Story

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On April 28th I will set out from Canterbury Cathedral on a pilgrimage that will see me walking almost 1200 miles to Rome.

I have been hoping to embark on this trip for quite some time, and am both excited and a little daunted at the prospect!

My prime motivation was to take time out to think about life, reflect and pray; to read the bible and explore my Christian faith.  Added to that is the simple challenge of spending three months or so plodding up hill and down dale, camping wherever people will have me and carrying everything I need on my back.

This year my father, Robin Protheroe, celebrates the fiftieth anniversary of his ordination to the Anglican priesthood.  This adds a further sense of meaning to this pilgrimage, during which I will reflect on and give thanks for his lifetime of commitment to the Christian church.

Many people suggested that I should seek sponsorship for the walk, and I realised that I should not miss this opportunity to raise some money for a good cause.  That is why I would ask you, if you are able, to generously donate to Practical Action.

Practical Action is a charity that seeks to help disadvantaged people by empowering them individually and as communities to raise their standard of living by means of practical technologies and skills.  Please look at their website www.practicalaction.org.uk to find out more - I think you'll find it inspiring.

Donating through this site is simple, fast and totally secure. It is also the most efficient way to sponsor me: Practical Action will receive your money faster and, if you are a UK taxpayer, an extra 28% in tax will be added to your gift at no cost to you.

I will be walking around 1200 miles.  You might like to sponsor me 1p per mile, 5p, 10p...  You might like to make a smaller or larger donation.  I will be very grateful for any donation that is made to Practical Action, no matter how large or small.  It will strengthen me as I walk each day to know that I am supported by your generosity.

Many thanks for your support.

28/04/08: I am now on the way!  I set out from Canterbury Cathedral after a very warm welcome there and a lovely blessing from the chaplain, Father John.  I eased myself in with about thirteen miles in the sunshine from Canterbury to Fryarne Park.  The walk was peaceful and uneventful except for a couple of fields with big "Beware of the Bull" signs.  I wasn't sure whether I was being a suburban wimp to fear the creatures, so hopped over the stile and cautiously continued along the footpath.  The three bulls in the field started looking at me a bit suspiciously though, and I was forced to beat a calm retreat.  Much hacked-at undergrowth and several limbos-under-electric-fences-and-between-barbed-wire later, two bull-filled terror-fields had been successfully skirted.  Fool that I am, I returned to one of them to try and get a decent photo.  Remaining within swift scurrying distance of the stile at all time, I ventured back into the danger zone, camera at the ready.  The three bulls looked at me from afar with menace, approaching bit by bit until they were almost close enough to smell (I tell a small lie, of course but they were close enough for a suburban boy's comfort).  I thought we were about to make friends as they calmly allowed me to snap away, but when the biggest of them started snorting and pawing at the ground I thought it was perhaps time to back away slowly and continue on the way to Rome, ungored.

29/04/08 Today is filled with heavy rain and hail - not quite so conducive.  Having sat out the worst of the weather yesterday (a luxury I shan't be able to afford myself too often in the future, I imagine), I made a fairly late start on the road to Dover.  The walk was uneventful, except for a brief moment of excitement/terror when a kindly farmer set his baying dogs on me (I stood my ground like the brave soldier that I am and they seemed to lose interest - no blood was shed on either side).  I plodded on through the delightful Kent countryside (somewhat less delightful once the heavens had reopened) for about seven hours.  Well, I tell a lie, the last hour or so was spent plodding through Dover - distinctly less delightful, but nonetheless mercifully close to the day's destination of the ferry port.  It was to my consternation that I realised (once informed) that foot passengers are not accepted on evening ferries.   I was given the option to stow away on a Eurolines bus, but that would not depart until much later, and would not arrive until 2:30am French time - not the best time to be hanging around the port of Calais...  Furthermore, I was a little worried that this might constitute a breaking of the "walking only" rules.  Wet and cold, it was therefore with gratitude that I was whisked off back to Friarne Park where I spent another warm night.  This morning I shall shortly be returned to the ticket office at Dover where I had arrived on foot last night (no cheating!), and will continue on my way...  Once again the weather is looking grim.  Bring on the sunshine, say I...

UPDATE 05/05/08

30/04 Sailed on 10:55 from Dover.  Got a Pride Of Kent stamp in my Pilgrim Record.  Started walking around 14:00.  Battled intermittent rain rain and a strong headwind all the way to Wissant.  About 5.5hrs.  Donned full waterproofs but kept big shades on.  Unsure if I looked like a special forces ninja or a prize fool.  I'll assume the former, for dignity's sake.  Walking as ever with two trekking poles.  Some young workmen asked me with interest if I was blind.  Wrong colour sticks, I replied (ok, I didn't).  Passed through Sangatte.  No apparent sea of refugees or would-be UK immigrants.  Saw two gliders over Cap Blanc Nez.  Mesmerising.  Found a campsite at Wissant.  Pleasant welcome.  Pitched tent and went off to a brasserie for potage aux légumes and a steack haché.  All very nice.

01/05 Rained all night and most of the morning.  I snoozed till shamefully late, but what else to do?  The one time my bladder forced me out of the tent I got drenched (with rain).  Woke up properly at about 10:30.  Looked around me.  It was as though I was in the bath.  Rain dripping from, tent ceiling where I'd made the error of stroking, head-butting or kicking it in the night (I'm an active sleeper and a bad boy scout). Worse though, when brushing my teeth in the dark I had failed to screw the top properly on my water bottle, so had succeeded in tipping well over a litre of water around my tent inner.  Pleased?  I was ecstatic.  The only dry things were my boots, it seemed.  One small mercy.  Sleeping bag, sleeping mat, backpack - you name it - at least damp at worst sodden.  Who would true idiocy see, let him come hither...  So I prayed the prayer my piano teacher and lovely friend taught me (as indeed I have done every day since I begun): "Lord, remind me that nothing is gonna happen today thqt you and I can't handle together".  I got on with clearing up and drying up (using almost all of my loo roll in the process) and got underway around 12:30.  Hardly catching the worm... I'd settled my bill the night before in case I wanted to leave before 9:30.  Ahem...

Appointed day's walk was just 17km so I decided to eat into the following day's 39km monster by ploughing on to Licques.  Had a great welcome at the Pommiers campsite there from M. et Mme. Lance.  1-man tent looked truly silly in massive caravan berth.  Go, pilgrim!  Had a great omelette, my first shower since Dover and a decent night's sleep.

[this French keyboard is killing me - painfully slow.  Could have typed up my whole journal in this time on an English one - as it is I'm including not-very-edited bits and bobs, and thereby probably missing out most of anything that is of interest.  Apologies, dear reader.  I'll go and eat a large quantity of food then have another bash tomorrow.]

UPDATE 06/05/08

[I've just spent over half an hour blogging away, I hit save and was told "please log in to your account".  The page had timed out.  I have retained my calm.  Just.  Sorry, here are the basics:]

02/05  Up at 09:30.  Ran out of loo roll.  Started walking at 11am.  Phoned and arranged to stay at Wisques Abbey.  Got attacked by dogs.  Minor damage to trousers, no bodily wounds.  No lion shall him fright!  Took just over seven hours to get to the Abbey.  Lovely warm welcome from Sister Lucy.  Filling supper including Smash mash and boiled eggs.  What a combo!  Don't try it at home...  Some pleasant other guests.  A good rest.

03/05 On the road 9hrs, arrived in Amettes with no idea where to sleep.  Incredible welcome in local bar.  Everyone chatty and friendly.  Turns out the local Saint, Benoit-Joseph Labre, had also gone on foot to Rome (and then all round Europe - hmm, giving me ideas...).  There was a maison du pelerin with a field in which one may camp.  I was told that scouts sometimes use it but no-one there that night.  I rocked up to find the place full of tents and crawling with scouts!  They were very welcoming and I camped with them.

04/05 Breakfast with scouts.  Scout chief takes me to see the church and St Benoit's house.  All very interesting; he very knowledgeable.  Me a bit concerned about time as mass at 11:15 about half an hour away and tent not packed.  Back to pack up; almost finished when another scout leader asks me to give testimony to the scouts.  About fifty of them in a circle, I'm handed the mic and waffle on for a few minutes about my trip, the welcome I'd received, the spirit of scouting and the Christian spirit.  They gave me a big hand, which was touching.  Chief insisted on photo of me with all the scouts. I got one on my camera too.  Nice souvenir.  I then ran off too mass, just making it in time.  Lovely 13th Century church.  Good sermon on praying in order to be open to the Holy Spirit.  Then I hit the road again, stopping at the bar to say goodbye to my new friends.  13:00 a stupidly late start.  Exhausted so cut short my walking to just over 20km.  Arrive Rebreuve Ranchicourt and can't be bothered to climb a few km out of my way to where I think there's a campsite.  Chance my arm in the cafe of a trout fishing lake and end up being allowed to camp in their car park.  Knock and the door...

05/05  Great night's sleep.  About 10hrs.  Up 9am, potter and pack.  Head back into the town to find food.  Nothing doing. Monday.  Closed.  Walk on.  Same story in the next town.  Ad the next.  Arrive Comblain L'Abbé (where I should have got to the day before) at lunchtime.  Nothing doing there either but a kind girl in the bar took pity and made me two croque monsieurs.  I'd only had an apple and a banana for breakfast so was very grateful!  Proceeded slowly to Arras, the day's destination.  Checked into a little hotel (such luxury!), had a big shower, put my clothes to soak and headed out for pizza.  Bed around 11pm.

06/05  First day off.  Sightseeing in Arras.  Hoping to receive first visitors briefly later today too.  Need to find a campsite for tonight.  May be problematic.  But I'll work something out.  I'm sure there'll be a car park somewhere with a bit of grass!  I need the day of rest today.  My legs are getting strong but my shoulders are sore.  I need to eat a lot to to restore my energies.  I'll be glad of a little time without the pack, but it almost feels weird not to have a destination for the day!  Relax, pilgrim...

UPDATE 14/05/08

06/05 Day off in Arras turned out well.  Visited St John Baptist church.  Pleasant enough.  Then cathedral.  Awesome big 17th century (I guess) structure - all marbly and big and impressive.  Spent ages there looking around.  Feeling hungry.  Ridden with guilt over expensive two-star hotel so no lunch.  Disappointed that possible visit from girlfriend didn't materialise owing to the latenes of a P and O ferry - she and her friend couldn't make it down to me in time along with an already packed schedule.  Never mind - just keep looking around!  Was wandering and stumbled upon Notre Dame Des Ardents - a truly charming church with a fascinating history.  Keen verger told me all about it and invited me to a concert in the evening - man and guitar.  I accepted, of course.  Then the priest turned up and invited me to mass at six thirty and a snack before the concert.  I accepted, of course.  There goes my quiet pizza, I heathenously thought to myself, but didn't wish to refuse their kindness.  Had to dash back to hotel to pick up backpack and get to the Diocesan House in time to check in for the night - seventeen euros - wish i'd found it yesterday!  Forced down some stale baguette and a banana then straight back to church.  Enjoyed mass.  Sermon on the Magnificat.  Ate bread and ham and salad wish the priest, a nice italian lady and the evening's singer, Steeve, after.  Concert brilliant in the event.  Simple songs about the bible and human need and the church and love and stuff.  Well written, well sung and with thought-provoking chat in between.  Back to Diocesan House around ten.  Simple but comfy room.  Feel uplifted after the evening.

07/05/08  Up at  8.  Breakfast eight fifteen.  Eat alone.  Nesquik, honey pops and biscuits.  Hmmm.  Leave around half nine.  Steeve singing in church as I pass; I stop awhile to listen.  He waved friendlily fro, the stage.  Stopped at British war cemetery in Beaurains.  Touching.  Walked on to Bapaume.  No campsite.  No parish house as I'd been led to believe.  Chatted to a nice chap on roller blades who works in a factory making adult nappies; went to a shop and bought some fresh milk (a treat in UHT-land); left town, knocking the dust off my boots as I went.  Pretty plqce, Bapaume.  Shame there's not really any pilgrim provision - the lady in the tourist office said that they're trying to sort something out.  On to Beaulencourt - the rollerblader said I might be able to camp on the football field there.  Ended up waiting an hour for a farmer to come home so I could ask him if it was ok to camp on his land (his wife said it wasn't up to her!).  As it turned out they let me camp in their back garden, which was kind.  Bread, cheese and fruit for supper in tent, then some Acts, Malachi and Job before a good sleep.

08/05/08  Get up, faff around and pack away.  Bank holiday today - ?VE Day.  Bands playing in Sailly Saissel by the monument, then lead onlookers away down the street.  Lady gestures to me (on the other side of the street) so I cross and follow them.  Chat to a few people.  Very pleasant.  A fez more hours through major heat to Peronne.  Stop on outskirts and have a Big Mac meal.  Filled with typical post-McDonald's self-loathing, but boy, was it good...  Even had a caramel sundae for pudding!  On into town and locate municipal campsite.  The campsite is run by a very friendly and very inebriated dutchman, who shows me where to set up and kindly agrees to look after my bag while I head into town for a nosey around.  Big war museum closed, so I mooch and wander, make a couple of phone calls, take a few pics and head back to campsite.  Dutchman excited as an aussie has arrived.  He tells me he's told her to pitch next to me as he likes to hear people chatting.  Turns out she's on a cycle tour - started in London, heading to Paris then onward.  Nice girl.  She asks if I've eaten.  I hesitated to reveal my guilty secret from earlier on!  We both shower and head to town.  Nice eatery I'd spied had just closed the kitchen.  One option left: kebab.  And a truly ropey kebab it was too.  Self-loathing reignited with a vengeance.  Bad pilgrim!  Your body is a temple, yet you defile it with such filth!  Didn't even have the redeeming quality of being pleasant in the eating...  Bed at half eleven.  Big blister on ball of left foot.  Fingers crossed...

09/05/08  Alarm 8.  Snooze till 9.  I need my sleep, ok?  Wave off Chantal the Aussie.  Mildly jealous of her bike...  Divert from prescribed route for the first time by heading for a town called Ham to save a few km.  I mean hey, what's not to like about a town called Ham?  Made me laugh, anyway...  Ham is not unpretty; there are some nice gardens there.  The suburbs towards the municipal campsite are, um, quite unpretty.  The campsite is by the side of a big industrial plant, and at the end of a stinky-looking pond, which attracted legoins of hungry mozzies.  People were fishing there.  I don't know what for - if it wasn't supermarket trolleys it was three-headed trout.  Office closed.  Toilets and showers closed.  About four caravans.  Permanent fixtures, I suspect.  Head into town.  Buy some provisions.  Get a take-away pizza and head back to campsite.  THis is the first time I've felt lonely.  Nasty place, nasty campsite, put up tent and eat take-away pizza whilst madmy batting away bloodthirsty insects.  Grim.  Get into tent and read.  Hard to get to sleep.  Finally do.

10/05/08  Wake up rested.  Pack away and head to gendarmerie over the road to get my pilgrim record stamped.  I explained that there wasn't a gardien at the campsite.  They looked at me oddly and explained that it's not really a campsite; it's a gypsy site.  Oh.  Ok!  Heading to Tergnier.  Divert from Route Nationale through Detroit Bleue - both a pleasant relief to be off a main road (though they are simpler, easier and shorter generally and hence mostly preferable to me with my 18kg pack), and also truly beautiful countryside.  Stop and have a good chinwag with a chap who was moving a huge pile of wood in loads with a modified wheelbarrow.  A pleasant 40min distraction for both of us.  He kindly gave me a reflective vest in case I ever need to walk at night on the roads.  How thoughtful and generous.  On to Tergnier.  If Tergnier were in the Middle East you'd think it was an edgy but exciting little town.  It's in Northern France.  It's a dusty, messy, noisy and unwelcoming town full of slightly frightening people.  Two of its four little hotels were closed.  The other two were full (cheap, though!).  There is no campsite.  Time was ticking on, but I headed East.  Passed two big gypsy camps.  Decided not to request their hospitality.  Finally got to La Fere.  For two hours along the way no-one had known of a campsite, then all of a sudden I ask a friendly lady and her daughter and there's one up the road!  Blessed relief at almost-nightfall.  I'd identified a church I could squat-camp behind, but even that was over a km away by this stage. Lovely campsite in the event.  Pitch tent then race to catch pizza restaurant ten minutes away before it closes.  Turns out it's run by a guy from Sardinia, and the waiter's from Pisa!  They welcome me like a brother and we chatter away happily in Italian together.  Back to campsite 23:15  for a much needed and much enjoyed shower.  Happy is the clean pilgrim.  A few more mosquito bites then bed, glorious bed...

UPDATE 15/05/08:

11/05/08  Alarm 9am, up aeound 9:30.  Leave site around 10:50 after another big shower and some blister photography and surgery.  A bit grim but kinda fun, if you know what I mean.  Long phonecall to the lady, so a late start on the road.  Got directions from a magician/illusionist who told me all sorts of places to visit - almost all off my route - then on to Laon.  Uneventful walk.  Chomped through 22km to Laon in about 4.5hrs - 5km/hr faster than I've previously managed.  Probably faster than I'll manage again too, unless I fall down a mountain in Switzerland!  The italians at the restaurant had kindly sent me away with some loaves of pizza bread, which provided breakfast and lunch.  Laon visible from afar - a medieval town on a hill, approached by a very straight road.  Passed signs to campsite as I entered the town, but headed on towards the hill to aim for 18/30 mass in the cathedral.  Not obvious how to get to the top, but a little boy explained.  What a climb!  Steep and not short.  Got to the top drenched in sweat, dehydrated and overheated.  Ducked into a boulangerie and got a cold can of Fanta - possibly the sweetest I've ever tasted!  On to the cathedral.  No evening mass.  Wandered around.  It was interesting enough.  Facade very impressive.  Like a smaller Notre Dame de Paris, to my untrained eye.  Came out of cathedral and was taking some pics of the West facade; saw two guys having a beer ona terrace by me, so asked for directions to the campsite.  We fell to chatting and they offered to drive me there.  I declined, as I want to stay on foot.  They offered me a drink.  I accepted (an orangina - I'm on the wagon during this trip).  After a while one of them said do you have to stay in a campsite - is that part of the deal?  I said no, and he offered me to stay at his house.  How kind!  I accepted straight away.  Turns out both guys - Yanis and Jean-Baptiste live in flats in the same incredible mediaeval town house 100m from the cathedral.  J-B went to get kebabs while Yanis showed me up to his flat.  Yanis is a soldier in the French army, about to start officer traiing after 15 years service.  J-B is a restorer of historic buildings and monuments.  They share a passion for antiquity.  The hospitality could not have been kinder.  I was fed, given everything I needed to wash, my clothes were laundered, I was taken out to meet other friends and given a comfy bed and substantial breakfast.  Such incredible kindness.  I see that Yanis has even sponsored me - entirely unnecessary and very touching.

12/05/08  Vaguely stirred when Yanis left the flat.  Awoke around 9:30 when he returned with croissants, pains au chocolat, fruit and juice.  What a man!  J-B joined us for breakfast, as did Marcel, the guy who'd converted the building.  Left about 12:30.  Yanis and J-B accompanied me out of the old town, all the way down the hill and put me on the road to Reims - talk about going the extra mile!  What brilliant blokes.  Huge long stretch of straight road, then some uphill.  Start to flag.  Around 16:15 my left foot starts to really hurt so I stop and sit down.  Took off shoes and socks.  Nothing very untoward, just healing blisters and one resurgent blister on outside of left heel.  Sat for about 15mins and for the first time thought 'what am I doing?!'.  Pulled myself together, put my boots on and walked on.  I am gratified by my own ability to push on even when I've been disheartened.  It is a positive thing - not just in terms of this pilgrimage - to know that I have these reserves of strength; although I am sure I will need to draw much deeper on them before I reach Rome.  I had hoped to make it to Berry-Au-Bac, but realised before I reached the day's prescribed destination of Corbeny that I would make it no further.  After a late night last night and yesterday's (possibly excessive) exertions, I am drained.  Decide to treat myself to hotel - listed in my info as 32 euros.  Hotel appears closed and costs 55 euros - far too much.  Recce football pitch and decide on that.  Wait till restaurant opens at 7pm and head in.  Indulge myself with a big juicy steak and rhubarb tart.  There's a gendarme in there too, so I ask him about a campsite.  He says there's one 10km to the West.  Haha.  No.  I gently prod him about possible places to camp in the town and he eventually suggests the football pitch.  Result!  Thank you, I say; and he promises to inform his colleagues, in case anyone phones up to report a squatter on the pitch.  Set up my tent behind the goalmouth around nine thirty and hit the sack at ten, exhausted but happy.

13/05/08  Alarm eight thirty.  Hit snooze but awoken five mins later by voices.  Yank trousers on and stick my head out.  No-one that wants to bother me, just some guys unloading tables into the salle polyvalente.  We exchange bonjours.  I pack away at a leisurely pace, spend time carefully seeing to my feet with three different types of plaster, phone the lady from the call box, breakfast by the church - croissant and two nectarines - then head to the gendarmerie to get my pilgrim record stamped.  It was the same gendarme that I'd met last night.  He was a bit mystified by my request, but after I'd explined he found a fairly cool stamp and did the deed, and I was on my way again.  After yesterday's tribulations I made myself no promises.  I thought if necessary I could stop and sleep at Berry-Au-Bac - about 10km further on.  Circumstances have sadly prevented the lady's planned visit to Reims, so I don't have a deadline to get there.  As it turns out, I arrive in Berry-Au-Bac feeling ok and decide to plough on.  28/30km is a long way on any day.  I really take it as a stroll.  Good stop at outdoor tank corps memorial/exhibition just outside Berry.  Good stop too at national war cemetery at Cormicy.  When I saw it I couldn't believe my eyes.  I did a quick calculation and reckoned there must be 10,000 buried there, but that seemed impossible.  Row upon row of neat crosses probably a bit less that 3 foot high, peppered with a very few round-headed stones emblazoned with a muslim emblem.  Turns out there are almost 14,500 war dead buried there.  It was a lot to take in.  Loss of life on such a vast scale - this is one of so many such cemeteries.  To one of my age the first war seems just so long ago, but this really brought the reality of it home to me.  Arrived outskirts of Reims about 18:30.  A lady pulled over and said are you a pilgrim?  Turns out she's part of a pilgrim association.  She kindly offered me hospitality but lives 10km out of town and I preferred not to get in the car so politely refused.  She helpfully gave me a town map and directed me to the diocesan house.  Interminable suburbs, my fatigue and a long queue in the supermarket to buy a yoghurt drink combine to leave me taking two hours to reach my destination.  Mercifully the diocesan house is still open and I am given a friendly welcome.  I book myself in for two nights and am shown to my room.  Lovely.  A bed, a small desk, a sink and a little wooden cross on the wall.  Simple but perfect.  Dump my bag, rinse my face and head out to eat.  Find a little Italian place near the diocesan house.  I want the menu at twelve euros ninety but don't fancy the options much.  A la carte expensive.  Waiter kindly basically lets me have what I want for the menu price - very kind.  Big vegetable salad, big bowl of pasta with tomato sauce, big plate of cheese for pudding.  I'm stuffed and exhausted.  Bed.  Finish Romans, start Ephesians then sleep around midnight.

14/05/08  Alarm 8:30.  Up 8:45.  I'd asked to breakfast at nine, which was met with incredulity - normally pilgrims are up and out by eight, apparently.  Good for them, I say.  A 9am breakfast feels pretty keen on my day off!  Shower after, then lie down to read for a bit.  At 10:30feel sleepy so set the alarm for 11am.  End up snoozing till 12:30 - I must really hqve been exhausted!  Felt like I could sleep all day, but didn't want to miss sightseeing.  Went to cathedral - impressive but somehow didn't inspire me (although the Chagall windows are rtuly magnificent).  Then chanced upon church of St Jacques - a gem of a church.  Lovely building, stunning glass, a moving wooden sculpture of the crucified Christ, a fine statue of the Virgin and Child, and interesting shrine to ND de Fatima.  The only thing that was soundly beaten by the cathedral was the statue of St Anthony (no, I know it's not a competition, but when you see all these churches you get kinda picky, ok?!).  Ran around town seeing Hotel de Ville, Place du Forum, Place Royal, the park, the canal and shopping area.  What a pretty and impressive city.  Like Paris in miniature, I very much thought.  To cathedral for mass at 7pm.  A really lovely intimate Eucharist right at the East end below the Chagall windows.  About 35 people in a smallish chapel.  Brilliant sermon.  Possibly less than a minute long.  Following NT lesson from Acts, where they draw lots to see who gets what role, the priest said that of course they weren't simply drawing lots, they were asking God to show His will.  He said that we all effectively draw lots in our decision-making all the time, so we should make sure that we pray a lot before we make decisions.  That was it.  Simple, memorable, sensible.  Made a couple of phone calls from a cabine then headed to cybercafé to blog.  Rushed off to Italian restaurant before it closed for more of that delicious food.  Was introduced by the nice waiter to the proprietress, who'd clearly been told about me.  She a Neapolitan lady, been here since the 70s.  I think she was grateful for the chance to chat in Italian, and we spoke for quite a while.  Another great meal - same as last night but with panna cotta instead of cheese for dessert.  Phone the GF.  I'm pleased as she's definitely going to visit next week and I can't wait to see her.  So exhausted.  Had intended to return to cybercafé and finish bringing blog up to date but had to go to bed.

15/05/08 Wake up so tired I'm not sure I'll be able to leave Reims.  Think I may have to stay another day.  Breakfast at 8:30.  Have a big shower after; medicate feet and sort out belongings.  Starting to wake up a bit.  Leave diocesan house around ten to finish blog.  It's now after 11:30 and I have to go back and pick up my bag and head to Trepail or thereabouts, my waysyation on the path to Chalons.  A later start than I'd hoped, but the number of people who have kindly expressed an interest in my bloggery has led me to diligently complete it!  It's frustrating because I am only typing a proportion of what is in my journal.  I'm doing it as quickly as possible so hope that the bits I'm including may be of some interest and will not be too riddled with grammatical and spelling errors!

I don't know when next I'll be able to blog - soon, I hope.  In the meantime let me say thank you once again to all those who have made donations to Practical Action.  Every single donation is a real boost to my motivation.  Thank you too to those who have taken an interest in this blog - it's lovely to know that people care about my progress and experiences.  Love to all of you.

