Day89 Montefiascone to Viterbo – Spas and Popes

The short climb back up to the Torre di Papi was almost the only climb we made today.

Morning Update

The rest of the day was a slow steady downhill run across ancient Roman pavement and modern cinder farm tracks.

We ran into Victoria and Margarite who were on day 1 of their renewed March to Rome. These two friends have done pieces of the walk for several years.

Dark rich soil

We also crossed paths again with Tobin (Canada) and Raphael (Baltimore) but spent little time with either as one was speeding on and the other taking a slower approach.

Porcupine Quill

The weather warmed a little and we were soon in shorts again.

Other than the beautiful scenery, the highlight of the day was passing another hot springs resort.

It was nice to take advantage of the free entry for pilgrims. The hot springs were relaxing even if the method of changing into our bathing gear I.e. our underwear was less than private. Me holding up a towel for Allison was the best we could do. As usual…no one cared.

Sneak pic

As we were leaving Elana was arriving and we gave her the lay of the land so-to-speak. There were 4 pools (puddles number B1-B4). B1 was cold but the other three warm and only varied in size and shape. Sorry. No pictures were allowed.

After our luxury experience, we continued our journey into town. As we entered Viterbo we were hungry for lunch and there w as a Burger King right across the street. The temptation was too great and the enjoyed some fast food for the first time in about 3 months. It was less than inspiring I’m happy to say.

Snow on the horizon

Viterbo was founded by the Etruscans but is know as the city of Popes. Remembering that in one period of history the Pope was more than a spiritual leader but also reigned over a country of his own “The Papal States”, it is not surprising that he would have a palace and a fortified one at that. In fact, it was here that in 1145 the first conclave was held to elect the new Pope. A fun fact is that they took so long (3 years) that the citizens revolted and literally locked the cardinals up, giving them only bread and water in order to “nudge them along”. It was in 1266 that the Pallazo (Palace) was built.

Now I tell you all this cool history and I have to admit that we had a chance to visit the palace and chose not to. We got there and there was some cool architectural outside and the open church. After that we just both yawned and decided to head back for supper. Honestly we’re a bit tour-ed out.

Instead we strolled through the medieval streets instead and found some cool things. We popped into an open church just to look. It was the Church of Gonfalone – never heard of it – us either. But inside we found an amazing ceiling. It’s the kind of place that, as an engineer, bends the mind. I studied the ceiling for about 15min and I honestly can’t tell you if it is flat, domed, or vaulted. The painted scene is a master work of illusion.

We also found a cool medieval street with a crazy suspended arch.

Our night ended with a stop at the grocery store for tonight’s dinner supplements and lunch supplies. On the way out we were stopped by a Nigerian man. He asked if we were English and he seemed relieved to have someone to talk to. He was from Nigeria and worked until recently. He isn’t too happy about the Italians (he doesn’t feel accepted). He hopes to get to the USA some day because “there, anyone who wants to work can make a living”. The American dream is alive friends. Honestly, I hope he finds his way there. If we had our packs with us he’d have received a key.

We decided to eat in at the convent. They have a small kitchen and we have a package of risotto that we’ve carried for about 10 days. There we met two engineering students from Myanmar an d a high school student from the area. We were also served by our host. She was one of the kindest loving souls we’ve met on this trip. For her gentle heart and attention she got a key. I told her the story of the key and although she was already familiar with it I think she loved that she heard it from me. Hugs followed.

Tomorrow is yet another short day. A pilgrim could get used to this.

Day82 Siena to Siena – Rest Day

What? Another rest day so soon. Yep.

We’d always planned this one and although we don’t need it physically we will certainly be happy to act as a tourist once again.

JeanYves and Paulo have moved on, so we made them breakfast and said our goodbyes. They both got a key for their companionship and help over the weeks.

Morning Update

The wifi in this place didn’t work well so I struggled posting last night – apologies for the lack of content. Today will be packed with touristy stuff since we plan to visit the Duomo and some other fun places. From tomorrow on however it will be non-stop to Roma (only 12 days more walking….and some of those days are quite short).

First a bit of background. In the Middle Ages, Siena was the place to be … well, sort of. It was a hugely prosperous town and as such was seemingly always at war with its neighbor Florence.

