Cb

When I was a kid (yes, it’s one of those posts – please don’t interrupt.)

When I was a kid, living on RAF bases, I used to listen to the British Forces Broadcasting Service, (BFBS) in the mornings. One thing I remember from those days was the daily early morning weather report. BFBS did the equivalent of the shipping forecast for airmen. There would be a detailed weather forecast along with cloud types and heights to give the flight crews an idea of what to expect that day. I remember the strange sounding names, Cumulus, Stratus and Cirrus and their variations, and the figures that gave cloud cover and cloud base height.

Just over two years ago, Rufus and I got caught in a thunder storm while I was training for a trek. Ever since, I’ve taken an interest in weather prediction and in particular the early warning signs of thunder storms. We had a heavy storm here yesterday, with a lot of lightning and very heavy rain preceded by hailstones. It was well predicted and before the weather changed, I decided to read up on the cloud types. I wanted to try to identify them as they built up and so see first hand the early stages of a thunder storm.

Classic thunder clouds are generally Cumulonimbus clouds, (abbreviated to Cb). They are instantly recognisable as massive and billowing. They can form quite quickly, within 20 minutes sometimes, by warm air rising within the cloud and drawing cooler air in from below. The billowing part is sharply defined while it is formed of water droplets, although this sharpness may fade as the water freezes at higher altitudes. There will almost certainly be rain beneath this cloud, and more often than not hailstones and lightning.

I watched these kinds of clouds forming to the north of the house yesterday. They were so massive and high that it was hard to judge how far away they were. A quick check on the weather radar ‘app’ I have showed they were about 10 miles north, and they were indeed producing lightning. Later that night, the clouds formed over the house and we had our own storm.

This morning was bright and clear of cloud and I decided an early start was in order. There was still some humidity in the air and although the forecast said no clouds or rain for us, there was a lot of lightning activity in Europe and we often get their weather. So I read a little more from the cloud book and found out that there are a couple of early warning cloud species to keep an eye out for.

Altocumulus Floccus (small tufts of clouds) indicate humidity and unstable conditions at high altitude. These conditions can feed and energise cumulonimbus clouds, an already energetic cloud system. They can indicate a coming storm. Altostratus Castellatus clouds also reveal instability at higher altitudes but the clouds are more dense and usually result from more energetic conditions. Again, these clouds herald a coming storm (or at least the conditions necessary for one to form).

Armed with that information, Rufus and I headed north to Mynydd y Gwair. Yesterday, this seemed to be lightning central according to the website I’d been watching, with several dozen strikes recording in the area. I almost expected to see smoking craters but there were none – I guess that only happens in movies. The sky was clear and the morning was warm as we set off over the moorland north of the Upper Lliw reservoir. Sheep parted before us as we squelched through the surface water. Here at least was evidence of last night’s storm.

At the little river that feeds the reservoir, Rufus jumped in and paddled upstream while I walked the bank looking for little waterfalls to photograph. I’d forgotten about checking the weather until I noticed the sun had disappeared. I looked up and saw a few puffy clouds dense enough to obscure the sun. Nothing to worry about according to my new found knowledge, so I went back to setting the tripod up. I was using a very dense filter so exposure times were in the order of a minute or so. The next time I looked up into the sky I saw some familiar clouds; Altocumula Floccus.

I decided to move out of the river valley as it was hiding the horizon and most of the sky. I wanted to see how widespread the clouds were and what was coming up. I moved downstream and saw that it was a very isolated patch of cloud which was clearing to the west. So I went back to photographing waterfalls again. Rufus, uncaring of the cloud types, splashed and paddled and bobbed his way downstream. We played in the water and I threw stones for him to catch and dredge. In a deep part of the river, I threw dead bracken stems for him to swim after.

I looked up again and saw more Floccus. But now, to the south, a larger bank of cloud was forming beyond the reservoir. It had the appearance of an early thunder cloud and I decided, given the conditions, that we start heading back to the car. Out of the valley, there was a breeze blowing towards the reservoir. One of the signs of Cumulonimbus is that as the warm air rises within it, it drags the surrounding air towards it, causing a breeze. It often leads to people thinking the cloud is moving against the prevailing wind. A wind in the direction of the cloud is a warning sign.

