Outside London, Olympics show off iconic England

By David Stringer

Associated Press

Published: Thursday, June 7 2012 8:54 a.m. MDT

In this Sunday, Jan. 29, 2012 photo, people jog down the Mall from Buckingham Palace in London. The Mall will host the start and finish of London 2012 Olympic marathon, race walk and road cycling competitions with most sections of the courses free to watch.

Sang Tan, Associated Press

Enlarge photo»

HAMPTON COURT, England — Medieval cottages crowned with thatched roofs. King Henry VIII's storied riverside palace. A wind-swept naval fort that helped to defend Britain's coastline during World War II.

Away from the bustle of London's Olympic stadium, the Summer Games will also showcase the country's postcard perfect rural charms, and highlight centuries of its history.

While it was Britain's vibrant capital that won the right to host the 2012 Games, events aren't confined to London. Spectators will flock to Wales and Scotland, to verdant hills in southern England, and even to a working farm — where rare breed sheep must make way for Olympic cyclists.

"It might be called London 2012, but really it's a countrywide event. There are places right across the country which are getting a chance to taste the Olympics," said Beverley Egan, of the Salvation Army charity, which owns a swath of eastern England countryside where the Olympic mountain bike competition will take place.

Egan, the organization's director of community services, lives close to the site, the 950-acre Hadleigh Farm, about 40 miles (65 kilometers) east of the London stadium, where cattle graze amid the ruins of a 700-year-old castle.

Sports fans can head to 10 venues outside Britain's capital. Canoeists will slalom through bubbling rapids at Lee Valley White Water Center just beyond London's northern outskirts, while rowing crews will compete on a lake at Eton Dorney, set inside a tranquil 400-acre park about 25 miles (40 kilometers) west of the capital.

On England's southern coast, visitors will watch sailing events at Nothe Fort — a 19th century naval defense post. During World War II, troops fired the fort's heavy guns in warning on two suspicious ships, but later found the vessels were carrying refugees fleeing the Channel Islands, the only corner of Britain to come under Nazi occupation.

Quaint images of rolling hills will provide a quintessentially British backdrop to events beamed around the world. However lovely, they are also critical to the country's plans for capitalizing on the Olympics, which have cost Britain 9.3 billion pounds ($14.6 billion) to stage. Ministers hope prospective visitors will be captivated as they see historic landscapes and landmarks and book a vacation. They also hope potential investors can be wooed.

Competitors in road cycling races will travel into England's picturesque countryside as they compete for gold medals. Their route — 156 miles (250 kilometers) for men, 87 miles (140 kilometers) for women — begins outside Queen Elizabeth II's Buckingham Palace home, but quickly swaps London streets for tree-fringed country lanes.

Their path winds through fields of grazing deer in Richmond Park, bringing the Olympics into the southern England county of Surrey and to the historic Hampton Court Palace.

Home to Henry VIII from the mid-1500s, the palace sits at the heart of his scandalous personal life. It was here that he and his aides plotted England's break with the Roman Catholic church to allow the king to divorce. The king married two of his six wives here, too. Two were accused of adultery and beheaded.

Road race cyclists will flash by, headed toward the spine of chalk hills known as the North Downs — but competitors in time trial events will start and finish their races inside the palace grounds, where William Shakespeare and his company of actors once performed for King James I.

During the road race, athletes will continue past the ruins of the 12th Century Newark Priory, on through woodland copses shaded by canopies of trees and down heart-stopping, twisting slopes.

Alan Flaherty, a highway engineer at Surrey County Council and a road cycling fanatic since he first visited the Tour de France in 2004, helped to devise the course once organizers chose to take the event outside London.

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