We started off the journey on the way up to Loch Awe in Scotland from Patterdale Hall in high spirits. We were all anxious about the challenge that lay ahead of us, but knowing that we would have the night in a youth hostel to prepare ourselves both mentally and physically, we felt that we were ready for it. The youth hostel was a great opportunity to get some rest after the long journey we had taken from Bolton School, and we even managed to find the time and energy to practise our much needed (and lacking) football skills, an essential part of canoeing training.
After our much enjoyed last night of comfort in the youth hostel, we woke up early the next morning to try and work out exactly how many things we had left behind, and how many of them would be essential to our survival, luckily there was nothing completely necessary that we had forgotten, and the few things we had forgotten we were able to beg, borrow (and steal) off our comrades.
On the journey up to Loch Awe it began to become apparent that there was some friction in the relationships between the members of my year and the members of the year above. I began to wonder if this would make the expedition more difficult for us to complete, but took solace in the fact that I would be in a boat with only one of them, this one being the more placid member of the upper year, and I would also be accompanied by my best friend. Simon and I have completed several expeditions together including the Duke of Edinburgh Bronze expedition and several of our own routes at many ridiculous hours of the day, knowing that we had already completed several of our own expeditions for longer times and distances than this one, I felt safe, and sure that we would finish this one with as much ease.
Once we arrived at our launch site on the edge of loch Awe at a place called Killnetair, we offloaded the boats from the trailer, and began to carry them down a rather muddy and precariously steep set of steps down to the loch shore itself. When this was eventually done, we all got changed into the clothes that would most likely remain on us for the entire expedition. Both I and Chaz, a member of the year above, had our rash vests on, being avid kayakers and lovers of all water based sports. I began to wonder whether the expedition would become a competition between us, as he was appearing to be quite competitive, and I was ready to give a fair shot at challenging him. I knew if we went at too fast a pace on the first day however, the other two days would seem to drag on and become increasingly difficult, and as I wasn’t the only person in the boat, I decided to leave the racing until the last day, if it was to take place at all.
As we got into the boats I was embarrassed to start smearing the camouflage coloured sun-block I had brought with me on my face, however as soon as the flamboyant character known to us all as Kev (or Kiefan which he had persuaded Mohannad to believe was his name) spotted the sun-block, he immediately asked if he could borrow some, to which I, of course, said yes. As I had been the butt of a fair few practical jokes earlier in the trip up to Scotland, I then watched happily as both Chaz and Kev smeared the military sun-block all over their faces, knowing that they clearly didn’t realise the humongous amount of soap, water, and scrubbing it required to remove. After they had painted what they called flames in brown and both shades of green all over their faces, I wondered whether I should tell them this would be how they’d look for the next few days (or even weeks) or leave it until they finally got bored of the clammy feeling that the sun-block causes, and decided to try and wash it off. I decided the later would be the better option.
My spirits heightened further by this fortunate turn of events (for me at least) I put on my sunglasses, ensured they were safely attached to my head with my sunglasses strap which I had borrowed/stolen off my brother (it’s still in my bedroom now, I doubt he even realises it’s gone) and I gathered together my boat team and began to push the boat into the loch, this marking the real beginning of the expedition for me.
When we had finished going through the details one last time with Andy and Rick (and them making one last comment about the sun-block) we set off paddling. I was in the rear of the boat, providing the steering, Andy (our oldest crew member) was in the middle providing the map reading skills and some power (and also quite a lot of whining at the start), and Simon was at the front providing the majority of the power and also assisting with steering at some precarious points. It was looking as though the expedition would be surprisingly easy at this point, with all three of us paddling and the wind with us on the loch. Sadly a few hours into the first day this began to change, as Andy began to take it a little too easy, making me and Simon wish that Hardy (Andy’s previous boat mate) hadn’t opted to do the expedition next year, leaving us with a bigger three man boat. Luckily as we had taken the extra member, Chaz and Kev had taken most of Andy’s luggage, so we were able to cope with the minimal paddling provided by him.
We were travelling at a good pace, and the sun was bright so we were all only wearing t-shirts by this point, or in Chaz and Kev’s case, just pants. There wasn’t that much conversation between our boat members, except Simon and me discussing ‘shooting’ all manner of people and things with the paddles and various ambush techniques we could use whilst in camp to gain extra supplies (mainly food). We also had the usual comparisons of events and places in the expedition in relation to the Lord of the Rings films, which has become a standard part of all of our expeditions (us acting out the whole of The Fellowship of the Ring on our Bronze expedition).
