Number of kilometres today: 28.2
Total kilometres walked from Canterbury: 1,776.6
Total steps since Canterbury: 2,469,911
Number of kilometres to Rome: 256
I was called out of bed to watch a beautiful sunrise; cotton wool clouds of deep lavender grey, their bellies brushed electric pink. It was an omen for a beautiful day ahead.
After one last meander through Siena's streets and back onto the trail, I soon left her behind. Once passing through Porta Romana, I walked through the quiet streets of the surrounding villages. A local man walked with me for five minutes and we chatted a little about my Via Francigena journey in my limited Italian. A few farmers were harvesting and trimming their olive trees. I passed a couple in their late 80's, strolling hand in hand pointing out things in their landscape.
This is the final section that I walked back in 2011, although my final destination was Murlo and not Ponte d'Arbia and it was a day that went very wrong but in hindsight was probably very right. Back then, I was bitten by a dog walking through an agriturismo (a B&B on a farm) and left with two holes in my pants (luckily) and not my legs. The first time I lost the trail I had to climb out through a construction site and then walk along the Via Cassia which is a very, very busy road with no footpath and only narrow edges. The second time I lost the trail on a country road, I ended up being rescued by two workmen I had seen earlier who just happened to be driving past the remote countryroad I was on (lucky coincidence) and they drove me to my B&B. It turned out that I was actually walking along the right road afterall, I just had no idea where I was and that it was the right road and the right way to be walking.
Today, I was able to relive that section of the trail and understand where things went rightly wrong. The first time I turned left instead of right. The second time, I missed the left turning onto a country track, although I am not convinced that was in the guidebook back then or that there was a sign to turn. I walked through the same agriturismo and the same white dog was there, off the lead, barking at me furiously as I approached. I braced myself for a repeat of 2011 but fortunately his owner stuck his head out of the second floor window of their house and called him off. I passed through unscathed.
After turning onto the farm track, I spent all but the last hour of the afternoon walking along the ridge of hills with beautiful views over the rolling Tuscan hills. Postcard perfect. All day I could see Siena slowly getting smaller and smaller behind me.
I was back in the mud again but I decided today that I would try and make peace with it. As Ram Dass says, "A feeling of aversion or attachment to something is a clue that there is work to be done." I have a massiver aversion to mud. I have a lot of work to do. I thought about why I hate mud so much and I put it down to two things; firstly I was probably told by mum when I was a young child not to get dirty and I probably got into trouble when I did; secondly there is a natural feminine tendency to want to be beautiful and this includes being clean. I don't believe the feminine really wants to go rolling in the mud. At least I don't. Today as I walked through mud my mantra was "It's only mud, it washes off" whilst trying to breathe into my belly to reduce the tension that resides there when I approach and step into mud. I though about making mud pies when I was a kid because back then that was fun. And it all kind of worked. I didn't cry. I even laughed a few times when I slipped but I still have a way to go.
After an hour long walk beside the railway line through more mud, I finally arrived into the very small town of Ponte d'Arbia with its one bar, one tabacchi, one alimentari and one pizzeria ristorante which is closed on Thursdays and of course today is Thursday. I found my way to the pilgrim ostello and retrieved the key from under the mat as I had been instructed and let myself in. I walked upstairs to find the bedrooms. The hallway light was on, which I thought was odd. Then a male voice called out "hello." I walked up to the last bedroom on the right and discovered a man sitting at the small table, his hiking gear airing out on the windowsill. A fellow pilgrim! The first pilgrim I have seen since passing the French Swiss couple in the fields of Vercelli and the first pilgrim I would share accommodation with since Auchy-au-Bois in France. Paulius is a 54 year old Lithuanian and he left Canterbury 8 days after me on the 9th September. He had seen my name written in many of the pilgrim registers and after his last walking partner left him (unlike me he has had walking companions almost the whole way) he decided that he would try and catch up to me. And voila!
We walked into town and bought a variety of foods from the alimentari's deli section and some red wine for dinner. Back at the ostello, we set out our feast on the small table in his room and were eating slowly and talking when the doorbell rang and in walked two more pilgrims. One of them was Paulius' walking partner through France into Switzerland (they had separated a couple of weeks earlier.) His name is Peter, a 55 year old from Denmark. With him was an Italian, Franco, in his late 30's. From zero to three pilgrim friends in just two hours.
Tomorrow will be my first full day walking with others. After all of this time walking alone it will be interesting to see how it turns out.
Sunrise in Siena