Runner-writers Jen and Sim Benson share their top trails ideal for exploring in the winter
During the winter months many of the wilder regions of Britain undergo great changes as the weather inflicts wind, rain and snow upon the landscape. As a result the running of them becomes an entirely different – and often more challenging – prospect.
Runners and writers Jen and Sim Benson are passionate about exploring the wild places of Britain and finding the best places to run. Their new book Wild Running: 150 Adventures on the Trails & Fells of Britain is out now (see below for details of an AW reader offer) and here they share details of their top trails ideal for exploring in the winter.
Getting out off-road running in winter is a joy in its own right, with warm clothes and a good pair of shoes all helping to keep things enjoyable and safe. As well as the physical challenges of winter running, poor visibility can test your navigation, but with the right skills and kit choices there’s a huge variety of exciting and adventurous running routes to be found.
Our top winter trails take in everything from snowy mountain tracks and crisp woodland trails to fun, muddy fells and stormy coastal paths. Each run has a link to the full route details, exclusively for AW readers.
Fountains Fell, Malham
Geology has a huge influence on how a landscape reacts to weather conditions such as heavy rainfall. Limestone areas, such as those found around Malham in the Yorkshire Dales, tend to drain quickly and lend themselves well to year-round trail running.
The great scoop of limestone that was once a waterfall is now the impressive crag at Malham Cove. Winding up the side of the cove brings you to the iconic pavement, great for exploring and boulder-hopping.
One of our favourite routes in this area takes in the spectacular Fountains Fell area surrounding Malham Tarn, along with a section of the infamous Pennine Way, with its great history of ultra-endurance running. Find full route details at wildrunning.net/fountains-fell.
The South Downs Way
The chalk hills of the South Downs extend from the Itchen Valley in the west to Beachy Head, near Eastbourne, in the east. Running across these vast, open chalklands on the fine, springy, close-cropped turf created by centuries of grazing is pure joy, and their elevated position keeps them relatively runnable, even in the depths of winter.
The South Downs Way is a 100-mile waymarked trail from Winchester to Eastbourne and perfect for some winter excursions within easy reach of London. There are some great races here too, including the South Downs Trail Marathon and ultramarathon.
There is a great variety of terrain here, from downland to forest, finishing on the iconic white cliff edges of Sussex. A circular run passing Beachy Head and the Seven Sisters takes in the area’s dramatic chalk cliffs along with peaceful Friston Forest, also a haven for mountain biking. Find full run details at wildrunning.net/beachy-head-seven-sisters.
The White Peak
Another wonderful limestone area for trail running is the White Peak, set in the southern half of the Peak District and distinctly different from the higher, more rugged Dark Peak.
An extensive network of footpaths and bridleways weave through the region, linking dry valleys, former railways and pretty Gritstone villages. The White to Dark trail links the two halves of the Peak District in a waymarked 27-mile adventure that can be undertaken in one epic go or over two to three enjoyable days.
The Monsal Trail is a surfaced, multi-user trail between Bakewell and Buxton, passing through some breathtaking scenery and perfect for really wet winter days. Our choice of runs here, however, is a varied and enjoyable loop taking in bleak Longstone Moor and the grandeur of the Chatsworth Estate deer park. Find full details at wildrunning.net/bakewell.
Prawle Point, South Hams
The South West Coast Path edges the West Country, continuing for some 630 miles from Poole in Dorset to Minehead, on Somerset’s Exmoor coast. It’s a beautiful and challenging trail to run, with steep ascents, slippery descents, boulders and steps to negotiate along the way.
The scenery is breathtaking and the wildlife abundant – the Penwith stretch between St Just and St Ives has been designated both Heritage Coastline and an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
The Jurassic Coast, linking Dorset with East Devon, is home to the Undercliff, an inescapable 7-mile stretch of fascinating, jungly running, with a wildness all of its own. Being well-waymarked and well-maintained, the Coast Path is a perfect place for a winter run as stormy waves break on cliffs below your feet.
The South Hams, a picturesque area of rugged coast, pretty fishing villages and hidden beaches is our choice of route, with a scenic loop around Devon’s most southerly headland, Prawle Point. Find full details at wildrunning.net/prawle.
The mountains in winter may often be considered the domain of those with crampons and ice axes, however with a little planning you can still bag a summit and experience great running in elevated and exposed positions without the need for mountaineering.
Snowdon, Wales’ highest peak, is a great place to run and the 5-mile Llanberis Path to the summit is well surfaced and well marked, and also provides the route for the legendary International Snowdon Race.
We’ve had some great days out running the various paths to the summit out of season when it’s perfectly possible to feel you have the mountain to yourself. Although it’s estimated that 360,000 people summit Snowdon each year it is still a serious undertaking in poor weather and there may be snow on the ground from October until late spring.
The café and visitor centre at the summit and the mountain railway are closed over the winter so pack warm clothes, a map and compass, food and water in case you need them and check conditions carefully before setting out. Find full details at wildrunning.net/snowdon.
» Jen and Sim Benson are passionate about exploring the wild places of Britain and finding the best places to run. Their new book Wild Running: 150 Adventures on the Trails & Fells of Britain (Wild Things Publishing) is available at 25% off (RRP £16.99) for AW readers with free UK postage from wildrunning.net using the code AW25