We decided that, since this expedition was on water, it would relate perfectly to the rather brief moment in the films where the fellowship are travelling in canoes along a river, and so much of our own elaboration had to be added to this to stretch it out over the whole expedition and keep us at least vaguely entertained. After a while of this though we sensed that we may have been annoying and/or worrying Andy and so stopped, luckily Chaz decided this would be a good time to put some music on, as he had brought a CD player with him, safely (…ish) wrapped up in a Morrison’s plastic bag. Equally luckily he had brought some CDs that suited all of our musical tastes, and we continued to paddle whilst listening to New Found Glory, which enabled me to take my mind off paddling and enjoy it much more.
We soon came to one of our many planned breaks in the expedition, at a place called Rubha Cuiline (try and pronounce that after a few drinks for a good party game) all of which were timed exactly to Kev’s digestive system. We landed on a small pebbled beach with trees that went right up to the water’s edge, and some of them were even semi submerged in the loch, making the landing a rather interesting one and, I felt, exciting. As the older members of our group fired up the Trangias for what would be the first of many times, I decided now would be a good time to eat something as well, and so took one of my several snacks for that day out of my buoyancy aid, the majority of them being entirely unhealthy but a great incentive to get to the next stop as soon as possible. As I was eating, I decided to exercise my legs whilst I had time, and took a walk down the shore where we landed, looking at the spectacular scenery of the hills on the other side of the loch and the various boats around, wondering if any of them could hear the music that was still playing, and if one of them was about to go past us as we set off in the hope of capsizing us and drowning the ‘horrible’ sounds we were making.
After the others had finished their expertly prepared two course meal, we got back into the canoes ready to set off again. Enter Mohannad’s first act of stupidity (if you start counting from after we got on the water that is) he had managed to leave various items belonging to him on the shore we had just left, and feeling in a kind mood, we decided to let him go back for them (unfortunately not swimming). Unluckily for Adam (Mo’s crew mate) he had to go back with him, the only thing possibly worse than this for him being having to spend the whole expedition at most a meter away from Mo and his rap (which is often referred to with a ‘c’ added).
After this minor delay we carried on with the expedition, canoeing along now to the sounds of Charlotte Church, however not singing hymns, but dance music with repetitive rhythms and tunes, making it hard to tell where one track ended and the other began. Nevertheless I managed to put it out of my mind and carry on steering the boat and, since most of the journey was a straight line, helping us to set a good pace for the others to keep up with, Mo’s paddling action in doing this providing a great amount of comedy for the rest of us, except the unfortunate Adam who was drenched with every paddle stroke Mo made.
Despite this however, he managed to carry on paddling and expertly steering his boat without complaining at all, which unfortunately couldn’t be said for Andy, partly because he wasn’t steering our boat, but also because he seemed to be taking every last opportunity to not paddle. This was getting increasingly annoying to me and Simon, but we decided it wasn’t worth causing the boat to be split over (either metaphorically or literally).
Soon we were at our first campsite for the expedition (not quite that soon but this report is going to be ridiculously long if I don’t edit it somewhere) this campsite was on an uninhabited island (which went by the equally unpronounceable name of Innis Chonnel), close by to the shore of the loch, and even had its own castle, which I was extremely excited about as I had always loved castles and knights as a child and had images of battles taking place in this very castle in medieval times, so as soon as we had landed and taken our things from the boats up to a suitable campsite next to a fallen tree, I went to the castle to go and run around it and explore every last part I could (obviously showing the extreme mental disturbance I had undergone having to listen to Mohannad, A.K.A Psycho Mo’s raps for the whole first day).
