Unfortunately Julie’s knee has not improved sufficiently to walk on it all day and so we are still working to plan B: she takes the bus and Tom does the walking. First, breakfast at a cafe and then a quick look around the old part of Vetralla.
Like Viterbo, Vetralla was an Etruscan settlement. Much later its strategic position was favoured by a sequence of popes, Pope Eugene III famously declaring the start of the Second Crusade from here in 1145. Later, in 1512, for reasons not clear from what we’ve read so far, Henry VIII gave Vetralla the protection of the English Crown. It now has a population of about 15,000 and seems quite busy, with good transport links to Rome. The cathedral is dedicated to Sant’Andrea Apostolo and is 18th century with a later west facade. It is neither very old nor architecturally interesting. The inside is baroque, with liberal use of trompe-l’oeil, but light rather than oppressive.
Sadly the town’s fort was destroyed by Allied bombing of a German supply depot towards the end of the Second World War, in June 1944. Just one tower was rebuilt from the rubble.
After breakfasting on the remnants of a bag of cereal and a cup of tea, Tom left Julie to the cafe and headed out of town. It was a long straight steady climb out of Vetralla on a poorly maintained road heading into fast rush hour traffic.
It was with some relief that the route turned left at the top of the hill past the Benedictine Monastery of Regina Pacis, while most of the traffic went the other way.
Another twenty minutes and I was on a pleasant track contouring along the side of the caldera of Monte Fogliano in lovely deciduous woodland. Finding a convenient rock to sit on for a rest, I called friend Jo who’d expressed concern about Julie’s knee. We compared notes on the emerging spring here and at home. It was a delight to learn that they’d had the first lamb of the season this morning.
Leaving the woodland I crossed back south of the busy SS2 Via Cassia to enter a large estate of hazelnut groves.
It took me some time to work out that they were hazels. Each tree seems to be carefully pruned to three or four stems, while the older plants seemed to have been coppiced in much the same way as hazel coppicing for staves is done at home. The giveaway of what they were occurred when I found some trees in full leaf.
The route paralleled the Via Cassia through hazelnut groves to within a kilometre or so of Capranica, before dropping down into a steep sided valley. Here I met a man riding a rather edgy horse. Perhaps it was my light coloured shirt which was worrying the horse – I’ve often noticed horses being nervous of white things – so I stood off the track to allow them to pass.
In the middle of one hazel grove I came across a pair of stone towers: the Torri di Orlando. From what we have been able to find, they are Roman in origin, from the first century BC. Quite what they were for or why they are there, seemingly without any other buildings or ruins close by, we’ve not been able to ascertain. Can any of our blog-followers help here?
The approach to Capranica, through some pretty awful housing blocks, belied what was to come in the wonderful historic centre on the ridge. Julie had texted me to say that she’d got off the bus there so we met for a coffee and a bun just outside the old city gate.
The old walled city is perched on the crest of a ridge of volcanic rock overlooking the junction of two valleys. Despite much evidence of Etruscan occupation around it seems that Capranica was not established until the 8th century. Legend has it that it was first settled by goatherds fleeing a Lombard invasion: hence its name after capra, meaning a goat.
Both the way to Julie’s bus stop and my onward route on foot took us through the old walled city to a steep staircase at the end of the ridge where the two valleys meet. There we met a couple, Travis and Juliane, who have set up a pilgrim donativo in Capranica. He an American and she from Germany met as pilgrims on the Via Francigena. We chatted for a while about their project and proposals to establish an association of donativo accommodations along the route (www.roadtorome.org). Jan the Czech man we walked with two days before had stayed with them last night and told them about us. They recognised the banners on our rucksacks.
After leaving Julie to catch her bus my route took me up and over into an adjacent valley. What then followed was an extremely pleasant walk in the mid afternoon sunshine down a steep sided wooded valley criss-crossing over a pretty tumbling stream. The woodland floor was covered in pretty little lupin-like flowers.
There was much evidence of path restoration work, with timber balustrades and footbridges. At one point I came across an assortment of seats made from logs and took the opportunity for a brief but welcome stop. In many ways this part of the day’s walk reminded me of the Orbe Valley we had walked through back in early July, just after we’d crossed from France into Switzerland – only on a smaller scale.
In time the valley opened out to reveal the town of Sutri up on the ridge to the left.
I called Julie, who was by now already in our accommodation, for instructions on how to find it and then made my way up the hill.
All in all a very pleasant day’s walk with a welcome break in the middle. It would have been better to have walked together, but needs must and Julie’s knee definitely needs to be rested.