Walk in Raynor's footsteps

"On a basic level, maybe all of us on the Path were the same; perhaps we were all looking for something."

Raynor Winn shot to literary fame after the publication of her first novel, The Salt Path. A book that tells the epic true story of how Raynor and her husband Moth made the brave and impulsive decision to walk all 630 miles of the sea-swept South West Coast Path, after they suddenly find themselves homeless just days after Moth is diagnosed with a terminal illness. Since then, the book has inspired many readers to follow in her footsteps and Winn has even become an ambassador for the Coast Path charity.

Here, we bring you a selection of walks on the Coast Path that will take you to the very same places Raynor and Moth explored, helping you on your very own journey along The Salt Path.

Photo: Moth and Raynor

Follow in their footsteps

Minehead to Porlock Weir (9 miles)


Photo: The SWCP starting marker. Phillip Bailey.

[Extract from The Salt Path]

We hadn’t even looked at a map of Minehead so had no idea where to find the start of the coastal path, other than knowing we were facing the north coast and needed to be going west, somewhere on the left. We wandered downhill, through curtains of buckets, spades and flip-flops, past crowds of OAPs eating cream teas, until we finally arrived at the seafront. We dropped the rucksacks with relief and sat on the promenade with tea and chocolate bars. A huge hill to the left seemed to rise near vertically from the prom. Surely that couldn’t be the hill at the start of the path . . . Paddy Dillon says the path “drifts”; he doesn’t say climb a mountain. This didn’t bode well.

‘No, definitely says down the prom to the monument.’ Moth’s finger traced the orange line of the path, skilfully drawn along the copy of the Ordnance Survey map in The South West Coast Path. ‘It’s okay. It probably skirts along the bottom and then rises around the corner somewhere. Right then.’ He put the map and his reading glasses back in his pocket. ‘You up for this?’ He looked tired, but didn’t seem to be in too much pain. ‘Nothing better to do.’

The crowds started to thin as we walked towards the monument of giant metal hands holding a map that marks the start of the path. Staying at the monument for far too long: taking photos, fiddling with our packs, trying to will ourselves to take that first step. Excited, afraid, homeless, fat, dying, but at least if we made that first step we had somewhere to go, we had a purpose. And we really didn’t have anything better to do at half past three on a Thursday afternoon than to start a 630-mile walk.

Lynmouth to Combe Martin (13 miles)

Photo by Ellie in Clovelly

[Extract from The Salt Path]

We stood outside a grocery shop on the corner of the street as I counted the coins in my hand, trying to decide what to spend. At the same moment, a woman in a bright yellow and blue sailing coat walked around the corner with a large, white, angry-looking dog. I shouldn’t have stood there, between the shop door and a rail where a black Labrador was tied, waiting for its owner. The huge white dog clearly hated other dogs. He lunged for the Labrador, who had been quietly dozing, contemplating the can of dog food that was on its way out of the shop. As he leapt forwards he grazed past the rucksack on my back, sending me spinning into the wall. The coins leapt out of my hand and disappeared down the hill. I threw myself to the ground as a pound coin spun off the pavement, almost catching it as it slipped from my fingers into the drainage grill. Moth followed a two-pound coin as it rolled away, weaving between holidaymakers walking up the hill. From my viewpoint on the tarmac I could see him trying to stoop to catch it, just as a small boy snatched it up with glee.

‘I’ve caught money, I’ve caught money.’ No, no, we need that. ‘Well done, mate, ice cream van’s at the top of the hill.’ 'Oh, Moth, I’d have liked an ice cream.' The woman with the white dog prodded me with her foot. I was still lying on the pavement with my hand in the gutter.‘What’s the matter with you, are you drunk?’ I was momentarily stunned by her assumption. ‘I’m fine, it’s your dog that’s the problem.’ ‘There’s nothing wrong with my dog. You tramps should learn how to control yourselves. Rolling around in the street – it’s disgusting.’

I took my hand out of the gutter and stood up as the black Labrador uncurled itself from the end of a lead stretched to its limit. A tramp. A homeless tramp. A few weeks earlier I’d owned my own home, my own business, a flock of sheep, a garden, land, an Aga, washing machines, a lawn mower; I had responsibilities, respect, pride. The illusions of life had rolled away as quickly as the pound coins.

Combe Martin to Woolacombe (13 miles)


Photo: Combe Martin by Paul Rhodes

[Extract from The Salt Path]

Down, down, down into Combe Martin, a pretty little Devon village on the beach, with supposedly the longest village street in the country, winding two miles inland up the narrow valley. We wandered around the beach area with one focus: a cash machine. Finding nothing but trinket shops and a café, we tried the tourist information office hoping they’d point us in the right direction. Inside three old ladies were lined up behind the counter; they looked up at us, whispering, smiling and nodding.

‘Moth, you speak to them, you always have a way with old ladies.’ ‘That sounds really dodgy.’ We dropped our packs by the door. ‘Ladies, I wonder if you can help us. We’ve been looking for a cash machine, but it seems we’re out of luck. Could you possibly direct us?’ The ladies shuffl ed, nudging each other, giggling. ‘Of course, it’s a pleasure to help. Just go to the grocery store up to the left. They’ll do cashback for you, Mr Armitage, but they weren’t expecting you yet.’ ‘Sorry, I’m not Mr Armitage.’ The ladies looked at each other conspiratorially. ‘No of course not, that’s okay, our secret, we won’t say a word.’ Moth looked back in bemusement as the three ladies waved to him. We put our packs on and left.

Supplies in the rucksack, twenty-five pounds still in the purse, chips in our hands, sitting on the beach leaning against the rocks in the heat of the day, nose burnt to a frazzle: it could be any ordinary day on the beach. Living in Wales within a drive of the sea, we’d had many of those. Long days of sand-covered kids, blow-up dinghies, tuna sandwiches, digging holes, rock pools. They’d grown up free to roam the woods, the mountains, the beach. Even now, after they’d been gone for a few years, when- ever I felt sand beneath my feet it was with a slight twinge of loss. I had to get over that or it would be a totally dismal summer.

Woolacombe to Braunton (15 miles)


Photo: Saunton Sands Burrows by Diego Daniel Guillen Villasenor

[Extract from The Salt Path]

The white, granular dunes rolled away down towards the Taw estuary, a fine shifting gravel like ground coral, not really like sand at all. The Burrows seemed to stretch on forever, one of the largest sand dune ecosystems in the country, covered in vegetation and humming with insect life. As we walked on I didn’t see much of the view, most of my attention being taken by large pieces of skin peeling from my nose, and I passed more than a mile cross- eyed, trying to pull bits off. Moth was shuffling through the shell sand, watching his feet, when suddenly as if out of a desert haze we were confronted by a fully kitted- out commando, a real-life camouflage- clad, gun- hugging soldier. I’ve never been so close to that much camo paint, and didn’t know how to react: whether to fall on the floor with hands behind my head, stand to attention, run away. What?

‘I’m afraid you can’t go any further today, you’ll have to turn around and go back.’ 

‘We can’t go back, we’re going forwards.’ What a stupid thing to say. But Moth seemed unfazed.

‘Hi, mate, what are you up to here? Manoeuvres or something?’

‘That’s right, sir, and you can’t go through.’ A big group of twenty soldiers streamed over the dune and collapsed on the sand as a canvas- backed truck pulled up.

 ‘We can’t go back, Moth’s not well, we’re going to Braunton to catch the bus. We won’t be able to make it if we go back.’ Did I look desperate enough? 

‘Stay there, I’ll see what can be done.’ Seconds later the soldier returned with a canteen of water.

‘Don’t move from that spot and we’ll take you out with us when we go. Didn’t you see the sign that says the dune’s closed?’


‘Don’t move.’ The soldiers threw their kit into the truck, lifting their immense packs and waist belts as if they were nothing; they took mine and added it to the heap. Close- up, the soldier looked like a boy.

‘What’s this? Call this a pack? Feels like a handbag.’ They were all laughing. Then they picked up Moth’s.

‘Piece of cake. We pack more weight than that in the shower.’ Raucous laughter as we were bundled into the back of the truck,the canvas rolled down and we bumped away.

Padstow to Porthcothan (13 miles)

Photo: Sunset at Trevose Head by Julian Baird

[Extract from The Salt Path]

Trevose lighthouse dazzled in the late-afternoon sun, shocking against the blue, too bright to focus on. Lying on the dry grass, peeling burnt skin from my nose, most needs had slipped away. Less hungry, less thirsty, less everything. We slept soundly until early evening, when a cool wind woke us and we left the headland, dropping down towards a perfect beach backed by marram-covered sand dunes. We pitched the tent on the grass hoping the hard-green shards would insulate us from the cold, opening the tent to the wind to dry the sodden fabric. 

The tide turned, bringing pristine barrelling waves on to the beach. And then they came. Neoprene figures, surfboards under their arms, running from the road, the path, out of the sand dunes, every direction, sleek black bodies waddling, ungainly, their boards blown by the gusts. They paddled out beyond the breakers,  huddling  together  as  a  black  shoal  until  the  waves came and as individuals they broke away, standing, becoming one with the rise and fall, elegantly curling their way to the shallows. Humans transformed into sea dancers.

