|Lake Viverone. (Wikimedia image.)|
I had now crossed from the Aosta Valley into the Piedmont region. Gradually the mountains gave way to hills and the hills gave way to plains. And the weather altered too for a few days — I exchanged an uplifting mountain landscape blessed with hot sunshine and blue skies for a flat, featureless world of horizon-to-horizon greyness and intermittent rain. Such are the contrasts of the pilgrim's life — and, indeed, of all our lives . . .
From Ivrea I headed for Lake Viverone, following a line of hills through villages and endless woods. Approaching the lake, I soon took another wrong turning (I blamed my guide book at the time, but now I see it was completely my own fault) and turned left towards the lake instead of right towards Alice Costello. Finally I realised my error, and was about to retrace my steps when I became aware of two dogs racing alongside me in a farmer's field. They began barking furiously. I quickened my pace. Surely they were fenced in? But no — one of them jumped up the embankment separating field from road and ran at me aggressively with ferocious growls and snarls. I was utterly convinced his only intention was to sink his bared teeth into my arm or leg, and probably into my throat too.
Often a good tactic on such occasions is to hold a walking pole horizontally between you and the animal in a non-threatening, protective way, then back off gently, making firm but friendly soothing noises. However, my walking poles were stowed away in my pack — and, anyhow, this dog didn't seem particularly open to gestures of pacifism or compromise. So I did what my basic instincts told me to do. I shouted, I screamed and I swore. I roared, I raged and I ranted. I called that dog every foul name under the sun. I said what I would do to his parents and his siblings and his offspring if he placed one paw nearer. I promised his testicles a terrible fate if he took so much as a nip out of me. And you'll never believe what happened. He skidded to a halt with a look of utter shock and surprise — just like a pooch in an animated cartoon. Then he turned tail and fled.
Despite this victory, I wasn't keen on returning the way I'd come — which would have meant encountering the dogs again. However, by a stroke of luck or divine grace, a car appeared behind me at that very moment on this unfrequented road, and the driver offered me a lift. When I explained the situation, and said I wasn't going in his direction, he insisted on taking me back several kilometres to the place where I'd gone wrong — making him, incidentally, late for work. Yet again another trail angel had come to my rescue!
The last section of the day's walk was tiresome in the extreme as I made my way through far-from-pretty villages and wove a tedious path between busy highways. The countryside was flat and the sky overcast, and the long straight road to Santhià never seemed to end.
At last I reached this old and historic town and found Piazza Roma, where I was warmly greeted by a church official on a bicycle. He showed me my quarters opposite the Church of St Agatha. They were small but adequate, with a damp bathroom and a windowless dormitory housing a few bunk beds. Payment was by donation only, and once more I was the only pilgrim there.
Later I ate a perfect risotto in a nearby hotel restaurant — risotto is the Po Basin's speciality, as the area is renowned for its rice fields. I was the only diner, but the adjoining bar was packed with locals watching a football match. I slept reasonably well, though it was now raining with a vengeance, and the heavy downpours woke me several times.
|The Church of St Agatha, Santhià. (Wikimedia image.)|