I ran up to the top level of the castle and indulged in walking along the walls observing the far reaches of my ‘kingdom’….for now (ok so it wasn’t that dramatic and no one’s going to take it off me but it sounded good at the time). Mo then came and joined me with his camera, after he stopped me from committing suicide by jumping off the wall into the lake far below, which he thought I was going to do when he saw me sitting on the edge of the wall (obviously if I was planning on killing myself I’d sit on the wall holding onto it). After this ‘crisis’ was narrowly averted, I proceeded to strike a dramatic ‘looking into the distance’ pose with one foot on the wall, and Mohannad took a picture. We then went back to the campsite area of the island to finish putting up the tents, mine and Simon’s placed in a rather good position next to the cooking area and the fallen tree which made a good bench/climbing frame. Simon carried on this theme by climbing the majority of the trees on the island and even inventing his own grading system for them, after he fell from what he called a grade 5A tree, near the top of the scale for difficulty. After he had perfected the grading system (an essential task) we went to go and turn over the canoes and drag them further up the shore to ensure we’d still have them the next day (none of us fancied a two day swim in the fairly cold loch, otherwise we might have left them).
We then continued our previous theme of maturity for that night by returning to the castle and having a war around it between ourselves, Simon being on my side and Adam and Mo on the other side. Of course, with Mohannad being the highly popular individual that he is, Adam soon joined our side and turned the game into a sort of rapper hunt. We were again using the paddles to shoot each other as we are mature, well educated individuals, and these are the activities we participate in during our spare time.
When our hunt was finally over and we had realised that there was no actual way to tell who had been shot or not, and Mo had a strange ability of being able to avoid every single shot we fired at him (I wouldn’t have been surprised if he yelled ‘force-field’ and claimed invincibility), and we had also grasped the incredibly complex theory that pine cones are not grenades, we went to retrieve the football we had brought with us, and commence a real game.
We then somehow managed to make this game completely ridiculous and invented the entirely new sport of Castle Football, a game where you kick the ball as hard as possible at a wall in the enclosed space of the castle, including the tiny slave’s quarters, and then attempt to avoid getting hit and severely concussed. This game was developed by the discovery of ‘The Room of Death’ which was an small room from which it was physically impossible to kick the ball out of and so as soon as you kicked it, it would simply ricochet off all the walls and the ceiling and ensure certain death, hence the name. The rules of castle football were… nonexistent; anything went, including enlisting the help of an American sniper team to take out the ball if it came towards you, but of course this wasn’t used by any of the players due to the lack of skill of American snipers which would probably make them more likely to shoot you rather than the ball.
Many blows to the head later… we didn’t remember much.
We went back to the camp after to recover and cook our first tea of the expedition, consisting for me, of pasta in a bolognaise sauce with pita bread, chocolate custard and biscuits. It sounds almost like a posh continental meal… it wasn’t, but as far as expedition meals go, this was the best one I had ever cooked, and I was ready for it after the intense evening activities we had participated in previously. Kev’s meal consisted of several thousand courses, give or take, and one of these was going to be beans, which he decided to cook on the fire, in the can, with the lid unopened. This process was met with mutterings from me and Simon of ‘Kev? Errrrr…Don’t you think that’s going to like… errrr… expl…’ The final word was punctuated and ended abruptly by the sound of the beans can spreading its contents across all of our bodies and me ducking to avoid the suddenly deadly, high speed can lid. After this incident I decided if another such life threatening event occurred I may actually die, and so I went to the tent to get ready for bed, leaving Simon to watch the fire die down with the others.
It was whilst I was getting changed that I heard a sudden clamour outside, and so I threw my pants on quickly and ran outside to see what was going on. As I came out of the tent I saw Kev staggering towards the campsite carrying Chaz (who had gone down to the loch earlier to wash some plates). I could see Chaz had several slashes across his body and blood all over his face and t-shirt but it was hard to tell how badly he was hurt in the dim light that was left of that day. Kev brought him up to us stammering and telling us that he had found Chaz in the bushes near the castle. I immediately didn’t take this in at all (always the best course of action) and told them to put him in the recovery position as I got my torch, I was thinking that he had slipped on the rocks at the shore of the loch and somehow managed to land on all the sharpest ones at once. When I got my torch I shone it on him and began to suspect something as Kev was waving his torch around rather dramatically at this point, not helping us to see Chaz at all. He then said he was going to go and try and find the instructors who were camping inside the castle grounds and get help. When he had gone I had a closer look at Chaz and began slowly to realise that although there was lots of blood on him, there was actually no wounds at all, but I still believe he could have been injured somewhere else. Chaz then started to groan slightly and twitch, and I repeated to the others to put him in the recovery position (as last time I said this Kev had said not to move him as he could be badly hurt), but they all seemed stunned and somehow unable to move themselves. We then heard a rustling in the nearby bushes, and out popped a monster from the bushes with huge fangs and hair all over its face, wearing a t-shirt and trousers. This monster was Kev with a mask on. Realising how stupid we had been we all started laughing and realised that the whole thing was another of Chaz & Kev’s practical jokes and that my suspicions about Chaz not being wounded were in-fact true.
