LONDON SLANT: SENSATIONAL SHARD

Some weeks back I wrote that I hadn’t yet formed an opinion on The Shard. Was this jagged glass skyscraper an exciting addition to London’s dynamic cityscape or a blot on the skyline? Now, after spending two hours up on its summit this afternoon, I’ve become a total fan of the views from its 68th floor. Who knows, I might even soften towards it as a building, too.

When I got up this morning I was concerned about the weather, fearing that its upper levels might be enveloped in mist. But the elements proved absolutely perfect: high cloud, and a flat light with nothing to distract me from concentrating on all the toy town buildings (like The Gherkin and Tower 42) down below.

View from The Shard

View from The Shard on 3 February, its first Sunday open to the public.

The views were much more spectacular than I’d envisaged, and, thanks to the City-side location, far superior to those from the London Eye. I loved the mix of Wren era spires alternating with contemporary office blocks.

I was able to squeeze right up to the windows and really concentrate on minutiae: the moated layout of the Tower of London, the roof garden on top of Cannon Street station and the silvery caterpillars of trains slithering in and out of London Bridge station directly below. The network of railway tracks is fascinating, converging and diverging as it follows the Thames and swings round over bridges to the north.

Through my binoculars I could watch boys playing football on a distant pitch and a seagull flying for miles until it disappeared behind a church. But if I hadn’t brought them I’d have been well served by The Shard’s free telescopes that not only zoomed in on buildings but also offered video footage of the same scene in bright daylight, at sunset and at night. It was possible to focus on a huge number of sights and click for information in around a dozen languages. There were all the obvious monuments like Big Ben and St Paul’s (which, the caption noted, was London’s tallest building from 1710 to 1962 – astonishing when looking down on the tiddler today). But I particularly enjoyed scrolling through off piste places such as the Kirkaldy Testing Museum (which houses a huge Victorian machine that trialled inventions) and the Marlin Apartments, which, I learned, contain a Roman stone carved with the earliest reference to Londinium.

The Shard has two separate public viewing levels, one enclosed and toasty and the other, four levels up, open to the elements and whipped by the wind. No-one was spending long on floor 72, although this one had dramatic views not just down but also upwards through several storeys of pointed panels of glass.

The whole set-up was first class. Scant queuing, seamless security and lifts that whizzed you at breakneck speed, ears popping, to the top. Once up above there was plenty of space to move around and visitor numbers were regulated so there was no jostling for position right next to the glass. Staff were well-informed and eager to help. The only thing that didn’t grab me was the strange “celestial” music that floated everywhere.

Will I be back? Absolutely. Next time will be at sunset on a hot, cloudless summer evening, timed to coincide with Tower Bridge going up and down. Now that I’ve done the dazzling detail I’ll move onto ambiance.

* Find out more at The Shard website and check here for Tower Bridge lift times, with details of the vessel passing through).

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