One of the great things about having an annual ticket for the Shard is that you can choose to go up at entirely inopportune times. This is simultaneously one of the worst things about pre-booking an ordinary ticket for the Shard, because on your chosen date the weather might be really miserable, but you've already paid so you have to go up anyway. What's it like up top when it's grey and raining, I wondered. And the answer... it's grey and wet.
On a bright day the view is amazing and spreads beyond the outskirts of London. But on an overcast rainy day you see rather less, the outer boroughs swallowed up by a damp grey veil. The view isn't so abysmal that it causes the Shard's 'weather guarantee' to kick in - it's easily possible to see "at least three of the following landmarks - London Eye, St Paul’s Cathedral, The Gherkin, Tower Bridge and One Canada Square". But on my visit the Thames beyond Vauxhall faded to grey, and the Olympic Park was a blur, and the experience was significantly diminished. [6 photos]
Then there's the rain. On the side of the building facing the oncoming storm the glass is splattered with raindrops, which makes looking at the sights beyond rather harder than usual, and completely wrecks any hopes you might have had of taking a decent photo. No more than two sides are badly affected, leaving those on the leeward side noticeably clearer. But it only takes a few droplets on the window to mess up the optics - a natural hazard of any lofty observation deck. Throw in all the reflections that the Shard's white girders make in the glass, and it's likely every photograph you attempt to take out of the window will be flawed.
The top observation deck is open to the elements, which is both a masterstroke and a weakness. I much prefer it up here to being downstairs, with the sense of being a true part of the city, as clouds scud overhead and the atmosphere leaches in. But this also means that when it rains the inside of some of the panels can become a small waterfall, and large patches of the decking are covered in water. And that's fine by me, I don't mind zipping up my coat and stepping carefully across the wet floor as appropriate. But the majority of visitors to the Shard clearly think differently, keeping well out of the way, indeed on my visit there were more Shard staff on duty on the upper deck than there were patrons to supervise.
Things were rather different down on floor 69, the less challenging vantage point, its windows sealed to create a completely dry environment. Here were all the dozens of visitors who'd paid before the weather forecast was known, either staring out of the splattered windows or sat on a chair a bit further back attempting to get their money's worth. Those up here to celebrate a special event were obvious, all dressed up with a glass of £10 champagne in hand, staring out wistfully across the grey. And sure, everyone was still getting a unique lofty panorama of central London, but I knew from coming up in better weather how much more they were missing out on.
At £25.95 a pop, pre-booking a ticket to go up the Shard is a genuine risk. You might hit the jackpot with blue sky clarity or the magic of a twinkly dusk, but you might also get a substandard monochrome view with speckled windows and limited visibility. Only in the case of very low cloud or fog are you likely to get your money back, while rain simply diminishes your one-off visit to a not-quite special day out. Only my £20 annual pass (seemingly still available) made the trip up top worthwhile... so if you're ever tempted to go just the once, pre-book with care.