diamond geezer

 Friday, August 10, 2012

I didn't go to the Olympics yesterday.
But I did go up the Orbit last week.
It's high time I'd told you about that.


www.flickr.com: Up The Orbit
There are 40 photographs altogether

The Arcelor Mittal Orbit is the most obvious outward sign of the Olympic Park. You can see its red coils from miles away, an instant landmark for London 2012. But when you're actually in the park, strangely enough, it doesn't dominate the way you'd expect. There's so much else to see, also on a larger than life scale, that the tower somehow fades into the background. But more importantly, I suspect, the Orbit is an irrelevance for the great majority of visitors because they can't go up it.

Only people with tickets to an Olympic Park event were given the opportunity to buy a ticket for the Orbit. It was treated like any other Games session, in that tickets had to be bought in advance online, but one year later than everything else. Unless you were watching the London 2012 website back in May you probably missed the sales window, so your chance to buy one of the limited number of £15 tickets was lost. And numbers really were limited, only a few hundred an hour, despite the attraction having been designed to withstand more than that. When I reached the foot of the tower on opening weekend I was surprised by the total absence of queue. A number of people approached asking if tickets were available, then looked rather miffed when told not. Only a select few of us were able to pass onward into the queueing slalom beneath the bell-end, where no queueing was required, and I walked straight ahead into the lift.

It's quite a lift. Not huge, but fast, whisking visitors up almost twice the height of Nelson's coumn in 30 seconds. A small porthole allows you to look out on the way up, but the view's more of red steelwork rushing by than any wider panorama. The Games Makers acting as lift attendants have one of the best volunteering roles of all, shuttling up and down umpteen times a day, which has to beat most other crowd direction stuff.

At the top you're directed out onto a metal walkway and woo, there's the view. The entire Olympic Park stretches out ahead of you, through a wide metal mesh, right the way down to the hockey grandstands in the distance. Tiny figures scuttle along the central piazzas, and the scale of the whole redevelopment enterprise is evident. The Copper Box is bigger than it looks from the ground, and the Media Centre behind clearly vast. Hackney Marshes stand out very clearly as a green expanse, with the flatlands of Walthamstow beyond. Bad news if you live in Leyton or Redbridge, that direction's pretty much obscured, here and on the rest of your journey round the observation deck. The immediate foreground is blocked too, hidden behind red bars and the tower's exterior walkway, but never mind, it's the stadium you really want to see.

Ah, the stadium's slightly obscured too. It's really close, so close that you can indeed look down inside, but no matter where you stand there's always one of the Orbit's upper red struts crossing the field of vision. What's most clearly seen is the western grandstand, from the media commentary seats round to the bog standard seating. Time your visit right and you get to see cheering crowds rather than empty plastic, plus any action on the corner of the athletics track nearest the 100m mark. I was up there days before the Athletics began, so I saw a blank grey mess where the Opening Ceremony had been, plus the cauldron before it was shunted into a dark corner. I understand the flame's no longer visible from the top of the Orbit, indeed entirely invisible from anywhere in the Park except inside the Stadium, which is the only thing about the cauldron I don't adore.

The outside curve's brief, and then you're back inside the main upper observation deck. Through the glass you get a view approximately round from northwest to southeast, which includes the skyscraper clusters of the City and Docklands. The Dome stands out very clearly, the cablecar and ExCel too if you look carefully, and further beyond to the leafy summit of Shooter's Hill. Because it had been raining the glass on one flank was speckled with water droplets, which wrecked photography somewhat, but the appearance of a rainbow somewhere in the direction of Woolwich more than made up for it. Closer to, the Olympic warm-up track made an appearance, with little trains and buses passing by. It's a better view than I was expecting, but that's probably because I have a local interest in all the stuff that's nearby. The tallest buildings, from this perspective, are local tower blocks in Stratford and Bow, which suddenly look much lovelier viewed from above. And that's the Bow Flyover, and if I squint, yes absolutely, that's my house!

As well as the exterior delights, Anish Kapoor has added a couple of his trademark mirrors for guests to stare into. Each is long, and doubly curved, for the full "I'm at a fairground" experience. There being so few visitors up here, it was possible to enjoy the experience without the reflections of others getting in the way. That'll never last. And there's a square void in the middle, not for stepping onto but for looking down. That's the food court at Orbit Circus, with a beautiful geometric pattern of tables and umbrellas laid out below. Before you head down a level there's another exterior walkway, this time with better views in the Stratford direction. Rest assured it's not scary outside. As someone whose head for heights occasionally deserts him, I never once felt uncomfortable up here.

