The Salt Path | Book Review

The Salt Path

Raynor Winn

Penguin Books

ISBN: 9780143134114

£7.99

‘Something in me was changing season too. I was no longer striving, fighting to change the unchangeable, not clenching in anxiety at the life we’d been unable to hold on to, or angry at an authoritarian system too bureaucratic to see the truth. A new season had crept into me, a softer season of acceptance. Burnt in by the sun, driven in by the storms. I could feel the sky, the earth, the water and revel in being part of the elements without a chasm of pain opening at the thought of the loss of our place within it all. I was a part of the whole. I didn’t need to own a patch of land to make that so. I could stand in the wind and I was the wind, the rain, the sea; it was all me, and I was nothing within it. The core of me wasn’t lost. Translucent, elusive, but there and growing stronger with every headland.

Review

Raynor Winn and her husband Moth are in trouble. Hiding from bailiffs in their home after a business deal with a friend goes bad and with Moth diagnosed with a degenerative brain condition, theirs is a life stripped back to the bones. Rather than go into local authority housing and accept Moth’s slow decline, they decide to walk the South West Coast Path, a 630-mile-long national trail stretching from Minehead, Somerset to Poole. The Salt Path is a memoir about adjustment to new realities, new timeframes, and a changed way of perceiving the world around us.

The meandering nature of Raynor and Moth’s endeavour is delicately and compellingly evoked. This journey has been started with no great sense of purpose or destiny. The writer is not embarking upon an endeavour for which she has prepared all her life, but rather because she has nowhere else to go. The subsequent sense of wanderlust prompted in the reader that is perhaps all the stronger for not being properly explored. As one would expect of a 630-mile-long path there is plenty of variety; desolate clifftops, tourist-packed Tintagel, and bustling towns are all taken in. Raynor is an engaging guide through these landscapes and her relationship with Moth is warmly evoked.

The Salt Path by Raynor Winn

Although it was an engaging read, introspection on behalf of the narrator was inconsistent. Whilst Moth’s diagnosis is desperately sad and its consequences thoughtfully explored, the same cannot be said for the business deal which sees the couple homeless at the worst possible time. The couple seem comfortably-off with a rural property and holiday lets, but lose everything when an unspecified investment with a friend goes bad. Blame is cast upon a lot of people – the friend whose financial scheme collapses, the court’s intransience, local authorities’ failure to offer housing of sufficient quality. These villains are ghoulish and uncomplicated and serve as a contrast to Raynor and her husband, who seem genuine and good-natured. It did occur to me, however, that the couple’s financial difficulties came about as a result of a calculated attempt to increase their wealth. That they suffered as a result of the gamble is sad, but such is the nature of gambles. There are sections on the broader subject of homelessness and its prevalence in the age of austerity, but my impression (and here I might be mistaken) is that the spectre of homelessness had rarely intersected with the author’s life before the tragedy that befell her. Disparagement of the offer of a Bed and Breakfast because it housed ‘mainly those with drug and alcohol problems’ suggested to me that hers was not an altogether holistic view of poverty.

Raynor Winn

There are also anecdotes which feel rather forced. The caricature-like council housing officer who states to Moth ‘Well, if you’re not going to die soon, like in the next year, then you’re not that ill, are you, so I can’t call you a priority, can I?’ feels particularly like a cartoon villain, whilst a running anecdote about Moth’s similarity to a local poet is stretched well past the point of incredulity.

Nevertheless, Winn does achieve what any good travel writer should – a transferring of her passion for a place to her readers. The romanticism and challenge of the South West Coast Path blows through her writing; it is amplified by her precarious financial position and her and Moth’s bravery as they face his illness. Whilst the ancillary characters in the book are not as fleshed-out as I would like, Raynor and Moth’s marriage is genuinely full of love and it is the examination of this relationship in the face of financial and mortal strife that brings the book its most touching moments.

*Thanks for reading, folks. Images courtesy of Wikipedia. Find my other reviews below*

Samantha Harvey – The Western Wind

Diarmaid MacCulloch – Thomas Cromwell: A Life

Peter Carey – A Long Way from Home

W.C. Ryan – A House of Ghosts

Val McDermid – A Place of Execution

Richard Cohen – How to Write Like Tolstoy

George Orwell – 1984

John Sampson – The Wind on the Heath

Michelle Paver – Wakenhyrst

Jess Smith – Way of the Wanderers

Zadie Smith – Feel Free

Max Hastings – Vietnam: An Epic Tragedy 1945-1975

Bernard MacLaverty – Grace Notes

Ernest Hemingway – In Our Time

Andrew Roberts – Napoleon the Great

Emily Bronte – Wuthering Heights

Margaret Atwood – The Handmaid’s Tale

Kamila Shamsi – Home Fire

Annie Proulx – Brokeback Mountain

Anthony Doerr – All the Light We Cannot See

Ellipsis: Three magazine

Harper Lee – To Kill a Mockingbird

Jon McGregor – Reservoir 13

Colson Whitehead – The Underground Railroad

Amor Towles – A Gentleman in Moscow


Matthew Richardson is a writer of short stories. His work has featured in Gold Dust magazine, Literally Stories, Close to the Bone, McStorytellers, Penny Shorts, Soft Cartel, Whatever Keeps the Lights On, Flashback Fiction, Cafelit, and Shooter magazine. He is a doctoral student at the University of Dundee, a lucky husband, and a proud father. He blogs at www.matthewjrichardson.com and tweets at https://twitter.com/mjrichardso0

19 thoughts on “The Salt Path | Book Review

  1. Great review that’s honest and even-handed. Agree with you that certain characters do feel under-explored or limited to a few cliched aspects, but Raynor seems much more confident building a sense of place and bringing it alive for the reader.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. A very thoughtful review, as usual, Matthew. It’s not a part of the UK with which I’m familiar, and the journey sounds worth the read, but the shortcomings that you identify deter me from a book that I might be otherwise be tempted to if only for that eye-catching cover.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. You make some good points about The Salt Path. We walked from Minehead to Land’s End on the SW Coast Path and loved it. It is a tough trek and I admire those who walk all 630 miles.

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  4. Honest review as always… and with a kindly positive finish. The cover of the book is ultra beautiful… kudos for reaching the end of it. I do that rarely these days. I really have to love a book to finish it.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. The cover art is beautiful and to me evokes the idea of a pilgrimage. There’s something very pared down and elemental about the premise of the story. I am not sure I’d read the book, but your thoughts on it plus this image have given me things to mull over.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Thank you. I’m intrigued by this book and the part you mentioned is what I wondered about. I have no problem skipping part of a book I don’t enjoy (after all these years of reading, well, time is too short) so…I will be looking for this book. I look forward to learning about a part of the world I didn’t know existed until your review.

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  6. An interesting review, Matthew, and the excerpt you provided is intriguing.

    I understand why Raynor and her husband were undertaking this journey, but it sounds daunting under the best of circumstances. I can’t imagine her sensibilities in traveling such vast distances with few resources and a husband whose degenerative condition must have posed additional hardships.
    Courageous? Fearless? Other?

    Liked by 1 person

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