Tour guides happy to give visitors the run of historic city

Running track: The Shambles in York
Running track: The Shambles in York
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It is a challenge often facing visitors to York: how to fit in all the city’s world-famous sites within a day.

Now a pair of York running enthusiasts have come up with the perfect solution for tourists, after launching a series of jogging tours around the historic city centre.

The new tours take in some of York’s top sights, including The Shambles, Clifford’s Tower, the Castle Museum and the peering gargoyles of York Minster at a somewhat faster pace than usual, while breathless visitors are treated to quirky facts and stories about the historic buildings as they pound along the streets.

The alternative tourist tours were thought up by avid runners Chris Acton and Margaret Hearnden.

The pair, who are both from York and compete in marathons at home and abroad, became friends while part of the same running group in the city.

They came up with the idea of the jogging tours after competing in an ultra marathon in France last year.

“We were reading about different antics in a running magazine and thinking about how we like to combine races with sightseeing, and Chris thought that we could do the same in York,” said Dr Hearnden, a communications consultant who leads her jogging tours clad in bright pink Lycra.

“York On The Run was born out of a passion for running and for the city – as well as a desire to try something different from our daily work.”

The pair launched the guided runs last September as a sideline to their main jobs, and have seen growing interest in the tours from those visiting the city. From the start, they aimed to offer a different experience to the usual tourist trail.

“When you think of a guided history tour, you mainly think of people just standing around looking at buildings,” Dr Hearnden said.

“We thought this would be a great way of letting visitors get a good idea of the city in a short space of time and in a very different way. And as York is so compact, it’s a really invigorating way to see lots of sights.

“We’re biased because we live here – but we think York is a beautiful city with so much to offer.”

Mr Acton, who is 53 and works as a management consultant, added that the guided tours included a glimpse of some parts of York that visitors might normally miss, such as the city’s many hidden snickelways or landmarks like The Knavesmire and Millennium Bridge. Runners also pass the National Railway Museum, Merchant Adventurers’ Hall, Castle Museum and Newgate Market.

The tours, which set off twice a day from the west door of the Minster, are not only aimed at tourists. Many of those stepping up to the challenge so far have been in York on business.

“Running is so popular and is becoming increasingly so,” Dr Hearnden said.

“We know from our own experience in business that when some people go away for work, they take their running shoes with them.

“If they’re in a strange city they might not feel comfortable running alone, especially after dark.”

She added: “We think that the tours are perfect for anyone who’s in York for a conference and wants a running partner – and who also wants to learn a bit about the city’s fascinating historical landmarks along the way.”

The duo have big plans for the tours in the future, and would like to help launch similar projects around the country, including in London.

Most of the York tours are about five or six miles long but participants don’t have to be super-fit to sign up. The tours can be tailored to suit anyone’s level or pace, including a “jog walk” taking in the main city centre sights – and a few pointers on the best places for coffee and cake afterwards – for the less energetic participants.

The tours also include a cool- down walk along the medieval city walls and a drink at the end.

“We wanted to make it flexible so anyone of any level of fitness could join in,” said Mr Acton.

“And the routes are always changing, depending on what people want to see, so visitors can come back for more than one run and see different sights every time.”