Run the Wild's Simon James looks at running routes that are just as fun as famous trails around the world and ideal for beginners and experienced runners alike.

Staying in the UK doesn’t mean you need to miss out on some fantastic runs.  With so many races now cancelled for this season plus restrictions on travelling abroad for the foreseeable future, we take a look at some global icons for future travels and some options closer to home for you to enjoy at the moment. 

The UK is far more diverse than you may at first think. We have coastlines, forest, rolling hills, mountains, point to point routes, short steep ascents and long sweeping off-road trails. Not only that but we have a rich diversity of languages, traditions, food and drink. Maybe it’s time to take stock of what’s closer to home! Here we present 10 places that might feature on your global running bucket list and find something equivalent back on home turf.

1. The Alps – Head to Snowdonia, Wales

Infamous for their steep ascents, magnificent balcony trails, knife edge ridges and up-close glaciers, the Alps are an incredible arena for trail runners. From the small local races to the big events in the race calendar such as the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc, or the Mont Blanc Marathon which start in the iconic setting of Chamonix.  Checkpoints (like those found at Run the Wild) feature local cheeses and you might be mistaken in thinking that nowhere like this exists in the UK. You’d be wrong. 

Snowdon might not be as high as Mont Blanc nowadays, although reportedly several millennia ago it was probably the height of 7,000m it has a great prominence over it’s surrounding and adjoining peaks. Knife edge ridges climb up to its summit, the most famous Crib Goch. There is something here for everyone, with a great tour of its base taking in surrounding peaks and one which can even include the summit. Steep climbs can lead to sweeping trail runs down. Alpine flowers can be found on it’s flanks and on clear days it offers breath-taking views over the surrounding area. It would be wrong not to mention the Welsh 3000s, a challenge to complete all of the 15 mountains in Wales over 3000ft in some 30 miles and around 4000m cumulative ascent. After all that, you might be ready for some of the local cheese from the Snowdonia Cheese Company!

2. Marathon des Sables, Morocco – Head to Gower, Wales

The Marathon of the Sands, claimed to be the “Toughest footrace on Earth” passes through the scorching arid heat of the Sahara Desert in Morocco. The multi-day route covers around 250km in 7 days and features sand dunes aplenty. It offers for many, a once in a lifetime opportunity to truly escape and carry everything you need for the week on your back, a true self-sufficient trail running adventure but with the added irritation of sand which saps your energy and also finds its way into everything.

Back to Wales again, this time on the south coast, is a stunning and fairly unknown corner, Gower. With 5-mile-long beaches and sand dunes to sap all your running energy as much the MdS, it’s the place to head if you want to recreate this incredible experience. Its rural beauty is recognised in being the UK’s first Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Low levels of light pollution reveal a stunning night sky, not too dissimilar to that of the desert. Combined with as much sand running as you can stomach; all you need to do is make sure that you run with all your kit for the adventure to take on a similar challenge. If all that gets a bit much then you can take in a refreshing dip in the sea!

3. Great Wall of China – Head to Hadrian’s Wall, England

The Great Wall Marathon held annually follows a section of this 13,000-mile wall to the East of Beijing. Construction started in the 7th century BC, but most of the well-known sections were built 500 years ago, it features fearsome climbs and steep descents and is definitely not a place to go if you want to tick off a marathon personal best (PB)! The full route takes in trails and roads and it really is a special experience connecting running with such an epic historical monument, and such an experience exists much closer to home!

The Roman’s with a similar idea to the dynasties in China, built Hadrian’s Wall to guard their north-west frontier in around 128 AD by order of Emperor Hadrian. It covers 73 miles linking coast to coast of northern England and can be run in a route comfortably within 3 days. Starting the route in Newcastle you will take in the stunning and dramatic scenery as well as Roman ruins of forts and sections of the wall, it’s like stepping back in time. The finish is just beyond Carlisle and small B&Bs are found at regular intervals along the way, or if you prefer to run just one section then head to the Steel Rigg and Sycamore Gap, found in Northumberland, you might recognise this in the Robin Hood film starring Kevin Costner. 

