Ringland - A White Christmas

Old Oak
Location: The picturesque village of Ringland is 3 miles west of Taverham on the A1067 out of Norwich. This is a pleasant 2 mile circular walk with extensive views of the Wensum Valley, and its birdlife. Oh yes and you may come into close contact with livestock and deer en route.

Being only a few minutes from home I often enjoy a quiet leisurely stroll here, and always try to see in, each of the seasons here. A covering of snow is always attractive

Farm Bridge over drainage channel (into R. Wensum)

but equally so are the fields of red poppies in June and yellow sunflowers in August. Alternatively, being on the flood plain, the fields often take on a more dramatic air after the January rain.

 the flooded drainage channels after heavy winter rainfall
However, today I was here to experience the snow and hopefully take a few photographs.

Vision: On this walk I'm always on the lookout, either for good seasonal pictures, or for pictures of the wild life - usually the swans or heron on the banks of the Wensum or in the pools that form in the meadows.
I always spend a lot of time exploring the angles around the bridge and drainage channel, and I did hope that I'd get some good reflections in the water - I dont think I was that successful.

Winter grazing
 When I saw the sheep I hoped to get some low angle shots of them grazing - and with such good light I was hoping to get very deep depth of field. Unfortunately, despite spending a lot of time letting them get used to my presence they were still very skittish and so that idea came to nothing.

As for the swans they kept their distance, and kept to private land, so my angles were quite restricted. I only got the one shot (below) - and I'm not very impressed.
Swans grazing by the R. Wensum
That leaves the chance shot of the woodpecker (below) and the seasonal shot of the oak tree. Well the woodpecker was just a very, very lucky shot - no vision or planning - he was there one second and gone the next. There were lots of opportunities to shoot the proverbial Robin Christmas scene - but hell it's been done to death so I didnt bother. There was also one opportunity to shoot the two swans above flying low across the meadow - unfortunately I was in conversation with another walker and missed the shot, despite being warned by the whoosing sound of them taking off - it doesnt pay to be sociable.   

Green Woodpecker - a frequent ground feeder
The Vision, for the Oak Tree was to capture that 'cats cradle' of branches reaching to the sky to catch the snow in its wrinkled old bark. I wanted to catch the golden glow of the sun casting shadows on the bark and to convey the enormous strength of the old tree. But most of all I wanted to capture that 'smell' of a crisp cold very fresh winters day. I had no idea how to do that - luck, or maybe some post processing in NX2?  

Technique (Oak Tree): This was a tall tree and I wanted it all to be in sharp focus, from top to bottom so I set the aperture to F/16. I wanted, if possible to capture some texture in the snow and to emphasise the golden glow of the sun so I used a polarizing filter to reduce reflections and increase saturation. Unfortunately I had to take off the lens hood to rotate the filter - I neglected to put it back on. This was a mistake that allowed flare from the sun to create a gradient from bottom right to top left, in the blue sky, that I had to try to adjust in post processing. It didnt quite work and you can still see that the bottom right is a much lighter blue than the sky in the top left.

Camera Work: Nikon D80, RAW(12 bit), focal length: 36mm, exposure: F/16 at 1/30 sec. ISO(Auto) 125.

Post Capture Processing: In Nikon Capture NX2
Camera Settings>Picture Control>Landscape, Sharpening increased to 8, Brightness reduced to -1
Quick Fix: exposure reduced -0.66ev, highlight protection 25%, shadow protection 52%, applied a shallow S curve.
Adjustments: set black and white control points, then applied 2 contrast/brightness layers each with gradient selections from top left to bottom right, and bottom right to top left resp. and brightness increased 68% and reduced 7% resp. The adjustment to brightness was an attempt to reduce the effect of glare from the sun at bottom right.


Map created by EveryTrail:GPS Geotagging

Holkham Bay

From Wells Next-the-Sea to Burnham Overy Staithe

I've spent so much time walking, exploring, relaxing and taking photo's around Holkham Bay that today I felt that a blog devoted to all I've learned and enjoyed about the area, was long overdue. So here goes......

A Changing Landscape
From Burnham Overy to Wells-next-the-Sea, the present day low lying marshes and pasture used to be tidal salt marshes, separating off shore shingle and dune ridges from the main coastline.