UPDATE 16/05/08

15/05/08 By the time I'd laboriously tried to send some photos to people I left the cybercafé around 13:15.  Stressing about late start.  Head back to Maison Diocesaine, pick up my backpack, pay and leave.  Hit the road proper around two, and as soon as I do it starts raining.  On goes the waterproof and the backpack cover.  End up walking about ten kilometres by a dual carriageway.  Every lorry that went past - and there were lots - whoooooooshkersplaassshhh, all over me.  Nice.  Breakfast had been basic and I had no food in my pack.  Foolish pilgrim.  See a sign to frites et boissons 1km.  Great.  Cross over to food van and ask what a sandwich americain is.  Meat and chips, like that bloke's eating.  That bloke is a fat trucker who's just polishing off a reasonably appetising-looking sandwich.  That'll do.  It was only as this great work of sandwich art was being prepared that I saw how the guy got such an impressive gut.  Three burgers and a good half-kilo of chips all flowing out of about fourteen inches of broad baguette.  I manfully ploughed through about two thirds of it and wrapped the rest up saying 'i'll save that for the road'.  Yeah right, save it for the bin more like...  Now after 17:30 and I feel like I've got nowhere.  Walking through wet grass in the rain ain't all that fast...  Decide to head for Les Petites Loges and hope for the best there.  Get there about 19:30.  As the truck-stop had warned me, there wasn't much to see.  Still annoyed with late start and have strength in my legs so decide to aim for Les Grandes Loges.  That'll be bigger, right?  Maybe; it'll certainly be another 9km further down the track...  Get to LGL around 21:30.  Try to find camping spot.  There isn't much, and it's almost dark.  Knock on one door to ask about some land but "i don't know; we're new here, try up the road".  I try up the road, but they look at me through the window then turn the lights off and ignore me.  Cheers.  If you're gonna be like that then I'm gonna camp right by your water tower behind your recycling bins, I said to myself.  And that's what I did.  And what did I have for supper?  You guessed it - cold burger 'n' chips sandwich.  Such a delight...  In the tent at ten thirty; slept at midnight.  Happy days.

16/05/08  Set alarm for 8am, fearing disturbance.  As it was snoozed on in exhausted bliss till 9:45.  Did me a power of good.  Tent sodden from ground below and tree above general dew and no morning sun (beggars can't be choosers...).  Took time organising wet things from yesterday.  Cheerily greeted a passing farmer.  Accosted an old boy who'd brought his bottles to the bottle bank re Mairie or Gendarmerie where I could get my pilgrim stamp.  No gendarmerie.  No-one at Mairie till tomorrow.  Great.  Serve me right for camping without permission.  He tells me where the deputy mayor lives. I go there -no reply (turns out later I was at the wrong house anyway).  Go back along the road and ask an old lady and a lady in a post van where I can go.  The old lady says she has a senior circle stamp with LGG on it.  I say that'll do me. Then another old girl swings by and says the shutters are open at the Mairie - the secretary must be there.  These places are incredible - sneeze and before you know it the whole place knows what colour hankies you use.  I take Mme Guichon's address to send her a postcard and head to the mairie.  The secretary of the Mairie - Mme Remy - greets me warmly and we chat awhile.  I tell her I'm heading to Chalons and she kindly invited me to supper and to stay the night - that's where she lives with her husband.  Apparently I remind her of her son, and he's off travelling around Oz.   I accept gladly.  I leave town around  11:45 - I'd gone so wild yesterday I'd only left 13km to cover.  Walk mainly on tractor track to the side of dual carriageway - far pleasanter.  Boots slowly dry as I go.  They're gonna stink (even worse...).  No food or water.  Fool.  There wasn't a shop in LGG but I should have filled my bottle at the Mairie.  Stop in La Veuve.  Seems wuite big.  There must be a shop.  Wander around a bit then see a lady by her house and ask re a boulangerie.  Nope.  Is there one between here and Chalons?  Nope.  She asks if I have anything at all.  Nope.  She invites me into the house and gives me a third of the baguette she's just bought.  How kind!  I fill up my bottle and set off.  How kind indeed.  Get to outskirts of Chalons around four after a leisurely stroll.  Buy and eat two nectarines an apple and a banana and a yoghourt drink.  Worried about sugar in Yop.  Gotta get my calcium somehow though and it sure ain't gonna be from room-temperature UHT filth.  Wander into town.  Looks good.  GF has said there's a strong chance she might be able to visit tomorrow, so I go to the station to ask about trains from Paris.  The station is a schlepp away!  Never mind.  Get the info and by that time it's time to head south to the kind hospitality of the Remys.  Get there at six, noticing on the way that there's plenty to see in Chalons.  Kind hospitality it's been, too.  A nice chat, a lovely shower, a great meal - various salad and veg to start (needed that), a veal rib in tasty sauce with home-made mash followed by a delicious redcurrant tart.  Happy is the well-fed pilgrim!  And now I'll finish this and go and be sociable.  The lady has confirmed that she'll visit tomorrow till Wednesday morning.  That's more days off than I'd planned but I can't wait to see her and want to make the most of it.  I hope the weather holds for plenty of romantic canalside walks.  Lucky I've been keeping up my English by writing this - I certainly haven't been speaking much over here!  Love to all.

UPDATE 24/05/08

17/05/08 Up at 8:30.  Shower and dress.  Great brekker - croissant, hot chocolate, juice, bread, cheese, two oranges.  Spend a pleasant morning with the Remys.  Pack up the stuff that Mme has kindly washed, pack the tent that Monsieur has kindly laid over chairs to dry in the sun; head out around 13:15.  Leave pack at Remys' house.  Wander up to to see the town's big gardens.  Happen across a 'fete de nautisme' - canoe tours of the town for three euros - one day only!  It finishes at 18:00 and the GF arrives 18:07.  Shame.  I head off around town to look into accommodation etc and then return.  As I'm alone one of the boat club people comes with me to paddle the other side, and off we go.  Lovely 40min tour of the town; my companion kindly serving as guide.  There is a sort of canal that runs in a loop around the town centre, going under the town in two places (mercifully illuminated).  A fun trip.  Head back to the Remys', getting lost in the process; pick up my stuff and leave for the station.  Their hospitality has been exemplary.  What kind people.  Realise on the way that I will be late for the train, so end up running for 15mins.  Running in hot sunshine with 18kg on your back is quite a thing.  It's a testimony to my increasing fitness that I managed it at all.  APeople looked at me as though I was mad!  Fair enough.  Arrived at station just as GF was calling me to ask where I'd got to!  Unbelievably sweat-drenched and barely able to speak, but at least I was barely late.  Headed to Hotel Moritz, the only not-to-dear hotel in town that had rooms.  Not amazing but ok.  Headed out for supper - very pleasant and lovely Bresse cheese.  Then to hotel and bed.

18/05/08-21-05/08 Three lovely days in Chalons with my delectable lady friend.  We did little of great consequence.  Transferred to Hotel Pasteur - less expensive and far nicer.  Visited Notre Dame - a UNESCO world heritage church.  Stunning.  Went on a tour in a little motor boat - similar to what I'd done in the canoe.  Fun.  Picnicked more than once by the river.  A delight.  Went to mass in Chapelle St Joseph - ok but hardly inspiring.  Hired Segways to tour the town (I hope I haven't violated my foot-only policy to badly).  If you ever get a chance to go on a Segway, do it.  Brilliant fun.  Loved it.  I also did a bit of unicycling with some guys in front of the Hotel De Ville.  Very nice to see the lady.  Very nice to chill out together.  Did me good to take the time off from walking too;  Gave my feet a chance to recover and my muscles too.

21/05/08 Sorry to have to put my sweetheart on the train at 12:14.  All alone again!  Back to hotel to pick up backpack, via boulangerie for provisions.  Then back out of town towards Compertrix (great name - like Asterix's accountant or something!) and on to find the old Roman path.  All a bit unclear;  Ended up wandering round the back of an aerodrome and chancing upon the path - using my imagination rather more than the (in this instance unreliable) map to work out where it might be.  I really thought this was going to be the first time I got lost, but mercifully no.  Watched a couple of gliders being launched.  Brilliant!  And on in the footsteps of our Roman forebears.  The path was by and large very clear - white and straight.  In a few places farmers or roadbuilders have decided to mess things around a bit; and a couple of times I thought 'right, that's it, I'm really lost now', but I made it on to Vesigneul.  Not the 'official' destination for the day, but that was 40km away.  Yeah, right.  Arrived Vesigneul about 20:30.  Unsure what to do.  No-one about.  Scouted round the back of the church and found a bit of grass there.  Saw a chap outside a house opposite so said 'reckon I could sleep there?'  He said that shouldn't be a problem, so I called my folks from the call box then set up camp.  Felt really happy.  a good days walk, my little tent, pens of geese and chickens nearby, a pond with fish splashing, a hot cup of soup and all is well with the world.  Good day's walking.  Felt strong and wloved being in the countryside.  Well, in the countryside as before but away from main roads.  The Roman way is as good as deserted, and there are just miles of fields on either side.  Birdsong all over the shop and a wealth of little insects to observe.  Bed at half eleven with an owl hooting overhead.

22/05/08  Alarm 8:30.  Wake 09:20.  Up 9:30.  Chilled pilgrim.  Make mint tea. Lovely. Leave churchyard 11am.  Never know how I spend 90mins like that - happily though!  Spend time trying to locate the mayor then the deput y mayor then the deputy deputy mayor (and this in a town of 200 souls) to get my pilgrim record stamped then chance upon a doctor's surgery.  The doctor eyes me with suspicion, stamps my pilgrim record then gets me oput of the door with no apparent interest in my journey - I guess I've become accustomed to barrages of questions!  Left town 11:30.  Feel relaxed in body and spirit.  I started out with quite a lot of stress in my mind.  I feel that over these first few weeks I've cleaned out my mental closet a lot; and that, combined with a change of scenery to the tranquillity of quiet country roads and paths, leaves me feeling ready to open up a fresher mind and spirit to whatever thoughts and inspirations may choose to present themselves.  Arrive in Coole about 12:45 (cool!).  No proper meal yesterday so stop at a routiers restaurant and have a massive fill-belly - lots of bread and pate, grated carrot, boiled egg, big plate of boiled chicken and chips.  Stuffed.  Sit awhile to digest and then chat wit hthe proprietor, Ludo, before heading off again. Back on Roman road to Humbauville.  Church doors open - unusually, but a metal grille in place.  At least God can breathe in Humbauville!  On to Meix Tiercelin, yesterday's destination, supposedly.  I'd never have made it!  Old boy pulls over in his car and we chat. Turns out he used to be the mayor.  He recognised me as a pilgrim.  On out of town and into the fields.  Another old boy pulls over in his minivan and we chat for about half an hour about the french being lazy with their 35hr week (he said it, not me - I loved my 35hr week when I lived here!); the queen and her palaces; the princes; Lady Di; currency strengths; the price of petrol; international politics; surveillance cameras; my pilgrimage etc; - just a pilgrim and a paysan shooting the breeze.  4km to Corbeil.  Onward...  Pass some smelly pig farmsd and arrive about 20:15.  Head towrds the church (not hard in a small village).  There's a chap closing sole garage doors.  He says 'you're looking for a place to sleep, aren't you?'.  I say yes, I have a tent.  He said there was once a bloke who slept in teh schoolroom, should he call the mayoress?  I said I don't want to make a fuss.  Five minutes later he re-emerged saying get yourself set up in tgeh little schoolroom and the mayoress will come and see you later.  In I go!  The chap, M. LeRichon, gave me a bottle of water and let me call my ma from his home phone - how kind.  I got set up and wrote my journal then the mayoress came at 21:50.  She was very nice and offered to bring me coffe in the morning!  I refused and she said she'd bring orange juice.  I feel warmed by such kindness.  Sleep 23:00.

23/05/08Alarm  8am.  Up at 8:30.  Pretty much sorted when mayoress arrived 9:15 bearing a bottle of juice, half a frozen baguette, three chocolate mini-brioches an appale and a banana!  So kind.  She asks if I have meat and says she should have brought some ham.  I say really that's enough.  Get my passport stamped in Mairie, meet secretary, former mayor and another chap.  They giev me a postcard with an aerial view of Corbeil and on I go.  Leave at 10.  40mins later M Lerichon pulls  up on the Roman road on his tractor - he'd spotted me from afar and followed me.  We chatted and then each went his own way.  Passed a farmhouse.  Massive German Shepherd and another decent size mongrel come haring out, barking and snarling madly.  A girl came out and called them off as they got to me.  Thanks.  Set the dogs on the pilgrim first, ask questions later!  Funnily enough my heartbeat didn't even rise.  I thought about this and realised that if they're going to bite me they'll bite me and there's nothing I can do about it, so why worry?  Is this some new super-chilled philosophy I'm developing towards life?  Let's not get ahead of ourselves...  Spent 25mins singing, praying and photographing in the church at Donnement - dilapidated but pretty.  On to Braux, a very pretty village.  Couldn't work out where footpath I wanted was, so took the only one I could see, figuring that as long as I was going South it couldn't be too bad - Rome's somewhere down there.  Ended up in Betignicourt.  The prettiest village I've seen yet. Lots of really old farm buildings.  Everyone seemingly working wood.  Church closed but I climbed up into the roof anyway.  Decided not to explore too far for fear of landing up on the altar, but it was a bit of fun anyway.  Through St Christophe Dodinicourt to Lassicourt.  Lady invited me in for a cold drink.  Had some strawberry sirop and chatted with her and her husband for half an hour.  He had one of the biggest beards I've ever seen.  She was quite tipsy. Lovely folk.  Really welcoming and she was so happy that I was there - kept saying what a good thing it was that she'd stopped me.  6km to Brienne le Chateau.  Pretty town.  No prizes for guessing how it got it's name when you arrive - fairly standard town with a great big chateau on a hill.  Went to supermarket to get provisions - fruit, bread and fresh milk - my favourite!!  Had a look round town, chatted to some old boys then headed up the chateau drive to have a look.  impressive.  On through Brienne la Vieille - also pretty - to Dienville.  Another 6km.  Arrive 21:00.  Ask drietcions in a litle restaurant to campsite.  Say I'll go back to eat after.  First campsite sixteen euros and no-one at reception.  No way!!  Second campsite (like buses!) six euros forty no-one at reception.  Call the night number and say I'm an English pilgrim, I'll set up my tent and see them in the morning;  Head to shower.  Get undressed.  No water...  I haven't showered for three days!!  Back to restaurant for pleasant meal.  Meet owners - Jerome and Laure, their son Jules and the waitress Marie.  Really lovely friendly people.  Jerome invites me to use their computer in the morning (here I am!).  end up chatting till late and don't set up camp till well after midnight.  Good evening though, and needed to wind down after such a long day.  on the road for 11hrs, which is very long despite breaks. Sleep about 1am.

24/05/08 Alarm 9am.  For the first time axoke befor alarm - 8am!  Slept on until almost nine.  Still up before alarm - rested pilgrims.  Have a mahoosive long shower then pack away and leave site around 10:30.  Go to reception and tstraight away the guy says are you the pilgrim that left me a message last night?  I said yes.  He said you did the right thing to call, was your night ok?  I said yes thanks.  He said I won't make you pay, it's a present.  I am touched by his kindness.  I head to Jerome and Laure's house, arriving around 10:45.  They kindly give me tea and a pain au chocolat and let me write all this rubbish.  They've invited me for lunch too.  I should hit the road but they are kind people and friendly too, so I would like to lunch with them.  I shall just walk late into the evening I guess.  Plus ça change...!  Love to all.

UPDATE 28/05/08

...and what a lunch it was!  Jerome and I each had a delicious entrecote with a pile of green beans (pilgrim needs vegetables).  I followed with a delicious crepe covered in melted chocolate.  Jerome and I properly set the world to rights, discussing vegetarianism, British comedy, the problem of debt, world travel, British films, the roles of men and women, alternative energy and much more besides.  he is an intelligent man with a bright imagination and a keen sense of metaphor.  A long lunch, then we retire upstairs to look at weather forecasts, make paper aeroplanes (at Jules's instigation - not just for our own boyish pleasure -honest!) and generally hang out.  It is with a measure of sadness that I prise myself away at 16:45.  Pilgrim gotta walk!  Laure hqs made me four crepes, individually wrapped and packed for me - what a sweetheart.  A lovely family.  Call ma and pa and hit the road at 17:15.  Shocking!  Pass through Uniencourt then a village called L'Autre Monde (The Other World).  Brilliant.  I want to live there.  Where do you live?  The Other World.  Then I get a few spots of rain.  Stick on waterproofs and pack-cover just in case.  Here's a joke for you:  What happens when a pilgrim walks through torrential rain for several hours?  He gets wet.   Not funny?  It wasn't.  Well, it was for a bit.  I actually laughed out loud at my own ridiculous state (I say waterproofs, i kinda failed to put waterproof trousers on...).  Then my boots got sodden and turned to lead, the lightning kicked off and it all became rather less amusing.  Took shelter in a clapped-out caravan full of tyres by a junkyard to transfer mobile, wallet etc to somewhere dry.  Realised that baguette strapped to pack is now mush.  Abandon it in a bush.  Great, bye-bye supper.  Press on to Jessains where I shelter briefly in a tractor shed and munch on a crepe.  So good!  And then onward through briefly lighter rain before a further downpour.  5km later i arrive in Dolancourt, my chosen destination for the day, at 9pm, like adrowned rat.  No obvious place to camp except on the green right in the middle of the village.  Bad plan.  Seek advice in a smart hotel;  they suggest a field by the railway, helpfully reminding me that wild camping in France is illegal - yep, I knew that.  I check out the field and it's full of long grass - impossible to move without getting soaked further.  Head back out of town to find a phone box.  It doesn't work.  Contemplate pressing on to Bar-Sur -Aube despit ethe fact it's now 22:00 and dark.  I'm starting to chill fast though so head to some wood I have espied and set up camp on the East edge.  Top tip for budding campers:  always check your compass and ensure that you are not shadowed in the East - morning sun wakes you gently and dries your tent!  A couple of bits of fruit, half a pack of cherry tomatoes and a crepe for tea.  Lovely.  But not much!  Bed.

25/05/08  Alarm. 8am.  Didn't know whose land I was on so wanted to assess the situation.  No one had disturbed me though so I snoozed till 9:45.  Put clothes out to dry and boots in the sun.  No-one about so I merrily wandered around wearing nothing but flip-flops.  Naturist pilgrim.  1.5 crepes, two bananas and half a pack of cherry toms for breakfast.  Thank goodness I had those crepes!  Two cups of mint tea and several postcards later my clothes are passably dry, so I strap on my sodden boots and wet socks and head off at 9:45, via the posh hotel for a (somewhat ironic) stamp in my pilgrim record.  Hit the road proper at 13:00 wit htwo apples and about half a litre of water to my name.  get to Bar-Sur-Aube around 3pm - there's a boulangerie open on a Sunday afternoon - YES!!  Two baguettes.  Do you consider an unlubricated baguette to be a tasty treat?  I never used to...  Half of one of them slipped straight down.  I got my bottle filled, exchanged pleasantries with a one-handed old boy then ploughed on.  Only 12/13km down, and want to fulfill my 25km quota after yesterday's poor show.  Pass a bar in Forges St Bernard some km later and duck in as it's just started raining again.  Hoping for useful advice.  Get none, except an indication of an abandoned building I could sleep in.  Press on, fully togged with waterproofs.  the building is blocked with Cytex or similar and I didn't much want those folk knowing where I was sleeping anyway, so pushed on to Longchamp.  Heavens opened, and I got drenched.  Just what you want at the end of the day when your boots are just starting to dry.  Arrive about 21:30.  Immediately start scouting for campsites (as it were).  Hot favourite for a while was the cemetery - some nice flat well-mown grass in there.  Then came to the church.  Oh yes, that'll do nicely.  Asked a lady passer-by if she though that'd be alright.  She said yes, so up went the tent.  I don't know what possessed my to try the door of the church at that ungodly hour (no pun intended), but try it I did, and the latch lifted.  The door gave a bit, but I thought it must be locked.  Gave it a good shove and "KLOOOMMMM" it opened.  Quite made me jump.  On went the head torch and in I went.  Turns out it wasn't the church proper but a narthex - a biggish square high-ceilinged room right under the bell-tower, with a massive life-size crucifix over the door into the main body of the church.  Oh yes, this'll do just nicely!  Hauled my pack in from the tent, set out my wet things to dry and laid out my bed.  Shame I'd put the tent up - it's now busy getting soaked - buit at least I'll be dry.  Supper of a whole baguette and a whole pot of paté (courtesy of the mayoress of Corbeil, and greatly appreciated!).  It's funny:  I don't tend to get all that hungry most of the time, but when I eat it just doesn't touch the sides.  That baguette and paté slipped straight down without me even noticing.  Anybody on a diet?  I've got a top tip: walk 25km per day - with at least a quarter of your own body weight in a pack on your back - for three months.  Drink no alcohol.  Eat whatever you like!  I'm not wasting away (although my girlfriend rather thought so), but I'm certainly not getting any fatter.  I think I have yet to reach my fighting weight, and then I'll probably plateau.  i don't mind anyway - the less flab, the less weight I have to cart to Rome!  Write my journal, then read my bible lying on my back with the crucifix high on the wall in front of me - rather comforting.  Turn out the head-torch just before midnight.  Head the clock strike overhead - "CLUNK, DOOIIINNNGGGGG; CLUNK, DOOIIINNNGGGG etc.".  Wonder if it'll wake me every hour all night.  No way!  Pilgrim sleeps like a log.

26/05/08  Didn't hear the clock till 7am.  Then slept till alarm at 8.  Up at 8:30.  Packed up my stuff and wandered down to the Mairie, where I got my stamp.  Told the secretary where I'd slept.  She didn't seem bothered.  As I said to her - what more appropriate place for a pilgrim to take refuge?  She used to see lots of pilgrims when she was secretary in Bar-Sur-Aube, but in three years in Longchamp she hasn't seen one.  Until me.  Either the Compostella route has now diverged from the Via Francigena, or my flagrant disregard for the "official" daily stages is leading me to camp in previously unpilgrimmed territories.  Once agian I'm out of food so am glad to learn that there's an epicerie in the village 4km further on.  Get there and buy bread, fruit, water and a camembert.  Four nectarines for breakfast on the church steps.  I love nectarines.  Onward.  Direction Chateauvillain and beyond.  Stop at a picnic spot on the way.  Have a bit of bread and cheese.  Camembert too ripe for my liking and overly reminiscent of my damp boots.  Not sure I'll be finishing it.  Yeuch.  Gotta eat though!  Carry on.  Obviously it starts raining; then pouring.  I arrive at Chateauvillain about 14:30, drenched.  Take shelter under the porch of the chapelle de la sainte trinité;  looks like a fascinating little church, but like so many of its kind it's sadly closed.  By the time I've eaten some bread, made a couple of calls from the phone box, been to the supermarket and greedily demolished a pain au chocolat, a litre of milk and a litre of water on the grass out front it's after 17:00.  How did that happen?!  Get to my feet and realise that 2l of liquid is quite a lot to have sloshing around inside you as you walk.  Never mind!  Want to take the forest path but not sure where it starts, so get buzzed into the gendarmerie to seek advice.  "Oh no, you can't go in the forest."  "Why not?"  "We'll be sending a helicopter for you in the morning". "But it looks easy on the map".  "Oh no, everyone thinks that.  They go looking for mushrooms then call us saying I can't find my car, i'm lost.  There are so many little tracks everywhere it's impossible to tell where you're going".  I thank the lady gendarme and say I'll stick to the main road.

What happened next?  Find out after I've had a proper sit-down meal - my first for over four days...

UPDATE 01/06/08

Sorry to leave you on the edge of your seats, folks.  The prison-like hostel i was staying in wouldn't let me get back online.  I now have just brief access, so suffice it to say that I did go through the woods and survive the robbers, wild boar and gingerbread house.  I've been copiously rained on, slept in a tractor shed with an injured cow for company, assisted in the rescuing of a large carp, almost saved a whole village from death by flooding and had all sorts of other adventures besides (not that I'm exaggerating any of this.  Much).  In Besancon in two days; hope to fully update there.  Then on to Pontarlier and Switzerland!  Just had a lovely welcome in Seveux from an English chap and his German wife - great people.  And so back to walk...

Today is the celebration of my father's ordination jubilee - fifty years of priesthood!  I'm gutted not to be in Bristol with all the family on this occasion, but will be celebrating as best I can over here.  Please spare a thought for my pa and offer up a little prayer of thanks if you're that way inclined - it truly is a wonderful achievement, and I for one am tremendously proud of him.

UPDATE 06/06/08

The lady Gendarme then started saying oh, we need a proper map of the forest.  They couldn't find one, so she explained that I could go through the wood, but had to go straight through, on the road then on the track that went East after that.  I said that I wanted to head South in the middle "oh no, we'll be sending out a helicopter in the morning.  Then she said "don' t sleep in the woods, the wild boar will attack your food".  Ok.  Then "do you have any money with you?"  "Yes" - she tutted mysteriously.  Who am I going to run into - Robin Hood and his merry men?!  Off I went.  Got into the woods about 17.45; reckon I need to get out before 20.30 to avoid the marauding wild boar.  Turns out the path is like a transatlantic aircraft runway.  I get to the abandoned farm where I wanted to head South and there was clearly a road there.  I remembered my mother telling me that I should always do what a policeman tells me to do, then took it anyway.  Turns out this road could certainly have served a small prop plane, and so I started looking around for the gingerbread house or wild boar nest that the gendarme hadn't wanted to tell me about.  Sure enough there was no such thing, and by 20.00 I was out of the woods.  Head to Arc-En-Barrois and arrive in about an hour.  Find campsite - facilities open but no-one to take my money.  Go in search of food.  Everything shut on Monday.  Great.  I set up tent and it starts raining again.  Huddle in my tent with a cup-a-soup and some bread as the heavens proceed to open.  Feels more like a survival exercise than a pilgrimage.  I go to bed and the storm starts.  I briefly wonder whether I'm to  close to or too far from the trees, lightning-wise, but can't be bothered to move anyway.  Even with my eyes shut and my arm over them I can still see the lightning.  The storm is clearly near!  Fall asleep.  Takes more than a bit of thunder to stop me sleeping at the mo...

