19 July 2012
It’s Day 62 of the Torch Relay route and over the next four days the Olympic Flame will travel across the South East before heading towards its final destination in London, the Olympic Stadium! We begin Day 62 in the thriving town of Deal in Kent. Deal, situated close to the White Cliffs of Dover and the English Channel, has a rich history. Over the centuries Deal has been an important coastal port and its three castles (Deal, Walmer and Sandown) were built by Henry VIII to defend the coastline from invasion. Deal Castle, built in 1540, consists of a round tower and six semi-circular bastions. Today it is considered one of the finest artillery castles in England.
From Deal, the Olympic Flame will head north towards Margate. As England’s first commercial sea bathing resort, Margate has been a popular seaside destination for over 300 years. As the flame stops here for an afternoon break, Torch Relay followers in the area should experience some of Margate’s hidden gems. The Shell Grotto, first discovered in 1853, is a series of underground rooms and passageways lined with decorative shell mosaics. Although no-one is sure who created the grotto, it is believed it was originally constructed as a temple. An alternative, but equally beautiful destination for art, is the Turner Contemporary. This unique modern arts organization features a range of works, from Turner himself (who was a regular visitor to Margate throughout his life) to Tracey Emin.
In the evening, the Olympic Torch will finish its day at the historic city of Canterbury. The city, which lies next to the River Stour, is home to one the oldest and most-celebrated Cathedrals in England. If you are looking for a site that’s a little different to the main Cathedral, why not try the ruins of St Augustine’s Abbey? This sixth century abbey had flourished under Benedictine rule until it was surrendered to the Crown during the dissolution of the monasteries in 1538. Flourishing during the medieval period was the all-important Eastbridge Hospital. Founded in 1180 following the martyrdom of St Thomas Becket, it provided accommodation for poor pilgrims visiting his tomb. Visitors to the building today can experience life as it was during the medieval period through the restored Sleeping Quarters (undercroft) and Dining Hall (refectory).
On Day 63 the Olympic Flame will leave the bustling town of Maidstone in Kent. Despite Maidstone’s extensive modern developments, the town has maintained many of its historic buildings, such as the Archbishop’s Palace. Situated beside the Medway, the Archbishop’s Palace (also known as the Manor of Maidstone) was used as a resting-place for Archbishops travelling between London and Canterbury. Towards the back of the Palace is a sloping recess with a boarded window which, according to local legend, was once a dungeon and former occupancy of John Ball, ‘the mad priest of Kent.’
From Maidstone, the Torch winds its way through the southern countries of Kent and Surrey. As it passes through Gravesend keep an eye out for the newly-built Shri Guru Nanak Darbar Gurdwara, a beautifully constructed place of worship and focal point for the local Sikh community. As the Olympic Torch reaches Surrey, it will pass through the leafy town of Reigate. Not far from the Torch Relay route is the Reigate Priory. This Grade I listed building was turned into a Manor following the Dissolution of the Monasteries, when Henry VIII gave the building to Lord William Howard (uncle of Catherine Howard). Evidence of this Tudor past is evident from a magnificent carved oak fireplace said to be designed by Hans Holbein and originally commissioned by Henry VIII for Nonsuch Palace in Ewell. If you visit the museum today, you will be able to view this magnificent fireplace alongside a series of ornate eighteenth century wall and ceiling paintings believed to have been designed by the famous Italian painter Antonio Verrio.
Day 63 ends at Guildford, the County town of Surrey. The town has Saxon roots and the name Guildford is derived from the Saxon word Gyldeford meaning Golden Ford (taken from the River Wey nearby). Of the unique places within easy reach of Guildford is the Victorian Gothic structure, Watts Chapel, and its associated art gallery. Designed and built by Mary Watts, wife of artist George Frederic Watts, the Chapel was inspired by a mixture of art nouveau, Celtic, Romanesque and Egyptian influences and ascribed to the Victorian preoccupation of social improvement through creative enlightenment. Both Mary and George are now buried at the cemetery as are many other residents who helped create this beautiful Chapel.
Day 64 and the Torch is nearing its final destination, east London. We begin our early start at the maritime port of Greenwich, home to the Meridian line and a wealth of maritime history. Britain’s seafaring heritage is dramatically recreated at the National Maritime Museum which tells the stories of naval battles and of famous mariners, such as Admiral Lord Nelson, through a series of artefacts, artworks and interactive displays. A visit to Greenwich wouldn’t be complete without seeing the newly re-furbished Cutty Sark. Venture aboard (and now, beneath!) the world’s last surviving tea clipper and learn more about the history of the ship and its precious cargo.
From Greenwich, the Torch heads through Newham in east London. As the Torch whizzes through this London 2012 Host Borough and near the Olympic Park, be sure to admire the Main Stadium, Aquatics Centre and ArcelorMittal Orbit (also known simply as ‘the Orbit’) on the horizon.
Hackney, situated in the east of London, is one of the final destinations for the Olympic Flame on Day 64. Hackney’s markets are not to be missed in particular the Ridley Road and Broadway Markets in Dalston. With a history stretching back to the 1890s, why not experience this intangible heritage of London by wandering through these fascinating market stalls? Not far from Dalston is the London Fields Lido. The Lido, dating from the 1930s, contains an Olympic sized open-air swimming pool. Perfect for a dip!
As Day 64 draws to a close, and the Olympic Flame resides for the night at Waltham Forest, weary Torch Relay followers can always put their feet up and enjoy a film at the Rio Cinema. This beautiful Grade II listed Art Deco cinema was originally known as the Kingsland Palace (one of the first full-time cinemas in London in 1909) but was expanded and re-designed throughout the 1920s and 1930s. The art deco designs by F.E. Bromige feature throughout the building, both inside and out.
With only 5 days left to go, the Olympic Flame makes its way through a number of London Boroughs. In the morning the Torch will pass through Redbridge, whose most prominent feature is the Valentines Estate, built in 1696. After standing empty for 15 years, the mansion and gardens have now been restored to create a contemporary venue set within its 300-year-old historic setting. Relax and unwind from the bustle of the Torch Relay in the estate’s many gardens, from the historic kitchen garden and the Old English walled garden to the beautiful Victorian rose garden.
From Redbridge the Torch will enter Havering. As The torch passes through this borough keep your eyes peeled for ‘The Diver.’ Situated east of the Thames from Westminster, this deep-sea diver sculpture can be seen emerging from the River in East London.
By the evening, the Torch will reach the suburban town of Bexley, former home of William Morris. It is also home to the Crossness Pumping Station, one of only two Grade 1 listed industrial buildings in London. Built by Joseph Bazalgette as part of the clearing of the ‘Great Stink’ in 1858, Crossness Pumping Station features spectacular ornamental Victorian cast ironwork and houses the largest rotative beam engines in the world. Not far from Crossness is another significant feature of the local area. Foots Cray Meadows are a rolling landscape of ancient woodlands, wildflowers and a variety of wildlife habitats. As the day draws to a close, why not take a stroll through this serene and rugged landscape as you reflect on the Olympic Flame’s journey and the upcoming London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.
We wish you a great weekend of following the Torch’s progress through the South East of England and London. Join us again next week for its final few stops through London, as the city prepares to celebrate the end of the Torch Relay and to host the Olympic and Paralympic Games.
Post by Katy, Discovering Places team.
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