A LATE summer afternoon and Raynor Winn is reflecting on all that has been. It is seven years since the series of seismic events that upended her world: Winn's husband Moth being diagnosed with a rare, terminal illness; the couple getting evicted from their beloved farmhouse by bailiffs; finding themselves homeless with little more than the rucksacks they carried on their backs.

Fast-forward to the present day and Winn has a bestselling book, The Salt Path, under her belt (and a second, spellbinding memoir, The Wild Silence, newly published this month); she and Moth are living on a new farm; his health continues to defy the predictions of doctors.

Her voice sounds light and effervescent, drifting down the line from Cornwall where they are living now. "For things to change so quickly has been amazing," she marvels. "Another month and we will be starting to pick apples and getting the cider press going again."

For those who read The Salt Path and took the story to their hearts, it is as close to a happy ending as anyone might have hoped. Yet, a lot has happened – good and bad – since Winn put pen to paper to recount their tumultuous journey.

For a start, she never imagined the huge outpouring of support from readers. "Goodness no, it has been a completely unexpected experience, that's for sure," says Winn. "Because when I was writing The Salt Path, I wasn't writing it for anybody other than Moth.

"I was writing it for him, so he would remember our time on the path; what it felt like and how it made him feel. When it was published and so many people read it, that was a bit of a surprise."

First, let's rewind again to that August day in 2013. What followed would later be hailed as a powerful triumph of hope over adversity. Yet, as the couple huddled together under the stairs and the bailiffs banged on their door, it felt very much like life was over.

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With no home, savings or source of income, they made the decision to walk the 630-mile stretch of windswept and sea-lashed coastline, known as the South West Coast Path, a route that begins in Somerset, looping anti-clockwise through Cornwall and Devon, to Dorset.

The couple bought a tent on eBay and two thin sleeping bags, surviving on £48 per week in tax credits. They traversed the rugged and often unforgiving terrain, at the mercy of the elements and the kindness of strangers, their time on the trail documented in The Salt Path.

"The wonderful thing about that walk was we started out in such a state of anxiety and bitterness and anger about what had happened," says Winn. "But as we walked, just taking the next step and the one after that, we started to let go, stopped feeling afraid of the future and what it would hold."

Not everyone they met along the way was welcoming. The open hostility the couple encountered when people discovered they were homeless is something which left lasting scars long after she and Moth completed their odyssey.

This is something that Winn, 57, addresses in The Wild Silence, laying bare how she struggled to adapt. At the end of The Salt Path, readers learn that the couple have been given a roof over their heads in a flat in the village of Polruan in Cornwall.

The opening pages of The Wild Silence sees Winn attempting to adjust to life indoors. Unable to sleep, she pitches her tent inside the restored chapel where they were staying. On the path, she had a purpose and routine: walk, eat, sleep, repeat. What was it like when that ended?

"It was difficult," she admits. "The theme of that runs right through The Wild Silence. We had gone through that period of losing our home, becoming homeless and then walking. So, when we did find accommodation eventually, that sense of homelessness hadn't really left us.

"I was still carrying it with me as we tried to make a new life. That distrust of people probably came from the experiences we'd had on the path and the responses we'd received from people when they discovered we were homeless.


"It was hard to move on from that. When you go through any sort of traumatic experience, you don't just leave it behind – it carries a trace with you somehow. As soon as we stopped, a lot of the things I had been able to keep at bay when we were walking started to resurface."

Some years earlier, they had been persuaded by an old friend to invest in a company. When the business failed, the couple were told that the contract they had signed made them liable for the debts, and their house and land would be sold to help pay the creditors.

Not only did they lose their home, but also their livelihood. At the time, Winn and Moth lived on a farm in Wales, which they had lovingly restored and turned into a viable holiday rental business.

A three-year legal battle ensued which, ultimately, they thought they had won after producing proof they were not liable. However, the judge in their hearing refused to accept new evidence because it had not been submitted through the proper channels. They lost the case on a technicality.

The couple were given less than a week to pack up and leave their family home of 20 years. A day later there came another juggernaut blow when they were summoned by a doctor to hear the results from the endless rounds of medical tests that Moth had been undergoing.

He was diagnosed with corticobasal degeneration, a rare, terminal brain disease. The doctor said that the average life expectancy was six to eight years – by then it had already been six years since Moth's symptoms became apparent.

There were advised, as the condition progressed, Moth would experience worsening problems with his movement, speech, memory and swallowing. They left the appointment and clung to each other in the hospital car park.

"You can't be ill, I still love you," Winn wrote of that moment in The Salt Path. She had met and fallen in love with Moth when she was 18. At the time of his diagnosis Winn was 50 and her husband only 53. Life without Moth seemed unfathomable.

That was seven years ago. Remarkably Moth continues to beat the odds. He recently celebrated his 60th birthday. One oft-Googled question about The Salt Path is "What happened to Moth?" and Winn is touched by the emotional investment that many readers have in her husband's health.

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"I tried to put across in The Wild Silence that it wasn't a straightforward journey where we stopped that walk, everything was rosy, and he was OK – because that's not how it has been," she says.

"But, by spending all the time we possibly can out in the natural environment and being as active as possible, he has found a way to keep his health on the plateau for now. Every day we just hope it is going to be another good day."

