A beginner's guide to Trail Running
Fancy challenging yourself with a new sport? Try Trail Running and get at one with nature.
GetOutside Champions Jen and Sim Benson are runners, writers and adventurers - here's their 10 favourite trails for running this summer.
The warmer, lighter days of summer make it a fantastic time to get out exploring Britain’s trails. There’s such a wealth of terrain and landscape here, making for an intriguing mixture of running experiences, from peaceful leafy woodland trails to exhilarating mountain descents. We’re passionate about running and have travelled the length and breadth of Britain in search of the best trails in the most beautiful places.
Distance: 6.5 miles (10km)
Start/finish: Wendover station, HP22 6BN
Ascent: 204 metres
Good for: History, woodland
The chalky paths of the Icknield Way and Ridgeway national trails stretch away invitingly across the Chilterns from the summit of Ivinghoe Beacon. Just a short hop from London, these rolling hills provide enjoyable running, from the tranquil woodland trails of Ashridge Estate to the ridge along the tops, with breathtaking views out across the Vale of Aylesbury. The ancient beach trees at Wendover Woods conceal a fine run to the Chilterns’ highest point, Haddington Hill.
Full route details: Wendover Woods
Distance: 15 miles (24km)
Start/finish: Beachy Head Countryside Centre, Eastbourne, BN20 7YA
Terrain: Track, trail, field, paved sections
Ascent: 581 metres
Good for: Coast, families, woodland
The South Downs Way follows a great chalk escarpment for 100 miles through the South Downs National Park from Winchester to Eastbourne. This spectacular run, at the very end of the trail, takes in the grassy tops of the iconic white chalk cliffs at Beachy Head, lush woodland, a meandering river and shingle beach. The area is also great for families with plenty of activities nearby. Friston Forest has excellent mountain biking trails, nature trails, bushcraft, barbecue areas and camping.
Full route details: Beachy Head
Distance: 3.5 miles (6km)
Start/finish: Broadway High Street, WR12 7AP
Terrain: Field, path, short road section
Toughness: Moderate to challenging
Ascent: 175 metres
Navigation: Easy to moderate
Good for: National trail, ascents, history
Another National Trail, the Cotswold Way follows the Cotswold escarpment for 102 miles from Chipping Campden to the abbey in the heart of Bath. Taking in a short section from the picturesque honey-coloured village of Broadway, this is a challenging and hugely enjoyable run that makes its way unrelentingly up the Cotswold Way across a series of fields to the 18th-century Capability Brown folly of Broadway Tower at the very top. On reaching the top, turn around, admire the views and then re-trace your steps; a fun, fast descent on good paths through wide open fields that feels like flying. Broadway itself is abuzz with cafés.
Full route details: Broadway Tower
Distance: 6½ miles (10km)
Start/finish: NT visitor centre, Rhossili, SA3 1PR
Terrain: Trail, beach, quiet road section
Toughness: Easy to moderate
Good for: Coast, beach, wildlife
This wonderful run starts up a wide trail onto the grassy swoop of Rhossili Down. From its high point at The Beacon, there are breathtaking panoramic views out across the surrounding landscape. From here an enjoyable descent brings you to the three-mile sandy stretch of Rhossili Bay which can be followed, barefoot along the water’s edge if desired, back to the start point, passing the remains of the wreck of the Helvetia on the way. A second loop takes in the dramatic Worms Head peninsula – at low tide it’s possible to drop down to sea level and run to the island.
Full route details: Rhossili Bay
Distance: 9 miles (14km)
Start/finish: Vulcan Arms, Sizewell, IP16 4UD
Terrain: Field, path, track, road
Ascent: 88 metres
Good for: Coast, wildlife, woodland
It is said that, given a quiet day and a certain tide, the bells of the churches can still be heard echoing from the submerged old town of Dunwich on the Suffolk Coast. This is a tranquil, intriguing place and we found many enjoyable routes here. Dunwich Heath’s wide-open heathlands are ablaze with purple heather and edged with ribbons of silver birch. There’s a great network of fine, peaty trails to follow, nearby beaches and some wonderfully peaceful country lanes. Our run here takes in both these and the nearby bird and nature reserves before heading across the Sizewell Belts and Leiston Common.
