not having been to the others. These are dedicated climbing centres and do not provide other services - they live and breath for climbing. Our two recommendations are Red Goat in York and the Harrogate Climbing Centre.
This is a bouldering only climbing centre. They operate from Redeness Street on the north side of the centre with excellent opening hours to suit all. Current COVID-19 restrictions are in place for your safety and so, if you're wanting to go with a child under 18 then you will need to book in by ringing 01904 731548. This ensures you're suitably catered for and gives you the assistance you may need for a great climbing experience. Part of the arrival process requires you to complete a few documents. These are a formality of all climbing centres to check you're aware of the potential risks if you don't operate in accordance with their recommended practices. You can save yourself some time at check-in by completing these forms online before you go.
If you've not climbed before, there's a requirement to have an induction. These do cost £15 but will also come with a bit of instruction on how to climb better and last between 45 minutes to an hour. Once you've done one you'll be able to take these skills and knowledge to any other bouldering centre and should not have to pay for another. Some may still require you to have an induction but in our experience, these do not come at cost and are a necessity of going to the particular centre.
Red Goat, like all climbing centres require you to use climbing shoes in their facility. This not only gives you better grip and sensitivity in your feet but also helps keep the wall clean for its users. Shoes can be hired for £2.50 and liquid chalk can be purchased at £8.50 a bottle. You won't need a lot of this and will last for ages. They also sell a small selection of chalk bags (not needed indoors due to COVID-19 restrictions necessitating the use of liquid chalk) as well as some of their branded merchandise. From time to time, they also have reps from climbing shoe manufacturers come to the centre so you can try a new pair of shoes for a bit before committing to buying them. - also probably not likely for some time due to COVID, however, one to keep in the back of your mind.
Prices are fixed at £7.50 for any participants for a two hour block, but, depending on how old your kids are, you may be able to get in for free if you're not there to climb but to be a spectator/spotter. Ring the centre for confirmation of this.
Climbing at Harrogate is great! There's enough of it and enough variety for an all day session - no problem. Add to that, a great cafe next door and you're set!
Because this wall has taller roped-areas there's more skills to learn and so we'd recommend a family induction for new families which comes in at £15pp. If you're not so keen to get involved, Harrogate Climbing Centre also do inductions for children above 4 and 'clubs' for climbers in the evening and weekend. - find out more about these sessions here.
This centre has lots of roped climbs, some with autobelays (roped climbing routes where a machine holds the rope), as well as a great bouldering area. These guys also have a shop too where, if you want to, you can buy gear which will be suitable for your indoor and outdoor climbing adventures.
Equipment can be hired out for an additional fee. As a minimum you'll require a pair of shoes and a harness (if participating in roped climbs). Shoes cost £3.50 to hire on their own or £6 if you go for a package deal which includes a harness and belay device too.
For those who haven't heard of Go Ape courses before, they originate from the alpine sport/past-time of Via Ferrata (also known as Klettersteig in German speaking countries). These are cable networks that have been put up around the mountains in the alps and were originally conceived by Italian farmers to reach their livestock who were in the hills but didn't want to take the long route to walk to them each day. They were then instrumental in getting Italian soldiers into the Dolomites (and subsequently other forces around the alpine regions) throughout the First and Second World Wars. Today there's a large network of Via Ferratas around the alps which you can go on (for free). These routes get you to high places in quick-time and are a great way to explore the alps without the need for complex alpine climbing skills (note, a certain amount of knowledge is suggested before going for it).
In the UK there's one dedicated Via Ferrata course in the Lake District and I've heard rumours of one becoming available in Scotland too (can anyone confirm this?) and is a private venture that charges for access. Go Ape's are a similar idea but instead of being tied to natural rock faces are built up in trees.
Although not strictly climbing, Go Ape courses are a great way to get comfortable with being up high. They're super-safe and many different courses around the UK for you to get involved in. We've been to the Go Ape at Dalby Forrest in the North Yorkshire Moors. This particular course has two long zip lines for you to get involved in and they have also started doing night-time entry too so you can add a different dimension to your experience. Suitable for all ages, we've taken MiniXE there when she was 4 and had no real issues (although was a little scared at first she did make it around twice!).
