8 of the best UK towns for trail running

Dolgellau Snowdonia

Tucked away among the rugged peaks of southern Snowdonia at the head of the Mawddach Estuary, Dolgellau is the perfect place to base yourself for a mixture of stunning mountainous and coastal trails. Coed y Brenin – the UK’s first bespoke trail running centre – is just a short drive north, with five waymarked trails through the forest ranging from one mile to half-marathon distance. To the south, the multi-topped monster of Cadair Idris offers some of the best mountain routes in Britain, while the Mawddach Trail along the disused railway between Dolgellau and Barmouth is a superb low-level alternative.   

Getting there:
The A470 and A494 run to Dolgellau, but in truth it’s a long way from everywhere!

Keswick The Lake District

Keswick: offering plenty of choice of routes for the trail runner

Keswick: offering plenty of choice of routes for the trail runner

If you needed confirmation that Keswick is a great place to run off-road, remember it’s the start and finish point of the Bob Graham Round – a legendary 24-hour challenge that takes in 42 Lakeland peaks. From Keswick you can run wooded riverside trails, the sparkling shoreline of Derwentwater, local parks, rolling hills and – of course – the famous surrounding fells. Latrigg to the north of the town rises to 368m and is a great starter peak, Walla Crag offers a beautiful short run above Great Wood, while the iconic mini mountain of Cat Bells is a fell-running favourite. If you’re feeling adventurous, the high summits of Skiddaw and Grisedale Pike have great paths and trails, and you can unwind at the end of each day with a pint and pub grub in the Dog & Gun or Wainwright Inn.  

Getting there: The A66 road runs right past the town, and the nearest train station is in Penrith.

Brockenhurst The New Forest 

Not including the New Forest’s ponies (and there are many keen to make friends with you), trail runners will be treated to miles of empty, farmland-type tracks, that roll gently through woods and meadows. It’s an almost surreal place to run, as you’ll experience a mixture of empty roads and forest trails that seem only to welcome horses and cattle, despite the town’s popularity and proximity to several large cities. Cars are few and far between. Brockenhurst itself is a lovely town, full of restaurants and cafés but within a few minutes you can leave all that behind. If splendid isolation is your thing, but not at the expense of close-by mod cons, then this is the place to visit. 

Getting there: Brockenhurst is on the Weymouth to London Waterloo mainline and a short distance
by car from the M27 and A31.

Castleton The Peak District 

Set in the heart of the UK’s oldest National Park, Castleton is surrounded by hills and valleys that are perfect for trail running. The obvious target is the Great Ridge that runs along the town’s northern skyline from Lose Hill to Mam Tor, famous for the giant landslip that dominates its eastern slopes. The ridge is wide and rolling with good paths and multiple access points, so you can shorten or extend your run if you want. Edale and the start of the Pennine Way are the other side of the ridge, while the iconic gritstone escarpment of Stanage Edge is just a few short miles away. For a small town, Castleton has plenty of good pubs and cafés to choose from, so try them all!

Getting there: The A6187 runs right through Castleton and the nearest train station is a few miles down the road at Hope.

Aviemore The Cairngorms

Aviemore is a goldmine of running trails, nestled at the foot of Scotland’s Cairngorm mountains on the edge of Rothiemurchus Forest. There’s a huge network of routes covering every terrain, with soaring peaks to climb and miles of ancient Caledonian pine forest to explore. You’ll run alongside lochans with eagles and ospreys overhead; and through woodlands home to red squirrels, wildcats and pine partens.
The gradients near Aviemore are gentle, but the terrain gets brutal the higher you climb towards the subarctic climate of the Cairngorm plateau.

Getting there: The A9 runs right past Aviemore, with direct trains from London.

Haworth South Pennines

If you love hills and history, this is the place for you. Home of the Brontë sisters, one particularly iconic running route takes you past the Brontë waterfalls and Top Withens. Classic Yorkshire countryside, complete with drystone walls, bracken, heather, bogs and windy moors will feature in every run. You could also take in a bit of road running, because Haworth’s famous cobbled main street is often used by cycling sportives – and even the Tour De France in 2014. Haworth (technically a village) is also a key stopping point on the Keighley
& Worth Valley steam railway, so you could always run one way and get the train back. Just don’t visit
if you like flat runs – because there aren’t any!

Getting there: Haworth is a short distance by car from Leeds, Bradford and Halifax.

Wells-next-the-Sea North Norfolk

An idyllic seaside town famed for its fish and chips, Wells is also a firm favourite with trail runners. Endless miles of sandy paths – including the Norfolk Coast Path National Trail – snake out from the town in every direction, allowing you to mix waterside miles with pine forests. There are rolling sand dunes to sap your energy, and fabulous hard-packed beaches to really get you moving. If you plan a trip to Wells make sure you
head to the Sandringham Estate as well, to run in its fabulous Royal parkland. 

Getting there: Wells is located on the A149 coast road, the nearest train station is at Sheringham.

Tring The Chilterns

An unassuming commuter belt town in Hertfordshire, you can be off-road within one minute of leaving the train station’s car park where the rolling green hills and countryside of the Chilterns await. Chalky, rolling paths with breathtaking scenery are part of the package, complete with some of Britain’s most picturesque villages (and pubs) to enjoy en route. Trail variety isn’t an issue as there are hundreds
of miles to choose from, complete with a series of testing climbs that even the most ardent fell
runner will enjoy. For sci-fi fans, a fair few scenes from the upcoming Star Wars movie were filmed
on location here. What more do you need?

Getting there: Tring is 40 minutes from London on the train, and just a few miles from the M1.

This article appeared in a past edition of Trail Running

This article appeared in a past edition of Trail Running