Iconic flame will be in Kent over four days

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In just days what will be a once in a lifetime spectacle for most people will be upon us as we welcome the iconic Olympic Torch Relay to our county.

And for Kent it will be truly special, with the symbolic flame spending more time here than any other part of the UK, carried by inspirational residents, former Olympic athletes and possibly a handful of celebrities, although their identities are shrouded in secrecy.

Tunbridge Wells will be the first town to see the flame when it briefly enters the county on Tuesday at 11.20am as part of its route through neighbouring Sussex.

But it will be just 24 hours later when it re-enters for its three-day stay and two nights of celebrations set to bring the Olympic spirit to life and see thousands take to the streets.

Workers and school children are expected to leave their desks to wave the Torch past as it is proudly carried through the streets by torchbearers.

On Wednesday it will travel through Hamstreet, Ashford, Hythe, Sandgate, Folkestone and Dover, where it will make a spectacular entrance aboard the tall ship Stavros S Niarchose at 6pm.

A ticketed stage show is being held on Dover seafront by Games organisers LOCOG boasting performances from hip-hop duo Rizzle Kicks and dancers Twist and Pulse as well as a stunning firework display by leading pyrotechnic company The World famous.

After an overnight stay it will travel to Deal, Sholden, Sandwich, Great Stonar, Cliffsend, St Lawrence, Ramsgate, St Peters, Cliftonville and Margate, where home-grown artist Tracey Emin – whose exhibition is currently at Turner Contemporary – will carry the flame.

Former Olympic swimmer Karen Pickering and javelin thrower Steve Backley will also run with the Torch in Thanet.

It will travel to Westgate-on-Sea, Birchington and Upstreet before heading to Canterbury, taking in Sturry, Canterbury, Thanington, Faversham, Challock, Harrietsham and Maidstone, where revellers will enjoy another night of entertainment at a ticketed event at Leeds Castle and a free community concert at Mote Park.

There it will stay overnight before making the final part of its journey through the county on Friday taking in Gillingham, Chatham, Rochester, Higham, Gravesend, Borough Green, Seal, Sevenoaks, Riverhead and then moving into Surrey at Godstone.

Chief executive of tourism board Visit Kent Sandra Matthews-Marsh said many of the county’s iconic attractions will be showcased, including Dover Castle and Turner Contemporary.

“This is a marvellous opportunity for Kent and the torch procession will be a truly memorable occasion not only for local residents but for all the visitors from across the south east and across the Channel who are planning to join us for our celebrations,” she said.

Businesses are hoping for a boost in trade, despite the Torch spending just short periods of time in each town.

Chief executive of Kent Invicta Chamber of Commerce Jo James said the event is likely to be well attended.

“This can be of huge benefit to those businesses which are sited within the areas through which the Torch passes and which can benefit from passing trade,” she said.

“Crowds are drawn in from a wide area, often making the event an excuse for a whole day out, giving a boost not only to town-centre shops, cafes, and pubs – the obvious beneficiaries – but also to tourist attractions in the surrounding area and often to unrelated businesses which people make use of while in the area.

“Many businesses find that adopting a Torch relay theme and taking active participation can increase trade substantially.”

But she admitted that many people were beginning to feel the Olympic scenario is “a bit of a circus that transgresses way beyond the basic Olympic spirit”.

“The only thing the business community can do is to take advantage of whatever opportunities are on offer – and there are some to be found,” she said.

She also stressed that road closures, despite relatively brief, would interrupt the normal pattern of business.

Nearly 200 signs are going up to remind drivers about the relay route and roads will be closed on a rolling basis so that traffic can start moving again as soon as the convoy has passed through.

It is expected closures will last no longer than 30 minutes but are subject to alterations.

Crowds are expected to line the routes with thousands set to attend the stopover celebrations in Dover and Maidstone.

Olympic and paralympic flags and banners are also being put up in towns to welcome Games spectators to Kent.

And according to Met Office reports, the sun should be making a rare appearance over the four days albeit with the odd downpour.

A spokesman told this newspaper: “The weather is changeable at the moment so there’s likely to be some sun and rain, but we won’t be seeing any of this recent heavy rain.”

The Torch will end its journey when the last torchbearer lights the cauldron at the opening ceremony in the Olympic stadium marking the official start of the Games on July 27.

For the full Kent relay route see www.kentnews.co.uk

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