The breeze also made the walk back pleasant and Rufus ranged far and wide, unconcerned about any coming storm. And after a few minutes, although the cloud was growing, I wasn’t so concerned either. By the time we’d reached the car, the cloud had grown but hadn’t moved and rather than jumping in and driving off, I left most of the kit in the boot and we walked off onto a man made bank on the opposite side of the moor. We spent another 10 minutes or so exploring the surroundings before finally making our way home. Ahead, over Morriston, the clouds were thick and dark but as we neared home, they broke up and as I write this, the sky is full of larger Cumulus clouds (‘fair-weather clouds’), normal for the time of day and year.

Which means I have no excuses for not finishing off the lawn, tidying up the boarders and cutting down a couple of dead bushes.

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Lightning

On Sunday, I wrote about a few minutes coming down off Fan Fawr when I thought there might be a thunder storm. I can think of nothing else that frightens me as much as being caught out on the hills in a thunder storm.

Fast forward to today. I finished work at 11, picked Rufus up shortly afterwards and at just after midday, we set off from the car to climb up to Llyn y Fan Fawr. The mountains looked lovely in the sun, with a sprinkling of snow on them. It was soggy underfoot but this route usually is, and my boots are waterproof.

Not long after we started, a light sleety snow started to fall, and it turned into hails stones. But it was a light shower. All morning I’d watched short, sharp showers pass over. Rarely did they last more than 10 minutes. The clouds ahead were nothing more than another shower. As we started to climb, the hail got heavier and the wind picked up. I knelt down and for a few minutes, sheltered Rufus from the worst of the hail. There was tail wagging and I got a lot of kisses – I think Rufus likes my beard, which I’ve left grow a bit recently.

The hail got a lot lighter and we set off again. A little way up the hill, the wind picked up and once again the hail started. And then there was an ominous rumbling. I knew straight away what it was, and I was frightened. Thunder coming from the clouds directly ahead.

I immediately turned around. There was no thought of sheltering. I made sure I could see Rufus and we started back down the path.  It had taken us about 30 minutes to get here. The thought of walking back with the risk of lightning for 30 minutes was rather unpleasant. So I began to jog. I was conscious of the risk to my knee but that was secondary. I kept talking to Rufus as he’s not happy with thunder and there were several claps going off. He seemed okay, treating the jogging as a game and criss-crossing in front of me. But he stayed close, which is not his preferred way when he’s out. It was clear he was aware something was up.

I took the direct route back towards the car. That meant missing out the detour to cross the river and I found myself on the wrong side of it. But the ground underfoot was a little flatter so we made good progress. And then I saw the first lightning bolt. It was over to the right, and I saw it out of the corner of my eye. Almost immediately there was a loud clap of thunder. I checked on Rufus, who was hesitating a bit, and I kept talking to him in what I felt was a normal tone of voice, although I was beginning to feel quite scared.

We got to the point where we had to cross the river. Without any hesitation, I waded through the shallows, the water slopping over my boots. Rufus was over quickly and we were about a minute from the car. Then I saw the second lightning bolt, directly overhead. Once again, fortunately, it didn’t touch the ground.The thunder broke at the same time as the lightning.  A little bit of my mind was wondering if a bolt struck the ground, how far away it would have to be so that we wouldn’t be affected. All around me was bog, waterlogged grass and river. I decided to concentrate on getting to the car.

The last few hundred metres was covered in a dash. Rufus was still by my side and he leapt into the car as I opened the door for him. I made sure he was in and shut the door, then climbed in to the passenger seat and closed that door.

Another flash and thunderclap happened at the same time, but I felt so much safer in the car. Rufus was standing, staring at me and I was trying to get my breath back. I gave him a lot of fussing but he was clearly wound up with the excitement of it all. A treat helped. The wind buffeted the car and blew snow up against the windows. In the time it had taken us to get back, I hadn’t noticed the hail turn to snow.

It took me five minutes to stop panting (I’m no runner) and by the time I’d calmed down, Rufus was lying on the back seat, watching me. Several more claps of thunder sounded while we were there but I saw no more lightning. Checking the GPS tracker, I saw that the 30 minute journey up had taken just over 16 minutes to cover on the way down.