The earliest evidence of mans intrusion on the Holkham Bay landscape is Holkham Fort near Bones Drove, which dates back to around AD47 and is the remains of an Iceni settlement.
Holkham Fort from the air (looking North, towards the sea)
not much to see now, just raised earth banks around the two ponds
This is one of only five or six earthwork forts or ‘hill forts’ in Norfolk known to have been built by the local Iron Age warrior tribes. (Another site is close by at Warham – South East of Wells).
The traditional interpretation of these sites is that they were heavily defended tribal centres, either occupied permanently or at times of unrest. They may also have been ceremonial centres. Whatever their purpose, an immense amount of work was involved in their construction, with ditches up to four meters deep and with banks of similar height. On top of the banks were wooden walkways and palisades, making quite formidable fortifications.

an artists reconstruction - looking south, inland
The Holkham fort was constructed with double banks and ditch in a very defendable position, on an old sand spit, with the sea and salt marsh on three sides.

It's thought that warriors from this tribe fought with Queen Boadicea against the Romans. After the failure of the revolt the Roman legions slaughtered or enslaved most of the Iceni and forced the few survivors to abandon their tribal ways and live in a Roman style planned town. The under populated countryside became very attractive to Germanic migrants, in particular the East Angles, who would later settle the area and expel any of the remaining Icenian Britons. The provincial capital under Roman occupation was Venta Icenorum (present day Caister St Edmunds). A Roman Road runs along the west side of the present day Holkham Estate.

Later in Anglo Saxon times, legend has it that the Vikings sailed up a creek through the salt marshes and built a fort at a bleak place they called Holkham (‘ship town’ in Danish).

There is another theory that the name Holkham derives from hoelig ‘holy’ –ham ‘village’ in honour of Saint Withburga who was brought up at Holkham before moving to nearby Dereham to build a convent. She is commemorated in the church on the grounds of the Holkham Estate, (built over a much earlier Anglo Saxon structure).

Part of 19th Century Holkham Bay
From Iceni to the 1500’s the high tide line would have been roughly where the coast road is today. The tidal creeks were large enough to allow ships to load cargo from a Staithe at Holkham Village, (still present in the early 19th Century – see map above). By the 1500’s the channels had silted considerably, but small fishing vessels were still able to use the Staithe.

From 1639 onwards, local landowners, including the Cokes of Holkham, constructed a series of embankments in order to reclaim the salt marsh from the sea. Reclamation began at Burnham Overy in 1639 and was completed 220 years later in 1859 with the construction of the Wells sea wall. In that time about 800 hectares of salt marsh was converted to agricultural use.

In the late 19th century the 3rd Earl of Leicester started planting Pine trees on the dunes (Holkham Meals), creating a shelter-belt to protect the reclaimed farmland from wind blown sand.
1921 Ordnance Survey map of Holkham Bay showing the railway line and Holkham Station
In 1864, despite opposition from the Earl of Leicester, a railway line and station was constructed that ran across the reclaimed agricultural land. The station was very small, equipped with a single platform and no goods facilities. It was approached from the coast road and down Lady Anne’s Drive. There was a level crossing across Lady Anne’s Drive which was controlled by a wooden signal box.

During WWII the railways strategic coastal location meant that it provided a natural rampart behind which a potential beach invasion could be repelled. For this reason a line of pillboxes was constructed along the railway line.

The line was eventually closed to passengers in 1952 due to falling passenger numbers, but a freight service continued until the North Sea floods of 1953. The floods badly damaged the section between Holkham and Wells, damage which British Rail judged not worth repairing.

The station buildings have since been demolished, and the track bed to the west of the station converted to a farm track. However, visitors to Holkham Bay who park along Lady Anne’s Drive, will notice the “speed hump”, all that remains of the track bed and station, as they speed down the drive towards Holkham Gap.

Present day Holkham Bay.... but for how long?
Today, the broad band of level farmland between the pine ridge and the coast road that was reclaimed in the 18th and 19th centuries is slowly being given back. Until the 1940s this was a sweep of pasture for grazing sheep and cattle, but in the Second World War some areas were ploughed for arable crops. Modern farming methods meant that the water table of the whole marsh was gradually lowered. The old grazing marshes dried out and became much more productive for winter cereals, but were far less attractive for wildlife. However, in recent years things have changed again. In partnership with the Holkham Estate and its tenants a system of dams and water control points has been introduced to raise water levels. This in turn has brought back the wildlife.

