Salt in the air, songs on the path

AN exciting collaboration between best-selling writer and long-distance walker Raynor Winn and The Gigspanner Big Band, Saltlines will be performed at the Marine Theatre, Lyme Regis, on Wednesday 13th July at 8pm, after its debut at Taunton Brewhouse on Friday 8th July. Audiences at Poole’s Lighthouse arts centre can see it on Sunday 17th July.

Described as “a portrait of the South West Coast Path in Old Songs and New Words,” the performance draws on songs and stories from around the 630-mile coastal path, played by the author and the band, founded by Peter Knight, a collective of some of the most high-profile names on the British folk scene.

Raynor’s first book, The Salt Path, was the Sunday Times best-selling memoir of walking the South West Coast Path in its entirety…a walk that was an impulsive response to unexpected circumstances which left her and her husband, Moth, homeless. It won praise for its against-all-odds uplifting message and its frank exploration of the reality of homelessness.

But while The Salt Path is one couple’s story, this well-trodden path must hold many more stories of loss, love and the natural world. Saltlines was the brainchild of Peter Knight’s wife Deborah Knight, who is also agent and manager of the Gigspanner Big Band. Having read The Salt Path she was walking a stretch of the South West Coast Path and thought such a well-trodden trail must hold many more stories of love, loss and the natural world – as well as traditional music collected down the years by people such as Cecil Sharp (1859-1924), co-founder of the English Folk Dance and Song Society.

Her hunch was correct and subsequent research threw up a multitude of songs and tunes, some of which (reimagined by the band) meld with Raynor’s words, in a unique celebration of the 630-mile South West Coast Path – the UK’s longest national trail.

Raynor says: “When Deborah approached me with the idea of the collaboration I did what you do when faced with a big decision – I thought about it for five minutes, then said yes, absolutely yes! They are an amazing group of musicians.”

One of the songs is the band’s captivating take on Ten Thousand Miles, a traditional parting song which was collected by Cecil Sharp in 1904 from Mrs. Emma Glover of Huish Episcopi, near Bridgwater.

Together, Raynor and the Gigspanner Big Band celebrate what Raynor calls “this 630 uninterrupted miles of coastline, crossing wild headlands with the calls of oystercatchers, and the smell of salt laden air ever present.”

The Salt Path was shortlisted for the 2018 Wainwright Prize, and the 2018 Costa Book Awards in the biography category. The judges described it as “an absolutely brilliant story that needs to be told about the human capacity to endure and keep putting one foot in front of another.”

Raynor Winn also writes about nature, homelessness and wild camping. Her second book Wild Silence was published by Michael Joseph in September 2020, and also became a Sunday Times bestseller.