27th June 1901: The Carts to Rome

Belloc spent the night climbing the ravine. As the sun began to rise in the east, he reached Radicofani. A man lounging on his doorstep wished him good morning.

Belloc passed straight through the town and left by its southern gate.

Ahead lay another valley; it looked even rougher than the one Belloc had just passed. As he didn’t have the heart to cross it in the increasing heat he looked about for somewhere to rest. At that moment,

… a cart drawn by two oxen at about one mile an hour came creaking by.

Hilaire Belloc The Path to Rome (ignatius Press 2003) p.411

The driver was asleep. Belloc jumped on board and closed his eyes to rest.

The oxen plodded along. Occasionally the driver stirred but made no move against his unexpected guest. The sun reached its zenith then began the long descent into the west. Finally, the cart reached the foot of the hill that lead up to Aquapendente, Belloc’s next destination.

The driver woke up.

He looked at me a moment and laughed. He seemed to have thought all this while that I was some country friend of his who had taken a lift.

The Path to Rome, p. 412

The driver urged his oxen onwards. As they trudged up the hill, Belloc gave him a cigar by way of a thank you for letting him stay on the cart. The driver promptly smoked it with great satisfaction.

Aquapendente. Belloc notes that the town was famous but can’t understand why – ‘To the pilgrim it is simply a group of houses.’ (The Path to Rome p.412). He ate there, and then left. Outside the town, he settled down on the bank of a stream and slept until evening.

Tonight, on 26th June 1901, Belloc walked into San Lorenzo. Leaving by its southern gate, he saw ahead of him the lake of Bolsena below.

I sat on the coping of a wall, drank a little of my wine, ate a little bread and sausage; but still song demanded some outlet in a the cool evening, and companionship was more of an appetite in me than landscape. Please God, I had become southern and took beauty for granted.

The Path to Rome, pp.419-20

To be honest, if that’s what it meant to be southern then I think Belloc always was. I can’t think of any point in his pilgrimage where he puts landscape ahead of companionship.

Anyway, another cart passed by. Its driver was awake. Belloc stopped him and boarded it. The two men sang of their homelands; they ate and drank together. It was a perfect time for Belloc. He writes,

That was a good drive, an honest drive, a human aspiring drive, a drive of Christians, a glorifying and uplifted drive, a drive worthy of remembrance for ever.

The Path to Rome, pp.420-1

His tongue is surely very firmly in his cheek but you take the point. He really enjoyed himself!

Belloc and the cart driver parted ways at Lake Bolsena. There, Belloc ate at someone’s home. He intended to carry on walking but they insisted on giving him a room for the night. Not wanting to be misunderstood, Belloc acquiesced. He did not stay the night, though; instead, he snuck out ‘not long after midnight’ (The Path to Rome, p.423) and continued on his way.

26th June 1901: The Kindness of the Cool

Belloc didn’t quite make it to Radicaofani today but note San Quirico d’Orcia between it and Siena

Belloc walked through the night and into the day. The sun rose and it was hot but interestingly he doesn’t blame the heat for soon making him stop.

It was not so much the sun, though that was intemperate and deadly; it was rather the inhuman aspect of the earth which made me despair. It was as though the soil had been left imperfect and rough after some cataclysm…

Hilaire Belloc The Path to Rome (Ignatius Press 2003) pp.401-2

He lay himself down in the shade of some bushes and remained there for the rest of the day, waking and sleeping in turns.

Belloc resumed walking late in the afternoon. He stopped at an inn where the Italians speaking to him tried to make themselves understood by shouting at him.

As the sun set, Belloc arrived in San Quirico. The cooler air made everything ‘kinder’ (The Path to Rome, p.403). He didn’t make any friends here but he did see kindness in action.

… for the first time I saw in procession one of those confraternities which in Italy bury the dead; they had long and dreadful hoods over their heads, with slits for the eyes.

The Path to Rome, pp.403-4

If you would like to see a representation of the people he is talking about, I thoroughly recommend watching A Room With A View – the Merchant Ivory adaptation of E. M. Forster’s great novel.

As I said, Belloc didn’t make any friends in San Quirico, but he did talk to the people there, and they made a positive impact on him.

They were upstanding, and very fine and noble in the lines of the face.

The Path to Rome, p.404

Leaving San Quirico, Belloc walked across a plan that led to Radicofani, which was perched on the side of a ravine. He came to a farmhouse, and desiring companionship, entered it. There, a very kindly farmer immediately took pity on the weary traveller and insisted that he stay the night. He took Belloc to the stable and settled him down among the oxen.

Having slept all day, Belloc was ready to walk all night but so as not to insult the farmer’s kindness, he took the bed of hay being offered to him. After the farmer had left, Belloc listened to the oxen eat and decided that when he arrived in Rome he would buy two ox horns and on his return home have them hollowed out and mounted so that they could be used as cups. He even composed two ditties to be engraved on the side of each. Then, Belloc sneaked out of the barn, and resumed his walk.