It’s no accident that I picked up The Salt Path up now. If I can’t get to Cornwall myself, I’ll read about someone else walking the South West Coast Path instead. Admittedly, it’s hard to feel envious of Raynor Winn for much of this book. Thin sleeping bags which are chosen for weight rather than warmth are the least of her worries – she has to face the news that her beloved husband, Moth, has been diagnosed with a cruel degenerative illness. Coming quick on the heels of losing their home and livelihood because of a court case, this is particularly cruel luck. It says much about the author that her response, dazed as she is by recent events, is to decide that she and Moth will turn their backs on the world and walk the 630 miles around the end of the country. It is survival at its most elemental.
In a way, it makes sense. As she says, decision-making is reduced to putting one foot in front of the other. They eat when they can, foraging where possible, and money is painfully tight. But, slowly, over the miles, she sees an improvement in Moth’s gait, in his ability to manage, and I cheered them on. Walking narratives are a favourite of mine – I’ve reviewed Christopher Somerville’s The January Man on here, and I loved Patrick Leigh Fermor’s youthful hike to Istanbul (I also enjoyed the serendipitous timing of Simon Armitage’s own Cornish travelogue and tour in The Salt Path), but Ray’s reason for walking – sheer survival – adds another layer to her account again. She also captures stories of those they meet – there is a strong feeling of sympathy for those they find homeless on their travels – and we gain an insight into the Devon and Cornwall that lie beyond the holiday sites.
Winn has a nice line in self-deprecation but the fear of losing Moth is what underpins her voice here. To see their slow advances against fear and hardship makes for a heart-warming read that is perfect for this summer. I’m looking forward to reading her next book now.