Sunday, 29 October 2017

Stage 5. A rest day ahead!

Stage 5 blog. Vetralla to Viterbo, 19th October 2017

Distance from Rome: 110km

After a good night's sleep and the chance to have a leisurely breakfast of our choice ( and it not being brown), we left early. The route took us along Via Roma the main street and we took the opportunity of having a look in the San Francesco church, but as there was a mass taking place we just popped our heads in and carried on our way.

On this occasion it was an easy path out of the town and within twenty minutes we were surrounded by green fields. The first few hours of the day passed by quickly as we meandered through olive groves and vineyards before crossing over the Via Cassia once again.

We chose to take five minutes, get the shoes off to air the feet and have a piece of fruit. Just before we set off again we were joined by an Australian couple and took time to exchange pilgrim stories of our travels and experiences. We were advised that there was a picnic area in our direction and with Buon Caminos exchanged we were all on our separate ways.

At the picnic bench overlooking the vast plain of Viterbo below we met two more Pilgrims and again swapped stories briefly before they set off. Claire and I remained where we were just chatting, eating and savouring the view below us, knowing that somewhere down there was our bed for the night and a day's rest from walking.

After a long break we packed up, making sure that we were leaving no trace and moved on. Our journey once again took us through olive groves and an ancient trackway before descending under the via cassia road.

Thursday, 26 October 2017

'Pay As You Feel' facility available

A ' Pay As You Feel ' facility is now available on our website.

Our self guided and guided walking holidays do help fund our work, but research, planning, walking and GPS plotting 'new' historic abbey to abbey routes do require additional financial support.

Our research walks take place in the UK, France and in Italy.  This walking is currently funded by us but we would love you to help support this important historical, cultural work going forward.

The non-holiday routes on our website are free for you to download, print and follow at your leisure and convenience.  Please help us continue providing you with this Abbey Walks service !

Wednesday, 25 October 2017

Stage 3. Pelligrini.....let me in?

Stage 3. Campagno to Sutri, 17th October 2017

Distance from Rome: 69km

Our previous night's evening meal was an interesting one. There was no sight of a restaurant open in the old town and after buying provisions for the next day's walk we headed into the new part. Again there was no clear evidence of anywhere to eat so I switched to searching the internet. Only one place appeared to be a possibility but the reviews on Trip Advisor mentioned the grumpy owner and how he told you what you should have to eat.

Good fortune was not on our side, we were both tired and hungry and a little grumpy ourselves so rather than walk around in search of anywhere we returned into the old town. As we headed back to the chicken shed we saw lights come on at a restaurant. We stopped and gazed at the menu as someone came out of the restaurant and totally ignored us. Desperation has a mind of its own and we   decided that short of resorting to cannibalism we'd head inside.

Needless to say it soon transpired that we had entered the same restaurant with the grumpy owner and, yes, despite me trying to ask for one of the dishes to be made vegetarian, he told us what we were going to eat. We both just said..."Si" ordered wine and proceeded to just get merry.

The food was not too bad, the wine was young as Claire declared and the price was could you not be happy with that. Well I guess when you had not ordered it!

The night past without further adventure and no cockerels woke us up as the dawn broke. We dined on fresh eggs and toast for breakfast all washed down with strong hot coffee.

With our packs loaded and once more hung on our backs we set off bright and early. We descended out of the medieval town into the Parco deal Treja, a lush green carpeted valley, peppered with young chestnut trees. By mid morning we were walking past Monte Gelato Ranch, I was curious to go and find out if it truly was a giant ranch made of ice cream, but the urge to reach Sutri by mid afternoon stopped me in my tracks.

By 11am the slow trickle of Pelligrini coming the other way, heading to Rome started. Again all different nationalities, some with stories of where they had started, some just clearly not wanting to stop, but all cheerfully saying "Buon Camino". We have decided that from just before 11am to about lunchtime it is now called Pelligrini time!

Claire had a her first taste of what was to be in store historically on the journey to our end point, Massa, as we crossed over a Roman road AD 3 that looked a lot fresher than we felt.

Midday saw us arrive at our half way point, Monterosi and once again it was boots off and feet up as on this occasion we sought the shade from the hot sun, today it was going to be in the late 20's. After a thirty minute rest, we went in search of a Tabbachi to buy fresh water and once our bottles were full we continued on our way.

The second half of the day was a leisurely march between one of the biggest golf courses I had ever seen and then once again though hazelnut orchards on both sides of the track. At 3pm Sutri was in sight and the final leg saw us walking along the via Cassia main road to Rome and alongside Etruscan caves carved out of the tuffa rock.

We stopped at the small Roman amphitheatre that is also carved out of the tuffa rock but unfortunately it had just closed. I was keen for Claire to experience seeing it from inside and in my best Italian I asked the attendant if Claire could be allowed in. I mentioned that we were Pilgrims walking from Rome and we had just walked 28km to get to Sutri. My charm paid off and Claire was allowed in, and yes she mentioned it was a worthwhile experience.

