Hilaire Belloc bought King's Land (in Shipley, Sussex), 5 acres and a working windmill for £1000 in 1907 and it was his home for the rest of his life. Belloc loved Sussex as few other writers have loved her: he lived there for most of his 83 years, he tramped the length and breadth of the county, slept under her hedgerows, drank in her inns, sailed her coast and her rivers and wrote several incomparable books about her. "He does not die that can bequeath Some influence to the land he knows, Or dares, persistent, interwreath Love permanent with the wild hedgerows; He does not die, but still remains Substantiate with his darling plains."

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Tuesday 12 March 2013

In the Peaks of Europe - The Secret of “The Path to Rome” ...

Rome is rather a topical subject at the moment and so I thought that the following article would be apposite. 

It's been submitted by Brendan Cotter, who joined us on the recent Hilaire Belloc outing in Amberley. It's the best chronological analysis of the The Path to Rome that I have encountered. 

I feel that Brendan is slightly harsh on Belloc's penitential 'dispensations'. After all, the whole walk was a massive act of penitence. But, no matter, we are very grateful to Brendan for his original observations on The Path to Rome

Hilaire Belloc wrote this travelogue of his journey, all on foot, which started in Toul (where he had once been an artilleryman in the French Army) progressed through Switzerland and ended in Rome.

En route Belloc provides us with witty and astute observations on the villages, towns, and people he encountered on his gruelling pilgrimage before the First World War. 

“The Path to Rome” in 2013

When Hilaire Belloc arrived in Milan by train on Sunday the 16th of June 1901 all was not going well on his historic 750 mile walking pilgrimage to Rome (his personal act of ultramontanism). He was only half-way and had run out of money. He had been plagued with a painful left knee, which developed at Flavigny after only 20 miles, and lasted beyond Schangau in Switzerland. He had then been defeated by a blizzard from a direct crossing of the Alps by way of the Gries Pass (8,100 ft).

But he made it, and in 2013 the feast of Ss Peter & Paul (on the 29th June) again falls on a Saturday which is the very day of the week, in 1901, that Belloc marched triumphantly into Rome to complete his journey.

Thus it will be possible, this year, to follow The Path to Rome day by day on the same day of the week (reading an average nine pages a day) and the experience can be enlivened by "visiting" all the places named on satellite maps.

Hilaire Belloc in Popular Culture

Joseph Hilaire Pierre Rene Belloc (“Hilary” to his friends) has his place in popular culture. In 1066 and All That (1930) he appears as “Thomas a Belloc.” In the film Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981 and set in 1936) “Rene Belloq” was the French archaeologist competing with Indiana Jones. Again, “Hilaire Belloc” appears in a set of Will’s Cigarette cards 40 Famous British Authors issued in 1937, along with John Drinkwater and Lady Eleanor Smith (but lacking W. H. Auden, E. M. Forster, Robert Graves and Virginia Woolf.)

The Day of Departure

The Path to Rome itself does not make it clear what year it refers to, let alone the days of the week or dates (only the month of June is mentioned). It was published in 1902, but the biographies leave no doubt that it records the events of the year before. The one indisputable date is that Belloc arrived in Rome on the 29th June which in 1901 was on a Saturday.

Indeed, there is a certain mystery surrounding the actual day of departure. Belloc says that Corpus Christi was on his third full day. It is a moveable feast being the Thursday after Trinity Sunday and in 1901 it was on the 6th of June. That would accord with the book itself which states that he left Toul “at the very beginning of June” and, on that basis, his starting date would have been Monday the 3rd of June.

But Robert Speaight, in The Life of Hilaire Belloc (1957), states that on the evidence of letters written at the time Belloc had already been to Mass on the feast of Corpus Christi before he set out. So, according to Speaight, Belloc would have started on Thursday the 6th of June 1901.

The Number of Days on the Road

This conflict points to something seriously adrift. A close reading of the text working backwards from his arrival in Rome on Saturday the 29th of June 1901, and constructing a daily diary by reference to maps, indicates twenty six days on the road in whole or in part. The conclusion is that Belloc must have set out from Toul on the evening of Tuesday the 4th of June 1901.

Twenty six days on the road would fit better with Belloc’s aim to average thirty miles a day: seven hundred and fifty miles in twenty six days is twenty nine miles a day. Whilst the same distance in two days less would have been a feat which it is suggested would have been beyond even Hilaire Belloc.

Twenty nine miles a day (more than the marathon in distance) day after day for the best part of a month was a prodigious achievement, even allowing for a certain amount of “cheating.” In the days when students commonly walked between London and Oxford it was Hilaire Belloc’s proud boast that (together with Anthony Henley to whom he dedicated “Danton”) he held the student record for the fifty six miles from Carfax to Marble Arch in eleven hours thirty minutes. That distance would take the average experienced walker at least two full days. On walking holidays rest days are considered essential and Belloc had none. Furthermore he included a lot of hill and mountain walking where the challenge is vertical rather than horizontal and he had problems with his bad knee, the weather and, at times, in finding his way.

Again, Belloc originally had his passage home booked for the 1st of July and it would have been an impossible schedule to attempt to walk seven hundred and fifty miles over difficult country in twenty four days from the 6th of June. Speaight somehow manages to calculate the number of days from the 6th of June to the 29th of June to be twenty two. But the first and last days must both be counted and the number of days on the road on his account would have been twenty four.

Further, of course, the twenty six days on the road which can be identified in the book itself, if calculated from the 6th of June, would have taken Belloc well beyond the all-important 29th of June deadline for his destination in Rome for the Feast of Ss Peter and Paul, and if calculated from Monday 3 June would have got him there a day early (none of which is borne out by the narrative).

Clues as to Days and Dates

The only real points of reference in the book are the places where Belloc happened to be at the time, but there are some clues in the text as to the actual days and dates all of which fit with a start date of Tuesday the 4th of June rather than Monday the 3rd of June or Thursday the 6th of June:

· In Thaon-les-Vosges he is told that the branches of bracken placed before doors of houses are to welcome the Corpus Christi procession which surely points it to being Wednesday the 5th of June (the eve of the Feast on the 6th of June).
  • At Undervelier he finds virtually the whole village turning out for Vespers. This is more likely to have been Sunday the 9th of June than mid-week, as it would have been if he had set out on the 6th of June. 
  • At Schangau he incautiously lets slip that it is his eighth day. A calculation from 4 June would place him there on Tuesday the 11th of June and that fits exactly with a back-calculation from the 29th of June. 
  • The next day (Wednesday the 12th of June) at Brienz he says that it is not yet mid-June, whilst a departure date of the 6th of June would put him there on Friday the 14th of June which was arguably mid-June (the 15th of June 1901 was the Bellocs’ fifth wedding anniversary). 
  • As he approaches San Quirico after leaving Siena Belloc says that “The third sun that I now saw rising would shine upon the City.” Calculating back from the 29th of June that day was Wednesday the 26th of June. 

The Catholicity of Belloc

In the book Belloc shows interest in some of the finer points of religious practice. Upon Glovelier he bestows his benediction as of right as a pilgrim. He argues with an outspoken imaginary reader “Lector” that it is not the sin of simony to do so as that would be the false assumption of powers of office.

Lector: “For Heaven’s sake!”

The “auctor/lector” passages in the book can be quite fun and more examples are incorporated in this article-sometimes out of context. Although personally sensitive to criticism, Belloc himself was a man of strong views. For him El Greco was a “disgusting lunatic” and in The Path to Rome he condemned the guides at Meiringen touting for visits to the Reichenbach Falls for “vulgarity and beastliness”. On leaving Parliament he is reported to have said “…I have been relieved to be quit of the dirtiest company it has ever been my misfortune to keep.”).

