The bar next door to our billet produced an excellent supper last night. Tom said the mushroom soup was even better than his! As today was going to be a relatively long walk of 23.5 kms we decided to get up early and get going. Julie’s knee is still quite painful, though it is strapped up and she is medicated, so her walking rate is slower. But the sun was shining and it was another lovely spring morning. The views from the ramparts were glorious: long, wide, and verdant.

View from the ramparts at Radicofani

The only bar open for breakfast was just outside the Porta Romana so we went there with our bags packed ready to go. The tourist office across the street didn’t open until late morning and we had missed it last night so we left Radicofani without getting our pilgrim passports stamped. We did manage to find shops open and selling fruit and sandwiches for lunch. Down the road we were quickly onto a cobbled track heading south through farmland.

One of many kerbed cobbled tracks connecting villages and farms in this remote area

On the way out of Radicofani we had noticed that there is to be a car rally here on Sunday, and there were signs, tapes, and crash buffers already set up. The track we were following is to be closed for the rally, so like our near-miss with the Tour de France around Lac Geneva, we were fortuitously missing this road closure by luck rather than good planning. However, we hadn’t bargained for Sunday’s competitors to be out in force checking the route today, driving madly overly fast on slippery grits, and throwing up clouds of choking dust.

What should have been one of the best days of walking was marred by choking dust, some lunatic driving, and aggressive rudeness of many of the rally drivers. We had several conversations with them, when they stopped rather than swerving around us. Some just shouted and gesticulated as if we shouldn’t be on the Via Francigena, whilst others seemed to accept that the walkers, cyclists and local farmers were equally entitled to be here. At one point Tom watched as a farmer going about his daily business heading in the same direction as us in his Land Rover had a confrontation with one of the rally cars. There was much hooting and gesticulation as he resolutely held his ground. At another point the owner of a Pilgrim stop along the road stopped his pick-up to ask if we were ok, and spoke of the madness that was going on. We later saw him driving back the other way carrying the three women pilgrims from Vicenza we’d met yesterday in the back. During the lulls we had wonderful views back towards Radicofani and over the surrounding valleys.

Looking back towards Radicofani perched strategically at the head the Orcia and Rigo valleys
Beautifully sculpted limestone country looking east from our path
Radicofani still prominent on the skyline behind us
Still coming through at speed creating clouds of dust!

Just before arriving at Ponte a Rigo in the late morning our track became a tarred road and we finally came to the start line for Sunday’s rally with a sense of relief. No more racing drivers! Ponte a Rigo was historically important as a river crossing on the Via Francigena, providing hospitality to pilgrims and traders moving through Europe in the 7th to 14th centuries. Today it has a pilgrim hostel, a couple of farms and a few houses, whilst the busy SS2 takes traffic rushing through.

Looking downstream from the ponte at Ponte a Rigo – the ford was probably the crossing used by pilgrims in earlier centuries

From Ponte a Rigo we had to follow the SS2 almost all the way to Acquapendente, some of the time on paths through adjacent fields, but often on the road itself. As we crossed the regional boundary out of Tuscany into Lazio we concluded that Tuscany has made better provision for pilgrims, especially over the last section where the Siena Trekking Group has set up rest areas with water supplies at regular intervals, the signage has been good, and on the whole walkers have been kept safely separate from traffic.

We saw several of these round capped towers with platforms on farms in this valley but weren’t sure how or for what they are used
Last stages of walking in Tuscany in fields alongside the busy SS2
Out from behind the safety barrier in Tuscany into the road with the traffic in Lazio

The SS2 is still known as the Via Cassia, one of the Roman consular roads, and still today it is the main road from Siena to Rome. It is interesting how these ancient roads have evolved over time but continued to follow much the same route for centuries. The modern Via Francigena largely follows its original route, but now takes to smaller roads and tracks through the countryside, and passes through the modern day places willing to provide for pilgrims.

In Centeno, the only village on our route between Ponte a Rigo and Acquapendente, we found a plaque in memory of Galileo. We have not so far worked out why it has been placed in this village as Galileo lived most of his life in or near Florence. Wikipedia tells us that his return home from attending the Inquisition in Rome was delayed due to an outbreak of plague in the Florence area in 1633, so perhaps Galileo stayed in Centeno on his way home. Unfortunately there was no hospitality to be had in Centeno today as the trattoria/bar was closed. No afternoon cafe latte and cake for weary pilgrims today!

River gravel workings outside Conteno

Along the road river gravel was being dug, but otherwise the main activity in this area is agriculture. Although the ground looked poor and poorly drained there was some arable cropping as well as pasture and a few vineyards. We saw only the second sign in Italy advertising a herd of pedigree Friesians – the first was the other side of the Apennines. There was no sign of the cows though there was the sweet smell of good silage in the air.

A short stretch of protected walking in fields

As we neared Aquapendente there was one more short stretch of walking along the edge of fields, protecting us from the roaring traffic. Ducking through an underpass beneath the main road, we had a short rest on a grassy bank and then trudged straight uphill towards Acquapendente, still hidden from view behind the hill. The road was narrow and little used, and the birds were singing in the trees as the sun lowered in the sky behind us. It was a beautiful and peaceful ending to the day’s walk.

We came upon Acquapendente at the last minute, perched in a col, most of the town on the south side of the hill beyond our view. A short walk back on the SS2 and we turned off into the old part of town to find our room above a restaurant just off the main piazza.

We are very much looking forward to meeting up with friends Dave and Judith for supper tonight, and to a day of rest tomorrow.

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