We sat in the door of the tent in our sleeping bags, until the light had gone and with it the last of the surfers. The tide headed away and, as it hesitated before returning, the birds came to claim the empty beach for their own. To run and call through the night, between the sand and the water.

St Ives to Pendeen (14 miles)


Photo: Gurnard's Head by James Fay

[Extract from The Salt Path]

Two other figures wound their way up a tiny track from Pendour Cove and on to the path next to us. Old men, stooped, of similar size and age. One fully dressed in boots, waterproof and woolly hat, thin with a sunken, grey complexion, carrying a bundle of clothes. The other, slightly younger, in swimming trunks and flip-flops, a towel draped round his neck, carrying a Tupperware box. As they got closer, the movements, the shape of their heads and the bickering made it obvious they were brothers. 

‘Good morning. Are you off for a swim? We’ve just been. Well, I have – he won’t take his boots off. Don’t know what he thinks will happen if his skin sees daylight, maybe something will fall off.’ The swimmer was also the talker. The other brother just stood quietly with a half-smile.

‘Perfect air this morning. Warm and damp, great for the skin. A drop of cold salt water, a warm mist, I keep telling him, keeps illness at bay and keeps you young.’ He held out the Tupperware box, half full with glistening, ripe purple fruits. ‘Do you want a blackberry?’

The blackberries we’d picked along the way had been small, tart and sharp, so I took one only out of politeness, but when I put it in my mouth it was like no blackberry I’d ever tasted. Smooth, sweet, a burst of rich claret autumnal flavour, and in the background, faintly, faintly, salt.

‘You thought blackberries had passed, didn’t you? Or you’ve eaten them and thought you didn’t like them. No, you need to wait until the last moment, that moment between perfect and spoilt. The blackbirds know that moment. And if the mist comes right then, laying the salt air gently on the fruit, you have some- thing that money can’t buy and chefs can’t create. A perfect, lightly salted blackberry. You can’t make them; it has to come with time and nature. They’re a gift, when you think summer’s over, and the good stuff has all gone. They’re a gift.’

He put his arm around his brother, now shivering and pale, obviously ill. ‘Let me carry my clothes, old boy, and we’ll get you home by the fire.’ The other brother just smiled and they walked away into the ravine. We ate handfuls of blackberries, winding our way towards Gurnard’s Head, our hands stained purple.

Did you know?

Lightly Salted Blackberries was the original title for The Salt Path

Falmouth to Portloe (14 miles)

Photo: St Anthony's Head by Andy

[Extract from The Salt Path] Reeve 

The land dropped gradually away towards Greeb Point, smooth flat grass just below the brow, out of sight of the big house above. The moon climbed into a clear sky, just past full, polishing the landscape in tones of grey and silver. Dark, rich, smooth water lapped gently against the wet rock. Taking off our foul clothes, we slipped into the cold sea. As we pushed out from the ledge it eased us back and we had to swim away to hold still for a moment. Then Moth swam further out, diving under before returning.

‘You have to come out, you’ve got to see this.’ ‘I can’t. It’s too deep.’

‘No, you have to.’ Further from the rock, out into the moonlit water, the cold took a powerful hold. ‘Dip under and open your eyes.’ ‘I can’t, the salt . . .’

‘You can.’ I took a deep breath; then, under the water, fighting all my instincts, I opened my eyes. Instead of murky darkness, there were showers of white and silver dancing through the water, each swell sparkling with shattered, iridescent crystals of light. The moon, the source of it all, moving, swaying, refracted through the water to the sand and rock of the seabed. I went up to breathe and at eye level the water fizzed with the same light. Moth took my hand and led me further out. Then down again. The sand deeper below but still in sight, he let me go, his arms stretched wide. Scaled bodies hung barely moving in the water, reflected light shimmering on their skin, the moonlit water embodied. I reached out to one; its smooth coolness flexed slightly away, and then  resumed  its  place  among the  small  shoal.  They  floated motionless, until their joint sense told them they were too close to shore and as one they moved back to deeper water, stirring the shattered light to sparkling foam.

We left the water, shivering but silent, touched by an almost imperceptible sense of belonging, to sleep between the sea and the sky, dry but salted.

