Susie Kelly, the author of the best seller Best Foot Forward… 500 miles through hidden France describes herself as “slightly scatter-brained… gets on best with animals, eccentrics and elderly people”.
Reading this book I’d say she is certainly fits the description and is possibly slightly bonkers in the nicest possible way. She is also a fabulous writer.
At an age when most women are content to take life a little slower and to relax if and when they can, Susie Kelly decides on somewhat of a whim to trek across France alone. From La Rochelle in the south west to Geneva in the east – a walk of approximately 500 miles.
After advertising on the Internet for someone to care for her animals whilst she embarks on her mad adventure for six weeks, she enlists the help of the wonderful Jennifer Shields, a Texan lady who is possibly as eccentric as she is. Arriving in rural Poitou-Charentes, speaking not a word of French, Jennifer takes over the running of the homestead and seems to have a few adventures of her own. Susie’s dogs run away, her neighbours are arrested, machinery is erratic and her father passes away whilst she is in France.
Susie’s grand idea came to her whilst out walking briskly around the local area in an effort to keep warm and occupied during a harsh French January. She found she liked walking and observing and after first considering a walk around the whole of France and rapidly dropping the idea of a scheme that would take a whole year she opts instead for a 500 mile hike to Lake Geneva.
From here on in the idea steam rollers ahead, she undertakes training which turns out not to prepare her as she’d imagined. She sets a strict budget for staying only at campsites and pitching her meagre tent and she is determined not to “cheat” by accepting lifts. She WILL walk the entire way unaided.
The book describes in wonderful details the sights, sounds and scents of her journey. There are charming cameos of the people she encounters and she has a rather unique perspective on just about all of them! A wry sense of humour, at times bitingly funny is clear throughout the book. At times she is overwhelmed by the generosity of complete strangers who help her on her way. Her writing is honest and warm and when bad things happen she shares this too, tales of personal discomfort included as her poor feet start to react to the working out of a life time.
Susie says she is not an “intrepid” traveller. Reaching the end of this book I must disagree – she is intrepid, brave and certainly eccentric. Her writing creates scenes that transport the reader to France and sweep them along the path with her.
A thoroughly enjoyable read and if you want to know if she made it – you’ll have to read the book!
Excerpt from Best Foot Forward: On the outskirts of Bellac I met a lady working in her garden, which sloped up at an angle of about 60° from the road. Large stones served as footholds, and the steep bank was a dense cloudy mass of pink and blue, dominated by a wisteria in a shade of palest pink. It was beautiful, and I stopped to admire it. The gardener negotiated the bank skilfully.
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