Years ago I walked past a homeless person in Helsinki on my way to a café with my friend. My friend stopped, searched his pockets, and handed a cigarette and a few coins to the man on the street. “In case I ever end up in the same situation,” he said. I was 18, and the thought that I could ever end up homeless was completely alien to me.
The Salt Path (2018), written by Raynor (Ray) Winn, tells the story of unexpected homelessness and the struggles you face when everything in your life is taken from you. You could say that it is a travel book about the South West Coast Path in Cornwall, England, from Somerset to Devon. But unlike in most travel books, Moth and Ray would probably not choose to walk the path if they had other options.
“I was struggling to decide if going downhill with a weight on my back was actually worse than going up. — by the time we reached the bottom I’d concluded that they were inseparable in pain levels and I was probably insane to think we could walk this path.”Raynor Winn, The Salt Path
They are complete novices when it comes to hiking and wild camping. When they start, they are lacking some basic knowledge as well as essential items. How could a £5 sleeping bag from a supermarket ever be sufficient? Yet, what can you do if you don’t have enough money for a branded lightweight sleeping bag?
All the struggles Moth and Ray face while walking the path remind the reader that, really, this book is about having nowhere to go. It’s not about the beautiful scenery but where one fits in that scenery – accepting or rejecting the identity others assume to you. It is hard to change your habits and resist the temptation to order a cup of hot coffee on a cold wet day even though you know that you should use the little money you have for cheap meals that will feed you for a week.
In the book, Winn underlines some important problems relating to homelessness and official figures in the UK. The official numbers of Rough sleepers in England are based on counting the (visible) rough sleepers on an unannounced night four times a year, but the numbers don’t seem to match with reality.
“Official figures in the autumn of 2014 put the number of rough sleepers in Plymouth at thirteen. If that was true — we met them all that night and some.”Raynor Winn, The Salt Path
At the end of 2019 Shelter estimated there to be around 280 000 homeless people in England, this includes rough sleepers as well as some people in temporary accommodation. The pandemic has possibly made the situation worse for those in the brink of homelessness even though the government helped to arrange temporary housing for rough sleepers during lockdown.
I rise my hat for Winn for getting through the homelessness and writing the book. It is a story worth telling and a book worth reading.
“Living wild on the path we were always wet. Wet with sweat, wet with rain, or just wet from the moist air. – – It was as familiar as dryness in normal life, so familiar we didn’t really think about it anymore.”Raynor Winn, The Salt Path