The Olympic torch began a festive valedictory lap around the capital yesterday, taking in some of the sun-drenched city’s most famous landmarks on the second-to-last day of its trek across Britain.
The torch – carried by athletes, charity workers and celebrities – thrilled thousands of Londoners as it swept across Regent’s Canal in Camden, through the city’s newly renovated neo-gothic train station at St Pancras and down the winding streets of the ancient City of London.
For many Londoners, it was their first glimpse of a golden beacon that has spent 68 days travelling up and down the country, from Loch Ness to Land’s End and beyond.
Today, the torch will complete its journey, lighting the Olympic Stadium’s cauldron in a ceremony marking the official start of the London Olympic Games.
Yesterday’s relay – which began in a burst of sunshine following months of awful weather – seemed to lift London’s spirits.
In the north London neighbourhood of Camden, many families with young children got up early to see the torch as it started its relay at the Victorian-era Roundhouse building about 6.50am.
The good-natured crowd defied security guards’ efforts to keep them behind barriers, mobbing Sir Clive Woodward, the former English rugby star and coach, who was the first torchbearer of the day.
The torch was later sped across London’s River Thames by Paralympic champion Ade Adipitan, whose dreadlocks flapped in the wind as he propelled his wheelchair across the slender, blade-like Millennium Bridge.
Londoners who have spent much of the past few weeks worrying about rain, security and strikes appeared to lighten up as the flame made its way across town. In the south London borough of Lambeth, thick flag-waving crowds chanted “We want the torch!”
In nearby Wandsworth, 24-year-old John Lake – a cancer survivor who has raised thousands of pounds for the Brain Research Trust – pumped his fist and waved the torch back and forth as he ran down the road with a huge grin on his face.
Other runners are carrying the flame past some of the city’s most impressive landmarks, including the Houses of Parliament, St Paul’s Cathedral, 10 Downing Street and Buckingham Palace, where it will be greeted by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.