I was in Courtenay, BC, halfway up the eastern edge of Vancouver Island, browsing travel lit at the Laughing Oyster Book Shop when Raynor Winn’s The Salt Path caught my eye. There’s a distinct look and feel to the genre amongst publishers – compact trade paperback with an agreeably textured cover in muted outdoor colours – mossy green and seaside aqua. This, combined with the book having received a couple of literary prizes, made me want to give it a go. As I waited in line by the cash register, I read the back cover blurb:
“Just days after Raynor Winn learned that Moth, her husband of thirty-two years, was terminally ill, they lost their home and livelihood. With nothing left and little time, they impulsively decided to walk the 630-mile South West Coast Path, from Somerset to Dorset, via Devon and Cornwall. Living wild and free, at the mercy of sea and sky; they discovered a new, liberating existence – but what would they find at the journey’s end?”
Despite a seemingly grim premise for trekking the UK coast, I had to smile. This is a part of the world that I love and know well. I’ve scrambled along much of that coastal path for my Gone Viking expeditions and was certain I’d found a kindred spirit. But first I had to set aside a nagging inclination to judge. Unavoidable bad luck aside (fire, flood, and other disasters) I tend to doubt individuals lose everything through no fault of their own. In my experience, it results from an accumulation of poor decisions and personal denial. Harsh, perhaps, but this is what I’ve seen. Many times.
However, I felt this was a great opportunity to look beyond a self-serving back story and simply enjoy the adventure as it presented itself on the page. Which is what I did, finding Winn to be a skilled and competent author with a good eye for detail and social interactions. She captures the natural world well and relays it in an agreeable manner. And despite an understandably myopic view of the situation in which the protagonists find themselves, the author consistently finds glimmers of promise, resulting in reassuring optimism and a satisfyingly sanguine conclusion.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Since travelling the South West Coastal Path, Raynor Winn has become a regular long-distance walker and writes about nature, homelessness and wild camping. Her first book, The Salt Path, was a Sunday Times bestseller and shortlisted for the 2018 Costa Biography Award. In The Wild Silence, Raynor explores readjusting to life after homelessness. She lives in Cornwall with her husband Moth.
- Title: The Salt Path
- Author: Raynor Winn
- Publisher: Penguin Books, 2019
- ISBN: 9781405937184
- Pages: 275 pp