The View from the Shard for Londoners

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There’s currently a great deal for Londoners who are keen to see the city from the highest viewpoint possible. The View from the Shard currently has a “Love London” pass for sale for just £20.16. This gives you unlimited visits between now and the end of the year – not bad if you consider that, for on-the-day visitors, the regular tourist price, for ONE visit, is £31 (or £26 if you book in advance). Even if you only visit every couple of months between now and December, that still works at £4 per visit. Go half an hour before sunset, go at night, go in the morning on a sunny day, go when the garden opens in mid-June, and go during heavy rain or a lightning storm! On my second visit I missed a big one by just a few minutes.

The Pass

To get it just turn up, buy the pass and then get a ticket for a visit, there and then. The pass is credit-card sized, and digitally stores a photo of you to check against swapping of the card. There’s only a limited number of the cards left, you can only get them from the ticket office in the Shard (open until 9pm every day). You’ll need both photo ID and proof of (London) address to get the pass. For subsequent visits you just flash the pass at the ticket desk and get a ticket. At the time of writing, there are currently “a few” left, the staff are cagey about how many, but a few thousand (2016 + 500 + X?) have been sold so far.

The Journey Up

Getting to the top of the Shard is reasonably involved, although in both visits I’ve made so far (7pm on a weekday and 6pm on a Sunday), there were no queues, either to get the ticket or for the lifts, and the two viewing platforms were both not too crowded – no waiting needed to see the view once you are up. To get there once you have your pass and ticket:

  1. Give your ticket to an attendant who swipes it to open a gate.
  2. You then have an metal-detector gate to go through, with your bags/pocket contents X-ray scanned.
  3. You then get a couple of green-screen photos of you taken (so don’t wear green!), one looking forwards and the other looking up. You get handed a card (to later retrieve the photos to view and/or purchase).
  4. You get given a small PDA containing a guide to the view you are about to see, with optional audio narration.
  5. Down a corridor into a lift to Floor 33, the 30 second journey augmented by a vivid animated display in the ceiling.
  6. Then, an usher shows you around he corner to the second lift, another ceiling visual and 30 seconds later you are on Level 68. Just about there!
  7. There’s a little shop at Level 68, but go straight up the stairs to Level 69, the indoor, and largest, of the two viewing platforms.

The View

shardtop_1You made it! The building beams cast a reflection on the glass panels which is surprisingly strong but an hour before sunset they turn off the inside lighting, which helps, and after dark it is not a problem. There are also free (yay!) digital telescopes arranged around the edge (press the button on the left to get the live view, which unfortunately does not zoom in as far as the historic image views – take your own binoculars or telephoto lens, if you are trying to spot your suburban home!) The photo at the bottom of this post is the first view you see – looking to the south. It’s the least exciting direction, but is still visually striking. N.B. In this photo, on the top of the building at the bottom, which is itself a 25-floor skyscraper (Guys Hospital), you can spot Wally on the roof. He is there for a few more days, as part of an aerial I-spy.

Up three more flights of stairs to get to Level 72, the outdoor platform (though it still feels enclosed as there is glass above head-height, and the core behind you) which also hosts a Champagne bar. The floor is wooden decking, and partially under cover. Don’t forget to look up from this level, in the corners. Here, the view is more open, and you can see the rest of the Shard heading up for a further 17 floors, as it tapers to a point – see the photo above. There is also a further set of stairs up, tantalisingly off-limits to visitors.

The View from the Shard is definitely worth the trip, if you live in London and plan a few visits this year. It’s high enough up (the platforms are nearly 300m) up to give London a “Sim City” (or, at night, “Blade Runner”) feel, and a view which appears to cover the whole of London and – thanks to the continuous urban extent right to the horizon – makes the city look truly huge, in a way that maps, lower viewpoints and aircraft views (too high) don’t achieve.

…oh, and if you need another reason to go, there’s a nice floor map in the sky lobby, half-way up to the top.

Thanks to Diamond Geezer for tipping me off about the Love London cards.

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Locations of the 12 London “High Lines”

To aid virtual exploration of the twelve possible “High Line” elevated walking routes in inner-city London, that I’ve highlighted in my series over the last couple of weeks, I’ve created this map on Google Maps, showing the extent of each of the twelve routes.

