IV: Crossing the Sibbilini Mountains

Sonneteering is something akin to stargazing. As the Galilean telescope discovered the moons of Jupiter, so does the sonneteer discover new forms of sonnet. My latest invention came about from a couple of hours studding the works of Guicarmo Leopardi in the library at his home town of Recanati. Armed with my new sonnet form, I decided to head to the Monti Sibbilini mountain range. A bus ride, a train & another bus ride later (all free) we had entered a world akin to the English Lake District, climbing 700 meters to the university town of Camerino. It was a fine, spacious city, with commanding views & an air of high intelligentsia. About a hundred meters below the city Victor found us an old farm house, where we pitched tent, lit a fire, drank booze & chatted once more into the night, the soft silhouettes of the mountainscape rising across the valley before us. The next morning we were off again, & what a day. We followed a steep & narrow, tree-shaggy valley ever & ever upwards to Castelsanteangelo sul Nera. It is a lovely spot, with crystal clear river water & the fresh air of altitude. The wee town nestles at the foot of a triangular defensive wall system which pyramids up the slopes. After stocking up on spam & bread we set off on our hike up a hill, & were lucky to be picked up by a middle-aged couple from London!



They were quite surprised to find out we were from Burnley, but were lovely sorts & we were connected by the town of Thiruvanamali, where their daughter had set up a school & I had translated Thirukural. They dropped us off at the Castelluccia, an amazing wee town at the center of this extremely flat plateau. Above it, covered by clouds, towers Monte Vettore, which at 2476 meters is almost twice the height of Ben Nevis.

Bidding our countrymen adieu, Me & Victor continued our hike, crossing the mountain-circled plateau, then climbing a not too steep road. As we went, tho’, the rains came, & believe me there was no shelter at all. We finally hit the ridge, however, where a rifugio (hostel), tho’ closed, gave us a little shelter to eat our lunch out of the mountain winds. Not far beyond that the road finally began to drop & we were rewarded with views of the valleys below us, stunning in autumnal glory, & thro’ a break in the clouds, the Gransasso itself, a mountainous 3000 meters. In WW2, after a coup had deposed him, Mussolini was imprisoned in a hotel near the Gransasso, but was famously rescued by Germans in gliders.


The walk into the valley was beautiful, the rains had stopped & the road was lined with berries & apple trees. Then the rains came back again & we finally reached this wee village, soggy as fuck! For shelter we entered this 1930s style bar, ran by the elderly, but adorable Dora. She made us feel very welcome, as did her wee squat customers, four oldish guys who just sat & played cards & didn’t even buy a drink. From there we made a futile search for a B&B, & were forced to camp in the dark a few k downhill – a very uncomfortable night on hard ground & nippy with dampness.

Despite the amazingness of the previous day, the next morning we called off our further mountain adventures & resolved to get back to the coast. While waiting for a bus at Arqua del Tronto, I got chatting to this 87-year-old man -Tony – who had an amazing tale. During World War Two he & his family had hid a certain Jack Macshiel from Glasgow, who had found himself on the wrong side of the Gustav Line. For seven months he avoided the Germans & the story was a stirring start to the day.

The bus we then caught provided us with the first sting of the tour – our tickets were 2.70 euros each. Still, it’s not bad considering we’ve been on the road ten days! The bus took us to Ascoli Piceno, an industrial city at the foot of the mountains. While waiting for the train out of there we met 26-year-old Danilo Battistelli, a handsome architecture student who I had my best Italian conversation with I’ve ever had, by the end of which he was offering to put me & Victor up for a couple of nights. We told him we would return after we picked up Paul from Pescara airport (Wednesday). Talking of which, we are now only 20k from there, a little premature, but happy to be in a town called Pineto. We camped on the beach last night, cooking hot food for the first time with some pans we found back at the farmhouse in Camerino. It was mackerel, eggs & what turned out to be yoghurt, creating a new dish I’ve coined ‘Fishyogegio.’ The yoghurt was supposed to be milk (Victors bad Italian at the supermercato), whose true identity I discovered this morning when, after stoking up the embers of last night’s fire & looking forward to a good cup of tea, on pouring the milk into the pan, it all congealed! Still, I guess yoghurt is a good way to start the day. This continued with us trying to find an apartment or hotel for a night or two to clean up, but everywhere is closed for the season. The place is lovely, but I guess touristy, & despite there being several hundred empty rooms all around us, all are closed.


Instead we’ve camped in the palatial grounds of a nearby hunting lodge, complete with an overgrown tennis court & just ripened orange trees. Close by is a bar where I am writing this blog, recharging the laptop & having a jolly good rest from the mountains.


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