The Salt Path by Raynor Winn

 

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Imagine…you are in your fifties. You have a beautiful farmhouse – also the source of your income – where you have lived and raised your children for the past twenty years. The busy, stressful life of balancing work and family is easing as your children become independent.

Then imagine losing it all days before discovering your partner has a rare genetic disease which is terminal.

This is the position Ray and Moth Winn find themselves in when an investment turns bad, they are left homeless and Moth is diagnosed with CBD – corticobasal degeneration, which leaves him physically exhausted and in constant pain.

So what do you do?

Walk the South West Coast path, of course!

Where many would retreat into themselves, lamenting their bad luck as they head for the doctor’s surgery for a heavy dose of antidepressants Ray and Moth instead chose to embark on a gruelling 630 mile walk along the coastline of the south west peninsula, originally created by coastguards to prevent smuggling.

With the small amount of savings remaining after a three year court battle they set off with backpacks and a copy of Paddy Dillons’s The South West Coast Path: From Minehead to South Haven Point to begin their journey.

The Salt Path tells of Ray and Moth’s physical and emotional journey as they walk and wild camp through all weathers. They soon learn that their story of losing everything they own creates tension with people they meet on the path – a wariness creeps in at the mention of homelessness – and so revise their narrative and say they have left everything behind to embark on a journey of adventure. Far more acceptable and inspirational!

There is a rosy-eyed view of the adventurer/explorer but the reality is far from romantic. As Ray and Moth discover, pitching a tent during a storm on the side of a cliff, and having to sleep in all your clothes in an attempt to get warm, is not glamorous. Living on fudge bars and noodles is not for the feint-hearted and desperation often forced them to part with some of their precious savings to share a Cornish pasty. They even took to indulging in the occasional pastime of watching others eat hoping it would sate their appetite.

“We pressed our noses against the window of a seafood restaurant. We had a virtual breakfast of poached eggs and smoked salmon, almost followed by a cappuccino, not quite drunk when a waitress came out and asked us to leave as we were putting people off their food.”

The journey for Ray and Moth was challenging, often depressing and certainly exhausting – especially at the beginning. But as they settled into a routine and their bodies adapted to the gruelling task of walking for miles each day they found themselves getting stronger. Other than worrying where they would pitch their tent for the night or what they would eat that day they were somehow free of worry.

“I stirred the tea with the odd realisation that I had no work to concern myself about, no domestic problems to resolve, I had no problems at all really. Other than that we were homeless and Moth was dying.”

In the developed world the basic need for shelter, warmth and food is mostly met so work and other issues raise stress levels. As Ray and Moth walked they discovered a sense of freedom from the responsibilities above and beyond basic survival.

we were free here, battered by the elements, hungry, tired, cold but free…I thought about our Australian friends somewhere in Falmouth getting their highlights done, eating vast meals and I realised I didn’t envy them at all.”

As well as relief from the burden of responsibilities they also found themselves fitter and slimmer due to their restricted diet and daily exercise. Moth also discovered that running out of medication – along with the enforced physical activity – improved his condition. During one episode of bad weather Ray commented:

I was in awe. This man (Moth) who only two months earlier had struggled to put on his coat without help was standing on a beach in his underpants holding an erected tent about his head…yelling run, run, run”

During a Q & A for Big Issue North Ray talks about Moth’s health since their coastal walk.

When we finally stopped, we knew that we should expect him to decline, as we’d already experienced that. And he did, so we continue to walk as much as we can and have a few long distance walks planned for this year.”

The Salt Path is an inspirational memoir of how this couple turned an extremely bleak situation into something positive. They refused to curl up in a ball in an attempt to keep the world out but instead embraced their situation and put a roof over their head in the form of a tent. They pushed themselves to their limits both mentally and physically while still retaining a sense of humour.

The earlier part of the story reflects the fear and desperation they felt for their future. Their sense of loss and insecurity is palpable. But as the story progresses their strength of character shows through and the freedom they experience becomes enviable.

It serves as a reminder that it is often through hardship, tragedy or pain that people find themselves whereas those with many comforts are often lost.