My slow progress through the 20BooksOfSummer challenge organised by Cathy on 746 Books took a long detour around the South Western Coastal path with this non fiction best seller from 2018. Raynor Winn tells the story of how she and her husband, in their fifties, lose everything, their home, their livelihood and their money following a bad investment. Almost unbelievably, only days later Raynor’s husband, Moth, is diagnosed with a terminal, degenerative illness. This is a situation most of us could not bear to contemplate. However Raynor and Moth, prompted by a book she has read, decide to pack their bags and walk the south western coastal path together, all 630 miles of it. This impulsive, some including me, might even say foolish decision was to change their lives in a manner they did not anticipate.
There are two strong themes threading through this journal of their journey; firstly the restoring power of nature and our relationship with our environment and secondly homelessness, specifically the circumstances surrounding its increase and attitudes towards those who are in this situation.
I read this book with increasing admiration for this couple’s remarkable resilience. Raynor and Moth are wild camping and with only £48 per week to live on frequently their food runs out. Their strength in the face of their difficulties owes much to their background. They share a love for and understanding of the natural world around them, restored their family home and ran their farm in South Wales for many years. The early days of their journey are marked by Moth’s physical pain and I wondered again about the wisdom of their decision. I should have had more faith. As the days turn into weeks the couple grow stronger both physically and mentally. There are an increasing number of articles written about the restoring power of nature on our wellbeing and for Raynor and Moth their long journey gives them a reason to carry on. Equally importantly they also gain an acceptance of their situation helped by the fact that Moth’s condition is improved by their long and arduous walk.
One of the most interesting aspects of The Salt Path are the many encounters they have with other people on the path and in the towns they call in to on the way. When others discover that the couple are homeless some visibly recoil or are unsure how to respond. Yet when Moth explains their journey saying they have ‘sold up’ and are completing a long awaited journey they are viewed as ‘inspirational.’ There are several occasions when Raynor and Moth meet others in a similar situation and homelessness in rural, holiday areas is a growing problem in part due to high rental charges and the temporary, seasonal nature of some employment. Winn shows the reader how public preconceptions regarding homeless people can result in prejudice against those who are sadly in this situation.
Yet this is not a depressing read at all. Raynor Winn’s love of nature shines through in her writing and there are vivid descriptions of the coastline and the birds and other wildlife they observe. There are humorous episodes too, particularly when Moth is mistaken for a travelling poet. In addition to the couple’s resilience I was touched by their obvious love and concern for each other. There were friendships made along their route and the kindness and concern shown to them by many outweighed the indifference of some and the hostility displayed by a few.
The Salt Path demonstrates the strength of the human spirit in the most difficult of circumstances and encourages all of us to appreciate every moment.
If you would like to see which other books feature on my 20 Books of Summer list you can find out all about them here