Friday, June 18, 2004

The Running of the Hills

15th-century London was filled with unusual diversions ranging from stoat kickboxing to locking 12 of the most stupid people who could be found in a house together for 12 weeks and then watching them through the windows. But one of the strangest pastimes was "the running of the hills".

This odd sport was introduced to the city by European merchants. It involved gathering a crowd of people at the bottom of one of London's many hills - Primrose Hill was said to be popular - and then running up it in as tight a formation as possible. The first contestants to reach the top then had to immediately come to a dead halt, hoping that those behind them would run into their backs and fall over. The person who knocked over as many people as possible won a yard of ale. Injuries scored extra points.

Sadly, this charming part of our heritage lost popularity and faded into its history, but is still practised on the continent. To this day, European visitors to the capital will attempt re-enactments by stopping dead still at the top of Tube escalators and pretending to read maps.

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