• John Good

The Salt Path- Book review on the south west coastal path

Some books are for seasons. For a time when our habits, lifestyles and workplaces are being reshaped by a pandemic, my thoughts naturally turn to the bigger questions. Who am I and where am I headed? I got the Salt Path for Christmas and within a few pages, it made me too want to pack up everything we have and walk the 630 mile south west coastal path from Poole, through Dorset, Devon, Cornwall, Somerset and finish in Minehead. I spoke to a friend recently whose wife is reading it and he said, "It's pretty popular at the moment. Probably because it's about pilgrimage."

It's a true story. A middle aged couple called Raynor and Moth are hit by a double life disaster which sends them reeling into nature, homeless. They begin to walk the trail from Minehead in an attempt to walk and wild camp to Lands end. The story they tell others along the way is that they will "see what happens" when they arrive there but really, they both harbour ambitions to tackle the whole distance. They walk, surviving on less than £30 a week, buying noodles and scrouging hot water from cafes along the route. It is undoubtedly a tragic reason that sends them there and much of the book is difficult as the couple can barely face reality much less speak about what has happened to them. But the book really is about finding a genuine home in nature, triumphing over adversity and counting the cost of restoration.

A human walk- the south west coastal path

I loved how human it was. Ray isn't trying to find herself or discover something. There are no exaggerated scenes of nature. She doesn't romanticise wild camping or homelessness. The book is deeply spiritual but there is hardly any philosophical conversation or poetic wandering in there. The descriptions of people and scenes are almost factual, scantily clad and yet capture beauty and reverence for the sea and sky perfectly. The emphasis is earthed, always focused on the walk, putting one foot in front of the other. It's all so balanced. Nature in the book is never too kind to them for too long; the walk is tough but hope seems to emerge unexpectedly throughout.

Homeless but finding home

A large chunk of the book is about the subject of homelessness and finding home. Ray and Moth lose their home and with it, most of the furnishings we associate with being there. They lose safety and security. They lose all their money and their source of income. Moth is losing his health and because they can't provide for their kids, even their identity as parents is being brought into question. The southwest coastal path continues to strip them of their belongings and identity. Yet, creeping in quietly was an increase in confidence in nature as a sense of security. As much as they are losing their possessions, they begin to gain a new strength in home. To the extent that when they reach Plymouth, they are stunned and even feel unsafe by being part of humanity again. One of the huge themes here, is the restoration of home.

photo: Raynor and Moth

Health and nature

I have read about how nature and water can help with mental health. In this book, what's striking is the ability of nature to physically heal too. Moth at the beginning, receives a terminal diagnosis which then becomes an issue too painful to speak about. The disease is degenerative and so the reader expects he would quickly deteriorate. The miles by foot shouldering a heavy backpack on the south west coastal path should have sped up the erosion of muscle fibre and brain tissue. What happens is the opposite. Moth becomes leaner and stronger. While they both knew the end will be coming, the walk becomes a place where a person is defying the laws that normally define how a persons health works.

There is nothing I would want to add or take away from this book. It was a superb read. If you are a struggling adventurer feeling couped in, this is for you.

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