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Thursday, 20 December 2007

Wandering around the hills

Monday and Tuesday winter really had arrived even here. There was an icy wind, gale force at times, which left us huddled around our fireplace singing campfire songs. Yesterday temperatures climbed again, just in time to sow our broad beans and peas in accordance with the lunar calendar. Our first lot planted a month ago is going strong and seems to outgrow it’s competition, i.e. surrounding weeds. We also sowed some leeks indoors. I have previously tried sowing them directly outdoors, but the problem is, the first shoots look deceptively like grass and, with the speed weeds around here grow, before you know it you either have a bed of weeds or you weed the leek out with the weeds. So this time I’ve sown them indoors in some compost and plant them out maybe March.

Today the weather was even more glorious: not a cloud in the sky, no breath of wind and daytime temperatures in double figures. So we decided to try and find a cycleable / rideable route across the mountains to / from Aulla for Paul and Babette’s guide to the Via Francigena. Now I’m sorry, Paul, but I’m still puzzled how you crossed those mountains on bicycles. We have walked across on numerous occasions via Vecchietto (incidentally, much to the amusement of people around here, the name of the village translates as ‘little old man’), but it’s a tricky one to cross on anything other than on foot. This route is definitively the shortest, but it goes up and down through a couple of valleys on narrow, steep paths, which are covered knee deep in dry leaves at this time of year.

Starting from our village, Ponzano Superiore, we walked along the road above the village for one km to as far as ‘La Volpara’ Restaurant, easily undulating along there and all paved. There we branched right and shortly afterwards it becomes a track, going steadily uphill. After another 3 odd km we arrived at the crossroads known as 4 Strade (4 streets), which is actually a misnomer. I would not call any of those paths a street in the usual sense and there are actually 5 paths converging from here. The one we arrived on is signposted ‘Sarzana’. The official Via Francigena goes straight on from there and is signposted Vecchietto / Aulla. To the left of that is a path signposted Monte Grosso. The 2 most promising looking paths to the left and right are not signposted at all, but I suspect to the right it would eventually lead to Canepari and Fosdinovo, whilst to the left, I really don’t know.

The trouble is, we have a whole collection of detailed maps of the area, but no two are the same and none seems to be particularly accurate as far as the various mule paths is concerned, or even the smaller forest roads. We decided on this occasion to follow the signs for Monte Grosso as we knew we needed to get to the other side of mountain to arrive at Bibola. This soon became far to steep and rough to take a bike or horse on, but we shortly arrived at an unpaved road that appeared to climb up from Bibola and was signposted Monte Grosso and Chiamici. We decided to follow the road uphill to see if it was crossable. After about half an hour we reached the peak of Monte Grosso (600m a.s.l.). Whilst it was a steepish climb, the road was in pretty good knick. The snag was on the way down again. A narrow path followed a ridge with fantastic views in both directions. But descending down it became narrower and narrower, steeper and steeper and covered in a two feet deep layer of dried leaves.

Eventually we arrived at a crossroad again, looking quite promising. Straight on it said Chiamici, but left and right ??? The route down to Chiamici looked initially very promising too. It even warned of sharp left and right turns as if they expected vehicular traffic down there. However it soon became difficult to pass on foot let alone anything else. Chiamici itself turned out a delightful little hamlet and we came across a red and white marker directing us to the right towards Aulla (3 ½ hours) and to the left to Caprigliola and Ponzano Superiore on what they termed as the VF(a). The path towards Aulla looked promising again, but days are getting short here so we turned towards home. This route also turned out to be pedestrian only, leading steeply into a valley and back up again.

The whole round walk as described, took us 4 ½ hours, but unfortunately I’m no wiser how you cross those mountains. We should maybe work on a map that actually shows the real, existing paths and their degree of difficulty. So Babette and Paul, I haven’t given up yet, but I can’t help wondering which route you two took. If you went via ‘4 Strade’ somehow, from there it’s easy to get down to Ponzano Superiore, but how you got there is a mystery to me. We’ll try out a couple more of the routes, that we saw. Traditionally we tend to do a New Year’s Day walk to clear the head. Maybe we’ll have more luck that time. On the plus side, we did find some chestnuts still further up. That’s our stuffing for the Christmas bird sorted out.

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