Hiking 630 miles of English coast, with nothing left to lose

Raynor Winn’s life as she knew it turned an abrupt corner in 2013. She and her husband Moth lost the home they raised their children in, a small farm that was also their livelihood. The next day, Moth was diagnosed with corticobasal degeneration, a rare degenerative brain disease with no treatment aside from pain management. The doctor estimated he had only up to two years left.

For the first time in decades, they had nowhere to go and nowhere to be, and they had no idea how much time they had left together. So they started walking.

Billed as “one of the best walks in the world,” England’s South West Coast Path wraps 630 miles around the lower tip of England, from Somerset to Dorset, winding through Devon and Cornwall. People travel from all over to walk part or all of the Path. As Raynor Winn writes with great humor, reflection and generosity in her book “The Salt Path,” many of them do it with much bigger budgets — for high-end gear, for overnight stays at B&Bs — than she and Moth had at their disposal.

They walked through blistering heat and shivered through cold damp nights inside a tiny tent and thin sleeping bags, camping much of the time in the wild — a cow pasture here, a beach there — to avoid campground fees. Some days they had nothing to eat but a packet of noodles to split and some candy; they perfected the art of vicarious eating, in which they appreciated strangers’ meals from afar. And they discovered that depending on how much of their living situation they revealed to strangers, they were treated either as an inspiration or a cautionary tale.

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