I had been looking forward to reading The Salt Path by Raynor Winn as it is about a couple walking the South West Coastal Path and I am currently 256 miles into the 630 miles with my dog Drake, with a further 108 miles booked in to do this summer. I started in the summer of 2017 and have set myself a target of finishing it within five years, by going a couple of times a year on holiday and doing a further chunk. It is an amazing experience and one I have found completely addictive. Suffice to say my experience of B and Bs, hot showers, pub meals in the evening, the odd cream tea along the way and luggage transfers, which mean I only have to carry a day bag, could not be more different than the journey that Ray and her husband Moth make in The Salt Path.
They embark on walking the path as an extremely brave way of dealing with having just being made homeless and of Moth having received a diagnosis of a terminal illness. Inspired by another book on walking the path, and with a lack of any other appealing options of where to live or what to do having lost their home and family business and facing limited time left together, they pack up their remaining possessions into storage in a friend’s barn, buy some basic camping gear and set off for Somerset to start wild camping their way along the path, which runs from Minehead all the way to Poole.
This is such an incredible story. Ray’s account mixes descriptions of the extremely challenging path and its beauty and isolation, with the daily reality of trying to survive on a few pounds a week for food (mainly by eating noodles and energy bars) and facts about homelessness in the UK and how little it is understood by the majority of the population.
They soon stop telling the truth to people they meet along the way who ask why two ‘old people’ have jacked in their life to walk the path, and use a more palatable story instead that other people can cope with better. They encounter a mix of friendly and unfriendly dog walkers and locals, at one extreme being called tramps and told to stop spoiling a pretty fishing village for the tourists, and at the other extreme being taken into someone’s home for a meal and a hot shower. They also meet some of the homeless population of Devon and Cornwall, including seasonal surfers working the beaches who can’t afford accommodation and live in a barn, to the street homeless of Plymouth, where Ray and Moth spend a scary night.
Along the way they come to terms with how much their lives have changed and what the future may hold. They delight in midnight swims, in how the warmth and the walking seems to be improving Moth’s health, and in the beauty of the landscape. They then despair when faced with having to move into a friend’s outbuilding for the winter months. This is a raw and emotional read and its ending is everything I had hoped it would be. It’s no surprise that this book was shortlisted for the 2018 Costa biography award. It is like nothing I have ever read and I hope it gives people a new insight into what it means to be homeless in Britain in 2019 and helps to bring about change. It may also encourage others to walk this amazing path.