Autumn Trail Running Breaks in the UK
If you have been holding out to see whether the Covid-19 situation stabilised before booking to go to your favourite international holiday destination, you may be feeling rather frustrated by the ever-changing traffic light system and the self-isolation requirements for foreign trips.
Our solution to this is to stay local this year and embark on an active staycation this autumn, either from the comfort of your own home or from a conveniently located campsite. This will be more cost effective than a holiday abroad (so you should be able to put money aside to make your next break even better) and it will avoid any disappointment associated with any last minute changes in regulations governing travel to other countries. By opting for a staycation or a camping break, you also avoid having to look for gold dust hotel rooms or B&B accommodation, which are at a premium this year and many have inflated price tags to reflect the high demand.
Top UK Running Trails (and the best places to stay while you explore them)
South West Coast Path
Starting in Minehead in Somerset and following the coast through Exmoor, skirting around the edges of Devon and Cornwall and ending at Poole Harbour, the South West Coast Path takes super-fit walkers around 30 days to complete.
Unless you are a truly intrepid adventurer, it is unlikely that you will want to run with all your camping kit on your back and cover the entire 630 miles of the South West Coast Path in a single holiday. This is a tough trail, with some testing terrain and 35,000 metres of challenging gradient, so it may be worth picking the sections you are most excited to run and taking them on as individual daily challenges.
Featuring dramatic cliffs shaped by the restless motion of the Atlantic, the 78-mile section between Padstow and Westward Ho! offers difficult climbs but rewards with spectacular views. It is the covered by walkers in around 7 days, so could be done more quickly at a run, or interspersed with tourist activities over the full week, if non-runners are accompanying you on your break.
The Headland Caravan Park near Tintagel is a great base to explore this section of the South West Coast Path, whether you want to rent a static caravan or pitch a tent at the end of your day’s run. If you have a non-runner who is prepared to act as taxidriver, or two cars at your disposal, you can easily travel back to your campsite base at the conclusion of each section. The South West Coast Path website is a very useful planning tool for this trail running holiday in the South West.
Running from Overton Hill in Wiltshire to Ivinghoe Beacon in Buckinghamshire the Ridgeway offers 87 miles of open hillside and some sheltered woodland stretches. One of the UK’s most ancient pathways, the Ridgeway has been used by travellers, herdsmen and soldiers since prehistoric times and you can while away many a mile pondering the provenance of the footsteps in which you are following.
The route is usually split into six day-long walks, but if you are running (and pressed for time) you can probably do it in three or four days. Alternatively, you can designate a week to do the whole route and intersperse running with walking, or a more leisurely exploration of the villages of the Chiltern Hills as you go.
The Ridgeway is a great option if you are new to trail running and are looking for a holiday that will challenge you without breaking you. If you are a seasoned veteran of the trails, this is a fast, scenic route, ideal for a long weekend.
Whilst it may feel like the authentic way to approach this route, running between campsites with all your kit on your back could get old pretty quickly, especially if you are running in inclement weather and unpacking damp gear at the end of each day. It may be easier to pick a campsite roughly in the middle of your route and use it as a base for your adventure. Any site near Goring, Watlington or Wallingford would work well.
Bridge Villa Camping and Caravan Site is a family run park on the edge of Crowmarsh Gifford, in Oxfordshire. It is less than half a mile from the Ridgeway and has all the facilities you will need to help you recover after a long day’s running, including a shop for any basic provisions you may have forgotten and laundry facilities for sweaty kit!
If the prospect of camping and organising all your own transfers every day fills you with dread, there are holiday companies that organise everything for you; from accommodation to luggage transfers. Contours Holidays offers three Ridgeway running holidays, from a demanding 3-dayer to a more leisurely 6-dayer.
Wales Coast Path
The Wales Coast Path is the first path in the world to follow the entirety of a country’s coastline, which means that any decent campsite on the Welsh coast will give you the opportunity to enjoy a section or two of this trail from the (sometimes dubious) comfort of your running shoes.