A second observation deck shows you all the same sites as above, but from fractionally further down. That seems a slightly wasted opportunity, but I guess what most visitors want to see are Central London and Canary Wharf so here's a second chance to see them again. There was plenty of space at the window, probably no more then twenty of us on this level staring down. I was pleased because by this point the sun had finally come out, so I got to see across Bow and beyond with better illumination. The weather adds an unpredictable random element to your Orbit visit, so get low cloud or fog and that's your £15 mostly wasted. If you're lucky to get sun then now's the time to soak up the panorama for the final time - there's a choice ahead.

Will you go down in the lift, or will you take the stairs? There are 431 steps, if that helps to make up your mind. And be warned, the metal staircase is attached to the exterior of the sculpture rather than being an integral part. I was wondering whether I'd cope, but I was absolutely fine. The stairs are enclosed in a gentle mesh tunnel, which means no chance of photographing anything, but means you'll feel entirely safe all the way down. It is a long way though, with each circuit bringing the roof of the stadium closer, then the Aquatic Centre nearer, and finally the ground rushing up. I sped down mostly unhindered, but you could get caught behind a slow group, possibly a family with children, and then the descent could take some time.

I thought it was ace, but then I'm a local resident and the surrounding area is my community. The fact that the Olympics is going on below also made the whole thing rather special, unlike riding the cablecar with its high sweep over industrial riverside. I'm not sure the ascent is genuinely worth £15 - even the architect himself thinks that's a bit steep. And sorry, but unless you're coming to the Games then your chances of following in my footsteps any time soon are nil.

Because visitor numbers have been heavily restricted, all the Olympic Orbit slots sold out months ago. I understand that LOCOG have very recently agreed to increase the tower's visitor capacity, which means a small number of tickets are available from a box office inside the Park at the foot of the tower each day, but you'll need to be there early in the day to get one. Meanwhile a number of Orbit tickets are available during the Paralympics, if you're coming to that, so check the London 2012 website for availability. Be prepared to pay yet another £6 service charge, and be aware that by the start of September any slot after 8pm will be post-sunset.

Miss the Games and the upper reaches of the Orbit will likely remain out of bounds for 18 months. That's because after the Paralympics the Olympic Park becomes an un-building site, and the area around the Orbit's not due to reopen until Easter 2014. I do wonder whether anyone'll be quite so keen to come back then when the view's merely of East London. After the Orbit emerges from hibernation, will it be a tourist magnet or an irrelevance? A lot of Stratford's legacy potential is riding on the former.


<< click for Newer posts

click for Older Posts >>


click to return to the main page


...or read more in my monthly archives
Jan14  Feb14  Mar14  Apr14
Jan13  Feb13  Mar13  Apr13  May13  Jun13  Jul13  Aug13  Sep13  Oct13  Nov13  Dec13
Jan12  Feb12  Mar12  Apr12  May12  Jun12  Jul12  Aug12  Sep12  Oct12  Nov12  Dec12
Jan11  Feb11  Mar11  Apr11  May11  Jun11  Jul11  Aug11  Sep11  Oct11  Nov11  Dec11
Jan10  Feb10  Mar10  Apr10  May10  Jun10  Jul10  Aug10  Sep10  Oct10  Nov10  Dec10 
Jan09  Feb09  Mar09  Apr09  May09  Jun09  Jul09  Aug09  Sep09  Oct09  Nov09  Dec09
Jan08  Feb08  Mar08  Apr08  May08  Jun08  Jul08  Aug08  Sep08  Oct08  Nov08  Dec08
Jan07  Feb07  Mar07  Apr07  May07  Jun07  Jul07  Aug07  Sep07  Oct07  Nov07  Dec07
Jan06  Feb06  Mar06  Apr06  May06  Jun06  Jul06  Aug06  Sep06  Oct06  Nov06  Dec06
Jan05  Feb05  Mar05  Apr05  May05  Jun05  Jul05  Aug05  Sep05  Oct05  Nov05  Dec05
Jan04  Feb04  Mar04  Apr04  May04  Jun04  Jul04  Aug04  Sep04  Oct04  Nov04  Dec04
Jan03  Feb03  Mar03  Apr03  May03  Jun03  Jul03  Aug03  Sep03  Oct03  Nov03  Dec03
 Jan02  Feb02  Mar02  Apr02  May02  Jun02  Jul02 Aug02  Sep02  Oct02  Nov02  Dec02 

eXTReMe Tracker
jack of diamonds
life viewed from london e3

email    twitter    G+

my flickr photostream

What's on this Easter?
Monday 21st April (noon-6pm)
The Feast of St George
Food stalls and bun fights
in Trafalgar Square. Ho hum.