He hears the Angelus ringing in Charmes at noon, and at the inn at the Ballon d'Alsace he says grace before the meal. Earlier he had noted that the woman hurrying past him on the way to Mass at Rupt was carrying a prayer book called The Roman Parishioner:

Lector: "Pray dwell less on your religion."

Auctor: “Pray take books as you find them"

In Giromagny he is puzzled by the number of priests all saying Mass there and asks Lector if he can explain.

Lector: “I can. It was the season of the year and they were swarming.”

He makes a point of hearing Mass in the Ambrosian Rite in the crypt of Milan cathedral. In his bedroom at Lugano there is a picture of the pope “looking cunning.”

Belloc could be quite disrespectful about his religion and once scandalised the Jesuits by remarking that if the Church taught that the sacred host changed into an elephant he would believe it. He also had a liking for superstitious practices which, even if harmless, are discouraged by the Church thus:

  • On the way to Ulrichen he touched iron when he met a priest. 
  • In Como cathedral he watched 2 candles race to extinction as a sign of permission to break his vow to walk every step of the way and take the train to Milan - "...I admitted the miracle and confessed the finger of Providence." 
  • On entering the City of Rome he was careful to do so with his right foot "...lest I should bring further misfortune upon that capital of all our fortunes." 

Regarding his superstition Belloc’s son in law Reginald Jebb, in Testimony to Hilaire Belloc (1956), says that “the superstitious side to Belloc’s nature was difficult to account for…and sat strangely upon one of such robust reasoning power and such directness in his dealings with life.”)

But in the face of all this detail Belloc makes no mention of the more mundane Catholic practices of Sunday Mass, Friday abstinence from meat, fasting from midnight before Holy Communion or refraining from Servile Work on the Sabbath, all of which applied in his day.

The reason seems to be that if he did set out on Tuesday the 4th of June 1901 then Corpus Christi would have been on his third day out - the very day Hilaire Belloc forever the insomniac and early riser just for once, worn out by covering fifty miles in his first 24 hours, overslept till the middle of the morning in “a great bed” in Thaon-les-Vosges:

Lector: “My brother often complains of insomnia. He is a policeman.”

Auctor: “Indeed? It is a sad affliction”

Lector: “Yes, indeed.”

Auctor: “Indeed, yes.”

Lector: “I cannot go on like this”

The Cover-up

Whilst his biographer Robert Speaight claims that Belloc went to Mass on Corpus Christi before setting out on his pilgrimage, Belloc himself gives a totally different account. He says that the feast was on his third full day out, but in calculating and reaching the third day he discounts the day of his departure with the excuse that he set out in the evening. That took him to Friday the 7th of June when he went to Mass at Rupt (after breaking his fast on bread, wine and coffee.) However that was also the First Friday of the month which he fails to mention and a Day of Abstinence, a practice upon which Belloc is curiously silent throughout his book.

His own explanation looks like an elaborate cover-up for missing Mass on a Holyday of Obligation and thereafter on two of the Sundays on the road. Of course Belloc went to Mass on the way whenever he could - Como, Milano, Lucca and Siena were cathedral cities where morning Mass could be expected more or less every hour on the hour. Otherwise he would arguably have been entitled to a dispensation as a traveller with “just reason” as he would have been unaware of local arrangements (nowadays Canon 1248 of the Code of Canon Law speaks of “grave cause” as a just reason and cites as an example the lack of a sacred minister.) However it is doubtful whether Belloc would have qualified then or now as he had arrived at Thaon overnight, been told about the significance of the branches of bracken, had the time to familiarise himself with Mass times and could have arranged a morning call.

Lector “It does not seem to me that this part … is very entertaining”

Auctor “I know but what can I do?”

Originally Belloc planned to go to Mass every day as he went along. But on his first day out in the first village he reached he found to his chagrin that Mass was already over. When he got to Rome and presented himself at the church of Our Lady of the People, just within the Gates of the Piazza del Popolo, Mass was finishing and Belloc complained (tongue in cheek) that he had to wait a full twenty minutes for the next.

