Days of walking lay ahead. But we had our boots. What could go wrong?

The first hint that we might have made a mistake came at Heathrow. We discovered among our documents from the travel company a list of essentials that we should have brought with us. We had broken in our walking boots some two months earlier, strutting boldly along a flat beach in Norfolk - but it had not occurred to us that other vital equipment was needed for 10 days' walking in Italy. After all, it was May, when there would be carpets of wild flowers to frolic over and nothing but sunburn to worry about.

Frantically, we set about scouring Terminal Two. The torch was easy, but we drew a blank with the waterproof trousers, and inquiries about short, sharp knives met with distinct disapproval. Anxiety growing, we joined the queue in Departures behind a sturdy man in shorts, who had a neck like a rhino and sported a shillelagh.

At Rome airport our team assembled. Thankfully rhino-neck was going somewhere else, but the group was still formidable. We were 10 years younger than any of them, and clearly in much worse shape. Rachel and Sarah, our guides, greeted us and we left Rome in pouring rain, able to see nothing but the legend on the van in front: "the best way to see a country is on foot". We felt like changing the last word to "telly".

Twenty-four hours later, a change was beginning. High up in the Appennines a cry arose from the murk. "Stop a minute!" demanded a figure shrouded in anorak. "I've left my glasses behind." They were, in fact, on his nose but he had not believed it because, just for a moment, they were not misted up.

I fell into step with him to discuss whether the precipice we were assailing was enveloped in cloud, or whether it was raining fog. As he shot vertically ahead I was left in silence, unbroken save for an exaggerated heartbeat, the swish of waterproofed thighs ahead and the indefatigable song of a lark.

Another day, another scene. At the back of the gang as usual, we listened to a discussion between three distinguished professors. A watery sun emerged to illuminate astounding views and, every now and again, a halt was called while Sarah led us into a tiny, frescoed church, or pulled out her reference book to identify an orchid. The snow was thigh-deep, the scree giddyingly sheer, but my sense of achievement was growing as fast as my knees were ballooning under flapping shorts.

Leaving Norcia, a perfect little walled town that gave the world St Benedict, we picked up a rangy wolfhound who came with us to visit St Rita's birthplace at Roccaporena. While we forded a swollen river, having removed boots and socks to reveal the blister kits, ankle braces and toe bandages, he picked up a jumper, widely regarded as the ripest of all our garments, and could only be persuaded to relinquish it for a crumb from our glorious picnic.

It was a fair swap. The company's picnics are renowned. Rachel had a magical habit of appearing on a stony track miles from civilisation, proffering seemingly never-ending bottles of wine and leading us to a tablecloth spread with delicacies. If dry, we lolled lazily among the gentians; if wet, she found a church porch to protect us. And every day she made sure that our luggage arrived ahead of us at our next inn and that a local feast of some splendour awaited.

A few days later, as we emerged from a disused railway tunnel, somebody asked us why we had chosen this trip, innocents as we were. They were all members of walking clubs. While we carried Dextrasol and sun cream, their kits were packed with compasses, gaiters and emergency whistles, yet even they considered this to be the Everest of the brochure, not to be undertaken lightly. Our answer was that the holiday included places we had never heard of, let alone visited. Had we realised how tough it was, we would never have attempted it.

Yet as we marched across the magnificent aqueduct into Spoleto at the end of it all - to be greeted by Rachel with heavenly champagne - we were very glad to have done it. We kissed our previously daunting companions goodbye warmly, our leg muscles, stomachs and Christmas card lists considerably enlarged, and decided that we would certainly go on another trip. I wonder if they do one in Norfolk?

Sue Gaisford paid pounds 1,195 for her all-inclusive, 11-day Unknown Umbria trek with Alternative Travel Group (01865 310399). For information about walking equipment and trekking holidays, see specialist magazines such as `The Great Outdoors'.


Robert Gaisford

"The walking was strenuous and the weather often appalling, but I enjoyed discovering that such a disparate bunch of people could prove so interesting."

Richard Johnson

"The grub! We had gorgeous picnics and there were two or three meals when we ate the very best of the local Italian food."

Kate Johnson

"It was not the kind of thing you should do straight from your office desk, but I wouldn't have missed it for the world."

Miles Garnett

"In North Yorkshire you might find 20 orchids, but they'd be all the same kind. In Umbria, you can see 20 different varieties in a day."

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

Susan Sarandon described David Bowie as
peopleSusan Sarandon reveals more on her David Bowie romance
Arsenal supporters gather for a recent ‘fan party’ in New Jersey
sportDidier Drogba returns to Chelsea on one-year deal
Arts and Entertainment
The Secret Cinema performance of Back to the Future has been cancelled again
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
Balmain's autumn/winter 2014 campaign, shot by Mario Sorrenti and featuring Binx Walton, Cara Delevingne, Jourdan Dunn, Ysaunny Brito, Issa Lish and Kayla Scott
fashionHow Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film
filmFifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage in US
BBC broadcaster and presenter Evan Davis, who will be taking over from Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight
peopleForget Paxman - what will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Life and Style
fashionCustomer complained about the visibly protruding ribs
The new dawn heralded by George Osborne has yet to rise
voicesJames Moore: As the Tories rub their hands together, the average voter will be asking why they're not getting a piece of the action
Dejan Lovren celebrates scoring for Southampton although the goal was later credited to Adam Lallana
newsComedy club forced to apologise as maggots eating a dead pigeon fall out of air-conditioning
Arts and Entertainment
Jo Brand says she's mellowed a lot
tvJo Brand says shows encourage people to laugh at the vulnerable
Life and Style
People may feel that they're procrastinating by watching TV in the evening
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    C++ Software Engineer - Hounslow, West London - C++ - to £60K +

    £40000 - £60000 per annum + Pension, Healthcare : Deerfoot IT Resources Limite...

    VB.NET and C# developer (VB.NET,C#,ASP.NET)

    £30000 - £45000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: VB.NET a...

    Visitor Experience volunteer

    Unpaid voluntary role: Old Royal Naval College: To assist the Visitor Experien...

    Telesales Manager. Paddington, London

    £45-£55k OTE £75k : Charter Selection: Major London International Fashion and ...

    Day In a Page

    Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

    The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

    What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
    Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

    Finding the names for America’s shame

    The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
    Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

    Inside a church for Born Again Christians

    As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
    Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

    Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

    Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
    Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

    Incredible survival story of David Tovey

    Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
    Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

    Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

    The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

    Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

    Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
    German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

    Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

    Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
    BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

    BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

    The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
    Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

    Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

    Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
    How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

    Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

    Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
    Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

    Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

    Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
    10 best reed diffusers

    Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

    Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

    Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

    There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
    Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

    Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

    It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little