Henri Craemer | Stage 3, Part 1: A Poor start to a Tough Day
Hiking the first half of Stage 3 on The Way of St Francis from Consuma to Stia. An account of progress and the difficulties encountered.
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Stage 3, Part 1: A Poor start to a Tough Day

Wednesday 23 August 2017. I get up feeling confident that things will go well today, after the improvement during yesterday’s Stage 2 on the Way of St Francis.

Ideally, we should start a stage on the trail at the crack of dawn. Today this is not possible, because Ronalda B&B where we slept, is a twenty-minute drive away from our starting point. That is twenty minutes in Italian driving time, which is definitely faster than the average. We have to wait for our innkeeper to take us back to Consuma, the start of Stage 3 of The St Francis Way. We have breakfast and get to our starting point at about 08:30. Our destination is Stia.

Despite checking and rechecking Sandy Brown’s book, we are still very uncertain as we start. As we set off we see waymarks, but the feeling of unease grows. After 45 minutes Niels checks his GPS, and we discover that we are completely off track. So, back we go. In addition to our late start, we have lost another hour and a half.

 

Niels consults the book at a shrine. Not far from there we realise we are way off track. Note the red and white waymarks on the signs, very similar to those on this part of The St Francis Way (Photo © Henri Craemer)

 

Taking a new route, we soon find the first landmark but encounter another problem. There are paths that lead off in different directions. Some of them have signs, others have trail marks belonging to walks other than ours, while others are completely unmarked. Signs that are supposed to appear at certain places are nowhere to be seen. The book, like almost every instruction manual, attempts to be clear but ends up being confusing.

 

Wooded Hills and valleys in the Consuma area. This is the point where we turn back after realising we’re on the wrong path.

 

It reaches a point after wandering around in the beautiful forest surrounding Consuma, that we have to admit we have lost the path.

Signs Vs GPS

Niels consults the GPS. We find out we were on the right path, but the distance in the book is not accurate. The path becomes very rocky and undulating, making progress difficult.

 

 

On the left, what we are looking for, according to Sandy Brown’s book. On the right, what we find, half hidden by foliage. (© Henri Craemer).

Eventually, we find the sign, even though not in the best condition.

A Flogging on Poggio Pian della Fossa

We get to the little village of Gualdo and break for a few snacks and water. On the map the contours look ominous. We come to a stream, and ahead lies the Poggio. The path is cut through thick forest, making a steep climb. It’s back to plod-plod-stop and repeat for me as I tire. There are signs of logging activities. I see tyre tracks, and I wonder how on earth do people get vehicles along these paths.

 

A shepherd and his flock near Gualdo (© Henri Craemer)

 

Then we get to a point where the path seems to simply disappear. Have we taken the wrong path yet again? We consult both book and GPS. It appears we have the right path, but why does it stop here? Logging activities have destroyed the path. Niels has to shimmy up rocks and around the logs. He finds a path higher up. Even for him, in his high level of fitness, the going is difficult. A detour is needed. I make my way through thick undergrowth. At one point I have to fight my way through fallen trees, with no way around, over or under them.

Close to the top of the Poggio, we take a break. I recover enough to have a deep appreciation of the beauty around me. How deeply I wish I was as fit as Niels. His ability to simply carry on amazes me.

On the way to the top there are more unmarked paths. These have all been made by loggers. This all adds distance and delays to our already strenuous journey, as we either wander off on the wrong path or simply have to spend time, figuring out which path to take.

At the top of the Poggio, Niels consults the GPS again. We have to make another course correction to get to the settlement of Castel Castagnaio. The last of our water brings relief.

I reflect on our progress thus far. It has already been a very tough day, and we are barely halfway. Much as I would love to rest more, we have to press on in the heat of the day.

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