Travels with Tinkerbelle - 6,000 miles around France in a Mechanical Wreck

I've walked 500 miles across France, we've cycled almost 500 miles through the Marne valley. There had to be an easier, less demanding, more comfortable way of travelling, especially as we were looking at 6,000 miles. We devised a simple plan: buy a large tent, put it in the car with the dog, and drive around the perimeter of France exploring all the regions in our path.

It could have worked, except for the puppy. As we planned to travel for 6 weeks, and felt that long hours in the car might be boring for our dog Tally, we decided to buy a small dog as a companion for him. They would keep each other company and amuse themselves while we bowled along.
The tiny black puppy

So we bought a tiny black bundle of unknown origin from an animal refuge, dumped with his siblings in a cardboard box like a baby left at the door of an orphanage. That's when the plan began going wrong.               
Because our little puppy grew like bamboo, visibly, inches every day, and it was quickly obvious that with him in the car there would be room for nothing else. At the last minute, faced with the unexpected need to buy a camping car, we found a battered wreck which was the best we could afford.

Leaving the rest of our animals in the hands of an old school friend, we set out to begin our journey on the exquisite Brittany coast. On the second day the van's exhaust pipe fell off. Over the next few weeks the brakes would fail, the clutch would collapse, the gearbox would jam. The tiny black puppy, now calf-size, wreaked havoc with those parts of the vehicle that hadn't already broken of their own accord. The van rattled and grated and moaned, and embedded itself in sand up to the top of its wheel arches. 

But none of that mattered, because we were having the time and holiday of our lives. Patched up and provisionally held together with bits of string and empty food cans, the van took us around the entire perimeter of l'Hexagone, from the fishing ports of Brittany and along the Atlantic coast; through the mountain pastures of the Pyrenees to the sunny splendor of the Mediterranean. Up and over the French alps, along the Rhone, through the lowlands of north-east France, back along the Normandy coast. For six weeks we feasted on ever-changing landscapes, architecture, cuisines and cultures. We ate calorie-laden kouign aman in Brittany, and the even-more-calorie-laden berawecka in Kayserberg, birthplace of Albert Schweitzer. We were force-fed oysters, and learned the secret of the Green Fairy. The dogs swam in the ocean, joined football games with startled teenagers and stared in astonishment at marmots in the snow; and we met characters so quirky that you couldn't make them up.

Originally published by Transworld Publishers in 2006 under the title "A Perfect Circle", "Travels with Tinkerbelle" is now published by Blackbird Digital Books, and available in paperback and digital formats - Kindle download  $3.18, paperback $12.99 - Kindle download £1.90, paperback £8.09
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