From the springy grass of the South Downs to the ascent-heavy hills of Snowdonia, Britain has more than its fair share of classic running spots. Wild Running authors Jen and Sim Benson round up the very best
1. West Cornwall
Rugged coastal paths aplenty | Nil Fanion
The 630 miles of the South West Coast Path provide a perfect balance of runnable yet challenging terrain, clear waymarking and dramatic scenery that together create a truly special running experience.
The 13-mile section along the World Heritage Atlantic coastline from Pendeen to St Ives is one of the best. The running is varied and exciting, from clifftop grasslands to rugged, scrambly boulder fields. The Coast Path here is edged by Cornwall’s dramatic granite cliffs, also a fantastic venue for climbing.
The run finishes in the pretty town of St Ives, with its palm-lined sandy beaches, ideal for some post-run relaxation.
2. North Devon
A beach runner’s heaven
The North Devon section of the South West Coast Path winds its way along rugged cliffs and up and down steep wooded gorges, past the towns of Lynton and Lynmouth with their resident goats, and out to the green and tranquil surrounds of Hartland.
From here there are magnificent views along the coast and out across the Bristol Channel to Lundy Island, itself home to a wonderful 6-mile out-and-back run from the island’s lone pub, the Marisco Tavern.
From Hartland Quay, an enjoyable 6.5 mile circular run loops inland, passing Blegberry Beach, ripe for exploring with its sandy channels and clear, anemone-filled rock pools, before returning via Stoke.
3. The South Downs
The South Downs Way, with its 100 miles of waymarked trail, is food for a runner’s soul
The chalk hills of the South Downs extend from the Itchen Valley in the west to Beachy Head, near Eastbourne, in the east. Running across these vast, open chalklands on the fine, springy, close-cropped turf created by centuries of grazing is pure joy.
The South Downs Way, a 100-mile waymarked trail from Winchester to Eastbourne, is home to some fantastic races, including the South Downs Trail Marathon. A circular run passing Beachy Head and the Seven Sisters takes in the area’s dramatic chalk cliffs along with peaceful Friston Forest, also a haven for mountain biking.
Make like a water babe on the wonderful Norfolk coast.
The flat lands of Norfolk are home to a surprising variety of inspiring places to run, from golden, sandy beaches and the winding miles of the Coast Path to the tranquil wooded trails of the Brecklands. Two of our favourite runs here are the great expanse of Holkham Beach, running barefoot from Lady Anne’s Drive to Wells and back, and the wonderfully-named Great Eastern Pingo Trail.
This 7-mile waymarked loop takes in peaceful woodland, the nature reserve at Thompson Common and Thompson Water, as well as a stretch of the Peddars Way, passing the ancient glacial dishes of the pingos en route.
5. The Peak District
Right to run
The Peak District is split into two halves, each of which sets the tone for the running here: the wilder, northern Dark Peak lends itself to exhilarating adventures across open fells and along gritstone edges, whereas the southern White Peak is home to gentler trails that wind their way invitingly through flower-filled limestone valleys.
The White to Dark trail links these two halves and showcases some of the best running to be found in each. At 27 miles long in its entirety it represents a considerable challenge, however it can also be split into sections or incorporated into circular runs.
6. The Howgills
Be prepared to climb in The Howgills
The quieter, wilder neighbours of the Lake District, Cumbria’s Howgill Fells lie just within the borders of the Yorkshire Dales National Park. Characterised by sweeping, grassy hillsides, craggy outcrops and rambling, stony trails, there is a feeling of utter peace and tranquility here; a true wild runner’s dream.
A fantastic 6-mile loop from Haygarth takes in Cautley Spout – nearly 200 metres of bubbling, tumbling waterfall – and The Calf, the highest point in this range of fells at 676 metres, finishing with an exhilarating descent into Bowderdale.
Northumberland’s empty beaches are perfect for running wild
The vast Northumberland skies arch over an ever-changing landscape, each area having its own distinct character: the peaceful, sandy expanses of the beaches at Bamburgh; the remote expanses of the northern moorlands and the Cheviots and the rolling, forested hills of the picturesque National Park.
The peaceful, deserted beaches here were a particularly wonderful discovery, with their mile upon mile of firm, white sand. A run from Seahouses to Bamburgh Castle and back takes in a spectacular section of beach, with views out across to the rocky Farne Islands.
8. Gower Peninsula
The Gower Peninsular is home to some of the best coastal running in Britain
From Mumbles, south-west of Swansea, the Gower Peninsula stretches westwards for
19 miles out into the Bristol Channel. The UK’s first designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, this is an area packed with special places to run.
Gower is a haven for outdoor sport, from climbing on perfect slabs of limestone (known locally as Sutton Stone) to open-water swimming, surfing and triathlons. It is also the place to enjoy some of the best coastal running to be found anywhere in Britain.
A particularly fine run takes in the Coast Path around beautiful Three Cliffs Bay, just south-west of Swansea – a chance to experience some of the best of Gower.
Snowdonia’s challenging ascents are a must for the experienced wild runner | Mike Peel
The rugged mountains of North Wales are a perfect arena for walking, climbing and running, from the peaceful Rhinogydd and picture-perfect Cadair Idris to the high passes of the Snowdon Range.
The spectacular Glyder Ridge is an awe-inspiring run, with nearly700 metres of ascent packed into the first two miles. After summiting Glyder Fach and Glyder Fawr it descends down a scree slope to the iconic Devil’s Kitchen, passing the shores of gleaming Llyn Idwal and the famous Idwal Slabs before finishing at Ogwen Cottage.
Despite only being a little over 5 miles in total, the ascent and challenging terrain of this run make it a must-do for the more experienced wild runner.
10. Fort William & Lochaber
Run the West Highland Way for a wee slice of Scottish heaven.
Fort William is something of a hub for outdoor enthusiasts. Runners, climbers, walkers and mountain bikers flock here to explore the wonders of the surrounding landscapes. The West Highland Way, home of the infamous ultra-marathon, finishes here.
The Nevis Range is startlingly beautiful, from the brooding form of Ben Nevis, its summit often obscured by swirling cloud, to the peaceful, golden valley of Glen Nevis with its cascading waterfalls, woodland trails and bracken-covered hillsides.
A run around the shores of remote and serene Loch Ossian, inaccessible by road but a great run from Corrour Railway Station, is a gentler alternative.
Get the Book
Running and writing couple Jen and Sim Benson are passionate about all things outdoors. Their book Wild Running: 150 Adventures on the Trails & Fells of Britain (Wild Things Publishing) is now on sale. For further details on all the runs or to buy the book visit wildrunning.net