Abseiling Down the ArcelorMittal Orbit

In terms of maintaining the Olympic legacy, London is doing pretty well and certainly compared to the previous two cities. Beijing’s prestigious Birds’ Nest Stadium hosts the occasional football match or athletic meet but otherwise remains unused. As for Athens, the stadiums and the facilities are now in worse condition than the buildings that Plato and Socrates used to knock around in. There is a certain amount of humour to be drawn from the jargon that surrounds the subject of sustainability but it is true that London’s facilities will have a duration that will stretch for decades.

The Olympic Stadium will be renovated to become the new home of West Ham United and an international class athletics venue. In a different way, the ArcelorMittal Orbit is undergoing its own reinvention. The viewing tower which resembles a giant’s metallic shoe laces, is moving on from just being a viewing tower for the Olympic Park. It reopened to the public in 2014 and last weekend, it hosted its first wedding. It is also offering the chance for visitors to abseil down and, given my instincts as a human guinea park and noble explorer, I jumped at the chance to embark on the first test runs.

A group of us were harnessed up and took the lift to the platform. The distance of the Olympic Park from central London allows for stunning views as the O2 Arena, Canary Wharf, the Shard and even Wembley are visible. When my name was called to start my descent, suddenly the magnificence of the views paled and it was the marked difference in height between where I was standing and the ground that caught my attention. Fortunately, there were very professional instructors on hand to guide me and to explain that there were many layers of safety ensuring that I would make a becalmed descent.

Abseiling is an activity where the mind-body problem that has bedevilled philosophic minds across millennia is fully played out. Your mind does everything to thwart your legs, arms and hands from embarking into a step into the void. The muscles in my legs lost all tone and I was ungallantly flopping over the edge of the structure, desperately reliant on the instructors’ reassurances that I was doing fine. I suspect that if Rene Descartes had been put in my position, over 350 feet up in the air, I’m pretty sure that he would have resolved exactly where the mind and the body dissociate.

But very slowly, bit by bit, I lowered myself down off the edge, off the windows of the observation deck and into thin air. It was here that I could finally relax, take in the views and ease myself down. It is a glorious experience, one that gets the more rewarding the more you relax into it. Just don’t try and look for your house as you go down. You’ll never find it.

ArcelorMittal Orbit
Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park
3 Thornton Street
E20 2ST

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