LONDON — The Olympic torch began a festive valedictory lap around London on Thursday, taking in some of the 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, as well as going across the water to Ireland and Northern Ireland.
Later Thursday, it will be carried past some of the city's most impressive landmarks, including the Houses of Parliament, 10 Downing St. and Buckingham Palace, where it will be greeted by Prince William and his wife Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge.
The torch completes its 70-day, 8,000-mile journey Friday, lighting the Olympic Stadium's cauldron in a ceremony marking the official start of the 2012 London Games. The identity of the final torchbearer is still a closely guarded secret.
Thursday's relay, which began in a burst of sunshine following months of awful weather, lifted London's spirits. In the north London neighborhood of Camden, many families with young children got up early to cheer as the torch kicked off its relay at the Victorian-era Roundhouse music hall around 6:50.
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 torchbearer of the day.
Others, like 19-year-old Anastasia Gribaldi, were surprised to see the torch after an all-night clubbing session.
"It was pretty cool to see it actually," said the teenager . "It was like: 'Wow, it's the torch!' We weren't expecting it."
The torch later sped across London's River Thames with Paralympic champion Ade Adepitan, whose dreadlocks flapped in the wind, as he propelled his wheelchair across the slender Millennium Bridge.
Londoners who have spent much of the past few weeks worrying about rain, Olympic security, and strikes appeared to lighten up.
In the south London borough of Lambeth, thick, flag-waving crowds chanted "We want the torch!" In nearby Wandsworth, 24-year-old John Lake — a cancer survivor who has raised thousands of pounds for the Brain Research Trust — pumped his fist and waved the torch back and forth as he ran down the road with a mile-wide grin.
The crowds thickened further as the torch made its way back across the Thames, with Joanna Lumley and Jennifer Saunders — who played Patsie and Edina in the British comedy "Absolutely Fabulous" — taking the flame for a jaunty walk in London's wealthy Chelsea neighborhood.
Not everyone was caught up in the Olympic excitement.
"It was pretty convenient that it came through as I was getting my morning coffee," said Jack Tate, a 28-year-old retail worker in Camden. "Now I can say I've seen it. There's no need to watch any more of this Olympics rubbish for the next few weeks."
Paisley Dodds and Sheila Norman-Culp contributed to this report.