To recap, the 12 are:

  1. The East London Line Extension
  2. The Greenway
  3. Millwall Viaduct
  4. Peckham Coal Line
  5. Parkland Walk
  6. Bishopsgate Goods Yard
  7. Limehouse Curve
  8. Barbican Highwalks
  9. Pedways of the City
  10. Borough Market Bridge
  11. Garden Bridge
  12. The Camden Line

See the map here, which you can explore using aerial imagery and “Street View” (or see a small version below).

The Camden Line

Over the last two weeks I have featured eleven potential London High Lines (see all the previous ones here) – all of them could be interesting place but none of them quite have the potential to be a London “High Line”.

Today, my final London High Line, is the one that I think ticks all the boxes. It runs through post-industrial gritty inner-city London, it’s elevated, it’s an old railway route, and the land is just lying there, undeveloped. It is the Camden High Line – a potential High Line that runs between Camden Gardens Park (just off Kentish Town Road), around the back of Camden Road station, across a number of intact, unused bridges and finishing at an existing footbridge across the Midland Mainline, just past Camley Street. In all, a distance of around 800m, with a possible Phase 2 future extension across to the huge and evolving development area behind King’s Cross station, although this additional section would require the building of at least one footbridge.

The route: camdenroute

1. Western end

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This would likely need the most expensive new structure – a lift with a surrounding staircase, to allow step-free access onto the route from the western end. It would also need to use a small section of the public park here – Camden Gardens Park – for the lift/staircase to “land”.

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The route would then move quite quickly away from the current line, using the disused (and now heavily overgrown) section behind Camden Road station – another possible access point and one that could provide an alternative step-free entrance using the existing lift there, from the eastbound platform (ticket barrier location notwithstanding).

The route moves back towards the current line, crossing Camden Road on a disused but intact bridge as it does so. This is the bridge which currently has “Camden Road” painted on its side, prominently, by Network Rail, visible when travelling down the hill from Camden Road. (The other nearby railway bridge also has “Camden Road” painted on it, when facing the other way.) As you can see from the Google Streetview imagery, the bridge is sitting waiting for a walkway to be added onto it:

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2. Middle section

The route continues along the former double-track, alongside the existing double-track between Camden Road and Caledonian Road & Barnsbury, walled off safely but with plenty of space available for the High Walk itself.

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Shortly, a couple of other bridges are crossed. One crosses over at a road junction. There is plenty of pavement below the bridge here and so this is a potential landing location for a staircase (possibly spiral) for an intermediate entry/exit to the walk.

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3. Eastern end

The route continues eastwards, narrowing quite a bit near the end at the final bridge across Camley Street although still with plenty of space beside the operational railway for a path and appropriate screening from the operational railway.

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There is a choice of endings at the eastern end. There is already a (pretty unpleasant and unsafe feeling) set of steps down from the western side of the Midland Mainline existing footbridge. This could be remodelled and made safer. At the bottom is the northern end of Camley Street, a light industrial estate, with an existing pedestrian link north to Agar Grove, and a quiet road south that leads to the Regent’s Canal – from there, King’s Cross Central is nearby. Alternatively, continuing along the road eventually leads to St Pancras International station.

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The second ending is a level access from the footbridge crossing the Midland Mainline – at its eastern end, paths head north and then northeast, connecting to Agar Grove and eventually Caledonian Road. This has the benefit of providing a step-free end to the walk, so that, unlike at the western end, a lift would not be necessary.

4. Phase 2 extension

This would connect the eastern end of the Camden Line, southwards to the huge mixed-use King’s Cross Central redevelopment and Central St Martin’s College, behind King’s Cross station. Such a route would require crossing over (or under) the existing North London Line, and various other lines emerging from St Pancras, with at least one footbridge needed – as such it would be an expensive exercise. I’m just mentioning it here as having a complete “High Line” link running all the way between, Camden Town and King’s Cross, to parallel with the Regent’s Canal route to the south of it, seems like an obvious route between two major north London walking destinations.