In practice the only certain way of getting to Mass on a pilgrimage is to go with a group which includes a priest. Still it would have been embarrassing for the great Catholic writer who was not addressing a sympathetic Catholic audience to be seen to have fallen down on the basics of his religion. Hence the need for some subterfuge.

Lector: “I am sorry to have provoked all this.”

Auctor: “Not at all! Not at all! I trust I have made myself clear.”

Evidence of a Cover-up

There is a certain amount of circumstantial evidence that Hilaire Belloc tried to cover his tracks,both within the book and extrinsically. According to Joseph Pearce, in Old Thunder (2002), only one of the letters that Belloc wrote to his wife Elodie along the way was dated and that was the first one (dated the 18th of June 1901:

Auctor: “That means nothing.”

Lector: “Shut Up!”

On any showing Friday the 7th of June 1901 was the First Friday of the month but Belloc does not mention the promise of the Sacred Heart to St Margaret Mary Alocoque in 1675 of the grace of final repentance to those who receive Holy Communion on nine consecutive First Fridays as an act of reparation for the sins of others. Nor does he on this or on any of the Fridays that he was on the road mention the obligation to abstain from meat. A diary of his journey reveals that he had eggs beaten up with ham at the inn at the Ballon d’Alsace on Friday the 7th of June. Furthermore, on Friday the 14th of June he and his guide put bread and ham in their bags before setting off at 3 am for his attempt on the Gries Pass and on Friday the 21th of June he was buying sausage in Viterbo.

As for Abstinence, Belloc seemed to subsist on a staple diet of sausage, bacon and ham. Robert Speaight recounts that when among Catholics he would sometimes “ride lightly to the rules” and provides the anecdote that one Friday morning in a country house having ascertained that all present were Catholics he helped himself to a large slice of ham.

Belloc never wrote an autobiography (“no gentleman writes about his private life”) and there is no mention of working notes or maps for the journey to Rome by any of the biographers who had access to his papers. Yet Reginald Jebb recounts that Belloc always kept “everything” with the whole family from time to time gathering round the oak dining table to sort out and file papers when it all got too much for his secretary.

Joseph Pearce quotes Arnold Lunn in “And Yet So New” (1958) as saying that Belloc told him that he had sold the copyright in The Path to Rome for “a ridiculously small sum.” In the Preface to a selection of his works A Picked Company (1915) the publishers say that “The omission of any passage from The Path to Rome is due to copyright difficulties.”

Belloc’s Credibility

According to St Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) “a voluntary utterance contrary to intellectual conviction” is morally wrong. To a degree Belloc undermines his own credibility by quoting with approval (in the valley of the Serchio on the way to Sillano) a line from Francis Bacon (1561-1626) that it is both “permissible and pleasurable to mix a little falsehood with one’s truth.” Belloc himself goes on “…yet it is much more delectable, and far worthier of the immortal spirit of man to soar into the empyrean of pure lying…” (Indeed he could have gone even further by quoting from Moliere’s La Tartuffe (1664) “ce n’est pas pecher que pecher en silence” (to sin in secret is not to sin at all.)

Lector: “What is all this?”

Auctor: “It is a parenthesis.” 

Lector: “It is good to know the names of the strange things one meets on one’s travels.”

In The Silence of the Sea (1941) Belloc said that “The moment a man talks to his fellows he begins to lie.” In connection with his editorship of “Land and Water” in the First World War he said “It is sometimes necessary to lie damnably in the interests of the nation.” Something known in law enforcement circles as “noble cause corruption.”

Again, when he deals with the heretic woodcutter on the way to Moutier, who refused him coffee, Belloc goes off down the road composing rhymes against all heretics and says that he added “a Mea Culpa and Confession of Sin, but I shall not print it here,” making him sound like a man struggling with his conscience.