Il campo -Siena

At its height, it had about 50,000 people. Then in 1348 the Black Death slammed into the city, and it lost as many as 60% of its residents. Florence and Milan recovered, but Siena never did (until recently however).

We’re disgusting…I know. Don’t care. 🙂

Back in the day, Siena was all about banking and actually houses the oldest continuously run bank in the world. Being wealthy it also subsidized the arts and was home to dozens of famous Renaissance artists. The Sienese school was arguably the top in the renaissance world.

Siena is also a pilgrimage town being located on the Via Francigena. Hence our visit to this beautiful city.

We started our tour with the pilgrim hospital of Santa Maria della Scala. It was a hospital to serve pilgrims, the sick, and the abandoned until 1970. I can only imagine being sick and cared for with frescoes surrounding me. We are in Italy and the art was already there. The art work was breath taking!

Our next tourist stop was the tour of the stairs to the sky which meant that we were able to climb up into the roof of the cathedral and see it’s construction and some really cool views of the cathedral floor below and the statuary and stained glass up close.

During the climb up, I appreciated how good shape we are in. We felt the climb of course, but it was really nothing to us. Several others however really struggled and had to stop multiple times to catch their breath. Several emerged from the steps panting and sweating with the effort. We hardly noticed. I’m not writing this to brag. This would have been me years ago.

We then took a break in playing tourist and headed back to our lodging for lunch. We had fun shopping for lunch in a local shop. We settled on meatballs mixed with vegetables and a spinach and cheese patty. And because this is a day of rest a nap followed lunch.

After doing some laundry and making reservations for a couple of days ahead. This is a. necessity for every pilgrim but a frustration too as many places are closed or recently large tourist groups book and places are full. I did not realize that large groups would be allowed to stay in pilgrim facilities. Lodging on the VF in Italy has been challenging. We have had to be creative and have used airbnb several times which means paying more than pilgrim lodging.But we were able to split the cost with others and that eased the pain.

After our rest we went to finish a day of touring by climbing the remains of yet another structure (The Museo) for some glorious views on a structure that seemed to defy “sound” structural design.

This 2.5m wide structure we are on towers over the town …somehow. Hard to describe the of feeling fro on top, but the views were excellent.

As we headed back to our apartment we stopped at a wine bar to play tourist one last time. This place was actually very professional and well informed. I recommend Treflari located at Via Banchi di Sotto near Il Campo.

Well, that’s the day folks. I have 1000 photos but you’ll have to do with these unless you ask for more. It was a beautiful day.

Il Campo at night

Day73 Dogana to Massa – Coasting

Morning Update

Well the storm we passed through yesterday was apparently no ordinary storm. See today’s headlines.

It was newsworthy.

Since we’d been forced along to Dogana we resisted the urge to move farther ahead and just kept with the original stage ending in Massa. This stage would have been a tiring 32km walk almost entirely along pavement but we’d already completed 9km the previous day. Net result, we slept in. 🙂

After a leisurely morning and huge breakfast which included finishing off the leftover ice cream from dinner – Yeah, I know – we hit the pavement (literally). The route was all roads and sidewalks as promised.

Our B&B

We entered the town of Carrara- famous for the marble that has been mined here since pre-Roman times. The town became wealthy in the trade of quality marble. They go a bit crazy for it here though. It was nice that the main church and piazza were entirely marble.

It was slightly more posh when we found ourselves walking on the marble sidewalks. But it was just crazy when later we noticed that curbs and storm drain covers were also marble. Well, I guess if you have got it, you might as well make good use of the stuff.

Seriously, curbs made of Marble???

The VF on this stage reaches its closest point to the Tyrrhenian Sea – only about 1.5km away. The temptation was too great and we created a slightly longer but flatter route that would take us to the sea.

We were initially disappointed because the street we chose ran not to a nice Mediterranean beach, but rather an active port where truckloads of ….you guessed it, marble, were queued up to load onto large cargo ships.

Rocky beaches. Those are wet chunks of ….marble.

We weren’t deterred as we turned south along the coast and soon we were out of the port area and first rocky and later sandy beaches stretched for miles. Walking along the beach is nice when you are barefoot. Walking along with hiking shoes and a backpack however is less than ideal. After about a km we traded the beach for a series of coastal boardwalks, small-boat harbors and streets.