Covering an epic distance of 870 miles, the historic Wales Coast Path runs from the English/Welsh border near Chester, in the north, to Chepstow, in South Wales. It offers some incredibly Instagramable vistas, including one of Britain’s best campsite views – from Three Cliffs Bay Holiday Park. Basing yourself at this campsite-with-a-view and exploring sections of the Wales Coast Path over a week or a long weekend makes a great running holiday in Wales, whether you are solely focussed on your time pounding the trails, or fitting your trainer-clad adventures in around other holiday activities with family or friends. You could even add a bit of luxury to your break by opting to stay in a sea view bell tent at Three Cliffs Bay Holiday Park.
If you are harbouring ambitions to take on a bit more of the Wales Coast Path than can be covered in day trips from a Gower-based campsite, you could set your sights on recreating Arry Beresford-Webb’s trail ultra challenge from 2012. Arry dug deep and ran the whole 870 miles of the Wales Coast Path in one go (and even linked it with the Offa’s Dyke path to make her trip run the full periphery of Wales). It took her 41 days - running a marathon distance every day - to run the full 1027 miles, raising money for Velindre Cancer Centre and Gozo CCU Foundation as she went. You can read a bit about her experiences here.
If your knees are not up to 40 consecutive marathons and you would rather experience the Wales Coast Path in more manageable chunks, check out the dedicated running page on the WCP official website, which gives you ideas of shorter distances on popular themes, such as beach runs, fast and flat blasts and longer circular routes.
The Pennine Way
Whilst many a non-essential worker spent the repeated lockdowns trying to navigate a level course between daily permitted exercise and eating too many biscuits, some people were testing the limits of human endurance and making record times completing the 260 odd miles of the Pennine Way.
American athlete John Kelly took to the trail in 2020 and beat the previous record (which was set in 1989 by Mike Hartley) by just over half an hour, running from Kirk Yetholm in the Scottish borders to Edale in the Peak District in 2d:16h:46m. Just over a week later, John’s friend and fellow athlete, Damian Hall, beat John’s record by more than three hours. Just a few months ago, in May 2021, Kelly returned to the Pennine Way, widely believed to be the oldest and toughest National Trail and re-took the record, running it in 58 hours and 4 minutes.
If you are looking to explore the north of England on foot (and run up some of the 12,000 metres of ascent that the Pennine Way affords) you could run in the footsteps of Kelly and Hall this autumn. If you are a bit of a literary fanatic, as well as a glutton for trail running punishment, you could incorporate the 16 miles of the Pennine Way that runs between Calder Valley and Ickornshaw, taking you through Bronte country and only a stone’s throw from their home village of Haworth. You could stay at Holme Farm Campsite in Horton-in-Ribblesdale and easily access the other sections of the trail during your stay. Alternatively you could take on the Yorkshire Three Peaks, the Ribble Way or the Dales Highway during your stay here.
Great Glen Way
A great way to explore the north of Scotland, the 78-mile-long Great Glen Way traverses the country from Fort William to Inverness. It follows the natural fault line of the Great Glen, which divides Scotland from coast to coast. Most commonly travelled from southwest to northeast, to ensure that the prevailing wind is at your back, it should be possible to run the entire route in 3 days, as Josephine Anselin did in 2017.
Although the phrase ‘Highlands of Scotland’ may fill your mind with visions of misty mountaintops and unexpected blizzards, the Great Glen Way is actually relatively easy going. There are a few steep climbs to contend with (mainly in the section through the forests above Loch Ness) but the majority of the trail explores easy-to-navigate canal towpaths, forest trails and loch-side tracks. The Great Glen Way is clearly way marked, making this route a great introduction to trail running in general, not just in the Highlands.
When it comes to hanging up your trainers at the end of a long day’s running, you could stay budget and basic by camping at Laggan and Drumnadrochit along the way, or dispense with the need to either run with your tent or organise transfers to your start point each day (which you would need to do if you opt to stay at a single central location) and stay at a hostel in Laggan and a glamping pod in Drumnadrochit.
We hope this selection of trail running routes has made your gorgeous runner’s feet itchy with the prospect of getting out and discovering some of the UK’s finest destinations this autumn!