Raynor Winn on the Impact of The Salt Path and The Wild Silence
The Salt Path, Raynor Winn's account of an inspirational walk along the South West Coast Path prompted by financial crisis and personal tragedy, became one of the most highly acclaimed works of non-fiction of 2018. In The Wild Silence, published at the beginning of September and available to pre-order now, Raynor reflects on the unexpected success and impact of The Salt Path and how that book's emotional connection to so many readers informed the writing of its follow-up.
We stood on the rocky granite cliffs of Land’s End as a wild storm ripped in from the Atlantic. At the most westerly point, where the land meets the sea in a cacophonous roar of wind and ozone, where fish are thrown into the air in explosions of water against rock in an endless cycle of elemental power. Just me and my husband Moth, alone in the storm, not another human to be seen, only two pounds fifty and a mars bar left to sustain us and two sheets of wet nylon to protect us. A dire and desperate moment when all material things were lost and the future could have held only pain and loss. It should have been one of the lowest points in our lives. But as we put up our tent, fighting against the battering winds to push flimsy poles through fraying nylon, something in the uncontrollable wild air found us. Filled with the strength of the storm we were held up, regained, rebound, our bonds to the natural world reformed. We were caught by the storm.
What should have been one of the lowest points in our lives, was the opposite. We were no longer the same two people who had set out to walk the 630 miles of the South West Coast Path weeks earlier. In Minehead at the start of the walk we were homeless, penniless, our lives broken, our future together shattered by Moth’s terminal illness. Yet at Land’s End, having walked over 250 miles through hunger, exhaustion and wild weather systems, over a landscape of harsh exposed clifftops, we had come to a gentler place. A place of acceptance. Where we realised that the path had given us a sense of hope that we believed we would never feel again.
Two years later when I wrote down everything that had happened on our walk, the words that became the book, The Salt Path, I was writing it for Moth. I was making a record of our time in that wild landscape so that, when his illness began to take hold and the memory of our magical time together on the Path began to slip from him, I would be able to read the words and they would take him back to the Path and put him there with me in the wind and the sun and the rain.
At that point I hadn’t considered the possibility of my account being published, that this incredibly personal record would go on to be read by hundreds of thousands of people. Then after publication I didn’t anticipate how sharing such a private snapshot of our lives with so many strangers would make me feel, or how it would start a conversation between readers who had connected with The Salt Path on many different levels. But why? How was it that others could relate to our story — what was it that resonated so loudly?
It was when the letters started to arrive that I began to understand. In multi-paged letters, cards and lines on the backs of envelopes a shared humanity started to reveal itself. We are not alone in suffering the loss of home and business or feeling the desperation of receiving a terminal diagnosis. Life can fall apart for any of us, at any time, and in ways we cannot imagine possible. Very few make it through life without the rug of certainty being pulled from beneath their feet, our lives left in disarray; emotionally, materially, or physically. But when we are left searching for a way to stand up again, the immense and little understood healing power of the natural world is always there. Through my book and talks I have connected with so many others who found that by taking themselves into a wild and open space they arrive at a calm place within themselves, where seeds of hope can grow. For others who have been desperately searching for hope, reading The Salt Path has led them to lace up their walking boots and go outside with a sense of possibility.
In writing my second book, The Wild Silence, I delved deeper into that feeling of connection to the land that helped me and Moth through the harshest times. I explore where that feeling comes from and how it continues to influence Moth’s and my life, the source of hope that vibrates beneath all of our feet, with a power to heal and rejuvenate - if only we let it.
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