Every once in a while you read a travel book that sweeps you away into another world. One that not only makes you wish you were there for a brief period, but actually inspires you to follow in the writer’s footsteps. For me, The Salt Path is one of those books.
Now it’s beginning may not sound like the romantic, whimsical journey that you’d expect to follow. In fact, it is anything but. The Salt Path tells the story of Raynor Winn and her husband Moth who, after losing everything they have and receiving devastating health news, set out to walk the South West Coast Path from Somerset to Dorset.
At first the decision to start a long distance walk having just been made homeless seems like a strange choice. We read The Salt Path for #travelbookclub and the first thing we discussed was this decision.
Although I felt like it seemed like a random choice to make, I understood that Raynor and Moth needed to process what had happened. Taking a break from the ‘real world’ also gave them the time and space to make decisions about their future.
As the book progresses and we discover more about their relationship, I also feel that it makes more sense. They seem like a couple that have always taken risks and followed their own instincts. They worked incredibly hard and even on this walk managed to live on such a small amount of money, very rarely complaining about their lot in life.
“Salted” by The Salt Path
Like many of the best travel books I’ve read recently, this book focuses a lot on the power of nature. So this was the second topic we discussed during our chat.
I think The Salt Path highlights the ability of nature to heal, to take everything back to basics. Along the way Raynor and Moth meet a woman who says they’ve been “salted” by the path and I loved that image.
When I think back to some of the long distance walks I’ve done during my travels, including Torres del Paine in Chile and The Routeburn Track in New Zealand, I know that they have given me the time to slow down and think about life. Completing them has made me feel stronger and braver and more sure of what I want from the future.
The third question our group discussed was the issue of hidden homelessness. In their 50s, with two children at university, Raynor and Moth never expected to be in that position. However, the reactions of others to their predicament was really eye-opening. It really goes to show a lot about the preconceptions many of us have about this issue.
One of the things I enjoy about Raynor is that she has a gift for describing small interactions with strangers. Sometimes with books about nature it is these fleeting moments that are lost in favour of commentary about the sweeping landscape or fascinating wildlife.
But I felt with Raynor that even just a sentence dedicated to the people they met brought them to life.
One of my favourite interactions was with two brothers they met who introduced them to the secret of salted blackberries. The fruits can only be found on the clifftops towards the end of the season. One of the brothers told the pair: “They’re a gift when you think all the good stuff has gone”. This seemed so poignant at that moment, especially as they lived on mainly noodles for most of their trip.
Nature’s healing power
A question I often ask during our #travelbookclub chats is whether the book sold the journey to the reader.
In the case of The Salt Path it did instantly make me want to put on a backpack. As someone who grew up on the coast, Raynor’s descriptions of the wild, unpredictable ways of the sea; balanced out by the calm, serene, life-enhancing moments, made me long to fill my lungs with fresh sea air.
However, I’m not sure I’d be strong enough to do it the way they did, on such a low budget and with basic equipment. Arriving in all of the touristy villages and not being able to afford to buy an icecream or a bag of chips would have been the end of me!
Our final question of the evening was about what the walk did for Raynor and Moth. I felt that it put them back in control of their lives. By the time they completed the journey they were stronger, both emotionally and psychically, and ready to face the next stage of their lives.
To sum up The Salt Path I’d say that this is a book about endurance. It’s about what the human spirit can survive and how love can keep you going in even the most difficult of situations. It’s a book about nature and it’s power to heal. And it’s about kindness and conversations and those interactions with strangers that can change the way you feel about life.
In short, it is a beautiful book and one you must read if you can.
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