Paralympic flame lit

Last Updated: 26/08/12 9:18pm

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Paralympic Torch: On it's way to London

Paralympic Torch: On it's way to London

The flames which will light the Paralympic torch were lit on top of the UK's four highest mountains as athletes began arriving for the London Games.

Four groups of Scouts trekked up Scafell Pike, England's highest peak, Slieve Donard in Northern Ireland, Snowdon in Wales and Ben Nevis in Scotland - the UK's highest point - to ignite the flame.

The climbers, made up of disabled and non-disabled volunteers, all arrived at the summit of each mountain at different points today where they struck a metal against a rough steel surface to make the necessary sparks.

Each flame was then placed in a miner's lantern and brought back down to the base on foot, from where it will be transferred to the capitals of the home nations for a day of Paralympic celebration.

Signs that the Paralympics are coming to London next week have increased in the capital - passers-by could see the Agitos, the official symbol of the 2012 Paralympic Games, suspended from Tower Bridge as focus switches from the Olympics and competitors piled in through Heathrow airport laden with dozens of bags and sporting equipment.

Lord Coe, chairman of the London 2012 organising committee, said he thought the Paralympics would take a lot of people by surprise.

Speaking at the summit of Snowdon, the highest mountain in Wales, where he had climbed with a group of Scouts to create the Welsh national flame, Lord Coe told the BBC: "I think the Paralympics for a lot of people... they're going to be taken by surprise.

"I think that when they see the quality of Paralympic sport - rather like a lot of people in the Olympic stadium who were watching an Olympic sport for the first time - when people see Paralympic sport for the first time they're going to be blown away by the quality of what they're seeing and the spirit surrounding that."

Six youngsters, all members of the Dinarth Explorers unit, based in Rhos-on-Sea, helped to create the Welsh national flame, which will travel to Cardiff and then London when the Games begin next week.

Ellie Hamilton-Hunter, 16, from Old Colwyn, was part of the Snowdon group and said: "I hardly slept last night because I was so excited - and then I had to get up at 4am so we could set off at dawn.

"It was amazing to be part of the group which lit the flame, it's part of history now and I'm very proud."

In Northern Ireland, a group of scouts and mountaineers trekked up Slieve Donard in the Mountains of Mourne in Co Down to take part in the windswept ceremony and the lighting of the Irish national flame.

Setting off at exactly 6.14am, the group was accompanied by police and mountain rescuers on their early-morning hike.

The Northern Ireland torch was lit by Bernadette Sloan from Warrenpoint.

The keen hillwalker is blind and was accompanied to the summit by her guide Danny McSherry.

"It was one of the best moments of my life," she said after the descent. "It was an absolute privilege to have been given the honour of lighting the flame.

"I climbed the mountain last Saturday so I knew what I was in for. It was blustery and windy at the top but it was still a great day.

"Now I just want to wish all the Paralympic athletes all the best for London."

In Scotland, four Scouts worked alongside climber Kevin Shields and journeyed 1,344m (4,409ft) through thick fog and rain to reach the peak of Ben Nevis in Fort William.

They reached the peak at about 11.30am and lit the Scottish national flame using kindling and a large steel spark.

Mountaineer Karl Hinett and four Scouts climbed Scafell Pike in the Lake District National Park.

At an altitude of 978 metres above sea level, the group lit the English national flame after the gruelling climb.

Mr Hinett, from Tipton, who suffered multiple injuries when he was badly burned in a petrol bomb attack in Iraq, described the climb as a "huge honour".

Since his injuries he has gone on to climb mountains all over the world, including Everest.

From the Paralympic celebrations in the capitals, the national flames will be taken to Stoke Mandeville, the spiritual home of the Paralympic movement, where they will be united during a special ceremony on Tuesday to create the London 2012 Paralympic Flame.

At the end of the ceremony, the 24-hour overnight relay route will see the Paralympic Flame carried 92 miles by 580 inspirational torchbearers, working in teams of five, from Stoke Mandeville to the Olympic Stadium to officially open the London 2012 Paralympic Games.

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