Don’t look down. . . visions of vertigo atop the Shard

SIGHTS OF LONDON: And Lynne was a sight

SIGHTS OF LONDON: And Lynne was a sight - Credit: Archant

I have been up the Shard. I’m assured it’s ok to say that in polite company. The Shard, on the South Bank of the Thames, is Europe’s highest building and I wasn’t confident I would make it to the top.

Two rungs up the loft ladder my head is spinning. Travelling in a coach along the precipitous Amalfi coast in Italy, I wept with terror. At the fair, I went up the helter-skelter and had to come back down the steps with my mat because I could not launch myself down the slide. At Disneyland Paris, I queued for 45 minutes for Big Thunder Mountain only to wimp out at the last minute. In planes, I sit away from the window.

So when my husband bought us tickets to go up the Shard on my birthday trip to London, it was a leap of faith (not literally).

“I’m sure the Shard is shafe,” he said.

“That’s easy for you to say,” I said, wondering if he had an ulterior motive. A man whose wife is terrified of heights buys her a ticket to ascend the tallest building on the continent. Or, in my case, more probably incontinent.


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“Is there an outside area?” I asked suspiciously.

“Right at the top, I think.”

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“You’ll be fine,” he patted my hand reassuringly.

“Will I be able to see our house from there?”

“On a clear day, maybe.”

Eventually, the Shard will be home to businesses, a hotel and restaurants and so forth. At the moment, it is a popular visitor attraction or, in my case, a visitor attraction. Security is tight, which is good.

A few of us at a time are ushered into one of the bank of lifts and we rise to floor 38 in about 30 seconds.

My ears pop at about 20 seconds. Inside the lift there is film on the ceiling and soothing music... the sort of thing you associate with spa experiences. Internal body noises or whale song, perhaps. As the lift door opens we hear a whistling noise.

“Is that the wind?” someone asks.

I begin to explain that despite my nervousness it wasn’t me but the usher confirms the noise is indeed the sound of the wind up the lift shaft. At floor 38 we are in the interior of the building. There are no windows to scare me. It’s all soft carpets and subdued lighting.

Around the corner is a second bank of lifts. This upward journey takes us to floor 69 and the view, 800ft above the city. At this level we can circle the building indoors. A wide walkway takes you around a 360º view of London through the glass exterior. Telescopes with viewing screens are placed at intervals.

Apart from a modicum of sea-sickness caused by the building moving in the wind (it’s deliberate, apparently), I was fine. The only time the vertigo hit me was when one of the small children enjoying the experience, leaned back solidly against the glass, whereupon the backs of my legs seized up and I thought I was going to fall over.

It took all my strength to stop myself screaming: “Noooooooo.” It helped that my husband clamped his hand over my mouth.

I decided to take the plunge (unfortunate choice of word as I mean the exact opposite) and walk up to floor 72 where the viewing platform is open to the elements at the top.

For every 100m you go up, the temperature drops by about 0.65C. With poor maths, that means it was even colder than the ruddy perishing at Thames level.

Perversely, and I daresay someone who knows maths can explain it, looking down from floor 72, the landmarks (St Pauls, the gherkin, the Olympic Park, Buckingham Palace etc) all look bigger than they did from 69.

My husband who has a scientific bent, speculated that this might be an illusion created by looking down on the vista more directly, ie at a more acute angle. Even for a scaredy cat like me, the Shard was an exhilarating experience although I was not moved to buy anything Shard-shaped from the inevitable shop.

There are apocryphal tales of goings-on in the Shard WCs which, I am led to believe, give you a view over London without giving London, or more specifically, passing aircraft, a view of you. Consequently, the cloakroom has been used by couples as a sort of 800ft-high Club.

I don’t know if it’s true but in case you were wondering, I did not avail myself of the facilities. I was too worried that the lesser gravitational pull at that height might cause a nasty accident.

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