Published by Icy Sedgwick on March 16, 2017

Who is the Phantom Hitchhiker that haunts the Blackwall Tunnel?

Many stretches of lonely road feature a tale or two about a phantom hitchhiker. A driver stops to pick up a stranger, often a young woman, who then vanishes from the back of the car.

Sometimes, the driver investigates later, only to discover that their passenger died on the spot (or somewhere nearby) some time earlier.

The urban legend about London’s Blackwall Tunnel relocates the story from a lonely country road to a road tunnel beneath the Thames. And there’s one other crucial difference.

The phantom hitchhiker favours motorcyclists, not drivers.

So let’s see if we can find out a bit more about this spectral passenger.

Where is the Blackwall Tunnel?

The Blackwall Tunnel runs under the Thames to connect Greenwich and Tower Hamlets. I’ve lost count of the number of times I heard reports of heavy or delayed traffic there on the morning news when I lived in London.

Lonely stretches of roads often host tales of a phantom hitchhiker or two. But does London's Blackwall Tunnel have its own spectral motorcyclist?

Two Blackwall Tunnels run under the Thames. The original tunnel dates to 1897, designed to improve trade in the East End.

But it became apparent by the 1930s that one tunnel couldn’t handle the demands of the traffic. In 1967, a second tunnel opened to alleviate congestion.

Lonely stretches of roads often host tales of a phantom hitchhiker or two. But does London's Blackwall Tunnel have its own spectral motorcyclist?

The original Blackwall Tunnel plaque. By Squiddy at English Wikipedia [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The main tale of the phantom hitchhiker seems to date to 1972. A motorcyclist stopped to pick up a passenger. When he reached the other end of the tunnel, he realised his pillion had disappeared.

Worried that the hitchhiker had slipped off the bike in the tunnel, he turned to look. No one lay in the road. The passenger had vanished into thin air.

In an earlier conversation, presumably when the motorcyclist picked him up, the hitchhiker gave his home address. The biker popped round to see if he’d made it home by other means.

He hadn’t. It turned out that the passenger died several years previously, killed in an accident in – you guessed it – the Blackwall Tunnel. According to some versions of the legend, the biker learned that several motorcyclists had picked up the phantom hitchhiker over the years.

The tale varies with the telling.

Some versions have the biker pick up the phantom hitchhiker at the southern entrance, others the northern entrance. Occasionally the tale even has the motorcyclist pick up his ghostly passenger within the tunnel itself.

Lonely stretches of roads often host tales of a phantom hitchhiker or two. But does London's Blackwall Tunnel have its own spectral motorcyclist?

Entrance to the “New Blackwall Tunnel” – A102 Southbound. By Pete Chapman [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

One or two stories even cite the passenger as being female. But the common consensus is the ghostly biker is a male.

So who is this phantom hitchhiker?

Versions of the legend describe him wearing biker leathers.

A letter apparently appeared in Fortean Times in 1994, in which a reader described an incident from 1960. He’d been staying in Blackwall Lane with his wife and father-in-law. They heard an accident outside and learned a motorcyclist was killed. A week later they heard the same sound at 2 am, but the tunnel was empty.

I couldn’t find any other mention of phantom sounds in the tunnel. But it would make sense – the accepted wisdom is that when a violent incident occurs, it leaves a psychic imprint on the environment. A traffic accident that kills a person is just such an incident.

But it could explain who the mysterious hitchhiker is.

Or could it? I’ve checked the newspaper archives online and can find no mention of a traffic accident in the Blackwall Tunnel in 1960. That’s not to say it didn’t happen – there are still newspapers that haven’t been added yet.

Lonely stretches of roads often host tales of a phantom hitchhiker or two. But does London's Blackwall Tunnel have its own spectral motorcyclist?

Inside the Blackwall Tunnel. By Poliphilo (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

The story does have more of the ring of the urban legend to it. There are few reports of the phantom hitchhiker apart from the most famous tale from 1972. And I haven’t been able to locate the source of the original story.

Keep your wits about you

Central London has relatively few roadside ghosts compared to other country lanes around the UK. Ghostly children have been heard running along Gloucester Drive in Finsbury Park. And reports tell of a phantom cyclist in Highgate Village.

But if you are a biker travelling through the Blackwall Tunnel, keep your eyes peeled. The tunnel is sometimes cited as one of the most dangerous tunnels in London.

Or you just might end up being flagged down by a spectral passenger…

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