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David Tett

Rise and shiners: meet the Londoners who get up before sunrise

Written by
Kate Solomon

While most of us are fast asleep, some hardy Londoners are out making the most of their city. Kate Solomon speaks to four of them. 

The photographer

Anthony Epes gets started an hour before sunrise to host his dawn photography workshops

‘My old boss once asked me to take photos of London as the sun comes up – he used to sleep rough, but he’d wake up by the entrance to St Paul’s and the view would give him hope. So I came to London to do that and fell in love with it. ‘The city is very peaceful: you won’t find it like that at any other time of the day. Crowds and cars take the city out of context; you don’t see its true elegance and history unless you see it that early. The sun rises in the east, so all the shadows fall the other way: the forms are different, the shapes are different. Morning light is usually cleaner and crisper than evening light. It doesn’t carry the dust of the day. ‘The only people I meet are ones who’ve been up all night and they’re in the best mood. I’ve got a whole portfolio of happy, pissed people. Once I had six of these ‘morning- after people’, as I call them, build a human pyramid on Westminster Bridge, one on top of the other, howling at the sun as it rose.’ Worth getting up for ‘If you go to Lower Thames Street, there’s a staircase by the Northern & Shell building. It takes you up about four storeys to a big area with a balcony where you can watch the sun rise over Tower Bridge. It’s beautiful.’ For upcoming classes see

The florist

Florence Kennedy, founder of Petalon Flowers, gets up at 3.30am to go to new covent garden flower market

‘I used to cycle to the flower market, but we have too much stock now so I drive, blasting out Kiss FM to wake me up. It was amazing cycling around at that time of day, especially in spring and summer. It feels like your own secret London. Watching the sun rise over the Thames is incredible. I used to take photos, but it never does it justice – you have to see it for real. ‘I didn’t realise so many people are awake at that time of day. You get a funny mix of drunk people going home and sober people going to work, so it makes for quite interesting viewing. Once, I saw a taxi in the middle of Blackfriars Bridge with a pair of legs sticking out of the window. There were three girls having a proper fist fight in the back, and the driver was just staring straight ahead, like, “I’m done.” ‘My route goes through Smithfields, so you have the meat market going on and all the pockets of London that are alive at that time of day: cleaners and postmen, night shift workers... it’s a side of London that you forget has to happen in order for things to happen in the day.’ Worth getting up for ‘I’ve yet to find a really good coffee shop open early enough, but the Shepherdess Café on City Road is good for a greasy fry-up.’ Petalon delivers bouquets by bike across central London.

The nature reserve manager

Adam Salmon, reserve manager at London Wetlands Centre, gets up at 3.30am to lead dawn chorus walks

‘I’m from the countryside and didn’t think I’d be able to cope with living in London. But being up so early in the day when it’s nice and quiet feels natural. Even when you get up in the pitch black and cold in winter, you get some lovely frosty mornings which are nice to see before anybody else is around. ‘When you arrive in the dark, as you’re walking down, you hear the first birds – blackbirds, wrens and robins – before more and more birds start singing. You end up with about 30 or 40 species going. ‘Birds tend to move at dawn; it’s their favourite time and you see different species than you do later on. They act more naturally before anyone is around. You see the way they interact, their mating rituals and displays which you miss during the day. We’ve found some of our rarer species very early in the morning: about ten years ago we saw our first bittern at daybreak – it’s like a big brown heron – very rare in the UK. It jumped out at one of our wardens as he opened up and scared the life out of him.’ Worth getting up for ‘I like to go down to one of the hides and look out across the grazing marshes and just listen to the birds outside. You can do that wherever you are in London; learn a bit about bird calls then stop and have a listen.’ The next Dawn Chorus Walk is on Apr 30.

The rower

Kirsty Warner is a member of Kingston Rowing Club and wakes up at 5.30am for morning training sessions

‘I’m definitely a night owl, but I love early morning practice. We have more of a laugh because there’s no one else around. On days when you’re out on the river, you sort of shift your body clock around and it actually makes you more productive during the day. ‘London is seen as this busy, high- energy place, but at 5am it’s not. It’s really peaceful and there’s hardly anyone around aside from the foxes. There’s a cat in my street that always gets left out during the night and every morning he’s out there waiting for me. We have a little cuddle and then we move on. I never see him during the day, just for those early- morning cuddles. ‘The river is gorgeous in the mornings. It’s so flat, and the way the light hits it is really nice. One of the best things is seeing the sun come up: it makes some awesome colours in the sky. You can hear things more too. I’m from the countryside and it reminds me of home.’ Worth getting up for ‘Walking along the river is a lot nicer in the morning because there’s no one else on it. Well, except the swans.’

Photography: David Tett

Fancy a lazier start to the day? Check out the best breakfast and brunches in London.

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