Best Foot Forward - from La Rochelle to Lake Geneva

The slightly insane idea came to me one wintery day, that I would hike alone across France from La Rochelle on the Atlantic coast to Lake Geneva in Switzerland. Lack of experience of camping and a total inability to understand how a compass works were minor issues that I felt could be overcome with determination and common sense. All I would need was somebody to come and look after my menagerie of animals during the 6 or 7 weeks it would take to complete the journey.

Various crackpots responded to my Internet advertisement, and when a lady from San Antonio, Texas who knew nothing about France, including the language, announced that she had booked her ticket and would be arriving fairly soon, I thought I had hit the crackpot jackpot. I waited at the station feeling foolish and expecting to be the butt of a Texan joke. But Jennifer Shields came, saw and instantly conquered all our animals and everyone who met her.

While I clambered and muddled my way across central France, making new friends and picking up at least one enemy, I wasn't always aware of the heroic battle Jennifer was fighting with the vagaries of French weather, animals behaving badly, a neighbour's crisis with the law, and a personal tragedy.

For both of us it was a life-changing event, as we learned just what we could do when put to the test. We both cried sometimes, and we both laughed a great deal, even if sometimes that laughter bordered on the hysterical.Two women united by a common desire for adventure, and perhaps just a touch of eccentricity, who formed a friendship that continues to endure.

"I have read many books of "great walks", but few which show an ability to trudge on day after day through terrible rain and furious heat. Susies nights were beset by flooding and insect infestations yet she carried right across France, with feet blistered into a pulp and with terrible pain - a journey lke this cannot be made in comfort. Many people would have given up."

"A tale that takes in 500 miles of rural France and includes, in equal measure, laugh-out-loud tales of personal discomfort, disarmingly frank descriptions of the authors self doubt as to her sanity at taking on such a challenge, and absolutely oodles of insightful descriptions of the places she passes through, together with just the right amount of historical perspective."

"She is an inspiration with all her wonderful adventures and has a wonderful insight into the history of France, and her characterisation of people and events are funny, educational and very entertaining."

"The writer is not a wee timorous lassie; she is a lady with tenacity, courage and oh such a wonderful sense of humour! I find walking the dogs tiring enough but to walk from La Rochelle to Geneva beggars belief!"

"This book was so pleasurable to read. I felt like I was with the author on her travels. I loved her descriptions of the slugs, ants, birds, and other creatures she encountered and rescued on her travels. Her comment about all these animals being bent on committing suicide (my paraphrase) cracked me up! I was excited each time she got to a campsite to see how it would turn out. The funny, eccentric, kind, and sometimes ornery people she met kept me entertained."

"Most books I read are true experiences, but this one had a twist. It is very humurous...the author has terrific wit...It is easy reading, and relaxing and fun. Liked it a lot."

"In modern life, it always seems to be the case that every thing we do, every effort, every penny we spend, must, of needs, have a result or outcome beyond the thing itself. In this lovely book there is more than that, a simple, oft-quoted but usually ignored undercurrent. And what, you may ask, is that? It's the simplest of things, yet one so rarely seen these days. The love, the passion, the dedication, despite suffering and setback, in spite of hazards both natural and man-made, to do, and wherever and whenever possible, enjoy to the utmost the thing itself. The journey, irrespective of the destination, or outcome. Then there's the humour, which constantly tickles you, and often makes you burst our laughing. This book is a tonic, an escape from materialism, a sojourn into territory, physical and abstract, where most of us, alas, have never ventured. I loved every bit of it, & I'll be reading ALL of Susie Kelly's books!"

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