London 2012: Four Paralympic flames kindled around the UK

Lord Coe: "I think when people see Paralympic sport for the first time they are going to be blown away"

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Four Paralympic flames have been kindled at the top of the highest peaks of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland ahead of next week's Games.

They were created on Northern Ireland's Slieve Donard, Snowdon in Wales, Scotland's Ben Nevis and on Scafell Pike in England's Lake District.

Four teams scaled the highest peaks of the home countries to spark the flames which will come together at Stoke Mandeville on Tuesday.

The Games start the following day.

The flames are being carried down in lanterns ahead of celebrations in London, Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast over the Bank Holiday weekend.

A 24-hour relay will leave Stoke Mandeville, the spiritual home of the Games, to arrive in Stratford in time for the opening ceremony in London.

'Grass and kindling'

The team in Northern Ireland had the best weather conditions and the shortest journey and after putting their flame in a miner's lantern, they were expected to be back at base at around 11:30 BST.

Scout leader Richard Dorrian told the BBC: "The weather was a wee bit misty which made it a bit tricky lighting the actual fire.

"We were not allowed to use natural firelighting equipment like matches so had to use dry grass and kindling. After a few attempts it ignited into the places it was supposed to ignite!

"Coming back down into the park here I think the Paralympic spirit has caught on well in Northern Ireland and on the back of the Olympic spirit I think it will spread."

Scouts and mountaineers scaled Northern Ireland's Slieve Donard to create the national flame as part of the Paralympic torch relay.

The flame on Snowdon was kindled just before 10:10 BST with Lord Coe, chairman of Games organisers Locog, looking on.

He told the BBC: "I'm absolutely sure this will start the excitement around the Paralympics. We get the Paralympics in this country and this is just a great way of starting the flame on its journey to the Paralympic Stadium.

"I think a lot of people are going to be taken by surprise when they see the quality of Paralympic sport. Some were probably watching Olympic sport for the first time during those Games but when they see Paralympic sport for the first time they are going to be blown away by it."

While journalists ascended Snowdon by mountain railway, Lord Coe and the team of climbers trekked their way to the top. He added: "It was a great team effort and a long trek. It was quite cold in a couple of places."

The first person to carry the flame there was Elaine Peart, who has bipolar disorder. She told the BBC: "I only found out on Tuesday that I would be the first person to carry it which was quite an incredible piece of information and I didn't take it in.

"I was chosen as a representative of a group I am a member of as other people are not able physically able to take part. It was absolutely incredible and amazing.

"I hope it will help people realise that people do have more to offer and that a disability needn't set you back. I am looking forward to the Games even more now and I feel I have contributed a tiny atom towards it."

Just over an hour later the team at the top of Ben Nevis sparked their flame.

The four teams were made up of scouts, mountain guides and people with disabilities.

Explaining why the Paralympic torch relay is different to the Olympic version, Lord Coe told the BBC: "We wanted to focus on human endeavour and team work and that's why, from Stoke Mandeville - the spiritual home of the Paralympic Games - into the Paralympic Stadium, we are going to have a 24-hour relay.

"We wanted to make it different and lighting it on the four tallest peaks in the four home countries was a great way of starting it off."

Mountaineer Kevin Shields, who has epilepsy and is missing part of his left hand, is in the Scottish group.

He was the first disabled climber to enter the Ice World Cup and has scaled some of the UK's most challenging mountains.

He said: "It is such an honour to be included in the Paralympic flame creation. Ben Nevis is such a unique place of beauty and the perfect setting for this once-in-a-lifetime moment".

The teams are using a ferrocerium rod and strike it against a rough steel surface to produce the sparks that will create the flame.

FLAME FESTIVALS

  • London, 24 August - Trafalgar Square
  • Belfast, 25 August - City Hall and Stormont
  • Edinburgh, 26 August - The Mound and Meadowbank Sports Centre
  • Cardiff, 27 August - City Hall and Roald Dahl Place

A couple called Kim and Mick made a special trip to Scafell to see the flame.

Kim was an Olympic torchbearer in the London Borough of Barnet and told the BBC: "This has really helped to recreate that excitement. I am also taking part in the opening and closing ceremonies and will be in the audience trying to gee them up."

The Scafell flame was lit at around 12:45 BST.

Flame festivals will be held in London on 24 August, and then on consecutive days in Belfast, Edinburgh and Cardiff before the four flames come together in Stoke Mandeville to create the Paralympic flame.

A 24-hour torch relay, which starts at 20:00 BST on 28 August, will see the Paralympic flame carried 92 miles by 580 torchbearers, working in teams of five, from Stoke Mandeville Stadium through Buckinghamshire, Hertfordshire and all six of London's host boroughs to the Olympic Stadium in Stratford.

There it will be used to light the cauldron at the opening ceremony of the Games on the evening of 29 August.

Meanwhile, Heathrow Airport is gearing up for its busiest day as athletes begin arriving ahead of the Paralympics.

Paralympics coverage online

Natasha Baker, Paralympic torch,  Arnaud Assouman

And the first of the Paralympic Games Lanes has come into force on the M4, taking traffic from Heathrow into central London.

It will operate each day as needed from 05:00 to 10:00 BST, with "ordinary" traffic able to use it outside these times.

The M4 lane is part of the 8.7-mile Paralympic Route Network (PRN).

The rest of the restricted lanes will come into force next Wednesday, when the Games begin.

British Airways said in the run-up to the Games it would be flying in teams from 25 countries, including ParalympicsGB.

Along with the athletes, the airline is also transporting equipment such as 300 wheelchairs, firearms, weapon bags, physiotherapist cases, bike boxes, tandem bikes, bow and arrows, hand cycles and boccia kits.

Paralympic torch relay route

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