After 18 months of renovation, the Monument is open again to the public
By Marie Jackson
BBC News, London
Descending the spiral staircase inside the Monument, seven-year-old Isabel Ainsworth counted 5,000 steps.
She was some way off. The exact number is 311, but your wobbly legs tell you it is many more.
Visitors to the London attraction, which has just reopened after 18 months draped in scaffolding, got their engineering thinking caps on as they breathlessly made their way up all 202 ft (61m) of the tallest freestanding stone column in the world.
The Johnson family on a day-trip from York came up with a Willie Wonka-style glass elevator on the outside, while Mandie and Charlotte Luxford who live in Wallington, Surrey, suggested an indoor Stannah stairlift.
Even the architect of the £4.5m restoration admits it is a big climb.
"The steps are a challenge for everybody. At step 250, you hope 311 will come very quickly," said architect Julian Harrap.
Charlotte Johnson liked the idea of a Willie Wonka-style elevator
On Monday, the climb was slow with long queues. Visitor numbers were boosted by opening day, half-term, a burst of spring-like weather and the fact that the Great Fire of London is on the primary school curriculum.
Hundreds, probably thousands, squeezed past one another to make it to the top. For some very young ones, there was a moment of self-discovery when they realised they had a fear of heights.
For others, there were lessons to be learned: leave your heels at home and do your shopping afterwards.
But there was a consensus that the views from the top were well worth it.
From St Paul's Cathedral and the winding Thames to Crystal Palace and the Houses of Parliament, 360 degrees of London - cranes and all - is laid before you.
"It's a long way down," mused seven-year-old Kieran Hughes, from Worcester, realising he did not have much of a head for heights.
He had spent the morning in Pudding Lane, having grown fascinated by the story of the Great Fire of London since learning about it at school.
A mesh around the viewing platform stops people throwing things over
The column was built by Sir Christopher Wren and Dr Robert Hooke to commemorate the 1666 fire and its height is the exact distance to the site in Pudding Lane where the blaze is thought to have begun.
The Portland stone building is influenced by Roman design, a fashionable influence of the day. Four dragons stand guard on the pedestal and a golden orb symbolising the fire sits at the very top.
Like Kieran, the appeal for many is the story behind the structure and its symbolism.
But the price proved to be part of the appeal too. At £3 for adults, £2 for concessions and £1 for children, the Monument must be one of London's cheapest attractions. And there is a certificate for all who make the climb.
All the profits go back into the restoration pot.
Dragons and flowers
This renovation, the only one of the monument in the last century, cost £4.5m, many years of graft and the occasional headache.
While work stopped the public visiting for 18 months, the project took more like 19 years to complete.
Sculptures on the underside of the viewing platform are firmly attached
Some of the toughest jobs included the intricate carving of new inch-thick stone wings for the dragons, lowering the viewing platform from a crane onto the top in perfect weather conditions and bringing back the original paterai (four carved flowers placed on the underside of the viewing platform).
During the 19th Century, all of them were taken down after one fell off, narrowly missing a businessman walking below.
Looking up nervously, I ask project manager Lidia Blaszczynska whether there is any likelihood of a repeat.
"They are bolted through the whole platform," she reassures me. "Structural engineers are known for being very cautious types. There's no way the paterai will be going anywhere."
The flowers, all different, were influenced by designs featured in Sir Christopher Wren's neighbouring work, St Paul's Cathedral.
The aim of the renovation was primarily to maintain the building's silhouette and original features.
However there are touches that propel it into the 21st Century. Perched on the very top is a real-time camera recording panoramic views non-stop, which are broadcast on the Monument's website.
In time, there are hopes of erecting a screen to show the footage in the piazza below - so people in wheelchairs or with walking difficulties can enjoy the views.
Mums Mandie Luxford and Ayo Oyelami made friends during the climb
Lidia Blaszczynska says the idea for the camera was a nod to Robert Hooke, an architect and scientist.
His hope for the tower was to build a telescope into it with a laboratory in the basement but the city's underground vibrations meant the still conditions needed could never be met.
Efforts too have been made to give a view of sorts of the golden orb that sits on the very top.
On the roof of a pavilion, shards of glass have been fixed to reflect the orb when viewed from the platform.
In the year before the closure, some 163,000 people visited the Monument.
Bridgemaster Eric Sutherns in charge of the day-to day running of the operation, hopes to equal that number in the first year.
And unlike little Isabel, he is sure the stairs which give an inside peek at the building are as much of its appeal as the story of the Great Fire of London.