That night, after all the excitement and subsequent exhaustion, I had a relatively good sleep as there was little wind and the site we had pitched the tent on was quite soft and clear of roots, mole hills, stones and land mines.
I woke up the next morning feeling refreshed and ready to embark on the second day, however I felt sad that we had to leave our castle behind, although carrying it with us would have been a considerable feat.
The previous day I and Simon had seen another, larger group of canoeists set up camp on the shore across from our island, and had joked about how we could canoe silently across, stealthily sneak around them and steal their canoes, and then take the canoes to our island, forcing the completely innocent group to have to swim across the lake to our island when they had eventually realised where their canoes were, which we had decided would be in plain view… on the very top of the castle, just to be awkward (we come up with many of these plans, but fortunately for a lot of people, mostly being completely innocent, never carry them out). As we canoed past this group, still in their tents, we laughed about this and there was a definite good feeling about the second day.
As we paddled along we saw a group of fishing boats close to the shore in the distance, in an effort not to be garrotted by the fishing lines, the majority of us started to paddle out to the middle of the loch to go around them, here began Mo’s second (major) act of stupidity, he proceeded, now steering his canoe, to ignore all of our calls and paddle directly towards the fishing boats, and as they began to yell and point frantically at the fishing lines, he carried on, turning only slightly to avoid a head on collision with the completely stationary fishing boat, he managed to avoid the lines purely because he was so close to the fishing boat that they went over his head, lucky for poor Adam who would have been the one beheaded.
The rest of us watched in embarrassment as this happened as we had attempted to cause as little disturbance as possible, even turning off the music until the boats were out of sight. When Mohannad was finally completely clear of the lines, we waved an apology to the fishers who looked like, if they had a gun, they would without a doubt have used it to not shoot Mohannad directly, but make sure his boat sank and he couldn’t swim, so great was their apparent annoyance.
We continued on paddling in a hope to get as far away as possible before we were all subjected to severe fishing rod attack, thanks to Mo’s amazing ability to make every situation difficult. After a relatively long but relaxed stretch of the journey, we got to another one of our scheduled stops, at Ani Inbhir (yes, we can pick all the good places to stop where you have to take 5 hours to work out the name) and Chaz and Kev once again brought out the Trangias and began to cook another of their meals from their seemingly bottomless bag of food, although the sheer humongous bulk of this bag could be seen from miles around (which was all the more amazing as it was an actually separate bag dedicated purely to food). At this particular stop Simon and I decided to indulge in a spot of fencing… with sticks (it would seem more logical to build a fence with sticks… but no, I am talking about the sword fighting kind of fencing as we didn’t particularly need to lock Mohannad up just yet… that’s a lie) We battled around the beach for a while and then up a hill where we finally got bored and sat down on a rather comfortable tree stump, here we took out our diner for that day which was, for me, the now standard expedition diner consisting of tortillas with tuna filling, which, for some odd reason, only tastes nice on a Duke of Edinburgh expedition.
The next section of the expedition all seemed to be a conglomerate mass of random events and sights, so pretty much the same as the rest of the expedition. We paddled along with only a few stops at some select beaches along the way, including some more unpronounceable names such as Sori Ho (a rather risky name) and Eilean An T-Sagai (obviously referring to two people, one being Eilean, and the other simply being rather old and wrinkly), to ensure Kev didn’t pass out from hunger. As we paddled along I developed my eating skills, managing to devour 3 penguin biscuits without using my hands, a skill which I am still quite proud of, showing my incredible dearth in actual useful skills. After the second stop of this stretch I allowed Simon to take over the steering of the boat as I felt that he must have been rather tired after paddling strongly throughout the whole of the expedition so far. At first his steering was slightly precarious, and we nearly crashed into the shore on a number of occasions, but every time he was able to prevent this from happening.