twenty blogs
853
arseblog
ian visits
londonist
scaryduck
blue witch
the great wen
onionbagblog
edith's streets
spitalfields life
linkmachinego
tired of london
thelondonphile
in the aquarium
christopher fowler
thamesfacingeast
one bus at a time
london daily photo
london reconnections
150 great tube things

read the archive
Apr14  Mar14  Feb14  Jan14
Dec13  Nov13  Oct13  Sep13
Aug13  Jul13  Jun13  May13
Apr13  Mar13  Feb13  Jan13
Dec12  Nov12  Oct12  Sep12
Aug12  Jul12  Jun12  May12
Apr12  Mar12  Feb12  Jan12
Dec11  Nov11  Oct11  Sep11
Aug11  Jul11  Jun11  May11
Apr11  Mar11  Feb11  Jan11
Dec10  Nov10  Oct10  Sep10
Aug10  Jul10  Jun10  May10
Apr10  Mar10  Feb10  Jan10
Dec09  Nov09  Oct09  Sep09
Aug09  Jul09  Jun09  May09
Apr09  Mar09  Feb09  Jan09
Dec08  Nov08  Oct08  Sep08
Aug08  Jul08  Jun08  May08
Apr08  Mar08  Feb08  Jan08
Dec07  Nov07  Oct07  Sep07
Aug07  Jul07  Jun07  May07
Apr07  Mar07  Feb07  Jan07
Dec06  Nov06  Oct06  Sep06
Aug06  Jul06  Jun06  May06
Apr06  Mar06  Feb06  Jan06
Dec05  Nov05  Oct05  Sep05
Aug05  Jul05  Jun05  May05
Apr05  Mar05  Feb05  Jan05
Dec04  Nov04  Oct04  Sep04
Aug04  Jul04  Jun04  May04
Apr04  Mar04  Feb04  Jan04
Dec03  Nov03  Oct03  Sep03
Aug03  Jul03  Jun03  May03
Apr03  Mar03  Feb03  Jan03
Dec02  Nov02  Oct02  Sep02
back to main page

diamond geezer 2013 index
diamond geezer 2012 index
diamond geezer 2011 index
diamond geezer 2010 index
diamond geezer 2009 index
diamond geezer 2008 index
diamond geezer 2007 index
diamond geezer 2006 index
diamond geezer 2005 index
diamond geezer 2004 index
diamond geezer 2003 index
diamond geezer 2002 index

my special London features
a-z of london museums
E3 - local history month
greenwich meridian (N)
greenwich meridian (S)
the real eastenders
london's lost rivers
olympic park 2007
great british roads
oranges & lemons
random boroughs
bow road station
high street 2012
river westbourne
trafalgar square
capital numbers
east london line
lea valley walk
olympics 2005
regent's canal
square routes
silver jubilee
cube routes
metro-land
capital ring
river fleet
piccadilly
bakerloo

ten of my favourite posts
the seven ages of blog
my new Z470xi mobile
five equations of blog
the dome of doom
chemical attraction
quality & risk
london 2102
single life
boredom
april fool

ten sets of lovely photos
my "most interesting" photos
london 2012 olympic zone
harris and the hebrides
betjeman's metro-land
marking the meridian
tracing the river fleet
london's lost rivers
inside the gherkin
seven sisters
iceland

just surfed in?
here's where to find...
diamond geezers
flash mob #1  #2  #3  #4
ben schott's miscellany
london underground
watch with mother
cigarette warnings
digital time delay
wheelie suitcases
war of the worlds
transit of venus
top of the pops
old buckenham
ladybird books
acorn antiques
digital watches
outer hebrides
olympics 2012
school dinners
pet shop boys
west wycombe
bletchley park
george orwell
big breakfast
clapton pond
san francisco
thunderbirds
routemaster
children's tv
east enders
trunk roads
amsterdam
little britain
credit cards
jury service
big brother
jubilee line
number 1s
titan arum
typewriters
doctor who
coronation
comments
blue peter
matchgirls
hurricanes
buzzwords
brookside
monopoly
peter pan
starbucks
feng shui
leap year
manbags
penelope
bbc three
vision on
piccadilly
meridian
concorde
wembley
islington
ID cards
bedtime
freeview
beckton
blogads
eclipses
letraset
arsenal
sitcoms
gherkin
calories
everest
muffins
sudoku
camilla
london
ceefax
robbie
becks
dome
BBC2
paris
lotto
118
itv