27.05.08  Despite a few false alarms where the rain stops briefly, I end up hiding in the tent all morning - I just can't pack and leave while it's bucketing down.  Action stations at 1pm when there's enough of a break for me to actually get the tent a bit dry and pack up.  Off I go.   Starts raining as I hit the road.  Great.  Cover about 18km in four hours and arrive at Beauchemin around 19:50 - I'd had to wait in A-E-B for the shops to open before I could leave.  Everything closes here between half twelve and 3pm!!  Manage to locate deputy mayor in Beauchelin in his cow yard.  He says I can pitch behind the Salle des Fetes.  I ask re a tap, and he shows me the hose in his cow yard.  Another cup-a-soup and bread feast - oh, the luxury.  Managed to get water ok for cup-a-soup.  By the time the bedtime cup of mint tea came round though I was out of my boots and in flip-flops.  Top tip:  don't ever go in a cow yard wearing flip-flops, especially when it's been raining.  I slithered around in the country pancakes and almost went headlong into a pile of pre-digested grass.  Ended up cheerfully hosing down my feet and flip-flops before using the same hose to fill my mug for tea.  The glamour is unending...

28.06.08  Alarm  8.10.  Snooze till 9.20.  Leave at 10.40.  How does it always take so long?  Well, I sleep like a log and when I wake i spend an hour sitting or wandering like a zombie till my brain finally locates a useable gear!  Go and fill water bottle in the yard and chat to the farmer about bull genetics - a fascinating subject, i tell you.  Hit the road at 11.  the sun is shining and the tent was dry.  A treat!  Lovely walk through Saint Ciergues and across the barrage at one end of the Lac de La Mouche.  How do they build them?  It's like magic to me.  What do they do wit hthe lake while they build the dyke?  Or does the lake come after... Hmmm...  Hada good picnic at th water's edge.  And on towards Langres...  Short day (basically did one day's walk in two after yesterday's rain).  Arrive 2pm at city limits, then have to schlepp up the hill to the old walled town.  Go to the tourist office then check in to the Hostel for Young Workers - basically a prison.  Looks like a prison, landings like a prison, cells like a prison.  Delightful.  Get in the shower fully clothed witha bundle of other filthy clothes in my hands, then strip off and get myself clean before having a go at my filthy clothes.  Get a massive and expensive (by pilgrim standards) meal in the evening.  Massive.  Ate most of a duck I think.  And big starter.  And dessert.  Stuffed.  Back to prison...

29.05.08  Have to take a day off.  Don't want to, but need physical rest.  Had hoped to get to mass at 9am.  Fat chance - get up at 10:45!  Dull day, but at least not too much rain.  Visited cathedral - quite interesting.  Museum - great modern building, good exhibition on fables; standard bronze age iron age crap; some interesting Roman and Egyptian stuff and quite a few nice pieces of fine art.  A good visit, but a bit lonely.  Then rushed to catch the 'renaissance house'.  Underwhelmed.  I'm probably just a philistine...  Another good meal - trout this time.  Garlic carrots - more garlic than carrots - lucky I don't have to be in any way sociable!  And back to prison where I read the book of Esther.  Ready to get my pack back on tomorrow...

30.05.08 Up at 8:30 for mass at 9 in St Martin's church.  Lovely church, lovely mass, annoyingly drifted off during sermon so have no idea what it was about.  Forgot to get my pilgrim record stamped when I left the prison, i realise 7km later.  Really cross with myself.  Rome won't mind, but I wanted to have a stamp in every place that I started a day's walking.  Never mind - get it stamped in Chalindrey Mairie.  Eat lunch, rain starts - again - on I go.  Plough on and on to Grenant - tonight's stop.  I've decided to deviate from the 'official' route and get to Besancon in 4 days instead of 6.  We'll see how I get on...  Get to Grenant at about 19.00.   There's a massive black storm cloud visible not far off, so I hasten to ask whee I can pitch my tent.  Knock on a door and am offered an island in the river or the farmer's tractor shed.  Off I potter, and another guy comes after me saying 'no, sleep in my tractor shed - there's more room'.  Ok!  Turns out he's the first guy's son.  I get set up in there and then he comes and invites me to have a shower and some supper.  I gladly accept.  Him and his wife and two lovely children - 7 and 4.  Good supper of smoked salmon, an omelette, bread and ice cream.  They put on Sky News after so I could hear a bit of English - thoughtful.  The storm hit while we were eating - a truly incredible downpour.   the family said they'd never seen anything like it.  Thank goodness I'm not in the tent tonight!  The rain abated and then grandpa came to the kitchen window and said "we've got to open the locks or the village will flood".  Up the men jumped (Jerome, me and another guy Mickael who'd turned up).  We all headed down to the river.  They opened the lock gates while I obviously just stood around and took photos.  There sure was a lot of water coming down!  As we came back over the bridge we spoted a massive carp stuck on it's side on the weir.  Mickael said he'd go and rescue it, and down he went, paddling in the shallows to this carp, which he picked up by the gills and carried upstream of the weir.  It was too injured or stupid or both to head off upriver, so he ended up putting it back downstream  in deeper water to follow the current.  Good luck Mr Carp...  Off to the tractor shed around 11 to sleep.  I have a cow with an injured hoof in there with me.  Apparently she doesn't like being on her own so may make some noise.  Great!  Mercifully she's in a pen so won't come cuddling up to me in the night...

31.05.08  The cow didn't make much noise before I slept around midnight.  At 6.30am however, it started mooing incessantly, barely taking a breath!  It must have shut up at some point as I went back to sleep for an hour or so, before waking around 7:45. I was up and busying myself by the time Jerome came in about 8 to invite me to breakfast.  A good breakfast of croissants, pain au chocolat, ot chocolate (milk from the cow this morning!) and juice.  Jerome headed off to the cows, I stayed a while with Mme and the kids, going out to see the next door neighbours stripping the reed crop and putting it out to dry (good luck!).  This is the two-week period in which they do this.  It's a basket-weaving village, apparently.  Interesting.  Headed off about 9:30.  Through Larret and on to Vaite.  Rain stopping and starting all the time, waterproofs on and off, on and off.  Photograph some lambs just after Vaite; farmer comes out and says are you taking photos?  I suspect I might be about to get in trouble, but it turns out he wants to show me his goat kids whom, after some considerable coaxing and bribery, he gets to hop down the sheer slope from the field above.  He picks them up in turn and caresses them saying "we're not going to kill you, we couldn't, you're too pretty".  Aaahhh....  Walk on to Seveux and get there about 18:50 - just in time to get some provisions - fruit, water etc.  Recce church - there's some grass there - then find someone to ask about where I might find the mayor or church warden.  End up getting directed to an Irishman down the road who has a B and B - apparently he might have some grass I could put my tent on.  Turns out he's English (but plays the bagpipes) and has a German wife.  They are very friendly and welcoming people.  They let me put my tent up in their back garden and invite me to supper.  Good supper of bread, cheese and soup.  Good company - the guy's brother, his wife and another friend are visiting from the UK.  All very companionable.  They can't believe that I'm not drinking for three months, and proceed to enjoy a number of bottles of wine between them - I can't pretend I'm not a little envious!  I'm invited for breakfast at 8, but don't end up sleeping till well after midnight.  Cripes!!

01/05/08  Alarm 7.30.  Up 7.55.  Get to table 8.02 - everyone already there!  Tisane, croissant, bread, boiled egg, jam, yogurt, juice.  Nice.  Chat to the proprietor, Ted, whom I heard playing his accordion as I brushed my teeth.  He told me some good anecdotes about performing in various places and we were then joined by his wife who joined in.  They're big into folk music and weend up watching a Bruce Springsteen 'making of' DVD - the Seeger Sessions, a folk effort.  A good watch, but I must hit the road!  Thank Ted and Charlotte for their incredible hospitality and head off just before midday.  Go the the boulangerie to get a baguette and a pain au chocolat.  End up chatting a bit about my trip, and the lady says to the boy "give him a cake or something.  What would you like?"  I choose a small strawberry tart.  "There, you'll think of us as you have dessert."  How kind!  Head up to the church, which is open but empty.  Today is dad's jubilee celebration and I'm very conscious of the fact that I'm not in Bristol with all the rest of the family.  I had hoped to at least get to mass, but there isn't one for miles around (apparently the priest that's in charge of this parish has fifteen parishes on rotation!).  I sing a number of hymns in the church and say many prayers of thanksgiving for the blessings of dad's ministry - both those which he has received and those that he has brought to others; and also giving thanks for everything that he has brought to my life over the years - a huge amount.  I pray aloud - there's no-one there to be disturbed, and it makes it more like a little service - the best I can do on this important day.  After I leave the church I send dad a text to let him know I'm thinking of him, and can't hold back a couple of little tears - I'd love to be there to clap him on the back and congratulate him and tell him how proud I am of him.  At least I know that I am there in spirit and have not myself been forgotten - mum and dad have both kindly texted to say that they have me in mind.  Mum said that she would carry me with her to church in her heart; which was so lovely.  Start walk proper around 13:15 - one road all the way to Oiselay.  Manage to speak to dad in the afternoon - sounds like it was a great day.  Really pleased.  Trying to sort out another girlfriend visit.  It's proving problematic because of clashing schedules. Fingers crossed...  Day going slowly.  Have some food in Etrelles, then 6km on to Oiselay.  Sleep on football pitch - no official permission but it's a pretty discreet place.  Had fancied a derelict chapel by the cemetery, but the tent's wet so need airing.  Another cup-a-soup supper.  Joy!

02/06/08  Wake up before 9am alarm.  Attempt to get tent dry, have leisurely if modest breakfast and pack and head to town.  Get record stamped in primary school - kinda cool.  Ask re boulangerie/epicerie.  I'd just missed the bread van and nothing for 8km.  Great.  Walk on...  Get to Cussey at 2pm.  Epicerie shut.  Restaurant shut.  Epicerie reopens at 3pm - that's if it opens at all on a monday.  No-one around to ask.  Sit in the sun and write a postcard and contemplate life in general.  3pm comes.  I decide to wait a bit.  It starts to drizzle.  I get togged up.  Shop opens at 3:15; i get ripped off for bread, fruit, cheese, ham etc.  Picnic by the church.  Ham is foul, fruit isn't great; I'm grumpy and time is ticking on.  As I leave town the heavens open.  It just gets better...  Tramp on to Auxon-Dessus.  Call Franciscan Friary in Besancon to ask if I can stay.  They sound sort of surprised or hesitant, but say yes.  What time will I arrive?  I say I reckon around 7.  I'll cut a long story short here, but suffice it to say that I arrived about 10pm, having been stopped by the police (who ended up kindly offering me a lift that I declined), and having climbed a couple of truly massive hills.  Having already covered about 30km, much of it in the rain, this was not exactly ideal.  I'd called the friars to say that I'd be a bit late, but I think they had started to worry...  I was shown to my quarters - a lovely kind of converted barn building - rough but delightful.  Made some soup (Knorr this time - a better class of instant soup) and headed to bed exhausted.  Read a great book of Catholic cartoons but couldn't keep my eyes open.

03.06.08 Up at 7.18 for mass at 07.30 in Notre Dame des Buis.  4 brothers and 6 others.  Lovely chapel; lovely mass; intercessions aloud by all; chalice and ciborium handed round in a circle - all very spiritual and dignified and meaningful.  Breakfast with the brothers after (turns out it was three brothers of 5 that live there, and one would-be friar who's doing convent visits).  Companionable breakfast.  I have maintained terrible prejudices about members of religious orders, I am ashamed to confess - that they probably have something to hide from or can't quite cope in 'normal' society.  Well, there we were, five normal blokes sitting around the table chattering away about anything and everything, and I just though "wow, here are some guys that are perfectly normal and chilled out, but have decided to devote their lives to God and to others - what an amazing thing!".  After breakfast I had a more meaningful one-to-one with Frère Battite.  It was a lovely exchange.  Then I went for a walk with Pierre-Alexandre; the would-be friar.  He's about my age or a couple of years younger.  We had a good chat.  I asked him how he felt about a vow of celibacy.  He said "I've had girlfriends, and I've known life in a couple; and I know that women can be great [said with a real glint in his eye!], but I've decided to sacrfice all that so that I can give my time to everyone, not just to one person.  So that I can meet people like you now, for example."  What a courageous young man.  I look forward to hearing whether he is accepted into the order and how things progress for him.  I really wish him all the best.  Hit the road around 11am.  Another long story short:  I have to get down off the hill and up and down a few more hills; through a forest in which I rely on my compass mainly and end up at a mining plant.  The lady at the site office said "how did you get here?"  "through the woods", I replied.  She nodded, mystified.  Turns out I wasn't far from where I'd hoped - Tarcenay.  Got there and had a half-hour chat with a delightfully eccentric lady - a mental health nurse - who used to live in Switzerland.  She'd just been supermarket shopping and basically offered me all of her goods - she was so generous and kind.  I ended up with some grape juice and three apples, with which I was very pleased.  She recommended various routes through Switzerland, and even gave me money to visit a particular museum of art in Martigny - she said "I don't want you to say no, and I don't want you to thank me".  I couldn't help myselmf but thank her.  How thoughtful and generous!  Made a couple of phone calls to folks and GF.  Time ticked on.  Still can't work out GF visit.  Still a long way to go.  Getting worried. Get to boulangerie and carry on to Ornans.  It soon starts raining and I get soaked.  Put up tent in the rain just before dark in Orninans campsite - at least i had the delight of a truly magnificent Eastern sky at sunset.  Soaked.  Cup-a-soup.  I haven't eaten enough all day and am starving and not particularly happy.  Decide with GF that we should delay her visit.  I'm desperate to see her, but also very keen to get to the halfway stage.  I've been plugging away at this for ages yet still feel very much like I'm on the uphill stretch - metaphorically as well as physically!  I could just do with some sunshine and some good food and a dry tent from time to time and a shower and oh I'll stop moaning on...

04/06/08  Wake up hungry and exhausted.  Wait for tent to dry.  It doesn't.  I have a shower and pack slowly.  Get to town just after shops shut for lunch so have a truly fould pizza.  Walk for an hour then sit in a bus stop.  exhausted.  Feel a bit ill.  Hot flush and slight nausea.  It starts raining.  I tog up and walk on.  Had hoped to smash 34km to POntarlier today but realise this is impossible.  I'll go to Mouthier-Haute-Pierre.  Short walk, but takes quite a while.  Rains most of the afternoon.  Pass lots of tempting campsites.  Buy big bar of chocolate and a pain au chocolat and a can of orangina.  First bar of chocolate I've bought since being away.  It picks me up quite a lot.  Take a Grande Randonnee route for 3km up past a massive vineyard - nice.  Pass through Lods "L'Un Des Plus Beaux Villages De France", apparently.  It is indeed very picturesque.  Pass a couple of closed campsites about 1.5km before M-H-P, where I buy some fruit and yogurts and recce the church for camping.  There's some good grass behind it.  I track down the mayor at his house, and he sends me packing ack down to the closed campsite, 15mins walk down a steepish hill - that'll be fun in the morning!  I confess that I cursed him all the way down.  Put the tent up in the rain by the river near a weir; had bread, cheese, fruit and yogurt huddled in tent then got down to bible and sleep.

UPDATE 13/06/08

Greetings all, sorry I must be very brief.  I have been lost in the woods, comprehensively soaked, really quite lonely and fed up.  Then I got to Switzerland, at which point the weather got better, the scenery more interesting and I have received some lovely hospitality. 

UPDATE 18/06/08

05/06/08 Wake up to a wet tent.  Eat all i have - determined not to get so malnourished again.  Put my pack under shelter while i pull the tent to pieces ans pack it so at least the inner should stay dry.  And back up the hill to Mouthier Haute Pierre...  Get some provisions and directions, get out of the shop and the rain starts again.  Great.  Oh, joy.  Take shelter by a water trough and some delightful public toilets and put on my rain gear.  After a despondent while a lady calls out from an upper window across the street - would you like a coffee out of the rain?  She didn't need to ask twice.  Turns out she's the home help of a 99 year old lady with whom i spent a happy our drinking ice tea and chatting about allsorts.  A bit deaf, a bit forgetful but a sharp cookie with a lot of insight - I guess that's what a century of living does for you!  Great stuff.  As I left she said "je te dis merde!".  I needed an explanation from the home help that that meant good luck.  As I departed the lady - Noella - shouted after me down the stairs "Merde! merde! merde! merde!" while the HH tried to calm her down.  Love it!   I ploughed on through the rain.  Path took me right back down to the river and right back up again, which naturally thrilled me no end.  The signposting was pretty rubbish so I ended up walking along the road, which was incredible.  Opened around 1850, but if Iìd been told it was opened last year I'd still have marvelled - an incredible feat of engineering - a road carved out of the rock face of the gorge.  The views down were impressive, and on a clear day would be breathtaking.  A road high above a broad wooded gorge.  Found a path to the source of the Loue, so took it.  A delightful pathway through the woods.  Stopped under a big rock overhang for lunch.  Felt like a hermit.  Lonely pilgrim chomping on bread and cheese - as ever - in his cave.  Ironically it stopped raining for about ten minutes while I ate lunch.  That was the last time it stopped all day...  You know how annoying it is when it's raining.  You have to stay at home.  Or you have to run across the street from the office to get your sandwich at lunchtime.  You can't open the car windows when you drive.  Ok, when was the last time you were outside in the rain for eight hours or more?  How annoying would that be?  Quite.  The source of the Loue, obviously a massive descent, was interesting.  Water flowing out of a big cave in a humongous rockface.  Then I found out it's actually fed by two other rivers, which made me feel rather cheated.  On for a steep ascent to a little chapel surrounded by barbed wire in a cow field.  So tired I lay down for 20 mins on the stone floor.  Down to village - Ouhans - got directions to cut through to main road to Pontarlier.  Seemed a bit of a dog-leg so ignored them.  Had a Grande Randonnee path at my diposal but was so annoyed by the one earlier in the day that I ignored that too, and chose a forestry track "sans issue" (ie doesn't go anywhere).  Yes, it went somewhere.  Up up and up again into the woods, where finally it became a mud track, which split into three tracks with ankle-deep mud, then a variety of other tracks with varying depths of mud.  Needless to say the further you doggedly plough on under such circumstances, and the more often you see your compass needle pointing in a variety of new and startling directions, the greater becomes the inkling that you might just be a little bit lost.  Then comes the full realisation taht you have no idea where you are, in a thick forest, in the clouds, in thick mud.  And it'll soon be dark.  Try it some time - it's a magical feeling.  Being a good boy scout I took a look at the map, decided to head East, and followed the compass.  This involved hacking through undergrowth, sliding down muddy slopes and generally being an irresponsible orienteer, but in only twenty or so minutes I heard the sound of roaring traffic, and soon after emerged like a drowned prairie dog on the main road to Pontarlier.  It was now after 7pm.  Tired.  Wet.  Cold.  And 9km from Pontarlier.  Oh, the unbridled joy.  Donned my hi-viz vest and got to marching.  Funnily enough by now I'm so fit that the km aren't the problem, just the boredom of a stright main road, and the discomfort of being soaked through for the Nth time, and being repeatedly sprayed by drivers who look at me like I must be mad.  Oh, hang on...  Get to Pontarlier around 9pm, thoroughly fed up.  Have a lovely chat (read: a good old moan) to my pa who is very sympathetic and makes me feel rather better.  It's all a bit crap though.  I know it was my choice to do it and it's a great experience etc etc, but being constantly rained on and tired and never knowing where you're going to sleep and permanently lugging around the weight of a healthy 5-year-old boy can sometimes just get a bit much.  Head into town and get food (doner kebab - food?  The only option).  Campsite a couple of km away.  More joy.  Meet a man on the way who's done a runner from the hospital where he's being treated for chronic alcoholism.  We talk for quite some time.  I feel deeply sorry for him and profoundly grateful for all my own blessings.  I think just maybe I brought a little bit of something positive into his evening.  I hope so.  Pitched tent in the rain.  Hid from the rain.  Fell asleep with the sound of the rain.  Rain rain rain.

06/06/08  Up about 10:45.  Dismantle sodden tent.  Pay fifteen euros for campsite.  Robbery.  i hadn't even taken a shower!  what's the point?  I'm sick of being wet.  Phone ma and have a nice chat.  Go into town and buy chocolate and crisps and biscuits and all the things I normally don't allow myself.  Head out of town to the Ibis hotel and check in at 2pm.  It's raining.  You wouldn't believe my joy when I got into that room.  A bed, a bathroom, a telly, a hair-dryer for my boots!  Set about eating snack food, flipping between the tennis and Harry Potter, having a shower, washing my clothes in teh bath, hanging my tent all over the place, airing my sleeping bag and generally making the place look like a neglected squat.  Bliss.  Didn't leave hotel for 22hrs.  Had dinner there - a steak - and generally made use of the facilities and comforts which I rarely enjoy.  Happy days. 

07/06/08 Up at 9:20.  Breakfast at 9:40.  i was the only guest there, so put myself in Dyson mode and set about hoovering up the buffet.  Croissant, bread, cake, fruit, cheese, yogurt, milk, hot chocolate, juice, cereal - nothing was safe. Arrange a late check-out and set about my boots with the hair-dryer again.  Leave around midday.  Still raining.  Went into town, drank some milk and wrote some postcards in a bus shelter.  Glamorous.  The rain is now light.  Leave town, do a few km then take the turning for Les Fourgs, and commence the ascent.  It's a long pull up to skiing altitudes, but I manage ok and arrive at the Swiss border around 18:00, just as the rain stops.  The Swiss border!  An achievement!  Joy!  Get my pilgirm record stamped - Douane Auberson - and walk on to Ste Croix, 6km further on, arriving around 19:40.  Meet a young guy who takes me to the Youth Hostel that has closed, then up above the town to a hill where I can't camp (nowhere flat!), then to his mates' place, where he reckons I can stay.  Turns out I could.  i was welcomed by four other guys in a place that looked like a bohemian squat (it wasn't), and in which I witnessed the most incredibly enthusiastic and copious consumption of marijuana.  The welcome was very warm; I was given a big meal, a good chat and a sofa to sleep on.  Really good guys.

08/06/06  My host kindly woke me at 9:50 for church.  Turns out there wasn't a mass.  I had a good breakfast, during which two of the guys started once again smoking vast quantities of dope.  At ten in the morning - how do these people function?!  Two guys accompanied me to the station to get a stamp, then out of town to show me the path they recommended - via the Gorges de Covetannaz.  It took them quite out of their way.  They were kind to take me there, and sent me off with many good wishes.  The gorges were lovely.  I walked on to Orbe, the day's destination.  Got there at 5pm, so decided to walk a bit more.  And a bit more.  I ended up at 10pm unable to find a place to camp, so walked on till 11:20 when I got to Chessel - just 5km or so from Lausanne - tomorrow's destination! - where I failed to gain ingress to a McDonald's restaurant, but succeeded in camping next to the football pitch of FC Chessel (for whom, I later learned, Michael Schumacher plays).  I've walked a long way!

09/09/08  Alarm 9am.  Woken at 8:45 by banging on the tent.  Blearily pull on my trousers and stick my head out.  Silhouetted against the morning sun are two MASSIVE police officers.  Hello! I say.  What are you doingh here?  I was sleeping, officer.  Who are you?  I'm an English pilgrim etc etc.  Ok, have a nice day.  Cool!  Groundsman comes over and says would I like a shower - he'll open up the dressing rooms.  Brilliant.  Left with an FC Chessel pennant for my bag and an FC Chessel T-shirt!  Straight to McD's.  Then straight to a cashpoint - Swiss Francs now!  Then straight back to McD's for a sumptuous ìBig Tasty' with bacon; large fries; Sprite and sundae - the breakfast of champions.  Got to Lausanne about 13:00.  Met a lovely old boy who was picking flowers, gave me directions and some time later went round town looking for me, founf me and gave me a map that he'd gone and fetched for me.  So kind.  Bought a harmonica, a walking map and a Bill Bryson book (a bit of light relief now necessary - then back to the Good Book).  Meandered around for a bit feeling daunted by the city, annoyed by my backpack and unsure what to do.  Phoned M&D.  Campsite out of town so decided to take pack to cathedral, visit then go camp.  Cathedral was good.  Climbed bell-tower )leaving pack at the bottom!) and got a good view of the city, which allowed me to think right, I've 'done' Lausanne now.  Headed to campsite, literally miles away and on the wrong side of town for tomorrow, via the only backpacker hostel which only had dormitory rooms available (couldn't face it).  On the way to the campsite met a group of Protection Civile men.  They are guys who don't want to do militarty service so instead preserve public order, in this case because of possible crowds going to watch Euro 2008 matched on the big screen by the lake.  There were no crowds, so I spent an hour chatting to the guys, dressing up in one of their uniforms for photos and generally messing about.  Went to campsite, ate a good pizza and went to bed to the sound of dutch adolescents making an unnecessary amount of noise.  Got to sleep around 1am, to the sound of dutch adolescents making an unnecessary amount of noise.  No rain all day!

10/06/08  Wake up at 7:30am to the sound of dutch adolescents making an unnecessary amount of noise.  Namely a ghetto blaster right by my tent.  Doze till 9:30.  Hang around in the sunshine reading Bryson till about half eleven then leave.  Follow lake all day, sometimes taking paths up through vineyards.  Sunny and brilliant and amazing and wonderful.  Switzerland is great.  The lake is beautiful, as are the mountains (even though they keep looking at me funny and syaing "come and have a go if you think you're hard enough").  People are playing volleyball and football and rollerblading and walking their dogs and sitting having coffee and chatting on terraces and swimming and sunbathing and generally looking attractive and healthy and happy and affluent.  There are so many benches to sit on, fountains to drink from, floral displays to look at and public toilets to, well, do whatever you need to, that it's a wonder I made any progress at all!  This is a country that takes care of itself.  Just after 8pm I meet three friends - two ladies and a gent - all 60ish - on a vineyard path.  We have a really delightful chat - they are interesting and interested, charming people.  they recommend a campsite 4km further on and we part ways after around 40 mins.  I march on, arriving above the campsite on the road around 21:30.  I hear "coucou!  Benedict!" - it's the three from before, now awaiting me at the little restaurant by the campsite!  I was so thrilled to see them I can't tell you.  I'd just been thanking God for such lovely folk and there they were again.  They took me for a good and companionable supper of merguez and frites, at which the campsite owner - a friend - was also present.  It was a good evening.  The campsite guy said pitch wherever you want.  The campsite was like a little island jutting out into the lake, and I pitched within five yards of the lakeshore, going to sleep with the sound of the water lapping against the rocks.  It was amazing.

