Undiscovered Britain: London – The Orbit Plunge

To celebrate the launch of the 2016 Best Loved Hotel & Travel Guide, we are pleased to bring you a series of stories on Undiscovered Britain by leading travel writers.

The Orbit Plunge by Sarah Burrell

Art lover I may be, but I’ve never hugged a sculpture before. Yet, dangling 262 feet high above London’s skyline, I find myself leaning in for a koala-like clinch. Legs and arms wrapped tightly around one of the Orbit’s fire-engine red pipes, my thoughts aren’t necessarily of love for Anish Kapoor’s Olympic Park landmark but of self-preservation. Abseiling off the top of the UK’s tallest sculpture is proving more of a challenge than I anticipated. Not least, I can’t seem to get the “sailing” part going in any sense of the word. I’m stationary. I glance a few feet back up at the viewing platform, out of which, in a triumph of excitement over intelligence, I’ve just launched myself, backwards. Here, a chap in a hard hat issues some instructions on how to untangle myself, along with some more rope. Once I manage to get my weight the right side of the pipe, I swing free into the void, London spread below me, Kapoor’s structure my arty anchor. I wait for terror and instead find an immense sense of calm.

London’s lofty heights may be one of the world’s most instantly recognisable skylines, but in many ways it remains a backdrop; largely impenetrable unless you’re a VIP or have big bucks to spend in gourmet Gherkin-top restaurants – or time to tolerate trailing tourist queues. It’s hard to have an intimate experience with the capital’s architectural icons, but since the Orbit offered up abseiling, it’s possible to do just that: have a one-on-one with a landmark that’s meditative, intimate, allowing a perspective on it and London that few are party to.

In fact, the closer you get to it, the more abstract this ultimate Meccano set becomes, the less it makes sense, which is surely what Kapoor had in mind. “It’s a series of discrete events tied together,” said the Mumbai-born architect when revealing the initial design for his adopted city. I’d say there’s little discreet about the Orbit but “event” it always should have been – a design that screamed “helter-skelter!” with the fervour of a live Beatles gig, but instead delivered a viewing platform and safety ropes.

But no longer. The Orbit now lives up to its skyrocketing posturing as something to launch yourself from with Olympian gusto or – when it finally gets its giant, figure-hugging slide – something to whizz down. This is architecture to get the heart racing, just like falling in love.

For more information visit The Arcelomittal Orbit.

For a selection of London hotels, including the latest special offers, visit Best Loved Hotels in London.

Sarah Barrell is an award-winning travel writer and associate editor of National Geographic Traveller. More of her writing can be found at http://sarahbarrell.com..