The scallop shell is a symbol of the pilgrim for some, especially associated with various camino routes across northern Spain.
I spent a great deal of time planning a pilgrimage as the impetus for a return trip to Europe. Most appealing was a section of the Via Francigena, the ancient route from Canterbury in England, through France, over the alps and through Italy to Rome.
It seemed meaningful, healing and memorable.
I was interested in utilizing the francigenaways.com company that move your bags on for you each day while you walk light. Each night you arrive at the next destination to a cooked meal and all your gear. The Siena to Viterbo section took my fancy travelling from the breathtakingly beautiful Siena through such a picturesque area. It is 10 nights on the track with a gradient variation of roughly 30 metres above sea level to over 760 metres.
I was doing training walks up to 50 kms a week and building up, thoroughly enjoying myself but getting a bit of knee stiffness which was putting me out of action for the following day. (I’m 46!) I was fine on the flat but hills were the problem.
I started to reconsider my plans and shifted my focus to the Viterbo to Rome section of the route, only 100 km, 6 nights and less than $800 including half board. The appeal of finishing at St Peters cathedral was immense.
Then I started to worry. I was having fears of limping, hours after sunset, (I’m travelling in late Autumn), cold, lost, alone and not speaking Italian. It started to sound miserable and risky. I started to anticipate my trip with concern rather than excitement.
Peter Moore in his book “Vroom with a View” comes across a section of the Via Francigena in Lazio on his Vespa and shares how he is chased by a pack of dogs and looses the trail part way. So this is horrifying to me as I’m afraid of dogs, (and cows), and confirms my worst fears.
The concept still very much appeals to me as I want this trip to be special. I also have enormous admiration for the wonderful solo women travelers who have done pilgrimages, experiencing through challenge. But for now I’ll let my pilgrimage be simple. I will carry a scallop shell I found on a stunning beach, North of Auckland, Te Arai point, the northernmost start point of my walking back to happiness journey. I will take it to Rome and lay it in St Peters.