11/06/08  Hot sunny morning.  Leisurely start, leisurely stroll round lake.  Stop to chat to young English couple with baby - they run a ski chalet in Verbiers in the winter and "try not to spend too much money" in the summer.  They offer me to stay at the flat they rent out if I want .- for a week's rest if I feel I need it!  They'll be away for a few days but they'll leave it open for me.  Imagine!  It's a bit off my route, but if the storms return then boy I might be glad of it.  A generous offer.  Carry on round to Montreux, marvelling at the benches, flowers, drinking fountains and public loos, and stop to seek provisions in a supermarket there.  The three from last night are all from Montreux, but it's a biggish place so I doubted I'd see them.  Who did I bump into the checkout but one of the lovely ladies from last night!  what a lovely surprise.  And she insisted on buying my groceries for me, which was very kind.  I was glad to see her again, and be introduced to another of her friends, who had clearly already heard tell of the pilgrim.  Walked on, left the lake, walked an hour with a ladies' trekking club, ended up camping by the local football pitch in ?Chesiel (I can't read my own writing...).

12/06/08  Phone dead.  No alarm.  Woke 5:15.  Passing tractors or full bladder or combination of the two.  The latter was easy enough to take care of but the former were mildly bothersome as I snoozed on.  Quite cold.  Zipped myself right up and awoke at 8:45 drenched in sweat - sun's up!  Walk on past Aigle, yesterday's supposed destination.  Happen across World Cycling Centre, where I marvelled at the velodrome and had a good lunch.  Walked for three hours in the company of a man I met outside who was passing by on his bike.  I wish I had the time to describe those three hours in full detail.  He explained a full theory about the end of the world; an impressive knowledge of the Scriptures, trains, factories, bridges and the mental health system.  He took me for a drink in the bistro of a shooting range.  i never found out his name.  We never talked about why he was walking with me:  We both knew without discussing it when it was time to part company.  I walked on past today's destination - St Maurice - and on towards Evionnaz.  Met a nice guy - a buff runner - with whom I chatted and who offered me to stay at his place.  Sadly it was 4km back so I declined.  Ended up pitching after dark right by a huge waterfall called "PIssevache" - Pisscow - in Mieville.  Took me half an hour to work out how to get across to the only bit of possibly flat ground, and half an hour to successfuly pitch my tent there, being sprayed by the falls all the while.  The roar was huge.  When had first approached the falls my heart was thumping with the thrill of it.  I wondered if I'd ever be able to sleep.  But sleep I did, though I woke up temporarily partially deaf and after some extraordinarily odd dreams...

It's 9pm and I must eat.  Since the Pisscow I have met a lovely couple called Steve and Borah, eaten with them, and eaten and stayed with their charming neighbours Cedric and Raphaelle - and all their various assorted kids and cousins.  I have been to the Fondation Giannada in Martigny; almost fallen off a cliff; played at being Indiana Jones in the spectacular Gorges du Durnand; joined in a four-birthday party with a bagpiper in full kilt and regalia; been rained on again; visited a mountain lake; climbed 1300m in one day; got caught in a snowstorm at 2400m - in mid June!; stayed at the Great St Bernard Hospice; crossed the Italian border and arrived in Aosta.  Bits of it have been incredibly wonderful; bits have been very hard; at times I've been elated, at times exhausted and lonely.  It has been a busy time for this little pilgrim, and I look forward to telling you more about it. In the meantime, love to all.

UPDATE 24/06/08

13/06/08 Woke up a bit deaf by the watefall, got a stamp and lovely pen as a gift from the manager of the hydroelectric plant.  walked 2km into Vernayaz, bought some yogurts and headed into the backstreets to find a phone to give the missus a tinkle.  Bumped into a guy with a Vespa called Steve.  He soon invited me round to his house for a drink.  i initially declined, fearing it would be far, but then accepted when he said it was round the corner.  A cold drink turned into a great barbecue with Steve, his two kids and his partner Borah, and a neighbour Cedric.  All sorts of friends, neighbours and in-laws popped by to gawp at the pilgrim - all good fun.  Lunch turned into a great raclette supper at Cedric's house with his partner, kids and extended family, plus Steve's lot.  A good time was had by all and I was welcomed very warmly.  I'd been invited to stay at Cedric's house and accepted with gladness.  Between them, Cedric and Steve's family sent me on my way clean, with clothes washed and dried, a wonderfully full tummy and after a good night's sleep.  Only 2km achieved distance-wise, but I sure wasn't complaining!

14/06/08 Overslept.  Up at ten.  Whoops.  That's what a comfy bed does for you!  Breakfast with Cedric and Raphaelle.  Departed an hour later with a generous bag of provisions.  Steve had popped by to say bye, and I popped over to greet Borah.  On through the apple orchards to Martigny, 4km or so away, where there was some sort of local fair.  I watched a hip-hop dance display for a while - just glad to hear some banging tunes.  Great idea to leave ipod etc at home - very pilgrimly - but I sure do miss a good beat.  Then on to Fondation Giannada - the lady in France gave me the money to pay the entry, remember?  Small but good permanent collection.  Special Balthus exhibition not due to open till 16th but it was already on show - my luck!  Also classic cars and a fine sculpture garden.  Good stuff very well exhibited.  A treat.  Phoned ma for a good chat then walked on at around 18:30.  First real mountain path.  Cut out of a hillside.  Guide describes it as "difficult for all groups".  Too right!  Hillside falling away on one side.  Occasionally a barrier or rail to hold onto (only where there was a sheer cliff and sometimes not even then.  Up and down very steep ascents/descents.  Welcome to the Alps!  At one point the path just disappeared under a huge rockfall.  Nothing to do but clamber...  Path to Gorges du Durnand (where Steve had suggested I go) closed, so on to Bovernier.  Called lady from there then doglegged back to Les Vallettes.  Nowhere to camp so headed up tyhrough growing darkness to Gorges entrance.  Was allowed to camp in the bistro car park, had a nice chat with some folk, was offered free entry to the gorges tomorrow and pitched camp around 23:00

[computer keeps cutting me out so if i finish mid-sentence, sorry...]

15/06/08  Eat biscuits in bed then get up and climb the gorges.  Incredible walkways bolted to the cliff-face on one side.  A viewing bridge right across halfway up, with huge waterfalls on either side.  I literally yelped with delight as I scampered onto it!  Waterfalls are my new fetish.  It was a real thrill.  After the gorges was a vicious climb.  I was off the official track, doing a Brucie bonus mountain for the sake of the gorges and the lake at the top.  Viciously steep.  A Golf GTi flew past me as i crossed the road.  Ten minutes later I saw it pass me again - this time below me.  That's how steep the pedestrian path was and how circuitous the road.  I overtook a GTi up a hill!  Passed a big party with two spit-roasting pigs.  Said hello and was invioted to join in.  Two 40ths, a 60th and a 70th.  Guy whose 60th it was was Scottish - Willie.  Scottish salmon, kilts, bagpipes, the lot.  Truly bizarre.  Walked on in the strengthening rain.  Pretty valley then hefty climb up to the lake at Champex.  Lake a disappointment - there's far better in Cumbria.  Never mind! All good training for the climb to come.  Two days up to the Great St Bernard Pass.  Awful horrid steep descent to Orsieres - far worse than the climb.  Went dead slow to save my knees.  Stayed at the parish house (well, an adjacent building with no shower or loo).  Met four brilliant Italians who'd gone there to get their pilgrim records stamped - they were doing 10ish days Pontarlier - Aosta.  We had a drink together with the Augustinians who run the place.  The Italians said they were leaving at 7:30am to climb to the top in one day.  i said I'd join them, but maybe stop halfway.  Got to get an early night!

16//06/08  Up before 7 for breakfast.  Left at 7:45 with group.  Do we know where we're going?  Yes.  We didn't.  Soon got on the right track though and slogged for a couple of hours up an unimaginably steepo hillside path.  Horrid horrid horrid.  Only light rain.  Stayed in t-shirt.  We tyook a vote and chose a higher path, thinking it would be quicker.  More climbing and an old boy told us we'd been wrong.  Dropped down to Bourg St Pierre - my supposed destination for the day.  The Italians treated me to a big lunch, very kindly.  Changed socks and onward.  Climb nowhere near as steepo as earlier in the day, but tough going as temperature dropped and rain became heavier.  Togged up in waterproofs and ploughed on.  About 1500m vertical to climb in one day - a big ask if you're not used to the mountains and have 18kg on your back!  Around 6pm we got to a little mountain refuge.  By this time it had just started to snow.  We spent 15mins recuperating in the shelter then headed on.  I had phoned to book a bed in the Hospice at the tyop 8theguys were in the hotel).  Dinner at 19:15.  One hour to do 4km with a vertical of 400m.  I went on ahead to get up in time for supper.  Snowstorm thickens, whipping wind, pushing me up on one zig-zag, hard against me on the next, all the way up.  4m snow-walls on the hill side of the road.  Quite a landscape!  I was getting increasingly cold in just a t-shirt and waterproof but had to plough on - if i'd stopped I might not have got going again.  Teeth gritted I put one foot in front of the other, feeling like a real pilgrimmy pilgrim, and in 55mins 4km and 400m vertical were complete.  I virtually fell through the door of the hospice.  Four people crowded round me, urging me to take of my bag and wet clothes righ there in the hall.  one guy bustled off to get me some tea.  I looked like a snowman and felt dizzy from the exertion.  I was later told I'd been shaking like a leaf.  It was only when I clocked the uncomprhehnding stares that I realised I was rambling to these folks in a tongue they didn't understand.  What language am i speaking?  i asked.  Italian.  Oh.  had a massive meal.  Really good hearty stuff.  Met a guy called Walter - 69, Belgian - doing Antwerp to Rome.  Joined VF at Besancon.  in a dorm with him.  Both join Italians at hotel to watch footy.

17/06/08  Walked down to Aosta with Walter and Italians.  2000m drop.  Lots of rain.  Almost fell in a drainage canal (just dipped one foot in the end).  Got electrocuted by a cow fence.  Because I'm an idiot.  Ca,e down it too fast for my rhythm.  Ended up with tired legs.  Pizza and footy with Walter.  He at religious house.  Me at campsite.  Italians in hotel - they've finished!

18/06/08 Day off.  At campsite till4pm.  Back very sore.  Everything soaked.  Down to town, leaving tent up and backpack with reception, which closes at 11pm.  Delicious pizza, couple of phone calls, trip to religious bookshop to get Italian Francigena maps, couple of hours of bloggery.  Back to campsite at 23:02.  All locked up.  No sleeping bag.  All I'd left in my tent was my travel towel, baseball cap and tent bags.  Cap on head, tent bags on legs and towel over torso.  It was a cold night.  I was in shorts and t-shirt and flip-flops.  Woke up every 15mins shivering.  Nice. 

19/06/08  Up at 6.  Too cold to try to carry on sleeping.  40min hot shower.  outside reception at 7 when it opens.  It opened at 8.  Got bag and went back to tent, laids out bed but couldn't sleep.  Packed up and headed off, picnic in town then hit the road.  VF signage a joke.  Up and down and up and down the hillside.  They clearly decided to sign the route, gave three sets of idiots three sets of different signs, told them that all roads lead to Rome, blindfolded them and told them to get on with it.  Very hot.  Blister on my right little toe.  Still exhausted from mountains.  Horrible day.  Arrived late in Chatillon, had a good pasta meal then camped in a field opposite tyhe cemetery.

20/06/08  Woke early - tent like a sauna.  DRipping with sweat.  Chilled out for a while reading Grisham (crap - acquired in Aosta, one of three english titles).  Went to three differnet offices before getting my pilgrim record stamped (italian bureaucracy) and once again headed off at almost midday.  Sunshine!!  Horrible awful day.  Through St Vincent (yesterday's destination, and weirdly I'd eaten there when sking earlier this year - did a big deja vu then a big double take!), then on a circuitous horrible path along the valley.  Long.  Boring.  Hot horrid.  Exhausted.  Foot hurts.  wonder why I'm doing this.  Horrid.  Crap.  Can't make it to destination.  Stop at Arnat.  Have a great meal and end up camping in restaurant owner's garden.  Perform surgery on three blisters with nail clippers cauterised with a cigarette lighter.  High tech.  Hygienic.  Hmmm.

21/06/08  Great  night's sleep.  Good rest. Up late, wandser down to restaurant to say thanks.  Owner kindly shouts me lunch.  More pasta.  Can't get enough of it!  Walk at 1pm into the heat of the day.  No messing around, straight along the main road to Ivrea.  It's a long way but I catch up with myself.  Now a sore left foot (from compensating for the right).  Pizza then camp late in a public park.  Dripping with sweat, cover myself in anti-mosquito stuff and tigere balm to ease the bites.  Tent like a furnace even at midninght.  Just sit there and swelter and drip and stink and then sleep uncovered in my pants.  This is glamourous stuff!

22/06/08 Heavy rain in the night.  Woken by heat.  Tent soaked, park flooded in parts, but heat of the day already rising.  Pack up and go to 1130 mass.  Have pasta for lunch then walk on.  Walk hard along the main road for hour upon hot hour, feet a bit sore, reflecting that it's now just a big act of devotion and penitence.  The fun's over and I've just got to grit my teeth and give thanks to God for the wonderful times I've had so far.  Pass lake Viverone - many a chavvy lakeside resort.  3km from Caviglia and 11km from destination Santhia when a guy pulls over.  He's deputy mayor of Cavaglia' and invites me to their pilgrim hostel.  I'm shattered so accept.  Walk on, have a dip in his pool then shown to what a previous guest rightly described in the visitor's book as "the hilton of pilgrim hostels".  Got a takeaway pizza and rested well.

23/06/08 Slept late left late yomped through the first 8km to Santhia and straight past.  Perishing heat, many a mosquito, left foot getting increasingly sore.  ended up 7km from Vercelli and unable to go on.  Too many mosquitos to camp, so on I went.  Limped to the edge of town - I'd honestly have been faster on crutches.  Ended up camping by a big out-of-town hardare store in the company of more mosquitoes than I've ever seen.  Once again just dripping with sweat and crud in the tent.  No supper.  Left foot sore at front and back.  No surgery.

24/06/08 Woke up definiteively at 8 when heat was too much to continue dozing.  Packed up and left at 930am.  Went into town via shop for Fanta, milk and chocolate.  Feel skinny and weak and drained.  Checked into a 35 euro hotel - basic.  Single bed, loo and shower in corridor.  It'll do me though!  Sightseeing.  Resting my feet.  Eating lots.  Fingers crossed for tomorrow!  I've really moaned a lot haven't I.  The food's great though!  Just grab a rucksack, put 12 big bottles of Volvic in it (18kg), then stand in a sauna.  Then walk in the sauna.  For eight hours.  That's the only problem.  Oh well, it was never meant to be a holiday!! Love to all.

UPDATE 27/06/08

Sorry must be very brief.  Thanks to all for continuing donations to PA , both online and offline - it's fantastic.  Thanks to all who send emails and texts of support, encouragement, pride and inspiration - I can't tell you how helpful they are.  Apologies if I don't always reply promptly or even at all - it does not at all mean that I do not value your communications - on the contrary!  Please keep them coming.  Now in Pavia.  Hot and sweaty and hot.  Physically back to good form though, which is a great relief.  Will give more news soon.  Big love to all.

UPDATE 28/06/08

25/06/08  Alarm 6:30.  Up 9:30.  Predictable.  leave 10:45.  A quick tour of the Duomo that had been closed yesterday then straight onto the road - no breakfast.  Had an apple left over in my bag but it had predictably gone bad in the heat - one bite and it got binned.  Arrived in Palestro at 13:00 after taking the main road - can't face messing around on badly signed back-roads for a while.  Had a good lunch of spicy pasta.  Met my mate Joe's doppelganger, which amused me far more than the growing heat of the day.  Ploughed on to Robbio, where I sat for ten minutes in the shade near a water fountain.  Hydration is so crucial at the moment.  Drink and drink and sweat and sweat.  If I don't get enough fluids I pretty quickly feel pretty ill.  Next stop on the way to Mortara was Nicorvo.  I got there at 17:45, bones in my left foot starting to ache a bit. Had a poke around a little chapel then went to a call box to call my delectable lady-friend.  I was on the blower to her when a lady appproached me and said are you a pilgrim?  I said yes.  She said you can sleep here if you want, we've got a room etc.  Sorry love, can I call you back, I said to the missus, then the woman explained that the town has a room with a shower and hot water and allsorts and a special pilgrim deal in the local restaurant.  All sounded rather too good to pass up, so I said I'd think about it (I'd intended to do another 8km yet) and called GF to finish my sweet nothings.  Needless to say, I was straight along to number 16 afterwards to get Francesca to show me to my quarters.  Not before we'd gone to meet Giuseppina, the custodian of the chapel; got my pilgrim record stamped, taken various photos of one another etc.  All most amusing.  The pilgrim quarters were comfortable - the bedroom somewhat in a state of development, but the bathroom as good as you'd expect in a hotel.  Happy?  As Larry.  The restaurant was closed for some reason so Francesca kindly invited me to dine with her, her partner and daughter.  I gladly accepted, and enjoyed a very companionable and delicious supper.  Turns out they're very keen on the VF, and Francesca has made friends with Monica D'Atti, who's written a major guide to the route.  There was therefore much to talk about.  Back to the parish house about 22:45 to liberally spray mosquito chemicals kindly provided by Francesca, and then to bed.

26/06/08  Alarm 7am.  Impossible to wake before 8:30.  Leave 9:30, drop off an offering in the church and the keys in Giuseppina's letterbox.  Nicorvo's not on any of the pilgrim hospitality lists that I have, I don't think.  It should be.  Good people.  Continuing on off-road route to Mortara, via Madonna del Campo.  8km.  Two hours.  Easy.  Yeah, right.  Going through the rice fields.  First error was mine - I walked the wrong side of a farm, on through the fields to a dead end.  Then I went another way, along various precarious raised pathways (mud heaps) set between the sodden rice fields. Another dead end then a little loop.  Ended up almost at point of departure after two hours.  Getting VERY frustrated.  I'd pretty much laid off swearing for about six weeks.  I swear to much, I confess.  Often to myself and/or at inanimate objects.  I was doing really well, at leats till the mozzies started getting bad.  You try to put up a tent after dark in 35+ degree heat with a head torch on and more mozzies than you'd ever seen - you'd need the patience of a saint not to tell the delightful litle creatures just where to go...  Anyway, I digress...  Suffice it to say that you would have laughed to see me there in those rice fields, waving my arms like a mad man, shouting, ranting, swearing and ever roaring my heat, frustration, disorientation and wrath with it all.  It didn't quite end there.  On I carried, sure I was on the right path, till I came to a crossroads.  Hard to believe, but despite having three sets of (albeit not entirely agreeing) maps, a compass, and the ability to get myself from Canterbury to Nicorvo with barely a navigational glitch, I was utterly stumped as to where to go.  I knew the way I'd came was not the way to continue, i was fairly sure I shouldn't go left, but as for straight on or right it could be nothing but a gamble.  Try as I might to orientate and reorientate these maps, to make them make sense of one another or even alone, I simply couldn't.  Francesca and Gianmario had warned me that path markers might have been removed by farmers.  They most certainly had.  I just sat down on my rucksack and wondered what to do.  On the road for well over two hours and I could still see the Nicorvo bell-tower laughing at me, not nearly far enough away.  I considered the possibility of taking out a thirty grand loan so as not to leave PA out of pocket, giving you all your money back and just coming home.  I soon realised, however, that either way I was going to have to get out of the rice fields so I might as well have one last stab at it before committing myself to a life of debt and possibly a stint in some form of Dickensian debtors' prison.  I went straight ahead.  The bearing was approximately right for Rome at least - SSE - soon the crops changed from rice to something far bigger and more interesting.  I heard bells ringing (midday!).  Could it be, could it possibly be...  Madonna del Campo!  A relief, but I was nonetheless still pretty full of frustration and rage.  I went into the church, had a bit of a sit down, a bit of a sing, cooled off, took some photos, and then set to lighting candles and saying prayers.  I left that church a different man.  It's amazing how a bit of time spent concentrating on the Lord and one's loved ones can be so much more beneficial thank thinking about one's own petty frustrations.  I sure was ready for lunch by the time it came round at 13:20 in Mortara - I'd thought I'd get there for a late breakfast!  A good pizza, then over the road to the supermarket for milk and chocolate.  Milk.  Chocolate.  How I have come to love them more than ever.  Had to wait for a bit to be able to call the missus about a possible visit.  We'd planned for her to come this weekend to Pavia, but she'd forgotten that she was due to be going to Paris with her ma.  Then Paris got cancelled so they're going to have supper together instead.  Either way it means no visit, so plan B is a trip to Fidenza next weekend, but that's dependent on her getting a day off work on the Friday, and it's the first week of a new job, so I can but cross my fingers...  Anyway on I walked at 1545.  The main road out of Mortara, for the benefit of any who may follow in my footsteps, was NOT designed for pedestrians.  There is almost nothing in the way of a hard shoulder, and in most places not much in the way of a verge to leap onto when an oncoming truck looks like it has failed to notice you (that would be 100% of the time).  Before long it got a bit better, and I felt increasingly certain that I would live to see the evening.  Three interesting encounters on the road to Garlasco.  First a lady pulled over and waited for me to catch up.  'Get in, I'll give you a lift.'  'No thanks, I'm a pilgrim'.  'I know you're a pilgrim, but I'm a doctor and it'll be good for you to rest'.  'No, really...'.  She was very pleasant and kind, and gave me some refreshing wipes to refresh myself with, should I need to at any stage (I accept them gladly, knowing that they will be used as a substitute shower, possibly seven days in a row).  Then a prostitute waiting for trade on the other side of the road asked me where i was going.  I don't think she was looking to pick me up.  With the state I'm in I'm sure I'd be charged at least triple if she was.  I crossed over and told her about what it is I'm doing and we chatted briefly.  She asked me if I'm not scared walking on my own and sleeping in funny places etc.  I told her what I tell everyone - if I were that scared I'd stay at home.  I have faith in God and in my fellow man, and I just get on with it.  I said to her 'I could ask you the same question - aren't you scared standing here?'  she made a gesture as if to say 'touché'.  I walked on feeling a little bit sad.  She was a sweet girl and it seemed unfair that she was in that position.  I vaguely wondered if I should have done some kind of witnessing or something, but to be honest I suspect that simply having a conversation with a man that didn't involve the words 'how much?' will probably have been of as much benefit as anything else I could have come up with under the circumstances.  Next I met a priest, Don Luca.  He'd seen me pass and followed me in his car.  He stopped and gestured to me and by the time I crossed he was already throwing crap off the front seat into the back.  I explained that I just go on foot and he seemed to understand.  We chatted briefly, and then he asked if I was English.  I said yes.  He said [in English] 'God bless you' and looked all pleased with himself.  He then proceeded to give me a blessing in Italian.  I walked on full of incredible cheer.  I really felt that Don Luca's blessing had been full of meaning and import.  I had been turned around from the raging monster of earlier on back to a humble pilgrim vagabond with a bit of peace in his soul.  Got to Garlasco at 20:00 - earlier than I'd imagined.  Had a pizza (second of the day).  It was a takeaway place but they took pity and allowed me to eat it on the premises.  Went next door to a bar and had a fanta and watched a bit of football.  I'd called the famous sanctuary of Madonna della Bozzola earlier in the day but I couldn't stay there because they were full up with a group of young drug addicts.  Fair enough.  I planned to just head up there and camp anyway.  Tried to call M&D at 21:30.  Phone card wouldn't work, frustratingly.  Came out of the phone box and met three young guys sitting on a bench.  They asked where I'd come from etc and we chatted.  They offered me water.  Asked if I needed anything.  They asked where I was going to sleep and I told them my plan.  Sleep here, one said - there's enough room.  Immediately he got up and showed me into their house.  'Leave your bag here, take what you need and we'll go and get a coffee, ok?'.  I did as I was told.  Turns out they're Albanians - two brothers and a cousin - Altino, Albano and Eduardo - all in a one up one down house in Garlasco - a brickie, a plasterer and a decorator.  They bought me a coffee, took me home gave me water and a shower, we watched the end of Bruce Almighty (in English with Albanian subtitles - my attempts to read which caused much mirth and merriment), then went to bed - all in one room, the three of them in beds and me in a bunk above.  Another cousin was coming to sleep there later, they said, and they fixed up the sofa bed downstairs.  It has only just occurred to me that he almost certainly lives there too, but they hadn't told me so that I wouldn't feel bad about taking his bed.  Wow, the thought of that has made me feel rather moved...  Albanians get a really rough deal from the often rather xenophobic Italians.  It would even be understandable if they became somewhat embittered by it all.  Yet here were these three young guys, strangers in a strange (and not always welcoming) land, offering a bed to another stranger right off the street.  Amazing.  Brilliant.

