London - The Olympic torch began a festive valedictory lap around London on Thursday, taking in some of the unexpectedly sun-drenched capital's most famous landmarks on the second-to-last day of its trek across Britain.
The torch - carried by athletes, charity workers and celebrities - thrilled thousands of Londoners as it swept across Regent's Canal in Camden, through the city's newly renovated neo-gothic train station at St Pancras and down the winding streets of the ancient City of London.
For many Londoners, it was their first glimpse of a golden beacon that has spent the past 68 days traveling up and down the country, from Loch Ness to Land's End and beyond.
On Friday, the torch will complete its journey, lighting the Olympic Stadium's cauldron in a ceremony marking the official start of the 2012 London Games.
Thursday's relay - which began in a burst of sunshine following months of awful weather - seemed to lift London's spirits. In the north London neighborhood of Camden, many families with young children got up early to see the torch as it kicked off its relay around 06:50.
The good-natured crowd defied security guards' efforts to corral them behind barriers, mobbing Clive Woodward, the former English rugby star who was the first torch bearer of the day.
Other runners are carrying the flame past some of the city's most impressive landmarks on Thursday, including the Houses of Parliament, St Paul's Cathedral, 10 Downing Street and Buckingham Palace, where it will be greeted by Prince William and his wife Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge.
The torch will be carried to the palace by Jon Sayer, a Scout volunteer who last year saved a man from a swollen river. Thursday's torch bearers also include comedian David Walliams, actress Joanna Lumley and Bollywood star Amitabh Bachchan.