Nature moves on; Thomas Coke, the great agricultural pioneer who put so much effort into reclaiming the marshes, would hardly recognise the place. Perhaps in another 50 years it will have been restored to something more familiar to him?

At the eastern end of Holkham Bay lies Wells-next-the-sea.

Rising tide in the Harbour - Favor Parkers Granary dominates the quayside
In the late 16th Century, Wells (as it was then known) was the major port for the area, with up to 19 ships trading corn. It’s status as a port carried on well into the early 20th Century. The stone quay side was constructed in the early 1900s as were many of the large building including the prominent Granary and loading gantry (built in 1903). The Granary has now been turned into luxury flats with a Quayside view.

the beautiful Dutch clipper, The Albatross, floating restaurant and occasional charter boat
The Albatros which now resides in Wells-next-the-sea, is a 100+ year old Dutch clipper, built in Rotterdam in 1899.

The beautiful ship was built for Johannes Muller from Middelharnis, Holland where she remained until being sold to Denmark in 1918.

It is belived her owner at this time, and through to the Second World War was a Captain Rasmussen, who used The Albatros as a cargo ship, exporting grain from Denmark to Sweden and even assisted Jewish refugees with their escape from Nazi Germany and delivered weapons to the Danish Resistance.

In 1983 Tonn Brouwer purchased the ship and she has since been fully restored.

From 1990-1996, she was used to carry Soya beans from Belgium to Wells-next-the-sea for a Norfolk agricultural merchant.

In more recent years The Albatros has been used by Greenpeace as an environmental study centre for schoolchildren, and she has now returned to Wells-next-the-sea where she resides on an almost permanent basis.

Curlew feeding below the footpath alongside 'the channel' to Wells quay
The mouth of the Wells Channel and parts of the eastern shore are muddy and beneath the grey surface there are hidden hordes of lugworms and cockles - perfect food for wading birds with long beaks such as curlews and oystercatchers.

I've got my eyes on you - a Common (Harbor) Seal in 'The Run' at low tide
Although there are frequent boat trips from Wells Quay to see the seals, there seems little point when you can watch them for free on Wells beach. This fellah was having a great time showing off – swimming deep and ‘jumping’ out of the water to dive – more like a dolphin than a typical seal. A bull seal later swam up to him and sent him off with a flea in his ear for disturbing the peace. Young hooligan!

Locked Up for the Winter - on a sunny but cold December afternoon
Wells Beach Huts are almost unique – unlike the vast majority of beach huts that are situated on council land, these form part of the private Holkham estate, and their owners have traditionally been given a freer rein to exercise their creativity.

They are built directly on the beach at the base of the dunes and just above the high water line. Being at the mercy of the tides they have to perch on stilts.

Those without stilts might prove difficult to find when summer arrives.
Walking west ,past the beach huts, along the edge of the wooded dunes, you will eventually arrive at Holkham Gap.
Holkham Gap
At Holkham a surfaced track, called Lady Ann's Drive, leads to a point near the beach; where after a short walk a vast panorama comes into view. A sweeping beach, so flat that it looks as though its been rolled, is bordered by Pine trees that grow to the edge of grassy dunes of soft golden sand. That is Holkham Gap.

a vast panorama

bordered by Pinewoods that grow down to the edge of grassy dunes

grassy dunes of soft golden sand
If you choose to walk directly to the beach there is a long strip of compacted mud and several small tidal streams that have to be negotiated first.

mud flat and tidal stream are covered in sea-lavender in the summer months 

I always prefer to turn left and walk west for a short way, along the dune edges, (towards Burnham Overy), before turning to walk over soft sand to the sea. Once on the seashore you can walk for miles, swim, soak up the sun or shout, sing, play ball games - you won't need to worry about disturbing, or being disturbed by, another soul. The vast open space is just so liberating. 

Alone at last (in a Holkham Watercolour)
Paddling,in the polished siver sheen
Of a washed out blue, watercolour scene,
We're now content in this grainy light
To see the dunes are almost out of sight.
Soon they'll be merged with sea and sky
And be invisible to the naked eye.