Generally, Belloc was known to be careless of the truth. His history books were said to be full of schoolboy howlers and blunders which he repeated with mendacious glee in his literary feud with Dr G. G. Coulton, arguing that the truth of the broad picture was more important than the accuracy of fine detail.

In The Path to Rome Belloc mis-spells many place names - giving Thayon for Thaon, Gothard for Gotthard, Secugnango for Secugnago, Compagiamo for Camporgiano, Decimo for Diecimo which makes them hard to find on maps.

Speaight describes a scene at the Cambridge Union on the 15th of November 1924 when Mgr. Ronald Knox proposed a motion “That History should serve patriotism rather than truth.” Belloc opposed, facetiously suggesting that a little truth might be introduced here and there. Then Dr. Coulton rose to accuse Belloc of the falsification of history, and the previously light-hearted debate descended into something of a pantomime before the astonished students as the distinguished guest speakers became more and more irate.

The Structure of “The Path to Rome”

Again, there is something very odd about the whole structure of the book from the overlong beginning to the abrupt end. According to Reginald Jebb The Path to Rome was turned down by twenty publishers and Speaight says that on its publication there were criticisms that it was "uneven" and "too long." The layout with the continuous text broken intermittently by a line of asterisks to mark more of a change of direction in thought than any lapse of time, and the failure to mention the day of the week let alone the date or even the year all point to an elaborate cover up for Belloc’s failure to observe the basics of his religion, largely through no fault of his own.

There are no chapters - yet the twenty six days on the road in a book of some two hundred and fifty pages would make a natural choice of a chapter a day, headed up with the start and finish points. Belloc’s earlier works Danton (1899) Paris (1900) and Robespierre (1901) all followed the conventional format of Chapters in a list of Contents, as did most of his output subsequently.

Furthermore the seventeen pages of “stories” are pure padding. A. N. Wilson in Hilaire Belloc (1984) explains the inclusion of the story of Charles Amieson Blake as a complete contrast to Belloc’s own somewhat nomadic and chaotic lifestyle. But one well-loved, much-thumbed, heavily annotated, underlined, highlighted and eventually sellotape-bound personal copy of The Path to Rome has a number of unmarked passages. These include the Stories of The Great Barrel, The Acolyte of Rheims, The Oracle, The Old Sailor, Sir Charles Amieson Blake, The Duke of Sussex, Mr Hard and that of Mankind.

The inclusion of these “stories” with the excuse that they take the place of miles of foot-slogging boredom, serves to break up the continuity of the text and leave the reader in the air. Much the same goes for the eight maps Belloc provides. Having at one point begged the reader to study them closely, Belloc elsewhere remarks “…what can it profit you to know these geographical details? Believe me, I write them down for my own gratification, not yours.” A sideways look at them in the context of a secret agenda shows them as a useful puzzling distraction: particularly as in one he shows altitude in lighter and in others in darker shade. The one missing map which would be really useful would be from Toul in Lorraine to Rome showing the straight line through Belfort, Porrentruy, Bellinzona, Lugano, Como, Milano, Piacenza, Lucca and Siena, and passing successively through French, German and Italian-speaking Switzerland, and then Lombardy and Tuscany.

The Consequences of Exposure

Belloc was lucky not to be found out over his confabulation and dissimulation in view of his later literary feuds with H. G. Wells and Dr. Coulton, both of whom would presumably have welcomed the ammunition. Perhaps his friend G. K. Chesterton knew and said nothing about it. Certainly Fr Brown’s intuitive methods would have sensed Belloc’s “catholicity” as an explanation for the inconsistencies in the book, described by Chesterton (before his conversion) as a “flaming and reverberating folly produced by the buoyancy of a rich intellect.”

Johnny “Beachcomber” Morton a fellow-traveller and a Catholic, would almost certainly have recognised and probably experienced the difficulty of compliance on the road and Belloc’s rather relaxed view towards it. In Hilaire Belloc-a Memoir (1957) on p.115 he remarks “I cannot imagine that any other man who had walked from Toul to Rome would have talked so little about it.” Perhaps providing more circumstantial evidence.

