The Olympics and Jess Ennis-Hill’s gold medal may be 18 months ago – but there will soon be the chance to relive the glory days.
In six weeks’ time, on April 5, the former Olympic Park in Stratford, East London, is reopening to the public.
Highlights of the newly-renamed Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park include landscaped gardens and the Arcelor Mittal Orbit – the viewing tower which looks like a crazed rollercoaster with red metal tracks snaking into the sky.
A small area of the park is already open, which includes a smaller area of gardens featuring the Tumbling Bay water-play adventure playground, and venues such as the Copper Box Arena, where boxing and other indoor sports took place.
The wider area of park reopening from April also includes the VeloPark, hockey and tennis centre, and aquatics centre venues.
It’s a good time to visit, especially if you didn’t get the chance during 2012.
As well as wandering round, there is the chance to have a go at some of the sports yourself. Have a game of tennis on the Olympic courts, go mountain biking or BMX riding at the Velo Park or have a swim in the Olympic pool.
Unfortunately, the main Olympic Stadium will not reopen until next year because work is ongoing to extend the roof so it fully covers the seats – important for its future role as a football venue.
The wider Stratford area has plenty to keep visitors busy, too, and it’s one of London’s most up-and-coming neighbourhoods.
Its newest resident is diving sensation Tom Daley, who has moved into the 40-storey Halo Tower, and there is a thriving scene of arts and theatre, good pubs and restaurants, plus the shoppers’ paradise of Westfield with its 320 stores.
The area was similar to Attercliffe, with run-down industrial sites and unloved canals.
Now, some of the old buildings have been restored – the Art Deco former Yardley perfume company’s building cleaned up, including artwork on the wall showing girls picking lavender.
The waterways are being cleaned up, too. At the entrance to Three Mills Wall River, off Stratford High Street, is the Strand East Tower – a sculpture which looks like an Olympic torch with LED lights constantly changing colour.
Where to stay? The Westbridge, 335-337 High Street, Stratford, is a former coaching inn which has been restored and extended. Rooms range from the luxurious top- floor Westbridge Suite, with a jacuzzi and balcony, to double deluxe rooms which also have balconies and plenty of space, and standard double or twins. There is also a stunning lounge on the first floor and gym in the basement.
Standard room rates are from £149 per room per night for a standard double or twin including breakfast but special offers are available. Visit www.thewestbridge.com or call 0203 3274969.
Stratford is just seven minutes from London St Pancras station – visit Stratford for full details of what’s on.
A stroll along the canal: This takes you past the Three Mills Green Park to a complex of former grain mills, some of which have been converted to television studios where the first Big Brother house was located. Turning back up the River Lee, a mile or so’s walk takes you past another piece of TV history – the former Big Breakfast house . There is also Stour Space, home to artists’ studios, a gift shop and The Counter cafe, which has unusual but tasty specialities including Mexican eggs – poached eggs on a bed of spicy beans and tomato salsa. Westfield Stratford is an enormous temple to shopping with all the big names – need I say more? I will just point out it has its own brewery, Tap East, and bar; Royal Sweets selling delicious Indian cakes and sweets for the very reasonable price of £1 each; a wood-fired pizzeria, a branch of Cafe Football – the chain run by Gary Neville and Ryan Giggs.