The nice thing about Go Ape courses over normal climbing is that most abilities and ages can get involved. There are height restrictions on some courses, but by the time your nippers are old enough to understand what to do safely, the chances are they'll be tall enough to fit in their harnesses and not fall out. It uses the same skills as climbing but you've got the knowledge that you're permanently tied in and are definitely not going anywhere... even if you're bouldering you might still have a small drop onto a crashmat. You can also do Go Ape courses in wet weather (unlike climbing) and so is a good alternative if you still want to go outside but can't climb. Just remember to take spare clothes for when you've finished for a more comfortable drive home.
Courses can be quite pricey, but once you've got your entry ticket paid there's no hidden extras. However, once you've done the course once/twice, there's not much variation to come back for without going to another course. If you're looking for other things to do there while you're in Dalby Forrest, there's also a Segway cross country trail that you can pay for. This activity costs £35 per person and is around an hour long.
Anyway, back to the Go Ape, prices start at £18 for a treetop adventure (approx 1 hour of activity and more suitable for younger monkeys) climbing steadily to £28 for a treetop challenge (a 2-3 hour course).
There's another course in Leeds which we've not been to at Temple Newsam. It doesn't have the zip lines like in Dalby Forrest but does have a 'Long Plummet' which sounds ominous... if you've been, let us know what you thought. Prices are between £18 - £25 depending on which course you opt for.
Take gloves, preferably a pair of leather or stiff canvas. Although you'll not be needing them for grip it'll stop you getting steel splinters (if there are any) on the cable network which can spoil the fun.
All Go Ape courses will provide an induction at the start of the period of activity. There's also staff on hand to ensure you're not in too much difficulty and to help when it's needed. No further pre-reading or skills needed required before you attend. Just choose a date, prey for nice weather and go for it!
Now we're into the big adventure stuff. Outdoor climbing is where it's at but shouldn't be seen as being un-achievable for the novice. My first experience of climbing was on rock as part of a school trip to Wales. It was great! However, our school employed an instructor to give us the best possible experience. This would always be our first suggestion and we work with a number of instructors who can help you with this, if it's what you want to do? However, it doesn't have to be like that.
So, what do you have to do to be able to climb outdoors? I'd first suggest you read the following document by our friends at the BMC - BMC Climbing Outdoors. This will give you a breakdown of what to do and what you can expect from going outside plus many suggestions for how to safely get involved. Don't be put off by the realities of climbing outdoors, it's not for everyone. But, some climbers do try indoor and outdoor climbing and tend to focus their efforts one over the other. This is totally okay and is still a great thing to do.
To start easy why not try outdoor bouldering. Our first venue is a great choice for trying this out and is likely to be one you've heard of before. Having said that, despite its accessibility, there's still quite a lot of climbing problems to have a go at at this venue which will keep you engaged for many years as your skills grow.
Brimham features in the National Trust's Places to go climbing with Kids. It's a great place for a family outing with lots of nooks and cranny's to explore.
There's usually a big crowds of people climbing there on sunny weekends, mostly who will be families but, as said before this is also a place for more seasoned climbers who hide away off the beaten track too.
It does get quite windy and this is not a venue to visit when it's been raining in the preceding 24-48 hours as the rock stays wet and can be quite greasy. However, when it's bone dry it's great.
Most people get away with climbing in their trainers for their first time. Having a pair of climbing shoes will help but you will need to buy them yourselves as there's nowhere to hire them at the venue. I'd also advise getting a bouldering mat. Even though most of the accessible boulders most people climb on are not very high, there are some climbs which are quite difficult and quite easy to get stuck on. Having a mat below you not only affords more comfort when landing from slips and those times when you just don't get it right but gives you other options for getting down if you're stuck above rocky ground.
If you're a National Trust member, parking is free, otherwise, it's £6 for 4 hours or £9 all day. There's a cafe that sells the usual teas and coffees, snacks and ice creams but there's no internal seating if the weather's bad - take a decent coat! When you've parked, if you've got the kit then you can stay as long as you like.
This is a small outcrop of rocks on a hillside in the North Yorkshire Moors not far from Swainby on the A172. It takes around an hour to get to from the centre of York but is a great day away from the crowds. The rocks are less than 5 metres high and so is an un-intimidating venue to get started at. Most people will boulder here because of its height, however, don't be dragged into that mindset if you'd prefer to rope up. Falling from 5 metres onto a mat is no joke. There are plenty of climbs available here at 2 - 3 metre high if you'd like to boulder which is why it's a sensible option for some bouldering.
Getting to the crag is okay but due to its location can require a good bit of map reading. We would advise using the details on the UK Climbing website (UKClimbing.com) for access, directions and general info on the crag. This website will also give you an indication of the types of grades there, some pictures so you know what to expect and lots of other useful information.
This is a windy little outcrop North East of Scugdale in the North Yorkshire Moors. It's got plenty to go at and lots at lower grades where beginners can stretch their legs.
Details of how to get there, and more can be found here on the UKClimbing.com website.
This venue is a bit easier to get to and is west of the historic town of Masham. A little further on and then an easy 10 minutes walk-in to the crag. There's lots of boulder problems here set in an aesthetically pleasing valley. Unless you're happy to have a go at anything, I wouldn't suggest this crag to beginners who are looking for an easy start unless going with someone who knows what they're doing. There's quite a lot of harder problems on this crag which can be a bit off putting if you're looking for an easy time of things.
What's nice about going here is that you can have a great time climbing on some great problems, take a picnic for lunch and then climb until the sun goes down. At which point, head back into Masham and take advantage of a great Ice cream shop in the market square or head to the Bruce Arms for a family pub dinner. Smashing stuff!
Check out all you need to know at UKClimbing.com
Of the five venues in this section, this is my favourite. The rock's good, there's loads to have a go at of all grades and even if you just fancy an afternoon away from the clutter of city life, it's great to just go for a walk around. Almscliffe has it all. On our last trip, Mini XE had a go at some (un-graded) climbs and did a bit of rock hopping over those which she was big enough to go on. There was a little bit of wind but it wasn't so bad as to restrict what we did. I like Almscliffe for the fact that even though she's not big enough to go on the graded climbs just yet, there's still lots of outlying boulders that are accessible enough for a small person to get on and still feel like they're scaling 8000m peaks. In time, when she gets a bit bigger and is content with climbing steeper rock, we'll definitely be going back here so she can have a go on bigger stuff.
Ok, it's not quite a location but this is certainly one of the best options in our list. A decent instructor will be able to tailor the location you go to by the weather conditions, your abilities and the objectives you have for your day out.
Up 'till now, I imagine some of you reading what I've written and maybe thinking, 'it sounds great, but I'm not sure about letting my kids loose in the outdoors near big drops'. That's totally understandable and as such I thought this section would be quite useful to hear about too. Here at Xtreme Exposures, we have teamed up with a number of qualified and accredited instructors to give an easy path to getting your wee climbers outside.
If you'd like to read more about them, please head over to our Instructors' page and take a look at who could be helping you. We don't take a fee if you hire one of our instructors but they're so awesome that we're happy to pass on their details directly to you - you can then make your own decision about what to do. What we will say is that we wouldn't work with these guys and gals for our other services if we didn't think they were worth their salt!
If you decide to go elsewhere, which is totally fine, the advice we suggest is that you stick with a recognised outdoor professional. These can be found by looking for the badge of the Association of Mountaineering Instructors, and or signs they have completed an accredited Mountain Training course. This website also has links at the bottom of the page to do your own research into finding an instructor, all of which will be accredited.
All of our instructors are at least Mountaineering and Climbing Instructors - MCI, with a couple being a Winter Mountaineering and Climbing Instructor (a higher level of qualification). These are, pretty much, the top mountaineering and climbing qualifications in the UK, exceeded only by British Mountain Guide who offer, in layman's terms, expert skiing tuition on top of what WMCI can do as well as having the ability to work abroad with little restriction. As such, when you pay for time with instructors of this standard you know your experience will be second to none. As such, they can command a daily rate from between £150 - £200 a day for a pair of climbers. Each instructor is able to help you with all technical equipment that you'll need for the day. The only thing you'll need to bring is yourself, appropriate outdoor clothing (they can help here too), your lunch and an appetite for adventure.
Other cheaper alternatives are available but they won't be as experienced and their remit of what they can offer you will be limited. However, this may be a better fit for most readers as, particularly in the short term, your abilities will be the restriction on what you can do, not your instructor's. Therefore, in a long winded kind of way, you may find that a Rock Climbing Instructor (RCI) or Rock Climbing Development Instructor (RCDI) is all that you'll need.
The first thing we'd recommend is a decent pair of climbing shoes. These are very personal and are less likely to be things you'll be able to hire and get right. Whatever you've heard about getting them super tight is a myth and not something you should be looking to do. Get a pair of shoes that you/your kids will find comfortable all day in. Ideally, get dedicated climbing shoes and not something which is attempting to be a climbing shoe but clearly isn't. Laces and slip-ons are a personal preference at this stage, so don't worry too much about only having the choice of one type. Also, try to get a shoe with a flat foot rather than more expensive, aggressive styled shoes which have a curve in the foot. You won't need that level of performance in your shoes yet and you're just going to spend more money on it too.
If you're looking for shoes for your kids then a good place to start is at Decathlon. MiniXE has been using these shoes for a while now and they're more than sufficient, plus at only £19.99 a pair they won't break the bank. As far as I'm aware, they're also one of the few options for small shoe sizes. Best option is to go to a store and find a pair to try on. There's nothing worse than wasting time and money on shipping just to find out they don't fit, although I do accept that there's not a Decathlon store in everyone's town.
If you're looking for something a little bigger, you won't go far wrong getting any of the pairs of shoes from Decathlon or indeed GoOutdoors. Again, go for a flat shoe which is comfortable and affordable. You can thank me later.
For scenarios, a bit of chalk is going to help you too. However, due to COVID-19, only liquid chalk can be used indoors. Still, in an outdoor setting, where liquid chalk does still work, blocks of chalk and a chalk bag may be more of what you're after. You'll most likely not notice a difference in the early stages, however, on longer routes in the summer, re-applying liquid chalk on a long route is not really a thing.
Where do you get a chalk bag and chalk? Well, pretty much anywhere that sells outdoor gear. There's nothing fancy about it and it could be that you can find ones which are fluffly anime characters or whatever the kids are into now-a-days. However, if you're looking for something a little more eco-friendly, why not have a look at a chalkbag from our friends over at DirtbagsClimbing.co.uk. These lovely people make chalk bags, and other funky goodies from recycled outdoor ropes and gear. They make a selection of items as stock but also do custom jobs too. If you buy from here, let them know we sent you.
I've mentioned these a few times in this post and, while they are really good, they're also quite expensive. Cheap and safe are words which are not usually seen together too much in climbing equipment, particularly safety equipment. However, Alpkit have done their best to marry the two together and sell a selection of bouldering mats that are more affordable than most. There's a balance of surface area, padding and portability to be had with bouldering pads. At the end of the day, you'll probably want the biggest, thickest and lightest pad you can find, but unfortunately they're not made like that. Our suggestion would be to start with what you can afford and add to it or exchange it as you can afford others.
One of the great things about Alpkit is their return policy. They give you 123 days to get your items back to them in a state which it can be resold (presuming not faulty) and you can do that in-store or online. Coincidentally, if you're in the Peak District, Northumberland or Lakes you'll find one of their stores. They've got lots of useful items for sale and you should really go have a look.
Then there's harnesses and helmets and the like. This is the serious stuff and I recommend you really only go down this route when you know what you're getting. Importantly for all items, it comes down to fit, however, if you're not sure, ask in-store or ask you friendly instructor to help you out. Places to go are, again, GoOutdoors, Decathlon, the Harrogate Climbing Centre shop or more independent shops like Outside.co.uk in Hathersage.
Lastly, we need to talk about outdoor clothing. Please, please please dress appropriately. Far too often it's the elements that affect the fun of a day at the crag and it can be avoided by spending a little thought on what you're wearing.
The basic rule is cotton is bad.
It may be ok when dry but as soon as it gets wet it will take ages to dry. Staying in wet clothing increases your chances of hypothermia and that'll ruin most people's day. Here's some relevant (if not climbing specific) information on the causes and effects of hypothermia on people in the outdoors.
This advice from Cool of the Wild is a good place to start and will give you tips on what to wear indoors or outdoors. If/when you go outdoors with an instructor, ask them what to wear. They'll be able to give you more of an indication of how warm or cold it'll be based on the place they have in mind taking you. One thing's for sure, if it's October and beyond they'll definitely be recommending at least a woolly hat and a pair of gloves to help stave off the elements.
If it is that you're still looking to find out more, a great place to start is with the British Mountaineering Council. They're responsible for promoting outdoor fun and have an abundance of articles and videos available for free plus many items to buy on their website shop to keep you entertained.
After that, why not think about joining a club? The BMC have a club database, so where-ever you are there should be somewhere near who you can go and speak to.
I do hope you've learnt something reading this article and are now all set to take your kids (or yourself) out climbing? It really is a wonderful activity to do and one which has certainly shaped my life.
Owner - Xtreme Exposures
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