Autumn walks: Holborn and the City of London

Monsters, ghostly bears and phantom hellhounds…

View Holborn walk in a larger map

Distance 1.4 miles, time 1 hourBy Neil Arnold

For a truly original supernatural safari through the concrete jungle, begin at Holborn Viaduct (S) where you’ll see a huge winged lion and several dragons. Dragon-like monsters have been reported over London since 1222. In 1797 a ‘flying serpent’ was observed over Hammersmith, and in 1984 a creature which became known as the Brentford Griffin was seen in west London. There are many legends of ‘big cats’ haunting London as well, from the glowing lion, the Surrey puma, the beast of Sydenham and the tiger of Edgware.

From the Viaduct, travel down the stairs on to Farringdon; Bear Alley (1) is on your left and, many years ago, harboured a bear-baiting ring. Ghostly bears have been seen here and throughout London, mainly, of course, in areas where there used to be bear-baiting.

Cross the road in to Poppins Court (2). The Fleet River used to run behind this: seals have been caught in the Fleet and, during the 1700s, wild pigs were heard grunting in the drains. There is also the legend of a giant, supernatural rat said to inhabit the sewers and a race of cannibalistic subterranean dwellers.

Down to St Bride’s Passage and in to Dorset Rise (3), where there’s a statue of a horseman. There are many tales of ghostly highwaymen across London, particularly in Hampstead. The ghost of a glowing blue donkey has been recorded near Hendon.

Bear Alley Bear Alley

Walk down John Carpenter Street, turn right on to Victoria Embankment (4) and note the serpents on the lampposts – an alligator, a shark, a whale and a turtle, as well as ‘serpents’, have all been reported as having been seen in the Thames at one time or another. Even a figure resembling ‘an angel’ has been spotted. Here also is a column with a statue of a man fighting a snake: the early 1900s saw a spate of giant-snake sightings on Gower Street.

Carry on walking along the north side of the Thames path to the Millennium Bridge (5). A piranha was once caught in this section of the Thames, and seahorses and a vampire fish (aka the blood-sucking lamprey) have also been found.

© Scott Wishart

Now turn left into St Peter’s Hill and towards Knightrider Court and St Paul’s Cathedral (6). Head under the arch towards Warwick Lane and the site of the old Newgate Prison, on whose site the Old Bailey now stands (E). Legend claims that as far back as the 1500s a ferocious black dog used to haunt the prison, and its shadowy form has been seen sliding over the old wall.

Neil Arnold ‘Paranormal London’ by Neil Arnold is published by The History Press ( at £9.99.