During this time we developed a rather unambiguous method of indicating the direction in which we needed to turn by shouting every single phrase in a kind of improvised German cobbled together by adding ‘Ge’ and ‘en’ to the front and end of every direction. This quite possibly resulted in the majority of the incorrect turnings we made from this point on, and as we were heading towards the shore on these numerous occasions we began a frantic clamour of ‘GETURNEN! GEPANICEN! GENOTTHERIGHTDIRECTION… EN!’
This madness continued until two more stops on when Simon and I switched back positions again, and I don’t think we even stopped completely even then, possibly much to the despair of Andy. If he was affected by this though he didn’t voice his concerns, and so we continued, but toned it down slightly so we didn’t both tire ourselves out and also risk certain death by paddle.
We carried on, beginning to slow slightly at this point due to tiredness, but making a few stops along the way. Soon enough we could see the group of islands ahead of us, known as the Black Islands, that would be where our final campsite of the expedition would be established, and a welcome sight these islands were as the weather had begun to get slightly darker and colder just before we had crossed the lake from the shore we had been following to the other side. We managed to make it to our second campsite on one of the islands in the middle of this cluster, and we could feel the wind dying down as it was blocked by the others in this sheltered spot, which was a relief as it had been making it rather cold and tiresome.
We landed on one of the innermost islands and got out of our canoes and began to walk around the island to find a good place to set up camp. We walked around this island for a while and I enjoyed this very much as it was completely deserted but there was a graveyard in the middle of it on a hill with a rather ornate gravestone on the top of it surrounded by fencing. This gave my imagination fuel to run wild and I imagined all sorts of reasons for this graveyard to be there, like a solitary tribe that used to live on the island and eventually died out leaving nothing but this, or the island was possibly a burial ground for wealthy and important people in the area. This kept me amused for quite a while as we continued to explore, coming across deer as well as other animals which made it all the more pleasant to walk around and relax.
Unfortunately it was looking unlikely that we would be staying here as there was nowhere to put the tents up that wasn’t either on a hill or covered in numerous solid objects that would make sleep impossible. After walking around one last time we decided to abandon it and go for another island. We paddled to one of the other surrounding islands that was slightly less sheltered but still fairly unaffected by the wind, here we discovered a decent flat patch of springy grass on the far side of the island and decided this is where we would set up camp. As we had already landed our boats further round the coast, and there was a good jetty to tie them up to right next to the campsite, we decided to go and paddle them around to this to save carrying the bags all the way to the camp.
Once the canoes were safely secured we began unpacking for what would be the last night of camping, Kev and Chaz got a fire going and we were joined on the island by the instructors who came and had a chat with us for a bit whilst we were getting set up. Once the fire was going we burnt what rubbish we could on it to save having to carry it with us any further.
Simon and I then began to set up our tent and put out things inside it to hopefully at least slightly guard them from the practical jokes of Chaz and Kev. Unfortunately as I took out my shoes and some other things that weren’t inside another plastic bag in the dry bag, I began to realise that they were damp, and thought that the dry bag must have leaked and praised myself for double bagging my sleeping bag and spare clothes. I then noticed there was a rather strong smell of meths in the air, and I sniffed at my shoe to realise this is where it was coming from, I then searched frantically through my bag and found the Trangia fuel bottle in the bottom, slightly open. As there was still some sunlight I decided the best option would be to spread everything that was covered in meths out on the grass and allow it to dry as much as possible (holding it over the fire in this case, as Mo suggested, definitely wouldn’t have been the best option in my opinion, but who knows, maybe I’m just completely retarded).
After I had laid everything out neatly and placed some heavy objects on top of the light things to stop them blowing away (and Simon had worried me by sniffing my meths soaked shoes quite excessively), Simon and I went off to gather some more fire wood as requested by Chaz (although we suspected this may have been a plot to get us away from our tent). Surely enough when we got back my dry kag was missing and our tent had been opened. I decided now would be a good time to retaliate, and so with Simon creating a distraction, I crept up to Chaz’s pile of belongings and managed to get away with his sunglasses. Luckily for him, as I was returning to my tent with them, I was confronted by Andy, who up until this point hadn’t given me a reason to like him after the lack of paddling, he then told me that he was sorry for how the others were acting and that my kag was in the porch of his tent.