The road was white with snow or hail, and I took it slowly at first as I drove down and away from the mountains,. The wind blew snow directly into the windscreen and the visibility wasn’t the best. After a few minutes of careful driving, we reached the main road. And a few minutes after that, the sun was shining and there was blue sky! As had recovered, and both of us had been robbed of a decent walk, I decided to stop on the way back so that we could walk a bit further. Careful to check the clouds,  we walked along side the River Tawe near Ystalafera. Compared to our ordeal, it was pleasant walking.

I’ve been in a white out on Ben Nevis, I’ve taken the wrong path on Blencathra and ended up clinging to the side of a vertical drop several hundred feet high, and I’ve walked along Crib Goch in a gusty breeze. But today was the most scared I’ve ever been on the hills.

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3 Mountains

Looking out of the window at 8am, the western sky was black with rain clouds. It reinforced the message of the weather forecast last night – storms, winds, thunder. Not the best weather to be on the hills. Stubborn to the last, I headed out to the hills.

My goal today was to get to Pen y Fan via Corn Du. This would be the same route as I tried before, when the wind was so strong I had to abandon the attempt. It would be about two hours in total, fine if the weather was rough. There were plenty of extensions if the weather was good and escape routes if the perfect storm broke. Rain doesn’t really bother me as long as I’m not starting out in it, but my greatest fear is a thunder and lightening storm popping up when I’m the highest conductor around. There was a chance of lightening today, so I needed to know I could get off the mountain quickly if necessary. The bonus of Pen y Fan is all round visibility, so I could see any threats in the distance.

As I drove over the moorland to get to the start, there was a gorgeous light on Corn Du and the hint of snow on it’s summit. I even stopped to take a photo, so lovely was the sight. It didn’t take long to get to the car park and in no time, I was heading up the hill. Almost immediately, I was passed by four lads in trainers in jogging pants charging up. I’d seen them whooping and yelling in the car park and I deliberately walked slowly to let them pass me. Pen y Fan tends to attract the trophy walkers and I’ve seen all sorts of walkers in the years I’ve been walking it. The funniest was a woman in fur coat and Ugg boots, squelching away and thoroughly unhappy with her partner who was encouraging her to continue.

The lads kept going and before long I was alone again. it was cold out and ahead I could see frost and the remains of the last hail shower on the ground. But I was snug and warm in several layers. I reached the top of the first little hill and the lads were just in front of me. Although they were walking quickly, they were stopping frequently, too. I slowed down again. The path drops down to a little stream and after the week’s rain, this was swollen. Wearing only trainers, the lads struggled to find a way across. I didn’t laugh. I’ve crossed this river so many times that I know the narrow places and was across with no problem.

The path climbs steadily from the river and is fairly featureless. Ahead, Corn Du kept appearing and disappearing as low cloud brushed over the top. The frost and hail on the ground increased. It began to feel a little wintery. At least the wind wasn’t  as bad as last time. The last 15 minutes are on a very steep and slippery section of rocky path and the ground was white with proper snow. I climbed over the edge of the summit and was immediately buffeted by the wind. But it was easy to keep my balance this time.

After a few minutes on the summit, it was time to head over to Pen y Fan. As I climbed up the extra few metres, the sun forced its way through the cloud and the cairn was lit up against the darker sky to the north. The lads were lined up on the cairn and I stopped to take a couple of photos for them. I was feeling good and the weather certainly wasn’t as bad as I was expecting, so as they turned around to head back down, I decided to drop down off Pen y Fan and head towards Cribyn – the next Beacon in the line. The path down from the summit was difficult, not least because of the snow and ice. The natural rock steps are large and sloping downwards, so it would have been all too easy to slip as my weight went on to each foot.

As I reached the bottom of the steepest part, it began to get dark. The wind picked up and after another couple of minutes, it began to hail, The wind was blowing hard from the west and for most of the rest of the path down to the lowest point it was battering up against my back pack. But it got a lot colder. I decided not to climb Cribyn and turned to go back up Pen y Fan.

Now, the wind was blowing the hail directly into my face. It felt like a lot of little needles against my cheeks, despite the beard. I was having to climb against the wind, which made the going tough. I bent my head down and slogged on. Suddenly, there was a noise to my left and someone passed me. I jumped, as I had no idea there was anyone near. A few minutes later, I was at the top of Pen y Fan again and the wind and hail had stopped. It brightened up and there were some great photo opportunities as I made my way back to Corn Du.

