Sticking to the same handful of routes puts you on the fast track to a running rut, especially if you’re a city dweller pounding grey pavements. Admittedly, it’s hard to be adventurous when it’s a struggle even to squeeze a run into your schedule, but it’s well worth setting aside some time on a weekend and making a weekend of it because the UK has some extraordinary trail-running spots, and there’s sure to be one within a few hours of where you are.
To provide some inspiration for your next running escape we asked Simon James, founder of running holiday company Run The Wild, to tell us about his favourite places to go trail-running in the UK.
The first place in the UK to be designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) and with some of the best beaches in the world, the Gower clearly ticks the scenery box! Clifftop trails, epic stretches of sandy beaches, hills and valleys, castles, estuaries and woodland rivers – it really does have it all. Despite all this it’s a relatively unknown gem. It’s also my childhood home and where I first learned how liberating trail running truly is.
Just 30 minutes from London by train is another AONB, the Chiltern Hills. A beautiful chalk escarpment that stretches for around 80km from Dunstable in the east to Goring-on-Thames in the west, it provides a huge variety of trails, from the ancient woods at Ashridge to the hilltops that give stunning views of the Home Counties. A network of paths criss-cross the area, with the most famous being the Ridgeway, the UK’s oldest road, which is around 140km long in its current form. The first trail runners on this path were probably from Neolithic times!
Further west from the Chilterns are the Cotswolds. With plenty of cute B&Bs and pubs to visit, as well as good transport links, it’s an easy place to escape to for a run. For longer trail runs there is the 100-mile (161km) Cotswold Way to explore.
Running through the breadbasket of England is a breath of fresh air. The rural environment offers wide-open fields that change colour with the seasons, from neatly-ploughed fields in the winter to summers of thigh-high corn, rapeseed and sunflowers. Quaint villages with Tudor-style leaning thatched houses offer a quintessentially English experience, especially around Dedham Vale in the east. A mix of coast, rivers and vales provide a good variety of scenery via a well-connected network of footpaths.
The Lake District is the UK’s answer to Chamonix for trail running, with the Bob Graham Round (a challenge that involves running on 42 fells in a 24-hour period) and many historic fell races in the area. Trail running is more raw and wild here. It’s pretty remote for most people but it’s worth the trek to get there and if you get good weather, epic trails, peaks and views await you.
Having spent a lot of time in Snowdonia on mountain training courses, I have a soft spot for this part of the world – in fact, it’s where I first ever experienced mountains. You don’t even need to set foot on Snowdon itself to make the most of it – circumnavigating the highest mountain in Wales was one of the best trails I’ve ever done. Ridges and scrambles add a good dash of adventure to the routes.
The Cairngorms are the UK’s most truly wild space and are more accessible than you may realise – just a short drive from Inverness. Here you will find four of the five highest peaks in the UK. Although definitely not a place for the ill-prepared, this wilderness offers some epic trail-running adventures and as a bonus, you can extend your trips by using the bothy system (basic free-to-use shelters scattered throughout the National Park). There are not many places in the world where you can wake up to a stag sniffing your tent! From remote high peaks to lakes and wooded valleys, this environment will test your trail-running and mountain skills to the max.