Illuminating London #AmWriting

By the time I cleared customs at Heathrow Airport it was 7:30 AM. I strode outdoors with other travelers and headed toward the glaring Virgin Atlantic sign, where I hoped to find the Tube. Dawn’s breeze, mostly fresh with a hint of vehicle exhaust, brushed my face. Fuchsia lights lit the outdoor ceiling.

Before leaving for London, my husband and I discussed the length of days in January compared with our New Hampshire home. We learned that the sun would rise at approximately 8:00 a.m. in both locations, but evening would come more than an hour earlier in the United Kingdom, ending my daylight adventures at approximately 4:15 p.m. Since I’d be in class until 11:30 a.m. daily, I’d have less than five daylight hours to see the city. After that, the Gothic, Regency, Victorian, and Edwardian architecture would be hidden until the next day.

As it turns out, I needn’t have worried.  London is a city of lights. From the time the sun slips behind the last buildings, until its morning rays brush the spiky bulbous tops of London planetrees, street lamps light sidewalks and recessed lighting brightens stairs. The London Eye’s bulbs creates a red Coca-Cola circle around far-off buildings. Below the Eye, the London Aquarium’s Edwardian baroque architecture is softened by aqua uplights. Across town, the Romanesque Natural History Museum glows pink, gold, and blue in subtle white lights, while its merry-go-round is a jeweled crown, golden in the night.

Each display was carefully planned by lighting experts, who complemented the texture, materials and style of the building with their displays. Most likely they took into account the impact the outside lights would have upon people entering, exiting or working within. According to, misplaced uplights can create glare and light pollution.

Last night, after enjoying Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, I strolled under brightly-lit marquees from the Apollo Theatre to the Piccadilly Circus station, thinking about the impact of night-lighting on our environment. Research conducted by the Natural History Museum in conjunction with UNESCO found that since the early 1990’s light visible from space has decreased by 28%. Yet since then, there’s been a 39% increase in dimly lit areas. Insects don’t breed as efficiently, which leads to less food for birds and bats. Birds, which mostly hunt by day, have increased hours for seeking food, but interrupted sleep patterns. Bats, which hunt by night to avoid most of their avian predators, have fewer unlit locations available, endangering their survival.

I turned slowly on the London sidewalk, taking in the colors and flashing lights and bright marquees. Some were garish. Some were beautiful. I thought about my home and how I can step outside, look up, and see hundreds of stars beyond our white pines. Then our dogs will trip a sensor, washing the backyard in cold white light. I make a mental note to rethink our own outdoor lights, perhaps shortening their on-time, changing to warm colors, which are better for wildlife, and redirecting the lights away from the woods.

I turn from the city lights, and move with the crowd into the bright white Piccadilly Circus station.

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About Barbara Rath

Enjoy reading, writing, hiking, hangin' with family, friends and my dogs, watching soccer (Go Breakers), baseball, football. Favorite foods are coffee, chocolate, and artichokes. Always thinking of new stuff to do and then not doing it.
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1 Response to Illuminating London #AmWriting

  1. Pam Kelly says:

    Love reading your observations. Having been to London several times, your descriptions take me back in an instant! Remember, the Brits have CTV cameras everywhere these days (I watch those British crime shows), so illumination is necessary for those to work properly. At least they’ve taken all those other considerations into account when designing them. Yay! Downlighting is the answer to most of our urban and suburban light pollution in this country. Have fun and thanks for sharing!

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