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The London Eye

The London Eye

Feature by Lizzie Guilfoyle

WHAT AT first appears to be a giant ferris wheel is, in fact, the ultimate viewing platform.

Designed by David Marks and Julia Barfield, the London Eye weighs in at an impressive 1,900 tonnes and with a diameter of 450 feet (135m) has the enviable distinction of being the highest point, accessible to the public, in London – only Canary Wharf and the NatWest and BT towers are higher.

Representing the turning of time, and as much a celebration of London’s past as an anticipation of its future, the London Eye was a fitting new attraction for a new Millennium.

Strangely, though, Britain had very little participation in the construction of its component parts. The main structure was built in Holland, although British Steel did provide the materials; the hub and spindle cast in the Czech Republic; the bearings, which allow the rim to turn, made in Germany, and the cables and capsules in Italy and France, respectively.

Only then, when everything was completed, did the actual construction begin on the banks of the Thames.

There, it’s ideally situated, being close to many of London’s most famous attractions – the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben, both instantly recognizable; County Hall; Cleopatra’s Needle and Waterloo Bridge.

However, once your ascent begins, the views are virtually limitless, particularly on a clear day, when it’s possible to see for 25 miles – as far as Heathrow Airport and Windsor Castle, so I’m told. Unfortunately, I chose a day that turned out to be wet and chilly.

To aid orientation, each capsule is clearly marked with the four major compass points, which, together with the ‘in-flight’ commentary, ensure that you make the most of the experience.

A good idea, however, particularly for those unfamiliar with the capital and its environs, is The Essential Guide, a highly informative and easy to follow guide book, available for purchase in the ticket hall.

Conveniently divided into sections such as looking east and night London, it’s a comprehensive guide to the capital’s major attractions, both from the air and for future reference back on terra firma. For maximum benefit, take a minute or two to familiarize yourself with the relevant sections before boarding.

As well as the above, it’s full of fascinating snippets of information. Did you know, for example, that the fountain pools in Trafalgar Square are lined with blue tiles to make the water look as brightly coloured as possible, or that you can see Big Ben through the legs of Sir Winston Churchill’s statue in Parliament Square? Now there’s a photo opportunity not to be missed. But I digress…..

Binoculars too, incidentally, are an asset for real enthusiasts.

With a flight time of only 30 minutes, there’s a great deal to take in, though with a speed of just 0.26m/s, you never feel rushed. In fact, movement is barely perceptible.

And for those who don’t like heights, the trick is never to look directly down. I have a friend who is genuinely afraid of heights and she heeded the advice and, while not completely comfortable, was able to derive a great deal from the experience – as I’m sure you will too.

The London Eye is situated on the South Bank, between Westminster and Hungerford bridges, and opposite the Houses of Parliament.

It can be reached in several ways: By Tube – approximately five minutes from Waterloo, Westminster or Embankment stations.

By rail – approximately five minutes from Waterloo International.

By bus – numbers 221, 24 and 11.

By river – various boats dock at the Waterloo Millennium Pier.

Tickets can be purchased in advance or on the day although, for the latter, queues could be a problem.