"The Salt Path" by Raynor Winn

By Raynor Winn

Reviewed by Julia

ISBN 9780143134114

As a life-long lover of the journey, this reader spends a good deal of her time with vicarious armchair travel.  It's been a good year since I read a real-life story of adventure that truly swept me away, and "The Salt Path", a memoir by Raynor Winn has found me on the long winding South West Coast Path of England with a couple by the names of Ray and Moth.  Married for 32 years, they are walking the course with what is mostly left of their possessions after their home is seized following the devastating betrayal of a friend's investment with their finances.  While they are processing the absurd reality of leaving behind their lovely old farmhouse and animals, the entire childhood landscape of their grown son and daughter, they are struck with even worse news.  Moth has been diagnosed with CBD (Corticobasal degeneration, a rare neurodegenerative disease), fated to a timeline estimated to last somewhere between months to a year, eventually choking to death on his own mucus.  How on god's green earth are they going to cope?  By casting aside the doctor's death sentence and strong advisory to avoid exertion or lifting heavy weights, determining to prepare for a journey that may be hundreds of miles, and border on the insane.  Ray and Moth will instead put one foot in front of the other, until they are forced to stop because Moth can't go on any longer.
They no longer have the strapping bodies that roamed their land, tended to lambs and structures in need of repair, but something strange begins to happen.  Their bodies begin to attune to the sand and dirt between their toes, the sun and the leather of their noses as they peel and peel again, the sound and smell and mood of the landscape as the flora and fauna changes around them.  Popping into towns for pasties (a traditional one involves meat, potatoes, salt & pepper in flaky baked dough) and the relief of a protected "bed" in a friendly yard or even the greater warmth as the weather changes of cardboard on cement, Ray and Moth are processing their uprooting as they travel alongside the sea.  The utter simplicity of following the path forward is more answer to their questions than standing still could provide, and their honesty about the reality of their lives is more than many bystanders can take.  Too quickly they learn to make up a lie about the reasons for their walk, although many assume before they get a chance to explain.  I devoured this book, the rawness and the heartfelt poignance of two quirky old lovers fumbling their way along the coast, laughing at the disaster by which they have encountered what should have been the beginning of their golden years.  Absolutely lovely, highly recommend.

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