Since 2009, more than 35,000 people from all over the world have joined Olympic Walks conducted by London’s Blue Badge Tourist Guides. Interest in East London’s Olympic transformation is impressive, and it’s gaining momentum as we creep ever closer to the Games. And so, on the coldest day of the year, I joined a group of 39 all bound for the Other Olympic Walking Tour.
Snow was imminent, underpinning the grim grandeur of the area, and though no stranger to these parts, I was surprised by what the tour revealed.
London’s East End has experienced a bit of a dubious reputation over the years. Stratford itself is a former marsh and historically one of the city’s poorest areas, but the Olympics is set to challenge all that.
We started in Leyton, where against a backdrop of the impressive Velodrome and Athlete’s Village, our guide Richard Briggs explained why this area won the Olympic bid back in 2005. It wasn’t because of its history, (though plenty of it), or its good looks; it was because of what the Olympics could bring to the area.
The Olympic Park or Olympic ‘Diamond’ as Richard likes to call it sits on what was up until 5 years ago derelict toxic wasteland. Green has been the theme; after rigorously cleaning the land, the architecture and building undertaken has been pioneering in reducing the Games’ carbon foot print.
Richard sets the scene well and his boundless enthusiasm certainly helped distract from the bitter cold.
He passionately communicates the legacy of the Olympics and just how this area stands to benefit, also explaining some of the area’s sporting history. The Leyton wasteland which 90 years ago was transformed into the historic Eton Manor Boys Club‘s sporting ‘nirvana’ now forms part of the 2012 Olympic Park. There is a strong sense that sport has returned, and the legacy plans will provide a new generation with access to sport and leisure facilities.
Increased activity the Olympics has generated – including these walking tours - has already exposed the area’s industrial heritage and thriving art scene, something which in my opinion is set to be a true legacy of the Games.
Walking along the canal, past the atmospheric Fish Island, this was immediately obvious.
Where industry once heaved and peanuts roasted, (Percy Dalton’s Peanuts had its home here) the artists have moved in. In the shadow of Anish Kapoor’s ‘Olympic Tower’, the largest sculpture in the world, a new generation of art and enterprise is happening. Historic East End salmon smokers Forman & Son have been able to establish a thriving restaurant and exciting events space in their new prime location, barely 100 metres from the Olympic Stadium.
There is no escaping the area’s industrial past, and I for one am delighted the Olympics will broadcast this side of London.
It’s hard to compress what I learnt over the 2.5 hours in one post. Richard’s knowledge of the site and its history was overwhelming. What struck me and continues to resound is just how unique the London Olympics is. No other Olympic Games has undertaken such a task of transformation and regeneration, and few have invited us to take a look at the same time.
Better than a gold medal, East London won funding and secured a future which would not have been possible without the Olympics. The tour managed to sum up the journey of the London Olympics with an admirable and inspiring honesty, and I fully recommend it.
You can book the Daily Olympic Walking Tour and the Other Olympic Walking Tour via the VisitBritian Shop.
Visit Guided Tours of 2012 Sites for information on all available tours.
Photos © Lucy Kate Lee