WHEN writer Susie Kelly took to the road with her husband and two dogs for a tour around France, she met many a character and experienced a book-full of adventures.
Here in an extract from Travels with Tinkerbelle – 6,000 miles around France in a Mechanical Wreck we take a trip into the mountains.
An Alpine Interlude, by Susie Kelly
Seven foot high snowdrifts line the side of the road at La Casse Déserte, where baby trees and clumps of tiny purple flowers grow among sweeps of fallen shale.
Russet-coated goats graze the meagre vegetation among the snow patches, and the barren rocks flush a soft golden beige, almost apricot, in the afternoon sunlight.
Little waterfalls of glistening ice-melt run down the rocks, and the road narrows even further between crumbly edges and sheer sides.
There's a couple sitting in the sunshine, stark naked in a field of wild flowers just a few yards from the road, as if it was the most natural thing in the world.
Surrounded by mountain tops for as far as we can see, we trundle on towards the Col du Lautaret, past swathes of pink and purple flowers. An unsuccessful acrobatic juggernaut has overturned and demolished itself just outside le Monétiers-les-Bains.
With a final effort Tinkerbelle writhes her way along the serpentine road, and crests the Col du Galibier. From there a brief tunnel leads into the Rhône-Alpes region and the département of Savoie.
The campsite at Valloire nestles in a wild-flower meadow crowned by a small chapel. According to the gardienne, the town has a variety of excellent restaurants and we'll be spoilt for choice.
This is true: there are auberges, pizza parlours, brasseries, créperies, restaurants and hotels everywhere, but they are all closed for the in-between winter-and-summer season. After we've tramped around for half an hour we find a table in the dining room of a hotel.
It has a peculiar atmosphere. I have the impression that everybody in here feels guilty about something. Our fellow diners are muted and slithery-eyed, eat quickly and exit stealthily.
The maitre d' is a tall, angular and handsome woman, a Martina Navratilova look-alike. She's wearing a strange, ill-fitting outfit that rustles, in a fabric that I think used to be called bombazine in Queen Victoria's day.
The food is welcome and not unpleasant, if unspectacular. When we have eaten we leave in the same silent way as the other diners. The night air is suddenly cold.
We awaken to a glorious morning, wild flowers jostling for space in the meadows around us. In the shade, though, the air is still crisply cool. Terry finds a tiny black butterfly whose wings are heavy with moisture.
He puts it on a sheet of paper to dry, and then on to a leaf in the sun until it flies away. A small golden beetle carelessly plunges into the washing-up bowl, and we have to dry that out too and see it safely away.
While we're organising ourselves Dobby and Tally escape. We find them running out of a neighbouring tent with a carrier bag of food.
The inhabitants of the tent are a rather surly couple of young men with bulging muscles and a bull terrier. Fortunately they're not around at the time. We rescue the bag and put it back in the tent, and leave quickly.
Susie Kelly has lived in south west France since 1995, Travels with Tinkerbelle is available in paperback and Kindle from Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.com, Amazon.fr
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