27/06/08  Up at 6:50.  Out at 7am.  Those guys early to work.  Suits me - I've been hoping to adjust my rhythm to avoid some of the heat.  Say my thanks and goodbyes then head out of town.  Pass church in main square.  It was open so in I went.  Big church.  Priest saying mass, or rather mouthing it, at the altar.  I sat down about halfway back, and after a while (when he realised I was there for the duration) he started saying the mass aloud.  I could just about follow it and knew some of the correct responses.  When it got to 'let us offer one another a sign of peace' I got a bit confused, had a quick look around at the empty pews and wondered whether to just pat myself on the back (but decided against it).  I wasn't quite sure at which point the distribution came, but the priest helpfully waved the host in my direction and said 'do you want it?', so up I trotted.  It was actually rather a moving eucharist, all in all.  The priest prayed with such commitment and devotion, and was clearly doing so all on his tod before I arrived.  He gave me a stamp afterwards.  Turns out the church is always open that early, but the mass is normally a little later - today was a special youth day out, so the priest needed to hit the road. So did I - via the supermarket for my usual combination of fruit, yogurt, chocolate and milk, then onto the main road to Pavia - no messing about.  Made good time and reached the outskirts about 13:00.  There was a McD's, so I obviously tucked into a Big Tasty with bacon, 'Vertigo' fries and a Sprite.  The luncheon of champions.  Pressed on into town, a few km, and stopped to phone a religious hostel to see if they'd have me.  Mercifully they would, so on I went to find them.  Had to go to a pharmacy on the way.  I've developed a nasty stye in my left eye - the almost inevitable result of swetaing copiously, rarely washing and rolling around in my own filth at every possible opportunity.  I consulted the pharmacist who recommended an antibiotic cream.  I was just getting out my money to pay when a guy behind me said 'are you a pilgrim?'.  I said yes.  He said 'I'll get that'.  I said no you mustn't etc but soon accepted - people seem genuinely glad to help and be generous.  the pharmacist seemed a bit put out.  He said 'who is this guy?', the man simply replied 'he's a pilgrim.  he's on his way to Rome.'  The man then gave me five euros and asked me to make an offering for him in Rome.  I said I would, and asked him for his name, so that I could pray for him.  He was suddenly very embarrassed and said 'my name is Pino, just Pino'.  I was very touched by Pino, and grateful to him for his kindness.  I went to the Caritas hostel and checked in.  Another pilgrim turned up - a 70-year-old German lady called Hermine, who me and the GF had spotted in Chalons weeks and weeks ago!  We were put in a room together, which seemed a bit odd, but there you go.  Hermine was cool if self-confessedly a little crazy "everyone who walks all the way from Canterbury to Rome is a little crazy" she said, looking at me meaningfully (I'll let you all judge for yourselves).  She said she was just happy to have a room and a bed.  She was going to have a shower and sleep, so I did a few things and left her to it.  I went off at 17:00, had an ice cream to stave off appetite for supper, went to Basilica San Michele, saw the outside of the castle, peered into ?San Giovanni in Cielo (the one with St Augustin's tomb) but didn't go in because there was a service going in.  To a bookshop for Picture of Dorian Gray and Portnoy's Complaint, then back to the hostel to ask re a place to eat.  Went out for a substantial supper, then to hostel, a bit of internet, shower at ten then bed.  Hermine was sound asleep.  She'd said I could come back, put music on, sing and shout if I wanted, she'd just be happy to be in bed.  Needless to say I tiptoed around and crept into bed to start on Roth.  Interestingly, Walter the Belgian is in the hostel too.  Saw him briefly earlier.

28/06/08  Two months on the road!  Can't quite believe it.  Slept all night in just my pants on top of the sheets by an open window.  It sure don't get cool, even at night.  I vaguely stirred when Hermine left, but couldn't wake properly till 9:30.  Showered and left at 10:15.  Went back to see St Augustin's tomb. Well worth it - a magnificent church was a superbly fine and moving sculpture of the Sacred Heart.  Followed signs to PIacenza, intending to cut a corner on the 'pilgrim route'.  Idiot.  Don't follow road signs as a pedestrian unless you've seen a map.  Got spat out of Pavia in the wrong direction, did a broad circle round it and ended up after 1pm by a sign saying 'Pavia 1km'!!  Strangely, this didn't bother me a jot, and I calmly carried on.  Ended up on the pilgrim route (as per Pisoni) anyway.  It was very pleasant.  First walk in the woods for yonks.  Decided to skip Santa Cristina and cross the Po early from Spessa.  The Po is a serious river - it's w-i-d-e!  The bridge was broad and strong, but the pedestrian walkway - raised about two foot from the road behind a barrier on either side, was not convincing.  It was a series of rattly metal sheets bolted to I-don't-know-what underneath.  The first of the sheets at one end had come clean away, but further on it was unclear how well they were fixed or what lay beneath them.  Not a straight drop into the river, I hoped...  I could just imagine the planning meeting where some slick contractor was saying to his foreman "right, Gianni, they want a walkway, right?  But who's gonna ever walk across the Po on foot?  That's, like, five hundred metres from side to side !  No-one's ever going to do that.  So you listen to me, take some sheets of tin and spread them nice either side of the road.  No-one will know.  Make it look pretty, fai bella figura and just don't worry'".  Money creamed off the top, job done, pilgrim ends up in the river.  Mercifully it was not so.  I bounced and rattled to the other side without so much as a wet bootlace.  Stopped at Arena Po on the other side (well, a few clicks on) to have a Fanta, intending to get to Castel San Giovanni.  Fanta is like a lifeline sometimes.  When my body cries and clamours for fast calories I give it Fanta and it is calmed.  In the bar I chatted at length to the folk there.  One guy, Carmine, bought me my Fanta, went to his car and got a baker's pizza that he got the barmaid to heat up for me.  He then phoned the mayor to ask if I could stay at the tennis courts where there's a shower and loo.  He went off to turn the hot water on, came back and took me there, by now accompanied by Elya, a large Ukrainian and member of the environmental police force, apparently.  Carmine went off to get me shower gel and loo roll - he basically made sure that I had everything I could possibly need.  He'd failed to calculate that putting my tent up on a concrete tennis court might prove somewhat problematic, and it took two of us to explain to him why, but I assured him I'd be fine on the floor in the storage room by the showers.  To another bar, where I was treated to large sandwich by Maria, the proprietress, also much fizzy mineral water and chatter with her and other locals.  Headed to sleep around 11pm.   Didn't get to sleep till about 2, annoyingly.  Uncharacteristic of me!

29/06/08  So much for early start.  Up 9:30 and out at 10 after another shower.  The clothes I'd showered in last night weren't quite dry so I spread them out on the tennis court - they still weren't dry when I put them on but they soon will be, or at least the water will evaporate and be replaced by pure eau de mansweat anyway.  Got to San Giovanni Castello at 13:00 and went to the Penny Market to get bruncheon.  Sat in the shade of a church doorway and ate salami and philadelphia baps - fresh made on the spot - a big pot of pineapple yogurt and half of some gross nougat chocolate.  I felt I should eat it but it was pretty foul.  A big carton of fresh OJ too - all good for the pilgrim.  Remember I'd weighed myself back in Grenant and lost about six kilos?  I must have lost at leas ten by now.  The t-shirts that I so amply filled now hang off me.  The belt that was pretty much an accessory when I started is now vital to the protection of my modesty - I can easily pull down my trousers without undoing even the button.  For the first time I know the shape of my hip bones.  Even at my slenderest in previous years I've never quite lost my love-handles, and now I wonder where they may have gone.  All I am really is slim and fit and in good shape for a man of my build, but the change is pretty noticeable.  I'm worried the missus will flip when she sees me.  Some weeks ago I sent her a picture of me just wearing a towel, flexing my muscles and trying to look big and hard (I knew she'd been concerned about my weight loss).  I must say, I thought the picture had come out pretty well, even if I say so myself.  She actually opened the email whilst on the phone to me and said "you're so skinny!", followed by "...and very hairy", and then a somewhat mitigating "...but very handsome".  Boy, did I feel sexy after that!  Not.  I know that she likes a butch man.  For ages she had a big keg of whey protein powder in her kitchen cupboard, which I can only imagine was a hint to me to start piling on a bit of beef, as I've never known her to be a body-builder herself, thank heavens.  When I asked her what it was doing there she said "it makes great smoothies!"  Pure whey protein to make a smoothie? Give me a bunch of bananas and a tub of ice cream any day...  Anyways, I'm rather concerned that she may be a little appalled by the half-a-boyfriend that now remains.  Combine it with the wild-man beard, increasingly out-of-control (and uncombed for two months) mullet, and the still-not-any-more-attractive stye in my left eye (I look a bit like I've been punched) and I really am the picture of a foul pilgrim.  Poor girl.  As someone pointed out to me, by the time you get to Rome your rucksack will weigh the same as you.  What a thought...  Anyway, where was I?  Oh yes, a copious lunch and foul chocolate.  I did my best to eat as much as possible.  I know I need to, but my metabolism seems to have gone into such overdrive that I'm incapable of stuffing enough food into the system.  But still I try...  Added to which it must be said that the heat doesn't make one too hungry much of the time.  But boy, when I get to eating can I sure put away a lot!  I can pretty much fold a pizza in two and just slip it down my gullet, before drinking a bowl of spaghetti in one and then zipping through a range of tasty desserts.  I feel vaguely satisfied at the end, but hardly overfaced.  Anyway, I really went for it by that church, then made the mistake of lying down with my head on my pack.  Error.  Error.  How, when it's 33 degrees, are you ever going to get yourself up from a recumbent position with a full tummy, put 18kg on your back and proceed to walk 20km through burning sunshine? It took a short while, but that's precisely what I did.  I stopped around 16:45 to get some water in a pizzeria/bar.  Turns out it was run by a big family of Neapolitans who sat me down and gave me coffee and a cake and told me to eat more.  They were very friendly and kind.  Needless to say it was with considerable regret that after half an hour or so I left the warmth of their company and the cool of their air conditioning to plough on to PIacenza!  Got to PIacenza about 20:15 - very good going.  Started to scout for a place to camp.  Felt a real need to be in the tent after a few days out of it.  I don't know why.  Maybe something to do with familiarity and a sense of my own space.  Moving from place to place every day must be fairly uinsettling on some level.  Maybe a desire to justify carrying all my camping equipment for miles and miles every day!  Anyways, someone suggested a place by the river, which I sought but couldn't find.  Carried on towards town and saw a big building like a sort of car park with brand new cars in it.  Looked like grass behind.  that'll do, I thought, and headed on for food first.  Soon happened across the golden arches.  No other obvious trattoria, so before long  Big Tasty with bacon was in my hands.  Fanta and normal fries (the vertigo fries just hadn't quite cut it).  Wandered back to the car place with a strawberry milkshake in my hand.  The supper of champions.  It wasn't grass behind the place.  It was gravel with weeds.  There were weird hummocks and hillocks nearby going up towards the railway.  Very long grass, treacherous to walk on (hidden dips), eventually found a spot to camp.  Pulled out a peg to test the turf.  Nothing doing. Oh dear. Basically dark by now and nowhere to camp.  It was private land anyway, so inherently dodgy.  I walked on.  Decided to go to the nearby Holiday Inn and ask if they had a lawn I could camp on, secretly hoping they might take pity on me and offer me a pilgrim rate of 20 euros (which I would gladly have paid for a long shower, a couple of hours of telly and a comfy bed right then!).  No need.  Before I got there I spied a little park, bordered on one side by a motorway exit road, on the others by a car park, the main road into town and a line of thick trees protecting a row of houses.  Game on!  Perfect turf, tent nestled close in to the trees, duck tape over the reflective corners (great for finding your tent with a torch in a dark wood, also great for being spotted by the cops when you're camping somewhere that you sort-of-maybe-strictly-speaking-shouldn't near any kind of road, especially a busy one!  All pitched and ready to rock at 10pm.  Bunked down for an hour of Portnoy before a sound sleep. Mercifully a small amount of breeze, so just bearable in boxers with all flaps open (tent flaps, that is).

30/06/08  Woke about 6am feeling chilly enough to pull out the sleeping bag, which was nice.  Dozed off till 8:45 then got up and out at 9:30.  Headed over for a morning milkshake but McD's not open till 11:30 (the McMuffin clearly not having made an impact on the Italian market).  Strolled to a cafe to have a couple of Orzo coffees (unsure what it's made from, but not coffee apparently - caffeine free) and update my journal a bit.  GF's first day at new job.  Thinking of her and wishing her well.  Also waiting to hear about Friday.  She'll find out this morning.  If she's coming on Friday it'll be to Fidenza so I might as well relax and have a day off here in PIacenza.  If it turns out she can't come I'll plough on as per usual.  Turns out we've been waiting for an answer all day, so I've stayed in Piacenza kind of in the starting blocks, neither getting rid of my pack, putting on flip-flops and thoroughly relaxing into a (deserved) day off, nor heading on to Fiorenzuola etc and getting a few more km closer to Rome.  All a bit frustrating, but it's been an ok day.  I've seen a couple of churches, had a wander round, had a good pizza.  The afternoon's mission was to track down some 1:100000 maps, such as I had in France and Switzerland.  I waited for one bookshop to reopen after lunch - they advertised 1:25000 maps in their door window.  Nothing doing there, but the lady kindly called another shop.  Yes, they'd be able to help.  Off I went.  No, actually they had no such maps, though they had two different VF guides, and seemed puzzled when I said I already had one of them.  The point is this:  the maps on the daily sheets that I have for the VF are not always easy to follow, they are not always to scale and I'm not sure that North is always in the direction that they think it is.  Added to which, I would like to feel that I can divert from the prescribed route when I feel like it.  Let's face it, they've done a great job of trying to find more picturesque routes than the main roads that plough through almost all of the Italian countryside, but it's not as though they're recording the precise routes of pilgrims past.  Often the true and original Via Francigena followed the old Roman roads, they being the most direct route from A to B; however, given that fact, they have also proved to be the best place to put great stinking strips of asphalt for 40-ton trucks and speeding Alfa Romeos to rumble up and down incessantly, night and day.  My aim is to walk from Canterbury to Rome.  I would like to see as many pretty towns and significant religious buildings, monuments and shrines as I can on the way, but I have no qualms about choosing my own route when I feel like it.  Furthermore, since I've been in Italy I've felt a bit like a blindfolded man feeling his way around, bumping into things and tripping because I have no sense of the bigger picture of the route.  Remember in Langres when I spread three overlapping maps out on the floor?  That was to give myself a medium-term sense of where my route was taking me.  To do that, however, you need a decent map/maps.  The lady in the second shop said she'd never heard of Italian 1:100000 maps.  And bear in mind this was a serious bookshop with seemingly knowledgeable staff.  But they must exist, I said.  I won't say they don't exist, she said, anything might exist in this world, it's just that I've never seen them.  Great.  Back on with the blindfold.  Yet another contributing factor to the growing sense of mild psychological unease that has beset me these past days.  Intense heat, extreme exertion, spending too much time on one's own and an overall sense of unsettled disorientation start to make one feel a teensy little bit nutty.  Enough of the confessional - I was talking about maps, wasn't I?  Maybe I just need to go and sit in my tent for a while.  I know where I am when I'm in my tent.  Anyway anyway, the upshot of the day's activities (or lack thereof) is that I'm still in PIacenza, and here I am likely to spend the night, probably hiding from the police among the trees somewhere.  I could kinda do with a shower, though.  Going more than a day without a shower in this heat isn't really a very pleasant way to behave...  We shall see!

Thank you once more to everyone who has shown their support by donating to PA, by following the blog, by being in touch with me or by being in touch with my parents or GF to find out how I'm doing.  Much love to all.  Pilgrim.

UPDATE 02/07/08

30/06/08 (cont...)

I did spend another night in Piacenza!  Was blogging till latish then decided to head back to the same place to camp.  Little did I realise that as I meandered across town I had in fact meandered a good 45mins non-stop walk from my point of departure!  Oh well, that's 45mins I'll have to do for the third time in the morning...  Obviosly back to the Golden Arches for some proper pilgrim nutrition.  You know the deal... Big Tasty with bacon, fries, Fanta...  When I went up to the counter again for two strawberry milkshakes to enjoy in the tent the inevitable questions started.  they ended up with a queue of customers as the entire staff gathered round to quiz me.  They were very interested and supportive.  One girl also works for the local paper in Piacenza and swore blind that there'd been an article about my pilgrimage about 6 weeks ago.  Yes, it was a guy called Benedict, I'm sure - she said.  Quite how they might have heard about me I've no idea.  I'm not convinced...  Anyway, one milkshake later I took the second one across the road to my 'campsite'.  It had been raining whilst I was indoors, but had almost stopped.  I got the tent up and got inside, leaving the front door open.  thenh the rain started again, so I closed up for the night.  Thank goodness I did so in time, as very soon came a real deluge!  The storm I'd heard in the distance passed pretty much overhead and the rain was hammering on the tent like nothing else.  The wind got up and was shaking my little Hilleberg, but little Hilleberg stayed strong (oh, beloved tent).  The storm came and went, and the pilgrim slept soundly.

01/07/08  Pinch, punch, first of the month and all that...  Time to finally leave PIacenza.  Up at 9, out at half past, still a bit dopey but ready for the road.  It's amazing how hung over I feel some mornings given that I never touch a drop of booze!  Back on the long road into town.  Stopped at yesterday's first bookshop to say hi and thanks and no I didn't get any maps.  the lady was very nice, said that all she had was a 1:200000 of Tuscany (which makes up the bulk of the rest of the journey).  I looked at it.  It was very big and not very detailed, but I was thrilled by the idea of having some sense of where I am in the world!  The lady could see my eyes light up, I think.  She said here, I'll give it to you as a present, as long as you send me a postcard from Rome.  Happily!  On I trotted into town, stopping at the provincial offices for a stamp, only to be redirected to the Comune.  And so to the comune, where I got passed round from place to place till I came across a lady who said "a pilgrim?"  i said yes.  "A pilgrim?"  I said yes, you know, a religious traveller.  "Yes, I know what a pilgrim is, I've just not seen one for years and years"  Oh, ok then.  Finally was passed to someone, Volga, who was pleased to see me and took me to the right office to get a stamp.  I was duly quizzed and generally lauded (as seems to be the way here).  one lady said "sorry to ask a personal question, but were you that thin when you started?".  Er, no.  I was sent on my way in good cheer, and went over the road to phone the missus.  Still no news about Friday.  Apparently we'll know by lunchtime.  Fingers still crossed!  Headed to the supermarket to get milk, chocolate, bananas, apples, and some rather exciting bread batons with pancetta.  Picnic on the steps of a big church then on the road around 11am.  Estimates to Fiorenzuola varied between 17km and 29km.  Turned out to be 23km.  Take an average!  Stopped on the way in Cadeo to chat to four folk outside a bar, enjoying much white wine.  Sat down with them and had some water and mini aperitif sandwiches. One guy, Adriano, who was liable to fly into sudden mini-rages, asked me how fast I go - 6km/h?  I said no, more like 4.5.  He said when I was in the army we had to do 6km/h on the flat.   We were 6km from Fiorenzuola so I jokingly suggested that he come with me, him carrying my bag, and we'd see if we got there in an hour.  He clearly took this a bit seriously, stood up in a rage and said he was going to go home, get a rucksack heavier than mine and then race me to Fiorenzuola.  I suddenly had visions of being responsible for the death by cardiac arrest of a 58-year-old man, but fortunately it all calmed down quickly.  I was advised to go and see the church, which I had passed by (well, I'd sat down in the courtyard next to it and aired my feet for 15mins!).  I duly went back to have a look, and it was quite something.  An impressive Madonna painting, concave and with a flat glass covering so hard to see from most angles.  Nice architecture, and thousands of offerings in frames on almost all of the walls, it seemed.  Sports shirts, medals, motorcycle goggles, shields, you name it, it had been displayed in thanks to the Madonna.  Quite a spectacle!  Adriano turned up in the church and friendlily showed me a few things.  I was glad he hadn't decided to go and get that rucksack afte all!  A nun kindly gave me a picture of the Madonna for a souvenir, and on I wet, somewhat delayed.  Arrive Fiorenzuola around 8pm, unsure whether I would then carry on to Alseno.  Called the GF.  She can't get Friday off work, only Friday afternoon.  To visit me she would therefore need to get a 7pm flight arriving at Forli at 10:30pm.  She'd then need to get in a hire car around 11:30 and drive up to 300km to find me, not speaking a word of Italian ad never having driven in Italy.  I am grateful to her for even considering this as a possibility, but had to refuse it as dangerous madness.  I know Italian roads and Italian drivers.  At night there are fewer vehicles but they are faster and drunker than during the day.  Road traffic accident statistics in Italy are shocking.  Everyone knows someone who has died or been seriously injured in an accident.  I had a friend in Bologna who got maimed.  I once passed an accident scene on the other side of a very wide road.  Only one lane was open on my side - the inner lane - but even at a good 25m distance the heat of the fire scorched my arm through a closed window.  Risk that?  Not on my watch!  Added to which, arriving at 3am on Saturday morning and departing once more on Sunday morning seems like a very fast turnaround given the nightmare journey.  Upshot: it seems unlikely that I'll see the missus before Rome.  It's a shame.  I'd been looking forward to it in Pavia and now this weekend, but that's the way it goes.  This is a solo pilgrimage so I'll just have to fly solo a little longer!  After that call I called my ma and had a very good chat.  By this time the clock had ticked on and I realised I should probably find somewhere to sleep.  A quick scout revealed few possibilities, so I reverted to plan A of walking (in darkness) 6km to Alseno.  On the way out of town I spotted some grassland so decided that would in fact do!  Headed to a nearby restaurant where I was soon the only customer.  Pumpkin pasta - delicious - followed by a variety of meat on sticks.  Lots of meat on several sticks.  Gave my jaw a good workout...  Got to chatting to the restaurant/hotel owber - Matteo - and after coffee he said "stasera sei il mio ospite" - tonight you're my guest.  How kind!   I told him where I planned to camp and he advised against it.  "There's lots of Moroccans around there".  I suspect that Italians refer to anyone who is non-white as a Moroccan, and they generally attribute any crime or threat of crime to that unfortunately discriminated-against category.  I didn't enter into a debate on racial prejudice, however, but rather took Matteo's advice to camp in some soon-to-be-developed land behind the hotel.  I went out, chose a spot between some trees and set myself up.  Asleep by half eleven.  Full tummy.  Magic.

02/07/08  Slept till 9:30.  No sleeping bag.  Woke up well rested and not too sweaty (good job - when did I last shower..?).  Got out at 10.  Went to get a stamp from Matteo and say goodbye.  he wasn't there, but Giusy was, so I had a fake coffee and a chat.  She asked me to make an offering for her in Rome.  I'm now writing them down carefully so the right candles get lit and the right prayers for the right people!  Trotted to Alseno.  Only 31 degrees and a light breeze - what a treat!  Went to a pharmacist to ask about my evil eye.  She suggested that I go to A&E to see a doctor.  Got some milk and yogurts and had a little snack.  Boy, do I love milk right now!  bashed on along the SS9 to Fidenza - after Alseno it's newly tarmacced but there are no road markings.  Italians need road markings.  It gives them a concept of which side of the road to drive on and approximately where the hard shoulder might be - the hard shoulder that might contain a pilgrim or two.  Oh well, eyes open and maximum alertness!  I'm becoming a truck-spotter.  It's like a train-spotter except you have a Sigg bottle and trekking poles instead of a thermos and mac.  What's happened to Leyland?  Scania and Renault don't seem too popular.  Mercedes has a decent showing, as does Volvo.  Iveco, however... Iveco is king of the road.  I know trucks by the breeze they kick up.  The Iveco Eurotech Cursor passes with barely a whisper; as indeed do the Iveco Eurotrakker, Eurocargo and Eurosomethingelse.  Anything with Euro in the name makes some attempt, I guess, at following European legislation on aerodynamics and fuel efficiency.  But what does a real man drive - a real Yorkie-chomping horn-honking two-foot sandwich swallowing trucker king?  An Iveco Stralis.  The Stralis is a handsome beast, and boy does the wind blow in it's wake!  I have come to welcome the Iveco Stralis like a beloved friend.  I see one coming and I think great, soon I'll be cool.  For three seconds.  Ok, I'll stop now.  Got to Fidenza just after 2pm and asked for directions to the hospital.  Apparently it's now out of town.   I was offered a lift, but declined.  Someone called a doctor friend who turned up on a bike and was very very weird.  He showed up, very badly shaven, his own eyes full of sleepy dust, took one look at me, mumbled something utterly unintelligible and rode off again.  Apparently my face was apicture as he left.  No-one had understood what he'd said.  I was told that he's a good man and a talented doctor, but he has good days and bad days depending on what medicine he's taken.  Upshot:  a very kind lady called Barbara, there with her daughter Chiara, offered to sort me out. Chiara went on the back of Barbara's bike and I took hers, rucksack and all, to their house.  I was given water and biscuits while Barbara called the tourist office who duly called and arranged for me to stay with the Cappuccin friars.  I was invited to stay for dinner after the hospital.  Wow!  I got back on the bike and followed Barbara in her car to the hospital.  I waited an hour to be seen and was prescribed oral antibiotics.  Doc said it'll either go away or explode in a shower of pus.  I look forward to waking up to the latter one fine morning in my tent.  Either way just as long as it goes away...  I'm sick of the dread of taking off my shades to reveal my foul ocular disfigurement...  Managed to find my way back to Barbara's house via a pharmacist (with a few unintentional detours on the way) and here I am, supper being prepared in the kitchen.  I really should go and give a helping hand...  What kindness - refreshments, supper, a bed for the night and even medical assistance all organised by complete strangers!  It's almost impossible to believe.  Grateful?  I should say...

I'm very hungry, hence all the rambling.  I shall endeavour to be more concise next time.  Greetings and love to all.

