The Salt Path

the salt path

Within a week in 2013 Raynor Winn and her husband Moth lose their home and livelihood and receive the news that Moth has a rare and terminal illness for which there’s no cure ‘Don’t tire yourself, or walk too far, and be careful on the stairs.’

Instead they pack their rucksacks and walk and wild camp The South West Coast Trail, England’s longest way marked long-distance footpath, 630 miles from Minehead in Somerset along the coast of Devon and Cornwall to Poole Harbour in Dorset.

‘In the early light choughs swooped and hovered between the cliffs and the Bellows islet, their red beaks and legs clear against the dark rock. Skylarks rose high overhead, hanging just out of sight, singing endlessly, until they dived back to earth to take a deep breath. A handful of kittiwakes squabbled on the ledges. Shouldn’t they have left by now, heading out into the Atlantic? Could the warm weather have confused them? Didn’t they realise summer was over?’

The landscape, it’s flora and fauna are so beautifully described. We get geological facts about rock formations and lots of local history ancient and more recent, while they’re being buffeted by the Atlantic and every weather possible. Despite the doubt, the moments of self-pity, the sun burn and birds nest hair, cold and hunger and moments of real fear Raynor is always observing, keeping her eyes and ears open for snippets of conversation. The Australian and South African surfers here for the summer, dog walkers, families on holiday, other backpackers with lots of important pockets!

This is such an honest account, of themselves, but also of modern England. Amongst the scenery and pretty coastal villages there are towns that have had their hey day and are now run down, gentrified fishing villages, disused RAF camps now standing empty, a lot of wealth and the homeless.

‘without money, we had moved into a world apart.’ a world that is feared and mistrusted, not by everyone but by many of the people they told the truth to when asked about their situation. When there are as many reasons for being homeless as there are homeless people and it’s a situation we could all easily find ourselves in, we’re incredibly quick to judge, is the stark message.

‘The cliffs of St Agnes Head are desolate, scraped and scarred by its mining history. Littered now with open shafts and ruined buildings, left open and weeping with sulphur fumes and dust, the land stained with a rainbow of ore.’

This really was a brilliant read; there’s a lot to think about but it’s also such a heartening book and Raynor and Moth were lovely people to spend time with. Cups of tea, Cornish pasties, wine gums and noodles, everything shared, don’t skimp on a warm sleeping bag and keep a copy of Seamus Heaney’s Beowulf close to hand – these are the (smaller) things I’ll remember from The Salt Path.

16 thoughts on “The Salt Path

  1. The description made the book sound like fiction. That it is not make makes the work terribly intriguing. I have “The Book of Longing” up next but I may put this on the list. Nice review. Thank you.

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  2. It’s a wonderful book, isn’t it, Jane! I’m so glad you loved it too. I read my copy with bated breath, waiting for the section when Raynor and Moth walked the stretch of path very close to us. What would she have to say about it? In fact, the point where they move away for the winter is just before they reached ‘us’, and when they resume they pick up from the easternmost point and walk west, back to where they previously stopped. And our stretch is scarcely mentioned! Which is fine, because it’s practically on the doorstep of where Moth & Raynor are offered accommodation and where they come to rest. Her next book – The Wild Silence – is out this week (having been postponed due to the pandemic). Part of it explores the difficulties they have in settling in a community – something Raynor has never done before. I’ve very much looking forward to reading it. An inspirational and remarkable couple.

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    1. It really is wonderful, everything about it I think. I thought of you as I read actually, being right in Cornwall, quite exciting! I’m looking forward to The Wild Silence but with no expectations, it could be completely different couldn’t it?

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      1. Indeed it could and almost certainly will be but I do love her writing style. The situation with her husband is so tragic and in no way glossed over in The Salt Path and yet the book is so uplifting. Like you, I wonder what The Wild Silence will offer but I don’t doubt that it will be a rewarding and inspirational read.

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  3. I have wanted to read this but been unsure about the terminal illness aspect of it, as that’s something I find it very hard to read about. But it goes around so many places I love and ends up where my family lives, so I think next time I venture into a charity shop and inevitably see it I’m going to pick it up.

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    1. I think you should! He could stay at home and be treated as an ill person or he could climb and walk in the fresh air, luckily he chooses the latter – but I won’t say any more!

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  4. I think I’m in a similar place to Liz on this, being interested to read it for the lyrical descriptions of the natural world but also somewhat apprehensive about the terminal illness element. It does sound very inspiring though – poignant yet heartening many ways…

    Also — and you may well be aware of this — The Wild Silence, Winn’s follow-up to The Salt Path, is due out later this week.

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    1. I’m looking forward to The Wild Silence -and getting a copy before they ruin the cover with a ‘sticker’! I felt cross for them and exasperated and unbelieving at systems in this country, but it’s incredibly heartening. I could give umpteen examples but I don’t want to spoil it. . .

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