With this new knowledge, I approached the tent whilst Chaz wasn’t looking and crouched down behind the porch section, then (in a very James Bondesque style) pulled out the dry kag and threw it across the campsite so that it was out of view behind my tent. I then calmly stood up and walked off to the fire to go and warm up and have something to eat, safe in the belief that whilst Chaz still believed he had my dry kag, he wouldn’t try to take anything else belonging to me. After we had all had our tea and finished tidying up the mess we had left, we all went to bed and mine and Simon’s tent was, luckily, free from meths fumes by this point, meaning that we could sleep easily without the fear of choking to death, such was the strength of the smell before (I believe the smell did actually help us to drift off though, and also the insects seemed to take a wide route around our tent, keeping it free of midges at least, which was definitely a plus).
The next morning we all woke up (despite the fumes) and were decidedly ready to finish our expedition. We packed up all the tents and equipment as usual after we had cooked our breakfast, and then got into the canoes for the last time and set off.
The first part of the last day was relatively simple, and involved us canoeing across to the east shore once again and following this until the loch began to widen further. From this point we could then see the distant shore of the loch where a very small red minibus was parked.
We decided it would be safe enough at this point for us to cut the corner and paddle straight for the mini bus, which was parked at our finish point at Coille Leitire, heading slightly above it as the current was quite strong, aided by the strongest winds we had experienced on the expedition so far. It was on this stretch that finally Simon and I began to develop some friction between ourselves, possibly due to the tiredness, the fact that we were both annoyed at Andy still, the stress from being wound up by the relentless attacks on us and our property by Chaz and Kev, and also the constant annoyance of Mo in the background of all this. This came to a breaking point when I began to blame him for not being able to steer the boat properly, which wasn’t his fault at all and was, in-fact, simply because I was trying to turn it into a rather hefty oncoming barrage of waves and wind, which were continually hitting me in the face and almost coming over the side of the boat. He then retaliated by shouting at me for not going the right way, to which I replied with verbally attacking him for splashing me. All of this was absolutely ridiculous as none of it was any of our faults, and I was actually splashing myself more than he was splashing me.
Andy then butted in and managed to defuse this situation by calling us both a bunch of 5 year olds and pointing out that we were all tired, for this I developed a greater sense of respect for him, and coupled with the help he had given me with getting my dry kag back, began to think that maybe he wasn’t such a bad guy after all. We then carried on paddling in silence for a while until we were almost at the shore where the ever increasing in size mini bus was situated; I then asked Simon if he could help me turn the canoe into the beach we were supposed to be landing at, as we had been pushed off course slightly and were currently about to try and land on a vertical wall, which isn’t always the best of places to try and land a canoe.
Simon managed to help me correct this minor problem greatly and then we all paddled with all the energy we had left to counteract the current and beach the canoe in a positively horizontal position, rather than hit a wall, break off the nose, and sink, which would have been a bit of a bummer after 25 miles of near flawless paddling. Simon then jumped out of the boat and dragged it further onto the beach allowing Andy and myself to get out without the canoe drifting off.
After we had our feet safely back on dry land we sat down on the boats for a second to recover, and I took this opportunity to share the twirl bar, which I had been saving throughout the expedition, between me and Simon. This had acted as a great incentive for me to carry on and I hoped it would act as a kind of apology to Simon for shouting at him before in my temper.
When we had all recovered we began to carry the boats through the few, but dense trees in-between this beach and the road and then up the steep embankment. We then left them at the side of the road until they were all up from the beach, and carried them across the road to where the mini bus was parked with the trailer. This was fairly difficult as we were all tired but we all managed it effectively, and eager to finish the expedition properly we hoisted the boats onto the trailer and helped to secure them in place.
Finally happy that we had completed the expedition successfully, we got into the mini bus and waited for our return home to begin, some of us falling asleep almost as soon as we got in, and the rest of us eating what we had left over, and me and Simon deciding it would be a good idea at this point to drink the hot chocolate powder we had not used (when I say drink I don’t mean we made hot chocolate, we just drank the powder, which is a very odd sensation and we discovered you definitely shouldn’t breathe in whilst doing this, as you begin to choke on the powder, and therefore cough, and so spray powder out from not only your mouth, but also rather oddly your nostrils).
When we finally stopped suffocating on the powder we settled down for the long journey home, which would seem short and far less interesting compared to our expedition.
Thanks for reading.
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