PS Anyone who'd like to see some pics (and hasn't already), just follow these links and click on the album title "Pilgrimage (+date)":

 
 
UPDATE 10/07/08
02/07/08 (cont...)  Had an excellent supper with Barbara, Davide and Barbara's parents - plenty to eat and delicious too!  Barbara's mum was a self-confessed St Thomas character, who simply refused (or at least played at refusing) to believe that I'd walked from Canterbury.  My hair was too short, my beard was too short, I must have taken the train, I must have hitched etc.  i showed her my pilgrim record but she said that meant nothing - I could still have been hitching all the way!  It was a most entertaining evening.  I was also called upon to explain the difference between the Catholic and Anglican churches.  Such questions as: do you have the Bible?  What, Old and New Testament?  and: do you have Jesus?  I'm pretty good at answering.  Beyond that I witter on vaguely about the authority or otherwise of the Pope, veneration of the Virgin Mary and the Saints, married clergy, female clergy etc.  I hit upon a metaphor which seems to satisfy:  "think of it as being like one country with two different governments".  [Before anyone accuses me of blasphemy or heresy, yes I am indeed working on the assumption that the President is one and the same!].  Seeing that my t-shirt was in a really trampy state, B&D kindly gave me a yellow polo shirt,; before accompanying me to the Franciscan convent.  Owing to circumstances beyond my control I arrived at 22:45, having said I'd be there at the latest by 22:30.  The reception was frosty.  THere's the bedromo, there's the bathroom - not so much as a good night, if I recall.  Had a quiet shower and bunked down.
03/07/08  Alarm 7.  Can't wake till 8.  Up and pack and head downstairs at half past.  No-one about.  Search around a bit, including in the garden, but no joy.  After a while hear a rhythmic tapping through a door in a corridor so follow the sound and find an old friar sitting with what looked like a bowl of Raisin Splitz in front of him, tapping with his spoon on the table.  He kindly got up and got me some milk and biscuits.  We ate with little conversation.  About 8:50 the priest (not a friar, I believe) breezed in.  It was he who had opened the door to me in his regulation blue pyjamas last night.  "Ah, he's woken up", he said to no-one in particular.  Good morning to you too, I thought.  He busied himself looking for car keys and shuffling papers around and then said "the pilgrim's a little late this morning", again to no-one in particular.  I sat in murderous silence, ready to wring his neck at a moment's notice.  I'm sorry I got him out of bed last night but it really wasn't my fault; he could be a little bit gracious with me.  I know that most pilgrims get up at 5 and hit the road at 6 but that's just not the way I do things.  I felt like suggesting that I leave my pack at the convent and he could get up at 5am tomorrow, carry it to wherever I am and wake me up at a civilised hour!  Anyway, off he breezed in a somewhat self-important fashion; while Padre Teodoro and I sat munching away in companionable silence.  We cleared up breakfast, I got a stamp and then hit the road about half nine.  Repeatedly asked directions on the way out of town and soon got on the road to Santa Margarita and on to San Lazzaro, sitting down to lunch at 13:30.  Superb linguine with pesto, followed by a large but rather tough and tasteless piece of horsemeat.  I ate it all though - gotta stay strong.  On to Medesano, where I had a good chat with my pa, then onward to Fornovo.  Walking very strongly indeed.  Not a hint of muscle fatigue and feet not complaining either.  Mood somewhat depressed, however.  Had an alcohol-free Becks at a service station bar.  Didn't enjoy in much.  After two months of utter sobriety have I even lost my taste for beer?  Surely not...  On over a bridge across the Taro, where I got my first view of the hills.  Hills!  After so long on the plains in the beating heat with nothing but mosquitoes, sweat and traffic for company the hills were like a vision of salvation.  In Fornovo proper had a good pizza and an ice cream.  Ended up chatting away to various people and didn't head on till about half nine.  Just wanted to get out of town and find a place to camp but ended up walking up the hill to Sivizzano.  On the way two girls stopped in a car and asked if I'm a pilgrim.  I said yes.  Had I called to ask to be picked up and taken to their B&B?  No!  Walked on wondering what pilgrim was geting taxied around in cars, generally tutting and feeling self-righteous about it all (not really).  There's a parish lodging in Sivizzano, but I decided not to start knocking on doors at half past eleven, instead opting to stick the tent in a children's playground near the church, as ever hoping that I will not as a consequence be arrested or awake in a torched tent.  A lady saw me from her window and came out of her front door to close up all the security shutters on her house.  Hope she doesn't call the cops!
04/07/08  Woke 8.  Packed up, dressed my feet and left at 9.  My left foot bled yesterday.  I was secretly quite pleased.  They were fine up to Fornovo, but after supper my left foot did feel a bit sore.  But blood!  Oh what a worthy and self-sacrificing pilgrim that bleeds from his very feet as he struggles along...  Usual treatment - Beecham's Germolene New skin, and off you go.  Went to find the priest to get a stamp.  The priest there is called Don Dante - an initially gruff but subsequently very kindly man of about eighty years.  He wrote in my pilgrim record "io sono un sacerdote cosmico" - 'I am a cosmic priest/minister'.  He said that I should sign it too, because I too am a sacerdote cosmico.  He said why are human beings not angels?  Angels were sent to bruing the word of God to Earth.  Humans exist to unite the material with the divine.  In everything we experience we should give thanks and praise to God.  He said that every human being is 'a little explosion of love'; and subsequently he said that every human being is 'a little explosion of love and intelligence'.  He said that when you drink cool water you should give thanks to God.  When you look at a beautiful landscape you shoud give thanks to God.  He said that when a hunter goes out and makes a catch and brings it back to his family he is pleased with himself and proud, when instead he should be giving thanks to God.  He told the story of St Francis taking refuge in a cave and giving thanks to God for the stone that he found as a pillow.  Don Dante said 'well, I give thanks for an orthopaedic mattress!'.  He said that we should bring everything to God, our joy and our sadnesses; he said that he knows that pilgrimage is full of many wonderful things and many difficulties, but that in all these things I have the opportunity to praise God.  He said that we should offer prayers through Jesus.  'When we pray through Jesus it makes him happy, because it gives him an opportunity to praise God the Father'.  I felt utterly inspired by this man.  His gentleness, his conviction, his inspiring ideas, his humility.  I should like to have a son and call him Dante, after Don Dante, the parish priest of Sivizzano.  I headed on at around 10:15, up the road to Bardone and then to Terenzo.  I climbed strongly and rejoiced in the beautiful landscape, the warm sunshine and cool breeze -  perfect walking conditions.  From Terenzo one continues on a footpath, with an ominous sign at the bottom saying 'qui comincia la salita' - the climb starts here.  It was quite a climb, but I walked very strongly indeed.  I do not wish to bore you with minute details of the day's walk, but suffice it to say that it was truly glorious.  Many hillside paths - clearly less trodden, as it were; also through woodland through the leaves of which the sunlight played ("Glory be to God for dappled things!").  Met an old lady who warned me gravely that I had made a mistake in embarking on this trip alone - 'where will your people go to look for you if something happens?' etc.  She reminded me curiously of the witch in Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves ("the painted man - he haunts my dreams" - remember?).  It freaked me out.  For about a minute.  Then on I skipped, happy as Larry.  A drag up through the woods and then round the road into Cassio.  After next to no breakfast I devoured two bread rolls, a hunk of cheese, a bar of chocolate and a litre of milk.  I sat in the shade by a fountain and read some more Dorian Gray.  Did I mention that I'd recently finished Portnoy's Complaint?  I'm beginning to wonder if I could have chosen two books more likely to mess with a young man's mind during a long period alone.  Oh well...  The road out of Cassio was stupendous.  The first section goes straight along a ridge with the hills spread out on either side.  To my right the sun was starting to dip, casting a warm glow across a vast expanse of undulating wooded hills.  It made one's heart rise to look upon the scene.  It took me a couple of hours to get to Berceto - part of the way along a frightfully overgrown but ingeniously well signposted path right up onto the hill overlooking the town.  By this time it was sunset proper in the west looking out across the hills, and the town below me was bathed in a golden glow.  I romped through the grass singing 'climb every mountain' as I went; visualising the Mother Superior and a fresh-faced Julie Andrews as I did so.  If anyone had followed me on this trip and secretly filmed me I tell you they'd have enough footage of me looking totally ridiculous to blackmail me till the end of my days...  Delicious pizza in Berceto.  Staff very helpful - one even went to the priest's house to see if he was there and could put me up.  In the end I headed to the seminary to see if I could camp.  Lights on, nobody answering.  wandered back to town and asked some folk outside a big bar.  They had a big discussion about where I could camp (there were endless possibilities to be debated!) and eventually decided on a place.  One young guy, Giovanni, said come and have a beer first.  I said I'd gladly have a Fanta, and was soon in the beer garden meeting all sorts of friendly folk.  A guy called Jamie turned up - a roofer from Croydon who'd come over to do a job three years ago and ended up staying.  He lives in a flat in Berceto and has bought a house up on the hill that he's doing up.  I ended up staying on a camp bed in his sitting room, which was very kind of him.  ("I don't usually trust English people - but you seem alright").  Late to bed - about 1am.
05/07/08  Jamie woke me up about 7:40.  Up and out by 8.  He headed to work and I sat on the doorstep painting my feet and letting them dry -a process which managed to take about half an hour.  Headed into town, where I bumped into Hermine, the 70-year-old German pilgrim.   She was waiting for a bus up to the Passo Della Cisa (the main Apennine pass).  I declined to join her.  She said she'd be staying at the Ostello, and said she'd book me in.  I said fine, thanks.  Went to tourist info, where advertised VF photo display and library didn't seem to exist.  Eventually tracked down priest for stamp; he said wait in front of the church for him.  Almost an hour later I tracked him down again.  He was very sorry - he'd forgotten me!  In the meantime I'd met Paolo, an Italian of about 65 years, walking from Parma to Lucca.  We walked on together.   I was still very strong so kept going ahead and waiting, which was fine by both of us.  It is inadvisable to try to keep pace with another walker, be he faster or slower than yourself.  Either is very tiring, and on a journey of this length I must conserve my energies as much as possible!  At one point I awaited Paolo for about ten minutes and he didn't appear.  I assumed he'd taken a different route and he had - I caught him up about half an hour later, as the steepish ascent to Monte Valeria continued.  He was resting at a place which had yet another magnificent view over hills, valleys, forests and the like.  He kindly gave me part if his Mars bar (I'd had no breakfast!).  we had a really good chat.  We parted ways at the turn-off for the Passo Cisa hostel - he planned to stay there I planned to walk on to Pontremoli - a long way further on.  I scaled Monte Valeria alone.  It was quite a climb but once again I was surprised by my own strength and fitness.  It seems that I have finally hit some really good physical form.  the top - about 1250m - gave predictable good views.  I sat to have a toot on my harmonica.  I've not really mentioned it since Lausanne where I bought it.  Basically,  I can't play the thing but I enjoy it quite often, when I'm sure that I'm completely out of earshot of anybody.  I can fairly reliably play the the theme tune to Last Of The Summer Wine, though I play it very badly.  Other than that I basically just make a noise, and enjoy myself doing so.  Needless to say on this occasion I got up after a while, wandered along the top of the mountain round a capse and there was a couple sitting in the sun, no doubt relieved that my cacophonous concert had come to its pathetic end.  We chatted briefly and on I went.  The start of the path down to Passo Cisa is breathtaking.  Passo Cisa (obviously) being a pass, there are (obviously) views to be had on either side; and Monte Valeria was the perfect vantage point.  Cue more Sound of Music singing etc etc.  It was great.  That path could have been the setting for the aerial shots when they march out of Austria.  Down then through the woods to Passo della Cisa.  Today, it so happens, is the 200th anniversary of the inauguration of the pass - 5th July 1808.  What a coincidence!  They're planning a big party, with 60s singers and - both relevantly and aptly - 10 models doing a display of swimwear from the 1930s to the present day.  Only in Italy...  I got there about 2pm and things hadn't started to hot up just yet, though folk were starting to arrive.  Had a sandwich and an ice cream, listened politely to the political rants of a very odd man whom i had difficulty understanding, went to visit the pretty chapel set above the pass and then went on my way, a little disappointed by the whole thing.  I'd expected thronged streets, bunting, balloons, party poppers, possibly even (I confess) a few pats on the back for the pilgrim who happened to be passing on the bicentennial day.  Nope.  Just soundchecks and an air of listless expectancy from a still-to-grow crowd sitting around with little to do but wait for the swimwear.  I had no time to waste waiting for Miss Europe 2007 to appear, and elected to head down the main road to Pontrmoli rather than the VF path, reasoning that although I was likely to cover more km and encounter more traffic, I was less likely to be forced down precipitous paths at the risk of my knees and back.  As it turned out it was a pleasant enough road, with more sunshine, breeze and views.  A very long way down, but not too unpleasant.  I got to Pontremoli, met an old boy who spoke English with a fantastic Scots accent, having owned a chippy in Dundee for eleven years, and was directed to the Cappuccins, as apparently the Ostello isn't open.  Wonder where Hermine's got to then?  Got into town and had a sniff around - a very pretty place.  Found the Cappuccins but didn't get there till about 21:00, so pressed the buzzer with a measure of trepidation despite wide-ranging assurances that they'd welcome me at any hour.  After Fidenza I wasn't convinced!  A gruff 'Yes?' came from the intercom, but I was soon let in and greeted by the hugely jovial and pleasant Padre Franco.  He soon asked about my pilgrim record - I suspect he wasn't entirely convinced by my story - but he warmed up even more once he'd seen that I really had walked from Canterbury!  He told me where the guest rooms were and told me to choose any one that was free - 'I won't come up with you - I'm old' - he also instructed me as to where I could go and eat.  I chose room 24, but transferred to room 22 owing to the quantity of mouse droppings in the former.  I basically dumped my stuff and headed to eat.  I was made to wait half an hour before ordering in the restaurant, didn't like my food much (no-one's fault - neither I nor they knew to what extent the testaroli would remind me of cross sections of diseased liver), and then got charged an excessive amount without being given a receipt (a legal requirement here).  I just about held my temper, but made my feelings about the service I'd been offered very clear.  I returned to the convent feeling upset.  I hate conflict at the best of times (though I do not necessarily shy away from it), and since I've been on this pilgrimage I have experienced so little.  I told Padre Franco all about it and he was sympathetic, saying that he'd get in touch with the restaurant and tell them to treat pilgrims better and charge them fairly or he wouldn't send people there any more.  When we returned to the subject of my inordinately long wait to order, he clapped me on the back and said 'they probably thought you were a tramp!' - and we both headed off to bed laughing heartily.
I need to eat now.  I'm in Lucca - over a thousand miles under my belt (or feet!).  Love to all.
Update 13/06/08
06/07/08 Alarm 8am.  Wake up at 9 - that'll be the 7am mass out of the window then...  Picturesque view out over cloisters to keep me happy as I repack my backpack.  Somehow managed not to leave till 11:30.  Not quite sure how that happened - showering and general messing around I suppose.  Waited for half an hour to greet Padre France, presumably returning from some good work or other in the community.  we had a brief chat.  He said what can I give you?  I said nothing thanks, but went away with a banana, some bread and cheese.  Very generous and much appreciated.  I asked PF if I could take a photo of him.  He'd just taken his habit off revealing some somewhat unbecoming clothes (in a not dissimilar state to my own).  "what?"  he said, "like this?!".  I said sure, but he went to put his habit back on and posed nicely for me in the middle of the cloistered courtyard.  Off I went, not feeling full of any great motivation, and within half an hour I was sitting in a field chomping on the bread and cheese thath I'd kindly been given.  Decided to read a bit of Dorian Gray, and got up to the last chapter and thought I'd better finish it.  Hands up if you've read Dorian Gray?  I got to the end and just felt shocked and empty and anxious.  It calls into question perceptions of morality and human instinct in a way that I found quite disquieting.  Sure, there is a 'moral' ending, but far too much to think about along the way.  Far too much, that is, if all you do is walk and walk and think about it all!  On I went at 13:45, reaching Villafranca via quiet roads at 16:00.  I sat down for 15mins in the shade then pushed on without crossing the river to investigate the town.  At 17:00 I reached ?Lusuolo, a tiny yet heavily fortified hill town - really interesting.  I was stopped by a couple who gave me cool water to drink and a pleasant chat.  On to Aulla, arriving at 19:15.  As ever, I hadn't called in advance about accommodation, but went in hope to the San Caprasio church.  Someone had told me along the way that there would be a pilgrim festival this evening.  Intriguing...  I got to the parish office and before I'd said a thing gthey said have you come to sleep here?  Yes, if that's ok, I said.  Of course!  I was taken across to a large dormitory (one of two) in an old school building.  There were about 15 beds in there - looking like they'd come from a variety of hospitals and hostels across the decades.  All very pleasant though.  In the other dormitory was Hermine, my German friend.  I asked what had become of her in Pontrmoli, and it turned out that we had misunderstood one another - she was due to stay in the Ostello at Passo della Cisa!  I began to wonder how she'd then covered in one day what I had covered in almost two, but she soon explained that she had found no joy at the convento in Pontremoli, so had jumped in a train to Aulla!  At this rate she'll be in Rome in two weeks!  Patrizia from the parish office had said she'd book me into a pizzeria and see me at 21:15 for the pilgrim thing.  I duly skipped across the bridge for a fantastic pizza (Pizzeria Elfi for the future reference of others), and then joined the throng in town.  There were hundreds of people!  In brief, a group of guys in sackcloth robes with pilgrim staffs, a whole load of drummers with tabards etc, the mayor was dressed up as I don't know what, one old boy was decked out as archbishop Sigeric, there were flaming torches, other costumes and even a donkey.  Hermine and I were shepherded to an upper room and, after a speech from some person of great importance, the mayor introduced us to the clamouring throng - the two 'real' pilgrims amongst this folly of noise and fancy dress!  There were speeches and recitations, the ceremonial opening of a specially-erected drawbridge in an arch by the dorm building, the revealing of a pilgrim mosaic, the blessing in the church of a group of youngsters who will be walking 150km to Compostella, a loko around the pilgrim museum and then a pilgrim soup party, with more drummers.  After our intro on the balcony, no-one seemed to pay much attention to me and Hermine.  It felt a bit like being at your own birthday party except none of your friends are there and you don't even get a birthday card!  I was amused and bemused by it all, and most of all just fairly exhausted, so after two ice creams (the first one was just too good) I left them all to their pilgrim soup and went to hit the hay.
07/07/08 Up at 9:30 after a good sleep.  Had a long shower and emptied my pack - deermined to sort it out and send some stuff home.  Stuck French/Swiss maps, hat, gloves, stove and various bits of paraphernalia into a plastic bag and headed to the post office.  I'll spare you the details, but it took one and a half hours and thirty euros to send off a package weighing 3.5kg.  But that's 3.5kg less in my pack!  For now...  went to the supermarket to get an abundant picnic of focaccia, fruit, yogurts, chocolate and milk, all of which I subsequently devoured in the dorm.  Didn't leave till 14:30, and by the time I'd had a chat to the priest and then to some Scottish guys from whom I'd asked directions (needless to say they weren't much help, but were very pleasant), I didn't leave town till 15:00.  Late late late.  But relaxed!  Climbed up, up and up onto the hill.  Couldn't work out where the right path was, couldn't correlate map and compass with apparent terrain, ploughed on anyway, just trying to enjoy the walk.  Very very strong walking, and pack feels like air!  I finally found some VF indications painted on trees, and was relieved that I ad not gone way out of the way.  the path, however, went precipitously down the hillside.  Over fallen trees, under fallen trees, down leafy mud slopes, around rocks and tree-trunks and allsorts.  It just kept going down.  I was mildly concerned - there was no way I was going back up there! - but I just enjoyed the assault course, swinging over, under and around the obstacles and imagining myself to be Rambo (or some such).  Only landed on my back once - but that pack is ample cushioning!  I finally finished descending and followed my nose (or my instincts) to a bit of agricultural land where I had a barely-intelligible chat with some old peasants.  It's amazing here - and in France too - that you still find proper peasants.  Do they exist any more in England?  I've never seen one.  Gnarled folk with skin like leather, a sickle in their back pocket, working their little patch of land like their parents worked it before them.  Anyway, one of the ladies (the one without the beard) walked on a little way with me, and basically pointed me down to the main road.  Anything to get somewhere, I thought, so sat down and had an apple and the last of the focaccia and headed on.  Usual diving into bushes to avoid oncoming lorries, fruitlessly waving my trekking poles around blind bends in an effort to avoid yet another wing mirror to hip collision (not really, mum), and got to Santo Stefano at 18:50.  Saw a sign saying "Aulla 8km" - imagine my joy at such rapid progress!  One thing for it - milk and chocolate.  As ever.  Got to Sarzano by 8pm, having covered a good 6km in an hour, thereby quadrupling my average for the afternoon.  Wante dto get to the seaside 7km further on, but stopped at 21:50 at a campsite - "The Iron Gate" along the way.  Too dark to reliably find a safe place to wild camp.  Headed straight for a pizza, had a good chat to mum and dad, then camped by the sea/a lake/a body of water with boats.
08/07  Woke 9:15.  Had a fake coffee, a big shower, packed up, sat in the sun, pottered around and walked at midday - mad dogs and Englishmen...  Got to the seaside at 12:45.  Huge long strip of various resorts with row upon row of loungers, umbrellas etc.  Usual tat on sale, overpriced bars etc.  I was starving; wante dto find a pizzeria set back from the seafront; found a little shop first, where I sensibly chose a litre of milk and a bag of biscuits, which I proceeded to demolish right in front of the shop, realising only too late that I had thereby ruined my appetite for sensible and nourishing food.  Oh well.  Whole day of walking along coastline, sometimes on beach, sometimes of promenade, sometimes on road set inland.  Passed Carrara marble places, Massa and other towns.  Hot sunny day, thousands of people about - all friends and families sun-bathing, swimming, sitting, chatting, playing together.  A true recipe for loneliness in the solitary observer.  Went to a Green Cross place and was immediately seen by a doctor about my eye.  He said no more antibiotics and prescribed Acqua Borica compresses.  No idea what that may be...  Hope it works though.  The eye is no longer foul, but it's still mildly disfiguring.  We shall see...  Got to Pietrasanta Marina at 20:00.  Pietrasanta is the destination, but it's a good 4km inland.  Great.  On I plod, increasingly hungry.  Keep following signs to Trattoria Beppino, aware that they're pointing in the direction I want o go tomorrow anyway.  End up out of town chatting to some friendly folk who show me where the Tratt is but it's closed.  they send me to a bar 1km up the road where I get an overpriced but pleasant focaccia sandwich, before going back down to a church I'd passed earlier and setting up camp in an olive grove beside it.  Mildly concerned about the vipers that people keep telling me are so abundant, but I'll be fine - I changed into my flip-flops before putting the tent up and they offer excellent bite protection.  Pitched tent 23:10and bunked down at midnight.
09/07/08 Woke at 8:30 and was packed and ready by 9:30 - the typical hour of getting everything out of my pack and putting it all back in again.  Various builders and folk milling about - no-one seemed to pay me too much attention.  As I left I got chatting to a couple of the builders for half an hour - they showed great interest in my trip.  As I headed up the road I saw a late middle-aged and two elderly folk struggling with a massive fridge, so wandered over and offered to help.  Their gratitude was great as I dumped my pack and lifted one end of the thing with the old boy at the other end and on into the house.  They insisted that I stayed for a fizzy drink (after I'd refused a great array of aperitifs) and some biscuits.  The old girl recounted many banalities to me - which was rather comforting actually, and saved me from an extended quizzing on what I'm doing.  I love talking to people and I love their interest, but there is only so many times you can explain that yes you really have come from Canterbury all the way on foot, how far it is, where you sleep, how you manage etc before you just want someone else to do some talking!  10:45 on up to Valdicastello, Carducci's birthplace.  Took some photos of his house then went to find the priest.   There was a man and lady outside his house.  Apparently he wasn't there; he'd gone down to the church where I'd slept because there was due to be a funeral in the afternoon and he wanted to see if la salma was there.  I didn't know what this meant - the lady kept saying la salma, la salma.  Eventually she got a bit exasperated and said il CORPO!! (the BODY!!).  Oh, I said (glad at least that I'd learned an italian euphemism).  Anyways, the lady couldn't possibly give me a stamp without the priest, apparently, so I set about helping them unload a vanload of food for the poor (or perhaps for the priest, especially if he likes tins of tuna), then waited around a bit for the priest before getting a stamp from the post office.  I left the village and was soon unsure of directions as I headed up the hill (possibly) to Monteggiori.  I headed up the driveway of a house with an impressive garden - and a seemingly endless driveway - till I finally got to a house where I was welcomed most warmly.  Chat was chatted, directions were given, a postcard was promised and a pilgrim was sent away with three apples.  On up to Monteggiori - an impressive little fortified hilltop town - I didn't climb up to investigate it, but passed round and down through Montebello to Camaiore, enjoying some broad sunny valley vistas on the way.  Felt fairly flat so called M&D for a chat - always a pleasure.  Went on to Conad (the supermarket whose name always makes me chuckle in a somewhat puerile fashion), and bought yogurts, twixes, fruit and milk.  Chatted to an English mummy at the checkout.  Think she may have been the second English person I've met in Italy (after Jamie the roofer).  On to the park to eat three double twixes (they're small in Italy), two yogurts and various other bits and bobs.  Felt rather full (unusual) and vaguely sick as I tottered on to the pharmacy to get the boric acid to put on my ever-troublesome eye.  Had a lengthy consultation about possible products to toughen my feet and ended up walking out with a 20 euro cream called Podatlet.  No idea what it does - couldn't understand the instructions at first reading - but it'd better be good at the price!  Went off to fruitlessly search yet again for tiger balm - great for insect bites, impossible to find - and ended up chatting to a dry cleaner who gave a great speech in praise of people who go off on long walks on their own, saying over and over again "I envy you, I envy you".  It was quite good really, because it made me feel fortunate (which I am), when sometimes I get a bit down about it when it feels hard.  Walked on at 17:30 (what a lot of fannying around I'd managed to do) and up to Montemagno, from which there was a magnificent view back across the valley plain.  Tuscany really is the gift that keep on giving in terms of countryside and views.  I took yet more photos then wandered down to Valpromaro.  I hoped to get some food there and then head on towards Lucca (my supposed destination for the day - some hope) and camp when it got dark.  Two old boys told me I should stay in the parish house, then the lady who runs it turned up.  She was going to make me a sandwich to take on my way, but then another guy came and said why don't you eat with us and then stay here?  Go on, twist my arm...  It was a massive family supper - 12 or 15 people - antipasti, ham and melon, tuna pasta for primo, deep-fried chicken and rabbit for secondo, salad, deep-fried vegetables, fruit salad and ice cream, then a huge fluorescent dessert that was unlike anything I've ever tasted, or indeed seen.  I was instructed to dig in as I pleased - "you're one of us tonight" - and I did so, eating as though for two.  Got to bed at 0:15 after a shower.  There was some sort of sun lounger for me to sleep on in the parish room, but I laid out my bed on the floor.
10/07/08 I'd rashly told the guy that's in charge on pilgrims - Mario - that I would be leaving at 7 or 7:30 (yeah, that's before I got involved in a long evening of heavy eating!), so I got up at 6:58 and was vaguely ready to head off when he arrived at 7:15.  We had a brief chat and off I went.  Soon realised I was hungry (how?!), so stopped at a bar on the way out of town for a fake coffee, two chocolate brioches and a read of the sports paper (quite out of character!).  8:10 I hit the road up the hill to Piazzano, a pretty little village on a hillside.  I met a man with a scythe over his shoulder and a sickle in his back pocket - I love this country! - and had a little chat.  He likes to meet pilgrims.  Took a pleasant path down through some woods and fields to the road into San Macario where I downed a litre of milk, then headed into Lucca on the main road, pausing to ake a couple of important calls and arriving at 12:15.  Blogged till 14:15 (oh, the devotion), then headed into town, where I had to content myself with a slice of pizza and a fanta, it being too late for any civilised form of eating.  Lucca is a town that has never failed to disappoint me (on the two previous occasions that I have visited), so I did not intend to hang around.  I decided to see Piazza San Michele and the church - all very nice; Piazza della Repubblica (on the basis that is was big on the map) - not very picturesque, but I had a (very miserly) ice cream on the way; and the Amphitheatre.  I didn't, however, get to the amphitheatre.  Since I started the trip I've had a policy of giving money (or food etc) to anyone who asks me for it, and generally to anyone who's begging.  There was a guy sitting on the street as I went towards the amphitheatre; he had a cup so I put some money in it.  He said something to me and we fell to chatting (sort of) so I sat on my pack and we passed the time of day.  The guy was 26 years old and from Bosnia.  His name was Meiti (or similar).  He has a withered right hand so can't get a job.  He is regularly hassled and beaten by the police (dried blood around his mouth bore witness to this).  His father and three year old brother and all his familyu were shot in Bosnia.  I don't know how Meiti got to Italy, but he's been on the streets for fifteen years.  His Italian is pretty bad, and I couldn't understand much of what he said.  He kept using the word "Benedict" - which obviously struck me.  After a while I said what do you mean by Benedict? "Benedict!  Benedict!"  Who's Benedict?  "Benedict!  Jesu Benedict!".  He said that in Bosnia they call Jesus Benedict.  He regularly flourished a picture of Jesus on a little prayer card.  He lifted up his shirt and told me he weighs 36kg.  I can believe it.  After a bit Meiti took his cup and put it on one side and said "that's enough, shall we go for coffee, I'll get you a coffee".  I said sure, but I'll get you a coffee, and off we went.   I suspect the guy doesn't get to chat much, and I think he was pleased to be going for coffee like 'regular' people do.  He insisted on paying for our coffees, then asked if I wanted a beer.  I explained that I don't drink so he called the waitress and ordered a beer for himself and a bottle of fizzy water for me (good guess!).  We spent about an hour and a half together.  I insisted on paying for Meiti's second beer.  He did not sip his beer, but left it sitting for a long time while we chatted, then made the sign of the cross over his mouth and over his glass and downed it in huge gulps.  Most of the time we sort of understood one another, sometimes not at all.  I drew a map of where I'd walked.  Meiti told me about the places he goes to beg - his world is defined by where there are big churches, where there are markets, where there are lots of tourists and where the police don't give his too much trouble.  As time went on I understood his 'code' better - 'Benedict' meant Jesus, Christian or Christianity; 'continental' meant lots of people or most people; and so forth.  Meiti railed against priests that preach for Rome, as he put it, but not for the poverini - the poor people.  He said 'I don't have many clothes, but I have Jesus.  I would like to have more money so I could give it to the poor.'  So why's the guy spending his little money on beer, you might ask.  I can tell you, having heard his stories I don't begrudge him any beer he may want.  He is clearly a traumatised and lonely and ill-educated young man, but a young man with a good heart and strong faith.  I really wanted to share something of this encounter, and feel that I've described it badly and not helpfully.  When Meiti saw I had a cross around my neck he kissed it.  He pulled out his picture of Jesus and said 'Jesus is my brother.  No, no, he is my father.'  As we parted company he kissed me on both cheeks and on the forehead.  I felt that we had both benefitted somehow from one another, but as I walked on I felt desperately sad for him.  It was all I could do at one point in our conversation to not burst into tears.  Even as I relive it in my mind now I feel very moved.  A man who has so little, who suffers so much, who has suffered so much, yet has such faith and wants to help others.  As we left the cafe we passed one of those street entertainers with the gold paint - you know the drill: you take a photo and give them a coin.  We'd passed the guy but Meiti said 'take a photo, take a photo'.  I went back and took a photo.  Then Meiti said 'have you got 50 centesimi for him? he needs money'.  Here was a man who has almost nothing and is regularly beaten and spat upon by the very people who should protect the weak, yet in ninety minutes he never asked me for more than the euro I had given him in the first place, and urged me to give money to another man in need.
UPDATE 21/07/08
10/07/08 cont...    I walked out of Lucca around 17:20, feeling very churned up.  The time spent with Meiti, along with some bad news that I'd had from the UK, left me not knowing quite what to think about things.  I went to the coop and bought the usual bread cheese fruit yogurts milk and chocolate, and wandered on away from town, not knowing where to picnic.  I ended up sitting in a cemetery - there was some shade there, a tap to wash my penknife (think i left my beloved resin knife in Aulla - bugger!), and it was set back from the noisy road.  I'd just finished forcing food down myself when a lady pulled up in a car.  She got out and said what are you doing?  I said I'd just been eating.  She said 'we don't eat in cemeteries'.  I said it was shady and quiet and I wasn't doing any harm.  She said why didn't you go to the grass areas by the city walls?  I said I didn't want to track back there. We had a very polite disagreement in which I said I was sure that God wouldn't mind, the dead wouldn't mind, I wasn't sitting on a grave etc, and she said 'but we just don't do it'.  It concluded with me saying thank you for letting me know, I shall bearthat in mind in future.  We then fell to talking about my pilgrimage etc.  I think the lady ended up feeling a bit bad.  She confessed that she'd thought I was there to cut the grass, but when she saw the beard and bandana she's thought I'd planned to sleep there (I didn't let on that had it been later I might well have done just that!).  It all ended very amicably, and to be honest I was impressed that she'd accosted me at all.  I wouldn't dare accost a rough-looking type with an unsheathed knife in London, I can tell you!  regretfully I may have to put a stop to my graveside picnics, out of deference to her courage.  I walked on at 7pm and somehow contrived to arrive at Altopascio, my destination, at 22:45.  I had no idea where to stay.  It's a historically important pilgrim stopover and there are facilities provided to this day, but I, as is my unofficial policy, hadn't called ahead to book in (and hadn't intended to arrive so late..!).  I was scouting around for camping possibilities (didn't look promising) when some old folk called me over and asked where I was going.  They assured me that something could be done, and one of them delivered me into the hands of a local police officer.  In the end I had two police officers and an ambulance guy walking me round town.  First the ambulance guy said I could put my tent up by their HQ, but I had to politely point out that it doesn't work on concrete.  they ended up rousing the groundsman of the sports stadium, who opened up some kind of dressing room building, where I slept in a smelly office-cum-massage room, on the floor.  Pilgrims can't be choosers, and I was very happy just to have shelter!
11/07/08  A guy came into the building at 7:02am.  He hadn't spotted me from the corridor so I said 'buongiorno!'.  He looked very unimpressed by the hairy creature on the floor and asked gruffly whatI was doing there and how I'd got in.  He grunted at my responses and then left.  I went back to sleep, woke up at 8:15 and got out at 9.  The same guy was outside with another one, and we had a pleasant chat.  I headed to the municipio to get a stamp, and they sent me on to the library.  The librarians were very keen for me to look at their pilgrim book.  They'd just finished one so I inaugurated a new one - nice.  I found a great poem - The Pilgrimage by George Herbert 1633 - that someone had copied down.  Google it and have a read.  They gave me the biggest stamp in the world - it took up two squares in my pilgrim record!  I saw evidence of earlier stamps, and they seemed to grow and grow in saize.  The lady said 'we're megalomaniacs - we want to have the biggest stamp'.  Fair enough!  They also gave me a book about the route through the local area - basically a half-ton of unusable maps and superfluous information.  I was grateful however, as I headed out to simply follow the main road (stopping to have a good chat with M&D on the way).  Breakfast was much needed, and a large piece of tomato focaccia, a large chocolate crostatina and a litre of milk fitted the bill nicely.  I folowed the main road to Galleno, then followed some makeshift VF signs onto a track which soon took me onto a dusty road through a weird scrubland.  I almost expected cowboys to come galloping by.  I lost any meaningful sense of direction (although the sun told me I was going broadly speaking towards Rome).  I also lost 50% of my bodyweight in perspiration as the temperature climbed way over 40 degrees.  Man, that was some MAJOR heat!  Blasting, beating, furious heat.  When I finally got to a main road (I didn't know which one) I consulted my map of Tuscany and found I was several km off track, on the approach to Santa Croce, not Fucecchio.  Highly irritating.  I stopped in a bar for a Fanta to collect myself, then ploughed on.  I got to Fucecchio about15:30, absolutely bushed.  I sat under a tree in a sort of layby off the avenue approaching the town.  I then took off my boots and socks and lay down in the dirt.  I really didn't know if I could carry on.  I was so hot and exhausted and dehydrated and unmotivated and pissed off about the diversion and tired and hot and tired and lethargic.  At 16:00 I put my boots on, picked up my pack and walked.  It's moments like those thatI cherish - when I can feel the grinding of my iron will as it pushes me on.  I have found reserves of will thatI just never knew I had.  I wentup into the old town.  It was very pretty but I couldn't really be bothered with it and was soon asking for directions down to the Arno.  I went down, sat on a bench and had some water and a banana, moved on and had a chat to two old boys, then crossed the river and pushed on the few km to San Miniato Basso.  There was a nice big signj on the way in saying, basically, 'hello pilgrims, welcome, please stop here, we'll be lovely to you'.  I expect they're desperate to steal a bit of trade from their brothers on the hill, but I, like many others I suspect, had my sights set on the top.  An old boy called to me from across the street.  I crossed to him and he quizzed me about what I was doing.  When he and his companions heard I had walked from Canterbury and was going to Rome, they didn't give the usual congratulations and expressions of admiration, but all just looked a bit disgusted, told me I was mad and walked off!  Made me chuckle.  Went to the co-op for half a litre of milk, some biscuits, some bread and some olive bread for the morning.  Sat and had a picnic by the loading bay at the side.  It was frightfully picturesque, ahem.  On and up the hill to San Miniato proper.  A bitof a drag up but I don't mind - I find that climbing gives me something to do, if you know what I mean.  It's a really pretty town with houses and towers and domes and things all sitting there glowing in the evening sun.  I went up through the impressive piazza del municipio and on up to the Duomo and the highest point - the San Lorenzo tower.  Another mediaeval town with nowhere to camp.  I considered the grass up by the tower but it wouldn't have been safe.  By now it was 8pm and I needed to assess my options.  I decided that i'd 'done' San Miniato and got directions out of town towards Calenzano, the next town on the route.  I thought I'd find a campsite in an olive grove or orchard along the way.  I called M&D before leaving town - they're going away on a cruise tomorrow so I wanted to say goodbye.  Mum urged me to try to find a place to stay in San Miniato so I said I'd have a go at the franciscan place, even though it was now almost 9pm.  I trotted back and found the convent and rang the bell.  There was a group of folk chatting outside and one of them came over.  I explained that I was looking for a bed.  He said he didn't know if it'd be possible, but he'd check.  At this point a gruff voice came over the intercom 'Si?'  The guy I'd met said hi, it's Paolo, there's a pilgrim here.  The voice said 'e allora?'  - basically 'so what?'.  Here we go, I thought.  Paolo, bless him, took me inside, found a room for me and took me up there, past the Virgin Mary with the illuminated fluorescent halo on the stairs - nice touch.  The room was a treat - simple but smart - and with an ensuite bathroom!  I said my thank yous then set about washing myself and some clothes - the usual drill of emptying my pockets then getting in the shower fully clothed and with a handful of other smelly garments.  At 21:45 I headed out smelling fragrant (or at least less foul) and made a beeline for a bar I'd noted earlier which looked like it served food - sure to be cheaper than the restaurant opposite which looked a bit flash.  I went in and was told that they were full.  Not even room for one, I asked.  Oh, ok, the guy said, and put me on a table that was obviously free.  I sat and waited a while to give my order, but nobody came.  Two guys were chatting on the next table and invited me to join them.  I accepted gladly enough.  They were Luca and Luca, and also had Jose with them, and later Franco.  They were all part of a big theatre convention that takes place for three months each year in San Miniato.  300 theatre students come from many different countries to do classes together with maestri of different disciplines.  They were interested in me, I was interested in them - conversation flowed easily, while I ate some good penne with tomato and ricotta, followed by some good arista with roast potatoes.  I was then introduced to Niki, an Italian singer who'd sung opera in Pisa for 11 years.  She must have been about 45, but had an ageless beauty and terrifically engaging manner.  We had a long and involved conversation, each of us fascinated by what the other was up to.  I left at about 11pm, and headed back to the convent to eat some biscuits and hang up my clothes before bed at 11:45.
 
