Guest Book Review: The Salt Path by Raynor Winn

This piece comes from our delightful guest reviewer, and owner of the Tell Tales independent bookshop: Lesley McFarlane

The Salt Path by Raynor Winn

I must confess; I might not have come across this book had I not been searching for something to suggest to Tell Tales’ book club. However, I am so very glad I did!

The thought of the South West Costal Path was enough to pique my interest. Cornwall and Devon had been the holiday haunt that we had returned to again and again when our three children were young. So, reading about these coves and villages from the perspective of someone who hadn’t just seen them from the tourist’s eye view, but had put that rugged, beautiful landscape under footstep after footstep – well, it was a book that I had to read!

Raynor and her husband, Moth, have come to their fifties and found themselves a million miles from where they’d imagined they would be. Having met at eighteen, had children, built a beautiful home from a derelict farm, they had envisaged living out the rest of their lives together in the idyll that they had lovingly rescued and renovated, comfortable with the money that they had made and saved cushioning them into old age. But this was not to be. A business investment with a long-standing family friend turned sour. After losing a lengthy court battle, their precious farm was to be repossessed and their savings were spent on the legal case. In the midst of all of this, Moth had been given a diagnosis of cortico-basal degeneration, a rare degenerative brain disease – the prognosis was beyond terrible. Another of their suppositions about how life would be was blown out of the water.

Now they were hiding in the cupboard under the stairs, income and savings gone, Moth’s health in decline - whilst the bailiffs rattled the doors and windows. Raynor takes a book from one of the boxes that they had started to pack, ‘Five Hundred Mile Walkies’ by Paddy Dillon, a book that Raynor had read back in her twenties about a man who had documented his walking of the South West Costal Path. The bailiffs had seen her now and they had to let them in…but they had the germ of an idea.

After failing to find somewhere to live and feeling they would soon exhaust the generosity of friends’ kindness, Raynor and Moth set off with the thinnest sleeping bags and the lightest tent they can buy -and a copy of Seamus Heaney’s Beowulf - to walk the costal path starting at Poole in Dorset.

On the second day Raynor is, again, pondering the wisdom of their decision when they come across a man practicing some sort of yoga on the way to Culbone Church. She feels bathed in peace. She says, ‘I sat in the graveyard and let the utterly peaceful place wash over me. It was profoundly spiritual, nothing to do with God or religion but deeply human spirituality. Something of the knot I’d been carrying started to loosen. Maybe there was some power here.’

As they travel, Raynor describes this place of natural beauty to a tee. Not just the ragged cliffs and wide expanses of sea but, for example, she talks of the rhododendrons in a way that made me remember them from our family visits years ago. She captures the sounds and movements of the native birds beautifully too. Raynor’s description of the beauty and ancient-ness – how we as humans have used its sheltered coves and wild caves, how it has shaped us as humans - stirred in me the remembrance that we have a duty…no, the privilege, to look after this wilderness that is at risk of becoming a victim of its own success.

Reading of the improvement in the couple’s mental and physical wellbeing is uplifting and hopeful. Imagining the trials of, technically illegal, wild camping are hilarious and terrifying! Thinking of how close we all are to losing absolutely everything, looking at the numbers of people already homeless and their stories…I am not sure I have the words to describe how that makes me feel.

Well written, insightful, honest, beautiful, heart-breaking, uplifting, frightening, hopeful.

A book I will return to.


About Tell Tales Books:

Tell Tales is my tiny, independent children’s bookshop in Warrington, Cheshire.

After twenty years working as a teaching assistant in a primary school, being heavily involved in the teaching of reading and phonics, and of course setting up the library. I had an opportunity to set up a little bookshop of my very own. Now I can help put fragments of magic into the hands of children, in the form of fantastic books!

My partner Steve performed the transformation of an empty concrete box into a beautiful, warm and welcoming – albeit small! – shop. I had a small budget for stock which I spent on children’s books that I had read and knew were great or had been recommended to me by trusted friends! I filled the adult section with second-hand books, and I was off!

I also set up a couple of tables for my little tea shop, where I have had the loveliest conversations and made some new friends over tea and bookish conversations.

Let us see what the next twelve months bring!

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