The Way to the Sea | Granta

  • Published: 05/03/2020
  • ISBN: 9781783784141
  • Granta Books
  • 336 pages

The Way to the Sea

Caroline Crampton

Caroline Crampton was born on the Thames Estuary to parents who had sailed there from South Africa in the early 1980s. Having grown up with seafaring legs and a desire to explore, Caroline is both a knowledgeable guide to the most hidden-away parts of this overlooked and unfashionable part of the country, and a persuasive advocate for its significance, both historically and culturally.

As one of the key entrances and exits to England, the estuary has been pivotal to London’s economic fortunes and in defining its place in the world. It has also been the entry point for immigrants for generations, yet it has an ambivalent relationship with newcomers, and UKIP’s popularity in the area is on the rise. As Caroline navigates the waters of the estuary, she also seeks out its stories: empty warehouses and arsenals; the Thames barrier, which guards the safety of Londoners more precariously than we might; ship wrecks still inhabited by the ghosts of the drowned; vast Victorian pumping stations which continue to carry away the capital’s sewage; the river banks, layered with archaeological Anglo-Saxon treasures; literature inspired by its landscape; beacons used for centuries to guide boats through the dark and murky waterways of the estuary; the eerie Maunsell army forts – 24 metre high towers of concrete and steel which were built on concealed sandbanks at the far reaches of the estuary during the Second World War and designed to spot (and shoot) at incoming enemy planes; and the estuary’s wildlife and shifting tidal moods.

[A] praise-hymn to the muddy, marshy far reaches of the river... captivating

Rose George, New Statesman

Short but rich... [Crampton] writes movingly, sometimes with flecks of nostalgia or melancholy, but ultimately her book is a rallying call for greater appreciation of the maligned and overlooked

Evening Standard

Like the Thames itself, this book carries you along on a journey full of rich detail and fascinating insight

Madeleine Bunting

The Author

CAROLINE CRAMPTON is an author and podcaster who writes about the world and how we live in it. She worked in journalism at publications like the New Statesman and The Times before focusing on literary non-fiction. Her first book, The Way to the Sea: The Forgotten Histories of the Thames Estuary (Granta, 2019), was described by critics “as elegant and sinuous as the river” and “wise, fascinating and informative”. Her new book is A Body Made of Glass: A History of Hypochondria (Granta, 2024). Her award-winning podcast about golden age detective fiction, Shedunnit, is distributed by BBC Sounds. As a broadcaster, she has appeared on BBC Two, Sky News, BBC Radio 2 and BBC Radio 4 and her reviews have been published by the Guardian, London Review of Books and Spectator.

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From the Same Author

A Body Made of Glass

Caroline Crampton

‘There is a twilight zone between illness and health, and thats where I dwell’

An ache, a pain, a mysterious lump, a strange sensation in some part of your body, the feeling that something is not right. The fear that something is, in fact, very wrong. These could be symptoms of illness. But they could also be the symptoms of hypochondria – an enigmatic condition that might be physiological or psychological or both.

In this landmark book, Caroline Crampton tells the story of hypochondria, beginning in the age of Hippocrates and taking us right through to the wellness industry today. Along the way, we encounter successive generations of doctors positing new theories, as well as quacks selling spurious cure-alls to the desperate. And we meet those who have suffered with conditions both real and imagined, including Moliere, Darwin, Woolf, Freud, Larkin, and Proust whose symptoms and sensitivities gradually narrowed his life to the space of his cork-lined bedroom. Crampton also examines the gendered nature of the medical response, the financial and social factors at play, and the ways in which modern technology simultaneously feeds our fears and holds out the promise of relief.

Drawing on Crampton’s own experience of surviving a life-threatening disease only to find herself beset by almost constant anxiety about her health, A Body Made of Glass explores part of the landscape of illness that most memoirs don’t reach: the territory beyond survival or cure, where body and mind seem locked in a strange and exhausting kind of dance. The result is both a fascinating cultural history of hypochondria and a moving account of what it means to live with this invisible, elusive and increasingly wide-spread condition.

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‘Alone in the silent dark, she traversed the mouth of the estuary in mile-long sweeps.’