9 best UK running trails – coastlines, islands & castles

Photo of author
By Stuart
Goulden

Avid runner. 10x marathons. Daily 10kms. Award-winning journalist when not moving (about me)

The pace of modern life is speeding up and one proven way to slow down is to bask in the great outdoors. Like an “Awe Walk“, disconnecting and running off road works wonders for the body and soul.

In this roundup of the best UK running trails, we take the scenic running route around Great Britain, exploring endless coastlines, rolling countryside, tranquil canal towpaths, historic landmarks and away-from-it-all islands.

The UK boasts outstanding running trails for all types of runners and distances – from circular routes you can fit into a couple of hours to epic multi-day runs. There’s no better way to get to discover what’s on your doorstep (also check out my Best Trail Running Trails in Europe).

Find your next UK trail running trail – my own UK bucket list

All of the UK running trails featured in this article are on my personal bucket list. Some already conquered, others soon to be ticked off.

I’ve tried to make it as useful as possible, combining inspiration with itineraries.

It’s a living list, so I’ll be adding to it as I discover new trail routes on our four shores.

Be a home tourist – the best UK running trails for adventure seekers

#1: Holy Island, Northumberland – 10km circular run around an otherworldly island

Emmanuel Head pyramid daymarker on a clear day on Holy Island
Emmanuel Head pyramid daymarker on a clear day on Holy Island

Holy Island is a pint-sized place of unrivaled beauty, expansive beaches and hushed tranquillity.

The isolated, one-of-a-kind island was on my trail bucket list for a while, so I’m so pleased to finally complete it. Check out my 10km circular route of Holy Island.

Pilgrims came for centuries, now its trail runners and day tourists. It’s not hard to see why. Writers, poets and lost souls flock there too, with the landscape a constant source of inspiration and said to have therapeutic qualities.

The road to Holy Island appears only twice a day, adding to its mystique. Outside of these times the causeway is submerged and impossible to cross. But fear not, Holy Island’s circular route is only a total distance 15.6 km, so you won’t be rushed round the island before high tide.

The clockwise circular route around Holy Island Lindisfarne starts at the island’s car park, then immediately heads north along the causeway penetrating the dunes at Snook Point. The remote beaches of the north of the island take you to a picturesque run through the whispery dunes of The Link. Head south towards the Lindisfarne Castle, majestically perched on top of a volcanic plug, luring you from afar.

It’s then only a short trek along the harbour to the ruins of Lindisfarne Priory and many of the island’s touristy amenities, before taking the low cliff-top path leading back to the main car-park. A captivating 10km circular route everybody needs to do at least once in their lifetime.

Holy Island tips: Check the safe crossing times on the causeway’s notice board before heading to Holy Island.

#2: Jurassic coast, England – 95 miles awe-inspiring coastline to discover

Running the Jurassic coast, England

Running the Jurassic Coast involves 95 miles of breath-taking coastline from East Devon to Dorset, and a field trip of 185 million years of the Earth’s history.

The Jurassic Coast is a trail runner’s delight, featuring steep climbs, rugged coastline and barely believable geological wonders. It stretches from Orcombe Point near Exmouth in East Devon to Old Harry Rocks near Swanage in East Dorset, a distance of 154 km.

One of the UK’s most popular trails in the Summer months and a UNESCO natural World Heritage Site to boot, the diversity of the area is something to behold. You’ll cross a mix of terrains and views, including chalk hills, high cliff tops and sandy beaches, alternating with hiking tracks and plush landscapes.

Popular stopping off points include the charming seaside towns of Swanage, Lyme Regis or West Bay.

#3: Leeds & Liverpool canal – 127 miles of tranquil towpath running

Leeds to Liverpool canal run - taking in Bingley, Saltiere & Gargrove

The Leeds & Liverpool Canal is 127 miles of scenic waterway paths. A trail runner’s dream, the flat course offers scenic stopping-off points and long stretches of calm.

Leaving Liverpool, the canal passes through East Lancashire and then crosses Pennine countryside and picturesque villages hugging the Yorskhire Dales, ending in Leeds.

I’ve run many stretches of the Leeds & Liverpool canal thanks to the well-organised Its Grim Up North running events. Personal highlights include the Bingley Five Rise Locks (the picturesque steep staircase that greets you in Bingley), the Saltaire World Heritage Village (passing Salt Mill which houses Europe’s largest collection of Hockney paintings), and arriving into Leeds City Centre (seeing its skyscrapers in the distance, overtaking paddleboarders and canoeists).

Being the North of England, the other towpath users are extremely friendly, happy to wish you luck on your travels.

#4: Hadrian’s Wall, England – run 85 miles and 1900 years of Roman history

Sycamore Gap Robin Hoods Tree Hadrian's Wall © rundure.com
The famous Sycamore Gap (aka. Robin Hoods Tree) on the Hadrian’s Wall trail

The mammoth Hadrian’s Wall route covers three counties and a beautiful part of the world that I was lucky enough to experience firsthand. Hadrian’s Wall path elevation profile is kind as the highest point on the path is only 345 meters (1130 ft) with a total elevation gain of 2,300 meters.