So could it happen? Well, the viability of the project would depend on Network Rail reliquishing its land, on support from Camden Council, a fundraising effort to fund a feasibility report and build the actual trail, and on the creation of a local trust dedicated to maintaining such a route once it opened on a largely voluntary basis, like happens on the New York High Line. In short, it wouldn’t be easy, but it is certainly very possible.

See all 12 of my London “High Lines”.

Photos from Google Street View and Google Aerial Imagery. Map from OpenStreetMap (Data ODbL, cartography CC-By OSM contributors)

High Lines 11. Garden Bridge

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This is one in a series of posts about possible High Lines for London. Look out for the final one – my big idea for a High Line that I think has real potential – tomorrow.

Well, this is a controversial one. It’s not a structure that exists in any form (let alone being abandoned), it has nothing to do with railway lines – although the landing on the north side is on the roof of Temple station – and it is a high-profile project with influential (& wealthy) backers but also significant opposition. It’s the Garden Bridge, a pedestrian, daytime only bridge to meander along, linking Temple/Strand to South Bank.

It fulfils many of the High Line concepts – it is a private initative to add something “nice” to London. It is substantially privately funded and would be run by a trust. Being a bridge, it certainly affords great views of London. It would be intensively cultivated with trees and flowers to encourage meandering and dawdling rather than it becoming a commuter link (the nearby Waterloo and Blackfriars bridges cater well for that). And finally, it would have tightly controlled access – no cycling, large groups/gatherings, or access after dark.

It is this last point – that it would be a privately owned/managed and controlled space, muscling into a highly visible location in central London, but partially funded, and guaranteed, by public funds – that has proved controversial. However, as long as the governance is appropriately inclusive, i.e. representing the concerned bodies as well as the sponsoring ones, and appropriate covenants were added, e.g., dedicating free public access during daylight hours, every day of the year (no daytime closures for private parties), and income private evening/night time events on the bridge went partially back to public funds, then much of the opposition would maybe be quelled. It certainly doesn’t blend in to the surroundings and its location/height may spoil views of the City from Waterloo Bridge, but if it ends up looking like the impression above, it would be fantastic – another London green space which is (mostly) dedicated to the public, and a wonderful, free London facility for contemplation and enjoyment of the outside. I hope it gets built.

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Postscript: There is another “Garden Bridge” already in London – the Green Bridge that crosses the A11 road by Mile End station (it’s actually bright yellow, underneath), linking the two halves of Mile End Park. Originally it had trees growing on top of the bridge itself, however the soil was not deep enough to allow the roots to build and the trees to flourish, so sadly they have been replaced with just grass. Hopefully the designers of the Garden Bridge will have learnt from the mistakes of the Green Bridge and, earlier, the Barbican Estate’s waterfall.

Photo/map from the Garden Bridge website.

High Lines 10. Borough Market Bridge

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This is one in a series of posts about possible High Lines for London. Look out for the next one tomorrow.

[Update (2016) – the main (southern) bridge featured here is already in use by trains now.]

This new railway bridge got lifted into place a couple of years ago. Eventually, in 2018 or so once London Bridge Station has been rebuilt, it will form the dedicated tracks between this station and Charing Cross, with the old bridge going to just Blackfriars, rather than to both at the moment. But that’s a few years away. At the moment the bridge is empty, and just used for storage. How cool would it be if you could walk straight from the concourse in front of London Bridge Station, to Borough Market, without having to cross Borough High Street? A couple of scaffolded staircases would allow for such a possibility, even if it was only for a couple of years.

There is also potential for using the track that curves westwards from Cannon Street to Charing Cross, as no scheduled train needs to use this curve. However there is still a single track here, which is used as a siding after the morning rush-hour, so, although there is enough room for a path alongside, it’s (even) less likely that this would ever become a High Walk for the public.

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Top photo: Steven Craven on Geograph. Aerial image from Google Maps.

High Lines 9. Pedways of the City

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This is one in a series of posts about possible High Lines for London. Look out for the next one tomorrow.

Complementary to the Highwalks of the Barbican, the concept (originally called Pedways by the 1950s planners) was intended in fact to spread throughout the “Square Mile” of the City, of which the Barbican formed the northern edge. For several years, new offices were required to have an entrance and lobby on the first floor, as well as on the ground floor as normal. In time, a network of Pedway bridges would connect the offices to each other and provide a complete alternative network of pedestrian routes around the City. Such 1950s utopian ideals never came to pass. There is a great video here about the rise and fall of Pedways and the 1950s buildings that accompanied them. Outside of the Barbican, the few Pedways that did get built are gradually being removed as the 1950s buildings alongside come to the end of their lives, however a couple of significant fragments in the City remain, both of which I feature here. It’s unclear how long they will remain for, but for now they remain a fascinating and hidden way to move around and explore London’s financial district without having to cross roads.

pedway_tower42The first is the link that runs behind Tower 42 (the former Natwest Tower). It used to head east to what is now the Gherkin, however the bridge here (across Bishopsgate) was severed when the Pinnacle construction started. The Pinnacle project was then cancelled and the concrete stump is now disappearing again, to be replaced by another skyscraper – but with no bridge link restored. The other link heads north, right through the Lloyds Banking Group building, before coming to another bridge across a busy road. This is still there – for now – but leads to a dead-end, as its steps down were recently removed. So, the urban explorer here has to take the steps down just before the road.

The other is an even less well known link that leads directly from The Monument (to the Great Fire of London) to one of the best views in London – an elevated, river-bank view of Tower Bridge from the elevated plaza at St Magnus House. It passes through a couple of buildings, one on each side of Lower Thames Street, before opening out to a podium for the view, and a convenient staircase (ignored by the great majority that pass below it) that then drops directly down onto the Thames Path.

Iain Targett walked both of these routes, as well as one of the Barbican routes, and documented what they looked like in this photo set.

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Top and bottom photos of the Tower 42 Highwalk, both by Steve Keirestu. Map Copyright OpenStreetMap contributors, ODbL (data) & CC-By (cartography).

High Lines 8. Barbican Highwalks

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This is one in a series of posts about possible High Lines for London. Look out for the next one tomorrow.

The Barbican is a huge 1950s/60s housing development in the “raw concrete” Brutalist style which divides opinion (personally, I love it). The concept of the Barbican is having the pedestrian level on two “podiums” 4-6 metres above the car/street level, entirely separated from traffic. Connections between the podiums and the street level, and between different parts of the estate, are via “Highwalks”. These walkways in the sky are in fact legally considered public streets, and if you are familiar with the geography of the Barbican, are a pleasant way to pass through part of the City without encountering traffic.

The Highwalks are shown as orange lines on the estate map below. Some have actual orange lines painted on the ground, these are to help visitors, who are unfamiliar with the complex 3D nature of the walking routes in the area, to make it to the Barbican Art Centre – by following an orange line from an entrance to the estate, you should find your way there. One of these orange lines can be just made out on the far left in the photo above.

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One section of the Highwalks near the Barbican that has recently disappeared, is a triangle of land near London Wall, that used to connect the predominately residential Barbican to the Guildhall. This has recently been demolished for a new complex of office towers, London Wall Place. Thankfully, the raised sections will be coming back, as a nice looking long bridge, passing through the new buildings and restoring the connection between London Wall, the Barbican’s own network of Highwalks and podiums, and the Guildhall and rest of the City. The temptation these days, surely, must be to improve the pedestrian realm at street level, as ultimately that’s where people want to be, but it’s good to see that, in this case, the “first floor” pedestrian level will live on, as a route from which to observe the buzz of the city below.

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Map: Phil Gyford. Bottom photo: London Wall Place.

High Lines 7. Limehouse Curve

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This is one in a series of posts about possible High Lines for London. See the full list here including the one with the best potential.

The Limehouse Curve lies just east of Limehouse station in east London, it used to be a link between Stratford/West Ham and the Isle of Dogs/Blackwall. These days only a short section remains, around half of the curve itself, running from the DLR viaduct at the eastern edge of Limehouse Basin, and crossing Commercial Road, beyond where a line of apartments stands. The link is short (120m) but it is raised, and through an appropriately gritty part of the post-industrial inner city. There are two bridges that are solely part of the disused route (both seen below in this wide-angle Google Street View image), plus a third which is shared with the existing DLR route, beside which a wooden decking and descent down to street level could be assembled – although step-free access, likely a prerequisite for any funded project, would be very tricky at this end.

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There was a tentative project a few years ago to create connections at either end and make it a short walkway and linear park, but sadly nothing came of it. However, the route remains, including a potentially useful bridge across a busy road. Maybe one day it will live again.

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Top photo from What If. Bottom photo and aerial imagery above from Google Maps aerial view.

High Lines 6. Bishopsgate Goods Yard

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This is one in a series of posts about possible High Lines for London. Look out for the next one tomorrow.

This is a potential High Line that might well happen, but in a radically different form to the current situation. Largely demolished, the raised Bishopsgate Goods Yard space is about to see a big change.

Sitting just south of the new Shoreditch High Street station (the other side from BoxPark), it was once Bishopsgate Station, then it was converted to a goods yard in 1875. After a huge fire in 1964 it was abandoned. The remains of the building were demolished in 2003 but a raised area remains, part of which is the Braithwaite Viaduct, a relatively linear section which is largely unseen – the adjoining Shoreditch High Street station is also elevated and so would have good views of the area, but is enclosed in concrete in anticipation of major building construction over and alongside it.

Aerial view of Shoreditch, London

It would make a nice, if short, High Walk, running between Brick Lane and the Great Eastern Street/Bishopsgate junction with great views over to the City, Spitalfields and Hoxton/Shoreditch. The section is just 260m long, not much longer than the station alongside it, but it would surely be popular, just looking at the crowds that throng the City to the west during the weekdays, and Brick Lane to the east at the weekends.

A small part of the site, specifically the arches forming the remainder of the Braithwaite Viaduct, is likely to be preserved and remodelled, rather than being demolished, as part of a huge new mixed use development “The Goodsyard” that is due to start at the end of next year and finish a few years later. Photos of the potential design suggest a high level walking above the arches, connecting the various new buildings as well as Brick Lane with Bishopsgate, along with lower level paths including one in the arches themselves. A campaign against it (more), concerned mainly with overshadowing of the existing Shoreditch area, has already led to some design changes. Existing railway tunnels (Central and Great Eastern) underneath the site mean that piling locations are limited however, and so elevated walkways (which generally wouldn’t require piling) are likely to remain part of the final design. It won’t be a quiet path sneaking through an old industrial area, rather a route connecting various new blocks, so it won’t feel like a hidden secret, but it will be raised, it’s in an appropriately gritty area for a “High Line” (check out this atmospheric passage very close by!) The space has been off limits to the public for 50 years. Looking forward to the transformation.

See also: BBC News article about the “High Line” potential of the Bishopsgate Goods Yard.

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Photos from The Goodsyard (the developer’s website). Aerial image/map from More Light More Power.

High Lines 5. Parkland Walk

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This is one in a series of posts about possible High Lines for London. Look out for the next one tomorrow.

The Parkland Walk is possibly the closest thing that London has to a High Line, right now. It’s on a disused railway line (including platforms at one point), it has some short elevated sections, and it already exists as a walking and cycling route. However, the character of the area is very different. The line runs through a solidly residential, leafy (and hilly) part of north London, connecting Finsbury Park to Highgate. The feel is more of a woodland walk, with some tall mature trees which lessen the sense of threading through the city and observing it, and make the route feel rather enclosed and claustrophobic in places. It’s a lovely route for dog walkers or people cycling west from Finsbury Park – although the route is generally not surfaced and so is difficult to ride on or keep your feet dry after rain, when the path turns to mud.

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It’s a shame – more could be made of it certainly, however I rather suspect the local patronage rather like it as it is, and would never allow the trees to be cut down to improve the view*. It’s a lost link, a slightly neglected but useful enough rail trail through some deliberately overgrown flora, rather than a place to view the city from. The route is not secure or lit and is open at night, so suffers from some anti-social problems. Having said that, I would love to have it as a jogging route on my doorstep.

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* In my description above I omitted mentioning a branch section of the route, that runs from Queen’s Wood (near Highgate) to Alexandra Palace and does in fact include some spectacular views southward to central London.

Above: The platforms at the old Crouch End station. Below: Tall trees enclosing the Parkland Walk route. Photos by Alyson Fletcher. Map is Copyright OpenStreetMap contributors, ODbL, with cartography CC-By OpenStreetMap.