Next year billions of people around the world will watch the Olympic Torch Relay as it makes its way around Britain before arriving in London on 27 July for the Opening Ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games.
The Olympic Flame will spend 80 days visiting every region of Britain, shining its light on some of the most beautiful towns, breath taking landcapes, historic treasures and exciting cities in the world. So if you’d like to get there before the rest of the world arrives, here’s a taster of just a few of the umissable icons and hidden gems that the torch will visit.
The Olympic Flame, Torch and Relay draw on a history going back to the ancient Olympic Games in Greece, where they were important elements of the cultural festivals. The evening celebrations of the 2012 Olympic Torch Relay will feature a massive variety of entertainment and shows, each unique to the community putting on the event.
After arriving in the UK from Greece, the Olympic Flame’s first overnight stop will be at Land’s End in the most south westerly corner of England. Visitors can stand on the dramatic cliff tops and experience the pounding surf of the wild Atlantic; on a clear day the Isles of Scilly might even be visible on the vast horizon. Land’s End is in Cornwall, a county with an ancient past which is home to many quaint fishing villages and is also a world famous destination for adrenaline sports. The Olympic Flame will arrive in Land’s End on 19 May 2012.
Just a week later the Flame will stop in Aberystwyth, regarded by many as the cultural capital of Wales. This vibrant seaside town is surrounded by some of the best scenery in the UK – the Cambrian Mountains on one side and Cardigan Bay and the Ceredigion Heritage Coast on the other. Green farmlands sweep down to the ocean, where dolphins can occasionally be spotted.
On 3 June the Olympic Flame will arrive in Portrush in Northern Ireland, home to the Giant’s Causeway which is one of the most amazing and dramatic World Heritage Sites. This is a spectacularly beautiiful area where 40,000 hexagonal basalt columns rise up out of the sea towards the towering Mountains of Mourne.
Equally spectacular is Lake Windermere in the north west of England, right at the heart of what is called the Lake District. On 21 June the Olympic Torch comes to Windermere’s secluded woodland shores, passing a rugged backdrop of mountains.
Britain’s cities are famous for their blend of rich cultural and industrial heritage, great nightlife and shopping. The Olympic Torch Relay will visit many of these as part of the year long programmes of exciting events and festivals that all of these cities run.
Europe’s youngest capital, Cardiff, buzzes with vibrant shops, restaurants and bars and offers visitors a warm Welsh welcome to its galleries, museums and sporting venues. Birthplace of and home to stars of song, stage and screen, Cardiff is a vibrant cultural centre with a historic heart which will host the Olympic Flame on 25 May.
The “dreaming spires” of Oxford will provide a picturesque setting for the Olympic Flame on 9 July and for the vibrant city’s thriving cultural calendar and excellent shopping. Visitors can discover the iconic Radcliffe Camera and Christ Church Cathedral and enjoy a charming riverside walk, all while spotting locations familiar from the TV and cinema screens.
In the heart of England is Coventry, a city which was at the forefront of forefront of some of the greatest inventions over the last 200 years. Rich in culture as well as industrial heritage, Coventry – which plays host to the Torch Relay on 1 July – is known as the Phoenix city because of its ability to constantly reinvent itself to meet new challenges. It is home to one of England’s finest medieval guildhalls, while its Cathedral – which was rebuilt after World War II – is an extraordinary place which is celebrating its Golden Jubilee in 2012 with a year long programme of cultural events.
There are hundreds of castles and palaces around in Britain, many of them dramatic ruins while others are beautifully preserved stately homes in which their owners still reside. The Olympic Torch will visit several of these along its journey, casting a fascinating insight into history.
The thriving market town of Alnwick in North East England is home to Alnwick Castle which will be familiar to fans of movies including Harry Potter and Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. The town – which will welcome the Olympic Torch on 14 June – has lots of narrow alleyways and fine stone buildings to explore, full of intriguing shops, cafes and restaurants. Next to the castle is the Alnwick Garden, created only a decade ago, but already one of the most popular of British gardens.
Further north and dominating Scotland’s capital is the iconic and imposing Edinburgh Castle. The rugged scenery surrounding the castle also provides a dramatic backdrop for the city’s buzzing bars, burgeoning restaurant scene and quirky boutiques as well as world-famous annual arts and cultural events including The Edinburgh Festival and The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo. The Olympic Flame visits Edinburgh on 13 June.
The ruins of one of the historic castles in England will welcome the Torch on 17July. Hastings is one of the oldest names in English history and its medieval Old Town is full of half-timbered houses and intriguing ‘twittens’ (small passages) and is famous for its annual events programme.
Not surprisingly, the Olympic Torch will visit several of Britain’s most iconic sporting venues. The TT Track on the Isle of Man – host to one of the world’s most challenging mountain motor cycle tracks – is currently celebrating its centenary and will be visited by the Torch on 2 June. The beautiful island has breathtaking scenery, unspoilt beaches and a relaxed way of life.
Glasgow’s famous football stadium Hampden Park is hosting some of the football matches during the London 2012 Games as well as the Commonwealth Games in 2014. Along with staging international sporting events, the city is known for its cutting-edge music, performing and visual arts scenes. The Torch visits Glasgow on 8 June.
Another place hosting sporting action during the London 2012 Olympic Games is the 95-mile long Jurassic Coast on England’s South coast, a World Heritage Site which will provide a stunning backdrop for the Olympic sailing events. The coastline’s geomorphologic features and fossil finds have enthralled and informed geologists for generations, and visitors can explore the Georgian seaside towns, Roman remains and golden sands that make the Dorset coastline a firm favourite. The Olympic Flame is stopping overnight in Weymouth & Portland on 12 July, just a fortnight before the Games start.
A number of the places on the Torch Relay route are well off the beaten tourist trail. Not many people know that Stoke-on-Trent in the heart of England, for example, is the world capital for ceramics. The birthplace of Josiah Wedgewood also has award winning museums and glorious gardens and will welcome the Olympic Flame on 30 May.
Located between the hustle and bustle of London and Kent – known as the Garden of England – Bexley is described as a ‘little corner of the country in the city’. Bexley will hold an Olympic Torch evening celebration on 22 July.
Bangor is one of the smallest cities in the United Kingdom and is situated in Wales in a region of outstanding natural beauty where the Snowdonia Mountains reach the sea. A brand new £40m arts complex will open there in 2012 and will welcome the Torch on 28 May.
Steeped in history and boasting a vibrant capital with a fabulous countryside, Jersey can honestly lay claim to being unique. It owes allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth but not to the UK Parliament and being just 14 miles from France has a very continental feel. The Torch visits Jersey on 15 July, less than a fortnight before it arrives at the Olympic Stadium in London.