I smell like the Devil. Literally. It’s nothing to do with the heat – though more of that later. It’s a real and strong smell of sulphur. And it’s coming from me.
When I saw the signs to the Bagno San Fillipo, 4km up the hill to the right, I imagined a shaded square, with cold water gushing from ornate fountain heads, sustaining a village, and several bars and restaurants where you could get coffee, which I was desperately needing. The signpost had a picture of a fountain, or something very like one.
The SS2 – that’s the name of the road I’m on – begins (or ends) in Rome. The signs are counting down the kilometres, and I’ve reached 160: 100 miles to Rome.
At this rate, though, I’ll never make it. The road goes through a desert, and I’m parched and fading. Should I go off route – and climb 500ft – to enjoy the relief of San Fillipo’s Bagno?
I changed my mind twice before I actually began the climb. And when I got there I found the whole thing had been mis-sold.
There was no mention, at the bottom of the hill, of the word termico, “thermal”, which is now everywhere. These are hot springs, not cold mountain waters, and there’s a strong smell of sulphur in the air.
But I’ve come all this way, and there’s no shady square, and no coffee. It would be churlish, I feel, to use that as a reason not to take the waters.
The result is that now I’m enveloped in this strong sulphurous perfume, which is going to accompany me for the rest of the day.
In the end the only place to get coffee on this hellish road was a petrol station. At least they filled my water bottles.
A small wasp got inside my shirt. By the time I’d stopped, and ripped off my helmet, and struggled with the sodden shirt, it had stung me twice in that little bit of the back you just can’t reach.
The forecast said it would be 37 degrees today. The green flashing sign outside the Chemist says it’s 39. The red flashing sign outside the discount supermarket directly across the road says it’s 41.
They’re flashing at different rates, and the effect is like two drunken men sparring without ever landing a punch. Why can’t they just call it a draw and agree it’s round about 40 degrees? It’s too hot to fight about anything.
When it’s this hot, waves of heat, way above body temperature, sweep up off the black road. You notice it most on the ears – they’re constantly burning, as though the dry countryside is talking about you, mocking you, hissing quietly about the lack of shade.
The grass beside the road gave up long ago. It’s the same straw colour as the emptied fields. This landscape might be beautiful in the Spring. It’s hard to see it that way now.
Still, Bolsena, by the lake of the same name, is somewhere to aim for. You can see it from a distance – the lake that is – and it must, you feel, cool the surrounding air a little.
Entering the town, with its stupendous old castle on one side, I aim for the lake on the other. I’m looking for a little hotel as close to the water as possible. Let me in that water!
The lake is a slightly cool bath temperature. The air is a quite warm sauna. Don’t you just love the summer?
I’ve washed off most of the sulphur, so I think I can walk up to the old castle, through the avenue of the grandest and biggest plane trees I’ve ever seen, without crosses being waved at me. But I’m afraid Libre is staying behind. One of us is just too tired.