A sandy beach!

At one beach cafe we stopped and made a couple of calls to Nadine and Cindy to show them the water and our accomplishment of making it all the way across a continent. It was fun to touch base with them for a few minutes and show them the sea and mountains where the marble is quarried.

Mountains of marble

The walk ended with an uninteresting walk from the coast into the town of Massa. It was traffic-filled and loud. But the time went by quickly.

The village of Massa has a beautiful castle and some stereotypical Italian piazzas. Our Ostello for the night is recently renovated and located on the Piazzo Mercure.

Day43 Mouthier-Haut-Pierre to Pontarlier – Gorges and Elevation

Starting off on a crisp morning.

Some trouble this evening with uploading images so despite the beauty, there will be few images and no video until we get home. (Post Via note: It’s all here now)

The expensive night at the hotel ended early with our 5:45 alarm. We’d left the window open to help our clothes dry and woke to a chilly room. The temperature had dropped into the high 40’s overnight. Good thing we had several blankets.

We decided to raid our food supply for breakfast. We feasted on an orange, and what passes for a breakfast bar and energy bar here. They are incredibly tiny and mostly sugar. I do miss our protein bars back home on these occasions. That left us with 1/4 baguette, four slices of cheese and one energy bar each. Slim pickings. But at least Mark’s pack was light.

So we left our key in the door to our room since that is how we found it. A hotel with an unmanned reception 24 hours a day….Maybe that is normal here, but it sure seems strange to me. Anyway we were on our way.

Boy, what a start! We climbed and climbed and walked in the woods around the Gorges de Nouailles (Noodle Gorge). It was absolutely beautiful!

Climbing up the gorge

We did spend most of our morning climbing up the gorge. There were some terribly narrow paths with sheer drops. The Source of the River Loue was so spectacular.

Once we climbed above the river the world seemed so quiet. But do not worry, we continued to climb.

At the village of Ouhans we’d hoped to stop to get some lunch supplies. There was no evident store in town however but there was a pretty but small chapel located on a hill adjacent to the town. It was the Notre Dame du l’Engles. It was very beautiful inside.

Chapelle Notre Dame Des Anges

Our lady of the angels

Danger Danger Will Robinson!

The climb was relentless. We walked through forests and roads that were so steep there were warning signs for cars about the gradient of the road. Finally we could see the top come into sight. We were running on fumes and needed to eat and sit down for a few minutes. So we nibbled on the rest of our food provisions for lunch which was not much. But it was all we had: a piece of bread, cheese, a few nuts, and a breakfast bar.

Logging operations

While we were preparing our lunch a car drove by, stopped, and backed up. A gentleman who lives nearby just wanted to chat with us. It was a kind gesture. I am continually amazed at the kindness of the local people here in the south of France. He was a retired Air France pilot so Mark enjoyed talking Aerospace with him.

We ended our journey with a suburban entry into Pontarlier. It was nondescript except for the chance encounter with a Decathlon sports store.

At our youth hostel for the evening we finally had the chance to meet and talk with the pilgrims we’d met a few days ago. It made for a delightful dinner. We cooked up some food we’d bought at the local market (cassoulet, peas and sausages) and boiled some eggs for lunch tomorrow.

Well that’s it folks. Tomorrow is our last full day in France. We travel to Jougne on the Swiss border. I’ll end this with one last artsy shot from the Gorge

Day40. Rest day in Besancon

We slept in late …aaah! We rested; we toured; we relaxed. Our bodies and souls needed this.

Breakfast coffee – honestly there was some coffee in there somewhere

Then we got some breakfast and a coffee before heading out for some shoe, hiking pole tip, and grocery shopping. Allison’s shoes are wearing out and it is time for a replacement pair.

For all my fashionista friends and family out there, I apologize for my color choice now. The fluorescent yellow will clash with all my clothes colors. But I will have happy feet.

We walked around for a bit just relaxing in this pretty city. The city is surrounded on three sides by the Doub River with a mountain on the fourth side. It’s a natural stronghold.

The River Doub

Believe it or not we actually do spend some time planning our routes and lodging. So some of the afternoon was spent doing that along with eating ice cream. Because ice cream makes everything better! We even chatted with Judy and Mom for a few minutes.

