Off to Italy for the final leg!

There have been many hurdles to get over during this pilgrimage, from COVID to Brexit, which have both delayed us, to weather and injuries, which have made the walking that much harder. By the end of stage four, in November, we had regained a reasonable level of fitness, and shifted some weight, though much of that was undone by the excesses of Christmas compounded by too little regular exercise. Sadly, we found that even well-honed walking muscles don’t cut it for cross-country skiing, even at high altitude with plenty of snow, but snow-shoe walks in the sunshine were very enjoyable.

Tom first suffered with cramp in his calf muscle back in March. That problem seems to have been resolved by daily sipping of soluble magnesium tablets – as advised by his obstetrician! (Many thanks, Jude.) This remedy, plus 6-7 litres of water a day, even got us through the exceptionally hot and dry Aosta valley in July without further mishap.

Julie thought she’d cracked an early problem with blisters by using toesocks (thank you, Jules, for that advice) and wider boots, only to find that the latter put such pressure on her left Achilles tendon that a tender lump developed during the last stage in November. Walking was very painful unless with loosely tied laces, resulting in smashed up big toenails from the downhills. She is now hoping that 3 months rest, plus insoles prescribed by a podiatrist to correct over-pronation and different boots (with straighter backs) will have done the trick. The blackened toenails haven’t come off yet, but they can be taped up to prevent snagging on socks whilst the new nails grow through underneath. Toes crossed!

So, we set out for the final 414kms from Lucca to Rome with a mixture of anticipation of finally completing this long walk two and a half years later than planned – we had originally hoped to get to Rome by November 2020 – and trepidation as to whether our bodies will hold out, at least until we get there. The initial signs were not promising. The hot water pump failed over the weekend when heating engineers aren’t working, but that repair can await our return. And we found a mouse in the sitting room minutes before the taxi arrived to take us to the station. Mice had already damaged both sofas whilst we were away walking in the summer, though we thought we’d caught them all. Thank goodness for good friends and neighbours to continue the hunt for its mates and move the bird food into a mouse-proof bin for us.

Waiting on an icy cold station platform for our train to London

After a cold and early start yesterday, we’ve had an even earlier start this morning, leaving Paris by the 0639h train for Turin – that’s 0539h GMT! – and onward trains to Florence and Lucca where we left off walking in late November. We plan to spend tomorrow being tourists in Pisa, before resuming walking on Thursday. We have to see the leaning tower which featured in Tom’s first engineering geology lecture at Plymouth all those years ago!

For this final stage we have continued the strategy of booking all our accommodation in advance, though with shorter walks than the guide books suggest, partly to savour the reputedly spectacular scenery of Tuscany, and partly to ease the physical challenges. Our longest days will be around 24-25 kms rather than the 35-38km longest days we have done previously. Most days will be 12-20kms instead of 22-28kms, with the shortest day just 8km, leaving plenty of time to enjoy mid-morning coffees and long lunch breaks in the small towns and villages we will be passing through.

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