Kiri and


London from above

May 24th, 2015 (by Steve)

It’s probably because we’re short that tall places are very appealing. When we were travelling, the first thing we’d do when arriving in a new city was try to find something to climb to help us get the lie of the land. Yet for some reason when we previously lived in London, we were like sheep and followed everyone underground. Now we’re back in London, we’ve decided to make amends, so we’ve been taking every opportunity to see the city from above, including taking the bus more; it’s not only toddlers who like sitting on the top deck!

Our first port of call was The Shard. You can’t get much taller than that (well, at least not in Western Europe). We’d watched the weather forecast like hawks and as the booked evening approached, it wasn’t looking good (unless you like thunderstorms… which actually could have been very cool to witness from the Shard). As it was, once we’d taken the two lifts up to the 68th floor, we emerged to see a mottled city with some parts in bright sunshine and other parts shrouded in cloud. Photographs don’t do the view justice; with stabilising devices banned (don’t try to ask a member of staff why… you’ll regret asking!), dirty glass and lots of reflections, the best you can aim for is a series of snapshots of an ever-changing city. From that height, London is a just a detailed model, reminding us very much of the Miniatur Wunderland in Hamburg.


Allow me to indulge in a bit of technology admiration though. Ever since a computer vision module at university, I’ve been dreaming about being able to look out of an aeroplane window and have a map overlaid on the landscape to show me what I’m looking at. This dream is a reality from the top of the Shard. Dotted around the viewing platform on the 68th floor are devices that look like giant computer game controllers, with a screen at the back, a camera at the front and the option to zoom in on points of interest. With an augmented reality overlay you can read bits of information about, for instance, the Olympic park. Even better, you can switch from “live view” to see what it looks like at night, at sunrise, and what it looked like in 2012; all retaining the option to pan around. And don’t even get me started on the Dyson Airblade Taps in the toilets at the bottom of the Shard (so that’s how they spend the entrance fee money!)!


South London view done, we decided to take the cable car at Greenwich over the river a week later. This time we didn’t need to book; we just rocked up with the requisite £3.80 on our Oyster cards and queued next to the O2, reminiscing over our visits when it was the Millennium Dome. Once packed into the cable car with 6 other passengers, the 10 minute journey was a little underwhelming. Don’t get me wrong; it was quite a novelty, but it wasn’t anything particularly special. We were afforded views of Canary Wharf, the dome and London City Airport, which, whilst interesting aren’t the most iconic of views in London. Once at the other side we didn’t really know what to do with ourselves; if it hadn’t been a Monday, we probably would have looked around The Crystal (an exhibition focusing on urban sustainability), but as it was we just hopped on the DLR back to Lewisham.


So, we’d “done” south London and travelled over the river. Time for north London – more specifically the “car-melting walkie talkie of doom” (well, the Sky Garden on the 35th floor). Now we’re aware this is a controversial building and in fact one of the reviews for visiting said that the best thing about it was that once you’re at the top, you can’t see the building itself. Whilst we agree that it’s not the most pleasant building to look at, it’s lovely once you’re inside. It almost feels like you’re slung under an airship in a 1950s vision of what a “futuristic” London might look like. The “garden” isn’t particularly mature and the plants are fairly sparse, but maybe that will improve with age. As for the view though, it’s every bit as good as the Shard, even though you’re at half the altitude. From the lower perspective you feel more connected with the city (sorry to sound a bit hippy-ish) and some of the lines of sight are cracking. And you know what? It’s all for free (unless you choose to take out a small mortgage and buy a drink).


One question remains though; what should we climb next?

One Response

Thanks Steve and Kiri; good to keep up with your adventures. I still make a couple of trips to London a year with a friend, and do a guided tour (by me!) of different zones. So much to go at.

Leave a Reply

Please note: Comment moderation is enabled and may delay your comment. There is no need to resubmit your comment.