First ice-cream since the UK – the sheep wanted some.

Next up we made our way to the tourist office and got out pilgrim’s passport stamped. Then we decided to explore some of the sights in the city. We started with the Astronomical Clock which was closed. How you can close a clock I am not sure but it was closed. We also had a good laugh that the museum of time is also closed. And the huge modern clock on the front of the building is off by hours. They just do not build clocks to last these days, ha ha.

The last tourist spot on our rest day was the Citadel. This fortress was built during the reign of the sun King Louis IV by the famous architect Vauban. The Spanish actually captured it before it’s completion but after the French re-conquest it was completed and remained an active military sight until after WWII.

A view from the Citadel entrance.

Inside is a zoo, a cultural museum and a museum of the resistance. This latter as well as the view was what I was really interested in seeing…but you guessed it, closed. They couldn’t close the view however, so we took some advice and waited in a long line for a seat at a cafe at the top. We had some highly overpriced wine and appetizers but enjoyed the sunset.

The View

Tomorrow we have to begin the walk up this step hill again – this time with all our gear. It wasn’t a joy the first time…I suspect we will be a bit unhappy to start our morning. Haha.

But we have to get used to it. The day will be shorter but much steeper tomorrow. We climb about 2000’ if I recall correctly. Two thousand isn’t crazy, we’ve done twice that in a day…but the month of walking along flat ground has left our climbing muscles untested.

One last thought. Entering a city is weird. We look like pilgrims. We have backpacks and hiking sticks and (in my case) a funny looking hat. We smell, and we have weird tans. Pilgrims are out of place in cities. Our life is slow; cities are fast paced. Our life is simple; cities are complicated and full of rules. I feel so odd walking into a city and Besancon was no different. Cities are fun…and wonderfully convenient, but I will be glad to be out, into the fresh air, the quiet, and the peaceful. Somehow, I don’t belong here. But I enjoyed the visit.

Good night.

P.S. After a long delay we’ve finally added a page that shows all of our lodging. For those that have asked, please see the spreadsheet link. Let me know if you’d like other information included. It’s a bit rough at the moment but I hope it is helpful.

Day37 Champlitte to Seveux – Cows

Day37 Morning Update

Today was a bit odd. We started out a little late because we made our own breakfast of scrambled eggs and cheese with some tomato juice and yogurt to top it off. We next hit a bakery for a fresh baguette to make lunches for the next two days.

The ville of Champlitte was a pretty place as we walked out this morning. The old bell tower caught our eye as did our morning view of the growing Salon river.

The church steeples have all taken on a shape/style that reminds me of Bavaria. Most have decorative tilework as well.

Ironically we subtitled this entry as “Cows” because we walked past so many pastures and herd of cattle today. And yet, searching through my pictures I have none of cows. So here’s one from yesterday. Because everyone likes a baby cow.

Other than that it was one of those odd days where the distance felt much longer than it actually was. We enjoyed the walks through the little villages and the weather was quite nice. It’s hard to explain. Everyday can’t be awesome I suppose.

A water trough in two sections. It seemed to me that there were seats too. Hmmmm

We did pass an interesting graveyard with the ironwork shown below. If anyone has an explanation I’d be interested. I can propose a few ideas but they are all guesses.

Parce, Deus Israel (Spare us God of Israel)

Other than that it was an uneventful, but not unpleasant day. We finished up at a gite full of a lot of opportunities, fishing, a pool, etc, but all we really wanted after a shower and laundry was to sit and soak up the atmosphere. Rumor has it that we’re having bbq tonight. It’s tough to say. Our host doesn’t really have a lot of patience with us. This Gite is a business and guess he has decided that we don’t represent a future opportunity. Other families on vacation here seem to be having a nice time.

Most villages have a cross marking their entrance and exit. This one was in the middle of a field. Just an observation, but I’m not seeing the small chapels and madonna’s like we did all over northern France. These seem to have been replaced with simple crosses.
A creepy pedestrian tunnel under the Railroad track called “the bridge of the devil”.
Another Canal

When we arrived at our Gite for the night I kept the camera running to show you how a typical greeting and check-in work along the Via

Day25 Reims Rest Day

Day 25, wow. Today is a significant milestone. We are 25% through our Pilgrimage. It’s also our first rest day since Dover, and it is coming after 5 consecutive 20+mile days. So…great timing!