The gloomy clouds are massed
To cloak the land in ghostly shrouds.
The North wind swells and casts
The ocean waves, and sombre clouds
Surging, to frothy shore.
While fearful folk run from the bay,
John with his Labradore
Runs out, to meet the storm, and play.

The beach is an enormous playground an home to activities like:

- Kite Flying

- Horse riding
- Contemplation, Photography and Cloud Watching
There is a better sky.
A secret from the crowds.,
No fear of falling here
While drifting with the clouds.
But as the ripples dance
Across my Mirror Pool,
The clouds are stolen by the wind.
Goodbye, my summer jewel.

- Singing, Dancing and having fun
Not to mention: Kite-boarding, Cycling, Walking, Swimming, Sun-worship (incl. naturism), sailing, Bird watching, etc., etc.. Clearly there is something for everyone. But for me its the space, the sky and the endless photo opportunities at all times of the year.

In the summer, when the sun gets to be too much - head inland to the pinewoods. THE SILENCE of the pinewoods comes as a surprise after a walk along the shore. The cushion of needles absorbs every footfall and the high canopy keeps away the wind (and sun). So the scurry of a grey squirrel, the drumming of woodpeckers, or the cone-tearing activity of a flock of crossbills can sound like a riot. (Early morning at the Wells side of the wood you will be unlucky if you don't hear, and catch a fleeting glimpse of the Munjac deer that have taken up residence in the wood). 

Three kinds of pines grow in the woods, Corsican (grey trunk, small cones), Scots (orange upper trunk) and maritime (large cones in tree-top clusters). The dense shade and thick carpet of needles make life difficult for most other plants but there are a few specialities, such as the pretty little creeping lady's-tresses orchid and yellow birds nest.

The high canopy keeps away the wind and sun
Where the canopy lets in a little more light there are patches of bramble, privet and honeysuckle, and on the wood-edge there are even some Holm oaks planted along with the pine trees, by the 3rd Earl of Leicester who brought them over from Holkham Park where they had grown since being imported from the Mediterranean in the 18th Century. 

On the landward side of the pinewood - dabchick can usually be seen here (and at Holkham Park)
On its landward side the ribbon of pines is edged by deciduous scrub, a priceless asset to the nature reserve. In summer the birches and brambles provide nest sites and feeding areas for breeding warblers such as lesser whitethroat, blackcap and willow warbler. In autumn this is the place to look for Siberian waifs like yellow-browed and Pallas' warblers - tiny vagrants well adrift from their usual migration routes.

Keep walking west towards Burnham Overy (either along the beech or through the woods) and you eventually have no option but to walk inland, on the Burnham Overy Bank. The embankment forms part of those original sea defenses, begun at Burnham Overy in 1639, designed to help reclain the Overy and Holkham marshes. Walking along the top of the bank provides wonderful views of the mudflats and multitude of wading birds that feed there. Continuing along the bank you eventually arrive at the scenic Burnham Overy Staithe.

Burnham Overy Bank Sluice

Burnham Overy Staithe (Nelson Country)
Nelson was born a couple of miles away in Burnham Thorpe, in 1758, but it's believed that Nelson learned to row and sail a dinghy here at the age of 10, two years before joining the Navy.

Ships Chandler at Burnham Overy Staithe
While Nelson never lived in the village, the village did have one notable resident - Richard Woodget, Captain of the Cutty Sark - he lived in Burnham Overy Staithe from 1899 - 1926,  following his retirement from the sea. He died 6 March 1928 and was buried at nearby Burnham Norton Church.

Richard Woodget was appointed Captain of the Cutty Sark in 1885. On his first voyage in command, the ship sailed from England to Sydney in 77 days and returned in 73 days - this was the start of 10 years domination by Cutty Sark in the wool trade.
Low Tide - boats moored at Burnham Overy Staithe
Burnham Overy Staithe is now a popular centre for sailing and boating of all types, with a regular summer ferry service to the nearby Scolt Head Island at the western side of Holkham Bay.

Grey Seal Pup's at Horsey

It's time to plan another trip out to Horsey. The beach is the home for dozens of grey seal pup's from late November to early January.

While wildlife photography is not really my thing I can't help but be amused by the antics of some of the older seal pup's that litter the dunes. They make their way up from the cordoned off beach onto the path through the dunes - as if to check out the curious humans that parade up and down. The seals park themselves on the path blocking the way until they've had their pictures taken, (what posers they are). Then after letting out a grumpy bark, they waddle, like over-inflated lilo's, out of your way - as if to say: "move on, I'm bored now, and there are other people waiting to take my picture".

This angelic fellow was the most gregarious (and grumpiest) pup I encountered.  

Technique: I didn't want to disturb the pup's so I kept my distance and used my 18-200mm lens to zoom in as much as I could. Apart from that it was more a matter of waiting for the pups to strike a pose rather than trying to compose the perfect shot. More a case of being patient and taking snapshots - no technique to speak of.

Camera Work: Nikon D80, Raw(21 bit), Focal Length 200mm, Exposure: 1/250 sec. at F/5.6 ISO 400

Post Capture: In Nikon Capture NX2
  • increased Sharpening from (in Camera) Normal to High
  • increased Saturation/Warmth to 75% & 15% resp.
Location & GPS track: An excellent walk that takes in the seals and typical Norfolk Broads scenery, such as that below, can be downloaded, or viewed on Google Earth, from my EveryTrail collection of walks,

see Brograve Pump on the walk
 by following the link: Horsey at EveryTrail

Map created by EveryTrail: GPS Community

Autumn Colour

Autumn is here and its time to exploit the most wonderful woodland sights of Norfolk. That is, if I'm not too late - the recent gales have left most of the trees virtually naked! Not that I really care, as what I've always loved about the Autumn is the leaf litter, the sound of dry leaves rustling under my feet and the musty smell of mushrooms - if I'm lucky I'll find a couple of fresh "Penny Bun's" to pick (Porcini), for a feast when I get home - there are plenty but they're difficult to spot among the leaf litter.

Felbrig's famous ancient Beeches
(many have love letters carved on them by soldiers to their sweethearts before leaving for the Great War)
Location(1): Felbrigg Great Wood
I decided that my best bet, for some good autumnal photos (and Porcini), would be to visit Felbrigg's Great Wood. It's 520 acres contain some really magnificent ancient Beeches that have a strangely meloncholic atmosphere about them.

An avenue of 'younger' trees
Although the wood has always been managed, after the 1987 hurricane, activity accelerated and much of the wood has since been thinned - for safety reasons. The avenue above used to be bordered by a dense growth of 'foriegn' Laurel trees. These were presumably cleared both to improve access to the rest of the wood and to let light onto the forest floor. A great improvement.

The leafless canopy is reflected in a leaf covered pool
The ground is always muddy - even in summer - and there are lots of pools like the one above, from which it's easy to get an alternative view of the canopy. In the summer when the canopy is thick, light cannot get through and reflections like this are rare.

Unfortunately many of the beeches are around 250years old and are dying or dead - making many dangerous.
Location(2): The Beeches, Blickling Park
Moving away from Felbrigg I decided to call in at Blickling to see if there was any foliage left on the beeches in the much smaller wood bordering the east side of the lake. If the wind died down I thought there might just be a chance of recording some autumn reflections in the lake. Huh, no such luck. In stead the weather turned and for much of my walk I had to take shelter from some quite violent showers.

There's not much shelter from the rain to be had here.

