The Salt Path by Raynor Winn

The Salt Path by Raynor Winn was published in 2018 and everybody seemed to be reading it then – which is why I wasn’t. I actually bought a jigsaw puzzle of the book cover fairly recently, the artist is Angela Harding and I really like her style.

Raynor and Moth Winn had been married for 32 years when they were told that he was terminally ill with a neurological condition, days after that devastating news their long legal battle to stop their home and business from being repossessed came to an end and they were suddenly homeless. With nowhere to live they decided to go on a long walk along the South West of England Coast Path, it was something they had always wanted to do anyway. They wild camped most of the time and had to live on £48 a week benefits, which for some reason dwindled to about £30 a week fairly quickly.

Another reason why it has taken me so long to get around to reading this one is that I thought it might be a bit depressing, at times it is as they encountered more and more problems along the way, but there are uplifting moments, as well as the frustrating ones when I asked myself – ‘how could they have been so stupid?’ from time to time.

Moth’s health fluctuates, but mainly the walking regime seems to have helped his condition. There’s some humour and some serious comments on the horrendous problem of homelessness in the UK, which those in power make sure is very much under-reported. Winn also mentions that she and her husband didn’t get Legal Aid for their legal problem despite them having no money. It’s totally bizarre that millionaire Boris Johnson allegedly (according to the newspapers) DID get Legal Aid recently. How is that possible?

I quite enjoyed this book which has some lovely descriptions of scenery and nature and interesting characters met along the way, but mainly I was glad that we visited Cornwall about 30 years ago as the coastal towns seem to have been swamped by visitors nowadays, and it’s sad when so many houses which should be family homes have become businesses rented out for holiday homes. It’s almost as bad in the east coast of Scotland too.

I think her book Landlines features a walk along a Scottish pathway, so I might eventually read that one.

Notes from Walnut Tree Farm by Roger Deakin

Notes from Walnut Tree Farm by Roger Deakin was published in 2008. It’s a selection of his diary entries/research notes and thoughts which had been written over several years, compiled into one year. This book is a sort of homage to Deakin I suppose, he died quite suddenly and his friends were obviously bereft, this was a way of hearing more from him.

You get a real flavour of what Deakin was like and the way he lived his life, which seems to have been idyllic. He had lived in an ancient Suffolk farm for the last 30 years of his life, wild swimming in the moat, in fact he apparently popularised the modern interest in wild swimming. I got the impression though that the moat was more of a ditch, a common feature of East Anglian fields.

As you would expect, some entries are more interesting than others. Some are strange such as his observation that mallard ducks ‘seem incapable of ordinary fonder bird-love. With them it has to be a violent chase, wild pursuit, followed by an unceremonius ducking of the object of desire and a gang-bang.’

Well there’s a very simple reason for that as for some reason there are always far more male mallards than females, which he doesn’t seem to have noticed. In fact things are often made even worse as female mallards are sometimes drowned in the melee.

Unusually for an environmentalist Deakin was a big fan of cats, I suppose they were good company for him but they must have devastated the local bird population. He was quite againts dogs, reasoning that anyone taking a dog for a walk in the country was unlikely to see much in the way of wildlife, as dogs scared everything away,  they certainly scare rabbits away.

The blurb on the front says: ‘Marvellous, wonderful, lovely, remarkable ….. to be read and reread and treasured.’ Elizabeth Jane Howard

I borrowed this one from my local library.

Holloway by Robert Macfarlane, Stanley Donwood and Dan Richards

Holloway by Robert Macfarlane, Stanley Donwood and Dan Richards is a short book, just 36 pages long, which was described as  A perfect miniature of a prose-poem of a book by William Dalrymple (Guardian). It was written in memory of Roger Deakin, the environmental and nature writer.

Macfarlane, Donwood and Richards travelled to the Chideock Valley in Dorset, in search of a particular holloway which features in Geoffrey Household’s book Rogue Male. A holloway is a sunken pathway, due to the make-up of the chalky soil there and the many generations of foot and hoof fall the land has dropped dramatically over the years. In the past such places have been used by people who were hiding out from the authorities, such as Roman Catholic priests in Elizabethan times.

Robert Macfarlane had previously gone on the same journey with his friend Roger Deakin, and this re-run was a sort of homage to their friend. It turned out to be a bit of a strange and slightly spooky journey, but it’s an entertainng informative read, with atmospheric illustrations by Stanley Donwood.  I borrowed this book from the library.

A Year Unfolding by Angela Harding – 20 Books of Summer 2023

A Year Unfolding by Angela Harding, A printmaker’s view,  is a lovely book.  I asked Jack to buy me a copy for our fairly recent wedding anniversary. Actually it was supposed to be for my birthday but he didn’t get around to getting a copy fast enough for that!

