Book Review: ‘The Salt Path’ by Raynor Winn

I have come at last to read The Salt Path by Raynor Winn, having heard much about it. I usually hesitate to read much-hyped books, but now, finding it on the shelves in Warwick Books, I’ve given in on this one! The first thing to say is that the cover design artwork for this book, and for its two follow-ups, is exquisite and may play a large part in their success.

‘The Salt Path’ is, I’ve discovered, one of those books for which the one-star reviews on Amazon are almost more revealing and fascinating than the book itself. For those who would like insights into how the residents and the coastal business-owners of Cornwall and Devon feel, this book and its most critical reviews are worth reading!

Personally, I found it a gripping read; and as a nonfiction writer myself, I know that’s no mean feat.

I’ll start by saying that although I’ve walked tiny bits of the South West Coastal Path, and used to go on 50 mile sponsored walks from my local area, and have climbed mountains in the Lake District, and Snowdon in Wales, I’ve never attempted such a walk as the one described in this book, and at this stage don’t believe I ever would (unless forced to!)

Given their recent devastating life events, including sudden imposed homelessness, the psychological turmoil Raynor and Moth carried with them on the journey is highly relatable, and many of us would have felt that way ourselves, when life turns bad, and frustration, loss and perceived injustice comes our way. It was clear to me that the arduous walk they undertook along a glorious but challenging coastline would have ultimately burned away those negative emotions. It is also an extraordinary claim that this demanding walk reversed the symptoms of Moth’s Corticobasal degeneration, a terminal degenerative neurological disease with a maximum survival rate of 6-8 years from first appearance of symptoms.

I approached this book as one who enjoys picaresque tales of people ‘on the edge’ going wild and living on their wits. Raynor and Moth begin their journey at Minehead, and by the time the narrative gets them to Newquay (on page 135), I feel they have served their preparation ordeal, passing through all the self-pity, anger, resentment, and physical deprivation their situation throws up. Raynor is very honest as she portrays their discomfort, mistakes, and humiliation, as they resort on a couple of occasions to thieving, survive on a poor and inadequate diet, and somehow resist the temptation to give up. They push through the threshold magnitude of endurance, to reach a fresh resolve, to glimpse a possible new way of being, and to let go of the psychological blocks that so often define our lives, and prevent us from living fully.

Raynor describes several encounters throughout their journey with people who react to them in a variety of ways. Some, upon questioning the couple, see Raynor and Moth as being lucky and free. And along the path, the pair do on occasions meet with amazing generosity, and acts of kindness. I love the ‘Cornish sages and prophets’ they encounter, including the casual labourers / surfers living in the barn, who, instead of judging them, compare their situation to a “fetch”, a term known to surfers. These insights would have been so uplifting to them, and would have sustained them when their journey was over.

The story did remind me a little of another book I read a few years ago, set in New South Wales, called Out of the Forest, by Gregory Smith, in which the narrator described his experiences living wild in the forest for years. He later returned to society, completed his education, and ultimately became a Professor of Sociology in a nearby University. In our culture today, some individuals can live wild, or in circumstances of privation and endurance on the edge of society for a while. With a mixture of survivalist skills, luck, determination and living on your wits, you can get away with it for a period of time. But you cannot live like that long-term. Eventually, those who try this way of life can’t stand it any more, and find their lives depend upon the benefits of civilisation, which they have to re-enter.

By the time they have arrived at Lizard Point, Raynor seems also to have reached a place of  calm acceptance and to have shed the worst of her bitterness, self-pity, anger and resentment. They stop at Polruan then take up an opportunity to spend all winter at her friend Polly’s Midlands sheep farm, renovating and living in a farm shed, and working on the farm. Warm weather again finds them at Poole, ready to walk the 250 miles back to Polruan.

At Talland Bay, breakthrough comes, the moment of transformation. They meet a lady called Anna at a café. Anna offers them her flat to rent in Polruan, not far from the university at Portsmouth where Moth has decided to sign up as a mature student.  We have a feeling they are saved at last, and as Raynor points out, they end up living where their path ends. I do like the outcome to their journey, and ultimately feel uplifted by this unusual travel diary.

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Published by SC Skillman

I'm a writer of psychological, paranormal and mystery fiction and non-fiction. My latest book, 'Paranormal Warwickshire', was published by Amberley Publishing in November 2020. Find all my published books here:

3 thoughts on “Book Review: ‘The Salt Path’ by Raynor Winn

  1. I loved this first book and what made it even better was that they mention poet Simon Armitage whom I think they meet on the journey. He was doing his own ‘walk’ at the time, detailed in the books he wrote: ‘Walking Home’ and ‘Walking Away’. Have you read those?

    1. Thank you for your comment, Fran! I’m glad you enjoyed the book. No I haven’t read Simon Armitage’s books. I think Moth kept getting mistaken for Simon Armitage, and he and Raynor had no idea who Simon was. In the end they did find out who he was, as they saw a poster advertising his reading in Port Isaac, but I don’t think they ever met him, did they, during the course of their journey, unless I’ve misremembered? Also Raynor said she didn’t even think Moth looked like him. I must admit I agree with her, looking at photos of them both. But it was quite an amusing theme throughout the book!

      1. You’re probably right that they don’t actually meet him – I read the book quite a while ago! But I remembered there was a connection so my brain cells aren’t completely dysfunctional! I think you’d like Armitage’s books, then. They are so beautifully done, as you’d expect from a poet.

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