Distance: 25.6 km – Elevation +140 m -330 m
Weather: Sunny/thunderstorms. Temperature: High 33 degrees
It was dark as I left the hotel and walked the short distance to the Piazza di Campo and from there the ancient Via Roma where I met two German pilgrims who I had first met in San Gimignano. They told me it was their last day and they were returning to Germany later and they wished me well for my continuing pilgrimage. The Via Roma led me to the city gates where I joined the Strada di Certosa and as I followed this country road to find my way out of Sienna I was deep in thought about my journey these past few days and my Italian friends. There was a tinge of sadness that they were no longer walking with me and I sort of missed their company and the conversations that had replaced the quietness that comes with walking alone. Continuing on along the country road I passed by the once monastery of Certosa di Maggiano, now a boutique hotel, and then the small churches of Santa Caterina a Bucciano and San Pietra a Paterno before reaching Isola D’Arbia and then Ponte a Tressa. I was now on a wide gravel track moving out into the Tuscan countryside it was close to midday and the heat of the sun began to take its toll and I stopped beneath the shade of an olive tree to rest and to eat my packed lunch. Sitting there relaxing, the quiet of the moment was interrupted by distant voices which progressively grew louder, and then a large group of hikers passed by, close to fifty walkers of various ages all commenting as they passed, one suggested I should get up and walk with them. I smiled and politely said “no grazie”. I gave them a good head start before I continued on the “white roads” with wonderful wide skies and views across the Val d’Arbia. In the distance, I could see the group of walkers had stopped and some distance from the group I passed one of the walkers, an elderly lady who was struggling with the heat of the midday sun and was being attended to by the group leaders and that was the reason the group had stopped. I weaved my way through the large group as they straddled the path, I was in no mood to be part of a large group and the noise that comes with fifty hikers, so I quickened my pace, hoping to leave them well behind. The temperatures were rising as I walked along the crest with the heat reflecting up from the white track and as I looked across the valley with Monteroni D’Arbia below, I could see the skies begin to darken with rain-laden clouds. A storm was brewing and it wasn’t long before I felt the first drops of rain which soon became torrential. The path took me through the small farming community of Greppo where I found an open barn and was able to shelter from the rain. A short while after the group of walkers began to arrive and soon the barn was full. It was like an invasion and the noise from the crowd became too much so I decided to continue in the rain. Soon away from the shelter, the wind began to blow like yesterday in Siena and I was being forced sideways as I walked in the open. I had never walked in such conditions before and despite my wet gear the rain and wind found their way through and for the first time since I began, I had wet feet. Eventually wet and bedraggled I arrived in Ponte D’Arbia and the Cresti Centre – “Mons. L. Cresti” – a hostel for pilgrims on the Via Francigena. It was full but one of the volunteers recognized me, we had briefly met whilst walking through the paddy fields, and after a telephone call they agreed to open up the hall area and provided a camp bed. The hot shower was a blessing and now refreshed and with dry clothes, I sat in the communal room to read. I was joined by a group of young Italian Christians who showed great interest in my pilgrimage from Canterbury. Later that evening a communal pilgrim’s dinner was provided and I shared that moment with 22 other pilgrims.