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Book Review: The Salt Path by Raynor Winn

Reviewed by Canon Mike D Williams

Walking 630 miles is a challenge. The type of challenge that requires careful planning, good equipment and physical fitness, especially when the route is along the South West Coast Path. This bestselling book tells the story of the husband and wife, Raynor and Moth, who decided impulsively to do the walk.

A financial investment gone wrong, years battling in courtrooms led to the loss of their farm, home and all their savings. Days before the bailiffs arrived, they find out that Moth has a rare but terminal illness and is very far from being fit enough to walk the path. With limited funds they bought new rucksacks, a tent and two cheap sleeping bags. With only 48 pounds a week dropping into their account they set off. Homeless and broke they decided that all they could do was walk. Their tent was their roof.

Starting in Minehead heading for Lands’ End, because there are no guidebooks starting in Poole, they set off. Tough climbs faced them repeatedly each day. Wild camping is illegal in England, but they could not afford campsites or even lunch in a pub on route. Picking a site to pitch the tent each night becomes a dominant theme. Moth struggles to get going in the mornings. A failure to bring a hat or any sun cream means a constantly peeling nose for Raynor.

What makes this book is not only the wonderful writing but the stories of the people they meet. Those who treat them as tramps, those that show kindness and generosity. Moth’s medications run out, but he feels better not taking them and doing the very opposite of what his doctor said – the hard physical graft of walking the path with a heavy rucksack keeps him mobile and his stiffness recedes.

A forgotten standing order clears their bank account one week. Living on noodles, constant hunger and seeing the hordes of tourists enjoying ice creams and pasties adds to the challenge. Having been farmers might explain their resilience and endurance. Not many take on the Coast Path without money, accommodation or a home to return to. The question that hangs over the whole walk – what next? In a sense not wanting to face that question keeps them walking – what other option is there.

Homelessness is a theme and how others respond to their story is interesting; most beat a hasty retreat but some offer help. Moth on several occasions gives from his meagre rations to others who are homeless and starving. Late on in their journey they face the reality of Moth’s illness and find a way forward.

A book about the path, the places, the people but more about the courage, resilience and grit of two people who, out of love for each other, keep putting one foot in front of the other.