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 serious of life-changing blows. From financial ruin, losing their home and discovering that Moth as 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 will still at the university/study phase of life. Some friends helped out for a while, but they did not want to be a burden to anyone. Moth’s terminal diagnosis hung over them and memories of the life together in Wales on their 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!
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 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.
The walk 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, 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 were left unsaid.
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 queries will be addressed in her latest book, The Wild Silence, or in the Conversation she had with Sarah Kanowski on ABC radio.
Shortlisted Costa Book Awards 2018