Britain welcomes the London 2012 Olympic Torch Relay

Thousands of cheering Britons lined the streets of towns and cities across Cornwall and Devon today as the Olympic torch was carried over 136 miles from Land’s End to Plymouth Hoe on the first day of its 8,000-mile relay around the UK. On 27 July the torch will ignite the cauldron at London’s Olympic Stadium to mark the start of the 2012 Games. More than 130 ordinary people and sports celebrities including Olympic swimming star Duncan Goodhew carried the torch through Falmouth, Truro and the Eden Project at the start of its 70-day journey around the UK.

The Olympic flame arrived at Culdrose in Cornwall from Athens on a golden aircraft called "The Firefly" on Friday in four custom-made lanterns. It was carried off the plane by Princess Anne, IOC Member and the president of the British Olympic Association, and then used to light a cauldron to mark the start of the Olympic Torch Relay by football hero David Beckham. “Eight thousand inspirational torchbearers are all set to bring the magic of the Games to everyone's doorstep,” said Nick Clegg, the deputy prime minister, who was at Culdrose to welcome the London 2012 delegation. “With every step, the excitement will build. Ten weeks from now, the world will watch as the flame arrives at the Olympic Stadium, bringing with it the hopes of a nation."

A gold-liveried air rescue Sea King helicopter flew the torch to Land’s End early on Saturday, where at 7.08am it was passed to the triple Olympic gold medallist sailor Ben Ainslie, the first of 8,000 torch-bearers, in front of 3,500 people. "It's amazing,” he said. “For me, growing up in this part of the world, in Cornwall, for the Olympic Torch to set off from here around the nation, is a fantastic moment for the UK, for London 2012. Very exciting." Ainslie carried the torch 300m before ‘kissing’ it on to Anastasi Swallow, a junior surf champion who has represented her country four times. “This is really when the Games begin,” said Paul Deighton, the London 2012 Organising Committee’s chief executive. “Through these 70 days we’ll see some magic in our communities.”

An estimated nine million people are expected to come out and watch the torchbearers, as they run through over one thousand communities, passing landmarks such as Stonehenge, and coming within 10 miles of 95 per cent of the UK population.

“This is an extraordinary moment that has been 10 years in the making,” said Games organiser Sebastian Coe.