4. The King’s Trail, Sweden – Head to West Highland Way, Scotland

The King’s Trail or Kungsleden is a stunning 440 km trail that winds from the south to the far north of Sweden, through lakes and mountains. The most popular section is around 105 km in the north and takes in the Swedish Lapland. The route was created in the early part of the 20th century and features huts dotted at regular intervals for weary explorers to stay in. Some are managed but there are also a few which are unmanned. On the way you pass by Sweden’s highest mountain Kebnekaise standing at 2,097m. You’ll need to pack bug spray as flying biting insects love the swampy areas, but the solitude and possibility of seeing wildlife truly make up for it.

Not that far away and even closer to home, Scotland. A land of diverse climates, culture, language and scenery in of itself. With towering mountains reaching up from broad valleys, rugged landscapes and lakes, this really does feel like only a small step from Sweden. The West Highland Way opened in 1980, it’s Scotland’s first long distance route and offers spectacular scenery as well as a true trail challenge 154 km route stretches from just north of Glasgow to Fort William, in the Highlands. It’s also run as a race, since 1985, taking in 4,300m ascent with the record at just over 13.5 hours. Just as in Sweden you probably will encounter quite a few biting flying insects! If the full route doesn’t appeal then don’t worry as it can be broken down comfortably into stages, and you can even have the bothy experience.

5. New York Marathon, USA – Head to Newcastle-upon-Tyne, England

New York, The Big Apple, 26.2 miles and 5 iconic bridges! What a great way to see a great city! From views over the harbour and the Statue of Liberty to the office blocks of Manhattan, it’s like running through a film set. It’s not the easiest of marathons and most people say it’s the bridges that make this marathon tough with their uphill cambers. Runners start with the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge, followed by the Pulaski Bridge at around the halfway mark, also the entrance to Queens. It’s another bridge over the East River via the Queensboro (59th Street) Bridge into Manhattan. Then onto The Bronx via the Willis Avenue Bridge before crossing over the last climb of the the Madison Avenue Bridge and finishing in Central Park.

Newcastle-upon-Tyne, some 3,500 miles from New York but a lot easier to access. Iconic bridges, brown ale (a popular tipple in the US city) and a great way to take in the sights on your Newcastle marathon run, it has some of the essential ingredients of attempting to replicate the Big Apple experience. It’s probably the bridges that will draw your attention here too, seven in total including the iconic Tyne Bridge. Just as you would finish in Central Park in New York, you can take in the finishing stretch into Exhibition Park, part of Town Moor which is around 150 acres larger than its US cousin.

6. The Big Sur, California – Head to the Jurassic Coast, England

Possibly one of the greatest coastal routes in the world, the Big Sur stretches north from Los Angeles up to San Francisco. It’s high cliff tops drop away to reveal beautiful sandy beaches and the cold waters of the Pacific. The scenery is truly breath-taking and each cliff top reveals another epic vista. Along its route are various races and trails including the Big Sur marathon as well as trail marathon and half marathon. 

As an island, the UK has many coastal paths and none is more dramatic than that of the Jurassic Coast found on the south coast of England. Named after its Jurassic geological history, it’s a stretch of high cliff tops and a World Heritage Site, stretching from Exmouth in East Devon to Studland Bay in Dorset, a distance of about 155 km. Along its route you will see an Instagrammer’s heaven of locations like Durdle Door, Lulworth Cove and Chesil Beach, a 29 km bank of shingle which protects The Fleet Lagoon. The path drops down to the beaches before climbing back up to the cliff tops, making for a challenging but rewarding trail adventure.

7. Routeburn Track, New Zealand – Head to the Lake District, England

The Routeburn Track is one of the 9 great trails in New Zealand and world renowned, found on the South Island in the national parks of Fiordland and Mount Aspiring. It features forests, mountains, lakes and waterfalls and takes those hiking, around 3 days to cover the 39km but can be covered by a trail runner in much less time! Its highest point is around 1,300m which is not that far off the height of England’s tallest mountain in the Lake District, standing at 978m and has a surrounding area of similar scenery and features to boot. 

