Met me there, where the sea meets the sky, lost but finally free.”
The Salt Path was a book I had waited a long time to read. Having read the description a couple of years ago I waited for the right time to read it. I can’t be the only one who does things like that?
With a mini break to Devon planned it felt like the perfect time to pick up this book which was shortlisted for both the Costa Biography Award & The Wainwright Prize. I had a genuine flutter of excitement at the prospect of starting to read and where better to do it than along a stretch of coast where the couple travel along the South West Coastal Path.
I’m drawn to the sea, partly because I grew up on the coast. I always find peace when I look out to sea. My grandad once told me that if you have a problem you should just go and look at the sea, that eventually all of your problems will feel so small in comparison that you’ll know what route to take or how to carry on. Raynor and Moth do this in some ways, taking his advice quite literally.
The sound of the sea laps at your mind as you read, the ebb and flow of the narrative reminding you of the gentle movement of the waves.
There’s a sound to breaking waves when they’re close, a sound like nothing else. The background roar is unmistakable, overlaid by the swash of the landing wave and then the sucking noise of the backwash as it retreats.”
The Salt Path tells the story of Raynor and Moth who in the face of unspeakable and unimaginable sorrow decide to pack up their lives and walk 630 miles from Somerset to Dorset. The book tracks their journey as they try to find a steer at the most difficult of times.
Now I should say that I am a West Country girl myself. Growing up by the sea in Dorset I feel like that water is in my bones. Nothing calms me like the sight, smell and sound of the sea. It seeps into my core and brings me the kind of peace I strive for when meditating. Winn’s prose captures the sea so perfectly that I got that same feeling.
Above all this book is a love story. Not the love you find in a romance novel but real love. It’s not always passionate, not all overblown gestures and windswept scenes (that being said walking over 600 miles together is a pretty big gesture). The book showcases the kind of connection, deep and loving, which not everyone is fortunate enough to experience. As a reader you have the privilege of witnessing their joy in one another. It’s emotional, captivating and moving.
It is not just Raynor and Moth’s love for each other, but their love of nature, of the struggle and their passion for the people they meet along the way. The couple travel along the coastline of Dorset. This is where I grew up and the writing transported me back to the windy (and frequently rainy) but ruggedly beautiful coastline where I grew up.
As I’m from Dorset I just have to say something about the sections from the book which are set there. West Bexington, Chesil Beach, and Worbarrow Bay – the couple visited familiar spots from my childhood. I have to share just one of Raynor’s beautiful descriptions of Dorset:
The cliffs of Worbarrow and Mupe Bay dazzled white against the sea, Mediterranean-turqoise against the early sun.”
Winn’s writing is honest, humourous, moving and captivating – you cannot help but connect with their journey. There are moments when the monotonous drudgery of their wild camping leaves you feeling drained, but then you become elated as she describes the sheer beauty of the sea and coast. The power of her writing means that come the end of the book you feel as though you have been travelling with the couple (only you have done so from the comfort and safety of your sofa).
Final Thoughts: The most emotionally engaging book I have read in a long time. I laughed, cried, felt desperate and elated. I missed the couple after I finished reading. This isn’t just a book about nature, or a memoir, it is the story of human determination and our ability to find hope (and meaning and beauty) in the most difficult of circumstances.