Distance: 28.8 km – Elevation +770 m -1120 m
Weather: Sunny. Temperature: High 36 degrees
I slept really well and woke in time for breakfast at 7.00 am. Andrea was waiting for me as I descended the stairs and after I had I tucked into and enjoyed a very good breakfast, I signed the guest book and paid for the room, 16 euros. Andreas provided a stamp for my pilgrim credential and after saying goodbye I was on the road by 7.30 am. It was another glorious morning with clear blue skies and with the warmth of the sun on my back I set off for Berceto. The views of the surrounding mountains and valleys were outstanding and exhilarating. It was Sunday morning and the roads were quiet and soon after leaving the Ostello, I caught up with a group of around 25 teenage walkers being led by the Bishop of Parma. They were walking from Parma to Rome and we had a short talk about my pilgrimage from Canterbury. A little later on the Via Francigena path moved off-road and not really wanting to walk with a large group I kept to the road whilst the teenage group took the track. After the descent from Cassio, the road climbed again before descending again as I passed the “The Cyrene Cross”, created: by Umberto Squarcia Jr before reaching Berceto. The town was bustling with tourists and teenage walking groups and fortunately, I arrived just in time, as a customer was leaving, to secure a seat in the central cafe where I sat enjoying a welcome glass of cooling beer and watched the busy Berceto. Before leaving the town I needed to replenish my euros and waited in a long queue to access the only cash dispenser in town. My route out of the town was much quieter and I was glad to leave the crowds behind. From Berceta I decided to take the more difficult, Mount Valoria, variation to reach the Cisa Pass. Initially, the path is narrow and twisting through woodland, it was a tough climb, and I needed to rest and whilst sitting by the side of the track I was passed by a local man and indicated that if I followed him I could fill my water bottles. So doing so he led me to a pumping station that supplied water to Bercetto from the mountain streams and from there I was able to drink and refill my bottles with ice could fresh natural water. I thanked him and continued to follow the mountain track which became much broader as it progressed to the top. I stopped for a packed lunch and was passed by a young family out for a day’s hike, they stopped and chatted in almost perfect English. I reached the summit at 2.00 pm. The summit rises to a height of 1230 metres and the views on such a clear day as today was were breathtaking. The descent from the summit to the Cisa pass was relatively steep at times and the rocky path needed a degree of care to be taken to avoid any spills. I passed a sign to the Bar Ostello Cisa which provides pilgrim accommodation, it is another converted roadhouse similar to the Ostello in Cassio, I was tempted but felt fit and well so decided to press on to the Cisa Pass. I arrived just before 4.00 pm and the restaurant/bar was full with motorcyclists out for a Sunday afternoon jaunt. I squeezed in a managed to buy a cold beer and sandwich. I had not arranged my accommodation for the coming night but felt happy as I continued on through the “Porta Toscana della Francigena – the Gateway to Tuscany, I thought perhaps I would find accommodation in Gropoli several kilometres ahead. The downward path from the Cisa pass was through shaded woodland, a welcome relief from the heat of the afternoon sun. I met two Italian walkers, a husband and wife team, going in the opposite direction. They stopped to chat and told me they had been out for a day’s hike, walking to Pontremoli and back, a distance of 38 kilometres. They were impressed with my journey from Canterbury, and the woman said ”you are a strong man”. They told me the descent was difficult in places. After the woodland path, the route reaches the Righetto Pass and goes across a wide ridge with magnificent views of the valley below. Crossing the ridge I find a gazebo that had been set up by local residents to provide sustenance to walkers out for a Sunday afternoon hike. It was now 6.00 pm and they were just shutting down as I walked by but they welcomed me with bottles of water and a selection of cheese and biscuits. From the ridge, there was a very steep and difficult rocky pass as I descended into Gropoli. It was deserted and clearly, no accommodation was available so I pressed on and came to a small suspension bridge where there was a watchtower close by and I considered stopping by the stream and sleeping under the stars and then I remembered I was in wolf country. Now out of water I carried on and came to the small community of Previde and it was there that a ‘miracle’ happened. It was now 8.30 pm. On entering the small village I first came to a water fountain and was able to fill my bottles and I thought at least I had water if I had to sleep beneath the stars. Then unbelievably I saw a sign hanging from a village house, Bed and Breakfast, I eagerly rang the bell and a lady appeared and I asked “do you have a room available”, she looked genuinely sad when she replied “ No, I am sorry but I am full” and then she said “I will call my husband and he will take you by car to Pontremoli where you will find a room” and just as I started in conversation with her husband a mother and daughter arrived, neighbours of the B&B, they spoke in Italian with their neighbours – they spoke no English, so the gentleman explained to me that the mother and daughter, Elsa and Elisa, wanted to help by providing a place to sleep in their home. Elsa then took my hand and led me to their village cottage and made up a bed on their living room sofa, provided fresh towels for a needed shower, and after showering I was taken to the garden where Elisa had prepared a meal for me of various cold meats, cheese, freshly baked bread and a bottle of red wine. I was introduced to Elisa’s husband and the family dog whose name was “love”. Elisa had called a nearby friend who spoke English and I was able to tell my hosts about my pilgrimage, and I also learned that Elsa, the mother, lived all year round in the village and was one of only three families that did so. Elisa and her husband were visiting for the summer. It was a very special moment, an extraordinary gesture by the family to provide me with such spontaneous hospitality, kind and full of love. They told me that they had to leave early in the morning at 6.00 am and breakfast would be at 5.30 am. Tired after a long 13 hour day and replete after a full plate of tasty food I said good night and retired to sleep.