In the summer of 2019, I ran my way for 2,532 miles (4,075 km) from the beauty of the Shetland Islands to the bustling streets of London, with no shoes on! But that's besides the point; along the way I got to see some truly stunning and lesser-known corners of Great Britain.
So here's a Collection of what I believe to be the best undiscovered runs across Scotland, England, Northern Ireland and Wales. It includes everything from trails through long-forgotten valleys and dense forests, pathways along windswept hilltops, stretches of deserted sandy beaches and visits to the crumbling ruins of castles. Not to mention a few tearooms along the way...
There's plenty of Highlights showing you where to stop and stare, check out the thriving local wildlife or to put your feet up for a while and fill up with some delicious local nosh.
Most runs can be done in a single day, but some are longer Tours that you might want to break down into several sections, or just choose a portion of. Good luck and happy running!
Once a gift to Scotland from a Norwegian king, the Shetland Islands are a world apart from anything you’ll experience on the British mainland. Famed for an abundance of white, sandy beaches and crumbling Viking long houses, the number of exciting places to explore on foot here is endless.My favourite run on the islands is from Sandwick to Westa Voe. After you pass Bigton, take a little detour to St Ninian’s beach, voted one of the most beautiful beaches in the world, and you'll see why!Keep an eye out for seals resting on the rocks at Spiggie Bay, enjoy a run across (yes, I said across!) the airport runway before landing at the windswept crescent moon of silky white sand that is West Voe Beach.If that doesn’t fill up your adventure boots, you could add on a little run around the nearby old Nordic settlement of Jarlshof or scamper up to Sumburgh head for some hang-time with the puffins.
Many people will have heard of Wick, one of the most northerly cities in Scotland, but most will just pass through it on their way to John O’Groats. Just outside Wick are the remains of Wick Castle, perched precariously on a clifftop which is dotted with wild flowers. From Wick town centre, take a run out to the coast, onto the newly formed John O’ Groats Trail, and follow it south towards Lybster. The running is easy for the first part, as the trail is well trodden, but things get a little more ‘adventurous’ the further south you go! There, you’ll pass sea stacks, natural rock arches and thousands of squawking seabirds, making their homes in the nooks and crannies of the rugged Caithness coastline.
Get recommendations on the best single tracks, peaks, & plenty of other exciting outdoor places.
The often grass-covered Speyside Way loosely follows the River Spey on the bed of an old railway line, making for flat, easy miles through the Moray countryside in North-East Scotland.The coolest thing about the Speyside Way is that many of the old platforms and stations are still in place. You can choo-choo on through just as the trains would have done once upon time.Many stations have been restored to their original glory and are now houses or quaint cafés. If you’re after something a little stronger than tea or coffee, you could always detour to one of the many whiskey distilleries nearby that put this area on the map for a wee dram.As you leave the Speyside Way, continue on along the beautiful Aberdeenshire coastline, through the cute town of Portknockie with some great views over the water, and finish up the run route at Cullen Bay. Here you'll find a stunning crescent moon of sand that sweeps out into the North Sea.You'll likely want to split this run up over a few days, or choose a single section of it if time is short.
I couldn't believe that I hadn't visited the Northumberland coastline, despite living in Great Britain my whole life. It is truly stunning! Miles and miles of deserted stretches of golden sandy beaches to plod along, quaint coffee shops, great pubs and a spattering of history with come cracking castles along the way too.If you want a varied run route through dunes, along beaches and in and out of small towns, this one is for you. Some places are more popular in summer, but you'll still manage to find places where you can enjoy the beaches all to yourself.
Start your run at the small fishing port of Ardglass, home to the oldest golf clubhouse in the world, nothing shy of a haunted mansion. Following the Lecale Way, the first section of the run is on a road, but don’t be put off by it. It’s a road that sweeps along the shores of the Irish sea with great views out over the water. Traffic is light and if you have an experience like mine, you’ll end up having a 20 minute chat with a nice Irish farmer named Marcus, as he stops his 4×4 in the middle of the road to ask what the devil you’re up to! The mighty Mourne Mountains are visible from the moment you leave Ardglass, but it isn’t until you enter the Murlough National Nature Reserve that they loom large. Dance through dunes, heather and wild flowers to finish up with a run in the shadow of the Mournes along the wide and sandy Newcastle beach.
This run is a great one to do on two feet, or even on a bike! It's also buggy-friendly for anyone running with a bubba on too. Loosely following the Wales Coastal Path and National Cycle Route 5, you’ll find yourself in a sandwich between the glassy waters of the Irish Sea to the north and the peaks of Snowdonia National Park to the south.The section of trail that leads through the quiet marina into Conwy is particularly special, and Conwy Castle itself looks like something fresh out of kid’s storybook.The best thing about a run or ride around here are the coffee stops – and more specifically for this area – the heavily buttered welshcakes. My favourite stop was The Pavillion Café at Llanfairfechan, but mostly because Llanfairfechan is so fun to (try to) say!
This cheeky half marathon route has all the fine ingredients for a great day out on the trails. Plenty of sloppy mud, hills, stellar views and a dollop of history along the way too.Begin the run outside Guildford Guildhall, beneath what is reportedly the most photographed clock in Britain. Make your way down the cobbled high street and dish out a ‘howdy do’ to the statue of George Abbot (once the Archbishop of Canterbury) as you pass him en route to pick up the North Downs Way.A scamper through the densely forested Chantry Wood, which looks rocking in the autumn time, is followed by a steep climb up to the church at St Martha’s Hill, with awesome views across the downs.As you push on towards Newland’s Corner, call in for a not-quite-halfway coffee break at the Barn Café before continuing along the North Downs ridge.This where things get really cool. As you run, keep your eyes peeled for old machine gun pillboxes, which were built as the last hilltop line of defence between the countryside and London during the Second World War. There’s something creepy about these now-overgrown concrete hideouts, set deep in the downs.
Exmoor National Park is one of the best kept secrets in Great Britain. This route goes from the coastal mecca of Minehead to the tiny port town of Lynmouth, from east to west. On what is a full day out, you’ll follow the South West Coastal Path up, up, up and then down again, past wild Exmoor ponies, over bogs and along rugged clifftops. This is a run filled with lung-busting climbs and by the time the sun goes down, you’ll have covered over 20 miles (32 km). Most importantly, you’ll have reached a pub dinner in the pocket of paradise that is Lynmouth. There’s only one road in and out of this secluded coastal town and being there feels like you might have gone through the back of the wardrobe and into Narnia. Cut off from the rest of the world by steep cliffs and forested hillsides, it’s a place where time stands still. Stay a night to learn about the smugglers who used to trade illegal goods there in years gone by, and get a Devonshire cream tea down your neck. If you’re too full to make the steep climb out of town in the morning, fear not — there’s a cute clifftop cable car to haul you and your cream-filled belly back to the top!