Raynor Winn writes movingly in The Salt Path of the crisis she and her husband Moth faced when they lost their home and money – within days of discovering that Moth was seriously ill.
Destitute, homeless, penniless, the middle-aged couple managed to put two fingers up to adversity. Putting their few remaining belongings in storage, they set out together to walk the 630 miles of ‘salt path’ – the line of south western English coast used for centuries to transport salt from the sea further inland.
It’s a humbling story, beautifully composed, that reaches its sharpest focus when Winn writes about the English landscape and its ability to heal her traumatised heart. She recalls “the sweet smell of nettles”, the “sharp tang of gorse” and how she enjoyed “walking through the woods in the falling light, the damp smell of the undergrowth acidic in the air.”
Most nights, Raynor and Moth camp out in the wild in their two-man tent, with little more in the way of kit than two sleeping bags and a camping gaz stove. They rely on meagre state welfare for food and other necessities.
As Winn said in an interview: “It is a book about love, loss, rediscovery and self-belief and at the core of it is the idea that these things are all bound up in our connection to the earth.”
Inevitably, Winn’s story resonates with me. My struggles are health-related, too, and, like Winn, I find the outdoors healing, calming, even therapeutic. Okay, I’ll never come close to walking as far as her, sadly; my mobility is too limited these days. If I manage to make it round the block (a distance of a mere 0.6 miles, we measured it) with the assistance of my trusty walking frame, that’s a good day.
I am managing to walk slightly further most weeks, however, modest as the distances involved might be, and so I’m cautiously inspired by The Salt Path. After reading it, I’m aiming to complete the 2.4km (1.5 miles) circuit of Corstorphine Nature Reserve by end-August. Maybe that doesn’t sound much, but I couldn’t even stand up unaided back when I was at my worst, much less walk a single step without support. So, I’ll be well-chuffed if I manage to loop the loop this summer. I might even walk it to raise money for these very excellent people.