“Be not inhospitable to strangers lest they be angels in disguise.”

A few years ago I came across a book on the Wainwright prize short list that I absolutely loved, I would like to say it was life changing, but to be honest I think it just reinforced values I already hold dear. It was a beguiling memoir about heart-breaking challenges faced by a middle aged couple who suddenly lost their home and income and at the same time one of them is diagnosed with a terminal and debilitating neurological condition. The book was of course; The Salt Path by Raynor Winn. Ray an unassuming wife and mother who suddenly found herself homeless and her lifelong partner diagnosed with a terminal and debilitating condition, made the rash but momentous decision to simply walk. Specifically to walk the South West Coast Path, the Salt Path around southern England.

The Salt Path has become something of a new classic of nature writing and a champion of the healing power of nature and walking. The power of just putting one foot in front of another, no matter what. I have previously blogged about The Salt Path here so for more on it just click on the link. The Salt Path was an accidental book, but what a book it is, and it has lead on to subsequent books by Ray, who has found her voice as a nature writer of note. The Wild Silence came next and I have posted about that one here. If anything I loved that book even more than The Salt Path. Raynor Winn has become one of my all time favourite authors and I will buy any new book from her the second it hits the shelves, which is what I did recently.

As soon as I knew one of my local bookshops had Ray’s latest book; Landlines, I grabbed a copy and dove straight in, eager to know how Moth and Ray were faring. And how beautiful is the cover? Yet another gorgeous cover design by the talented Angela Harding whose dazzling prints adorn all of Ray’s books to date.

As the book starts, I was saddened but not surprised that Moth was increasingly struggling and on the point of excepting the inevitable decline of his condition. Ray, ever the fighter, was not giving in so easily and tempts Moth into setting out on yet another walk, but not just any walk. Ray tempts Moth into tackling one of the British Isles most challenging trails; the Cape Wrath trail in Scotland. Once Moth accepts the idea, Ray goes from longing for the trail and outdoors to finding herself overcome with guilt and self doubt for tempting him to try this demanding walk.

Ray writes eloquently and honestly about their complex and enduring relationship. The one thing each of her books has been, is a love letter to this heroic, delightful, nature loving man. It is more than just Moth of course that drives these continuing tales, it is a curiosity and respect for all people and most importantly of all, a joint love they both possess for the incredible natural world through which they walk:

“It’s something more than just the casual familiarity of a remembered face, it’s in the way Ian speaks of the land, with a sense searching. But what’s he searching for? A spirituality, or something deeper, a connection? He reminds me of someone, but I can’t place it.

Moth puts some things back in his rucksack and sits up, and it’s there. I’m seeing a young man I’ve always known, someone with a passion for life and curiosity that keeps him searching even when all those around him have given up. ‘I get that – I’ve always felt that here. As if there’s something beyond the views. I’ve always been able to find answers here, where everywhere else they’re out of reach.’

‘That’s it, that’s it.’ The young man sits back as if satisfied by the thought of a conclusion. Moth takes a drink of water and puts the lid back on the bottle with a deliberate turn of his wrist and they sit looking up at the mountains in contented silence.” (p93)

On the walk Ray records their many encounters with locals and fellow travellers, some inspiring, some inspired by them. This walk has the added dimension of taking place in the middle of a pandemic with the added difficulties and suspicions this entails. An insightful social observer, Ray reflects on community and connection to land, she reflects on trespass and rights of access, something available in Scotland but denied in England. Ray and Moth are no longer homeless, and given the well deserved success of her writing, I suspect they no longer suffer from the extreme poverty that defined the first book, but they have never stopped being aware of the suffering of others and the on going tragedy of homelessness.

This memoir was written during the pandemic, in a post Brexit world, while walking in a country with it’s own concerns about borders and loyalties, something Ray captures in the encounters they have, but ultimately it is concern for the natural world that dominates:

The argument heats up, glass gets broken, the girls fall quiet, then the rain ends it all as the fire hisses out and they run to their tents. We try to sleep, but I can’t my thoughts keep running through the argument around the fire. I think of the stag, grazing, moving on, unconcerned about borders or boundaries, yet inhabiting these hills, this bogland, without thought or question of power and ownership. When did humans start to believe our existence on the land required ownership and borders – was it when we stopped moving and started to build? Was that the moment we began to disconnect from the land and each other in doing so created a world so complex that, even as drunk as they were, these young people were still arguing over how to rearrange the puzzle? Yet all the time, while even in the wilderness we argue about who wields the power, the climate is heating up and very land over which we’re arguing is beginning to burn. (pp.144-145)

Landlines, like all of Raynor Winn’s writing is filled with rich observation, curiosity, compassion and humour. I cannot recommend these books strongly enough. Every now and again a book, an author, will find their way onto your shelves and into your consciousness never to leave, but to always be there amongst your literary friends, to be consulted at times of boredom or distress. To entertain or to be looked to for shared experience or to inspire, Raynor Winn is one such author for me. Not everyone will find accounts of long walks scintillating reading but I love these books and always will and it is passages like the one below that will always lead me to buy the next book by Raynor Winn the minute it hits the shelves:

“… this trip has taught me something about all of this – the living, the dying, the void in between. It’s not about how long it lasts, it’s about the value of each moment . It’s like one of your pans of mushroom soup.’

It’s almost completely dark, on the edge of an island stuck out in the north sea, a chilly north-easterly wind blowing in from Scandinavia, and he’s comparing life and death to a pan of soup.


‘It takes loads of mushrooms, so you only ever make enough for two bowls, but it’s full of such deep and complex flavours – thyme and garlic, and earth – that it doesn’t matter. That one bowl is enough, because it holds so much,’

‘Earth? That’s probably the compost I haven’t washed off the mushrooms.’

‘You don’t have to do that.’

‘Do what?’

‘Whenever I mention death, you joke about it, or change the subject. Don’t you get it? It’s part of the soup. There’s always more flavour when the mushrooms are about to go off: it makes the soup so much richer.’

‘I might not make that soup again, not if it makes you think of earth and death, it’s tomato from now on.’

‘You know I see right through you, don’t you?’

‘I know. But you also know this trip’s always been about gathering the ingredients for a great soup.’

‘The very best soup.’

We walk away as darkness falls, somewhere in the void between life and death, that place where we all exist.” (p167)

All three of Raynor Winn’s wonderful books make great reads for the Gaia/nature challenge and I will always look forward to reading each new book Ray writes.

5 thoughts on “Walking Landlines

    1. Love the blog name I should read Wallington’s book. Wish I could escape from behind a desk and walk more at the moment, think I have Mondayitis today 😒

      Liked by 1 person

      1. With our lifestyle, I always feel a bit smug on Monday mornings.
        We are in Croatia, but it might reassure you to know we’ve spent all day driving aound a hillside city in search of a supermarket we can get in. Because it’s on a hill, most of the supermarkets have underground parking, which is not an option in a truck 4m high!
        Mark has done some impressive reversing…
        I do recommend Mark Wallington’s books. I really enjoyed them! But humorous memoirs are my fave genre.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Oh no, size is a problem, we recently bought an old sprinter van to kit out to follow your example, (waiting for a good opportunity to leave work), and G keeps pointing out to me I will be doing a lot of walking, no more convenient parking under shops. 😊

        Liked by 1 person

  1. You’ll be fine with a Sprinter, I’m sure. It’s a bit more conventional than a Volvo N10 truck! Usually, we don’t have problems – we just find supermarkets with large car parks. We stayed overnight in a Lidl the other night. It was right next to a field of horses – it was a rural Lidl (see what I did there?!)


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