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Critics’ Picks review - The Salt Path

There are thousands of new books to browse and read in our Critics’ Picks collection, in the Governor Marie Bashir Reading Room. Every book has been reviewed by top critics, including the Australian Book Review, New York Review of Books, the Times Literary Supplement and the London Review of Books. Have you made any surprising discoveries on our shelves?


Critics' Picks photo - The Salt Path

Have you ever just started walking to see what you'd find? One of our librarians reflects on his own journeys while exploring Raynor Winn's inspiring book.

Following a bad investment and a lengthy legal battle, Raynor Winn and her husband Moth lose their family home and farm of many years, leaving them homeless and without a livelihood. They also receive the devastating news that Moth has been diagnosed with a terminal illness. Both in their 50s, with nowhere to go and facing an uncertain future, they make the decision to walk the 630-mile (1014 km) South West Coast Path from Somerset to Dorset via Devon and Cornwall.

I picked up The Salt Path to accompany my own walk along the South West Coast Path, although only a mere 70 miles (113 km) of it from St Ives to Lizard. I found walking my small part of the path to be a sometimes challenging but therapeutic experience. Spending more time out in nature than I usually would, day after day, was the perfect way to reboot my mind from the usual daily routine. Some days were incredibly tiring and the weather wasn’t always kind, but unlike Raynor and Moth, I did of course have a home to go back to at the end of it all, and I wasn’t wild camping all the way carrying all my possessions with me.

A side effect of our current super-connected and high-tech world seems to have been an increase in the popularity of nature writing. Books by authors such as Robert Macfarlane and John Lewis-Stempel remind us of the healing power and meditative properties of immersing ourselves in the natural world. I would certainly include The Salt Path in this category. Beautiful passages describing the stunning scenery of the Cornish coastline are interspersed with the author’s heartfelt insights on mortality, humanity and our need to reconnect with nature.

Through this honest account of her experiences while walking and living along the path, the author compels us to look at how we perceive homelessness and calls into question the security that many of us feel in our everyday lives and may take for granted. It made me think about how I would react if faced with a situation like that of the author and her husband.

There is a steady and somewhat repetitive feel to large portions of the book, which some reviewers have taken issue with. However, I think this deliberate and meandering pace actually fits the narrative. Just like doing a real long-distance walk, where one day simply leads on to the next and then the next, reading The Salt Path is much more about the journey — and taking in what is around you — than it is about the destination. There were certain passages that I purposely reread, wanting to take them in again, and others where I just put my head down and got on with it. Much like how long-distance walking can be.

Reviewer: Steve Richards, Librarian, Information & Access


OTHER REVIEWS

"In some ways The Salt Path reads like the ultimate drop-out odyssey, except that this journey isn’t a life choice ... What the book chiefly conveys is the human capacity for endurance and the regenerative power of nature ...  The Salt Path has reminded me to scrape last year’s mud from my walking boots and get rambling again. I hope it has the same impact on millions of others." - The Times (UK)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Raynor Winn is The Sunday Times bestseller, winner of the Royal Society of Literature Christopher Bland Prize & shortlisted for the 2018 Costa Biography Award & Wainwright Golden Beer Book Prize 2018. Since travelling the South West Coastal Path, Raynor Winn has become a regular long-distance walker and writes about nature, homelessness and wild camping. She lives in Cornwall. This is her first book.