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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Thursday 10 March 2016

"In Belloc's Steps" by Jim Malia...

Château de Joux in the Juras

Hilaire Belloc set off for Rome at the turn of the nineteenth century from the garrison town of Toul on the banks of the Moselle, determined to reach the Eternal City within one month, in time that is, for the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul. He succeeded and wrote up the experience in his beloved 'Path to Rome'. Jim Malia, a devoted literary disciple of Hilaire, followed in his master's steps from Toul to Rome and wrote up the experience in his recently published work: 'In Belloc's Steps'. Therein Jim describes in some detail the various towns, villages, mountain heights and valleys he passed through in the imagined company of his literary friend, over the Vosges, the Juras, the Alps, by the Lakes, across the Apennines to Rome. A major difference in the two books is that whereas Belloc took twenty nine days to complete the walk, Jim took four years - whereby hangs a tale.

Both pilgrims suffered severe setbacks on the walk. Driven back by Arctic blizzards, raging winds and whirling snow, Belloc was denied the Gries Pass. Forced off the direct line to Rome he made his way sullenly along the Furka Pass into Italy - 'as easy as going up Saint James's Street and down Picadilly'. Jim on the other hand conquered the Gries Pass in glorious sunshine and entered Italy triumphantly by the Formazza Valley. That however was as far as the Fates would allow. Misfortune followed misfortune climaxing in the freezing chill of the Apennines forcing Jim to take wheeled transport and to enter Rome like a common tourist.

The weather however favoured him. Whereas Belloc plodded in mud and rain Jim made his way along the mountain range in continuing sunshine, Viterbo, Siena, Piza, Castelnuovo di Garfagnana. It was not the cities or even the villages however that interested Jim so much as the people he met on his odyssey: the fisherman of Villey le Sec, the young reporter at Charmes, the pious people of Undervelier, the kindly innkeeper at Riale, the friendly villagers of Castagne, the delightful family of Viterbo.

Interesting, exciting even dangerous at times though his path to Rome had been, it was the last episode which provided a fitting climax: Jim's visit to La Celle Saint Cloud, the village church and the statue of Our Lady, one of such beauty, Hilaire remarked, that it had moved him to go on pilgrimage to Rome and see all Europe which the Christian faith had saved. Which he did.

"In Belloc's Steps" by Jim Malia. Obtainable at: