London. October 1st 2011. Evening. What better to do than walk 28 odd miles, eh?!
First, I want to start by saying that I was wondering how to capture both the walk and a chat about the new camera that I took with me in a blog post, so I’ve decided to do two posts. This one is mainly about the walk itself, with some pretty pictures of London at night. I’ll get on to the Sony NEX5 properly in the next post. The one thing I will say about it here is that it was so light and easy to handle that I had it either round my neck or in my hand for the full 10.5 hours it took to walk through London – something I couldn’t have dreamed of doing with an SLR. Hence the variety and quantity of pictures…
So, it all started at “The Dome” – now known as the O2 – in London. Lots of people in a queue. Up to this point we (I was walking with my wife and sister) had no idea how big it was going to be. It ended up being around 10,000 people walking, split between the full marathon (which ended up about 28 miles), and the half marathon.
As with all these events, you have a shouty “DJ” getting people ready. We had a little aerobics warm up…
And after about 2 hours of being in the O2 letting the numbers and atmosphere build up, we finally got going. Actually, there was a bit of a mess up at the start. The marathon start was at 2030 (with the half marathon at 2230 – people hadn’t started arriving for that yet). They split all the marathon walkers into 3 groups – the Power Walkers, the Striders and the Strollers. We opted for the middle group, got in the right position, but as everyone started filtering out the door, the middle group got stuck behind a barrier. When we eventually got around it and out the door (remember, there were a good 5,000 people here), we were 3 rows (about 30 people) from the very back of the pack, starting about half an hour after the first people!
The start was a bit annoying – with soooo many people in front walking slowly it took us about 5 miles to get to a point where we could walk at a natural pace. The shot below was from the traffic lights on the roundabout under the Blackwall tunnel approach. There were so many people in front, there wasn’t room to move onto the islands until the traffic lights further on down (out of view) changed, so it got a bit busy here!
Our first “Pit Stop” was at Greenwich. The Maritime Museum and University were impressive buildings, and this was the first glimpse of something that truly spoke of London. It was really exciting – all these sights that we were going to see, and at a night time when you don’t normally get to see them.
At the start and each pit stop, we got to take water, energy drinks, snacks, hot chocolate etc. It was all very well organised, and there wasn’t an issue with not having what you needed on the walk. Unfortunately, with all those drinks bottle being picked up, they were bound to be put down in various places. I guess the next day, London was littered with the things.
Further on, we got to the London Eye, with Westminster in the distance. To put things in perspective, it was 00:25 at this time and we’d been walking for a little over 3 hours. We had a bit under 20 miles to go.
Here’s a shot of Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament from across the river. It’s worth pointing out that all of these shots were hand held, almost all without even leaning against anything. I fairly quickly ended up using one the NEX5′s clever modes designed for night time shooting, which I’ll discuss in the next post.
We crossed the river at Vauxhall Bridge. This shots shows that it was still quite busy even at 1am – there wasn’t really any point on the walk were you couldn’t see 20-30 other people doing the Shine walk as well. It was such an amazing experience, despite starting to feel the enormity of it around this point – not even half way – starting to feel it a bit physically, and in that slightly strange state you get to having been awake for 19 hours.
And shortly afterwards, we stopped at the next pit stop just opposite the Houses of Parliament. I took this shot thinking how amazingly big Westminster Abbey was… we had a chat about it too. It wasn’t until I got back home and tied up the GPS track from my watch with the photos that I realised the building you see in the photograph below is actually the corner of the Houses of Parliament! A magnificent building, and somewhere I’d like to visit when I next get the chance in London. I don’t know if it was just the time of night or the grandure of the whole thing, but it was a truly epic looking building.
And this is from Horse Guards Road, just up the street from the Treasury and the back end of Downing Street. (Again, this shot was hand held – it’s slightly cheating to say it was at ISO6400, although that’s what the EXIF data will say…)
We walked past the palace, up Constitution Hill to the end where we turned around and walked back again. The shot below is at just before 2am – it shows you what the group size was like. The chatter was definitely subsiding at this point, and people were just starting to concentrate on getting round. Here, we’re around half way… so another 13 odd miles to go.
The Admiralty Arch is another stunning building, especially at night. Big monuments and important buildings in London seem to be generally lit with relatively neutral lights (mercury vapour?) rather than sodium vapour light which would make everything appear orange. As such, you can get to see things at night in the general colours that they would appear at daytime.
After quite a bit of wandering, we finally found St Pauls (as you do!). It was about 3am at this point. The shot below is not very sharp, but it’s worth pointing out that it was actually quite difficult to see the dome, let alone focus on it! I couldn’t tell until after taking the shot whether it was in focus or not, and as I was being left behind at this point I wasn’t going to retry. But I’m still impressed with the clarity of a handheld shot in almost pitch black – if the focus had be slightly better (through luck rather than technical ability of the camera), this would have been a really impressive shot:
Getting back towards Tower Bridge, we passed the Tower of London. We all had the chat about the fact that we thought it was just a tower, and were amazed at how big the whole place was. Definitely worth visiting at some point I think.
Tower Bridge was a welcome sight, as the pit stop on the far side signalled 20 miles and not (too) far to go. This shot was at 04:16 in the morning, having been walking for a bit over 7 hours in total everyone was getting pretty tired.
The shot below is an important shot for me. It’s about the time I really went downhill psychologically. This was just before 5am – 8 hours of walking, mentally exhausted having been awake for 23 hours at this point, and physically really starting to feel thing – blisters, aches and pains generally. After Tower Bridge, the scenery became decidedly “urban” an comparatively uninteresting, so it was a struggle to keep going. I knew I couldn’t give up, but I so wanted to – sleep in a bush, catch a taxi or bus, just stop… anything but walk.
After the quietness of the last few miles – nobody really said much as I think it was a personal journey in endurance for most people – we finally saw this beautiful sight. No, not a nuclear holocaust (that’s just me being over excited with the colours in Lightroom!), but the Dome… sorry the “O2″… in the distance. This shot is at 06:26, with the sun properly starting to think about getting out of bed…
Round the corner, the sky was looking beautiful. The Thames Barrier glowing on the river and the colours of the sky from orange through to deep blue, with all those jet trails appearing in the sunlight.
It was a surprisingly long walk from this point to the finish. We didn’t know that we had to walk 3/4 of the way around the 02 – which totalled 0.6 miles – before getting to the finish. It kept being “just around this corner”, but after a 5 or so of those moments we were starting to get quite cross! Remember, this was after about 28 miles, and every step was a serious effort for both muscles and mind.
But eventually, we got there. The entrance to the finish. I was overjoyed to get through the finish so I didn’t get any pictures, but just through this gate was a “tunnel of stars” (a dark tunnel with lots of lights in which made you feel decidedly sick in the semi conscious state we were in after that much walking!), then out in to the finishing funnel to be greeted by DJ Shouty!