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

Travel, Outdoors & Nature, Biographies & Memoirs

By Susie Kelly

Publisher : Blackbird Digital Books

ABOUT Susie Kelly

Susie Kelly
I live in south-west France and write non-fiction about travelling and living in France.



The author and her husband devised a simple plan – to take a tent and the dog and drive around the perimeter of France. Like many simple plans it went wrong before it started and they ended up with two dogs and a campervan named Tinkerbelle. 

On the second day of their journey Tinkerbelle begins to self-destruct, helped by the new dog who does his best to eat her from the inside out. This is their story, as they travel from sandy beaches to snow-topped mountains exploring the diverse cultures, cuisines and countryside making up the country called France. Their journey takes them to places out of the ordinary, meeting interesting characters and witnessing ancient traditions. While the dogs rejoice in the freedom they find running on the beaches, Susie and Terry spend a lot of time holding their breath, wondering whether Tinkerbelle will manage to negotiate impossible mountain routes and get them home before she completely disintegrates. 

There's a reason the inhabitants of the Poitou-Charentes are affectionately known as cagouilles – snails. It's rare to see anybody moving faster than a cautious walking pace. Only mad foreigners jog. A common denominator in the obituaries is the great age of the departed – mid to late 90s is pretty much the norm. Some of our French neighbours have never been more than 30 miles from the village where they were born. Their needs and wants can generally be found in small local towns; why should they go further afield? The same indolence affects us. With quaint villages, traffic-free lanes, limitless acres of fields, forests and rivers, long hot summers, sufficient hostelries to cater for our tastes, and the pure pleasure of sitting in the garden surrounded by our animals, listening to the birds, we live in our own little heaven. But in this paradise there is a sly serpent, and its name is Wanderlust. When it whispers I feel a craving to be on the move. ….."Shall we take Tally," (our dog) "and a tent, and drive all round France? Just drive around and see what we can discover?" I suggested one autumn day while we were collecting chestnuts. ….."When?" Terry asked. ….."Late spring, early summer?" ….."How long for?" ….."About six weeks?" ….."Alright. Find somebody to come and look after the animals, and we'll go." What could be simpler? All we needed was a house-pet-sitter and a tent. I contacted our lovely American friend, Jennifer Shields who had taken care of our animals and house some years previously when I had walked across France. She'd be delighted to come back, so that was one thing ticked off our list. "Do you think," I asked, "that Tally will get bored being in the car for so long? Should we get a small companion for him?" Yes, we agreed, that would be a good idea. And so we collected a small black puppy of unknown origin who looked like the kind of small black puppy who would grow to be a small black dog. His huge ears, instant devotion and tireless efforts to please reminded me of Dobby the house-elf in Harry Potter, and so that's what we called him. Two months before our departure date, things began to go awry. Firstly Jennifer badly injured her leg and had to cancel her visit. Secondly, Dobby grew, and grew, and grew. In no time at all he was the size of a new-born calf. He wasn't going to fit in our car with Tally, all our camping gear, and us. We were going to have to buy a far larger vehicle. One that we couldn't afford. In a serendipitous stroke of fate, my old schoolfriend from Kenya, Vivien Prince, won a raffle prize – an open-ended return flight from Kenya to Paris. She enthusiastically volunteered to step into Jennifer's shoes. Buying a vehicle large enough to accommodate our equipment and canine entourage, and that was within our means, was more difficult. With Vivien already here, and only six days before our departure date, we still hadn't found anything we could afford. At the eleventh hour, somebody introduced us to an ageing Talbot van converted to a campervan. She was beautifully fitted with hand-made oak cabinets and seemed mechanically sound. She cost more than twice what we had budgeted for, but she was our only option. We were ready to roll.

I just love reading Susie's books. Her travel books contain loads of helpful information, plenty of humour and often the odd tear.
After reading The Valley of Heaven and Hell I urged the author to use a car for the next one as biking across France had worn me out and I was only doing it in my mind with the book.
Nothing so mundane as a car this time but a mighty dodgy campervan. At least I'm not so exhausted this time.
Having had a home on wheels years ago it brought back memories of narrow roads, low obstacles and the like. Taking a trip around the perimeter of France is bound to cover some places you have been so there's a lovely familiarity about it as you go along. But despite having been to a large proportion of the country I was constantly visiting new towns, villages or sites.
Susie manages to pack in so many snippets of information, history or just their experience of the moment. Much as I am an avid fan even I never thought that elephants would get a good mention without a zoo in sight. Little gems like that make you feel the author is sitting beside you like a chat in the pub.
I even slowed down my usual reading pace to try and make it last longer. I shall now start all over again this time with a road atlas to hand and a felt tip pen to mark the places for a future visit.