We slept in late … what a blessing… and had a leisurely morning before heading to the French treasure in Reims, the Cathedral. In my opinion the outside was more impressive than the inside. But then again, we’ve yet to see a cathedral that impresses as much as the one in Burgos Spain.

The Reims Cathedral does have the bragging rights of being the traditional site for the coronation of French Kings going all the way back to Clovis in 509 AD…so that’s cool.

The VF marker at Reims Cathedral

After a good salad back at our hotel apartment, we went to Pommery Winery for a Champagne tour. The cellar pits were dug by Romans to mine the chalk and later joined with tunnels to make the famous cellars of Reims. It was cold in the cellars and the tour was interesting but expensive.

The real highlight of the day was dinner with Yannick and Agnes, the couple we met yesterday while hiking. It was a fun night until I broke the tooth back off and later progressively whacked Allison and then Yannick in the head with my camera attempting to take a bullet time shot.

So much for international relations between the French and Americans.

Enough for a rest day. We’re off again tomorrow.

Day13 Tournehem sur la Hem to Wisques – An Abbaye

This was supposed to be a long day, but we woke feeling a bit off (not sick or anything, but just still tired). Our packs just felt heavier today. It’s hard to explain.

Despite this, we marched on. After a couple miles, we ran across this Roman soldier. I have to admit I was momentarily depressed at how short of a distance we’d covered. It certainly felt like we accomplished more than this. Then I remembered we’d started in London and not Canterbury. It makes more sense now.


Normally when we are dragging, it is the result of poor diet, not enough water, or just plain old hunger. We both admitted the lack of water the previous day could be the culprit, but just in case we broke into some leftover snack bars and dried apricots. Well, ….nope, that didn’t help.

There was only one thing to do…find a bakery for a chocolate croissant. Just our luck, few were to be found, but eventually we did find one. And oh, what a find! They had some eclairs that were outstanding. We shared one chocolate and one cafe’ flavored one. Wow! They were so good, in fact, that we devoured them and went back for two more. I’m telling’ ya folks, one of the great joys of walking these big walks is the ability to have two cream-filled eclairs with absolutely no guilt whatsoever!!

Mr. and Mrs Longshadow, good friends from our Spanish Caminos, joined us today!

Well satisfied and a little rested, the day got better from that point. We walked through the small town of Leulinghem. As we passed the church, a man in an adjacent yard hailed Allison to tell her that the church was open. The church of Saint Maurice was simple, but nice. It had a beautiful painting of Joan of Arc on one wall made by the monks in Wisque a few miles away.

Joan of Arc

By the way, at this church we discovered a website called Openchurches.EU It lists churches that are open for viewing and a little about them.

Funny story. The church was open but had a fence-like gate over the entrance (to keep birds and other animals out). This gate was meant to be closed when you leave. Allison however pulled the gate closed – clink – latch, uh-oh. The gate was now latched from the outside and we were locked in.

Looking around there were several skeletons lying around and I realized this was clearly a trap. <just kidding>. Although we couldn’t reach the latch with our hands, I was able to use the strap on our hiking poles to hook around the latch and release us! It was a McGyver moment – trust me.

After escaping from certain death, we decided to call it a short day having walked only 10.7mi and stop at the town of Wisques. Wisques has both a monastery and a convent (the Abbeys of St Paul and Notre Dame). The monastery accepts only male guests. The convent accepts only female guests but it also has a separate house for couples.

So after a morning of hills and chills (the wind was strong and chilly throughout the day whenever the sun went behind a cloud or we walked in the shade), we stopped by the Abbeye Notre Dame. We seemed to have arrived at lunch time and much to our surprise we were invited to sit down and eat. The food was simple but so good.

After lunch, we were escorted to our beds for the night in a separate house. We did our arrival routine (showers and washing) and sat in the sun relaxing in the quiet of the Abbaye. It was really nice.

Our room

We attended Vespers sung in Latin by the nuns (who you could not see of course). I don’t think I’ve ever attended a vespers service. It was beautiful, but also made me sleepy.

