Sunday 16 November.
We had yoghurt and a banana, bread and jam with a cup of tea for breakfast in our room. Then we got packed up and it was just before 7am when we left. The sun was just rising and there was a view point close to the hotel where could see it just popping up above the horizon. The rain of yesterday afternoon had cleared and the sky was broken up cloud, it was looking quite promising. But when we set off there was some black clouds to the west and in the distance we could hear rumbles of thunder.
With the town perched on top of a hill once we started to head down the exit boards soon appeared. It was onto a wide gravel track similar to what we walked on all of yesterday. It continued to drop down into a bowl surrounded by a ring of hills, it was obvious that we would soon be doing some serious climbing. The thunder was getting nearer and flashes of lightening now started to appear. When the climb started it was a narrower path, it was wet from the rain and made worse when the rain began now. When we got to the top of the hill the sky was getting brighter and blue was showing between the clouds, the thunder was getting further away but the rain was now heavier. When we levelled out it was at a farm, Luiano, and we had covered 3km. It was another 2.5km to the small hamlet of San Petro, the track had improved again, wide and firm under foot and more blue sky was evident.
When we reached the beginning of the village of Pancole the waymarks that had been first class caused confusion. One of the little plaques was placed at the corner of a path that forked off the tarred road we were now on. We carried on along the road but there weren't any indication of the route on the usual places like around lampposts and roadside poles. We returned to the junction but when we took the path that forked off it became blocked with thorns and brambles. Now the rain had started again, heavily and we had to get the iPad out to check with Cicerone. We found a small B&B with a porch and sheltered under it while we looked up the route description; Cicerone said to carry on along the road to the actual village which we were under the impression we had past. We did that and reached the Santuario di Pancole where at last the red and white markers re-appeared. At the Santuario there was a stairway down to a grotto with statues of shepherds with sheep descending to visit the Nativity scene depicted inside the grotto. This place is where the Virgin Mary reportedly appeared and cured a deaf and dumb young girl.
The road climbed out of Pancole and when we crested the hill there were the towers of San Gimignano on a hilltop in the distance. The road seemed to curve round and down for an easy walk to base of the walled town. Unfortunately the route designer decided that we should visit a of hamlet and church first. We turned right and it was a long tough climb to the hamlet of Collemuccioli and the 12 century church of Pieve di Santa Maria a Cellole. The track now began to descend and reached a tarred road, a little later the road we had left earlier out of Pancole joined it, it would have been about a third of the distance if we had stayed on that road. The towers of San Gimignano were now getting nearer and when we reached the lower town there was a bus shelter with seats, we deiced to have our morning break and cup of tea before the climb up to the town. The rain had now completely cleared, the sky was blue and the sun was shining. We were now out of our rain jackets when we set off again.
The climb wasn't too bad, steady and winding; when reaching a busy road at the top we crossed over and through the Porta San Matteo into the old town. It was a long slow progress through the narrow street as I snapped the camera at everything. There were beautiful buildings, archways, churches, piazzas and the wonderful tall towers. It was bustling with tourists. We didn't see any waymarks through the town but found a Tourist Office open where Moira got a street plan and directions for a way out on the VF. It was a straight route and soon we picked up the markers again and headed for the town of Santa Lucia. All along the road we kept looking back and the towers of San Gimignano were still prominent on the skyline.
At Santa Lucia there was a choice of routes, one went into the hills and was well waymarked but 7 km longer then there was the old more direct route but this was poorly indicated. We stopped at another shelter to write down the directions for the older version, there was no way we were doing 7 km more than we had to. As it turned out the route was adequately marked, arrows at any turnings we had to make and that is all we really ask. Initially it was a long drop for over a kilometre to a tarred road where we crossed a river then it was off-road again uphill on a leaf strewn path through the woods. At the top there was a farm house, Croce Bibbiano, where there was a seat beside a small barn; we sat there and had our lunch. There were more rumbles of thunder but it was far off, the sky above us was still mostly blue; any bad weather was still away in the distance.
After our break it was tough going on a ridge path that was very wet, muddy and slippery; especially when it went down then up again we had difficulty keeping our feet which were caked in a thick clay. When we started to descend it was on a tarred road and we now made good time, at the bottom where it met a major road going into Colle di Val d'Elsa there was a walkway on an old railway line beside it. As we entered the new part of the town we could see our destination for the day, the old walled part high up on yet another hill. We followed the signs of 'historic centre' and the road fortunately gradually wound round the side of the hill to gently take us to a car park just below the walls. We climbed a path and a stairway that went through the walls to the old town itself.
There were only two main streets running the length of the town and our hotel was on one of them but we couldn't find the street. Fortunately it only required on enquiry at a bar and we were counting the street numbers to the place. We found it but had to go to a shop selling crystal ornaments about 50 m away to book in. The man spoke English and took us back to this, not a hotel, but a luxury apartment. It had everything, two double bedrooms, lovely tiled toilet and shower, fully equipped kitchen and the WiFi was powerful. He said the outside walls of the house were 1500 years old and inside sections had been left un-plastered to display the original stone. After a cup of tea I had a shower. The knobs and taps to get any water was like the control panel on an aircraft and Moira had to assist in getting it working. When the water eventually sprayed it was lovely and hot, after drying myself there was a white towelling bathrobe to wear, such luxury. The radiators were also working and the controls there were simple to operate for a change; we washed our socks and t-shirts then hung them over to dry.
With the Internet being so good we got in touch with Margaret and then Suzy on FaceTime. Rhys is getting big and he was smiling and happy but they had to waken Ewan up and he was grumpy and still sleepy. Hollie wasn't very happy either when we contacted Suzy, she was fretting because she wanted Gavin to play with her but he had work to do. Otherwise they are all fine and busy preparing for Christmas, it gets earlier every year. Next I checked the weather on the Internet and it is forecast to be rain for the next two days. Rather than do nearly 30 km to Siena in the rain we decided to split it and do two short days stopping off at another walled hilltop town, Monteriggioni first. Moira booked places to stay there and in Siena on 'booking.com'.
Moira had bought chicken yesterday and we had it curried with pasta, it was very nice. There was fruit supplied; apples, oranges and tangerines as well as tea bags and a few things for breakfast. I had the radio on through the iPad and we enjoyed music from the BBC. After washing up we checked the different places where we are likely to have overnight stops and the distances from now to Rome. From that the estimate is we should finish in two weeks time. Moira has now started looking at flights back from Rome. I think we are going to make it.
We sat in the lounge, reading and listening to the radio. It was comfortable and we were later getting to bed tonight, after 9:30 pm. The bed was huge and also very comfortable, it was quiet and we both slept well.