We’re back to getting up early and setting out soon after dawn. Rather than a miserable coffee and brioche in a cafe we breakfasted on a good bowl of muesli with orange juice and a cup of tea in our room. This sets us up better for walking all day. The wind had dropped overnight and it was a crisp and misty autumn morning, with distant views of the mountaintops, now snow-capped, emerging out of the mist.

Walking through smallholdings outside Filetto in early morning mist
Distant views of the snow-capped mountains – the first snow of the year following yesterday’s precipitation

After a short stretch walking through smallholdings and then along a minor road we were back onto a track between stone walls, much the same as when we came into Filetto two days ago. It was noticeable how many more leaves have come down in the strong winds and rain yesterday. There were a fair number of green leaves and twiggy debris on the ground today.

Further on as we descended into a gully we could hear the sound of flowing water. It sounded like quite a lot and, being aware we had at least one stream to ford today, we feared the worst. As we rounded the corner we were much relieved to see a footbridge, even though the wooden deck was slippery with frost.

A woodland track brought us to more smallholdings, and a friendly donkey which was very dusty from rolling in the mud, as they do. We were intrigued by the fact that as we approached, both the dog and donkey were very exercised about our presence, but as soon as the owner greeted us they both settled down and the donkey allowed us to pat some of the dust out of its coat. It reminded Julie of her family’s donkey, Patrick, who had a very close relationship with the family dog – they used to play chase, which was hilarious to watch as each tried to outwit and outmanoeuvre the other.

At the first village of the day, Virgoletta, we got a better view of the snowy mountain tops, now glinting in the early morning sunshine against a clear blue sky. Looking at the snow level we reckoned that the Passo della Cisa was probably in snow too, and were glad we had come through earlier, before the snow had arrived.

Virgoletta is another fortified village standing proud on a hilltop, and it looked like it would have been very difficult to penetrate it against the wishes of its inhabitants. Our path passed below its impressive walls, rather than through its streets, taking us past the wash house – something we’ve not seen for a while, since leaving France.

Virgoletta’s impressive defensive walls

Two local women, wearing orange hazard trousers, were clearing away the leaves. We had a brief conversation with them about where we’d come from and that we’re heading for Rome, and they confirmed that yesterday’s was the first snow of this winter. They wished us well, expressing concern that we should be at home for Christmas!

Virgoletta’s wash house

Just up the hill there was a sign for a Roman fort (Castro Romano) but no indication how far away it was and our guide neither marked nor mentioned it, so we walked on without investigating further. Back up onto higher ground we had another good view across frosty vineyards to the snowy mountains on the horizon.

For the next hour or so our path followed a woodland track, up, along and down again. The going underfoot was rough, with loose stones half hidden by fallen leaves, just waiting to trip us up. By now the sun was fully up and showing off the glorious colours of the remaining leaves on the trees.

We had noticed that some parts of the track looked man-made, and this was confirmed by a noticeboard stating that we were walking on a track that was paved and used by pilgrims and traders in medieval times. It is an amazing feeling to know that you’re walking in the footsteps of people who passed the same way hundreds of years ago.

Medieval track between Virgoletta and Fornoli

At Fornoli the path detoured to avoid taking us through the village, which seemed a bit inhospitable as it involved a steep downhill slither followed by a climb back up on the other side of a stream. At the top we had our last glimpse of the snow-capped mountains until we reached Aulla, the views from now onwards being along the Magra river valley.

Scrambling up into the bottom of Fornoli, before turning away and heading on southwards

Above Fornoli the path took us through a pastoral scene we’ve not encountered so far this side of the Apennines, with cattle grazing on open sylvan pastures, before we were plunged back into extensive deciduous woodland.

The first grazing cattle we’ve seen for a while

This section of the path was very treacherous. It was very steep, very slippery, and deeply gouged out by motorbikes, leaving nowhere much to place walking boots with any grip. Unfortunately, just as he was thinking how much he dislikes walking on greasy mud, Tom went for a pearler, rucksack and all. Fortunately he wasn’t hurt, though he’d worried he might have damaged one of his Lecki poles. Eventually we reached the bottom, and the ground levelled off, much to our relief.

A field in the sunshine, sitting under an oak tree, provided a perfect lunch spot and we were able to relax in the warmth of the sun. On checking our emails, we learned the very sad news that our friend John had died late last night. Our thoughts and prayers are with his wife Maureen and their family.

Sitting under an oak tree in the warm sunshine thinking of John and Maureen

A little further along we joined a road and were quickly walking through the urban sprawl outside Aulla, and then into Aulla itself. As we have found so often with Italian towns, there is very little provision for pedestrians, leaving us very much at the mercy of speeding drivers reluctant to give a wide enough berth to allow us to feel safe. There was more stick waving needed!

Once in Aulla it was immediately noticeable that the buildings are all modern. Aulla was heavily bombed during WW2 by the Allied Forces trying to dislodge the Germans. There was also an important munitions factory which needed to be put out of action. Apart from a castle overlooking the town and a former monastery there was nothing much left. It seemed to us that the opportunity to rebuild was not as well used as it might have been, in that instead of piazzas with trees with overlooking cafes or anything pedestrian friendly, there are long rows of shops interspersed with ugly apartment blocks overlooking busy roads. On the other hand, places like Plymouth and Southampton are not exemplars of good quality post-war rebuilding either because there was not the money, and perhaps no one anticipated how ubiquitous car use would become.

Abbazia di San Caprasio
Magra river looking upstream, Aulla’s apartment blocks on the true left bank with the mountains behind reflecting the setting sunlight

Today’s highlight was the wonderful views of the snow-clad Apennine mountains bathed in sunlight, but there was sad news about John.

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