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April 2020

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The Salt Path by Raynor Winn

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Four Stars

Best for:
Those who like nature writing; those who appreciate quality narrative non-fiction; those who just want to remember what it is list to be outside.

In a nutshell:
Ray and Moth and in their 50s with two grown children. They have lost their home, which is also their farm and livelihood, to a sketchy business partner and a punitive judge. A couple of days later, Moth receives a diagnosis of a terminal neurological disorder. The decide to sell what they have left, store what they want to keep, and try to walk the 630-mile South West Coast Path, a.k.a. the peninsula in England just below Wales.

Worth quoting:
“Is it human nature to crave ritual? Is it instinctive to construct a safe environment before we allow ourselves to sleep? Can we ever truly rest without that security?”

“Does it take a time of crisis for us to see the plight of the homeless? Must they be escaping a war zone to be in need?”

Why I chose it:
This is the last book I purchased before we went into lock down. I bought it from a bookshop in central London, not realizing that I’d end up reading it during a time when I craved the outdoors.

Review:
There is a lot going on in this book. Not a lot in the sense that plot points keep coming – basically this book is literally just Ray and Moth hiking. But it’s beautifully written, and speaks to how easily one can find oneself without a home, and what people do to try to survive. It’s a bit cheesy to call it inspirational; I’m not about to sell my belongings to go walk 630 miles. But at the same time, it is inspirational. These people found a way to figure out how to keep living their lives when they had no money, no home, and a shit health prognosis.

They are clear about their situations — they don’t have access to unlimited funds and time like some people who choose o take the path. This is what they can think to do while they figure out what to do next. They get some benefits from the government (about £45 per week), so they are able to buy cheap food along the way. But that’s it. They aren’t on some romantic quest to find themselves; they are trying to survive.

Ray speaks about how people they encounter react when Ray and Moth share their situation. If they are ‘just’ backpackers, they’re usually treated with some respect and admiration. When they say that they are homeless, they are treated with disdain, or fear, as though it is catching.

Right now is a weird time. Those of us with homes who are under lock down may be struggling with feeling trapped within it, at times forgetting how wonderful it is to have a home we can be locked down in. There is a reason many countries are suddenly trying to provide shelter for those experiencing homelessness – COVID-19 is a threat to their health when they don’t have access to hand-washing options, or enough food to avoid shops on a daily basis. But not having a home isn’t just a challenge during disease outbreaks; it’s not something anyone should have to experience if they don’t want to, and it is frustrating that so many people don’t care about the people experiencing it.

Keep it / Pass to a Friend / Donate it / Toss it:
Donate it.

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