Wild running in the South West

Jen and Sim Benson are two dedicated runners who love to explore the country on a run. They're helping you to do the same with their book 'Wild Running'.

Here they've shared some of their top tips with us, and favourite National Trust routes.

Getting started and staying safe

We met through our shared passion for running and, before we knew it were spending as much time as we could travelling around the country taking part in races and running-related challenges together. Moving fast over rough ground in wild and beautiful places is an unbeatable feeling. Wild running is a great way to get out and explore, while at the same time improving both physical and mental wellbeing. We’ve learned as we’ve gone along that a few simple rules you can make sure your wild running adventures are as safe and enjoyable as possible:

    Start slowly

The demands of off-road running on your body are very different from road or treadmill running, so if you’re new to the discipline start out gently and build up gradually. Shorter outings, sticking to gentler terrain or taking it slowly on the rough sections are all great ways to get started and increase fitness and confidence. I (Jen) was mainly a road runner when we started running together and struggled with rough terrain, however getting in lots of practice means I now love the challenges of running off-road.

    Clothing & footwear

The right clothing and equipment can make a huge difference to the safety and enjoyment of your run. Shoes protect your feet and give you grip in slippery conditions. We run in fairly cushioned shoes on hard-pack trails, whereas we’ll go for lower-profile studded shoes for muddy fell runs. Running generates plenty of heat, however, in colder weather you will cool down rapidly as soon as you stop. We always pack a light-weight windproof jacket in case we need it, and run in hats and gloves when it’s really cold.

     Stay safe

If you’re running somewhere unfamiliar, or in poor visibility, take a map and compass and know how to use them. A mobile phone is a good idea too, but don’t rely on having signal or battery. It’s always a good idea to let someone know where you’re going and what time you expect to be back. Having young children means we often have to train alone, so we always make sure we tell each other what time we’ll be back and our approximate route.

    Go exploring

Find great local routes by joining a running club, looking for exciting loops or trails on a map or getting a running guidebook, such as ours. Once you start exploring you’ll quickly improve your knowledge of the area and your ability to spot great running routes.

Wild running National Trust

While we were researching our book, travelling around Britain in search of fantastic places to run, we found many of the best routes were on or near to National Trust land or properties. With such a wealth of running potential, from spectacular, rugged coast path to perfect trails winding through ancient woodland there’s something to suit everyone. Here are our top 5 recommendations for National Trust wild running in the South West:

Penwith Heritage coast, Cornwall

    Distance: 13.5 miles/22km
    Start: Pendeen Lighthouse, TR19 7ED
    Finish: St Ives
    Terrain: Trail, track
    Toughness: Challenging
    Ascent: 935m
    Navigation: Easy
The stretch of the South West Coast Path between Pendeen and St Ives is perhaps one of the most startlingly beautiful to be found in the country. Trails bordered by wild flowers wind their way along the top of dramatic granite cliffs, providing outstanding running with non-stop breathtaking views. The run visits the National Trust sites of Bosigran and Zennor Head along the way. Full run details here.

Bolt Tail, South Hams, Devon

    Distance: 7 miles/12km
    Start/finish: Malborough Village Hall
    Terrain: Green lane, Coast Path, grass, road
    Toughness: Moderate
    Ascent: 234m
    Navigation: Easy to moderate
This glorious run starts along ancient green lanes and peaceful tracks before emerging onto the Coast Path at spectacular Bolt Tail, complete with its Iron Age hill fort. It passes the pretty village of Hope, with its mysterious cove, before heading out across Bolberry Down. We ran here on a summer’s evening, watching the sun set over the sea. Full run details here.

Dyrham Park, South Gloucestershire

    Distance: 7.5 miles/11km
    Start/finish: NT Dyrham car park SN14 8ER
    Terrain: Trail, path, road
    Toughness: Moderate
    Ascent: 373m
    Navigation: Easy to moderate
A wonderfully varied loop taking in some of the truly wild-feeling spaces high above Bristol and Bath on the Cotswold Way, with far-reaching views out over the Bristol Channel to Wales. NT Dyrham Park is expansive and beautiful, and a great place to explore with the family. Manager, Cath Pye, recently ran the 102 miles of the Cotswold Way to raise money for the restoration of the roof. Full run details here.

Bath Skyline, Somerset

    Distance: 6 miles/9km
    Start/finish: Bathwick Hill, Bath, BA2 6JZ
    Terrain: Track, trail, grassland, road
    Toughness: Moderate
    Ascent: 215m
    Navigation: Easy (waymarked)
The Bath Skyline is National Trust-maintained and a fantastic tour of the hills overlooking the beautiful, honey-coloured World Heritage City of Bath. There are outstanding views over the city and surrounding countryside, an 18th-centuary landscape garden and trails through peaceful, leafy woodland. It is waymarked throughout and accessible from many points en route. Full run details here.

Crook Peak, Mendip Hills

    Distance: 6.5 miles/10km
    Start/finish: Compton Bishop
    Terrain: Field, path
    Toughness: Moderate
    Ascent: 310m
    Navigation: Easy to moderate
Running on the Mendips is a joyful experience: the close-cropped, springy grass forms clear ridge-top paths, with valleys either side carpeted in flowers in spring and early summer. The shapely summit of Crook Peak (named for its pointiness) is visible from many miles around and beckons invitingly as you run along the high-level ridge across Wavering Down. Full run details here.
Wild Running: 150 great adventures on the trails & fells of Britain by Jen & Sim Benson (Wild Things Publishing) is the first guidebook for runners who long to break free from pavement and treadmill and explore the wild and beautiful places of Britain. It is available  from wildrunning.net.