The UK is perfect for walking holidays. These shores aren’t called green and pleasant for nothing. Luscious, rolling, rural landscapes stretch away into the distance; a green-and-gold patchwork of farmland, criss-crossed by wildlife-filled hedgerows and fringed with deep-scented woodlands of oak, ash, beech and hazel. Further afield there are windswept moors, remote hills and valleys, and of course, a never-ending coastline, topped by cliffs and dotted with smugglers coves and long sandy beaches.

Walking trails in the UK follow rivers and canals, chalk ridges and estuaries, disused railway lines and even ancient pilgrimage routes, inspiring a liberating sense of escape from modern society, and a strengthening of bonds between walkers, nature and the outdoors.

England LOUGHRIGG FELL 2

Loughrigg Fell, Lake District

And yet because Britain is so small, walkers are never really that far from civilisation. Standing atop a moorland crag, with nothing but the buffeting Northumberland wind for company, you may feel as though you have the whole of the northwest to yourself, but the next village is always just around the corner, waiting to offer you a warming cup of tea, a bed for the night, and a hearty ‘full-English’ breakfast to set you up for your next day’s hike.

Those hardy enough to brave the British weather in a tent, and strong enough to carry all the gear, can camp as they hike. Few places allow wild camping, though it is often tolerated if your presence is fleeting and discreet, and in any case, there are thousands of official campsites dotted around Britain with a flat spot for your tent and a welcome hot shower.

For those who prefer a lighter rucksack and a roof over their head at night, youth hostels, guesthouses and that great British institution – the B&B (bed and breakfast) – are also on hand to welcome weary walkers.

Trails here are rarely difficult technically (leave those crampons and ice-picks at home, folks), but don’t underestimate the gradients of some paths (especially the coastal routes) which lead you from the beach to cliff top and back down to beach, time and time again – phenomenal views (and ice creams) provide some consolation.

The main walking season runs from Easter until the end of August and is busiest during the school summer holidays when B&Bs fill up fast. You can walk at other times, and it can be a hugely rewarding, back-to-nature experience as you’ll often have trails to yourself, but be prepared for cold weather, short daylight hours, and a few places such as campsites and cafes being closed.

The UK's best long-distance walks

Top multi-day walking holidays in the UK

There are more than a dozen official National Trails in England and Wales, and scores of other fabulous long-distance walks besides.

The following ‘Best of Britain’ offers four hugely contrasting walking experiences in terms of location, terrain and difficulty, but each promises an equally tremendous tramp across the glorious countryside.

The Coast to Coast Path

The Coast to Coast Path

Distance: 190.5 miles (306.5km)

Duration: 14 days

Start point: St Bees

End point: Robin Hood’s Bay

Difficulty: Moderate to hard – very hilly through the Lake District stages; poorly waymarked in places, particularly over the Pennines; expect rain and boggy ground at times

Suitable for: Fit walkers with a sense of adventure

Arguably the best long-distance walk in England, Wainwright’s Coast to Coast Path has many remarkable qualities, but it’s the walker camaraderie that is so often the stand-out take-home of this hugely popular cross-country hike. The scenery is at times stunning – I’m looking at you, Lake District – but the sense of community you experience with fellow walkers is felt here on this walk perhaps more than on any other in Britain.

Eng Robin Hoods Bay from Ravenscar

View of Robin Hood's Bay from Ravenscar

This is largely due to the fact that many, if not most walkers tackle the Coast to Coast Path in one go (or at least in two halves), rather than dipping in and out of it on day- or weekend-hikes as many people do for Britain’s other long-distance trails. The result is that you’ll bump into the same people again and again over the course of your two-week walk, in pubs, cafes and hostels along the route, where you can share a drink, and compare blisters whilst drying your bog-drenched toes in front of a roaring log fire.

Coast to Coast isn’t an official National Trail. Instead, it was the brainchild of the legendary fell walker and guidebook writer Alfred Wainwright, who in 1973 decided to plot a walk-to-remember across the width of the country which, as far as he knew, wouldn’t break any trespassing laws. Two-thirds of the trail is spent walking through three of England’s 10 national parks (The Lake District, The Yorkshire Dales and the North York Moors) and the route includes some of the most dramatic upland scenery in England. Prepare to be blown away by the beauty of some of the Lake District sections. Prepare also for quite a lot of rain.

