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The ‘ghost runner’ of Morston who won a place in world athletics history

Overlooking the village of Morston is All Saints Parish Church which records one of the world's greatest athletes
Overlooking the village of Morston is All Saints Parish Church which records one of the world's greatest athletes

A tiny village on the North Norfolk coast can boast it raised a world record-breaking athlete who later helped establish the modern Olympic Games. 

Today Morston, a beautiful village of less than 200 people between Blakeney and Wells-next-the-Sea, is famous for its salt marshes and a small creek. 

Every year thousands of holidaymakers catch boats for a trip to see the 4,000 seals forming England’s largest grey seal colony at Blakeney Point.

But few realise that the village was home to an outstanding athlete Charles George Wood or C.G. as he was known.

A photo of Wood and his trophy is in the parish church
A photo of Wood and one of his trophies is in the church

The National Trust protects the North Norfolk coastline which has been designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. It has a visitor centre at the creek providing information about this vast nature reserve.

Seals boats, recreational sailors and a few small fishing boats now frequent Morston’s creek.

And Morston has also gained a national reputation for the quality of the food at Michelin-starred Morston Hall, a 17th century country house hotel and restaurant run by Galston Blackiston. 

It was Morston Hall where the world’s fastest sprinter C.G. Wood lived with his parents and nine siblings after the family moved out of Lower Farm in the village.

And it was on the marshes at Morston where he developed his fitness levels to win world renown. 

The years 1886 and 1887 were the red-letter record-breaking years for the runner ‘C.G.’ Wood. That was when ‘C. G.’ was in his mid-twenties and at his peak, and when he broke British, European and world sprinting records.

He held the English record for a quarter of a mile in 1886-1887, the British 220 yards record (21 4/5th sec), the French record for 100 metres, the French record for 400 metres, the European record for 220 yards, and world records for 150 yards (14 and 5/8th sec), 220 yards (21 and 3/5th sec) and 250 yards (25 and 1/2 sec).

His world record of 220 yards stood unbeaten until 1914 - a staggering 27 years.

C.G. was known as the ghost-runner because he trained on the marsh footpath between Morston and Stiffkey at dawn or dusk when the sea made it misty. 

A  small stone, among the Wood family graves outside the east window of Morston’s 12th century parish church, commemorates the world-famous athlete and his achievements. It simply states ‘Athlete’ without providing any background to his global achievements.

The family graves at Morston parish church
The family graves at Morston parish church

C.G. Wood became a tenant farmer like his parents and later moved to Stiffkey and then Fransham near Dereham and Colkirk to continue farming.

C.G.died aged 76 in 1937. 

Mrs Louise Goodison, one of his descendants still living in Blakeney, has a copy of the family tree on her grandmother’s side tracing back to C.G. Mrs Goodison treasures two trophies won by C.G. and handed down to her by her mother.

One is a silver plate presented to C.G. at the Concours International in 1886 for winning the 100 metres.

The other  is a large rosebowl which he won for breaking the British 220 yards sprint at the London Ashleigh Club on June 25, 1887. His record time was 21 4/5th secs.

A photograph of CG Wood and his family hangs in Morston Hall
A photograph of CG Wood (left) and his family still hangs in Morston Hall - CG's former family home

C.G. was also involved in the resurrection of the Olympic Games in 1896. Little seems to be known of his exact involvement in the Olympics, but he was recruited by a young French baron, Pierre de Coubertin, who in 1892 proposed reviving the Olympics as a major international competition staged every four years.

Two years later Pierre de Coubertin raised the idea again at an international sports conference in Paris and the 79 delegates from nine countries unanimously approved his proposal. 

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) was formed, and the first Games were planned for 1896 in Athens, Greece, with Pierre de Coubertin as IOC president.

The Olympic Games were reborn in Athens on April 6, 1896, some 1,500 years after being banned by Roman Emperor Theodosius I. 

They attracted a crowd of 60,000 spectators with athletes from 13 countries taking part.

The last time the summer Olympics returned to Athens in 2004 more than 11,000 athletes from 202 countries competed.

The ghost runner of Morston, so-called because he surprised walkers as he emerged at speed from the coastal fog, has certainly left his mark.

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