Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Stage 11. Not that way......but this one.

San Quirico to Ponte-d'Arbia, 27th October 2017

Distance from Rome: 258km

It was a 26km walk today so we were all awake by 6am, washed, packed and all ablutions just about completed and in the cafe for breakfast by 6.45. 7am saw us outside the church in Piazza Chigi raring to go and with the final photos in the bag, off we went.

It was a mild morning for me, Claire was wrapped up prior to taking her clothes off enroute, as is the norm and Carlo, because he's Italian he kept saying it's chilly, allora it's chilly. We descended below the arched road that takes traffic into the town, that sweeps round in a majestic curve with its many arches.

The guide book was easy follow and the Via Francigena signs were plentiful as we ambled through the morning air. There was the occasional buzzard calling in the sky and Carlo pointed out two Roe deer in the distance, before they skipped away. I mentioned that wildlife is not something that I have seen a lot of whilst walking in Italy, I'm not sure why.

After 4km and still following signs we came to a junction and with no clear indication where to go we turned right. At the farm ahead Carlo asked about the Via Francigena and where was Torrinieri, a place we were to pass through. The farmer explained we could continue ahead but it was not the Francigena path. We retraced our steps and at a railway crossing, Carlo asked the same question of a workman. "Eye well tha nose, there's lots o paths round ear. Francigena passes around ear two but if it were me, but it's not, eye wood carry on up thee er to next village and paths thee er! "

Now I know he was not a Yorkshireman and we're not walking in Yorkshire, but I thought I would add the gist of what was said in my own words.

We had clearly missed the turn off to the right and we're a bit confused as we had passed a number of signs leading this way. We pressed on knowing that we would eventually join the path. The original route did pass over the busy Via Cassia road further East and we did the same but only west. I decided to take the safe route and following the path under the road and as I made my way there came across a Via Francigena marker! Now I won't damage the readers eyes by putting into words what I may have said at that point in time, but Carlo beckoned for us to cross the road as it was quiet and we crossed over to the other side.

Our journey continued following the occasional VF marker along rolling sweeping fields, barren from any crops but still exuding their own beauty in the colour of the soil and the contours of the land in the fields. We climbed and climbed the valley and after a few kilometres met up with the official route coming from our right.

We gladly followed it into the town of Torrenieri and at a cafe decided to have second breakfast. I went inside with Carlo to order and Claire went in search of a bakery for supplies for the journey ahead. 10 minutes later she returned successful but apologetic that the bakery only had one type of bread. A hard crusty brick and white at that too. I'm not sure why but the Italians do seem to enjoy this type of bread and even more so...white bread. Claire and I enjoy the more majestic savouring of a good dark bread, brown/black with either seeds, grains and other sumptuous delights we may come across. The one we like also keeps you regular too, white bread just clogs your insides up like glue.

Carlo mentioned that as he'd finished his coffee he would go in search of a sandwich and we should join him on the edge of the town. With coffees quaffed we donned our packs and went in search of him. I spied him ahead before he disappeared from view and we made our way to meet him. As we reached the crest of the main street we saw he'd entered the local coop, something Claire had not seen as she'd not ventured this far out of town. We went inside and at the bakery section decided to ditch the white bread in favour of Panne multicereal. I think our bodies were giving off sighs of relief as we paid for our goods.

Our journey continued away from the village and by now it was around Pellegrini time, on this occasion our Pilgrims looked very different. The first a women carrying a decent size pack, suitably dressed and looking confident as she walked. The second, a man that looked as though he was drawing his last breath, very weather beaten looks and wrinkly (if I may say that?) and carrying the largest pack I'd ever seen. It not only looked as though it was heavy but the top part had a an unusual square wide top to it, was there a piano in there too?. He was also carrying a large plastic bag which gave the impression of being heavy too. His walked ever so slowly and carefully placed each foot down as he shuffled forward. We looked back in amusement half expecting him to have expired on the path, but he hadn't.

We pressed on slowly ascending and winding our way through the undulating valleys with the sun providing some winter warmth so that one by one, in our time we stopped, removed a layer of clothing and then continued ahead comfy that we were not too hot or cold as we continued. The area we were passing through was called the Val d'Orcia an area that was added to the UNESCO World Heritage site in 2004.  As we walked through it you could certainly understand how and why such a prestiges accolade has been given to the area.

Before arriving in Buonconvento we traveled through the vineyards of Castello Altesi and the wine making factory and I'm always amused to see signs that invite Pilgrims in for an afternoon meal that includes wine. I wonder how many Pilgrims take up that offer? If I chose that detour I know that the rest of the afternoon would have to be written off for a cheeky sleep.

The grape vines extend for 400 hectares and at the edge stands castle originally built in the thirteenth century by the Altesi family but not completed until 1441 by the Tricerchi family. It was used as a fortress for Pilgrims marching to Rome on the Fracigena road. IN 1982 it was declared as an artistic and historical heritage site and is an imposing vision along the path.

The journey into Buonconvento took us along the Via Cassia once more. The village is described as one of the most beautiful in Tuscany but like most modern places it's a place of two halves. On the periphery is a modern urban sprawl that is just that. But at its heart is a medieval centre of narrow streets, old houses and obvious signs where horses were tethered in the streets. The name Buonconvento comes from the Latin "bonus conventus' which means "happy, lucky place".

We took advantage of two benches side by side and stopped for lunch. Once again the usual routine unfolded, boots off, empty plastic bags laid down as tablecloths, food spread out and me with penknife in hand liberally chopping everything that needed reducing in size. Once our appetites were sated, we packed up and headed for a coffee and another opportunity to take the boots off.

By mid afternoon we were taking the final 90 minute walk through the heavy, thick wooden door in the archway of Porta Senese of the village and back out to the lush autumn countryside. We wound our way up and down hill, between fields now barren of any crops but still with their own beauty to reach the accommodation of the night - Centro Cresti, a big old farmhouse on the main road. Downstairs there is a large dining and sitting room with a huge industrial size kitchen. Upstairs there are several rooms all of different sizes and for our evening ahead, the house was teeming with Pilgrims from all nationalities - Canadian, American, Dutch, English and Austrian.

We located some empty bunks and commenced with our own nesting process ready for a good nights sleep ahead.......hopefully.


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