To that end, The Wild Silence is more than simply a memoir – it is a love letter to the natural world in all its wondrous glory. There are moments when Winn, who grew up on a farm in Staffordshire, speaks about her strong, unyielding pull to the land that is reminiscent of Chris Guthrie in Lewis Grassic Gibbon's Sunset Song.

Not least in the heart-rending section of her new book where she writes about losing her mother to a stroke, watching helplessly as life ebbed away. When Winn isn't at her mother's bedside, she is retracing the countryside of her childhood, seeking answers in nature.

"I knew I had to talk about my mum's death within the whole context of what I was trying to explain," she says. "I didn't know if I could but then, as I started to write about it, I realised that in those darkest points in your life, there are beautiful, gentle and life-affirming moments.

"We don't share those enough, do we? We shy away from the darkness of death and loss. But I think it is there, in those darkest places, where we find out the most about ourselves."

She and Moth are kindred spirits. He, too, has always felt a pull towards the outdoors. "I had grown up on the farm with a rural, almost domestic, view of nature and the countryside," says Winn. "My childhood was full of potato-picking and the lambing season and cycles of the farm.

"Then I met Moth and, although he had grown up on the edge of a town, he was always drawn to the wide-open countryside. The more dramatic and mountainous places. Our first holiday together was the first time I saw the mountains."

Those mountains were in Scotland. The pair made plans to climb Sgurr an Fhidhleir, also known as The Fiddler, north of Ullapool. Instead, they were caught in a treacherous storm that blew their tent away, leaving them shivering in a survival bag and wading through torrents of water.

The experience only deepened their strong bond. Nor did it put them off Scotland – the couple later returned to get married in Portree on Skye. Winn recalls how the registry office was closed for renovations and, instead, they said their vows in a temporary space at the back of a hardware shop.


"They had some sacking hanging between the office and the shop," she laughs. "It was like: 'Do you take this woman? Oh, and can I have a half pound of lost-head nails, please?'."

The couple settled in Wales and had two children. It was a wrench to lose the land they had worked so tirelessly to restore and see thrive. Then a glimmer of hope. After The Salt Path was published, Winn was contacted by a stranger.

Sam, a City trader, told her he had bought a farm in Cornwall and it was his dream to nurse the land back to health. Having read her book, he knew that Winn and Moth were the right people to take it on. Would they like to stay there? The couple were initially hesitant.

"It was a hard decision," she says. "This man, who I had never encountered before in my life, contacted us on Twitter and said: 'Would you like to come and live at my farm? It is neglected and overused, it has been empty for a while, but I think you are the ones.'

"He had read The Salt Path and it had made such an intense connection with him personally that he felt he had to make this offer. But we hesitated, we held back, and we procrastinated for months, mainly because we were still carrying that sense of distrust of people."

It was Winn's unwavering belief that being immersed within life on the land would be beneficial for Moth's health that convinced them to make the leap of faith. That was two years ago and they haven't looked back. Already they are seeing the fruits of their labour.

"The house had been empty," says Winn. "It was damp and had furry inhabitants in the loft. The farm had years of waste. We spent months drying the house out and clearing the human residue from the land so that it could breathe again.

"When we lost our home and piece of land, we thought we would lose that connection to nature and the earth, but as we were walking [on the path] we came to realise it was something that was so intrinsic to who we are, that we couldn't lose that.


"We didn't need to actually own something to take huge pleasure and gratification from working on the land and seeing the land itself respond to that – for the biodiversity to come back and the insects and birdlife to come piling in – simply by taking so much human interference away."

While they have a home again, that doesn't mean their walking days are over. The Wild Silence reveals how, after The Salt Path, the couple and two friends tackled the Laugavegur Trail in Iceland. It was an arduous eight-day trek with its share of heart-in-mouth moments on challenging terrain.

"We found ourselves on a four-hour bus trip, off-road, into the southern highlands of Iceland," she says. "It dropped us off at the head of a lava flow. It was supposed to be a camp and has a name on the map, but really is a few tents clustered around a shed and an old school bus.

"It is an incredible wilderness of ash and lava and multi-coloured mountains. It was possibly one of the most spectacular things we have ever done. We walked through those highlands and down towards the coast. The drama and magnificence of that landscape was so intense."

Winn is already planning her third book and another walk is in the pipeline. "It is one we are doing next year. Who knows? I might bump into you as I'm passing." Could a visit to Scotland be on the cards, then? "Might be," she teases.

Even now, though, Winn doesn't like to get too far ahead of herself. The biggest lesson from walking the path and dealing with Moth's illness has been to cherish the present. "It does change your outlook," she says. "You realise that life is so much bigger than the trivia.

"You will never look back and think, 'Ah, yes, but he was great at doing the washing up'. It forces you to appreciate the small things far more; that half an hour you spend drinking a cup of tea together as you watch the birds, how somebody laughs or eats their porridge. That is what you hang on to."

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Before we wind up our conversation, Winn tells me a story. "Someone came to the door earlier in the day. They had picked up a swallow out of the hedge," she says. "The swallow had flown in after an insect and impaled itself on a thorn.

"They brought it out of the hedge, wrapped in a sweatshirt, and said, 'What do you think we should do?'. Then, as we opened the sweatshirt, the swallow took off. It circled around and flew into the sky. I think it is moments like that which are the most important nuggets in life, aren't they?"

The Wild Silence by Raynor Winn is published by Michael Joseph, priced £14.99