You might have seen Angela Harding’s art illustrating various magazine articles, but it’s so much nicer to have them in a book. The art is accompanied by her thoughts on what has inspired her over the years and often her memories of being in the countryside and by the sea. There are quite a few poems by Welsh poet Edward Thomas, mainly on the subject of nature.

It didn’t take me long to read A Year Unfolding but it’s the sort of book that I’ll be dipping into constantly, just to savour the illustrations and prose. A real treat.


I Belong Here by Anita Sethi

I Belong Here cover

I Belong Here by Anita Sethi is subtitled A Journey Along the Backbone of Britain and is due to be published on the 29th of April 2021 (Bloomsbury) and as it’s tagged ‘Outdoors and Nature.’ I was a bit disappointed that the first fifth of the book the author concentrated on writing about a horrendous experience she had while travelling on the Trans Pennine railway line when she was racially abused at great length by a fellow passenger. Luckily she was able to film some of it on her phone, and she also had good support from the railway staff. This culminated in the perpetrator being taken off the train and handcuffed. Eventually he pled guilty, but the experience haunted/haunts Anita and she keeps returning to the subject throughout the book. This isn’t surprising as the man had threatened to set her on fire. If you live in the UK you’ll probably remeber the case being on the news. I hope writing this book was a cathartic experience for her.

I can only imagine how annoying it must be when people keep asking you where you come from because you have brown skin, as if generations of brown and black skinned people haven’t been born in Britain. When Anita Sethi met Prince Charles he asked her where she came from and when she replied Manchester he said – you don’t look like you come from Manchester. Proving that Charles is indeed his father’s son. To be fair though, I bet that if I ever met him he would have had to make some sort of remark about me having red hair! That’s just another thing that can rile up strange people, as can a Scottish accent as I know myself, having been made to feel very unwelcome by some people while living in the south of England – or even just visiting England. Brexit has definitely emboldened bigots.

I had been under the impression that this was a book about nature and hill walking but that part of the book seemed like a long time in coming, which I found quite frustrating, but when the nature writing began I was impressed by it, and I hope she writes more in that vein. Her descriptions of rock formations and water ‘forces’ as waterfalls are called in ‘the north’ (of England) made me take note of the places she visited with a view to following in her footsteps, when we’re allowed to travel again – if I’m not too old by then!

The author does go off at tangents at times so there are a lot of subjects covered in the book, including grief – after the unexpected death of her friend who was only 28. She writes about the etymology of some words which I always find interesting, immigration and the Windrush scandal, mental health and ‘forest bathing’ – to name just a few subjects.

All in all I enjoyed being in Anita Sethi’s company most of the time, and meeting the people she had had conversations with along the way. I would have preferred less of the angst and more of the nature though.

I was sent this ebook by Bloomsbury for review via Netgalley.

To the River by Olivia Laing

To the River cover

To the River by Olivia Laing is about a journey along the length of the River Ouse in Sussex. The Ouse is of course the river that Virginia Woolf drowned herself in in 1941. I believe Laing wrote that the Ouse is 42 miles long, but not all of it is accessible by walkers. I wanted to know exactly how long she had walked but perhaps she never worked it out.

I don’t know what I really expected of this book but I found it to be a bit of a disappointment. I began by enjoying the meandering of the author’s mind, never knowing which subject might come up next. There’s geography and history, odd snippets of information such as that “the silver-leaved tormentil can both stem the flow of blood and dye leather red.” She carried out her walk during mid-summer so the fields were full of wild flowers and she wrote multiple lists of flowers that she had seen, which is fine if you know the flowers. Some more in-depth descriptions would have been useful for those who aren’t so well-versed in wild flowers. She wrote about The Piltdown Forgery, Shakespeare, Alice in Wonderland, The Wind in the Willows – all sorts, she’s definitely eclectic, but ultimately for me – as a person who loves rivers – there just wasn’t enough in it about the Ouse. Also the author felt the need to tell us about the dead animals that she stumbled across and even sought out (by smell) along the way – bizarre.

The reason for Laing embarking on this project was her reaction to the end of a relationship and thoughts of Matthew kept popping up. Apparently neither of them could agree to live outwith their own counties. Eventually Matthew went back to his beloved Yorkshire, but really it would have been better if he had never made an appearance in the book as it all seemed rather pathetic, with the author weeping down the phone to him which must have made him think that he had made a good move.

I believe this was Olivia Laing’s first attempt at writing a nature book and it might be something that she has improved on and other readers have loved it. The Sunday Times said: ‘A beautifully written meditation on landscape.’