A beginner's guide to Trail Running
Fancy challenging yourself with a new sport? Try Trail Running and get at one with nature.
Jen & Sim Benson are GetOutside Champions, endurance athletes and authors of adventure guidebooks. This Spring, they take us on six of their favourite wild running routes from across Britain.
Distance: 6 miles/9.5km
Start/finish: St Anthony Head car park, TR2 5EX
Terrain: Coast path, riverside trail, quiet lanes
Ascent: 256 metres
Navigation: Easy to moderate
Spring is without a doubt one of the best times of year to visit Cornwall, when the hedgerows, fields and woodlands glow with the sunshine yellow of daffodils and primroses. It’s quieter than during the summer yet the weather is often settled, and even if it’s not there’s no better place for a wild weather adventure than Cornwall’s beautiful beaches.
Roseland is a remote peninsula off south-west Cornwall, with a distinct character and a landscape of peaceful wooded creeks, quiet beaches and rugged cliffs. The South West Coast Path makes for some of the best running here, edging the dramatic coast where you might spot seals, dolphins, basking sharks and seabirds.
St Anthony Head is a former gun battery overlooking one of the world’s largest natural harbours: Carrick Roads and the Fal Estuary.
From the car park take in an intriguing and varied loop anti-clockwise around the south-western tip of the peninsula, keeping the sea on your right until Towan Beach. Head inland here and straight across to Porth Creek, following the southern bank of the creek until you’re back on the Coast Path.
If you know where to look there are wonderful, wild places to run all over London. Nearly half of the capital, in fact, is green space. Spring is a perfect time to explore the city’s parks and gardens and there’s a wealth of wildlife to spot in the woods and grasslands and on the water; look out for wild flowers, deer and ducklings.
Richmond Park is the largest of London’s Royal Parks, covering an area of around 2500 acres. It is a National Nature Reserve and a conservation area, with an incredible diversity of habitats and, in places, a feeling of wildness that’s truly unexpected. There are many tracks and trails around the park and it’s a popular place with cyclists, horse-riders and walkers as well as runners.
One of the best for an early morning run, just as the mist is lifting from the dewy grass, is the Tamsin Trail, a 7-mile (11km) waymarked path that runs around the perimeter. Accessible from any of the main gates, the surfaced trail also makes this a great choice for running with a buggy.
The Peak District is outstanding for off-road running, with hundreds of miles of footpaths and bridleways spanning its awe-inspiring landscape. It’s fantastically accessible, often by public transport, and boasts every type of terrain from gentle trails through the dry limestone valleys of the White Peak to the brooding mountain landscapes of the higher, wilder Dark Peak.
Edale is the start of the Pennine Way’s epic, 268-mile journey to the Scottish borders, and Kinder Scout, the highest point in the National Park at 636 metres, was the site of the 1932 Kinder Trespass that secured the right to roam on access land for all.
The National Trust’s Longshaw Estate is a great place for running, walking or family adventures and it’s particularly wonderful in spring when bright greens begin to return to the landscape. Many miles of trails loop the estate, which covers woodland, moorland and the popular Padley Gorge where Burbage Brook cuts its way through the hillside.
One of the best running trails follows the ‘long route’, marked in green on the maps available at the visitor centre, or join one of the regular group runs that take place here.
The Lake District boasts a wealth of running from easy lakeside trails to high-level mountain challenges of which the Bob Graham Round – 42 Lakeland Peaks and 60+ miles in under 24 hours – is perhaps the best-known. Fell running is a part of life in the Lakes, with fell races taking part most weekends and a rich history of the sport.
If you’re heading for the mountains go well-prepared with shoes that will give you plenty of grip; emergency food, clothing and shelter; and a map, compass and navigational skills. Even on a warm spring day in the valleys there can be snow and high winds higher up.
Many of the trails that circumnavigate the lakes themselves are a perfect introduction to running in the Lake District, complete with glorious mountain views. Tarn Hows, a large lake created by joining three smaller tarns together, was once owned by Beatrix Potter but now belongs to the National Trust.
It’s a great place to visit in spring when bright daffodils and excitable, jet-black Herdwick lambs dot the surrounding hillsides. The well-maintained, waymarked path around the tarn makes this a great beginner-friendly run and ideal for running buggies.
The Gower Peninsula stretches from Mumbles, south-west of Swansea, westwards for 19 miles into the Bristol Channel. The UK’s first Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, this part of Wales is rich in wildlife and history and the local limestone (also known as Sutton Stone) is great for finding fossils; the petrified remains of woolly rhino, mammoth, reindeer, bear and wolf have all been found here.
The Wales Coast Path runs for over 870 waymarked miles (1400km) around the edge of the country, a great way to discover Wales’ incredible and varied coastline.
The Gower section takes in spectacular Three Cliffs Bay, popular with rock climbers; Worm’s Head, a tidal island only accessible at low tide; Oxwich Nature Reserve; and the 3-mile sandy stretch of Rhossili Bay. Rhossili Down, behind the Bay, climbs to a high point of 193 metres, with fine views along the coast and out across the Channel.
This run starts from Rhossili village and heads up and over the downs before descending to the beach and returning across the sands. If the tide is out, carry on to explore dramatic Worm’s Head, crossing the Devil’s Bridge for a real feeling of wilderness and isolation.
Distance: 11.5 miles/18.5km
Start: Tibbie Shiels Inn, St Mary’s Loch, TD7 5LH
Finish: Traquair parking area, EH44 6PJ
Terrain: Path, tracks
Ascent: 384 metres
Dumfries and Galloway in the far west of Scotland’s Southern Uplands is a heady mix of scenic coastline, rugged hills and dense forest. The 5,000-year-old Wood of Cree, managed by the RSPB, is the largest ancient oak woodland in southern Scotland and a magical place to run, with tumbling waterfalls, winding trails and a carpet of bluebells in late spring.
Nearby Galloway Forest Park was the UK’s first Dark Sky Park and the area is a haven for both wildlife and outdoor adventurers.
The Southern Upland Way runs for 212-miles coast-to-coast across Scotland between Portpatrick in the west and Cockburnspath in the east. Its well-signed trails are great to run, taking you around the edge of tranquil lochs and through stunning open moorland.
The stretch between St Mary’s Loch and Traquair is one of the most beautiful and varied, with stunning views throughout. The circuit of St Mary’s Loch is also an excellent, and logistically-simpler run of around 9 miles (14km), with only a few short sections of road.
Jen & Sim Benson have explored a huge number of wild running routes. Their book, Wild Running, is a celebration of off-road running in Britain and details 150 outstanding routes across the country.
You can get your signed copy from wildrunning.net for just £10 with free postage (RRP £16.99). Just enter code OS2018 at the checkout.