River Yealm to Bigbury on Sea (10 miles)

Photo: The Erme Estuary by Chris Parker

[Extract from The Salt Path]

Then onwards as the afternoon cooled. Refreshed, invigorated, our wet clothes hanging from our rucksacks. As the light began to fade we stood on Beacon Point and watched the sun dip behind the rippling  inland  horizon  of  Dartmoor,  before dropping down towards the crossing point of Erme Mouth. The tide was going out but the water was too high to cross, so we sat under the trees and ate the last of the rice. Darkness fell and slowly a moon began to rise, glinting on the recedingwater. We could have waited  until  mid-morning  and  crossed  then,  but we walked out into the thigh-deep river, picking our way slowly across by moonlight, a tawny owl calling from the trees along the bank. We camped in a field beyond the wood and listened to the owl as he moved up and down the riverbank.


Wind in the Wyllows (6 miles)

Photo: Polruan by Colin Milner

[Extract from The Salt Path]

A small, delicate woman with a strong northern accent sat down on the bench next to us. ‘It’s only

just back from the garage and it’s gone again – always does when you’re in some nowhere land like this. Oh, sorry, not from the caravans, are you?’

‘No, we’re just passing on the coastal path.’

‘Oh, coastal  path,  should  have  noticed  the  rucksacks.  The days will be getting shorter soon – where are you heading for? Home soon, I would have thought; not all the way at this time of year, surely?’

‘Just heading west. We don’t actually have a home to go back to.’ Moth had stopped pretending we’d sold our house, and was telling the truth to anyone who asked, amusing himself with the reactions. I tightened the straps on my pack, preparing to leave, which was the normal process after Moth had told people we were homeless, and wild camping. Normally they became uncomfortable and we set off.

‘So you’re actually homeless?’

‘Yep, that’s us.’ I put my pack on ready to go. Amazingly, the woman didn’t flinch.

‘Come inside the café – it’s chilly out here. I’ll get some coffees, and you can tell me more about your trail.’ 

‘What about the car?’

‘Sick of the damn thing. I’ll get a taxi.’

The café was warm, dry and full of the smell of seaweed and sweet chilli sauce, with views out to sea across beds of bladder- wrack. Over hot mugs of coffee Moth spun a story of golden summers spent under canvas, of changing weather unfolding around  two  people  living  wild  in  nature. Of  a  narrow  path alongside the busy world, but as separate from it as if it were in another dimension. The woman, Anna, sat mesmerized, caught by his stories, spellbound as people always are. He could have been reading from Beowulf. 

‘And now it’s the end of the summer, where are you going to go?’ ‘We have to stop. I’m going to uni next month, so we’ll have to find somewhere to stay.’

‘What, as a student? At your age?’

‘A late start, I know, but a fresh one hopefully.’ ‘Do old people get student loans?’

‘Yes, although I could be dead before I’ve paid it back.’

Anna sat quietly for a moment, looking from Moth, to me, then back again.

‘Look, I have a flat in Polruan. My tenants are moving out tomorrow but I haven’t advertised it yet; I was going to do the photos when they’d gone.’ Moth went very still on the seat next to me. You could rent it. If you want. It’d be perfect for you: the coastal path runs past the front door.’ 

Was this real, could it actually be happening? Stay calm, keep breathing.

‘You’d let us rent, even after we’ve told you our situation?’ ‘Yes, of course. If you’re a student and you’re getting a loan or grant or whatever, I’m sure that’ll be enough to cover the rent. It’s only a small place; it’s not much.’

‘Do you really mean that?’

‘Yes.’ Anna laughed ‘I like you, so why not?’ Her taxi came and she left the café, waving. ‘See you tomorrow night.’

We clutched the napkin with the address scribbled on it. Our address.

Lulworth to Worth Matravers (14 miles)

Photo: St Aldhelm's Head by Alison Webber

[Extract from The Salt Path]

Dark massing clouds rolled in clusters across the evening sky as we camped on a grass ledge on the slopes of St Aldhelm’s Head. The currents meet in the waters below the head, clashing in a foaming mass of boiling water. Small boats heading towards Poole attempted one by one to navigate their way through the irregular waves, pushing forwards only to be driven back over and over. A fishing boat approached the area, taking a wide arc out to sea to avoid the confluence, reaching the other side long before the others who were still struggling through the watery mayhem. The light faded into tones of grey and silver. Before darkness completely engulfed us, a slight movement caught my eye on the path and a wide black body came out of the gloom, the white stripe of his badger face shining in the twilight. Two metres away he stopped dead, his regular evening path barred by the tent; time stood still, frozen for minutes or seconds, as all three of us stared into the darkness, unsure what to do. The badger  slowly  turned  and  retreated  into  the  bracken,  to  find another route. We stared long after he’d gone, enchanted by this wild moment imprinted on the dusk.

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