First published 20 years ago, Essex journalist Tom King’s book Thames Estuary Trail told the story of ‘a walk round the end of the world. The walk and book were the culmination of a long-held dream. Tom always wanted to join the ranks of the footpath trailblazers. But unblazed territories were hard to find, until Tom realised that there was one lying on his own doorstep. An unwalked wilderness was staring him in the face. As Tom, a self-confessed ‘walkaholic’, put it, back in 2001: ‘The Thames Estuary has existed for eons. The earliest known humans in Britain set up home on its shores. But until now, nobody seems to have thought of walking round it.’
All that changed when Tom and his sometimes reluctant pet mutt, Essex Dog, part followed, and part beat, an 83-mile trail round the mouth of the world’s most celebrated river. What they found, for much of the route, was a wilderness - a land and sea-scape teeming with wild-life and rife with legend. Huge ships hugged the near horizon, but human footfall was almost unknown. And Tom and Essex Dog watched as the Estuary’s waters steadily engulfed the land, almost as they watched.
The book was written with humour, but also passion. Tom says: 'To cross this vast world of mud, sea, marsh and huge Anglian skies, is to understand what loneliness rally means. It is a wilderness alright, and the Estuary can be a terrifying, feral, force. It seemed almost unreal to think that just twenty miles upriver lay another face of the Thames - London.'
Now, to coincide with Estuary 2021, Thames Estuary Trail is set to be republished by Toposcope Books. The extended anniversary edition will include a new chapter, extending the walk route along the north Kent shoreline. Wilderness now behind it, the new section passes through the busy resorts of Whitstable, Herne Bay and Margate, terminating at the North Foreland - the gateway to the English Channel. The new edition will also look at the changes since the original walk. Tom, who has continuously revisited the route, says: ‘Twenty years on, it’s a very different picture. Overgrown footpaths have been cleared, industrial sites, including several rubbish tips, have become waterside nature reserves. Far more of the Estuary has become accessible, and a new generation of walkers and cyclists has finally made the same discovery that I did, back at the turn of the century.’
There is one other welcome change, involving food and drink. Tom says: ‘The Estuary is a haven for atmosphere-oozing riverside pubs. many now gastropubs. When I walked and wrote Thames Estuary Trail, I was still a staff journalist, and the Estuary walk had to be tucked around a busy working schedule. There wasn’t really the chance to sample those pubs. Now there is more freedom, and I fully plan to remedy the deficiency.’ Tom has pledged to enjoy at least one pint in every one of the Estuary’s waterfront pubs.
Raised in Essex, Tom King read English at Oxford, where he was gossip editor of the student magazine Isis. His journalistic career has included stints as editor, sub-editor, crime reporter, travel writer, business editor, gossip columnist. leader writer, political correspondent and film and theatre reviewer. For the final 17 years of his staff career he was chief feature writer for the Newsquest Essex newspaper group. He left in 2016 to pursue a freelance writing career. Tom is a Blue Badge tourist guide and two-times semi-finalist on the BBC TV quiz show Mastermind.
When not walking, reading or writing, Tom tends a 3-acre Essex hilltop garden, overlooking the Thames Estuary - the first view he sees when he wakes up every morning. He says: 'Neither the garden nor the Estuary are ever the same from one day to the next.'
Tom King: Current work:
The Long Path Through the Woods (account of a 1500 mile walk through England’s ancient forests and greenwoods)
The Atlas of British Comedy and Humour
The Retreads (sitcom pilot)