About the Book
Just days after Raynor learns that Moth, her husband of 32 years, is terminally ill, their home and livelihood is taken away. With nothing left and little time, they make the brave and impulsive decision to walk the 630 miles of the sea-swept South West Coast Path, from Somerset to Dorset, via Devon and Cornwall.
They have almost no money for food or shelter and must carry only the essentials for survival on their backs as they live wild in the ancient, weathered landscape of cliffs, sea and sky. Yet through every step, every encounter, and every test along the way, their walk becomes a remarkable journey.
The Salt Path is an honest and life-affirming true story of coming to terms with grief and the healing power of the natural world. Ultimately, it is a portrayal of home, and how it can be lost, rebuilt, and rediscovered in the most unexpected ways.
Format: Paperback (288 pages) Publisher: Penguin
Publication date: 22nd March 2018 Genre: Nonfiction, Memoir
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The Salt Path recounts the author’s experience of walking the South West Coast Path alongside her husband, Moth. The circumstances which lead them to embark on this journey only added to my appreciation of the immensity of their undertaking. As the author notes, walking the entire South West Coast Path is “the equivalent of climbing Mount Everest nearly four times, walking 630 miles on a path often no more than a foot wide, sleeping wild, living wild“.
As someone not keen on heights and for whom camping, let alone wild camping, holds no attraction whatsoever, I cannot imagine taking on such a challenge. And doing it with virtually no money, limited food (and that mostly noodles), equipped with only what could be fitted in a rucksack and without any creature comforts. Yet at one point, Raynor writes that they were “Homeless, dying, but strangely, in that sweaty, dehydrated moment, shyly, reluctantly happy”. Which just goes to show that you have to choose your attitude.
At times the pair are surprised by the reaction of others they meet. Some react negatively once they learn they are homeless. Others admire their spirit or envy their freedom to undertake such a journey. And along the way, Raynor and Moth meet a number of ‘Good Samaritans’ ranging from the pink-haired girl who gives them free food to the people who buy them tickets for the Minack Theatre.
Alongside the account of their journey are occasional sections devoted to information about homelessness, dolphin protection or the geology of the areas they pass through. And of course, the flora and fauna. Raynor’s connection with the land and the natural world, forged in childhood and passed on to her own children, really comes across. “The wild was never something to fear or hide from. It was my safe place; the thing I ran to. Our land gave that to our children. Growing like saplings in the storm, bent by it, but strengthened at the core, rooted but flexible and strong, running free in the wind, but guided by it.”
Having visited the south coast of Cornwall on a number of occasions, I was particularly drawn to the sections of the book where Raynor and Moth travel through places I’ve been to such as Mousehole, Fowey, Polruan, Falmouth and St. Mawes. One section that caught my eye was when they arrive in Morwenstow and visit the cliff top hut built by Robert Hawker, the smallest property owned by the National Trust. The same Parson Hawker features in the historical crime novel, The Mermaid’s Call by Katherine Stansfield.
More than anything, I found myself moved by Raynor’s and Moth’s enduring devotion to each other. Recalling their time together, Raynor writes, “Years passed with our legs entwined, in endless chatter and laughter. And all the time we lived with a passion that didn’t die…“
The author writes with unflinching honesty about the low points they experience on their journey, such as when they reach Bude and find less than they were expecting in their bank account. Raynor blames herself for the events that caused them to lose their home and, as always, Moth’s welfare is at the forefront of her mind. “We’re lost. No money, no food, no home. You need to eat; you’re ill… Now I’ve dragged you out here when you should be somewhere safe, resting, not hauling a bag round the edgeland of life”. To counteract this, there are moments of humour such as their bafflement when Moth is repeatedly mistaken for a well-known poet (although not well-known to them clearly).
I recently had the pleasure of hearing Raynor talk about The Salt Path, and its follow-up, The Wild Silence, at this year’s online Henley Literary Festival. As well as telling the fascinating story of how The Salt Path came to be written and published, and the original title she came up with (it got used as a chapter title instead), Raynor revealed she and Moth are planning another “long walk” (location undisclosed). So readers can look forward to another book in future.
For me, the abiding message of The Salt Path is, in the author’s words, “Life is now, this minute, it’s all we have. It’s all we need.”
In three words: Honest, intimate, inspiring
Try something similar: The Outrun by Amy Liptrot
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About the Author
Since completing the South West Coastal Path, Raynor Winn has become a regular long-distance walker and writes about nature, homelessness and wild camping. She now lives in Cornwall with her husband Moth and their dog, Monty.
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