Saturday, 15 October 2016

It's a dog's breakfast

Saturday 8th October 2016 – 20k

It's October 2016 and another year for Pilgrim walking which is long over due after having to go back to work for six months to earn enough money for this journey. 

This time I am adding the final stages to the long walk from Rievaulx Abbey in North Yorkshire, England – the St Bernard Way. This new Pilgrim walk follows the likely journey that the 12th century Cistercian monks would have walked to their mother abbey – Citeaux Abbey in Dijon to their General Chapter meeting, held once a year to discuss the affairs of their individual abbeys. In modern times the General Chapter meeting now takes place in Assisi. I am using poetic Pilgrim walkers licence and using parts of the Via Francigena trading route from the 7th century to Bolsena before heading north east to Assisi.

From Bolsena, originally an Etruscan and Roman settlement, my route followed the old streets and passageways to reach the castle overlooking lake Bolsena. From the piazza my route briefly retraced the Via Francigena before soon heading off the road to pick up the old Etruscan path. The weather was humid for me but for the locals it is their winter. Soon, as my journey climbed the hillside I was sweating like an old cart horse. I was unsure of the route to Orvieto, my intention was to retrace the ancient trackway but after making enquiries in the tourist office they had no idea about it. Now aren't tourist information centres supposed to know about their local area? I am fast assuming that this is not the case as this is not my first experience of non tourist information. In future I think that is how I will refer to them.

I was using a 1:50,000 Kompass map (German company) and a GPS, both of which provided little accurate information so I had also used satellite imagery to glean further information not provided by my other two sources. I was grateful that the route was marked as a public footpath and also as an Etruscan trail with a suitable marker depicting the latter. 

Soon the footpath signs disappeared and I was trusting to my own instincts and the visual interpretation of the land from the map. Whilst pouring over the map an elderly gentleman ambled my way and soon we were chatting and pointing the way to Orvieto, my instincts were right and I was heading the right way. As my footpath became a proper track I heard the frenetic barking of dogs and knew that I was potentially in trouble. I slowed down as the dogs burst out of a field charging at my ankles. I'd encountered this experience many times whilst walking through France and had learnt that the best course of action was to be calm and move slowly, not easy when you feel that you could be a dog's breakfast...

Eventually the dogs grew tired and ran back into the field and I carried on only to encounter another experience less than 1 kilometre further along the track. This time six dogs were with their rather overweight owner who breathlessly shouted at them, but they just ignored her. She motion me to continue which I did reluctantly, again for fear of being eaten alive once more. Slowly my distance increased from the frenzied dogs and I returned to the peace and solitude of the path.

At a footpath crossroad I ignored a footpath sign knowing the route I had planned was further ahead. I took that path which eventually took me to a main road. Something told me that I was not in the right place and after checking the map I realised I should have turned off onto a previous track. Never mind I thought, and decided to add a few extra kilometres and pressed on. I'd seen that there was a track that would get me back to the correct path but this turned out to go behind someone's house. I quietly approached the house for fear of more dogs but thankfully no one was home. 

Soon I was nearly on the right course and the final track to it meant another encounter with dogs but this time they were tethered in the middle of field. Don’t ask me why, it seems a stupid place given the heat of the afternoon. I decided to avoid the path and took a different one that initially ran parallel with it before eventually joining it. 

Two walkers came my way and we chatted about their path. It transpired they were walking the Etruscan path to Bolsena and mentioned there was a good coffee stop in Sugano. It was not on my initial planned route but on looking at the map it meant staying off a main road. Sugano turned out to be a sleepy village and totally by accident I circumnavigated the centre probably much to the amusement of the old lady who was sitting quietly in the sun. In a playground I found a shady spot and a bench to rest my feet. Soon my shoes and socks were off and the cool shady air was taking the heat out of my feet. After quenching my thirst and having something to eat I gazed lonely at the map hoping I was near to my destination but alas it was another 8km.

Walking in Italy is always interesting especially if you go off the main GR routes which are always in red on the map. Off piste one can never tell what eventualities will occur and today transpired to be no different. I had decided to walk the final leg to Orvieto almost as the crow flies – direct. I started off on what was a white road on the map which is often and untarmaced track / roadway. This then became a path or a black line on the map but unfortunately that took me past a farmhouse and almost through a small vineyard much to the amusement of the farmer up a ladder trimming his grapes. I asked him if this was the way knowing it was, but as is usual I was told no and to go around the hill not the way I was intending.

I crept around the vineyard hoping he wouldn't see me to check for myself and the end of the field disappeared down a steep valley. Reluctantly I retraced my path back the way I had come and eventually picked up the GR route I had been following previously. My route took me along the hillside, through the woods and eventually to the outskirts of Orvieto. I came to a sign that pointed right rather than downhill as I thought was the correct route. Imagine my surprise when I arrived at the point had I ignored the sign and continued ahead. It would also have saved an addition 3km.

Once on the right route I followed the road up to the city and through the old Roman gateway and along the main road Corso Cavour before heading to the Duomo and the end of the day. It had not been the walk I had intended but I think it could be best described as interesting and certainly some valuable lessons learnt in using a Kompass map for Italy.

Would the next stage be the same I wondered……and so to my bed and breakfast.

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