The Coast to Coast walk route

Starting from the beach at St Bees, beside the Irish Sea, your first five days of the Coast to Coast Path are an undoubted highlight as you climb your way through the spectacular hills, lakes and valleys of the Lake District – so special it was awarded Unesco World Heritage status in 2017. Over the first couple of days, you’ll walk the craggy shoreline of Ennerdale Water, trot past YHA Black Sail, the most remote hostel in England, and climb up and over the rocky pass near Honister Slate Mine, before descending into the lush valley of Borrowdale, with its trio of stone-cottage hamlets.

The climb up and over Greenup Edge is challenging for sure, but the views are breathtaking, and it’s now just a short stroll into the pretty village of Grasmere, home to a plethora of teahouses, cafes, and B&Bs, a 150-year-old gingerbread shop, and Dove Cottage, where former poet laureate William Wordsworth once lived. The climb up the Great Tongue to the tiny mountain lake of Grisedale Tarn will leave you gasping, but it’s a pleasant walk down Grisedale Valley, under the shadow of 950m-tall Helvellyn, to the cute village of Patterdale, with its sheep-filled fields and walker-friendly White Lion pub.

England Lake District Two sheeps on pasture at sunset

Sheep on pastures in the Lake District

Climbing out of Patterdale is a joy, up and over Angletarn Pike, where you sometimes see wild deer, and the even higher Kidsty Pike before descending to the huge Haweswater Reservoir en route to Shap.

Sadly, the Lakes are behind you now, but that means the walking gradients become easier so you can begin to cover more miles each day. Historic Kirkby Stephen is your next stop before you climb up and over the Pennines on a day often clouded in mist, or obscured by rain – the waymarking is hard to follow here – before you crawl, often exhausted, into lovely Keld, with its collection of ‘forces’ (waterfalls), for a well-earned rest. Pastoral Swaledale Valley leads you to Reeth with its welcoming pubs and numerous places to stay, then it’s on through farmland to centuries-old Richmond, the largest settlement on the path, and home to the formidable Richmond Castle.

The next couple of days are forgivingly flat before you hit the heather-covered North York Moors and climb up to remote Blakey Ridge, where a bed, a meal and a pint await at the 500-year-old Lion Inn, the walk’s most iconic pub.

You’re now just a hop, skip and a jump from the North Sea, via the lost-in-time village of Grosmont (steam trains, anyone?), the fairytale-like woods of Little Beck and the squelchy bogs of Sneaton Low Moor. Sweeping views abound as you follow the east coast of England south to Robin Hood’s Bay where a celebratory pint at Bay Hotel’s Wainwright’s Bar is the order of the day.

Coast to coast day-by-day

Budget walkers rejoice – the Coast to Coast path has an abundance of youth hostels, meaning you can stay in cheap dormitory-style accommodation without breaking the bank. There’s also plenty of opportunity to camp, particularly in the Lake District where so-called ‘wild camping’ is tolerated in most places. That great British institute, the B&B, is also well represented all along the route. The following itinerary assumes you’ll be walking from west to east, starting in St Bees. Most walkers do this, though it’s just as easy to walk the other way.

Day 1: St Bees – Ennerdale (14 miles)

Day 2: Ennerdale – Borrowdale (15 miles)

Day 3: Borrowdale – Grasmere (9 miles)

Day 4: Grasmere – Patterdale (8.5 miles)

Day 5: Patterdale – Shap (15.5 miles)

Day 6: Shap – Kirkby Stephen (20.5 miles)

Day 7: Kirkby Stephen – Keld (13 miles)

Day 8: Keld – Reeth (11.5 miles)

Day 9: Reeth – Richmond (10.5 miles)

Day 10: Richmond – Danby Wiske (13 miles)

Day 11: Danby Wiske – Ingleby Cross (10 miles)

Day 12: Ingleby Cross – Blakey Ridge (21 miles)

Day 13: Blakey Ridge – Grosmont (13.5 miles)

Day 14: Grosmont – Robin Hood’s Bay (15.5 miles)

The extra mile

Instead of ambling your way down pretty Grisedale Valley to the village of Patterdale on Day 4, the more adventurous can opt instead for an ascent of Helvellyn (England’s third-highest peak; 950m) followed by a decidedly hairy descent of the mountain ridge known Striding Edge. It adds at least an hour onto your hike for that day and is certainly not for anyone who suffers from vertigo.