Vespers….it’s all about the music/prayer.
Relaxing in the sun.

Following vespers we chatted with Sister Lucy and gave her a Key for the wonderful hospitality the nuns had shown us.

Sister Lucy and her Key.

Our evening ended with dinner. At lunch two lovely ladies from France had joined us. They were both spending several days at the Abbaye to find some peace in their lives. They helped as interpreters through the day, and we had some good and fun conversations. Elia and Chloe were spending today doing every thing the nuns were doing so they were very busy.

Elia and Chloe – our interpreters at the Abbaye

Day12 Guines to Tournehem sur la Hem – Friends

We had a really mixed day today.  We woke up early from our campsite and quickly packed our tent and gear, fully dressed for more rain. 

Morning Update

The path out of Guines was muddy after the previous day’s rains and our progress toward lunch at Licques was slow.  We were further slowed by the changing conditions requiring us to put on and take off layers multiple times throughout the day.  As a result, the 10mi to Licques seemed long. 

The Abby at Licques

Licques however was a pleasant surprise.  As we emerged from the woods the village Abbey (outsized by far for the small town), dominated the landscape.  The village itself sits on a hill and by the time we arrived a wind was whipping around the square like a Tasmanian Devil.  It was cold enough that I put on all my layers. 

My work colleague, Emmanuel, and his lovely wife Isabel live near Paris and drove several hours to have lunch with us, walk the afternoon with us and treat us to dinner.   It was so nice to spend the afternoon and evening with them.  Actually Isabel took a day trip to Calais while the three of us hiked – but she joined us for lunch and dinner. 

The wind died down after lunch, eventually the sun came out, and the day began to warm.  Walking with Emmanuel was fun and we all walked the same pace which was nice. 

The Via took a strange twist near the town of Audenfort.  This was one of those strange points where the path seems to make three sides of a rectangle to avoid a short section of road.  Normally we might forgo the longer path, but this time we kept true to the Via.  On this occasion it would have been smarter to do the logical thing.  The last leg of that rectangle turned out to be so overgrown it was impassable.  To avoid a long return route, we scrambled up an embankment and took a parallel path through a cornfield.  Remember, I mentioned it was windy? 

Well the whipping wind was having its way with the corn stalks, and as we passed through the field we were beaten by several of the stalks.  It didn’t hurt, but the ferocity of the beating made me laugh. 

Wondering what this is.  It’s cultivated and the “balls” at the top are about the size of a pea.  It has an equally tiny blue flower.  The stalks are the diameter of wire coat rod but the stalks are about 18” tall.  We believe it might be used as a fabric like flax.

The most beautiful site of the day was the partially rebuilt ruin of Chapelle St Louis.  It was perched atop a hill overlooking the countryside.  I think we all would had preferred to linger there longer but the day was dragging on and we needed to get to the finish line of the 20mi day and get our clothes drying. 

The Chapelle St Louis

The last mile into Tournehem sur la Hem was easily 3miles long.   That’s always the way at the end of a long walk.  But the cute village had one last treat for us.  “sur la Hem” part of the name means “on the Hem” where the Hem is a small river.   Approaching town the crossed a small bridge that clearly once held a mill.  It was a peaceful setting that was enhanced by the nearby remains of the town wall and gate

Closing note…this beer had a turkey wearing a pilgrim hat.  No idea why, but as a pilgrim I had to have it.  It was local from Licques – pretty good actually.

Day8 Canterbury To Dover … the Via Francigena begins.

Allison resting at lunch in Shepherdswell

Well, today is our first day on the Via Francigena.

Because all the lodging at the midway point of Shepherdswell (Siebertswold) were either full or no longer in operation, we had to convert the first two short legs into one long leg of 21.3mi. So…we are sore and tired this evening as I write this entry from the port city of Dover England.

But first is the account of our day…

We woke to thunder and rain in the forecast. The forecast, however, varied dramatically depending on which service you trusted. One said cloudy but decreasing chances of rain; the other said thunder and even hail from 70-90% chance.

So we had our hotel breakfast and then packed everything into waterproof bags and stuffed them in our backpacks*.

Heavy Continental

Next we donned our full rain gear (rain pants, rain jacket, waterproof socks etc). We said our goodbyes to Madeline and stepped out into a drizzle and under rumbling skies.