I struggled a little to climb down off Corn Du as the wind had picked up again, but I was soon heading down the path in bright sunshine. Ahead, the moorland of Forest Fawr and the Black Mountain was golden in the sun. Suddenly, it was a lovely morning again and all the dark clouds had passed. I felt great and I was just enjoying being out, so I decided to detour onto Pen Milan to add some distance to my walk. As I walked, the views all around were spectacular. Corn Du looked like a proper mountain with it’s rough and vertical north face, and Pen y Fan sat in the background looking slight less dramatic.

At the top of Pen Milan, which is flat and hardly a summit, there’s a fence with a rickety old stile. I managed to climb over it, although it wobbled and gave slightly and I nearly lost my balance. The next kilometer or so was the wettest I’ve walked through for a long time. Every footfall squelched. If I was n’t stepping into some kind of bog, my foot was disappearing into a hole in the ground. In the end, I didn’t bother trying to avoid the water. My boots are fairly waterproof so it wasn’t as bad as it could have been. I was more concerned about twisting my ankle in a rut or on a tuft of grass. #

Eventually, I crested the hill and started to drop down tot he car park again. The ground was slippery with water now, rather than boggy and I took my time coming down. In no time I was crossing the busy A470 and back at the car. The sun was still shining and I still felt pretty good. I’d walked for about 3 hours and I knew I needed to do a bit more. With the weather better than expected, I sat snacking on a Snickers and thinking where I could go next.

In the rear view mirror was Fan Fawr. Last week, this was the highest point of my walk. It rose high above the car park and I wondered if I was in any shape to climb it. I’ve done it before from the car park and it’s a short, sharp pull up to the top. There are rarely any people on it. I decided to give it a go and see how far I could get. I set off slowly and before long I’d reached the first ridge. It was flat going for a while, and very wet as all the water draining off the hill seemed to have collected here. I splashed my way through and started on the next slope. This one was steeper and hid the top of Fan Fawr. I dealt with it slowly and steadily and was confronted by another flat marsh. I picked the route that looked least least soggy and found myself at the foot of the steepest part of the hill.

The path up was muddy and I was careful where I placed my feet. I was now feeling the consequences of the other hills I’d walked this morning. My dodgy knee was beginning to ache, as was the other one. But there wasn’t far to go and my walking pole helped. In a few tough minutes, the slope lessened and I found myself walking on a slightly less steep path which made it’s way around the side of Fan Fawr. Another 15 minutes of steady walking found me at the top of the hill, standing next to the rough cairn. The view back to Corn Du was clear and the route I’d taken this morning looked much steeper than I remembered it.

The wind was cold on Fan Fawr and I felt I’d done enough, so after a couple of photos, I headed back down. Just after I left the top, the skies darkened again and suddenly I was in the middle of what seemed like a blizzard. For a few minutes, the visibility dropped so I couldn’t see the car park, and thick snow fell. I was concentrating on not falling on the slippery and steep slopes but it got so dark that I started to worry about lightning. But I needn’t have, as by the time I got to the last slope, the sky started to brighten again and the last few hundred metres was competed with snow falling ahead and sun shining behind me.

At the car, I was soaked, tired and very pleased with my day’s activities. Not the 6 hours I’d hoped for (it turned out to be 4.5 hours) but a lot more climbing than I’d anticipated (889m) and just an enjoyable time on some of my favourite hills.

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4½ hours

Having taken it easy all week, it was time to get back out on to the hills. Housemaid’s Knee or no, I have to get back on track with the training as the weeks are counting down fast. It’s around 8 weeks to the start of my attempt to climb Kilimanjaro. Check out my just giving page and add a little to the total for Cancer Research.

Yesterday, Rufus and I went for a stroll down by the river. I wanted to give my knee a try out before tackling a long distance hike, so we headed off to the river and Moel Feity – a small hill just to the north of it. We’ve done Moel Feity before, as apart of the Three Summits walk we did a while back. This time, it was my goal and we took out time getting there.  I haven’t seen Rufus for a while and he was obviously happy to be out and about. He kept stopping to wait for me on the track as we walked along. At the top of the hill, we had a play fight and a snack. And then another play fight.