Hadrian's Wall Path

Hadrian's Wall Path

Distance: 84 miles (135km)

Duration: Six days

Start point: Wallsend, Newcastle

End point: Bowness-on-Solway

Difficulty: Moderate to easy – well-marked route; few steep gradients; some stiles to negotiate

Suitable for: Any reasonably fit walker, including families.

This unique walking trail not only crosses the width of England, but also follows the course of Britain’s largest Roman monument – a 1,900-year-old, 73-mile long fortification that once marked the northern boundary of the Roman Empire. Understandably, much of Hadrian’s Wall has disappeared over the centuries, but significant stretches of it remain today, as do the ruins of many of the forts, mile castles and turrets that were once spread evenly along its length.

England Hadrians Wall

Hadrian's Wall Path, England

Roman history buffs will need weeks to fully explore all the Wall-related sights and museums en route, but the casual walker will also adore this National Trail. Apart from the architectural and historical interest, all around the Wall is scenery of breathtaking beauty, from the wild, wind-blasted moors of Northumberland to the pastoral delights of Cumbria. What’s more, this is one of the easiest long-distance trails in Britain; a week-long romp following a well-marked path through gently rolling countryside with very few steep climbs and little more than the odd wooden stile to interrupt your flow.

Unusually for a National Trail, the authorities in charge of maintenance of Hadrian’s Wall Path request that walkers do not attempt the trail in winter (ie October to April) when the path is at its most fragile as this increases the risk of heavy walking boots accidentally disturbing unexcavated archaeological artefacts.

Hadrian's Wall Path route

A forgivingly flat but fascinating first stage starts outside the Roman fort of Segedunum in a suburb of Newcastle aptly named Wallsend. You then follow the River Tyne through the city’s iconic Quayside area then along the pleasant Tyne Riverside Country Park before climbing through woods to Heddon-on-the-Wall where you’ll see your first major chunk of Hadrian’s Wall.

A more modest second day passes the bird-filled lakes of Whittledene Reservoir before ending in the village of Chollerford where you’ll find Chesters Roman Fort, with its quirkily old-fashioned museum and hugely impressive Roman baths, the best-preserved on the whole trail. A glorious day three showcases the most complete section of Wall on the path (at Black Carts), the best-preserved fort (Housesteads), the most famous tree in Northumberland (at Sycamore Gap), and some of the finest views on the whole trail. The stage ends at Once Brewed where there’s a great range of accommodation, a cracking pub and a short walk to Vindolanda Fort, which contains some of Britain’s most treasured Roman artefacts, including the remarkable handwritten documents known as the Vindolanda Tablets.

Chesters roman fort

Chesters Roman Fort, England

Day four is almost as good, with plenty of chunks of Wall to gawp at and more great views as you climb to the highest point on the trail. This is also where you cross from Northumberland into Cumbria and where the scenery changes from windswept moors and crags to gentle rolling cultivated landscape. There are more decent chunks of Wall either side of Birdoswald Fort, but these are now stretches of turf Wall rather than the more impressive stone Wall you’ll have seen further east.

Any further remnants of Wall disappear completely as you approach the historic city of Carlisle through pretty farmland scenery before stretching your legs for the final stage, along the bird-filled flatlands of the Solway Estuary to the end of the path at the peaceful village of Bowness-on-Solway.

Hadrian's Wall Path day-by-day

Accommodation is plentiful along the route, and includes campsites, hostels and B&Bs. Where you break for the night depends not only on how far you’re able to walk each day, but also on how interested you are in the numerous Roman sights along the way. It can take a few hours to visit a museum or the ruins of a Roman fort, but not every walker visits them all, so factor this into your plan. The following schedule is just one option of many and assumes you’ll be starting at Wallsend in Newcastle, but it’s just as easy, and popular, to walk the other way.

Day 1: Newcastle – Heddon-on-the-Wall (15 miles)

Day 2: Heddon-on-the-Wall – Chollerford (15 miles)

Day 3: Chollerford – Once Brewed (13 miles)

Day 4: Once Brewed – Walton (15.5 miles)

Day 5: Walton – Carlisle (11.5 miles)

Day 6: Carlisle – Bowness-on-Solway (14 miles)

The extra mile

For a taste of what it’s like to walk this trail with kids in tow, listen to this travel podcast which follows our writer Daniel McCrohan as he walks and camps his way along the length of Hadrian’s Wall Path with his family.

