Letter from London: the Olympic Fringer

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The dearth of Olympic tickets has been much talked about, but there is plenty to see and do around the periphery of the Games. Jane Egginton checks out London on the edge

As someone who lives right on the edge – of the Olympic site that is – I am particularly interested in what’s happening in the non-ticketed areas away from the big stadia and corporate restrictions. Sporting extravagansas or not, east London has become the place for the capital’s creative thinkers, entrepreneurs and impresarios. Those same people have not been slow to make the most of this summer’s big kerfuffle.

Camp in London


Accommodation during the Olympics has become a thorny issue, with hotels charging over the odds but demand seemingly over-hyped. So it’s refreshing to find a down-to-earth campsite within shot-put distance – well shuttle bus – of the Olympic site. For the duration of the games, an attractive 19-hectare green field in Walthamstow will be transformed into Camp In London (www.campinlondon.com), a huge campsite complete with big screens to show all the sporting action and movies too. A 10-minute bus will take happy campers to the Olympic Park, while central London is just four miles away.

Camp In London’s bargain Olympic accommodation starts from just £15 per person per pitch, and those who don’t trust their tent in the British weather can opt for a practical and very cool Wicked Camper van (www.wickedcampers.co.uk). If funds are tight-ish but the thought of roughing it fills you with dread, why not ‘glamp’ instead? Camp in London features 100 luxury Bell Tents, where visitors can check-in to a 24-hour reception, chill out in a private lounge and bed down with Egyptian cotton linen for £100 per person per night.

Camp In London

The Fringe (www.thefringe2012.com), like Camp In London boasts wi-fi, entertainment and screening of the Olympic action. But this is an altogether very different Olympic beast. Little more than a 10-second sprint from the Olympic Park, this pop-up members only club bills itself as an oasis of cool and calm, offering east London street food and killer cocktails.  Entertainment comes in the form of big name DJs such as Norman Jay.

The Fringe

If schmoozing with media types isn’t your thing, you could try something a little more uplifting. You’ll need a head for heights Up at the O2 (www.theo2.co.uk/upattheo2) where visitors don climbing gear at ‘base camp’ in the 02 arena before scaling the 30-degree slope up to the summit of the erstwhile Millennium Dome. Sweeping views of the Shard and Canary Wharf and across to the Olympic Park can be yours for £22. Possibly a better buy than those 50km race-walk tickets I bought, in a fit of Olympic fever.

While Up at the 02 recalls the Sydney Harbour Bridge Climb at the 2000 Olympics, Britain’s first urban cable car is resonant of Rio, Games host in 2016. This striking attraction, which soars over the Thames from the O2 Arena to the ExCeL conference centre, only opened at the end of June. I’ve yet to try it, but on a recent riverboat cruise I got dizzy just watching it dangle 90 metres above my head.

Journey times are between five and10 minutes – short but reportedly sweet and very reasonable (£4.30, or £3.20 if paying with an Oyster card). The Thames Cable Car can move up to 2,500 people in each direction every hour over a stretch of around one kilometer. For the time being, its official name is the Emirates Air Line and prices are so reasonable because for the next ten years, Londoners will be seeing the Emirates name on their tube maps.

If you really must see men and women in Lycra but have come up short on the ticket front, don’t worry because there are sections of the cycling road race, marathon, triathlon and yes, the race walk that are free to view on London’s streets, with athletes also taking to Hyde Park’s Serpentine River for the 10,000m swimming marathon.

Scaffolding down at The Fringe

Freeloading sporting voyeurs can also feed their habit at a number of ‘Live Sites’ around London (www.london2012.com/join-in/live-sites), where every important hop, skip and jump from Stratford will be transmitted onto giant public screens. Locations include Victoria Park in Hackney, Hyde Park and next to Tower Bridge, Potters Fields.

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