Travel memoir REVIEW: The Salt Path. By Raynor Winn

They walked around the South West Coastal path and to my annoyance dismissed my home town of Seaton as ‘a flash of 1950s time warp.’ Still I suppose by then they just wanted to get on with their 630 mile hike in their final push to the finish in Cornwall. The path runs from Minehead to Poole so you can gather from that Raynor and her husband Moth did the walk in bits. Well two major bits missing out at least three chunks for understandable reasons. Barnstable and Bideford, Torbay and Teignmouth as well as Portland Bill – which they said they’d return to one day. Even so it’s a pretty impressive journey camping out on cliff tops and in the odd field in all weathers. It’s proof you don’t need to travel around the world in search of the great outdoors and of adventure.

The Salt Path has sold over a 100,000 copies, featured on the Sunday Times best seller list for weeks and continues to sell for a simple reason: it’s a page turner. Each bay, each cove, each new unexpected event is revealed with a mixture of quirky ironic humour, seriousness and classic travelogue description. And with honesty. There’s no sugary twaddle. It’s raw and candid in all its frankness. Such as their desperate moments of shoplifting, of scrounging from strangers and friends – and of Raynor Winn’s descriptions of their ups and downs. And the downs are always going to grip the most. Moth’s struggles with his creeping corticobasal degeneration condition and Raynor’s existential crisis having become homeless and lost all her possessions in a court case.

There are a couple grouches. I’d have liked a little more about the court case as it seemed something of a ‘shit or bust’ confrontation over money. How did that happen? And I could have done with less self-pity and a bit more about the towns, bays and landscape’s backgrounds. So much of interest that was just trudged past. Having said that, to manage to scoop up so much in economical prose in less than 300 pages is a literary achievement. Raynor, thankfully doesn’t overwrite. She’s to the point and tells a good story with surprises around each headland including their decision to winter back on a farm before returning to the walk the following summer. Uplifting, enjoyable and with a redemptive flourish to end on. Just a pity she didn’t wax lyrical about my boyhood town of Seaton which is generally regarded as a dump my most but heaven to me. Perhaps I should do the walk.

Harry Mottram

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