The Salt Path
‘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.’
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.
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.
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*
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