Our accommodation for the night was a bed and breakfast in Sutri itself, a beautiful village perched on a huge tuffa rock, with evidence of Etruscan and Roman occupations all around. We could not get into our bed and breakfast before 4pm so we made our way to the main square to sit down and have a beer, another daily ritual that we were to undertake.

We were soon surrounded by other Pilgrims that had come from the other direction, swapping stories and laughing at our individual experiences. With beers drunk we head off to our accommodation which turned out to be a fabulous apartment, tastefully and artfully decorated by the owner Vittorio. The icing on the cake for both us was Rocco the dog, the most mild mannered and placid of pooches either of us had met. Rocco was a stray, something that is common in Italy, and had found Vittorio by chance and was soon ushered into his home and becoming part of the family.

We were told that we could not take Rocco with us and that he was not staying the night as both owner and dog were going to Rome later that night.

Stage 2. 'The chicken shed'

Stage 2. La Storta to Campagno, 16th October 2017

Distance from Rome: 41km

After a good night's sleep we both woke fairly early for breakfast which consisted of a reasonable buffet of fruit, yoghurts, eggs, the usual croissants, dried crisp toast and cake. We made use of these offerings which also provided for our lunch too. We also  made a bee line for the local supermarket on the edge of town to stock up on fresh tomatoes, avocado and cheese. This was to become our staple diet for future walks.

The journey was a pleasant one out of the town and soon we were leaving suburbia finally to be absorbed in the lush green countryside adorned with peace and tranquility, something we had strived for when we left Rome the previous day.

The first part of the day was an easy and pleasant journey along quiet country tracks through Isola         Farnese. The main hillock just before the turn off the road being the site of a small medieval fortified     settlement, now just one residence but formerly belonging to the important Farnese family.

At one point we almost had to act like sheep dog as we chased a flock of sheep along the track together with the farmers dogs. As the animals moved along the bells around their necks tingled and rang out and I felt like bursting into song about a lonely goat herd, just like Mary Poppins........much to Claire's relief I refrained and just sung it in my head.

The last time I had been this way I had had to ford a stream, my guidebook mentioned a potentially dangerous river crossing but it was more like a puddle the last time I crossed it.

The Via Francigena attracts a lot of European funding and since my last journey there has been a lot of improvements made, including new signs. On this particular section the dangerous river crossing has been replaced by a bridge so now we will all stay safe Pilgrims and not be swept away never to be seen again!

We pressed on trying to interpret reading the guide book in reverse which is not as easy as it may sound. Between scratching our heads, looking around to interpret the notes and retracing our steps it took a little longer to reach our halfway point, the historical town of Formello.

We stopped in the main piazza of the old town at a small locanda, order two small beers, took our shoes and socks off and put our feet up. This ritual, not the beer unfortunately, is an important routine that has to be undertaken at almost every reasonable lengthy rest period, to keep the feet happy and eager to carry us on to the end of the day.

Once the beers had been drunk we moved into the piazza of the new town and under a shady tree we sat down once again and dined on the fresh produced we had bought and the stolen boiled eggs we had relieved the hotel of. Well the eggs had not wanted to stay there anyway...........

The day was to be a long one and up to now we had not seen any other Pelligrini. Soon we were on our way, there was a steep ascent out of Formello but with heads down and by just concentrating on putting one foot ahead at a time we reached the top. We were relieved to be blessed with a gradual descent along a quite country lane but as the route changed from Tarmac to a stone track the way ahead started to climb as we meandered through the Sorbo valley. Eventually we reached the summit, but definitely not the last climb of the day, and the Santurio della Madonna deal Sorbo. A beautiful buff coloured church that sits on the edge of the hill and visible from almost every direction.

As we changed direction and started to descend slightly our path switched from stone to Tarmac once again, providing our feet with some slight respite from the sharp stones. Our lesson for today was that every time our path ahead goes down it usually means that before long it will start to climb and our final ascent into Campagnola was a long slow steady climb. I half expected to see a set of pearly gates and angels sat outside playing harps at the top.

On our final mile into the town we past an Irish Pilgrim heading to La Storta. I mentioned the lateness of the day and how far he had to travel. He confessed that he'd had stopped for a beer and a rest that had then turned into two beers. I refrained from introducing him to 'Wee man' as that would have only deterred him longer.

By 5pm we entered the piazza just outside the old town. It seemed that it was the main point for most of the locals to congregate and just chat. I half expected for them to jump up and start cheering, a band to start playing music as we walked the final metres. None of that happened.........

We briefly paused to locate our abode for the night.........."The chicken shed". We followed the Via Francigena to the edge of the town and soon heard the distinct sound of English voices..... Well a man from Seattle and a women from the Netherlands.

With bags off our backs we settled into our chicken shed for the night......and despite its was quite comfortable for the price!

Tuesday, 24 October 2017

Stage 1. St Augustine Way - The Gregorian Mission

A new day, and the beginning of the creation of a new Pilgrim route.

