We felt quite daunted at the prospect of today’s walk of about 30 kilometres after a long and tiring day yesterday, but hauled ourselves out of bed soon after the alarm went off at 6am. The good part was that we were going to be able to carry just daypacks, leaving most of our stuff at the B&B. The not so good part was that it was grey and drizzling as we set out, though not heavily, and it would take us the best part of two hours to get clear of urban Pavia, once we’d faffed around trying to find somewhere to buy a sandwich for lunch.

Hacking along a busy road towards the outskirts of Pavia

It was to be a day spent hammering our feet, knees and hips almost entirely on roads and pavements, often with cars and trucks whizzing past too close for comfort. It seems to be convention in Italy that when there is no walkway, pedestrians walk on the same side as the traffic. This means that one has to keep one’s wits about one when vehicles approach from behind and to put a stick out in order to get them to give you a wide clearance. If you don’t your left shoulder gets a very close shave: and often at a fair speed!

Open countryside at last!

The church in the first village of San Leonardo was open, and quite grand for such a small community. Outside there was an information board about the Via Francigena, and the other places of interest that we would be passing along the road.

Inside Chiesa di San Leonardo

Ospedaletto was another small village of houses strung out along a busy road where no one driving through appeared to observe the 50kph speed limit, regardless of warning notices about speed cameras.

Ospedaletto, a small village blighted by speeding traffic

Just outside the village Tom spotted an opportunity to take a short cut along farm tracks and get us off tarmac roads for a while. We have been more hesitant about taking our own routes in Italy, partly because we’ve not wanted to have to back-track because of an irrigation channel we can’t bridge or jump over, and partly because there seems to be no right to roam in Italy as there is in France. So, on the whole, we have been sticking to the signed paths.

Off road at last – never thought we’d be so glad to walk in mud!

At San Giacomo there is a very interesting looking romanesque church, but sadly it was locked. According to the noticeboard outside it has been an important place for pilgrims since medieval times. However, the local community has provided a very good resting place for modern day pilgrims, with roofed table and seats, water tap, litter bin, and solar powered cellular charging point.

Chiesa di San Giacomo della Cerreta with some very attractive brickwork along the gables
Pilgrim resting place with all the basics

We then had another long stretch of road walking in the mizzle to get to Santa Margharita, where we found a recently erected pilgrim resting place, just like the one at San Giacomo and just right for a lunch stop.

Autumn discing to prepare the ground for re-sowing with ibis feeding in the turned soil

After lunch, on leaving Santa Margherita, we passed through a flood defence wall and gate, reminding ourselves that this seemingly endless flat land is the vast Po valley flood plain. The defences had been erected in 2019. Today it was hard to imagine the enormous amount of water it would take to cover and flood this area, but clearly it has happened for the money to have been spent on protecting this village.

Flood defence gates at Santa Margherita

The sprawl that is Belgioioso was notable only for its barking dogs, the bane of a walking pilgrim’s life. On the other hand, it is Belgioioso’s municipality which has organised the very good pilgrim resting places in the local communes, which we much appreciated, not least for their supplies of fresh drinking water and a proper seat.

One of the many barking dogs which hound us every day!
A bizarrely embellished house flying the Union Jack alongside Italian and EU flags

Continuing along the road for several more kilometres we eventually turned off onto a farm track adjacent to what we think was a huge grain drying facility as we could hear the roar like a jet engine and we had been walking past acres of wheat stubble.

The rest of the day’s walk was on unsealed tracks at last! Initially this was to circumvent a vast area of sand/gravel pits excavated out of the river terrace. Judging by the depth and area of the workings this must have provided most of the aggregate for construction of modern Pavia.

And then to get around fields bounded by irrigation channels which seemed to go on for ever!

Remnants of a field of sunflowers – the first we’ve seen in Italy
After many twists and turns Santa Cristina finally lies directly ahead of us

After many twists and turns we eventually got to Santa Cristina, entering the village past its sewerage works (oof!) and small paddocks of various animals, including goats and horses. There was also an intriguing collection of old farm machinery with covers over them. Later, in the village itself, we passed what looked like a museum of rural life, so we guess the two may be connected. Unfortunately we were too late arriving to find out more.

Santa Cristina main street – not a soul to be seen
Santa Cristina railway station – very insalubrious!

We arrived at the railway station about a quarter of an hour before the hourly train was due, and were mightily relieved to sit in a warm train back to Pavia having completed the day’s walk. Tomorrow is a rest day and we are very much looking forward to it after two hard days of walking in a row. All in all this was one of the least interesting so far.

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