Women on a trail running route

The 6 epic trail running routes in the UK I miss the most

Whether your usual route takes you up into the hills, tracking through forests, pacing along pavements or skirting along coastal paths, running offers the chance for adventure and exploration – the chance to see places in a new light.

In the UK we are privileged to have some of the world’s most beautiful trail running routes right on our doorstep and, as more and more people turn towards staycations, now is the perfect time to start planning your next running adventure.

While these are big trails – often over 100 miles – they can be easily broken down into smaller routes, making them great destinations for runners of all abilities.

1. South Downs Way

This 100-mile trail (160km) is packed with rolling hills, stunning views, and an abundance of history. Spanning from Winchester in Hampshire to Eastbourne in Sussex (or reverse), the route is a breathtaking trail running adventure.

While there are certainly some testing gradients, the ground itself is good underfoot and I found the route well-signed. This isn’t one you’re going to want to be running late into the night, and the gradients do take their toll so I’d consider completing it over a long weekend rather than trying to power through.

If you’re looking to ease your way in, then why not take the day and try an easier running route, without sacrificing any of the best bits. Seaford to Eastbourne: starting on the pebbled beach, you make your way to the meanders of Cuckmere Haven, then over the Seven Sisters, past the Birling Gap lighthouse (with a quick stop off for a drink) and ending up in Eastbourne. It can get pretty windy at Beachy Head, but it’s a beautiful 10-mile route – with good public transport links at either end.

When: Tackle this route in late summer and, if you time it right be in with the chance of seeing a truly memorable sunset from the high chalk cliffs.

Highlight: I can’t look beyond The Seven Sisters for this one. These iconic chalk cliffs have featured in popular films Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves and Atonement and are a must-see if taking on this running route.

trail running the South Downs Way
Photo of Aidan Thomson (Author), running the South Downs Way. 

2. The Pembrokeshire Coastal Path

This stunning trail is not only one of the UK’s most picturesque running routes, but it also doubles up as a history lesson, taking you past relics of the Stone Age, Bronze Age, and Iron Age. It’s suffice to say, the Pembrokeshire coast is a proper running adventure.

If you start and end your route in St David’s – the UK’s smallest city – then you have a near perfect 13 mile (21km) half marathon route. This isn’t one to be checking your splits on however and I’d recommend taking an entire day to fully appreciate the mixture of fascinating history, outstanding views, and local wildlife.

When: This one’s great all year round. If you go in spring / summer you’ll be treated to the spectacular flowers and wildlife, whereas autumn / winter will deliver peace and tranquility. 

Highlight: The view out over the expansive Whitesand Bay is not to be missed, but it’s the allure of St Non’s Chapel – said to be the birthplace of David, the patron Saint of Wales – which attracts the true history lovers.

part of the Pembrokeshire coastal path route
Pembrokeshire Coastal Path. Photo by Ellie Cookson.

3. The Jurassic Coast

This 95 mile stretch of the South West Coast Path is known for its sharp climbs and daunting descents, making it one of the most notorious trail running routes in the UK. As a result, it’s become a haven for runners and is home to one of the UK’s most renowned trail running companies Maverick Race.

The coastline is littered with ancient caves, soaring seabirds, and unrivalled vistas of the English Channel and, despite its infamous reputation, there are a number of different route options to suit your level.

When: The coast can be rugged and awe-inspiring in the winter, but I’d suggest sticking to late summer in the hope of finding a dry trail. 

Highlight: The stretch between Lulworth Cove and Durdle Door is other-worldly – make sure to leave enough in your legs for the 143-step ever so slightly wobbly descent onto the beach (and climb back up).

a particularly challenging part of Jurassic Coast route in Cornwall, UK
Durdle Door. Photo by Jack Anstey on Unsplash

4. The Causeway Coast

If you don’t mind a quick ferry-ride to Ireland, then the Causeway Coast is a truly iconic UK trail running route. Home to Unesco World Heritage Site Giant’s Causeway, the oldest licensed Whiskey Distillery in the world, Bushmills, and the mythical Glens of Antrim these trails offer a running adventure like no other.

I personally prefer the shorter 5.5 mile (9km) loop starting in Portballintrae which doesn’t seem to miss out on any of the coast’s glory. The run crosses the Bush River, before taking you along the cliffs towards the awe-inspiring Giant’s Causeway.

When: Set off either early or late in the day and you’ll have the best chance of a relatively quiet route.

Highlight: It’s not every day that your run encompasses a Unesco World Heritage Site – The Giant’s Causeway is without a doubt the highlight of this running route and the reason why Lonely Planet voted the region its Number 1 to visit in 2018.

The Causeway Coast - one of my favourite running routes
Giants Causeway. Photo by Dimitry Anikin on Unsplash

5. The Lake District

The Lake District is the spiritual birthplace of trail running in the UK – or fell running as it’s referred to locally – and is most well-known for the Bob Graham Round. The 66 mile (106km) trail running route takes in 42 summits, has a total climb of 8230m (27,00ft) and was first completed by Bob Graham in 1932 to celebrate his 42nd birthday.

If – and understandably so – you’re not looking to emulate BG, then there are a number of other routes to fill at least a week’s worth of trail running adventures.

When: The Lake District’s weather is notoriously unpredictable – hit up these running routes in summer for your best shot at a dry trail.

Highlight: I’d recommend an ascent of Great Gable. If the weather’s on your side, then you’ll get unrivalled panoramic views of the Lake District.

the route on a rare sunny day
Lake District. Photo by Matt W Newman on Unsplash

6. The West Highland Way

Finally, to Scotland. I could write an entire article about trail running routes in Scotland alone (in fact, I probably will). On a list of trail running routes in the UK, though, it would be impossible not to include the West Highland Way.

The route spans 95 miles (153km), starting in Milngavie outside Glasgow and taking you cross-country to Fort William. It’s what lies in between, however, that makes this a must-try running route. You’ll be spoiled with staggering views of Loch Lomond, Glen Falloch, and the infamous Lost Valley of Glencoe.

When: I’d recommend heading to the West Highland Way at the height of summer, to take advantage of The long Scottish days.

Highlight: This is a no-brainer. Climbing The Devil’s Staircase up and out of Glencoe is extraordinary – make sure you take some time at the top to catch your breath and digest your surroundings. 

The West Highland Way, one of the UK's most picturesque running routes.
Glencoe. Photo by Julia Worthington on Unsplash

I love trail running because it offers the chance to experience the Great British outdoors at its very best. There are so many truly great trail running routes up-and-down the UK; let us know your favourite in the comments and check out what trail running events are coming up near you.

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Born and raised in Scotland, Aidan is an avid trail-runner and wannabe cyclist. Having only got into endurance sports a couple of years ago, he loves the sense of adventure and freedom they provide.

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Charlie G

Did my first trail run last year in Devon and loved it far more than any road race I’ve done – will definitely give one of these a try!

Genny O

Glad to see the Jurassic Coast makes the list….can confirm it’s epic! Will definitely be heading back there once restrictions lift! 🤞

Sam B

Gutted to see the Race to The Stones didn’t make the cut! Love the Ridgeway and a really great trail for beginners. All of these look awesome though – added to the bucket list!

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