Pembrokeshire Coast Path

Pembrokeshire Coast Path

Distance: 186 miles (299km)

Duration: 16 days

Start point: Amroth

End point: St Dogmaels

Difficulty: Moderate – No problem to navigate, and not technically difficult, but don’t underestimate its length, nor the steepness of some of the cliff climbs

Suitable for: Any fit walker; great for families, though not necessarily in one sitting

Whisper it quietly; this might just be the best coastal path in Britain. Pembrokeshire has it all – dramatic clifftop vistas, seemingly endless beaches, secluded coves and tiny fishing villages, but best of all; almost no one knows about it, so you get pretty much all of it to yourself.

Summer views over Pembrokeshire Coast Path

Summer views over the Pembrokeshire Coast Path

You’ll need two or three weeks to complete the trail, and, as with most coastal paths in Britain, you’ll have to endure a lot of ups and down as you climb from clifftop down to cove and back up to clifftop, time and time again. But the rewards are plenty; as well as the sensational views, there’s wildlife to spot (seals, dolphins, all manner of seas birds), historic sites to explore (including no less than 11 castles), and exotic Welsh cuisine to fuel those tired legs (oggy and faggots, anyone?).

Pembrokeshire Coast Path route

Starting in the seaside village of Amroth, day one takes you across the sandstone cliffs of south Pembrokeshire to pretty Tenby, with its pastel-coloured harbour buildings and boat rides out to the monastic island of Caldey. You’ll soon reach the beachside 12th-century castle at Manorbier Bay before passing a series of magnificent beaches – Freshwater West, Barafundle Bay, Broad Haven – each with its own unique character. Having negotiated a route around the MoD firing range at Castlemartin, and the more inviting Angle peninsula, you approach the least desirable part of the walk, around the heavily industrialised estuary of Milford Haven – fortunately, historic Pembroke and its magnificent Norman castle provide a welcome distraction.

The coastline becomes increasingly more attractive again as you approach Dale peninsular, then turns spectacular around Marloes peninsula where the three barren islands of Skomer, Skokholm and Grassholm attract thousands of seabirds, plus a boatload or two of curious day-trippers.

Boat houses near St Davids Pembrokeshire

St Justinian's lifeboat station near St David's

After the surfing hotspot of Newgale you reach St David’s, Britain’s smallest city and home to a beautiful cathedral plus a host of cute cafes, pubs and restaurants. The rugged coastline of St David’s peninsular provides fabulous hiking over the next few miles as you pass long sandy beaches, hidden coves and windswept bluffs before climbing the cliffs at Pwll Deri for outstanding ocean views.

The large harbour town of Goodwick and Fishguard offers a chance to stock up on supplies before you round the peninsular known as Dinas Island and negotiate the beautiful clifftop path to historic Newport, a precursor to the even more dramatic (and energy-sapping) clifftop walk on your final day.

Pembrokeshire Coast Path day-by-day

Some of the more remote stretches have a dearth of accommodation so you may need to adjust your daily distances accordingly. In general, there’s a good range of places to stay, from campsites and hostels, to B&Bs and guesthouses. Don’t forget to factor in one or two rest days; walking for 16 days on the trot is a tough ask.

Day 1: Amroth – Tenby (7 miles)

Day 2: Tenby – Manorbier Bay (10.5 miles)

Day 3: Manorbier Bay – Broad Haven (10.5 miles)

Day 4: Broad Haven – Angle (20.5 miles)

Day 5: Angle – Pembroke (11.5 miles)

Day 6: Pembroke – Milford Haven (12.5 miles)

Day 7: Milford Haven – Dale (9.5 miles)

Day 8: Dale – Marloes (12 miles)

Day 9: Marloes – Newgale (15.5 miles)

Day 10: Newgale – St Davids (9.5 miles)

Day 11: St Davids – Whitesands Bay (8.5 miles)

Day 12: Whitesands Bay – Trefin (11 miles)

Day 13: Trefin – Pwll Deri (9.5 miles)

Day 14: Pwll Deri – Fishguard (10.5 miles)

Day 15: Fishguard – Newport (11 miles)

Day 16: Newport – St Dogmaels (16 miles)

The extra mile

Give your legs a rest at Martin’s Haven and ride the waves out to Skomer Island, a protected national nature reserve that’s home to a third of the world’s population of manx shearwaters as well as thousands upon thousands of indescribably cute puffins. No need to pre-book anything; just buy your morning boat ticket when you arrive.

