The Wild Silence by Raynor Winn: nature’s healing powers

In her bestselling debut, The Salt Path, Raynor Winn and her husband Moth walked 630 miles along a coastal path, sleeping in a flimsy tent and existing on rehydrated noodles. They began the walk as homeless, their farm having been seized by bailiffs, and distraught by a diagnosis that Moth was suffering an untreatable and incurable brain disease. They end the walk with a glimmer of hope: an offer from a complete stranger of an apartment in a Cornish village.

The Wild Silence picks up where The Salt Path ends. The couple are now living in a narrow apartment at the back of a chapel and Moth has embarked on a degree in environmental studies at a nearby university. But though they are glad to have a roof over their head, they struggle to settle into their new home. Raynor in particular feels hemmed in by four walls, unable to sleep and stricken with panic when she encounters people on the streets. It’s only when she’s out in nature, back on the cliff-top path that she feels safe.

At the end of the land and the start of the sea. In a space between worlds, at a time between years, in a life between lives. I’m lost, but here, at least for a moment, I’m found.

Another stranger provides a solution. City trader Sam asks the couple to take on a project of re-wilding his ancient cider farm thought to have inspired Kenneth Grahame, author of The Wind In The Willows. The apple trees are gnarled and cankerous, the farmhouse is derelict, home to mildew and mice but the setting beside a creek and the glimpses of wildlife prove irresistible.

It’s a risky venture, particularly in the light of Moth’s condition. But Raynor sees it as a way to buy time for Moth and for her “to watch and hope.” Ultimately the peace and solitude of the farm and the physical effort involved in clearing decades of neglect prove restorative, both physically and emotionally.

The Wild Silence is a different kind of book to The Salt Path. It lacks the linear structure of the walk, instead looping back to Raynor’s childhood and her early years with Moth, reflecting on her complete immersion in nature and her devotion to an extra-ordinary man. The opportunity of the farm in fact doesn’t make an appearance until about page 140 and it doesn’t seem that we are there for long before the couple decide to embark on yet another adventure: a hike across Iceland.

What the two books do have in common however is Raynor’s constant anxiety about Moth’s health. The specialist who delivered his diagnoses advised him to “take it easy” and “not to run up steps” but on their coastal walk he’d grown stronger. Though his condition worsens subsequently he’s still capable of long days of hard labour at the farm. Exercise they conclude, is the key to staving off the deterioration – hence their decision to undergo a gruelling hike across Iceland.  

Also evident in The Wild Silence is Raynor Winn’s ability to convey both the majesty of nature and its ability to bring an inner quietude. During their walk across the glacial fields and volcanos of Iceland, for example, she pauses to watch a bird glide on air currents above a ravine.

A high cliff face of red chevrons of rock forced up by huge tectonic uplifts was separated from where we stood by a cavernous ravine where a river rolled and boiled far below. … I watched the fulmar glide into the distance, following the ravine and the river away to the south. All that was left was the roaring, wild silence of an empty land without vegetation or animal life. A heaving, crashing chasm of noise and movement, overlaid by a veneer of stillness.

The elemental nature of the landscape seems to unleash her tension and give her hope but there are many other times when she is content to celebrate small moments of tranquility. An early morning glimpse of a pregnant doe on her way to a stream; the croak of a huge toad waddling among the plant pots on a moonlit night. And, the most gratifying of sights: the return of curlews (an endangered bird) in the half light of a November morning.

At what point, asks Raynor, do we lose the ability to enjoy the wonder of these simple pleasures.

When do we stop feeling the softness of rain on our face and start worrying about being wet? Stop marvelling at the wonder of a badger rooting through the grass in the twilight, stop listening to the sounds carried on the wind or the echo of ourselves inside it?

In a sense this is a story of love; a deep and abiding love for the natural environment and an appreciation of its ability to restore and heal. But it’s equally a testimony to love for another human being; a love that prevails despite financial calamity, ,hardship and sickness. It’s a fascinating and truly memorable book about the triumph of the human spirit in the face of adversity.

The Wild Silence was published in 2020 by Penguin Random House in the UK. The Salt Path, published by Michael Joseph in 2018, was shortlisted for the Costa Book of the Year.

BookerTalk

What do you need to know about me? 1. I'm from Wales which is one of the countries in the UK and must never be confused with England. 2. My life has always revolved around the written and spoken word. I worked as a journalist for nine years then in international corporate communications 3. My tastes in books are eclectic. I love realism and hate science fiction and science fantasy. 4. I am trying to broaden my reading horizons geographically by reading more books in translation

13 thoughts on “The Wild Silence by Raynor Winn: nature’s healing powers

  • February 13, 2021 at 6:43 pm
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    Saving this as I’ve been given copies of both their books but have yet to read them!

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  • February 9, 2021 at 5:00 pm
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    Oh this sounds lovely. Can it be read as a stand alone, or does one also need to have read The Salt Path?

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    • February 9, 2021 at 6:08 pm
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      In theory it could be read standalone but I think you’d miss the real effect which comes from learning via the first book about the reasons why they did the coastal walk and their experience. It makes themes of The Wild Silence more understandable

      Reply
  • February 9, 2021 at 11:03 am
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    I skimmed this carefully, just enough to know you enjoyed it and recommend. I must get to it soon, before I hear anything else about it!

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  • February 8, 2021 at 11:10 pm
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    Wonderful review, it really sounds like a worthy follow-up to The Salt Path. I tried to listen to a clip of the audiobook, but unfortunately I didn’t get on that well with the narrator (who is the author herself). I rarely find the time to read (as opposed to listen) but I hope I will get to it one way or another.

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    • February 9, 2021 at 9:34 am
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      It would probably have worked better to get a professional to do the narration.

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  • February 8, 2021 at 10:47 pm
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    Thanks for reminding me to look more closely at The Salt Path, discovered earlier on your site

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    • February 9, 2021 at 9:34 am
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      I hope you get to explore it, it’s such a wonderful book.

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  • February 8, 2021 at 10:45 pm
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    I read half of your review as I hope to read this book this year. I would think by publishing these books they would have their income back. They have been very successful. I still think of these people.

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    • February 9, 2021 at 9:36 am
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      I don’t think they are ever going to be rich financially but the change in their life has been remarkable because of the first book.

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  • February 8, 2021 at 10:35 pm
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    I’m glad to hear you liked it. I think yours is the first review I’ve read!

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    • February 9, 2021 at 9:38 am
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      That’s true, I haven’t seen any blog reviews, just the mainstream media ones.

      Reply

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