The Salt Path
‘We stood at the front door, the bailiffs on the other side waiting to change the locks, to bar us from our old lives. We were about to leave the dimly lit, centuries-old house that had held us cocooned for twenty years. When we walked through the door we could never ever come back. We held hands and walked into the light.’
So begins this often moving and beautifully written account by a never previously published writer, of the epic walk which was undertaken in their fifties by her and her terminally ill husband along the 630-mile South West Coast Path, a journey which was the equivalent of climbing Mount Everest four times.
Raynor Winn and her husband Moth (who had acquired the nickname while being something of an eco-warrior in his youth) had suffered the double catastrophic blows of Moth being diagnosed with a rare and fatal degenerative disease, and of them being made bankrupt and losing their family home as a result of having had too much trust in a false friend. A sceptical reader may find something disingenuous in Winn’s description of the events leading up to their bankruptcy and eviction, but homeless they became. Spying an old paperback entitled ‘500 Mile Walkies’ about the South West Coast Path (a title which turned out to be a considerable understatement) while hiding from the bailiffs under the stairs in a futile attempt to buy a few minutes’ more time, Winn decided, ’I just knew we should walk. And now we had no choice’. So that’s what they did, buying a tent on eBay and two (as they were to find out) inadequately thin sleeping bags and armed only with £115 in cash and £48 per week in tax credits.
On their way they quickly found what it was like suddenly to become not merely members of the underbelly of society but not to be members of it at all, and frequently to be treated accordingly. Living through the worst that the Atlantic weather could throw at them and experiencing extreme cold and hunger, and at first total despair such that for many days the mere act of putting one foot in front of another was an achievement, they nevertheless endured. And slowly, despite the fact that his illness did not go away, Moth’s strength and wellbeing started improbably to improve and with it came a form of positive acceptance for them both.
The Salt Path has subsequently been taken up as a tract on homelessness, which in a way is unfortunate because the book is so much more than that. Whilst it is often unsparing in its description of what Raynor and Moth endured along the way, it is enjoyably laced throughout with shrewd irony and episodes of sharply observational humour. It is also an evocative hymn to the sometimes-savage glories of the seascape through which they were travelling but, ultimately, it is a powerfully uplifting tale of self-discovery and personal redemption.