Distance: 26.0 km – Elevation +230 m -120 m
Weather: Sunny. Temperature: High 30 degrees
I had a long 30 kilometre walk ahead today so I left early before breakfast. It was a beautiful morning as the path led me through the back streets of Altopascio to the open countryside and the hamlet of Villa Campanile. Continuing along quiet country roads the path then begins to follow the original Medieval road of the Via Francigena to Galleno. Just before reaching Galleno, a notice suggests that Philip Augustus of France stopped in Gallino on his return from the Third Crusade in 1191 AD. For me a special moment knowing that I am following an original section of the Via Francigena walking in footsteps made by pilgrims for 1000 years. Galleno has been a stopping place for travelers on the Via Francigena for centuries. I stopped in a small café for coffee and croissant taking in the atmosphere of this historic hamlet and as I sat I watched two young men hiking along the Via Francigena, the first pilgrims I had seen since leaving Jean-Pierre in the Aosta Valley. After Galleno the path continues through the Cerbaie Woods, a really enchanting section of today’s walk where you will find Oaks, Firs and Alders and rare plants such as the Drosera Rotundifolia, a carnivorous plant from the ice age, and the Osmunda Regalis, a typical plant of tropical climates, dating from around 10 million years ago. Throughout the path, there are well-placed information boards explaining the biodiversity of the forest. After the forest, I cross the Usciana canal via the Medici bridge of Ponte a Cappiano and then on through the, now drained, ancient swamp before a short climb to Fucecchio where I stopped for a light lunch. Soon after Fucecchio, I cross the River Arno, and whilst taking photos of the river I notice a rather heavily laden female with a rucksack almost as big as she is cross the bridge on the other side. Soon after, I catch up with the female walker and introduce myself. Conversation is difficult, but with a little Italian, a little English, and a little French I learn her name, Barbara, that she lives in Turin and she started walking today in Altopascio and would finish in Sienna. We walk together for a while but with the heavy pack, her walking is slow and I begin to pull ahead. Just as I reach San Miniato Basso she calls from a distance “David!” so I stop and wait by a roadside stall set up by a local resident especially for pilgrims providing fresh fruit, water, and a first aid kit, and other items. When Barbara arrives she points to her foot and whilst she sits at the chair provided next to the stall I take a look at her foot and a rather large blister. After partaking in the provided refreshments we start the climb into San Miniato. Barbara had prebooked to stay in the Ostello San Miniato so I walked with her and was able to find a bed to in the hostel. Later and after showering and clothes washing I met two other Italian pilgrims, Laura and Michela, who both spoke very good English, and together with Barbara we went looking for a restaurant for food but all were closed. We found a wine bar offering small snacks with a glass of wine and later after a visit to the Cattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta e San Genesio we sat at an outside table at the Bar Joy & Café. It was a beautiful balmy evening as we chatted whilst enjoying a glass of beer with the magnificent views of the Valdarno below. The sun was just setting as we returned to the hostel.