The Salt Path | Raynor Winn #GBRnonfiction


It has taken me a while to finish The Salt Path by Raynor Winn, not because I wasn’t enjoying it, but simply because it became my walking backpack book. It was the perfect choice. It was a slim paperback (i.e. lightweight). It was about going for a very long walk. It was non-fiction and therefore easy to pick up and put down without needing to remember complicated plot points or narrative arcs. And the gorgeous cover design by Angela Harding was a thing of beauty to savour as a drank my coffee, in my favourite coffee shop. at the end of my walk.

The early pages are a tale of woe and misfortune.

Winn and her husband, Moth, are in the 50’s and suffer a series of life-changing blows. From financial ruin, losing their home and discovering that Moth has a life-threatening illness – corticobasal degeneration or CBD. I occasionally felt frustration at their level of trust in the goodness of others (and institutions) and their lack of proper planning and forethought, but there was no denying their deep love and commitment to each other. 

After being made homeless, their young adult children were unable to take them in or support them as they were still at the university/study phase of life. Some neighbours and friends helped out for a while, but they did not want to become a burden on anyone. Moth’s terminal diagnosis hung over them and memories of their life together on their Welsh farm were too painful to face every day. So they packed up the few things they still owned, stored some, converted others into walking gear and backpacks, and decided to walk the south-west coast path around Cornwall. A mere 630 miles!

This was less a well-thought through. well-planned decision and more a way of simply doing something.  

They used Paddy Dillon’s little brown book, The South West Coast Path: From Minehead to South Haven Point as their guide. Which meant they had to start their walk, at what is considered, the hardest end first so that they could read the book front to back rather then back to front.

Raynor & Moth quickly discovered that they would not be walking as quickly as Paddy and that his idea of a slight incline was very different to theirs!

Sharing their story with other walkers, was also an eye-opening experience. If they mentioned they were homeless and basically penniless, they were treated as hobos to be avoided and looked down upon. But if they tweeked the wording of their story a little they could be seen as heroic, adventurous types to be admired or envied. 

The scenery along this walk is obviously amazing, and I do wish they had included some photos so that those of us on the other side of the world could picture it as we read. Of course, google provides the same service these days, but it disrupted the reading experience rather than enhancing it.

The actual walking was also a lot harder than they thought it was going to be.

From blisters, to extreme cold (even in the middle of summer), storms in a barely waterproof tent, and the price of food in many of these scenic, touristy seaside villages. Moth’s illness slowed them down as well…for a while. Several weeks into the walk though, they both realised that he was moving better, experiencing less pain and seemed to be improving. 

In the end, they had to do the walk in two stages, thanks to the onset of winter. 

Many things remained unspoken and unacknowledged at the end of the book. Did they discover a possible cure or at least, a way to slow down the onset of CBD by doing this hike? Were they able to find work at the end of the walk? And somewhere to live?

I have to assume that many of these unknowns will be addressed in her latest book, The Wild Silence (2020) or in the Conversation she had with Sarah Kanowski on ABC radio.

The Salt Path is mostly inspirational, but partly annoying as well. The editing process could have been better and some of the comments made about homelessness were jarring.

  • Shortlisted for the Wainwright Prize for UK Nature Writing 2018
  • Shortlisted Costa Book Awards Biography 2018

Update 2021: I tried to read The Wild Silence but abandoned it after the first chapter or two. The little niggles I had with this book (the flat writing style, the repetition, inauthentic dialogue, the tendency towards being a victim, the lack of self-reflection) were too hard to ignore second time around.

Title: The Salt Path
Author: Raynor Winn
ISBN: 9781405937184
Imprint: Michael Joseph
Published: 7 February 2019 (originally published 22 March 2018)
Format: Paperback
Pages: 288

11 thoughts on “The Salt Path | Raynor Winn #GBRnonfiction

  1. It would actually make a very good walking tour show on TV…following in their footsteps type thing. That area sounds so scenic, so exposed to weather and so touristy all mixed in together, I'd love to be able to see it myself…one day!


  2. Wow, took me a while to get to this one and then it took Emma and me a while to read it, but I have now read and reviewed. I know what you mean about not trusting in people to help although they did take their social security money that went into their bank account. I’d have liked some photos, too. Did you ever read the sequel?


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