For one of my pieces of coursework I was trying to find examples of travel writing when Anne handed me this book. And then I started underlining passages within it before she told me she’d borrowed it from a friend. Oops, sorry!
I was going to just read the first chapter or two to get a feel for the style, but it was difficult to put down. There is a vivacity and gentle humour about it that keeps you interested, despite the slightly traumatic beginnings. I realised why when I found out that the book had originally been written by Raynor for just her husband, Moth, as a way of helping him to remember their journey. Sometimes it feels like a love letter, and is warm, intimate and poetic.
I went on a walk, with some friends, back in 2015, that took two weeks and was well planned with solid walls, hot food and showers to meet us each night. I thought that was a difficult trek. Ray and Moth spent months wild camping, walking nearly all of the 630 mile South West Coast Path because they had suddenly become homeless and Moth had been diagnosed with an incurable, degenerative disease that would affect his body and mind. If I’d had this book on my travels, it would have put my own privations into context.
Before their life on the road, Ray and Moth Winn had owned a house and farm in Wales and had lived there for thirty odd years, renovating the land and buildings while raising two children. But an investment in a friend’s business had turned sour, leading to a very costly court battle that saw them lose everything. The children, luckily, had accommodation as university students, but while the bailiffs were knocking on the door to take possession and the two adults was hiding underneath the stairs, Ray’s idea to walk began to form.
A very strange idea when her husband had just been told he had corticobasal degeneration (CBD), and was already starting to be unsteady on his feet. But as Ray says, she
‘desperately needed a map, something to show me the way.’
Her descriptions of this deceptively long stretch of land are lyrical and she packs a lot of really interesting information in, about various spots along the route. If anybody is considering doing any part of that walk, then this book would be a great accompaniment. As is the book they used, Paddy Dillon’s ‘The South West Coast Path’. Even for me, who has no plans for any more long-distance hikes, it was alluring and made me want to take a teeny tiny trip down there.
There are also some very interesting reactions, when they divulge to people they meet along the way that they are literally homeless. Sadly a lot of it is negative so they don’t do so often. Raynor occasionally weaves in stories of other homeless people they encounter, as well as certain ‘statistics’, that bear no semblance to the very hard reality on the ground.
It’s a story about a journey, but as all stories about journeys end up being, it is so much more. Was their trek just delaying the inevitable social housing wait? Did Moth’s condition get worse with the arduous task of walking with his life on his back? Could they deal with the grief of the loss of their home and their livelihood? Did they always find a private place to squat?
I’ll give a little spoiler, there is hope at the end, and in the end, it’s a love story. For her husband, and for the incredible beauty of the natural world around them.