Discover some of Britain’s most spectacular mountains, forests and coastal trails, perfect for a wild run
Within the borders of the historic county of Yorkshire are areas widely considered among the greenest in England, with vast stretches of unspoiled countryside in the Yorkshire Dales and North York Moors inspiring running routes of outstanding quality. The county has a fine sporting pedigree to match: athletes from Yorkshire won seven gold medals, two silver and three bronze in the 2012 Olympic Games which, if it were a separate country, would have placed it 12th in the world medals table.
From the wide open countryside of the North York Moors to the peat bogs and tussocky hillsides of the South Pennines, Yorkshire is a perfect playground for the wild runner. The Yorkshire Dales lie mostly within the National Park of the same name. The area is formed by valleys, scored by the tumbling becks that make their way through its limestone geology, giving the Dales their green hilltops and boulder strewn scree-slopes.
The limestone that forms Malham Cove was, some 50,000 years ago, a huge, glacier-fed waterfall which sent meltwater crashing down to the valley floor – until 2015, that is, when flooding recreated the waterfall of the past. The limestone pavement, whose flat flagstones tile the roof of the Cove, is a fascinating place to visit – and fun for boulder hopping too, if a little extreme when wet.
The Pennine Way
It’s always exciting running in new places, especially when dense mist shrouds the hilltops, adding extra excitement to navigation. The advice for the Fountains Fell route at Malham Tarn warns that it is strenuous in places, and only to be attempted in good weather. It was a grey day when we packed a map, compass and other essentials, looking forward to the challenge but only too aware of the consequences of getting lost at dusk.
Part of this route follows the Pennine Way – a path we’d wanted to run since reading Wild Trails to Far Horizons by Mike Cudahy years ago. This book charts the incredible feats of endurance of the great runners of the time in their battle to beat the record for running the Pennine Way. As we ran we tried to imagine what it would feel like to have already run 100 miles; how it’s possible to keep running over such rough terrain for days and nights in succession.
We headed off up the Way, well-marked and good underfoot, climbing Fountains Fell to the summit cairn which emerged unexpectedly from the mist. We’d been told the views were spectacular on a clear day, but on this occasion there was nothing but swirling, grey mist.
Leaving the summit we traversed the boggy, peaty ridge – the character of the run changes here, following minimally waymarked paths, navigating using the tumbled-down drystone wall as a hand rail and trying to find the fastest, most runnable path.
The descent is one of the best we’ve run: hurling ourselves down the hill, skimming grass and heather, jumping rocks and holes.
Yorkshire has a deeply-rooted fell running tradition, with a full calendar of races. Perhaps the most famous is the annual Three Peaks Race, a classic fell run that takes in the Yorkshire peaks of Pen-y-Ghent, Ingleborough and Whernside, and claims to be one of the oldest fell races in Britain.