Today's course for the first jumping qualifier of the 2012 London Olympic Games, designed by Bob Ellis, was a whirlwind tour of London and environs. Each of the 12 obstacles paid homage to an important landmark or historical note. The Cliffs Notes of English history, if you will.
Care to take a tour? Let's go.
Fence 1, the Old Royal Naval College and the Queen's House, featured likenesses of two famous architectural features in Greenwich Park, site of the Olympic equestrian events. You're sure to see these landmarks in the background of many photos of equestrian competition. Situated on the banks of the River Thames, the Old Royal Naval College was the original British equivalent to the United States Naval Academy. Today it houses the University of Greenwich, Greenwich campus.
The Queen's House is a villa adjacent to the ORNC. It was built by Queen Anne, wife of James I, Elizabeth I's successor. (Greenwich Park, you see, is Britain's oldest Royal Park and once was the home and playground of Henry VIII, Elizabeth I, and others. The ORNC stands on the site of their Greenwich Palace.)
Fence 2 is a London Montage. Painted panels depict London's most iconic sights: the huge London Eye ferris wheel, a Buckingham Palace guard, a double-decker bus, St. Paul's Cathedral, Westminster Abbey, and others.
England was once the world's premier naval power. I assume that was the inspiration for fence 3, the Naval Ship of the Line, a nautical-themed obstacle featuring a ship's wheel, ship's moorings, crows' nests, and a cannon.
I'm sorry I couldn't get a better view of fence 4, the Magna Carta and the Birth of Justice. Issued in 1215, this document proclaimed that citizens had certain rights and freedoms that a ruler could not take away. This "law of the land" was the precursor to modern constitutional law.
The beauty of English gardens is renowned and imitated the world over. The bucolic scenery was recreated in fence 5, the English Country Garden Gazebo and Bridge.
London's power and commercial might were directly related to its being situated beside a major waterway, the Thames. The importance of this river is the inspiration for fence 6, the Light House and Thames Barge (of which I unfortunately couldn't get a good photo).
Fence 7, the 2012 Olympic Fence, features these Games' jumping pictogram and honors London's hosting of the Olympics.
The Royal Observatory was established atop the steep hill in Greenwich Park for the purpose of calculating longitude at sea. Later the location was designated the world's Prime Meridian, and Greenwich Mean Time is now used to determine the time all over the world. Fence 8, Greenwich Mean Time, contains clocks that show GMT and the time in London as well as that in Beijing, host of the 2008 Olympics; and in Rio de Janeiro, the 2016 host city.
I'm disappointed that my vantage point also didn't allow me a good shooting view of Fence 9, the 1908 and 1948 Olympic Fences. The jump standards are beautifully decorated with the logos of the two previous Olympic Games that London has hosted.
Then we come to Fence 10, the Royal Observatory at Greenwich. The observatory building, depicted in this obstacle, was designed by Sir Christopher Wren, who is most famous as the builder of St. Paul's Cathedral.
Fence 11, Nelson's Column, is a replica in miniature of the famous monument in London's Trafalgar Square honoring Admiral Horatio Nelson, the famous Royal Navy officer who died in 1815 at the Battle of Trafalgar. Four bronze lions flank the base of the monument, and so a lion also graces the jumping obstacle.
The final fence on course, fence 12, is a in-and-out depicting Stonehenge, the ancient ring of stones in the English countryside whose creation and purpose continue to puzzle researchers. It is not certain how ancient peoples transported the stones, which weigh many tons and are not from the area, to the location. Stonehenge is thought to have been everything from an ancient burial site to a religious site to a celestial or solar observatory. The jumping obstacle itself is partially ringed with "stones" that suggest the shape of the monument, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
So there you have a quick tour of London and England in twelve jumping obstacles. As one who has visited all of these iconic sites, I can assure you that they are well worth putting on your "bucket list." Stonehenge in particular has a power and a mystery that you will never forget.