The Salt Path by Raynor Winn

Just days after Raynor learns that Moth, her husband of 32 years, is terminally ill, their home is taken away and they lose their livelihood. 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.

Carrying only the essentials for survival on their backs, 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
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I first wrote a short post about The Salt Path in this post. I bought the book in 2018 and was keen to read it, but so many other books intervened, and it was only when I saw Raynor Winn on Kate Humble’s Coastal Walks programme on the South West Coastal Path that I remembered about her book.

Raynor and Moth Winn, a couple in their 50s, were homeless, with no means of income except for £48 pounds a week. They had lost their home, business and livelihood, after investing in one of a friend’s companies that had failed. They found out that they were liable to make payments towards the debts of the company, were taken to court and ended up losing not only their savings but also their farm and home.

Despite finding out that Moth has a rare terminal illness, they decided to walk the South Coast Path. He had been diagnosed with corticobasal degeneration (CBD), a brain disease for which there is no cure or treatment apart from pain killers and physiotherapy. The consultant told him that he shouldn’t tire himself, or walk too far and to take care on the stairs. Their decision to walk the Path and camp wild seemed to me both brave and foolhardy and I read this book with absolute amazement that they could take themselves away from medical care and set off, almost totally unprepared and not fit enough to walk 630 miles along a coast path.

At first it was really difficult as Moth struggled with pain and exhaustion, and it horrified me that he could carry on in that condition. They had reached the Valley of Rocks in north Devon, when he sat down on the rocks. He felt he was eighty and was so tired that he hurt everywhere:

Can’t tell if I’m half asleep, or wide awake. It’s like my head’s in fog and I’m walking through treacle. This is the most bollockingly stupid thing we’ve ever done. I want to lie down.(page 58)

He had been taking Pregabalin to ease the nerve pain and had been told not to just stop taking them because of the immense list of withdrawal symptoms. But that is what he had done – they had left his supplies behind them, ready to put in the rucksack, but had forgotten them. Fortunately after a while the pain lessened, he felt much better and his head was clearer. The walking had helped!

They had little to live on, their diet involved lots of rice and noodles, supplemented with wine gums and foraging for blackberries, mushrooms and dandelions. They took it at their own pace, following Paddy Dillon’s Walking Guide of the trail from Minehead on the Somerset coast right round Devon and Cornwall to Poole in Dorset, stopping to pick up their money and buy supplies along the route. But as winter was on the way when they reached Lantic Bay and Pencarrow Head they decided to take up a friend’s offer to stay with her for the winter free of rent if they could help with her building and on her farm.

However, once they stopped walking, Moth’s stiffness and his neurological pain increased and he struggled to move. He seemed to be deteriorating so quickly without the Pregabalin. But they were determined to finish the walk and completed it the next year. Once more, as they walked Moth’s condition improved. He didn’t understand how, thinking it may have ‘something to do with heavy endurance exercise‘, causing some sort of reaction that that they didn’t understand. He didn’t know how it worked but he just felt great.

Living with a death sentence, having no idea when it will be enacted, is to straddle a void. Every word or gesture, every breath of wind or drop of rain matters to a painful degree. For now we had moved outside of that. Moth was on death row, but he’d been granted the right to appeal. He knew CBD hadn’t miraculously disappeared, but somehow, for a while, it was held at bay.(page 243)

The Salt Path is not a book about walking the South Coast Path because you love walking, nor because you want the challenge of walking 630 miles, nor because you love wild camping. And it is not just about about the beauty of the surroundings and the experience of being close to nature (although that is there in Ray Winn’s beautiful descriptive writing). It is about the determination to live life, about overcoming pain and hardship, and the healing power of nature. It is about homelessness and the different reactions and attitudes of the people they met when they told them they were homeless. Some were hostile, some recoiled in horror and moved away as though they were social pariahs. Others were sympathetic and generous.

In this post I have concentrated on Moth’s health, because that is what struck me most as I was reading the book. But there is so much more in it than that. It’s one of the most remarkable books that I have read. I admired their determination and persistence in the face of all the difficulties and obstacles they met, but it is definitely not something I could ever undertake. It both fascinated and appalled me.

After I read The Salt Path I wondered how Ray and Moth are now and came across this article in The Herald, dated 20 September 2020, in which Raynor Winn looks back over these life-changing and challenging events. At lot has happened since then and the story of that is in her second book, The Wild Silence. You can follow Raynor on Twitter @raynor_winn.

  • Publisher : Michael Joseph; 1st edition (3 Sept. 2020)
  • Language : English
  • File size : 3148 KB
  • X-Ray : Enabled
  • Word Wise : Enabled
  • Print length : 280 pages
  • My Rating: 4*

10 thoughts on “The Salt Path by Raynor Winn”

  1. What an amazing story, Margaret! I have to admit, I wouldn’t want to undertake a journey like that, and especially not in such poor health. But I’m not surprised to hear that they found healing in nature. I think we could all benefit from more time in nature.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. It is both fascinating and appalling isn’t it and you’re right, about so much. If I had to pick just one thing it would be the strength of their relationship, amazing.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I love books like this–walking as therapy seems so natural to me. I’ve never heard of it, but just for the descriptions of the walk, I will have to see about getting a copy. On a personal level, I think my next distance walk will be St Cuthbert’s Way, probably in 2022. Hope you are well.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Jane, I am very well and hope you are too. We have been meaning to walk St Cuthbert’s Way ever since we moved here, but so far we’ve only managed the Holy Island section (which is not far from us).

      Like

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