Pearce records that Ronald Knox had set himself the task of indexing the book under more than three hundred heads. Nothing seems to have come of this and it is a matter of speculation that Belloc, with something to hide, discouraged him.

Lector: “Let us be getting on.”

Auctor: “By all means, and let us consider more enduring things.”

Human Kindness

One could draw greater attention to the many acts of kindness given freely to Belloc on his travels without reference to any particular religious persuasion or practice:

  • Thus there was the commercial traveller who, seeing his exhaustion, gave up his bed for Belloc at the inn just within the Swiss frontier beyond the last French town of Delle. 
  • In Piacenza at the “Moor’s Head” when Belloc emerged from the unseasonably “cold, brutish and wet” plain of Lombardy he was well looked after as he acknowledges: “He was a good man the innkeeper of this palace. He warmed me at his fire in his enormous kitchen and I drank Malaga to the health of his cooks.” 
  • Then there was the “Tavern Brawl” at the Red Inn at Medesano when a knife was produced and the brave little inn-keeper intervened on Belloc’s behalf. 
  • Finally, “long past Sette Vene… (at) an inn with trellis outside making an arbour…the master served me with good food and wine…and out of so many men he was the last man whom I thanked for a service until I passed the gates of Rome.” 

A Revised Assessment of “The Path to Rome”

The unfortunate end result of the layout of the book (the lack of chapters, the unnecessary maps and various diversions) is to obscure Belloc's bold plan to walk in a straight line to Rome over the Vosges and Jura mountains and then the Alps and Apennines. By ignoring the course of roads and rivers which followed the natural contours of the land he was able to enjoy tremendous vistas of the landscape in the Peaks of Europe.

His impressions of the Italian Lakes and his first stunning view of the “sublime invasion” of the Alps from the heights of the Weissenstein (the fifth and last ridge of the Jura) produce some of his finest descriptive prose:

“I saw between the branches of the trees in front of me a sight in the sky that made me stop breathing…One saw the sky beyond the edge of the world getting purer as the vault rose. But right up-a belt in that empyrean-ran peak and field and needle of intense ice, remote, remote from the world. Sky beneath them and sky above them, a steadfast legion, they glittered as though with the armour of the immovable armies of Heaven. Two days’ march, three days’ march away, they stood up like the walls of Eden. I say it again, they stopped my breath. I had seen them.”

Lector: “Pray are we to have more of that fine writing?”

The Path to Rome is full of fine writing but the awful “stories” and diversions invite the reader to skip the pages they cover and lose track of the time and place. Together with detailed descriptions of the private vow-breaking, his bad knee and lack of funds it all serves the hidden agenda of Auctor to distract Lector’s attention from his failure to observe the basic requirements of his religion. The technique is one of careful selection and suppression - “I forget the village, I forget the girl, but the wine was Chambertin.”

Auctor: “…remember, Lector, that the artist is known not only by what he puts in but by what he leaves out.”

Lector: “That is all very well for the artist, but you have no business to meddle with such people.”

Auctor: “How then would you write such a book if you had the writing of it?”

Lector: “I would not introduce myself at all; I would not tell stories at random…and I would certainly not have the bad taste to say anything upon religion.” 

As it is the format of The Path to Rome tends to leave the reader with a disjointed impression of a number of encounters and adventures along the way: such as the early morning scene in the sunshine outside Flavigny where the obliging young baker serves Belloc with coffee, brandy and bread at a “fine oak table;” the touching moment at the inn at the Ballon D’Alsace when the lady of the house and her three daughters all curtsied to Belloc in unison before retiring to bed; the vertiginous railway bridge at Ursanne; the horse-holding incident at Schangau; the scramble over the Brienzer Grat; the foiled crossing of the Alps; the searchlights and torpedo boats on Lake Lugano; the wrongful arrest at Calestano; the tavern brawl at the Red Inn at Medesano; his rides in an ox-cart on the way to Acquapendente and, then, a horse-buggy after San Lorenzo on the way to Bolsena.

