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Susie Kelly | Best Foot Forward – A 500 Mile Walk Through Hidden France

 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.

“The garden is nothing this year,” she said sadly, “too much rain in spring, and now too much sun.” Gardeners are the same the world over. She invited me in for a cold drink, but I had been walking for 10 hours and wanted to get to the campsite and get my boots off, so I declined politely. “Promise you will come back, then, one day,” she smiled.
Was the campsite close by, I asked? “Yes,” she pointed. “Just after the crossroads, about two hundred yards.”
I headed for the crossroads, expecting them to be just around the corner. They were not. The road wound down, down, down, and above the valley into which I had now descended the town sat perched on top of a steep hill. On the floor of the valley, I met another lady and her cat. Was it very far to the crossroads, I asked?
Oh la la!” she puffed. “It’s a long way. You must climb up there,” – she indicated the hill, “then walk right through the town. You will come to the crossroads—where the 4 big national roads meet, and then carry on from there. The campsite is signposted.”
Climb, climb; it was so hot and every twenty paces I had to stop and catch my breath, but finally I reached the town square, where three people sat on a bench. “Where are you looking for?” called out one of them, a lady with tight rust-coloured curls like coiled snakes which slithered in a rather sinister way as she talked. “The campsite. Can you direct me, please?”
“Ah yes, it is very simple. Continue up the road until the bakery, then turn left. No, it would be quicker to carry straight on. When you get to the Post Office, cross over and then turn right. No, no, wait a minute. Don’t go by the Post Office. After the bakery, carry straight on. Turn right at the épicerie, then cross over and turn left.”
I shifted my weight.
“On the other hand, you could go via the tabac. That would be quite quick. Not the first tabac, the one after. Where they sell the Loto tickets. Go past that, then when you reach the crossroads, take the left hand, which will bring you out by the Post Office, and then…..” It was frightfully hot, and I felt like toppling over. I wondered how long she would keep this up.
Her female companion murmured something. She nodded. “But if you want,” she continued, “you could go down to the bottom of the hill and turn right, then follow the road up to the Mairie …

Available on Amazon

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