This morning was another early start as the trains back to Robbio left Vercelli at either 0733 or midday, and the latter would have meant we had to rush to arrive at our destination in daylight. So, we left our B&B at 7am and walked the short distance to the train station where we found out that we’d be using a bus replacement service. Fortunately, as there were no station staff to ask this early on a Sunday morning, Tom found the bus driver who helpfully pointed out from where the bus would be departing.

Vercelli railway station glowing in the early morning sunlight

As the bus left Vercelli over the same bridge we had walked across yesterday we noticed that quite a lot of the snow on Monte Rosa has melted since yesterday and there was frost on the fields. We’re not sure how much longer we are going to be able to walk in shorts, but then it’s a bonus to be able to do so at all in November! The bus dropped us off at Robbio railway station where the rice processing factory was belching steam into the chilly morning air.

Riso Gallo rice processing factory in Robbio

Our path took us out of Robbio through an industrial area, including an agricultural engineering business, the football stadium, and the town’s sewerage works. Once clear of all of that we were once again into farmland and intermittent farmsteads, with fields of rice, harvested wheat and poplar plantations to the horizon.

Monte Rosa behind Robbio and its sewage works
Fields of wheat straw roll-ups and newly sown rice? divided by one of many irrigation channels
Walking out through the fields along a bunded farm track – discs parked out ready to use for preparing the ground for re-sowing with crops
The line from Vercelli to Parvia takes a more direct route. We noticed that all the railway tracks are painted white…not sure why?

Just before reaching the village of Nicorvo we crossed a bridge over one of the larger watercourses so far, the Torrente Agogna. Whilst Tom was looking for any fish feeding under the bridge Julie noticed a smallish rodent moving on the bank.

Torrente Agogna – the animals were on the bank on the right

A patient watch of several minutes followed by an internet search informed us that these were coypu or nutria, a South American species related to the squirrel. They were introduced into Europe, including Italy, about a hundred years ago and bred in captivity for their fur. More recently, when fur fell out of fashion, the coypu either escaped or were released into the wild where they have flourished as they have no natural predator, other than homo sapiens.

In Nicorvo we found a small cafe open and stopped for a coffee as we were making good progress. We were greeted warmly by a group of three Italian cyclists who were also doing the Via Francigena, though much faster than us and following a slightly different route. They insisted on taking a group photo, so we took the opportunity to display the banners on our rucksacks advertising the three charities for which we are fundraising. At first, we struggled with a mixture of our English and their Italian. We tried French and that seemed to solve the problem! One of them of them had been to Salisbury and spoke of being confused by its pronunciation. Surely it should be Sal-IS-bury, he insisted!

The cafe in Nicorvo

The very friendly proprietor of the cafe enquired whether we wanted to get our pilgrim passports stamped and then explained that if we went to the church just up the street we would find it open with a pilgrim stamp on the table inside. And so we did.

Inside the church there was also a plaque on the wall about pilgrimage and a second plaque with a prayer for pilgrims (which we will need to translate from the Italian).

Tom writing in the pilgrim visitors’ book in the church in Nicorvo

Just outside of Nicorvo we saw several small flocks of ibis feeding in the fields, as we have on previous days, but this time they were so intent in feeding we were able to see them relatively close up. Later, whilst we sat on a grassy bank having our lunch, a couple of ibis flew even closer to us, showing the black defining under-edges of their wings. The latter suggests that these are African sacred ibis which are now found in northern Italy, as well as sightings further north. Another example of the impact of climate change, perhaps?

Along the track, at Cascina Afficiati, there was the usual large courtyard of buildings, only a small part of which was habitable. What initially looked like an outside extension in a state of disrepair with a water channel running beneath, we worked out must once have been a small mill, with a side channel that once provided water for an overshop mill wheel, no longer in place. We assume that before the days of huge aggregated milling facilities, at least some of these farms probably did their own small scale milling and sold direct to the local community.

Again today we saw a few remnants of summer flowers hanging on before night frosts and winter set in, including white campion and yellow snapdragons, as well as some pink clover. With all the intensive farming in the area it is difficult to imagine how many wild flowers there would be here in spring, but it might be interesting to return to find out…one day.

A last stretch walking on a raised grassy track bounded on each side by water channels and bunded fields brought us to Madonna del Campo, where the church was open and evidently well cared for by the small local community.

Reed Mace growing in the water channel – in other places we saw iris, but often the channels are trimmed cleared of vegetation
Santa Maria del Campo church, built in 1100 and restored in 1916 – it has been well cared for and is an impressive building for such a small community

We were now back onto a tarmac road leading into Mortara, crossing the railway only to have to cross back again via an underpass at the railway station. Here we were hailed by another walking pilgrim, a young man from Spain who had walked from Marseille and plans to arrive in Rome by 05 December. Whilst we had spent a leisurely day walking from Robbio, he had walked from Vercelli, covering in one short day the 33 kilometres it had taken us two days to walk. We were vastly amused by the clutch of microfibre cleaning pads, neatly arranged in four colours, wedged under the shoulder straps of his rucksack. Very stylish as well as practical!

The final approach to Mortara

Whilst our Spanish pilgrim was going onto the nearby Abbey to sleep in their dormitory for pilgrims, we stopped at an Auberge in town which is also recommended for pilgrims. Unfortunately, we were only told after booking that their restaurant is closed on Sunday evenings, and the offer of breakfast made a month ago was today said to be ’a mistake’. Since we have found Italian breakfasts too insubstantial for a day’s walking it is perhaps as well that we’ve been able to find an open supermarket to buy milk and muesli for our breakfast tomorrow, as well as stocking up on items for lunches. To cap it all, the wifi doesn’t work either, and Madam could not have cared less! All rather disappointing.

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  1. Ah, Noeline, how stupid of us not to have thought of that, but then we’re not engineers like you! I (Tom) thought it might be that you could more easily see any flaws/movement in the rail or its substrate, but I feel sure you’re right.

    We thought of you the other evening when we were in Fiorenzuola. In the foyer of the hotel there was an ancient Ariel motorcycle. It looked like it needed some TLC from you and Bob.

    T & J

  2. I’m ‘running’ to catch up with you again!
    Wonder if the rail lines are painted white to minimise heat absorption and potential buckling problems?
    Churros con chocolate is a fabulous breakfast in Spain – basically fresh doughnut sticks to dunk in thick hot chocolate. Sounds as though you could do with something similar!