Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in London, England

It’s a sunny, slightly hazy day in London. From my position on the ArcelorMittal Orbit’s viewing platform, 80 metres above the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, I can see the horizon 20 miles away.

Before heading down to the lower viewing platform, at a height of 76 metres, I photograph the city skyline and take a look at the ongoing reconstruction work in the Olympic Stadium. When complete the stadium will have a capacity of 54,000 and the world’s longest cantilevered roof. West Ham United Football Club will move in from the start of the 2016-2017 season.

Prior to that, the venue will open to host five matches during the 2015 Rugby World Cup. It is also earmarked as the home for British athletics and the venue for the world athletics championships in 2017.

With an area of 560 acres, roughly the combined size of Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens, the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park is vast. It’s the home to four themed trails, including activities for kids, art installations, plus information about London 2012 and the area’s biodiversity. The park’s hedgerows and 15 acres of woodland – along with 150 bat boxes and 525 bird boxes – are helping wildlife to settle here.

Canals and the River Lea

I overhear one of the tower’s employees talking about the waterways below. I always associate London with the Thames but it’s the River Lea, City Mill River and Waterworks River that cut through Stratford.

The sleek curves of the London Aquatics Centre, designed by Zaha Hadid, reflect the afternoon sunlight. A swim at the venue of the Olympic swimming and diving championships is reasonably priced, though pre-booking is recommended. Prior to taking the lift to the top of the ArcelorMittal Orbit, I popped in to take a look at the 50 metre pool, gym and the impressive diving facilities, missing Olympic medallist Tom Daley by a couple of minutes.

Visiting the ArcelorMittal Orbit

The ArcelorMittal Orbit, designed by Sir Anish Kapoor and Cecil Balmond, stands 114.5 metres high and is the UK’s tallest sculpture. From it I can see landmarks including the Shard, the Gherkin and St Paul’s Cathedral. This, I’m told, is the only observation tower that looks into London from the east.

Visitors stare at their distorted reflections in a huge, concave mirror that also helps brighten the lower viewing platform. The shapes of people shift and change as I move my position. People laugh at the mirror’s effect and try to capture the effect on their smartphone cameras.

The spiralling red tower cost £22.3m, with the lion’s share coming from Lakshmi Mittal of the steel producing company ArcelorMittal. I hear how 35,000 bolts were used by the four-man team that constructed the ArcelorMittal Orbit. Of its 2,000 tonnes of steel, around 60 per cent was recycled.

The Lee Valley Velopark

The Lee Valley Velopark stands on the far side of the park, over the River Lee. It’s the first venue in the world to offer BMX, track, road and mountain biking facilities.

As I cross an area with dancing fountains I note that the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park is already proving a popular family venue and has a sizable children’s play area with slides and climbing frames. The ground is made of a spongy material that reminds me of the surface of an athletics track, protecting kids from the scraped knees that were a perennial problem during my childhood.

Down at Carpenters Lock I spend a few minutes sitting quietly, looking in vain for the kingfisher that I’m told has made its home here.

Over the coming years this part of London looks set to grow. Five new neighbourhoods, with up to 10,000 homes, are planned by 2030. In the meantime the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park looks set to attract locals, day trippers and sporty types.

Further information

Find out more on the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park website, where you can learn about attractions such as the Copper Box Arena, is a multi-purpose indoor sports venue with a café, and the Lee Valley Hockey and Tennis Centre.

The ArcelorMittal Orbit (tel. +44 (0) 333 8008099) website has further information about the iconic landmark as well as online ticketing.

For more information about attractions in the British capital see the Visit London website.

Photos illustrating this post are by Stuart Forster.

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Getting there

The Docklands Light Railway, trains and buses run to Stratford International Station. Hackney Wick London Overground station is located on the opposite side of the park.

An urban skyline seen from the ArcelorMittal Orbit in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, London. Photo by Stuart Forster.
Urban skyline seen from the ArcelorMittal Orbit in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, London. 

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