In his adaptation of Beowulf, Heaney writes ‘Often, for undaunted courage, fate spares the man it has not already marked’. This is perhaps true of Winn and her husband Moth in her moving memoir The Salt Path. Winn and her terminally ill husband Moth found themselves suddenly homeless in 2013. The pair had very limited choices: to remain homeless and be at the mercy of the council’s unsympathetic mercy or to take their lives in their own hands. They chose the latter: a life on the road or rather a life on a coastal path.
‘At last I understood what homelessness had done for me. It had taken every material thing that I had and left me stripped bare, a blank page at the end of a partly-written book. It had also given me a choice, either to leave that page blank or to keep writing the story with hope. I chose hope.’
Unlike Beowulf, they were not Geatish royalty and certainly did not have the comforts of Hrothgar’s hall awaiting them. Like the warrior of yore, they set sail on their own heroic and epic journey. With little more than the clothes on their back, a copy of Beowulf, a tent and a guidebook, Raynor and Moth navigated the South West Coast Path: England’s longest long-distance footpath and National Trail, stretching over 600 miles. Despite being warned against physical exertion due to his condition, Moth’s health benefitted from the freedom and exercise afforded by a life spent hiking. They became anointed by the wilds of the Path and salted.
“It’s touched you, it’s written all over you: you’ve felt the hand of nature. It won’t ever leave you now; you’re salted… People fight the elements, the weather, especially here, but when it’s touched you, when you let it be, you’re never the same again.”
With only £40 a week to support them both, it was not an easy expedition and much of it was spent wild camping with only noodles for sustenance. But it was a free life, and both Raynor and Moth encountered kindness along the way. However, for every kind stranger they met, there were also many who were quick to judge regarding their destitution. Winn highlights the prejudice faced by those with no fixed address, how easy it is to become homeless and the suspicion surrounding the most vulnerable in society. Raynor and Moth altered their story on the path to avoid the alarm generated by the truth, informing others that they sold their house in order to embark on an adventure: a more palatable interpretation of events. The couple were either viewed as motivational or menacing: depending on the prejudice of the listener and the version of the story.
“We’re homeless. We lost our home and we’ve nowhere to go, so just walking seemed a good idea.” It came out of my mouth without a thought. The truth. But as the man reached out and pulled his child towards him and the wife winced and looked away, I knew I wouldn’t be saying it again. He called for the bill and was gone in moments.’
Winn’s memoir concludes with the couple renting a house close to the South West Coast Path with Moth about to embark on the new adventure of teacher training. Long may fate spare them and long may they remain salted.