Full route details: Dunwich Heath
Distance: 17 miles (28km)
Start: 0.5 miles NW of Inveroran Hotel, PA36 4AQ
Finish: Ice Factor, Kinlochleven
Terrain: Path, track, short road section
Ascent: 744 metres
Navigation: Easy to moderate (waymarked)
Good for: National Trail, really wild
A classic section of the West Highland Way which can be undertaken as a challenging long run or split into two or more shorter days. The first half, across the vast wilderness of Rannoch Moor, is one of the most spectacular of the West Highland Way, with great underfoot conditions making for incredible running. In fine weather, this is a place of wild and peaceful beauty, turning to an exposed and foreboding arena on the arrival of a storm. The second half of the run is steep and dramatic, climbing to the highest point on the route at the Devil’s Staircase. The final long descent, with excellent views, to Kinlochleven is an enjoyable finish.
Full route details: West Highland Way
Distance: 27.5 miles (44km) (or 7, 9 and 11 mies)
Start: Bakewell Bridge car park, Coombs Road, DE45 1AQ
Finish: Hope, Derbyshire
Terrain: Path, moorland, track, trail, road
Ascent: 1270 metres
Navigation: Moderate (generally waymarked)
Good for: History, hard-as-nails
The Peak District is split by its geology into two halves: the limestone White Peak and the gritstone Dark Peak, each with its own distinct character and running terrain. This glorious tour of some of the absolute best parts of the National Park is 27 miles long, but divides well into three sections: Bakewell-Litton (7 miles), Litton-Hathersage (9 miles) and Hathersage-Hope (11 miles). The running is brilliantly varied, from the paved sections of the Monsal Trail through stunning limestone valleys, across open moorland and along the top of the famous Stanage Edge. Finally the trail winds through conifer woods before ending in the pretty village of Hope. The trail is waymarked in the described direction only.
Full route details: White Peak to Dark Peak
Distance: 3½ miles (5km)
Start/finish: Hurlers car park, Minions, a little SW of PL14 5LW
Terrain: Path, track, open moorland
Toughness: Easy to moderate
Ascent: 103 metres
Navigation: Easy to moderate
Good for: Moorland, views, history
The hidden wilderness of Bodmin Moor’s lies in the east of Cornwall, often bypassed between Devon and Cornwall’s popular coast. It’s a magical place and we spent a delightful few days here, running on fine green turf beneath vast blue skies. The moor is peppered with stone circles and great, granite tors. Of these, the Hurlers – three ancient stone circles – and the towering stack of the Cheesewring are among the best known. Starting at Minions, the highest village in Cornwall, this run takes in these stunning features before heading out on perfect running trails towards Sharptor. A short but worthwhile extension takes you past the tumbling cascades of Golitha Falls.
Full route details: Bodmin Moor
Distance: 5.5 miles (9km)
Start/finish: Car park Tynyceunant, 0.5 miles SW of LL40 1TL
Terrain: Mountain trail
Ascent: 691 metres
Navigation: Easy to moderate (may be challenging in poor visibility)
Good for: Ascents, history
The picture-perfect mountain of Cadair Idris lies on the southern edge of Snowdonia, remote and removed from the main tourist areas. It’s a beautiful, peaceful place, with three main paths running through varied terrain from the grassy valley below up through mountain scree to its grassy summit plateau. Of these, the Pony Path is the most straightforward but also, we feel, the best for running. Starting from Ty Nant it passes through lush woodland and crosses a babbling stream before heading out onto open mountainside with spectacular views all around. The descent is fast and exhilarating, skimming along mountain trails and watching the view below grow as you approach.
Full route details: Cadair Idris
Distance: 6 miles (9km)
Start/finish: Low Haygarth, LA10 5NE
Terrain: Track, trail, fell
Ascent: 526 metres
Good for: Really Wild, ascents
The Howgill Fells lie on the western edge of the Yorkshire Dales National Park, yet are within Cumbria, separated from the Lake District by the M6 and the River Lune. Relatively untouched by tourism they are a runner’s dream, with winding paths leading invitingly across rolling, grassy fells. One of our favourite routes here starts with a steep climb up onto the fells past the Cautley Spout waterfall, a spectacular sight as you approach the spout from the starting point at Low Haygarth. Passing Cautley Spout Tongue, the route follows Swere Gill to the Calf, the highest point in the Howgills at 676 metres. A glorious section of running over open grasslands follows before you drop down to Bowderdale. On a long run here we didn’t see a single other person – a rarity indeed in much of Britain – the remote wilds of the Howgills making for some deliciously solitary adventures.
Full route details: The Howgills
All photos © Jen & Sim Benson
GetOutside Champions Jen and Sim Benson are runners, writers and adventurers. They are authors of Wild Running: 150 Great Adventures on the Trails & Fells of Britain (Wild Things Publishing), the first guide to the best off-road running in Britain. Find out more from their blog at Wild Running.