Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Book review: "A bit far for you dear", by Jannina Tredwell.

On January 1st 1996, Jannina Tredwell set off from the Cobb in Lyme Regis to walk around the coastline of Britain. She had the company of two dogs, the young Tressa and the older Jago, a motor home 'Beastie' and a plethora of volunteer drivers. Over the course of the year she raised £33,000 for four charities and lived a lifetime of memories. 'A bit far for you dear' documents her experiences.

First off, I should say that it is hard for me to review any book by a coastal walker.  Even the worst prose allows me to feel every blister, and any placename brings vivid memories flooding back. To be truthful, I am far too close to the experience to be fully objective. Yet this book is a particularly good example of its kind.

I could not read the first few pages of this book without remembering Spud Talbot Ponsonby's book about her 1994 coastal walk, 'Two feet, four paws'. Both were about women walking the coast with dogs (one in Spud's case), living in a motorhome that was driven by a retinue of drivers. Like Spud, she had trouble with some of her drivers: one disappeared after just a couple of days, and others seemed to find driving a large motorhome as much of a trial as she found the walk.

One problem with this book is that, unlike Spud and her dog Tess, Jannina did not walk continuously with her dogs. Jago was old and Tressa a little young; consequently sometimes she walked with both dogs, sometimes with just one or the other, and occasionally with neither. Therefore this book does not detail quite the same magical relationship between a woman and her dog as Spud's book, where Tess develops her own unique character. Jago and Tressa do not come across as being fully part of the walk, which is a shame.

Jannina's descriptions are pleasant and not overdone; long distance-walking is generally a gentle slog, and tightly-wrought prose can prove overwhelming. She describes the way that the seasons followed her around the coast, and the way young seal-pups quickly grew from little furballs to the lumbering beasts that are such a welcome part of our coastline.

Yet such a journey is not just about the challenge, or the scenery, or the events. It is about the people that are met, and the relationships that develop. Jannina draws vivid profiles of the friends and strangers who took time out of their lives to drive Beastie for her. Strangely Tom, her presumably long-suffering husband, remains a blank tableau in the book. I wanted to know how he felt about the walk, how their relationship coped with the strains of being apart for most of the year. The numerous acts of kindness by strangers are described fondly, from the ferrymen who took her across estuaries to the hundreds of people who donated money to her charities.

She ends the book by hinting that she wants to walk the coastline of Ireland; according to her website she intends to do that next year. I can only hope that she writes a book about those experiences.

This book is highly recommended. I award it four out of five stars.

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