Ready for rain

It was fun to be walking in full rain regalia for the first time, but it quickly got too warm. The rain tapered off after the first mile or two and we packed up the rain jackets.

The trail between Canterbury and Dover is clearly less travelled than earlier sections. It is marked well enough I suppose, but we never would have made it without GPS or a good map. At points we even reverted to dead reckoning when the proposed path took us diagonally across a newly plowed field. The tractor, I suppose, had obliterated any signs of the footpath. Folks, I’m not talking about a 2acre field here but an enormous one that took us about 15min to cross. (See video). Other times we were in chest-high hay, the path all but obscured in a sea of waving sheaves.

They got much bigger than this!

It was odd to be walking without Madeline. She’d quickly become a part of our routine. But the length of the day and the terrain would have made it very hard for her damaged toes.

We passed the cute church at Womenswold but it was closed and we couldn’t find the keys that were described as available. As a result we didn’t get a pilgrim stamp there.

We made it to the mid way point that is typically the end of the first stage, Shepherdswell, and stopped there on a shaded bench on the village green.

Shepherdswell is the perfect tiny village. The village green sits right in the center of town with the church across the street, the pub and inn across the green from the church, and a few small businesses. But what made it perfect was listening to a wedding service taking place while we ate lunch. Mark really wanted to be able to get a pilgrim’s stamp there but we could not crash the wedding ceremony. So far, no stamps for the day.

Near Ethorne we left a brightly lit field and entered into some gloomy woods. As our eyes adjusted do the dark we found and odd site. In the overgrow grass was a tall tombstone. It stopped us in our tracks because it was such a surprise to see. A few steps farther through the tall grass we found others and then many others. Clearly we were in a graveyard but the darkness of the wood and the unkept grass made it eerie. Soon enough an old parish church came into view.

We had been thinking that it was a shame to have allowed the gravesite to be become so unkept. But then we saw a sign on the parish church board said that the gravesites were being intentionally left overgrown for a season to establish some environmental purpose and would be tended at the end of the summer.

Still the setting was apocalyptic. We took a moment to look at a few of the stones. One near the church entrance was particularly interesting for two reasons. The first was the inscription on the grave marker below. The second was the angle of the tree just above the grave i.e. horizontal trunk hovering inches above the headstone as if to keep it from rising!

A sad story.

Along the way we love to stop and chat with people we encounter. And today we were blessed to meet Nigel and Diane who are farmers. They enjoyed telling us that many years ago the Archbishop of Canterbury came to walk the Via Francigena trail. In preparation, the town had to spruced the trail up. Diane said it has never looked as good since. And Nigel jokingly added that even the grass was mowed because no one wanted the bishops’s cloak to get wet or dirty while he was walking. We had to say goodbye as we still had several miles to go or at least 4 miles.

Diane and Nigel

Finally, after cresting a little hill we could see Dover Castle. Dover is a steep city and after a long day it was a painful a downhill entry. To make life more interesting we had a little trouble finding our place of lodging at East Cliffs Road, Dover. We had to knock on a door to ask for assistance. The woman who came outside to help was not completely in touch with reality and wanted to know if we were reporters. My honest streak took hold and I said “no”. But I wonder what her reaction would have been if I said “oh yes”. She did point us in the correct direction. Another local couple helped us out by explaining that there were actually two East Cliffs Drives – an inner and an outer – who knew. Anyway, just around the corner the road continued and our place of lodging was just 3 buildings down.

Climbing the steeps steps up to our room was pretty much torture to our aching body parts. Our host Narata was very kind. She is from Lesotho and was sweet enough to wash our laundry for us. We will have to hang dry but that is better than smelly clothes. The little blessings are certainly adding up.

I know this is getting to be a long post but the evening just ended with a bang. Narata just knocked on the door brining up our twice spun clothes. She was also carrying tea service including some chocolate cake she had made. She said, “I know what it is like to be a pilgrim. I wanted to do something for you like I always wished for.” – Wow. Mind blown.

Narata’s Gift. I’m almost without words.

* For this pilgrimage neither of us brought pack covers. We’ve found they just don’t work well. If you are interested in what gear we brought with us, check out our Gear Review below: