With a very long and hard day in front of us and an anticipated walk of nine hours and twenty six kilometres, we woke before six for breakfast. We had previously arranged an early breakfast and our host was only too pleased to accommodate our request. Breakfast was laid out in the owners kitchen and naturally we consumed almost everything that had been laid out for us and also made sandwiches to take us through the day.
By 6.30am we were out of the door and straight away were climbing a very steep track, fortunately after what seemed an age the path levelled out to a more manageable one as we snaked our way up the mountain. By mid morning we had reached an opportunity for a coffee stop but as this meant a detour off our path and extra time and distance, with heavy hearts we declined the opportunity. By mid morning we had completed a third of our climb and after another steep section we decided enough was enough and pit stop was needed. We sat on our own respective boulder and fed our faces with jam butties.......
After a good twenty minutes we set off again. The weather forecast was for rain and cloud and by now this had come true but fortunately it was only very fine drizzle and not enough to put waterproofs on, something that neither of us wanted to do.
We continued to climb with the views around us becoming increasingly different and varied almost at every turn of the path. Passing a small weekend house/hut in the middle of nowhere the owner popped his head out of the door and asked if we were Francigena, again we said yes. A conversation ensued but in English and we were surprised to learn that the walk to Rome is becoming more popular with around ten Pilgrims a week now passing by. We were wished Bon Journey and carried on, once more the weather treated us to a quick wash but again we resisted putting waterproofs on because of the humid conditions.
Our journey up the mountain was progressing well and we were ahead of schedule so after reaching the top of a reservoir we made our way to the stream feeding it and had our lunch. This time dining on boiled egg sandwiches I had cooked the day before and cheese also left over......,a feast fit for a king! With mountains almost all around us with the occasional dusting of snow in corners that are missed by the sun, it was hard to start walking again.....but needs must.
We were less than six kilometres away but with a significant amount of climbing over a short distance in store, so we pressed on. Once more we were soon ascending a very steep track. Just before the summit the weather closed in and the clouds descended onto our heads. In misty, gloomy by now rainy weather, waterproofs were a necessity and once adorned we made the decision that the last two kilometres we would complete on the road. After less than an hour we reached the summit and a very welcome sign that were had reached the top of the St Bernard's pass. Needless to say after a quick photograph it was straight to the cafe to celebrate with a beer.
Once our drinks had been quaffed we completed the final two minutes walk to the monastery of St Bernard, Bert did ask if there was a taxi available! We were greeted with open arms by Brother Frederick and once we had dispensed with our wet outer clothes and footwear and adorned ourselves with obligatory free crock shoes we went for hot drinks.
The evening continued to be an eventful and moving experience. After visiting the museum and the local St Bernard dogs, all looking happy and content and absolutely cuddly, I went to set up my bed for the night. Once more we bumped into our fellow Pilgrims, were they following us or we were following them?
At 6.15pm we all descended into the crypt for Vespers and another different way of delivering the service followed. All the monks were very animated in there expression and delivery of the service and once more it was very personable. There were many references to Pilgrims and their journey. And as there were many Explorer Scouts present, one of them read one of the readings.
It is one place that I will definitely return to and if you are in the area I would truly recommend experiencing it.
Once Vespers was over we all headed to the dining area for the evening meal, a simple three course affair but perfect energy food. There were a lot of visitors to the abbey and the dining room was full. Tonight we were to have the pleasure of our fellow Pilgrims company and tales of our walk experiences before retiring for the night early.