We headed down the slope and as soon as Rufus spotted the river, he was off. Every now and then I saw a little black dot bounding through the tufts of grass or sheep bolting in either direction. But Rufus was intent only on getting to the water and sheep were not on his radar. By the time I joined him,  he was ankle deep in the stream, waiting patiently for me to start throwing stones in. The next 30 minutes or so was taken up with slowly making our way along the river, dredging or catching stones. Then, reluctantly, we had to turn away from the river to head back to the car.

Today, Rufus didn’t join me as the longer distances put a lot of strain on his paws. He tends to go at 110% all the time and is not the best at pacing, a bit like me!

At this stage I’m meant to be doing between 5 and 6 hours of walking, with plenty of ascent and descent and all the gear. As you may gather from the title, I didn’t quite get there.  But it wasn’t from lack of trying. One of my problems in the past has been going off too fast (typical bloke) so part of the training has been trying to get into the habit of maintaining a realistic pace that lets me walk without having to take too many breaks. So I got the pace right today, but the route was just too short. It was the same route as two weeks ago as I wanted to make sure my knee was okay and I knew I could turn back at any time.  But I had the option of an extra stretch at the end which I thought might do the trick.  It wasn’t enough, and the path dropped steeply after that which would have put too much strain on the knee.

I started out in the dry but by the time I’d climbed to the ridge, I could see the rain clouds coming in from the west. I watched one dark one closing, the rain visible beneath it, and all I could do was wait for the inevitable soaking. Which was cold and wet and uncomfortable. But it was over quickly and I carried on under blue sky and drying hot sun. It rained several more times during the outward part of the hike but the sun quickly dried me off again. Sitting on the edge of the hill at Fan Foel, I watched a heavy storm make it’s way towards Sennybridge to the north. I tucked in to my corned beef pasty in the sunshine.

I could see more clouds forming in the west and they looked as if they were heading for me so I turned around and headed back along the ridge. Sure enough, I’d just dropped down in the cwm between Fan Brechioniog and Fan Hir, the heavy rain started. I was a little concerned that it might be a thunder storm as the cloud was dark and the rain drops large. Then I started to get pelted with hail stones. They stung my face and hands and I turned my back to them. I waited for a few minutes for the storm to pass and was rewarded by seeing the line of hail sweep over me, I watched the storm cross the valley and over the next hill. I was drenched, but the sun and wind dried me off as I started on the final part of the walk.

The down hill part was the bit the doctor said had caused my knee problems, so I’d brought along a walking pole and I was relying on it to take a lot of the impact on the joints. Sure enough, although I was slower going down, the burning sensation from the last time I descended here did flare up and I got to the bottom feeling pretty good. Then it was an easy walk alongside the river and back to the car.

Now all I have to do is figure out a longer route.

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Early Riser

At some ungodly hour of the early morning, Rufus slumped down beside me on the bed. He likes comfort, so he snuggled in. Since his haircut, he’s been much more settled, probably because he doesn’t get too hot. So now he can sleep where he really wants to.

Some hours later, I was woken by a damp nose snuffling against my hand. It was time to get up. It was okay, though as it was 6.30 and we’d both had a bit of a lie in.

After breakfast, we set off for Whiteford bay. This is a gorgeous sweeping beach near Llanmadoc on Gower. It is harder to get to than the more popular beaches around, so it’s rare that we see more than two or three people there. Today was no exception. We had the beach to ourselves. The sun was low but warm, making the sand golden. We climbed the little outcrop called Cwm Ivy Tor – a mere 29m above sea level, but a very sharp, steep climb. I’ve used it as a test of fitness in the past. I was pleased to find I took it in my stride today despite a backpack full of water as weights. Rufus, of course, barely noticed it. The view from the top along Whiteford bay was wonderful.

Coming down was almost as hard as going up, the steepness made it slippery and took its toll on my knees. But soon we were walking along the beach. The tide was close to its highest point and there was quite a swell. This bay has a shelf that holds the tide back for a while but once the sea level has risen, the tide races in. The first time I saw this happen, back in 2007, it took be by surprise and I’m very careful there now.