12/07/08  Got up at 7:40, leftthe room at 7:55.  Had to get directions to the breakfast room, where I breakfasted with four men who I think were trainee friars.  Warm milk with sugar in it (not a habit I intend to acquire) and three chocolate crostatinas.  A friarcame and stamped my record, i got my stuff together, went to give them some money then left at about 8:30.  I picked up some more milk on the way out of town and swigged it down then trotted on to Calenzano.  I sat in the shade of a tree and had a chat to my girlfriend.  She dumped me, which was a bit of a blow, then I walked on.  The path through the fields was really lovely.  Endless beautiful landscape.  but hot.  Very hot and thirstmaking.  At 2pm I got to Campriano, where I passed a farmhouse and could see a tap in the yard.  A girl came out onto the balcony so I said 'can i fill up my bottle please?'.  She told me to wait and then came down witha big bottle of chilled waterand a cup.  I drank.  And drank.  Her mum came down and we chatted and I asked for directions, which required the summoning of the father too.  He said to me would you like something to eat?  I said no, I'm fine thanks (fine?  three crostatinas and some milk doth not a full day's journey fuel!).  He said go on, how about a bit of chicken?  I accepted and was told to sit and wait.  I sat at the plastic table in the yard, watching the chickens and dogs running around - all quite idyllic.  After a while Mrs came out with a plate and a bowl.  She set down the bowl with two big luscious tomatoes and two nectarines; beside it she put some apples fresh from their (entirely organic) orchard; then she set down the plate with the chicken.  While she bustled off to get me some bread I sat and wondered how I could possible plough my way through a whole roast chicken (minus one leg); particularly given the accusing looks i was getting from it's siblings (/parents/offspring) all clucking around my feet.  By the time the bread emerged I had set my resolve, and I dived in with gusto.  Man, that was some good chicken!  I tell you, by the time I'd finished with it you couldn't even have made soup from the carcass (which Mr subsequently gave to the dog anyway).  The tomatoes tasted like tomatoes should taste, the nectarines could have been used as weapons (they brought to mind Pratchett's dwarf bread) and the apples had maggots in them as though to flaunt their lack of chemical pollution.  I was left in peace to eat, and afterwards Mr and Mrs - Bruno and Graziana - joined me for a chat before I left at about 15:15.  Imagine the hospitality - water, a whole chicken, fruit, salad, a chat and a friendly smile.  The path was pleasant through some woods and fields towards the SP62.  On my map it was 6.5km, 1hr 40mins.  I think it took me more like three hours, without excessive stopping.  Hmm...  I crossed the valley via signed VF paths to (what looks like in my scribbled handwriting) Burzeo Forte (not a name I remember now).  I have no idea where the guy who drew my (often slightly crap) maps thought the route should take me.  I stopped at a bar for a Fanta.  the owner, Maurizio, likes to run marathons and enjoyed hearing about my trip.  His waiter for the evening was a lad who turned outto be English - from Salisbury - though he'd been in Italy since the age of five (fathera wine merchant).  His Italian was obviously perfect, and his English too - though it was interesting to hear hints of Italian sentence structures and a slightly jarring lack of colloquialisms.  I walked on around 19:45 up to Gambassi.  I had a look around and followed signs to a pizzeria which took me a while to find.  While I waited to be seated I chatted to an Irish family who were happily holidaying for a while.  their younger son, who was probably about 3 years old, had a little blanket wedged nono-stop in his mouth and hanging out, which tempted me to make Linus jokes, from which I refrained.  It was very cute.  I was seated, and shortly afterwards so were they.  I ordered as soon as I could, and by the time I got back from washing my hands my pizza diavola was being brought to the table - they clearly know a low-value customer when they see one and get them out of the door asap!  I ate the pizza and drank a Fanta and some fizzy water, then left around 21:45, before the Irish family had even received any food at all!  It was later than I'd hoped, and very almost dark.  By the time I got out of town it was dark so I strapped on my head-torch to walk down towards Luiano - no streetlights out in the sticks, just pitch black if the moon is covered.  I don't like looking for campsites in the dark.  It's hard to spot places; hardto tell how visible you'll be in the morning and inevitably requires the use of a headtorch while you pitch, which might attract attention, partcularly in rural areas.  I got down to Luiano and still hadn't spotted a good place, when I pasta big farmhouse with a sign painted on the wall advertising wine and olive oil, and written atthe bottom 'Sosta del Pellegrino' (PIlgrim's stopping-place), with a little pilgrim logo.  I wasn't sure what it signified (nothing, as it later turned out!), but I went round the side just as a lady was coming out.  i asked if I could camp somewhere so she got her husband who kindly said I could camp on their lawn.  There was a water tap and everything.  I asked them to stamp my pilgrim record and we fell into a nice chat till about 23:15.  i then said good night (my yawns had been becoming more frequent!), finished putting up the tent and bunked down, sleeping before midnight at least.  Oh yes - as I was putting up the tent Mr came out again and handed me a boxed bottle of wine, saying it's dedicated to pilgrims and I should give it as a present to my father.  I hid my inner panic and just thanked him graciously.  That's one and a half kilos!  And I said yes I'd give it to my father!  I'll have to do it now...
 
13/07/08  I was already vaguely awake when I heard a tractor motor start around 8am.  I crawled out of my stinky tent and started to pack away.  All done by 8:30, when Mrs offered me some breakfast.  Room temperature UHT milk and some cocoaey biscuits.  Happy days.  I got involved with enthusiasm and polished off rather a lot of both.  Mrs sat with me and we chatted, while their little daughter Francesca sat on her lap.  We talked about inspirational and uninspiring priests; church attendance; the local religious communities and the museum one of them is building next door.  Mrs said she has suffered a lot in life.  Interesting, Mr said exactly the same thing last night.  Mrs was clearly thrilled with Francesca, however - her 'little miracle'.  She said that Francesca is a cunning little thing, and she knows that mummy and daddy will do anything for her!  I left at 9:15, hailing Mr on his tractor amongst the vines.  He chugged up and greeted me.  As I was leaving a family of four passed by, so I joined them walking for a while.  Marina and Gigi, and their ?14 year old ?twin daughters Francesca and Caterina.  They are from Rome, and are walking from Lucca to Rome.  We chatted a bit as we walked on along the path with became a rough track through various fields.  I soon went on ahead and didn't see them again that day.  The track was great, and it was nice to see that it had clearly been designed with the collaboration and good will of local farmers across whose land it passed.  At a certain point it went up and joined a quiet road through a number of quiet little communities, one of which is called Pancole.  In Pancole there is a lovely chapel (? attached to a convent).  It was declared a Jubilee Site of Grace or something I couldn't quite understand.  There was an unseasonal life-size crib scene down some steps outside the church.  All intersting to nosey around.  Not much further on to San Gimignano, where I intended to spend the afternoon generally lazing and eating ice cream.  About 11:30, however, it started to rain.  I put my pack cover on but no waterproofs.  The rain got a bit heavier and when I was on the approach to San Gimignano it suddenly started really hammering down.  I dived under a bus shelter where a couple was sitting.  They turned out to be French and wanted to know if there was a bus up into town.  I said I doubted it on a Sunday.  They had a car but you can't drive into SG and all the car parks were full.  We had a bit of a chat in French and the lady said my French is brilliant - no accent whatsoever.  I was really thrilled - I've often had a problem 'switching gears' between Italian and French or vice versa, so I was really pleased that I seemed to have succeeded on this occasion.  After a while they gave up and left.  Ten minutes later a bus came past.  Oops.  At 12:30 the deluge abated a bit so I skipped up to a trattoria on the outskirts of San Gimignano.  I had some great pasta with wild boar sauce.  I'd decided to have a pizza too but the waiter just never came, so after half an hour I decided to leave.  As I passed the waiter on the way to the loo he said just let me know if you want coffee or anything.  I icily informed him that I would have liked to continue eating but it was now a bit late.  After I'd freshened up we had a chat and he apologised.  I think he'd thought I was a tramp who'd come in for a bit of a feed and that I might have liked to sit undisturbed, possibly for the rest of the afternoon.  As I type this I'm looking at that photo of myself (taken on Mt Sinai, incidentally), and it is almost mocking me with it's fresh clean-shaven look and full healthy cheeks.  So unlike the hairy, gaunt weather-beaten wiry strong wild-eyed creature who is hammering away at the keyboard right now!  I left the restaurant at13:45 and went into town.  I got to the Augustinian convent at 14:00 and rang the bell.  An impatient voice told me to come back at 15:00 or 15:30.  I said sure, and headed down to the internet point to write some more stuff to bore you all with (I know it's getting longer - it's partly thatI seem to have lost any ability to self-edit and partly that my daily 'journal' now consists of vague scribblings written on napkins etc, so if I don't convert it into something vaguely coherent (or not) in the blog then it will all be lost to my memory, which would be a shame for me.  If you're bored just stop reading.  I won't be offended.  Wit and concision have abandoned me so there's no reason why you shouldn't too).  I went back to the Convento at 16:30.  This time I was let in.  I started out by saying I was sorry if I'd disturbed earlier on.  Yes, I'm sorry too, said the guy, and then launched into a rant about how all us pilgrims are the same and we ring the bell at any time, even when the sign says that the church is closed.  I politely pointed out that the sign doesn't instruct folk that the opening hours of the church also apply to the convent.  He chuntered on for a bit (in the midst of which, in fairness, he did manage to inform me that they couldn't put me up for the night and make vague noises about possible alternatives).  I could feel the steam rising within me, so basically just had to say goodbye and then leave.  The guy said what are you going to do?  I said I'll find something.  I was a bit upset by it all.  Like I've said before, I've become quite estranged from conflict and unpleasantness, and I was already a sensitive flower.  Anyway, I went up to the tourist office, had a bit of a moan (which I hadn't intended to do, and the girl in there clearly didn't give a crap anyway).  The girl said there is the Benedictine Nunnery, and gave me directions.  I asked her to call on my behalf, because I just didn't feel able to cope with any more unhospitable unpleasantness.  She kindly called and they said they'd have me, so off I went.  Suor Maddalena, who welcomed me to the convent, was a brisk but clearly very sweet type.  She wasted no time asking me if I'm a paying pilgrim or not.  i said sure.  She said we charge 30 euros to tourists, 25 euros to pilgrims, but some don't want to pay.  I said sure I'll pay, and the deal was done.  Suor Maddelena said 'mmm... che bel profumo che c'hai' ('my, what a sweet smell you have').  I said what, hot fresh mansweat?  Is it completely gross?  She said it wasn't gross, just noticeable.  Hmm.  First time anyone's commented on my olfactory properties.  Sure they're all too polite.  Shower time!  I was given a room with four beds and an en suite.  I hope no one else will be put in with me!  Had a big shower then headed up to town for an ice cream!  I have an ice cream fairy in a secret location in Wales who has told me to have the biggest ice cream I can get in a particular gelateria in SG, on her.  I've been there before and know how good it is, so I'm excited!  Got a big cone with chocolate, lemon, strawberry and nocciolone ice cream in it.  It.  Was.  Amazing.  This ice cream is so good it should be outlawed.  Or made compulsory.  I don'tknow - one of the two.  the ice cream fairy asked me to get a photo of me with my ice cream in front of a monument, so I set about getting a couple of people to do the honours with my camera.  One young guy was pleasant and capable and got me, the ice cream, the main municipal tower and partof the cathedral.  Nice.  In the piazza della cisterna I asked another guy to take a pic.  He said are you on your own?  Yeah, go on, rub it in...  why the hell else would I be asking you to take a photo of me you monkey?  Yes, I said.   And you want a photo of you, with you ice cream?  Yes, that's precisely what I asked for.  Some people, eh?  Went and phoned the ice cream fairy who urged me to have another ice cream this evening and tomorrow morning.  Go on, twist my arm...   I headed back up into town (do you all know San Gim?  Lots of towers.  Brilliant.) and got a takeaway diavola pizza which I ate on the steps of the collegiata (cathedral) as the light faded.  I then headed back to the gelateria, this time for a big coppetta - chocolate, chocolate orange, lemon and passion fruit.  Oh.  Goodness.  Wow.  If this isn't the best ice cream in the world I'll eat my hat.  I felt satisfyingly sick as I wandered down to phone my sister before bed.  Enjoyed hearing about her trip to France but was getting increasingly dehydrated.  Got a big bottle of fizzy water to take back to the convent.  Full of ice cream and feeling pretty good about it!  Bed at 23:00.
 
