I’ve written a little more extensively about the whole experience of walking the Kiso-ji in my recent newsletter. You can sign up here if you’d like.
It took me a year, but the Kiso-ji section of the Nakasendō from Shiojiri (塩尻) to Nakatsugawa (中津川) is now complete. Pre-baby-toddler daughter and I would have finished it much sooner, but I quite enjoyed stretching it out over a year – it meant I got to see the Kiso Valley (木曽谷) in all seasons.
This section was roughly 22kms from Nagiso (南木曽) to Nakatsugawa, and included the tourist magnets of Tsumago (妻籠) and Magome (馬籠), both of which I’ve visited plenty of times so I chose to scamper through both eager to pass the crowds.
Between both villages is Magome pass (馬籠峠), a pass I’ve also walked over once before and ridden over too many times to remember. Compared to cycling over it, and compared to the last time I hiked it, this occasion was a breeze. With the borders (mostly) closed and everyone else scoffing away on their grilled sticky rice in sweet bean sauce in Tsumago and Magome it also meant the path was mostly deserted, even on a wonderful autumnal Sunday morning like this one. The top of Magome Pass is where the Nakasendō/Kiso-ji changes from Nagano to Gifu prefectures. The change became more apparent once past Magome where remnants of the original paved path became more prevalent with more ishitadami stones than on other parts of the Kiso-ji section.
The two sections before and after Tsumago and Magome were, unsurprisingly, my favourites – they were quieter and more authentic – a world away from tourist traps down the road. They felt like the rest of the walk over the past year – subdued and quiet, often leaving me feeling lonely but comfortable in that loneliness, relaxed and content surrounded by a good balance of nature and human activity. In places it was also spectacularly beautiful – a good mix of local life and ancient history. And frost-capped Mt. Ena on view once I reached Magome. Perhaps the atmosphere was ever-so-slightly similar to the experience travellers would have had a few hundred years ago? I wonder.
I’m glad I got off my bike and did this walk and I’m glad it took so long. Until recently I’ve always identified as a cyclists and they often say that a bicycle is the best way to see a place, but now I disagree. The best way is on foot, with a camera, and with plenty of free time. The slower the better.
I’m going to write a separate post in the near future reflecting on the experience and also try and work out what to do next. That’ll probably be one of two things: do it all again in the opposite direction at an even slower pace with my daughter or keep heading west towards Kyoto, passing through parts of Gifu that I know well and are much closer to home. Again, if she’s willing, with my daughter.
There’s a short video below of the walk, the numbers can be found here on Yamap, and I’ve also created a new MapHub page collecting a lot of the walks and hikes I’ve done so far. You can find that here.