The trail from Bowness-on-Solway to Wallsend crosses through a mix of majestic landscapes and terrains, particularly in the popular middle section through Northumberland National Park.

One of my favorite trails, you’ll hug the coastline, encounter farm tracks and remote paths, see Roman ruins and fully intact sections of the Wall, cross urban areas long built on top of it, and take in the best of the British countryside.

Check out my full Hadrian’s Wall run review and Hadrian’s wall packing list.

#5: Sark, Channel Islands – a 10-mile trail running paradise loop

Crossing to Little Sark by brianfagan is licensed under CC BY 2.0
Crossing to Little Sark by brianfagan is licensed under CC BY 2.0

The smallest of the four ‘main’ Channel Islands, Sark, is perfect for every trailhead. It’s colorful history has seen it be home to monks, pirates and militia. You too can marvel in its dramatic coastline in a circular route covering 10 miles, and a maximum elevation of 337ft.

There are no cars or streetlights on Sark, making it the perfect escape from modern life. It’s no wonder it’s a favorite trail among trail runners, mountain bikers and hikers looking to disconnect for a few days.

The highlight of any journey round Sark is La Coupée: the railed pathway atop Sark’s isthmus. The concrete path weaves along the narrow cliff edge, undulating with the rock beneath and is quite something on a clear day.

#6: Ridgeway National Trail – run the length of “Britain’s oldest road”

Retrace ancient footsteps on this 87-mile route of outstanding natural beauty. Located in surprisingly remote part of Wiltshire, in southwest England, the trail follows a chalk ridge route used by prehistoric man. People have ‘walked the chalk’ here since the Iron Age, for trade, settlement, battle and now for pleasure.

Ridgeway National Trail starts at Overton Hill near the World Heritage Site of Avebury. Whilst Stonehenge is the most architecturally advanced prehistoric stone circle in the world, Avebury is the largest. Soak up the history lesson before heading east through the Chiltern Hills to Ivinghoe Beacon in Buckinghamshire, which at 249 metres above sea level offers an incredible vantage point of your run.

The route includes open views of rolling chalk downland, the rolling grass slopes of the hills, beech woodlands, and countless archaeological monuments.

Large sections of the Ridgeway Trail are rural and remote, so pre-planning is important. However, the trail passes through or near a number of pretty villages, where refreshments and overnight accommodation can be easily found.

#7: North Yorkshire coast – run Whitby to Scarborough along the Cleveland Way

Whitby Harbour at sunset - running the Cleveland Way to Scarborough
Whitby Harbour at sunset – running the Cleveland Way to Scarborough

21 miles of spectacular coastline with a cheeky little stop at the enchanting village of Robin Hood’s Bay.

The undulating coastal stretch of the 109-mile (175 km) Cleveland Way is made for memories – the imposing Whitby Abbey, remote beaches, dramatic cliffs scenery, ancient shipwrecks, Hayburn Wyke waterfall, plus plenty of delicious ice cream stops.

The route is well signposted but mixed terrain, with occasional steep inclines and declines. Whitby to Scarborough is well within the reach of seasoned trail runners.

I’d thoroughly recommend a quick pit stop 6-miles in at Robin Hood’s Bay. The popular fishing village boasts some great chippies, but it’s the impossibly pretty cottages and narrow alleyways that you’ll not want to miss. During the 18th century, Robin Hood’s Bay’s myriad of narrow winding streets, tightly-packed houses and secret passageways would be used to smuggle luxury cargo such as silk, rum and tea into the country, avoiding the high taxes of the time. Once at the top of the village, the contraband would be out of sight for all to enjoy.

#8: South West Coastal Path – run St Ives to Carbis Bay

St Ives to Carbis Bay walk or run - St Ives beach
St Ives beach in Winter – the perfect spot for an idyllic and peaceful run

A little pocket of paradise that feels like you’re in the French Riviera.

Even for such a short route, St Ives to Carbis Bay has a bit of everything – golden sandy beaches and crystal-clear waters, steep climbs, shipwrecks, and endless views across the Atlantic. It’s not every day you get to see a pod of dolphins, but that’s the benefits of a morning run on the South coast of England.

Other highlights include the sandy beaches and shipwrecks at Carbis Bay; the traditional lookout huts for watching pilchard shoals; and the incredible St Ives coffee shops to fuel your journey.

The route can be achieved in either direction and is steep but accessible to all fitness levels.

#9: Flamborough Head – the north of England’s only chalk sea cliffs

Selwicks Bay quiet stony beach with rock pools at Flamborough Head white cliffs
Selwicks Bay

Running Flamborough Head is easily one of my favourite UK coastal stomps to date. Both a Local Nature Reserve and a Site of Special Scientific Interest, the area is renowned for its dramatic geology and diverse wildlife.

You’ll marvel in sun-drenched white cliffs and otherworldly rock stacks. Explore secluded beaches and smuggler caves. Twitch to colonies of nesting birds at Bempton Cliffs RSPB nature reserve. Maybe even spot dolphins, if you’re lucky. Each new bay giving you exponential pleasure.

Flamborough Head spans 12.8km of coastal path in East Riding of Yorkshire.

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