14/07/08  No-one else was put in my room with me, so I woke alone with my alarm at 7:30, and hazily headed down to breakfast at 8:30.  I passed Marina in the reception area and I felt a bit embarrassed - she had her pack on and the girls were just coming down the stairs, I had wild hair and cloudy eyes.  No-one else there in the funny little breakfast room so I ate three bits of bread and jam, a whole load of lovely cocoa and almond biscuits and had two cups of hot chocolate from a rather incongruous vending machine.  I had a shower and packed.  At 10:30 a sister came to the (open) door with a mop and bucket.  She very politely asked when I was thinking of leaving, and I assured her I'd be out in five, and was.  Had a nice chat to Suor Maddalena and Suor Roberta before leaving.  Suor Maddalena kept going on about how I can speak Italian and French (she'd put me on the phone to some tourists yesterday and got me to let them into the convent while she busied herself with housekeeping, it turned out they were French and we were deep in conversation when she emerged).  They were really lovely nuns.  Down with the Augustians, up with the Benedictines!  (just joking, just joking...).  I went to the pharmacy to get a new can of shoe deodorant (did I mention that the last one emptied itself in my pack?  At least the pack smells nice...) and some insect repellant.  went for 35% Deet this time - no more mr nice guy.  Got another ice cream cone - after breakfast I was worried I might have spoiled my ice cream appetite, but oh no I hadn't...  Big cone with the same flavours as first time round yesterday.  Once again I just couldn't help but smile and feel that all was well with the world as I worked my way through it.  Got a nice German guy to take a photo.  He had the same camera as me but I have a much better lens on mine, so we had a bit of a mine's bigger than yours moment (or rather he had a bit of a mine's smaller than yours moment) then we all chatted pleasantly over our various ice creams, before I distributed hand gel to all and sundry (it doesn't really get the stickiness off, but it kind of makes you feel better!).  I left town at 11:45 - mad dogs and englishmen etc - and headed to Monte Oliveto, a great spot for taking photos of the skyline of the 'Tuscan Manhattan'.  On to Santa Lucia then a nice path up through some woods to some kind of vague ruin, then a very confusing hilltop where it was only by good fortune that I didn't take a badly wrong route (note to self - you need to go round the hilltop to the left, not straight down).  I headed downhill and couldn't see any waymarkings, so stopped at a funny little group of houses and rang on various bells without joy till I rang on one and out came Rosita, who gave me directions, before asking me if I needed anything.  I said some water would be good if they have a tap.  Come in, come in, she said.  She sat me down and filled my bottle with cool mineral water, then got out a big bottle of Fanta (Fanta!  My nectar!).  She said would you like something to eat?  I said no thanks.  She said don't just be polite - 'non fare complimenti' - would you like a sandwich?  I meekly nodded my little head.  Rosita setto work, cutting a baguette in half and filling it generously with prosciutto, mozzarella and fresh tomato.  I piled into it and it was GOOD.  She asked if I'd like another and I said no thanks, but she made me another one anyway 'to have later'.  I finished the sandwich and she got out a piece of tomato focaccia and offered it to me.  She'd clearly just been to the supermarket that day.  I refused it - there was just one piece bought from the supermarket deli counter - you don't go and buy that unless you want to eat it.  'Non fare complimenti', said Rosita, we're fat enough and you need to eat.  She put it on my plate and I ate it.  Next were huge chunks of watermelon, followed by two slabs of some kind of homemade chocolate and biscuit creation - just too good.  I.  was.  stuffed!  All the while I was chatting to Rosita and her old mother Giovanna - both from Brindisi.  I was then introduced to Rosita's son Antonio-Giovanni, 3 years old and possibly the most adorable little boy I have ever encountered.  I want Dante to be just like him!  I was sent away with three nectarines, three bananas and a huge sandwich.  Rosita tried to give me a half kilo bag of biscuits but I insisted I didn't need them.  She tried to give me a bag of Taralli - a Brindisino speciality - I said no but must have betrayed something on my face as she opened the packet and decanted some into a smaller bag for me.  Anything, she said, you can have anything you want.  And she meant it.  I'm sure that if I had asked to take the shirt from that lady's back she would have sent it away with me, folded neatly in a paper bag.  I walked on with a very heavy pack (remember the wine!), a very full tummy (but oh so good) and a spirit full of the joy of such kind and generous and welcoming people.   I forded a muddy stream and carried on a nice path to Campiglia then on along a valley and up to Badia Coneo.  I took much advice re directions just by Coneo town, then ignored it all and headed into thetown not away from it.  I bumped into one of my advisers shortly afterwards and he basically said fine, do what you want if you just want to go for a long walk and get lost in the woods.  Promising...  I saw a lady in the town and so stopped to ask her, too.  She didn't know at all and called over to her neighbour.  We all fell to chatting, and they asked me if I needed anything.  No thanks, I said.  Not even a tomato?  Oh yes ok please, a tomato.  The lady who'd offered realised she didn't have any so sent the neighbour away to get one.  The neighbour returned with two of the biggest tomatoes I have seen - the size of large apples, and a bag of plums.  Seventeen plums.  I accepted it with gratitude and inner horror.  My pack is already almost uinmanageably oppressive, and now I have this to deal with...  the kind plum lady said she had to go and cook for her mother, leaving me and the first lady chatting (she'd gone off and got me an ice cream by this point).  But soon the neighbour was back, proffering a litre carton of pineapple juice.  Do you like this?  She said.  I was so touched and grateful and said yes I do (pineapple is a favourite of mine).  After I'd seen the lady's touching shrine that she'd made in her garden I strapped the juice to the outside of my pack and staggered off.  I'm rocking at least twenty kilos at this point, and suffering beneath the burden, but just think - that's the weight of the gifts that four different people have so generously showered upon me, a complete stranger...
 
UPDATE 24/07/08
 
14/07/08 cont...  I staggered through a couple of fields, across a main road and then onto a path behind a magnificent field of sunflowers.  I still get excited every time i see a sunflower field.  They just seem somehow exotic and beautiful and weird and exciting.  And they all look in the same direction!  I was unsure as I entered the woods quite way to go, but soon found myself in Onci and got directions on to Gracciano.  Suddenly some VF signs appeared so I was able to cross town, get back out into the fields and find an orchard near a farm called Casa Grande in which to discreetly set up camp around 21:15.  I chomped through most of the second prosciutto, mozzarella and tomato panino, aware all the while that it had been sitting in a hot pack for quite some time, and mildly concerned that the resultant tummy upset might not be something that I would wish to deal with in a tent.  I got most of the way through before my concerns got the better of me and I donated the sweaty remains to the ants.  Then I set about ploughing through some of the plums - quite a task!  To bed around 23:00.
 
15/07/08  Alarm 7am.  Up 8:15.  Get-out 9:15.  Headed back and up to Casa Grande to try to get a stamp.  Collared an old boy on an even older tractor spraying his vines.  He seemed vaguely nonplussed and gave me directions, the only part of which I even vaguely understood was the hand signals.  Next up was a guy tilling his vegetable garden; he sent me down the hill to a scuderia - what's one of them?  Is it where they make shields?  Turns out it was a stables, but the guy there didn't have a stamp either.  he suggested I carry on to a 'residence' further along my path.  I did so, and got there about 10am (via a little wood in which dome army officers were preparing an exercise, but seemed unable to give me directions!).  Turns out a 'residence' is like a country club hotel (from what i could make out). Plenty of rich Americans and as many staff to clean up after them.  I received a warm and interested reception there.  I was shown a tap where I could fill my bottle (despite a passing room-maid's instructions that it was not drining water and I should use the minibar in my room), given a stamp and instructed where to go next.  I got to the junction where I was to head up to Acquviva (the next stop on my circuitous designed-to-avoid-the-main-roads route), had a sit down and a consultation of my map (such as it is).   I decided to head for the main road and plough straight up to Siena, arriving in decent time to sort out accommodation and do a bit of bloggery prior to the arrival of my pal Lucas, who's coming to visit for a couple of days. I called the Benedictine nuns on the way (I never normally call ahead anywhere, but as Lucas is coming I want to be sure he'll have a bed!), and arranged for us to stay there.   The main road was not unpleasant, passing by Monteriggioni (which I decided not to visit). I got to Siena around 15:15 and was immediately drawn in by the Golden Arches.  I had the late lunch of champions, chatted with a group of ?Filipinos outside the 'restaurant', then headed up the hill to the old town.  I went to a bookshop and bought About A Boy, in Italian.  I move too fast through novels in English, so though that it might be a wise move to read in Italian.  (Turns out I read simplish novels just as speedily in italian, which is in one sense gratifying and in another a little irritating!).  I passed through the Piazza Del Campo, and was as blown away by it as I have been on previous visits.  It is a huge vast big medieval piazza, with a massive municipal building (which houses some incredible artwork) and a massive belltower on one side; and, curving round on the other three sides, tall and imposing medieval structures (which I'm struggling to describe - please see Google images!). I got to the convent around 17:15, where I was greeted by Suor Teresita, a very sweet nun.  I was introduced to Suor Ginetta (well known in the town for her good works amongst the poor), and as i was led through the ground floor of the convent a number of other nuns gave me big smiles and said welcome!  welcome!  It was lovely.   We were to sleep in a room with eight bunks, two of which had been bagged already, so I bagged a further two for me and Lucas, then had a big shower.  I was about to head to an internet cafe when the Italian family arrived, so we chatted awhile.  They seemed a bit surprised by arrangements (as indeed was I).  They were to occupy the remaining four bunks.  I confess I find it a little odd that men and women of all ages should be thrown together in sleeping quarters like this, but hey - a slong as I've got a bed...  i got to the inteernet place at 18:30 and bashed away till just before eight, when I heard from Lucas and went to find him in Piazza del Campo.  He was lying down on the sloping ground of the piazza.  Boy, was I glad to see him!  I'd been really looking forward to his visit.  I hadn't seen anyone I knew since my (then) girlfriend visited me in Chalons, which was 7/8 weeks ago.   We headed to the convent (I didn't tell him where we were going - the nuns and the bunk beds were to be a surprise).  Lucas too was welcomed warmly and we were invited to eat there but elected to head to town, the only problem being that curfew was 22:00, leaving us not much time!  First place I've stayed where they don't just give you the key to the door.  Lucas kindly treated me to supper on an outside table in the PIazza del Campo.  I had spaghetti with tomato sauce and a cut steak with black truffle shavings.  the spaghetti and meat were good, but i steered fairly clear of the truffley bits - I'd forgotten how rotten they smell!  (yes, a philistine, i know...).   We loked for an ice cream on the way back to the convent, but without success.  we got to the door at 22:05 and were fortunately not met with any reproof.   In the dorm there was a guy with comedically hairy shoulders who was already tucked up, and a German girl in pyjamas who introduced herself as Linda, and proceeded to engage us in conversation despite my protestations that the hair guy might want some peace.  Shortly afterwards the Italian family trooped in, and the three females proceeded to giggle at length (unsure why, but i can imagine..).  We all got ready for bed (as i took my shirt off Lucas called me a 'skinny bastard' and then informed me, rather diplomatically i thought, that I look like a prisoner of war!), and somehow managed to get to sleep - once everybody appeared to have finished reading and giggling and whispering i took it upon myself to turn out the light, which left us with only the periodic beeping of somebody's dying mobile phone to contend with.  I switched on my trusty Petzl and did a crossword.  Lucas ha kindly brought me a book of quick crosswords, a jar of tiger balm and eight packets of Wrigley's peppermint gum.  Happy?  I was like a pig in dirt.
 
16/07/08  My alarm went off at 7am but I quickly silenced it so as not to disturb, then dozed till 7:50.  we'd been told that breakfast would be at 8:30, but Suor Teresita came in at 8:10 to call us down.  Lucas and I headed down straight away, to enjoy some milk (in his case coffee) and a bad croissant in a plastic packet. Hmm.   We'd decided to do some guerrilla sightseeing, so didn't hang around but got out at 8:25, went up to gawp once more at the piazza del campo, whizzed to the Duomo - a big edifice (which would have been MUCH bigger if they hadn't run out of money whilst building it!) with black and white marble zebra stripes.  The Duomo wan't open but the West doors were (with a barrier), so we took some photos then scampered back to the convent to pick up our bags, say bye-bye to the sisters and hit the road at 9:35.  We headed down out of town, via a milk-and-chocolate stop, and before long were in the fields, attempting to follow a badly-signed path.  Lucas had said he'd take my bag off me for a bit, and we swapped over - man, i felt like i was walking on air! The path got no better - we followed one sign and ended up hacking through thick undergrowth and ending up on a railway line from which there was no obvious exit other than to walk along the line itself, hop onto a platform and along to the station (mercifully close by) to get further directions.  Two blokes at the station were very helpful, and also gave us info about lucas's return train tomorrow.  We went and had a couple of slices of pizza and a soft drink, then decided to head up the main road for a bit to Isola D'Arbia before cutting through and back onto the supposed VF path through pleasanter areas.   We did this, and stopped at a big COOP for some water, bananas and soft drinks (I no longer know what I would do without Fanta).  There were various options as to what our destination might be and how we would get Lucas to Buonconvento station tomorrow morning at 10:40.  We decided against the 'official' destination and considered heading for a place where there might have been a lake (depending on which map you looked at), but ended up deciding to head back to the main road and smash our way up to Buonconvento - that way we wouldn't arrive too late and wouldn't have stress in the morning.  We stopped at 17:30 in a little town about 4/5km from Buonconvento, and sat outside a bar to share a 1.5l bottle of Fanta (Lucas:  "this is the best Fanta I've ever tasted").  We headed on at 18:15.  Lucas was keen to stop walking (as always am I), so i said that if he followed the pace I set we'd be there by 19:00 (he, still carrying my pack, agreed).  It set off in a lively fashion and we got to Buonconvento centre just after 7pm.  Lucas had been saying all day that we should have a barbecue.  Great idea I thought, but my concerns where where we could get the necessary materials, and how we could discreetly start a fire on somebody else's land!   We went to the coop, where we put both our backpacks in a trolley and wheeled them through the shop.  Lucas identified disposable baking trys ththa could be used for bbq construction, and also some charcoal and firelighters.  We got that and some water, and decided to find a place to do the deed before buying anything more.  On the way into town I'd been scouting for camping places but we hadn't passed a goof one for a while.  On the way into the Coop, however, i'd noticed tat there was a bridge out of town with fields beyond it in that direction, so we headed there.  I left Lucas with the stuff on the edge of a files while i went further along to suss it out.  It turned out to be a perfect spot - effectively invisible from all sides and with a track leading up to it but which didn't go anywhere.  Lucas said he'd put up the tent while I went back to the Coop.  i got there at 19:45 - they were already making announcements about closing so it turned into Pilgrim Supermarket sweep as i dashed around the aisles throwing things in my basket.  I picked up the beers (alcoholic and non-) that I had secreted under the frozen spinach on our first visit - i was relieved to find that they were still there and by now nicely chilled - and got veal steaks, sausages, hamburgers, ketchup, tomatoes, crisps, plums, biscuits and some awful weird flat dry hard end-of-day bread.  I got back to base about 20:10.  Lucas had done an impressive job of getting the tent out and lying it on the ground, a rather more impressive job of finding a place to cook and constructing a beautiful barbecue, and a very impressive job indeed of lying down on the ground  to await my return.  I put up the tent with some difficulty and a certain amount of swearing (the ground was almost impossibly hard), while Lucas got the barbecue going around 20:30.  we'd waited a little so the smoke wouldn't be so obvious.  we started cooking about 21:15 - now virtually dark.  Tough but ok steaks, amazing burgers (Lucas. "this is the best burger I've ever had") and delicious sausages (with four left over for the morning!).  it was a feast.  we went to bed about 23:00.  TBC...  the internet cafe is kicking me out right NOW........
 
UPDATE 27/07/08
 
16/07/08 cont...  My tent is a very fine Hilleberg Akto - often admired for its strength, lightness, and ease of use.  It is, however, a one-man tent, and the guys in the shop said "you could get two people in there, but you'd have to be pretty friendly".  I like Lucas a lot.  He's a great guy.  To say that we're anything less than pretty friendly would be to do a great disservice to our relationship.  Whether or not we were both ready, however, to clamber, stinking, into quite such a restricted space to gently sweat the night away together was of course a different matter.  We arranged ourselves uncomplainingly into a top-to-tail formation and I attempted to attach my headtorch to the top of the inner so we could both read.  It was not a success, so Lucas gallantly allowed me the torch, and before too long the day's exertions had worked their magic on both of us and we slept, with little room for any sort of tossing and turning.  I awoke many times on the night, wondering which part of Lucas's slumbering form was digging into my leg/back/head, but overall the quality of rest was not appalling.
 
17/07/08  At 7am Lucas said "it's seven o'clock".  I said "so what?", and we both snoozed for an hour or so before embarking on the process of extricating ourselves from our sleeping bags and belongings in the somewhat crowded tent.  I was closest to the door so struggled out first, carefully trying to avoid kicking Lucas in the head or any other sensitive area as i did so.  He followed, and we enjoyed a breakfast of cold sausage, plums and biscuits.  We packed away, carefully taking the "barbecue" and all assorted rubbish with us (the barbecue having left nought but a small rectangle of terracotta where it had sat.  Lucas turned to me and, with Verbal Kint's captivating mime gesture said "and like that [puh]...  he was gone...".  I liked the reference!  At half past nine we headed to the train station to get Lucas a ticket, and then repaired to a bar over the road for a coffee and a chat and took it in turns to use the pokey facilities for a bit of a wash and other necessities.  It was with not inconsiderable regret that i put Lucas on the 10:41 train to Siena.  I enjoyed his company greatly and we'd had fun together - I would have liked the visit to be extended.  I waved the train off then headed to Carabinieri to get a stamp.  A junior guy took my pilgrim record in to a senior guy and a lengthy consultation followed, during which I remained in an antechamber.  After some time I hesitantly went into the comandante's office, thinking if it might help if I explained directly what the point of all this was, but as i went in he was finally preparing to put rubber block to paper.   At 11am I hit the SS2 - the main road to Rome - with the milestanes (kilometrestones?) telling me I was precisely 200km from the Eternal City.  Let's do this thing!  I had decided to smash my way up the main road for a bit, just to get closer to Rome and be able to relax on the home stretch.  I chewed up 5km in just over an hour then rested for 45 minutes.  I then covere a further 11km non-stop to San Quirico.  These last were accomplished with a gritty determination despite strong heat and increasing thirst.  Lucas had renewed my inspiration and I really wanted to get moving.  I could not wait to get to San Quirico to find some Fanta and some shade, and was dismayed to find that I had to leave the main road and climb a long hill to get into town.  THis I managed, however, only to find that the coop didn't open till 16:00, so i repaired to a nearby bar for Fanta, fizzy water, crosswords and Nick Hornby, only stirring myself at about 16:30 to meander into the shop.  Staright away I bumped into Linda - the German girl we'd met at the convent in Siena - in the fruit section.  We had a pleasant chat.  She'd finished walking for the day and arranged to stay with the priest in this town.  I explained that I was ploughing on, and she asked, somewhat oddly I thought, if she could join me in my tent.  I politely explained that it really is a one-man tent, and that I'd discovered that with two it's not ideal (my level of "pretty friendly" with Linda not beginning to approach that with Lucas).  I said I'd see her along the way.  She said no you won't - you'll be ahead of me.  I said just you wait and see.  I picnicked outside the coop, sitting like a tramp on the ground, attracting the customary looks of (at best) curiosity and pity and (at worst) mild disgust from passing shoppers - yogurts, fruit, milk, biscuits etc.  I walked on at 18:15, soon stopping in a bar for a comfort break; upon my exit I met two workmen who said where are you going?  Rome.  Oh, straight along the Via Cassia they said, just straight on to Rome.  I took this as a portentous confirmation of my decision to hit the highroad, and walked on strongly. At 20:00 the light was beautifully golden as it fell on a hillside by the road - bales of hay dotted on the slope, and a farmhouse on the crest, the trees lining its drivewaystark against the eastern sky.  There was a guy who'd got out of hi car to take photos, and we fell to chatting as I got out my own camera.  As we spoke another guy pulled up and got out with a camera too - this was not a scene for a photographer to miss!  The first guy, dressed in a blue polo shirt, asked me a little about my pilgrimage, and only after a while told me that he himself was a priest - Don Angelo - based near Rome.  I asked him if he'd had any experience of pilgrimage and he said yes, but not more than 20km!  I promised him a postcard and we went our separate ways - he said "I would offer you a lift, but i guess you wouldn't accept".  Quite right, padre.  I walked on a further 3km and passed an empty farmhouse near the road - no doors or windows and clearly in the early stages of some kind of reburbishment.  I fancied it as a place to sleep, but went on further to try to pitch the tent.  The only places for the tent were slightly too visible, and a quick peg-test confirmed that the ground was way too impenetrably hard to even attempt an erection, so i returned to the empty house and laid down my bedat around 21:15, in the fast-failing last light of the day. I made a salami and pecorino sandwich, which i happily chewed away at, sitting on the doorstep, then went to bed to read for a couple of hours in the company of a variety of interesting beetles before settling down to sleep around midnight.
 
18/07/08  Woke 7:05, left 8:15 after a bit of a read.  No breakfast.  Walked to the next farm where i saw a guy sitting in the shade outside.  I went and asked him if he had a stamp.  Turns out he wasn't the proprietor, but a Romanian labourer waiting for someone to come and fix his lorry - he'd been stuck there since 6am with a broken fan-belt.  He told me that he'd walked to Italy from Romania - three and a half months to cover 2000km, always walking through woods and under cover to avoid police interest.  He said that a visa to leave cost $1400, and the only alternative was to walk out.   His group would sleep in the woods near electricity pylons so they could climb up them if wild animals came.  They ate berries and whatever else they could find, and he dropped from 80kg to 53kg during the trip.  Puts my c2-stone loss into perspective!  I walked on into Gallina, where i got a stamp from the polizia Municipale - the lady wrote "Buon Camino" in my book, which I thought was nice - then had a fake coffee, a croissant and a crossword in a bar before getting back on the road.  I covered about 10km - sunshine and some clouds, hot but not oppressively so - before lying down on the grass by the road for some crosswords and a rest.   After a while I saw a figure approaching on foot in the distance - a rare sight.  As the figure came closer I realised it was Linda.   She joined me, sat down and gave me a peach.  Her guidebook took her along the SS2 for a couple of km at this point, and as she started out hours earlier than me she'd caught me up.  We carried on together a short distance till her turn-off, where I declined her invitation to climb up to Radicofani with her.  We said our farewells once more - I said we were bound to meet again but Linda thought not.
 
 UPDATE 02/08/08
 
I arrived in St Peter's Square just before 11am on Saturday 26th July - just two days shy of three months after my departure.  After getting off the shuttle bus from the boat to the customs office  in the port of Calais I didn't once get in a bus, car or train even once between there and Rome.  The sense of achievement is just starting to sink in.  The sense of relief is mixed with a sense of sorrow that a wonderful experience has come to an end; however, I feel that I have achieved everything I set out to achieve and more.  Thank you so much to all the people who have supported me throughout the whole thing.

Raising money for

Practical Action

Practical Action

Charity Registration No. 247257

Practical Action helps people use technology in the fight against poverty. It works in partnership with communities to develop practical answers to their problems, based on local knowledge and skills and putting people's needs first.

Donations 98

Very well done!

Donation by Peter Hagenbuch on 21/03/09

£20.00

+ £5.64 Gift Aid

Belated congratulations Ben - an incredible achievement and a fascinating account of your pilgrimage.

Donation by Christine Stones on 22/09/08

£25.00

+ £7.05 Gift Aid

Dearest Benedict - you are an inspiration xxx

Donation by Hannah Griffiths on 12/09/08

£25.00

+ £7.05 Gift Aid

Have a great trip

Donation by Paul on 29/08/08

£25.00

+ £7.05 Gift Aid

Fantastic achievement, well done

Donation by Jo on 22/08/08

£30.00

+ £8.46 Gift Aid

Fantastic achievement, congratulations!

Donation by Sandra and Stew Whitehouse on 05/08/08

£20.00

+ £5.64 Gift Aid

Well done Ben really enjoyed reading your blogg and was truly touched by the generosity of total strangers. Proud to know you.

Donation by Fernandes family on 04/08/08

£20.00

+ £5.64 Gift Aid

Deus nobiscum in Via. Congratulations

Donation by Joe Patterson on 03/08/08

£20.00

+ £5.64 Gift Aid

te voila arrivé ....bravo pour ton courage et ta persévérance et bonne continuation dans ta vie future

Donation by yolande remy on 02/08/08

£5.00

What an amazing achievement. Well done you x

Donation by Steventon Family on 28/07/08

£250.00

+ £70.51 Gift Aid

Sounds like you are enjoying it as much as I did, and meeting some of the same kind people!

Donation by Phil McCarthy on 25/07/08

£30.00

+ £8.46 Gift Aid

I know i've been saying this for the past 6 weeks, but you really really are nearly there now! Keep going now B - I'll see you Saturday!

Donation by Thee on 24/07/08

£20.00

+ £5.64 Gift Aid

Forza Zio! Ci vediamo sabato!

Donation by Nephew J on 23/07/08

£15.00

Lots of luck!

Donation by Jenny Cale on 22/07/08

£5.00

+ £1.41 Gift Aid

In celebration of your lovely Mum's 60th. We're all so proud of you !!

Donation by Janet and Keith on 21/07/08

£60.00

+ £16.92 Gift Aid

Just keep on walking....

Donation by Adam Molleson on 17/07/08

£20.00

+ £5.64 Gift Aid

Well done! I'm so impressed. x

Donation by Julia Marlow on 13/07/08

£30.00

+ £8.46 Gift Aid

Just had to get you to 31! Love from the lodge. G x

Donation by Grae on 12/07/08

£5.00

+ £1.41 Gift Aid

Best of luck with your epic journey Ben!

Donation by Rob Grant on 12/07/08

£50.00

Love you loads, well done Superstar !!

Donation by Janet Bonser on 11/07/08

£200.00

+ £56.41 Gift Aid

Ben, congratulations my friend- I am praying for you and think this is brilliant. Have a look at Jeremiah 29.11-13 when you stop for a rest. x

Donation by Tim Harling on 10/07/08

£10.00

+ £2.82 Gift Aid

What a story to tell your children and grandchildren. Keep going.

Donation by Sandra & Roger Salter on 06/07/08

£10.00

+ £2.82 Gift Aid

To mark the occasion of what would have been David's 80th birthday - many happy memories for you and us.

Donation by Mum and Dad on 06/07/08

£80.00

+ £22.56 Gift Aid

Buon viaggio e buona fortuna!

Donation by Barbara, Davide e Chiara on 03/07/08

£10.00

You deserve a luxury pedi at the end of your gargantuan trek! Just be grateful your not having to walk in 4 inch heels. Massive love N xxx

Donation by Natasha Mena on 30/06/08

£100.00

Donation summary

  • * Online donations£4,810.42
  • Offline donations£29,598.00
  • Text donations£0.00
  • Total raised£34,408.42
  • Gift Aid£1,155.26

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