Although the sun shone at our backs, there was a very large and very dark cloud making its way towards us. I could see the rain falling as a dark curtain blocking the horizon. So I headed for a small copse of trees just off the beach to try and get some shelter. Just before we reached it, the heavens opened and we were caught in a heavy shower of hailstones. The trees didn’t really provide much shelter but it was better than nothing. As quickly as it started, the hail stopped and for the rest of the walk we were lightly sprayed now and again by drizzle, but most of the time it remained sunny.

We walked through the trees and alongside the sea marsh before emerging at the end of the headland to see a danger sign ahead. This whole area was a firing range during world war 2 and was mainly used as an air to ground range for rockets and guns for the squadrons based at RAF Fairwood Common’s Armament Practice Camp. Several years ago, I found the complete remains, in shrapnel form, of a medium sized artillery round. More recently, a mustard gas shell was found and disposed of in the area. So we are careful.

After barks had been barked and stones thrown, we headed back along the beach. The tide was racing and swirling at the headland, which points towards Whiteford Lighthouse, but it was on it’s way out and by the time we’d reached the Cwm Ivy Tor again, it was several hundred yards offshore.

We met the first people of the morning as we walked back to the car park. It’s so much better to have an entire beach to yourself!

Today we walked 10.4km (6.5 miles) in 2.5 hours and climbed a total of 133m. Rufus probably did 50% more.

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Day Off 1

A day off with no fixed plans is scary and great at the same time. Scary because I might waste it by doing lots of little things and getting no where or achieving nothing. Great because anything is possible.

After weeks of being unable to get out, I wanted to do things today. I got up at 7am (it’s a lie-in for me) and by 7.45 I had decided to go to Cardiff by train. I was leaving the station at 8.28. Not long afterwards, I became aware of the conversation of two young ladies sitting behind me. It was about boyfriends, and who was seeing who, and how Jane, who is pregnant (‘I didn’t know that’) had downed a whole bottle of Jack Daniels (other whiskeys are available), and how David was now dealing, according to Steve. All of this was interspersed with some lovely swear words. In fact, it would be more accurate to say that the swearing was occasionally interrupted by conversation.

Then, two different passengers had a long conversation about umbrellas (ella ella eh eh eh) – how the one she had made her hair swirl around in the wind like a snowglobe and the one her friend had fitted into her handbag but was a bit heavy and that Diane always had really nice umbrellas (ella ella eh eh eh). After that, the hours I spent in Cardiff were a bit of a let down.

I had always planned to take Rufus out in the afternoon. I was home in plenty of time to collect him and head off to the river. We like the river. Even the weather looked as if it had cleared up, with sunny spells and blue sky. We left the car and made our way down to the river. I should have realised the dark clouds to my right were destined to find us but the wind was blowing from ahead and I thought that was where the weather would come from. We managed to get about 20 minutes from the car before the first few hail stones floated down. I managed to get my waterproof trousers on but by the time they were zipped up, it was raining and hailing hard.

Rufus doesn’t mind the rain but he’s not partial to hail so we both looked for some shelter. Rufus found a boulder and stood behind it. I joined him but it wasn’t really big enough for me. Rufus cuddled in during the worst of the hail, which started to drive at an angle because of the wind. When the worst of it was over, we  had a quick discussion and both agreed that heading back to the car would be the wisest action.

Of course, as we got back to the car, the downpour stopped and the sun came out. So with just a look, we both agreed a little more exercise was in order. We headed off up the other side of the valley to a standing stone that can be seen from the road. It was a short up hill pull, ideal for both of us as we were out of practice a bit, and at the stone, the sun was warm and beginning to dry us out. But in the distance, another dark cloud bank was heading our way, so we quickly headed back to the car.

Alas, we weren’t quick enough and with the car in sight, the heavens opened with heavier hail and rain than before. We could have done with an umbrella (ella ella eh eh eh) – any design, any shape, heavy or light. Rufus was glad to get in the car (he usually makes excuses not to have to leave) and I joined him. Pools of water started to form in the footwell as I struggled to get the soaking wet weather gear off. By the time we were ready to leave, hailstones covered the road like a thin coating of snow. The noise of them hitting the car drowned out the radio. I decided to wait for a while before setting off.

And as usual, by the time I dropped Rufus off, it was a glorious summer’s day again!

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