25 May Stage 19, Part 2: The Misty Mountain Hop to Ceselli
It’s 09:38 on 9/11 (for the Americans remembered) of 2017. We’ve just crossed the Ponte delle Torri Aqueduct illegally under the watchful eyes of surveillance cameras. Niels has already left. There is also no one waiting to arrest us after we made our forbidden crossing. Perhaps we look enough like pilgrims for them to accept that we aren’t the suicidal type. They may also think that our faith will either prevent the Aqueduct from collapsing or, if it does, it wouldn’t matter because we’d be in heaven. This bizarre thought amuses me.
Making My Own Way
There is a confusion of signs – red and white signs we’re accustomed to on the Way of St Francis, Via di Roma signs, Via Francigena di San Francesco, and Giro Dei Condotti signs. Now, where to go from here? The two ladies tell me Niels went left. To me this looks wrong, because the main sign for the Via Francigena di San Francesco and Via di Roma point to the right. However, one of the signs indicates left to Ceselli. I decide to go left.
Virtually immediately I am in thick forest. The silence is intense, punctuated only by the occasional snap of a twig on a leaf-covered path. Waymarks are absent. A strong sense of discomfort soon grows in me. The path has also become very undefined.
All forests have their own personalities. I’ve walked through many forests and felt the presence of something watching. This could simply be an instinctive awareness of the presence of animals.
Most forests, especially of this nature, are spiritual places. The personality of this one is not evil, even though it feels a bit creepy. It certainly isn’t the same as the forest of La Verna. This area almost has a haunted quality about it. Could it be that the souls of the those who committed suicide are still hanging around?
I stop and listen hard for any signs of people. I hear Niels talking to someone. A woman answers. They must be near, but above me. In spite of this, my discomfort remains. I go with my gut feeling and turn back. Soon the creepy feeling disappears.
The Austrian ladies are just packing up after having a snack at the Aqueduct exit. They tell me they intend to follow the route which I’m taking now. As I continue there is an abundance of waymarks to comfort me. With Niels nowhere in sight I consult my Sandy Brown book. I’m definitely on the right path. I slog out the ascent on a clear path. The climb is steep and persistent until I pass Hotel Ferretti.
In the distance I note with great relief, the familiar sight of Niels’ backpack. We each have an espresso. Having come to a halt, I realise how cold it is in the misty mountain air. Without wasting any time, we set off, hoping to beat the inevitable rain as predicted by all the weather forecasts.
The road is easy to follow – through a beautiful park, passing rockfaces with caves. The area is true to the Michelangelo Buonarroti quote on the Giro Condotti sign: “I had great pleasure in the mountains of Spoleto … that (of) only woods and peace.” This was also a favourite place for St Francis and his followers.
Soon the path makes an ascent. Niels leads. We come upon a group of Americans making their way back to the hotel.
After initial greetings, one of them says, “Thank God you learned to speak English.”
Niels laughs. It’s a very characteristic short burst of laughter. “Yes, we speak a little English in Australia,” he says
“Where are you from?”
“Sydney, Australia. I just flew in this morning,” says Niels.
“Really!” The woman falls victim to his sharp wit. Then she realises Niels is clearly joking. They chuckle. We have a short conversation about they can best get back to the hotel. We move on.
“Australians love taking the mickey out of Americans,” Niels tells me after we set off.
The Misty Mountain Hop
The path is very much as described by Sandy Brown up to the meadow. We decide on a quick break for snacks and water. The silence of mist descending is steadily increasing. Having been trapped in mountain mist before I realise the need to press on.
It’s a steady climb to the crest of the ridge, passing the peak of Castelmonte. It’s 12:55 when a sharp descent into a very misty Nera Valley begins. Niels occasionally comes into sight ahead. The quality of the path is good if a little stony. Progress is good. Even in this cool weather, I can’t believe how much I’m sweating.
At 13:58 I break for a quick photo of the mountain behind me. As we descend the forest thickens. I am totally amazed when a mountain biker passes me at speed going uphill. The path turns to a two-track gravel road. Soon a very gentle mountain rain begins to fall. Niels and I stop at the ruins of an old house to put on our raincoats.
Near Pontuglia we pass a group of hikers walking in the opposite direction. I feel sorry for them. Some look very disgruntled. If they still have to go over the mountain, they’re in for a rough time.
Our overnight place is close to the village of Ceselli. In spite of the distance covered I am completely in my stride and in my bubble.
“Hey! Where do you think you’re going?” I hear Niels calling from behind me. I turn, and there he is pointing that I must come back and turn into the place where we’ll be for the night.
I shake my head. It’s one more time I lost the path. I’m grateful that the day’s walk is over, and that we got to our destination safely. A warm shower will be most welcome. The snacks I packed this morning will go down very well.