In AD 595 Augustine was sent by Pope Gregory on a journey to Canterbury, England – this was known as the Gregorian Mission. Augustine left Rome and sailed to the small Lerin island, near Cannes, off the South of France, home to the Abbeye of Lerins a Cistercian monastery AD 410. The small party of about 20 monks then walked through France, sailed across to England, landing at Ramsgate before continuing to Canterbury. 

Shortly after AD 597 St Augustine founded the great abbey of Canterbury ( not to be confused with Canterbury Cathedral ) marking the rebirth of Christianity in southern England.

Abbey Walks' mission is to recreate that journey and record it for other Pilgrims to follow. It is not possible to follow the first part of Augustine's journey from Rome to France by boat so the first part of the journey will now be completed on foot. The whole route will be recorded in three parts starting in 2017 and will hopefully be completed by the end of 2018.

Part 1, 2017 – Rome to Sarzana, Italy
Part 2, 2018 – Sarzana, Italy to Arles, France
Part 3, 2018 – Arles, France to Canterbury Abbey, England

It is hoped that once completed, mapped and recorded the whole route will be walked in    2019 as one journey. The aim will be to stay in or visit as many Augustinian places of refuge or worship along the way.

Part 1

Stage 1: Rome to La Storta, 15th October 2017 - 17km

On a peaceful sunny Sunday morning we set off from St. Peter's Square and walked through the suburbs of Rome before ascending into Monte Mario park with a breath taking view back to the Vatican City. It was a slow climb but well worth it.

When Claire and I walked together last year 2016, I introduced her to the Cornetto le crème, basically a vanilla creamed filled croissant. It became either our staple breakfast or second breakfast.

Our first day was hot with hardly a cloud in the sky, and the climb up into the park with our packs on soon had us looking for a place of refuge for a coffee and maybe our first Cornetto of 2017 ! Sunday is family day in Italy and we soon came across a bakery ( panne) with a small café. The place was very busy but a table was secured in the midday sun.

Our packs were dispensed on chairs to make them easier to get back on, and soon we were indulging ourselves in our first Italian coffee and our first Cornetto -  we were not disappointed. We both agreed that this was probably going to be the best one yet of 2017, it was that good.

After a 20 minute break we donned our packs and set off again. We decided that the via Cassia route to La Storta was not the best route as it was the main road route into Rome with almost no footpath for pedestrians. Instead we decided to walk through the Reserva Naturala, a lovely green corridor mixed with parts of the original Via Francigena path. Our journey in the opposite direction to the normal route meant that we met several Pellegrini on their final day of their own Pilgrim journey to Rome. American, Italian, Dutch and English all with their own stories and reasons for completing the journey. Buon Camino being the final words spoken to each other.

We are both 'posh walkers' and part way through the Riserva we stopped in the shade and dined on fresh advocado, tomatos and cheese, with fresh satsumas for dessert. With our energy reserves topped up we continued on our journey savouring the peace and tranquility knowing that it would soon end once we reached the via Cassia.

I had not walked this route into Rome in 2016, so it was all knew territory for me and will certainly be a route I recommend to be walked either way in the future. By mid afternoon we reached the via Cassia and we slowly climbed our way along the busy, smelly route lined with queueing cars heading towards Rome. It was not a pleasant journey but a necessary one. With heads down we just got on with it and after a couple of hours we reached our final destination the Hotel Cassio. 

As we checked in, we grabbed two bottles of beer to take to our room, and water to rehydrate our hot and tired bodies. The room was simply furnished, we had a roof over our heads and we had a lovely balcony with crazed (well broken, but the effect was good) perspex panelling, and the via Cassia below. 

We sat on our beds, feet up on a chair, balcony doors open and savoured the vista and sounds of traffic before us. Day 1 completed !

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Launch of Self-Guided walking holidays !

After a very successful year of providing Guided walking holidays during 2017, we are pleased that our 2018 dates are now available to book.  Catch our Early Bird Offer for a reduced price if you book a 2018 guided holiday before the end of November.

We also now provide self-guided walking holidays for our most popular route ' The Prior Richard Way, via Ripon Cathedral ' between St. Mary's Abbey, York and Fountains Abbey, near Ripon, Yorkshire  This holiday is totally flexible in that it can be taken at any time of year, and you can take as long as you like to walk it.  Check out our self-guided walking holiday page.

Also exciting, is that Tony is about to embark on walking an ancient route between Rome and Canterbury, following the footsteps of St. Augustine who founded Canterbury's Benedictine Abbey in 598 ( which remained a Benedictine monastery until 1538 ).

Tony will walk a total of 2500 km / 1550 miles in 3 chunks, the first of which will start on Saturday 14 November.  He will finish his journey during 2018.

This route will then be made available on our website for you to download / use the walk instructions and / or GPS co-ordinates so that you can also walk this route.
So, watch this space or our home page for links to his blog.

We hope to see you soon !