Secret London Runs has come up with an awesome concept – combining running with tour guides.
They operate a wide range of themed running tours through the streets of London and when I saw there was a Ghost Run on Halloween I signed straight up!
The running tours go at various paces, based off your 5k time: beginner, steady, speedy and rapid. The Halloween run was a steady pace for slow runners – fine for me, and I was bringing along my sister Phoebs, who doesn’t think she’s much of a runner (although she ran the London Marathon in just over 4 hours with about 2 days training, so I disagree!)
What They Say:
Explore a side of London that most people never see!
Whether you’re a local or a visitor, you’ll love our themed tours. Your guide will lead you on a run whilst picking out places and people relevant to our secret theme.
I love Halloween, in fact it might just be my favourite day of the year! I think this stems from childhood as it’s my birthday the following day, so I was always pretty excited, but even now I love it. Scary outfits, pumpkin carving, giant spiders’ webs covering people’s front doors… what’s not to love?!
This year was no exception. As I headed off from home, the streets of Twickenham were crawling with witches, skeletons and spiders. I was practically skipping with the joy of it all! I was travelling light, as you don’t want to run carrying a load of guff, but I did swing into the local party shop en route to grab a couple of witch hats and Halloween balloons.
Arriving at Kings Cross, Phoebs and I strolled up to the St Pancreas Old Church, where we were meeting the group. We had no idea what to expect, but I was automatically thrilled when I saw the group leader, Alex, had a full face of feline make up, and a couple of other runners were dressed in pumpkin and skeleton outfits.
Our group of 20ish gathered in the dark under a tree towards the back of the graveyard, and our ghost experience began. I hadn’t really considered the tour element, I was just thinking of it as a run in a witch hat, but I was enthralled as Alex began her first ghostly tale. We learnt that this particular graveyard was one of the oldest in London and that thousands of bodies had been exhumed to make space for the mainline stations in the late 19th century. A young Thomas Hardy (well before his novelist days) was one of the lackeys responsible for digging up the bodies and he found it so distressing that they were simply being dumped in pits, that he took many of the gravestones that had been removed and stacked them around a large ash tree by the church, creating a shrine of sorts. It stills stands today and, as Alex shone a torch on the base of the tree, we saw hundreds of gravestones encircling the tree as if part of the roots. I was already hooked, and thought “sod the run, can we just have a history lesson?!”
Alex explained that we’d run for a kilometre or so at a time, stopping for tales at specific points. The run started down onto the canal path, which was eerily quiet and ever so dark. As we ran through one particularly narrow and creepy tunnel, a ghoul suddenly appeared, running right up to us and eliciting screams from the back of the pack!
We resurfaced in Camden and continued the route, stopping every now and then at spots where particularly gory stories had taken place or where ghosts were said to reside. We learned about infamous witch hunts, murders and folklore, including one stop at an abandoned pub where bullet holes were still visible in the wall from a lovers’ quarrel which ended in murder, with the culprit being the last woman to be hanged in the UK… in the 1950s!!!!
As well as the stories and history, we ran through some lovely parts of London I’d never seen – houses decked up for Halloween, cosy looked pubs and restaurants, orange leaf-strewn parks and tonnes of kids out trick or treating.
The pace was very leisurely for me and Phoebs, which was just perfect as we chatted the whole way round and felt like we could take time to check out the surroundings. There were regular stops so it didn’t ever feel like we were working too hard – more like going for a brisk walk! The pace is set for the slowest runner, so even if you struggled it wouldn’t be an issue and there was no sense that we were rushing people on.
It was awesome to be led around without having to think about where we were going and I didn’t even think to check how long we’d been running for or how far we’d gone.
As we finished the run at Belsize Park, the last of the trick or treaters was gone, the moon was shining with a bright halo and we headed off underground. My witch hat ominously flew off my head and rolled down the tracks into the tube tunnel as a train approached. Halloween was over for another year.
Running + history + discovering new parts of London + catching up with my sister… what an awesome way to spend a Tuesday evening!
I’m amazed no-one’s come up with this concept before, it’s brilliant! Not only do you get to do a bit of fitness (at whatever pace is right for you), but by running betweeb stops you can cover so much more ground than a walking tour. The history and tales were interesting and varied – far more so than I expected!
Other tours include Craft beers of the East End (samples en route!), Sex in the City (tales of London’s seedy past) and London’s Pride (3000 years of London’s queer history)… but the one I’ll definitely be signing up for next is the 10k Yule Jog tour of the Christmas lights! I can’t wait!
How to book: www.secretlondonruns.com