Anna McNuff is an English adventurer who just completed her own personal challenge to run the length of Britain, barefoot. She raised money for an outdoor education charity along the way, as well as discovering some beautiful running trails, which she talks about here.
Puffins and ponies
Sandwick to Westa Voe, Shetland
Once a gift to Scotland from a Norwegian king, the Shetland Islands are a world apart from anything you’ll experience on the British mainland. Famed for an abundance of white sandy beaches and crumbling viking long houses, the number of exciting places to explore on foot is endless.
My fave run on the islands was from Sandwick down to Westa Voe. After you pass Bigton, take a side trip to St Ninian’s beach (voted one of the most beautiful beaches in the world) Keep an eye out for seals resting on the rocks at Spiggie Bay, enjoy a run across (yes, I said across!) the airport runway before landing at the windswept crescent moon of silky white sand that is West Voe Beach. If that doesn’t fill up your adventure boots, you could add on a little run around the nearby old nordic settlement of Jarlshof or scamper up to Sumburgh head for some hang-time with the puffins.
Castles and caves
Wick to Lybster, Caithness
Many people will have heard of Wick, one of the most northerly cities in Scotland, but most will just pass through it on their way to John O’Groats. Just outside Wick are the remains of Wick Castle, perched precariously on a clifftop which is dotted with wild flowers.
From Wick city centre, take a run out to the coast, onto the newly formed ‘John O’ Groats’ trail, and follow it south towards Lybster. The running is easy for the first part, as the trail is well trodden, but things get a little more ‘adventurous’ the further south you go. There, you’ll pass sea stacks, natural rock arches and thousands of squawking seabirds, making their homes in the nooks and crannies of the rugged Caithness coastline.
Towards the Mourne Mountains
Ardglass to Newcastle, Northern Ireland
Start your run at the small fishing port of Ardglass, home to the oldest golf clubhouse in the world, nothing shy of a haunted mansion. Following the Lecale Way, the first section of the run is on a road. But don’t be put off by it. It’s a road that sweeps along the shores of the Irish sea with great views out over the water. Traffic is light and if you have an experience like mine you’ll end up having a 20 minute chat with a nice Irish farmer named Marcus, as he stops his 4×4 in the middle of the road to ask what the devil you’re up to.
The mighty Mourne mountains are visible from the moment you leave Ardglass but it isn’t until you enter the Murlough National Nature Reserve that they loom large. Dance through dunes, heather and wild flowers to finish up with a run in the shadow of the Mournes along the wide and sandy Newcastle beach.
All aboard the Speyside Express
Aviemore to Cullen Bay
The often grass-covered Speyside Way loosely follows the River Spey on the bed of an old railway line — making for flat easy miles through the Moray countryside in north east Scotland. The coolest thing about the Speyside Way is that many of the old platforms and stations are still in place. You can choo-choo on through just as the trains would have done once upon time.
Many stations have been restored to their original glory and are now houses or quaint cafes. And if you’re after something a little stronger than tea or coffee, you could always detour to one of the many whiskey distilleries nearby for a wee dram.
See the Collection here.
Unleash the dragon
Bangor to Prestatyn, North Wales
This run is a great one to do on a bike or two feet. Loosely following The Wales Coastal Path and National Cycle Route 5, you’ll find yourself in a sandwich between the glassy waters of the Irish sea to the north and the peaks of Snowdonia National Park to the south. The section of trail that leads through a quiet marina into Conwy is particularly special, and Conwy Castle itself looks like something fresh out of kid’s storybook.
The best thing about a run or ride here are the coffee shops – and more specifically for this area – the heavily buttered welsh cakes. You’ll be spoilt for choice with plenty of beachfront cafes on this route — in Colwyn Bay and Rhyl especially. My fave stop was The Pavillion Café at Llanfairfechan. Mostly because Llanfairfechan is fun to (try to) say.
Mud and machine guns
Guildford to Dorking via the North Downs Way
This cheeky half marathon route has all the fine ingredients for a great day out on the trails. Plenty of sloppy mud, hills, stellar views and a dollop of history along the way too. Begin the run outside Guildford Guildhall and beneath what is reportedly the most photographed clock in Britain. Make your way down the cobbled high street and dish out a ‘howdy do’ to the statue of George Abbot (once the Archbishop of Canterbury) as you pass him en route to pick up the North Downs Way.
A scamper through the densely forested Chantry Wood (which looks rocking in the autumn time) is followed by a steep climb up to the church at St Martha’s Hill — with awesome views across the downs.
As you push on towards Newland’s Corner, call in for a not-quite-halfway coffee break at the Barn Café before continuing along the North Downs ridge. This where things get really cool. As you run, keep your eyes peeled for old machine gun pillboxes — built as the last hilltop line of defense between the countryside and London during the second world war. There’s something creepy about these now overgrown concrete hideouts, set deep in the downs.
The beast of Exmoor
Minehead to Lynmouth
Exmoor National Park is one of the best kept secrets in Great Britain. This route goes from the coastal mecca of Minehead to the tiny port town of Lynmouth. On what is a full day out you’ll follow the South West Coastal path up, up, up and then down again — past wild ponies, over bogs and along rugged clifftops.
This is a run filled with lung-busting climbs and by the time the sun goes down, you’ll have covered 20+ miles. Most importantly, you’ll have earned a pub dinner in the pocket of paradise that is Lynmouth. There’s only one road in and out of this secluded coastal town and being there feels like you might have gone through the back of the wardrobe and into Narnia. Cut off from the rest of the world by steep cliffs and forested hillsides, it’s a place where time stands still.
Stay a night to learn about the smugglers who used to trade illegal goods there in years gone by, and get a Devonshire cream tea down your neck. If you’re too full to make the steep climb out of town in the morning, fear not — there’s a cute clifftop cable car to haul you and your cream filled belly back to the top.
Want to read more about Anna’s unusual antics? Read her entertaining account of running the London Marathon barefoot here. Or follow her on komoot here.
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