The Salt Path – Raynor Winn

The Salt PathA middle aged farming couple lose their farm & home at the hands of an unscrupulous businessman – leaving them penniless and literally on the streets. This, they find out only day after the husband is diagnosed with a terminal illness. All in all, the life they have built over 32 years of marriage collapses right in front of them.

Instead of going to the council for help, the couple decide to go on a 630 mile journey of self discovery on the south coast of England. This remarkable book chronicles their journey as they walk and wild-camp their way through this scenic but often challenging path. They start in Minehead and walk along the North Devon coast, sliding down the North Cornwall coast all the way to Land’s End and then turn north up again all the way up to Polruan. It is late Autumn by this time so they decide to take a break and work as farm hands on a friend’s farm. They then return to Poole the next summer and walk the rest of the journey in the reverse direction up to Polruan. They walk all but 40 miles of the 630 mile long trail. Incredibly, this is a true story of endurance and resilience.

When Raynor and Moth’s (the husband) life fell apart, their decision to go on this long journey must have seemed absolutely outlandish to all around them. Family and friend advised against it; Moth’s doctor was talking in terms of weeks of time remaining for him. The odds must have seemed stacked against them but the alternative of living in a council flat in the same village seemed too humiliating to the couple. In hindsight, the journey helped them not only maintain their dignity but completely reinvent their lives.

The impact of the arduous walk on Moth’s health was close to miraculous. After a very difficult and often painful start, he ended up defying the doctor’s diagnosis and became much stronger in body. He not only survived the journey but went on to retrain as a lecturer.

What I found incredible was how often the couple were cold and wet and hungry. They survived on a meagre £30-40 a week in tax credits. Their tent was flimsy and sleeping bags were not warm enough – that’s all they could afford. The way they rationed their food – often in the face of the temptation of instant gratification (icecreams, chips) and the way they sometimes just gave in – is in equal measures humorous and gut wrenching.

Another memorable part of the book is the series of encounters with various people along the path and particularly the change in their attitude from friendly to almost hostile – the moment they heard they were homeless wild campers.

Raynor’s description of their readjustment during the winter between two summers of walking and life as non-paying tenants on a friend’s farm is also very moving.

On the overall, this is a very different book but one that leaves a strong impression.

 

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