Caroline Crampton had an unconventional childhood, spending long summers cooped up in her parent’s boat. But then her parents weren’t the conventional types. In 1984 they built their own vessel and sailed from South Africa to England, finally entering London via the unpredictable waters of the Thames Estuary. In The Way to the Sea, Crampton sets out to re-discover the Thames of her childhood, following the river all the way from its source, through Oxford, on past London and finally out to sea.
This charming blend of family, social and urban history highlights stories that have been strangely forgotten. To a life-long Londoner, the chapter on the capital is particularly engaging, with detail about defining, but seldom recounted events such as the 19th century addition of the Thames Embankment and the devastating 1928 flood.
But it’s the estuary that Crampton really wants to re-claim. Home to sewage works and heavy industry, and known more for privation than beauty, these waters hold a special place in her heart. She does an excellent job sharing this love, balancing descriptions of the silvery water with the more gritty reality at its edges.
She places particular emphasis on the people (often working class and poor) who have, and still do, live along the banks of the Thames, maintaining a special sympathy for those of the Estuary who have for so long played second fiddle to the glitzy capital just upriver.
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