A hiking we will go

The irony of a day in the hills as Italy headed towards lockdown has not escaped me.

It was last Sunday and we’re joining Penny and Keith for a hike up into the hills behind Borgo a Mozzano, a short train ride from Lucca.

Now, there are several things wrong with this sentence.

Penny and Keith. Brits. Living in Borgo a Mozzano. Hideously fit hikers.

Hike. Not a ramble. Not a walk. A hike. Up.

Shoes. I packed my gym shoes but ran out of room for the bulky hiking boots. This turned out to be a problem and a saving grace. Stay with me.

Hills. Our goal is about 900 metres up, a rocky outcrop with superb views. No problem so far.

A short train ride. Yeah, maybe.

It doesn’t look far on the map, but it was all uphill!

* * *

There are five of us from Lucca – Canadian Deb (CanDeb), Aussie Deb (AusDeb), me, Patricia and Denis. CanDeb has bought Maggie May, the hefty Scottish terrier with very short legs. She’ll never make it, I thought to myself. Patricia has brought Robbie/Roberto who looks like a teacup Maremma with his overlong coat (the groomer is on ferie – holiday). The smallest of the crew is Ludo, a rat terrier with personality-plus.

Deb with Maggie May on train

CanDeb with Maggie May. Roberto schmoozes a local.

Penny and Keith have lived all over the place, but now settled into a renovated stone house in Cerreto which is really the edge of Borgo a Mozzano, on a piece of land shaped like a bow-tie. This being Italy, there is nothing unusual about that.

I tell them I’m horribly unfit and CanDeb is delighted. She’s normally last in the bunch, and now she won’t be. Penny has leant me poles to help. AusDeb is a pro walker/hiker and sees this as a training run ahead of a Scottish expedition. Keith views it as a walk. Denis is very chilled.

Through the village we go with CanDeb and I bringing up the rear. The dogs are on leashes because they’ll take off if given the chance. Maggie May is fine until there’s a cat – the one she meets in the village will never be the same – and then there’s ear-shattering shrieking. Roberto can trusted off leash after he’s got over the initial excitement of a walk in the country. Ludo. Ah, Ludo. This tiny, delicate looking terrier would just take off at top speed. The Scottie and Ludo ace the first hill. I’m now feeling very old, unfit and horribly sweaty, to say nothing of embarrassed at being lapped by one dog with very short legs and another who is barely calf-height.

Oh, it’s about 30 minutes to coffee, says Keith with a wide smile. He, AusDeb and Denis are powering on while CanDeb and I sweat and swelter. Penny seems unaffected by any of this. This is what you get for not going to the gym for six months, I mutter to myself.

Looking across to the Apennines with their fresh snow

We stop for a coffee break. It’s brisk. Keith likes to keep the pace going. Penny later tells us he walks with local Italians whose idea of a break is coffee, a full meal, wine and a nap. Keith does not do this. There are stunning views from the hilltop, including fresh snow on the Apennines  but we barely have enough time to take photos before we’re on our way again.

Oh, it’s about 30 to 40 minutes to Santa Cristina, says Keith with a wide smile. He, AusDeb and Denis are powering on while CanDeb and I sweat and swelter. Penny seems unaffected by any of this. This is what you get for not going to the gym for a year, I mutter to myself.

At Santa Cristina, it’s agreed Keith, AusDeb and Denis will go onto the summit without us. The last section is steep. Aside from the fact I’m pretty much done in by now, I’m not wearing the right shoes and that’s a real danger. We offer to take Ludo, but he won’t leave Denis.

Penny, CanDeb, Maggie May, Patricia, Roberto and I start the walk back down the hill. Penny has not sweated a drop. She takes Maggie May and strides off ahead of us.

Embarrassing in so many ways. The short-legged Scottie is doing better than me and tiny Ludo has gone to the summit.

We take the track to the house. This being Italy, it winds its way through olive groves and fruit trees. We remove our boots with a chorus of aahs while Penny produces coffee, a lemon cake and a damned good fruit loaf. We partake lavishly and wait for the others to return. They arrive looking as rested as they were at the station. I look at them with slitty eyes.

We need to go. The station is a good 15-min walk down farm tracks, cobbled lanes and dangerous steps. AusDeb sets a cracking pace and we stagger behind. As we reach the station, a train speeds through without stopping.

“It’s ok,” yells AusDeb, “it’s still on the board.”

Yes, the train is still coming. Oh, wait. No. No, that must have been our train.

“It didn’t even slow down,” AusDeb says.

Maybe we should have waved it down?

“But wouldn’t it stop anyway to let people off?”

Apparently not.

Phones are produced and the Moov app consulted. There’s a bus in 50 minutes or another train in two hours. Oh, wait, there’s no bus. A taxi? The taxi company is called; it’s a clearing centre based in Naples. The lady calls back; there is no one in the area. The train it is.

“There’s a gelato shop,” says AusDeb. Sugar! Off we go. The sodding Scottie is as fresh as a daisy.

There are a lot of people outside the gelato shop, many of them eating from cones and cups. The five of plus the dogs barge into the gelato shop. You know what’s coming, don’t you? Yep, we forgot our Covid manners and all went in together. Didn’t work it out until later.

Patricia and Roberto aka the teacup Maremma

We grabbed chairs on the fake grass under the canvas alongside the shop and slurped away. Maggie May had part of CanDeb’s cone, mostly in her beard. 

Ludo is limping, so Denis and CanDeb play doctor.

Back to the station with a little less enthusiasm. Denis carries Ludo.

This time, the train stops and we climb aboard. Dogs go to sleep. Humans settle down. Four stops later we’re home.

Four days later, the quads and hammies are starting to recover.