No trail running manual would be complete without including the Lake District. Within a relatively small area this national park packs so much punch in regards to beauty and wilderness. Made popular by Wainwright’s writings it has been drawing hikers and runners for many years. From its valleys and dales to its fells such as Helvelyn and Skiddaw, to its majestic glacial ribbon lakes, where it takes its name from, there is much to explore. The Lakes’ wilderness is emphasised by how quickly you can find yourself from civilisation, combined with severe changes in weather, make it an exciting, with a tinge of danger, day out. Go well prepared for the beauty and the adventure!

8. Marathon du Médoc, France – Head to the South Downs, England

Held each year in September the route makes its way through some of the 1500 vineyards of the Médoc region, found to the north of Bordeaux and famous for its red wines. It’s considered "the longest Marathon in the world" as it features musical breaks with 50 orchestras scattered around the course including 23 wine tasting stops! Not only that but participants are required to dress up in the annually themed fancy dress. 

English wine has been benefiting from the warmer change in climate, making some of the English vintages more palatable than a few years back. Vineyards don’t exist anywhere near to the same scale as they do in France, but they’ve been here since the Romans and 40 vineyards were recorded in the Doomsday Book, back when the French last took stock. If running and sampling wine is your thing, then the South Downs are a good place to recreate that Médoc experience. Start at the Three Choirs, this vineyard in Wickham, on the southwest tip of the South Downs National Park, one of the oldest in England. From here you take in the Hambledon Vineyard which feeds off the same chalk seam which remerges in the Champagne region. Jenkyn Place and Nutbourne Vineyard provide two further tours before finishing at one of the largest wine producers in England, Denbies Wine Estate. 

9. The Otter Trail, South Africa – Head to Cornwall, England

Taking its name from the Cape Clawless Otter, this trail along the Garden Route coast of South Africa is widely regarded as one of the finest in the world and stretches from Storms River Mouth in the east to Nature's Valley in the west and is around 44 km in length. It usually takes 5 days walking with huts available to stay in along the way. The trail sits in the Tsitsikamma National Park, which protects this area of incredible rugged cliff tops, forests and beaches. The path never strays far from the shoreline, often climbing steeply before descending back to the beach.

As unbelievable as this may seem, at first glance you could be deceived that this was Cornwall. The land of the pasty and Saint Piran offer truly incredible coastal trails. The route from Lizard Point to Land’s End is probably one of the most enviable. It’s cliff and rugged tops resemble those found several thousand miles to the south. It’s weather just as rough and unpredictable and the route takes you from cliff to beach and back with a frequency that makes the accumulative ascent on a par with mountain routes. Take time to run over the sand with the spray from the surf in your face, utter joyous trail running freedom!

10. Maisels Fun Run, Germany – Head to the Chiltern Hills, England

Each year in Bavaria, in the town of Beyruth a fun run is organised by Brauerei Maisel, one of Germany's largest producers of Weissbier (wheat beer). The run takes place on the final day of Maisel's Weissbierfest, a four-day beer festival that is held annually at the brewery. It’s a half marathon that takes in the historic centre of town on mixed terrain and funnily enough sells out each year. 

With the surge in popularity for craft beers this is a great way to motivate and reward yourself at the end of a run. Run the Wild offers a Brewery Trail in November of each year, a 10 km guided run in the beautiful Chiltern Hills, just north of London followed by a brewery tour with tasting at their local Tring Brewery. The Chilterns mark the maximal point of the ice cap in the last ice age and offer varied terrain across their chalk escarpment, ancient woodland and canal paths, something for all, and finished off with chilled one!

So, with all these options, you can travel the world without having to jump on a plane or even leave this fair isle of ours. Stay healthy and motivated!


Simon James is the founder of Run the Wild - the UK’s first premier, dedicated trail running holiday adventure company. Operating in the UK and the Alps, they deliver holidays that combine the sense of 'team' from mountaineering, with the thrill of trail running in wild places. Simon is a keen trail runner and marathon runner with a PB of 2hrs 37mins. He is a qualified Leader in Running Fitness as well as International Mountain Leader and offers treks in the Alps.

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