I doubt the 7:34am train from Clapham Junction to Windsor & Eton Riverside has rarely been as full as it was last week.
Britain’s biggest train station is used to handling large numbers of passengers, but this daily journey from south west London to east Berkshire seldom draws thousands of travellers, especially ones in such high spirits despite the disappointingly overcast weather.
Though the town is home to an impressive, dominant castle, Windsor, the line’s final destination, hardly ever attracts visitors in such volume. Nor, for the time being, would it.
By 8:30am, few disembarking the train permitted themselves anything other than a fleeting glance across to the world’s largest occupied castle. Windsor was merely a conduit. Leisurely visits were pencilled in for later.
The immediate concern was to join one of dozens of shuttle buses transporting hordes of colourfully-clad people to Eton Dorney, temporary home for Britain’s Olympic rowers.
We left several gregarious Aussies, with whom we had chatted on the train, behind at the bus stop.
They were waiting for compatriots due in on a later train. Around a dozen of them were staying with friends or relatives dotted around London.
On the bus, meanwhile, we sat opposite a couple from New Zealand whose son was in the All Blacks rowing team.
They had swapped their home for one located in London’s suburbs for a month. “I hope the Brit is feeding my sheep properly,” laughed the gigantic New Zealander.
The precise, clockwork-like nature of our journey continued uninterrupted when we arrived at an enormous car park where noise levels rose markedly.
As crowds surged past Windsor racecourse towards the rowing centre, a tangible sense of pre-race anticipation added a spring to most steps.
As planned, we met up with an American family, all six of them staying with mutual friends who live in Reading.
It suddenly dawned on me that not one of the international visitors with whom we had spoken was staying in an hotel.
Without turning an Olympic trip into a work project, it became evident from other random conversations held during a spectacular, hugely enjoyable patriotic day, that few people were spending anything other than the minimum amount of time in hotels.
Those that were planned only a brief stop over the night before they left the country.
Granted, this is but anecdotal evidence, although while there has been widespread coverage of central London restaurants and visitor attractions suffering a painful short-term loss of custom, the biggest losers must surely be London’s hoteliers, particularly those who envisaged making a killing during the Games.
Indeed, despite the hapless Culture and Sport Minister Jeremy Hunt saying “anyone who has a business anywhere in London is frankly quids in,” the evidence appears to paint a completely different picture.
According to a report published by Experian, for example, footfall in central London was down by almost 12% on the Games’ first weekend.
Meanwhile, Steve Goodyear, chief executive of Young & Co, the pub group with more than 240 pubs dotted around London acknowledged that his firm’s West End and City outlets have been “very quiet, abnormally so”.