Even here the beeches are dying
Apparently beech live for barely 250 years, then die and fall to pieces suddenly. It stands to reason that all the giant beeches, that are now falling down (in both Felbrigg and Blickling), were the original trees planted when the estates were being landscaped. Looked at in that way these photographs are capturing a bit of history - the original giant beeches will not be with us for much longer!
Technique: I knew that the light would not be too good in the woods, so I decided that for once I was going to have to lug my tripod around with me. God I hate tripods - I love the results you get with them (sharp, noiseless images) - but they are so cumbersome and time consuming to set up. But given that they are such a nuisance they do encourage me to walk around a subject and examine every angle and possible composition, before setting up. I suppose it makes me look at a scene more closely - so it's not all bad.
And, since I was going to all that trouble with the tripod I determined to braket each of my shots - -1 ev, o, +1 ev - and if necessary (and if the composition justified the extra work), use them to create a HDR image using Photomatix.
I did contemplate using a polarising filter to help saturate the autumn colours, but in the end decided against the use of ANY filters. I would instead rely on post processing in Capture NX2.
Post Capture: In Capture NX2
Without exception, I was able to select the -1ev image from the bracketed shots fo rpost processing. Thankfully it wasn't neccessary to create HDR images so the other shots were discarded (well I archived them - I can't ever bring myself to destroy anything that might be useful at a later date).
My workflow:
  • change from Non-Picture Control to Picture Control (Landscape) and increase sharpening from 4 to 8
  • consider changes to the White Balance, i.e. from Recorded Value (Auto WB) to Daylight, Cloudy (6000K). My concern with changing WB was that this often gave the sky a warm tint - which was not what I wanted. Only the first of the photos above had its WB adjusted, and I'm still not sure that it was the correct thing to do. (Without the adjustment the image was colder and meloncholy - exactly the emotion I had, esp. after reading the soldiers carvings).
  • make any necessary crops
  • create a warm filter - (R=155,G=73,B=19) - by adding a colorize step (with overlay blending mode - this not only adds colour but increases contrast by darkening dark pixels and lightening light values, without clipping to pure white or black - the equivalent of applying an S shaped curve in Quick Fix) Then adjust the opacity slider.
  • Finally adjust curves, highlight & shadow protection. I found that either an inverted S curve was required to counter lightening of the sky caused by using the overlay blending mode OR use keep a straight line 'curve' and lower the top left slider to reduce the overall brightness of the image.
Location Maps:

and Blickling

The Great Wall of China

Location: The sections of the Great Wall closest to Beijing are JuYongGuan and BaDaLing. We visited JuYongGuan which has recently been restored and is quieter than the Badaling section (just a short distance further north). I was initially grateful for having come to this part of the wall however it soon dawned on me that all vestiges of antiquity had been removed by the recent 'restoration'. Furthermore the towers had been spoilt by stallholders hanging their goods from the walls. The whole section had been spoilt by commerce and the overweight tourists searching for souvenir fridge magnets and t-shirts. At least by arriving early (9:00am) we had managed to beat the worst of the crowds. But photographically this is NOT one of the great wonders of the world. From the map below you will see that I chose to explore the western section (on the advice of our guide!) but once up there it became clear that the eastern section is far superior.

The much quiter and less commerial Eastern section
But if at all possible take the expressway further north to the much more extensive section at Badaling or The Huanghua Cheng section that is far less developed.

The more extensive Badaling section in the distance.
We had 2 1/2 hours to climb to the highest point and return to the coach. I wasn't quite prepared for just how steep the climb was - it's no exaggeration to say that some sections were close to vertical!

 It took me 50 mins to get to the top- where the wall ended abruptly, with no evidence of it ever going beyond that point. (Obviously a spur off the main wall)? It then took 30 mins to descend and another 15 mins to barge my way through the main tourist shopping area, cross the bridge over the expressway and start the climb up the opposite (eastern) side of this section of the wall.

Keeping an eye on the clock I didn't get very far before I had to turn back for the coach.

Post Capture: In Nikon Capture NX2
For all photos - I switched to Picture Control (Landscape) and re-set sharpening and brightness to 8 and -1 resp. Then apart from minor tweeks to curves and straightening and cropping I made no other adjustments. For once exposure was spot on. 

Xian - Dinner at the Tang Dynasty Theatre Restaurant

Location: Xian Tang Dynasty Theatre Resaurant
Well how do you beat a spectacle like the Terracotta Warriors? You can't, but dinner at the Tang Dynasty Theatre restaurant was the perfect way to round off a truly wonderous day,
It's a place to relax, enjoy a fine meal and delight in an exciting non-stop show of cultural beauty! I enjoyed every bit of it. The girls even seemed to enjoy being photographed - I swear they posed especially for me.

Technique: Well, given the volume of wine I drank there wasn't much technique to talk of. I wasn't going to use flash - and the girls seemed to appreciate that, and rewarded me by looking straight into the lens - so I was again restricted to shooting at a speed of 1/30 sec. on Auto ISO. I just prayed that the noise levels would be acceptable - they turned out to be surprisingly good at ISO 400.

Post Capture: in Nikon Capture NX2
Exposure was surprisingly, perfect for all of my shots. So apart from cropping out the heads of people sat in front of me all I had to adjust was the White Balance - to compensate for all that stage lighting - which I did by manually setting the Gray Point on the first image above, and using (almost) the same settings for all the other images. The colours turned out well I think? 


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