I’ve planned the English stage but that’s all. We start on Monday here in Weybridge by joining something called the E2 European Long Distance Path for walkers. It starts in Stranraer, Scotland and follows a punishing itinerary along the Southern Upland Way, St Cuthbert’s Way, the Pennine Way, the Peak Forest Canal, the Gritstone Trail, the Staffordshire Way, the Heart of England Way, the Oxfordshire Way and the Thames Path into Weybridge. It will take us to Dover where it branches off around Europe before finishing in Nice (4850Kms). We’ll probably recognise anyone who has come from Stranraer.
Our first day will be a repeat of my 2016 Camino, following the River Wey up to Guildford. We’ll then turn east and follow the North Downs Way to Canterbury, in the footsteps of medieval pilgrims coming from Winchester. If all goes well, we’ll arrive in Canterbury on 4 June and take a rest day to see the sights. We have a ferry booking on 7 June from Dover to Calais.
In France the route passes through Arras and WW1 & WW2 battlefields and military cemeteries. Reims is next and the Champagne region where we may need a rest day or two. After that, the vineyards are gradually replaced by the hills and woods of the Haute Marne and Haute Saone departments and the way approaches Besancon in the Doubs. The climb begins to Pontarlier and the Swiss border at La Grande Borne (1108m).
In Switzerland, it’s downhill all the way to Lausanne on Lake Leman (Lake Geneva). There is a choice of walking around the lake or taking the traditional pilgrim boat crossing to Montreux and Villeneuve from where the way ascends the Rhone valley to Martigny (471m). And then it’s uphill all the way through woods, Alpine meadows and high pastures to Bourg Saint-Pierre (1632m). Here, pilgrims must check the weather forecast and, if necessary, wait. It is time to cross the Alps. First there is the increasingly steep climb to L’Hospitalet (2120m) and then the ascent of the rocky Combe des Morts to the Great Saint Bernard Pass (2473m). It is ok to have an accident here; the massive Saint Bernard dogs will come to your rescue with their minature barrels of brandy strung around their necks.
If we reach the Great Saint Bernard Pass, we will be welcomed at the hospice which has been continuously open for 1000 years (but is only accessible on skiis for most of the year). We will be able to build a snowman and contemplate the inferno that is Italy, a few metres away. This is also the starting point for the majority of pilgrims who walk the Via Francigena.
The Italian stage begins with a 1890m descent to Aosta and the walk along the valley with its irrigated farms and hilltop castles. It leads to Vercelli where the route enters Lombardy and the Po Valley. We will need a day or two to enjoy Pavia before approaching the foothills of the Appenines and the steady climb up to Passo della Cisa (1040m). This is the gateway to the volcanic hills and thermal springs of Tuscany and the towns of Lucca, San Gimignano, Siena and San Quirico before the Via Francigena finally approaches the Eternal City of Rome.
My Packing List
I’m already packed and ready to go. For those who are interested, here is my packing list. My pack weighs just under 6Kg. and everything is packed in dry sacs.
- Osprey Exos 38 backpack and rain cover.
- Meindl walking boots and Merrell open walking sandals.
- Icebreaker merino shirts (2), underwear (4) socks and liners (3).
- Hats (3), shirt (1), walking trousers (1) and shorts (1), swim trunks, buff.
- Light down jacket, rain jacket and trousers, light fleece, anti Fiat safety vest.
- Wash kit & flip flops, first aid kit, ear plugs (many).
- Sony pocket camera, iPhone 6 with new battery, charger, Swiss Army knife, bubble wrap for picnics, walking pole (1), single charge battery cell, silk sleeping bag liner, suncream and sun glasses, soap bar for washing clothes, spork, compass & whistle. Notebook and pen.
- 2 litre water bladder plus plastic water bottle, small roll of duck tape.
- My luxury: a tick remover.
Inside my iPhone: detailed large scale maps with the route and GPS, guide books, accommodation lists.
I’m carrying a Caxton FX prepaid card with euros and a Revolut GBP card. Both of these offer free use of ATMs and POS payments at excellent exchange rates without the usual bank fees.