South Downs Way

South Downs Way

Distance: 99 miles (159km)

Duration: 9 days

Start point: Winchester

End point: Eastbourne

Difficulty: Moderate to easy – relatively short and very easy to navigate; few very steep climbs, though a lot of walking up and down small hills

Suitable for: Any reasonably fit walker, including families; can also be cycled

Most of the gradients are reassuringly manageable along the pleasant chalk hills of the South Downs Way, and the weather down here is usually pretty favourable. You’ll need just over a week to complete the hike from the cathedral city of Winchester to the seaside resort of Eastbourne, and for much of that time, you’ll be blessed with sumptuous views of rural Hampshire and Sussex from your perch atop the ridge of chalk which this hundred-mile National Trail follows.

Haven Brow and Seven Sisters South Downs Way

View of Haven Brow and Seven Sisters, South Downs Way

You’ll walk through landscapes of rolling hills and breezy fields of corn, passing numerous pretty villages with thatched cottages, historic pubs and gardens bursting with blooms. And there’s a fitting final-day climax as you rollercoaster your way up and down the majestic chalk cliffs known as the Seven Sisters before reaching the beaches of Eastbourne for a celebratory ice cream.

South Downs Way route

Easy going to start with, the Way leaves the River Itchen in Winchester and continues along leafy country lanes through a patchwork of villages, fields, hedgerows and woodland, before reaching the Meon Valley and its scattering of pretty hamlets. The true line of the Downs begins now, a ridge of chalk hills which you’ll follow all the way to Eastbourne.

You’ll soon be climbing Butser Hill (270m), the highest point on the trail and known for its numerous species of butterfly, before flirting with the beech forests of Queen Elizabeth Country Park on your approach into the village of Buriton, with its pretty pond and 12th-century church. More shaded woodland follows before the steep climb up Beacon Hill (242m). Look out for Bronze Age burial mounds as you cross Cocking Down – you may even catch a glimpse of the Isle of Wight off to the southwest. There’s a beautiful forest to walk through atop Graffham Down, as well as more ancient burial mounds before the Way picks up part of the old Roman road over Bignor Hill.

Paragliders over Devils Dyke South Downs Way

Paragliders over Devil's Dyke, South Downs Way

There are lovely views over the Arun Valley as you sweep your way down towards the picture-perfect village of Amberley before eventually reaching the hilltop Chanctonbury Ring, the site of a long-since-disappeared Iron Age hill fort dating back to the 6th-century BC and now a copse of beech trees commanding fabulous views.

The climb up Truleigh Hill is soon followed by wonderful views over Devil’s Dyke and, after passing through Pyecombe, you soon spot the famous pair of 16th-century windmills, known affectionately as Jack & Jill. The rolling hills continue as you climb up Ditchling Beacon, down to the railway level-crossing at Southease, then up Firle Beacon, before reaching the delightful Tudor village of Alfriston, with its quaint teahouses and ye-olde pubs.

The final day’s walk is the best of the lot, as you follow the River Cuckmere through pastoral scenes of English countryside all the way to the coast, where your rollercoaster ride up and down the marvellous Seven Sisters chalk cliffs begins. One final climb up to Beachy Head, marked by its famous lighthouse, is all that’s left between you and that ice cream shop in Eastbourne.

South Down's Way day-by-day

A key consideration on this walk is that you’ll have to drop down off the hills to reach many of the towns and villages you’ll be staying in, and that means a steep climb back up to the trail in the morning! There are numerous options, though, and the following is just one of many possible itineraries. If you’re fit, and not carrying a full load of camping equipment, you could easily combine some pairs of stages into one longer stage.

Day 1: Winchester – Exton (12 miles)

Day 2: Exton – Buriton (12.5 miles)

Day 3: Buriton – Cocking (10.5 miles)

Day 4: Cocking – Amberley (11.5 miles)

Day 5: Amberley – Steyning (10 miles)

Day 6: Steyning – Pyecombe (10 miles)

Day 7: Pyecombe – Southease (14.5 miles)

Day 8: Southease – Alfriston (7.5 miles)

Day 9: Alfriston – Eastbourne (10.5 miles)

The extra mile

It’s well worth dropping down off the Way at Bignor Hill to make the 30-minute detour to Bignor Roman Villa. Believed to date from the 3rd-century AD, it contains some of the world's best-preserved Roman-era floor mosaics, including the longest corridor mosaic in Britain.

Self-guided vs guided walking holidays

Complete freedom or ease of travel?

You’ve got three main options here: 1) Self-guided and carrying your own bags; 2) Self-guided, but using a walking holiday company; 3) Guided or escorted, typically with a small group of other walkers.

Each has its own merits. Which you plump for depends partly on your physical ability and your budget, but generally speaking it’s a question of convenience versus freedom.

Self-guided and carrying your own bags

It’s difficult to quantify the sense of freedom you have when you set off on a walk from A to B, carrying everything you might need along the way. Some take this to the extreme by being almost completely self-sufficient, carrying a tent and cooking equipment with them and pitching up at whatever quiet camping spot they find each evening. Others will use hostels or B&Bs as they go, but carry all the clothing and extra supplies they might need for a week-long trip.

You certainly save money walking this way, especially if you camp, as baggage-carrying firms and particularly guides can be expensive, but the main advantage is that you don’t have to tie yourself down to a rigid schedule. Instead, you can go with the flow, walking as fast or slow as you prefer and stopping wherever and whenever you like. And unless you’re hiking a very remote mountainous area in, say, the Scottish Highlands, navigation is rarely a major problem.

Most walking trails in Britain are well marked, particularly the National Trails and the coastal paths, and they are usually covered by a comprehensive, easy-to-follow guidebook, or at very least a mapping series. Top tip: Invest in a guidebook. It’ll be the best £10 you spend on your trip.

England Peak District Heather at Winyards Nick with Over Owler Tor

Heather in the Peak District, England

Self-guided, but using a company

For most walkers, carrying all the gear you need for a multi-day trip just isn’t feasible, but going on a fully-fledged guided tour also doesn’t appeal. Fortunately, there are plenty of walking holiday companies at hand who, for a small fee, will organise your nightly accommodation and transport your luggage from one guesthouse to the next as you complete your walk. There are some restrictions (they can’t always deliver to campsites, for example, nor to very remote hostels), and you’ll be tied to a pre-agreed itinerary of course, but this option does leave you with the freedom of walking on your own, without having the physical burden of anything more than a light day pack.

Escorted walking holidays

For those who don’t trust their navigational skills or just prefer to walk with others, guided tours offer fully-supported group walks with an experienced guide. This also removes the hassle of having to plan your trip – a nice feeling when you’re on a holiday. Trips usually include accommodation, transport arrangements, baggage transfer, minibus back-up and, of course, a guide.

The downside is that you won’t be able to stop where and when you want, to take that afternoon snooze on a sunny riverbank, to spend an extra few minutes lining up that perfect selfie, or to take an extra rest day in an idyllic fishing village you discover you have a soft spot for. Taking a guided tour also makes your walking holiday significantly more expensive.

Walking holiday typical costs

Self-guided, carrying your own bags

Accommodation: around £550 (£100 if camping)

Meals: around £350 (£140 if cooking for yourself)

Extras (entrance tickets etc): around £100

Total: £1,000 (£340 if camping)

Self-guided, using a bag carrying company

Same as above, plus baggage-carrying service of around £10 per day per bag

Total: £1,140 (£480 if camping)

Self-guided, using a walking holiday operator

Between £80 and £100 per person per day, includes accommodation, breakfasts, bag transfers and all other logistics.

Fully escorted/guided

Two weeks fully guided: around £1,400 (including breakfast, but not any other meals)

Meals: around £350

Extras (entrance tickets etc): around £100

Total: £1,850

Best walking holidays in the UK

Daniel McCrohan

Daniel is a prolific guidebook writer who divides his time between exploring Asia for Lonely Planet and Britain for Trailblazer. As well as writing close to 50 guidebooks for Lonely Planet, he has worked on more than a dozen Trailblazer walking guides, and has hiked and camped his way across many parts of the UK, China, Mongolia and India.

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