LONDON (AP) - 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 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 at the Victorian-era Roundhouse building around 6:50 a.m.
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.
The torch was later sped across London's River Thames by Paralympic champion Ade Adipitan, whose dreadlocks flapped in the wind as he propelled his wheelchair across the slender, blade-like Millennium Bridge.
Londoners who've spent much of the past few weeks worrying about rain, security, and strikes appeared to lighten up as the flame made its way across town. 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 on his face.
"Make some noise!" someone shouted as the crowd erupted into cheers.
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 St. 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 torchbearers also include comedian David Walliams, actress Joanna Lumley and Bollywood star Amitabh Bachchan.
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)