Ever since playing Monopoly with my family as I young child, I have found London to be a very intriguing place. My father – who seemed to have an almost encyclopaedic knowledge of the city – used to really bring the game to life with his descriptions of each the properties and locations on the board. I longed to see the sights with my own eyes and my first visit to the UK’s capital was something I will never forget.
Childhood Visit to Old London Town
As well as visiting most of the major attractions that had been described to me whilst playing the game, such as Trafalgar Square, Piccadilly Circus, Leicester Square and the shops of Oxford Street and Regent Street (including Hamley’s toy shop, which as a young child felt very much like heaven) I soon realised how much more there was besides.
I remember getting to London by train and feeling awestruck at my first experiences of this vibrant city. Since that first visit, that feeling I get wherever I visit London has never completely gone away. As I draw closer to the city, my heart begins to beat faster and I know that every single visit holds the promise of something new – often in a place that is really old!
Twenty Six Miles of Historic Landmarks
Since 1981 London has held a Marathon event through the city streets, which in 2012 was officially the world’s largest race. This year’s 2013 April event has just finished and if you were following (figuratively speaking) through the global media, perhaps this has inspired you to either compete or get a closer look at the historic backdrop to the race. Here is the London Marathon interactive map of the route.
Several years after my first visit, as an adult now, it was after completing my first marathon that I realised just what a great way this legendary race was to see first-hand the many world-famous buildings and attractions that London has to offer. They really can be no greater setting for this kind of race – where else in the world, but London, could you have a setting for the finishing line as majestic as Buckingham Palace as you make your way down the mall – triumphantly, the scene of so many national celebrations throughout the years.
The overwhelming experience of such tremendous surroundings and settings is not limited to just the finishing line though, the whole race is surrounded by amazing buildings and monuments that have been an inspiration to generations and help to make the city one of the best loved and most famous in all the world.
The route itself acts as an excellent tour guide to see the sights of London; starting off close to the Greenwich Observatory, runners soon pass the Cutty Sark – a site that they are lucky to still see following extensive restoration work after it was almost completely destroyed by fire. Hopefully most are still running at this early stage, unless competing in a different way as part of the multitude of charities and organisations that benefit from entrants.
As you are approaching the halfway point, around the 12-mile mark, Tower Bridge, one of the most iconic images of the city, comes into view.
There are few sights on come to represent London quite as significantly and impressively as this bridge, which really gives you a sense of occasion as you cross over it and start to believe that you will make it to the finish.
It’s in the famous Limehouse district of East London, after around 20 miles of this exhausting race – with some even finding that they hit the dreaded wall – that you we start to ask yourself why on earth you ever decided to put yourself through the pain of the marathon. That’s if you are participating. If, however you have previously enjoyed just watching from abroad, then these milestone Landmarks can be taking in at a more leisurely pace – getting into London via the equally historic Padding Station and the Heathrow Express (https://www.heathrowexpress.com/).
The last “few” miles will take you along from the houses of Parliament (with Big Ben – the name of the bell itself, not the tower or the clock itself) and then to the Mall and St James’s Palace.
This final stretch is the same home straight as the competitors in the London 2012 Olympic Marathon, too!
Whatever the reasons people have, be it a lifetime ambition or for a charitable cause, the attractions of this great city are why many people choose London as the destination for these incredible experiences – running the Marathon, or walking some of the route. Get you appropriate footwear on – and ready, set, go!
(Images by Jeff West)