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Back on the road – Vercelli to Pavia

It seemed an odd reversal to leave the warmth of a hazy sunrise in the September heatwave of England to arrive in a dark and chilly Turin, shrouded in cloud and driving rain. After my experiences earlier this year on the Via Francigena I have come to expect it.

I ended my own journal in Vercelli on 20 June with the words “I hope I have the courage to come back in the autumn and finish what I started.” Courage, no, but I ensured I would by telling everyone I would, and by booking a ticket a few days after I left.

I had more time to look at Vercelli, and enjoyed the Museum and its treasures, though not without considering the discrepancy between the poverty enjoined in the Gospels and the riches of the Church.

Crucifix from Vercelli cathedral
Crucifix from Vercelli cathedral
The Vercelli Book (facsimile)
The Vercelli Book (facsimile)

But that is to see things with 21st-century eyes. I looked with interest at the famous Vercelli Book, which Sigeric himself may have seen, since it dates from the late 10th century. It is the first known book in existence to be written in Anglo-Saxon.

I was lodged at the new pilgrim hostel Sancti Eusebi. Maria the hospitalera (there is no equivalent word in Italian) and I had supper together, and for some reason laughed a great deal. She told me that my desire for perfection held me back from speaking Italian. The shame of being sussed by a stranger! Nevertheless I stumbled along making mistakes, le vin aidant.

Out early into the still morning with Vercelli waking up as I walked away.

Setting out at dawn
Setting out at dawn

I had miscalculated the day’s distance, convinced it was only 16km to Robbio, 14 to Mortara, plus a further two to the Abbazia di Sat’Albino. Robbio did not appear when it should – was I so much slower these days? When I got there I found it had been nearly 20km. The day became hot and humid; flies and mosquitos buzzed my sweaty face; I put my anti-midge net over my head, emerging monster-like from the rice paddies.

Bella Italia
Bella Italia

I lost my way after ambivalent signage, adding more distance. I ran out of water at Madonna del Campo, but there – unusually- was a fountain with drinking water. Two little girls teaching a puppy to drink from a tap assured me it was safe.

Nearly at Mortara, I met a young Italian walking from Rome to Santiago. It must be about 4000km.

Finally I arrived at the Abbazia, feeling half dead. 37km. The pilgrim accommodation is one huge room with pull-out beds all round the wall, and tables in the middle. The signora brought me a huge supper of pasta bolognese, chicken escalopes, salads, fruit, and wine. I was asleep by 8.30pm.

.Next morning was misty and cool, and my aching body was glad of the soft going and dead flat terrain. There is something other-worldly about these waterlands, the terre d’acqua

Terre d'acqua
Terre d’acqua

. The only sound came from the soft plop of a frog in the water, or a rising fish. There were herons and ibis, and occasionally on the sandy track the serpentine traces of a snake.

But heat soon took over the day. I sat down to rest and have a drink in Tromello. An old gentleman on a bike appeared and asked if I wanted a stamp for my credenziale. He whizzed off, returning a few minutes later with the stamped passport, a certificate in Latin, and a badge.

Later, about to cross a road, I was caught up by two Belgian cyclists. We chatted for a while, causing a certain annoyance to a prostitute sitting on a plastic chair by the road, whom we were obscuring from potential passing trade. She was black and very young (Nigra sum sed formosa). 

Santa Maria della Bozzola
Santa Maria della Bozzola

I arrived at my destination, which was the Cascina Toledina, a farm imageand centre for young drug addicts, run by the Exodus Foundation. The “ragazzi”, that is to say the residents, were all away at a meeting in southern Italy, so the staff (mainly volunteers) were in party mood. I chopped tomatoes for the bruschette, and we had gazpacho made by a girl from Andalucia, arancini from Sicily, farinare (I need to check that), salads, and a mighty assortment of barbecued pork. Prosecco first, then a red Pavese wine which is naturally frizzante. The expected storm came; lightning flickered and flashed; the rain was thunderous, but the 20 or so of us at table were too busy. It was a wonderful evening, and my Italian improved- I think. They said no English person ever usually tries.

They sang and played the guitar till 2am. I heard nothing.

The overwhelming memory of the Cascina Toledina is of immense kindness and concern. “Stay with us another day,” they said. I should have liked to, not least because I woke aching all over and with a sore throat.

I walk through villages and old ladies step out of doorways to ask where I’m going. “Rome.” “Alone?” “Yes”. “Brava! Che coraggio!” It doesn’t feel courageous; it feels impossible.

Sunday morning: in Gropello Cairolo festivities and exhibitions, one of photos of returning Italian prisoners of war. How ignorant I am of all that happened. And we voted to leave the EU.image

The end of the road for some...
The end of the road for some…
...and for others
…and for others


Usually the walk into a big city is drear through grubby suburbs, but going into Pavia was a delight, insofar as anything is a delight when every inch is screaming “Stop walking NOW!”. Miles along the wooded banks of the Ticino, right into the city.

Pavia and the Ticino
Pavia and the Ticino

I went to the Cathedral to get a timbro for my credenziale. Mass was just starting so I stayedjimage. Then for a spritz and later a pizza, and I’m afraid the historic riches of Pavia will have to go unmentioned, for I must sleep…

(WordPress has caused problems tonight and pictures are not well placed – too tired to try again).image

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7 thoughts on “Back on the road – Vercelli to Pavia

  1. Great to read our account-I am genuinelyimpressed by your stamina and the blogs not to mention as I have before the warmth and kindness you receive en route
    Very well done

  2. Great reminiscences from your wonderfully worded blog. The plopping of the frogs will accompany you for miles now but you may never see them!

  3. Hi Mary so good to ready your blog again and that I am on the jorney with you …well so to speak.
    I have been with becky this last 2weekend plus each Monday and Tuesday . It’s so lovely being with baby Ava …middle name now Sophia…….no Louise I hoped.
    Carl has asked to be baptised with Ava in November .
    Your up dates far moe exciting than min.
    Much love Mary
    God with you always
    Lou xxxxx

  4. Lascio un commento in italiano per contribuire all’ “improvement” dell’italiano. Abbiamo conosciuto Mary, persona in gamba e disponibile che parla un italiano già molto corretto e che ha un atteggiamento aperto e curioso che le permette ogni giorno di arricchirsi. Tanti auguri da parte di tutti noi della cascina toledina e buon cammino. Monica e Lucio

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