Sil: Felt a bit bombed after a fitful sleep with all the noise from the locals who sang and laughed right outside our window until the early hours. Marion, Kathy and I explored the little village (hamlet?) of Cassio and visited the church before packing and leaving the hostel. What a lovely pilgrim day we’ve had. The day started on the quiet SS road with VF markers – concrete stele with a terracotta pilgrim relief – lining the road like a guard of honour. They are actually quite confusing because they are spaced out every 15 meters or so - unlike the Camino where a "stele” with shell usually indicates the path one should take. After a few hundred meters we branched off onto a gravel path.
From then on we climbed very steeply through a shady forest, sweating like pigs and being forced to stop and get our breath every few meters. Then the path deteriorated into a narrow, rutted chalky track going straight up the side of the mountain. Kathy thought we'd reached the top when she saw the sky through the dense trees and shouted out to us but the track curved onward and upward – a-la Polly Shorts. Finally we crested the top coming out at a tiny village and visited the church before continuing. Then it was up and down through fields and forests until we crested a hill to see Berceto nestled between hills in the valley below us.
We followed a cobbled pedestrian path into the town to find a Sunday market in progress. There was a service in the Cathedral, which is dedicated to S. Moderanno, so we couldn’t go inside. We visited the very helpful tourist office for a stamp and collected a few brochures as well - had a coffee and pastries at a pavement cafe, bought some fruit, salad and bread and continued on our way up into the hills for another 7km.
I recognised our hostel from the photo on our daily info sheets. It is in the middle of nowhere - a huge, squat, deep rust coloured country house on the side of the road with no other sign of life anywhere close by. Downstairs is a bar and restaurant called the Via Francigena. Our dorm is upstairs and as we are the only ones staying here we have the place to ourselves. We had a shower, washed our clothes and had a salad, cheese and ham lunch. Will have dinner here tonight and will attack the dreaded Cisa Pass tomorrow.
Marion: There is such a lot of history around the towns that we are walking through. Cassio where we were staying last night is recorded in the description of the return journey of Philip Augustus, King of France in 1191 and the little town of Castellonchio’s main road is paved with slabs of sandy stone typical of the medieval era. All places were once sites of medieval fortifications. There is a beautiful church in Castellonchio in the middle of the village.
Just outside Berceto we passed a shrine with an effigy of Saint Moderanno - he was the head of the Abbey built in the 18th Century and it is mentioned by Archbishop Sigeric in his diary. We got stamps in our pilgrim’s passports at the information centre. We now have about 16 stamps in our passports.
Kathy: I offered to carry lunch today from Berceto to our B&B which was about 7km along the road. We had bought 2 large tomatoes, a bag of shredded lettuce, some sliced Parma ham and gorgonzola cheese. We had also bought a homemade-organic-ingredients, loaf of brown bread from the market, sold by weight! Rayna and I also had a banana each and an apple. This was all put into a shopping bag...Well... I think my arms are now 10 inches longer - the bag got heavier and heavier and at some point Val offered to take it over and we both decided that this was probably a very good plot, because as soon as I'd handed over the lunch bag it felt like my load was halved and I could do an extra 10km with the backpack. Val had a similar experience when she handed the bag back to me!
I'm still battling with hay fever itchy eyes and itchy legs every time we go through fields. The eye drops the Italian Pharmacist gave me have been fantastic and I'm using them frequently so am looking after myself.
Rayna: Well, I was the "Sweeper" today and the girls gave me no work, all remembering their sticks etc. etc. which we certainly need going up the steep hills. It was very hot especially after leaving Berceto as we walked mostly along the main road. There was very little shade. There were many motor cycles out today, even a cycle race with very good seconding that passed us going from Berceto towards Cassio.
After our late lunch Val and I crashed and had a very lekker 40 winks, broken by Val's alarm woofing at us. We are now soaking up the late afternoon sun.
Val: We are in Parma country - Parma ham and porcini mushrooms and of course the real Parmesan - but the mushrooms are only in season from September. The restaurant is part of the hostel and has a real "Mama" in the kitchen. Good menu of home cooked dishes featuring lamb, wild boar and guinea fowl. The body however needs a break so will be choosing something a little lighter tonight.
Whilst we seem to have a preoccupation with food it is not surprising given the demanding days we are having - we average 7 -10 hours of off road climbing in high temperatures. It is hot by 0800am until late evening. We are drinking coke and water to replace the electrolytes regularly. We are also carrying heavy backpacks, supposed to be maximum of 6-7kg - mine however weighed 8.5kg at the airport check-in - surely a little black number cannot weigh that much?
Not surprising then that my highlight and reward is a cool glass of wine and an espresso nightcap and of course something special to eat - our stomachs rumble all day as we burn up the calories so quickly.
So far I have managed to get a glass of wine every night, should I not for some reason, perhaps our song will go a little like this (to the tune of James Browns - "I feel Good")
♫ I feel Grim
Like a sad Pilgrim
when I can't find
A glass of red wine ♫