The positive side Belloc’s secret agenda of concealment meant that he refrained from any mention of current affairs - Queen Victoria had died only a few months before he set out and he omits the identity of the pope (Leo XIII.) The perhaps unintentional result is to produce a timeless quality for his journey which enhances the appeal of its heroic optimism and intense introspection.

The Path to Rome has remained constantly in print as “a classic, born of something far deeper than the experience it records” (Speaight) and was clearly written for posterity including “…all you also who in the mysterious designs of Providence may not be fated to read it for some very long time to come…”.

Lector: “Why on earth did you write this book?”

Auctor: “For my amusement.”

Lector: “And why do you suppose I got it?” 

Auctor: “I cannot conceive…”        

'... and as to what may be in this book, do not feel timid nor hesitate to enter. There are more mountains than mole-hills ...'



  1. A friend of mine and I are planning a sort of re-creation of Belloc's Path to Rome pilgrimage. Do you know of any place where there is a convenient list of locations he visited? This post was helpful as it is, though.

    1. You might like to try the book, the clue is in the title.

  2. Very interesting post. Like Luke, I have thought about following Belloc's route, probably by bicycle. Are you aware of many accounts of a recreation of the journey? I have read Peter Francis Browne's Rambling on the Road to Rome, with which I was not greatly impressed, but should like to read others.

  3. Peter, I did not know of the existence of the book you mentioned. Would you recommend it? As it happens, my friend and I who are looking to make the pilgrimage this summer are also planning to write a 'sequel' of sorts, so maybe this book would help us in that vein.

  4. I've just done this same analysis myself and I agree that Speaight has the departure date wrong. However, you've complicated things for yourself by missing a day - I initially did too, but check out the paragraph just before the Emilian Way - the day that "shall form no part of this book." If I am correct, then with this addition, counting backwards with a 27 day total, it was indeed Corpus Christi when Belloc indicated, and he would have left on the evening of Tuesday, June 4. Just FYI.

    1. I have just completed what has become my annual re-reading of The Path to Rome and managed to find the passage referred to

      However I cannot agree that this shows that a day s missing It only refers to the fact that in the midst of two days unremitting rain in northern Italy Belloc found nothing to write about

      At first I thought that the passage referred to was at Borgo where he says much the same thing But the explanation there was that after a day walking from "dear Sillano" for
      0 miles in the full heat of the sun he must have caught the train on "the new Bagni railway" to Lucca

      It looks as if he was suffering from the effects of the sun as thereafter he "turned day into night" and slept during the days and walked at night till he got to Rome

      These annual re-reads are a well worthwhile exercise and I am finding new things every time so many thanks about the post

      I have some idea that Belloc must have contemplated walking between Corpus Christi on 6 June and Ss Peter & Paul on 29 June but that would have given him only 24 days on the road and not enough to cover 750 miles over difficult country

      I have yet to read Jim Malia's book but I did follow "The Hoofs of the Stag" and Robert Johnson's "walking with Mr Belloc"

      I am not too sure I fully approve the macho diet of junk food caffeine alcohol and painkillers that walker seem to indulge in though these days there does seem to be some concession towards water and fruit

      Continuing research has led me to find some interesting letters in The Tablet's archives including one from Robert Speaight on 27 October 1956 referring to the "obvious discrepancy" in the starting out dates

      Brendan Cotter

  5. In case anyone is interested, I have started my own blog which will follow my friend and I on our journey this summer to re-create Belloc's Path to Rome (we begin June 18). Right now the posts are more about the preparations for the journey, but I thought followers of this blog might be interested. Here is the URL: stagermeister.blogspot.com.

    By the way, I've now read Browne's book, and while his cynicism gets to me at times, I still found it an enjoyable book and it will be a good resource for us on our journey.