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Running the Natural Wonders of the UK

Inspiration
Running the Natural Wonders of the UK Photo: James Carnegie
 

Photography by James Carnegie & Johny Cook

This year, Merrell partnered with the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG) to establish the Seven Natural Wonders of the UK – a list of natural landmarks unified by shared beauty and geological significance.

The Seven Wonders showcase the finest work of nature on these shores – landscapes carved out over millions of years that have stood the test of time through ice ages and intense volcanic activity. These earthly marvels range from the artistry of the Giant’s Causeway to the rugged beauty of Loch Coruisk and the Cuillin.

The Natural Wonders were devised to inspire native exploration, and, in the spirit of this, the Merrell Trail Team has curated a trail-running guide to each of the seven beauty spots. Discover below some of the most breathtaking trail routes throughout the UK.

 
Running the Natural Wonders of the UK Running the Natural Wonders of the UK
Photos: James Carnegie
 

DOVEDALE

Nestled near the southern reaches of the 1,400km2 Peak District National Park, and within easy reach of both Stoke on Trent and Derby, this is an absolute gem of a trail. The circular route beginning and ending at the tiny village of Grindon encompasses quintessential Staffordshire and Derbyshire landscapes: rolling meadows and singletrack trail through farmland and picturesque villages. And that’s not including the geological marvel that is Thor’s Cave, found a mile and a half in (depending on which way round you tackle this loop).

Thor’s Cave is a natural cavern buried within a steep limestone crag. A huge arch marks the entrance to this jaw-dropping feature in the landscape. It’s easily accessible from the valley floor, but the going can get very slippery following wet weather, so take good care when exploring the steep-sided interior. The views out over the dale are spectacular, and if you’re lucky – as we were – you might find a climber tackling the infamously difficult climbing route (an 8a if you were thinking of giving it a go) which spans the arch of the cave.

Exiting via either a miniature slot canyon (followed by a ridiculously steep ascent above the cave) or the more traditional route, the trail continues to gently descend and ascend throughout until reaching the Wetton Mill Tea Rooms, where you cross the River Manifold before closing the loop through orchards and farmland.

 
Running the Natural Wonders of the UK Running the Natural Wonders of the UK
Photos: James Carnegie
 

WASTWATER AND KIRK FELL

Wastwater is surely one of the finest sights in all of the Lake District, if not the United Kingdom, especially when the sun shines and the skies stay clear for you.

Wastwater, England’s deepest lake, bottoms out lower than sea level. It’s situated in Wasdale, a valley in the western part of the Lake District National Park – the UK’s second-largest national park after the Cairngorms. Facing the Atlantic, this part of the Lakes sees more of the prevailing weather than any other, and as such is notorious for low-lying clag, summit gusts, and what often seems like scant opportunity to glimpse the fine summits of Great Gable and Kirk Fell, which rise above the head of the water to the east.

Your biggest decision might be which direction in which to tackle the nose of Kirk Fell, a relentlessly steep route from the valley at Wasdale Head to the summit at 2,631ft (802m). Starting the climb ahead of sunrise does at least offer the chance to warm the body up immediately; the alternative is a descent that tests the knees and quads of any runner but offers some fantastic (and in places technical) trail running. The option to link this Wainwright with Great Gable is there, should you have the legs for a short out-and-back from Beckhead Tarn.

However you choose to tackle it, when the reward is a pint of local ale by the fireside of the famous Wasdale Head Inn, these must rank as some of the finest Lakeland views out there. Just don’t forget your waterproof jacket.

 
Running the Natural Wonders of the UK Running the Natural Wonders of the UK
Photos: James Carnegie
 

GIANT’S CAUSEWAY

The most challenging part of running this stretch of Northern Ireland’s astonishing coastline? Getting around without stopping every 500m to take in the views. It’s not every day your trail runs through a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is it?

Looking across to Scotland’s Kintyre Peninsula as the North Atlantic pounds the rugged coastline a couple of hundred feet below, this trail offers something for everyone – including the geologist. Beginning at the mind-blowing Giant’s Causeway, where 40,000 interlocking basalt columns rise from the sea, there aren’t many words that can be found to describe the experience of leaping from column to column, aware that you’re treading upon the result of volcanic activity some 50–60 million years ago.

The Giant’s Causeway World Heritage Site extends roughly 3km from north-east to south-west and 0.5km from north-west to south-east at its widest. It occupies approximately 70ha of land and includes much more than the famous stones alone, making this trail one to treasure. As you run east from the stones, the trail splits into an upper and lower path. Whilst the lower path only continues for 1–2km before you reach a barrier protecting you from a collapsing cliffside, it is worth the effort just to see the wild landscape of the headland and bays. The emerald green of the hillside, complete with scattered herds of sheep, contrasts beautifully with the burned red soil – and, as the trail rises and falls toward the ruins of Dunseverick Castle, you’re reminded what an incredible coastline the United Kingdom has.

 
Running the Natural Wonders of the UK Running the Natural Wonders of the UK
Photos: James Carnegie
 

DURDLE DOOR

Durdle Door is one of the Jurassic Coast’s most iconic landscapes. It is also high on the list of the most Instagrammed locations in the UK, but don’t let that deter you from experiencing coastal trail running at its very finest.

A natural arch, formed from a layer of hard limestone standing almost vertically out of the sea, Durdle Door is relatively easily reached assuming you have appropriate footwear. This route begins and ends from the head of Lulworth Cove, alongside the Castle Inn (all runs or hikes should feature a pub at some point, preferably the end) and ascends a grassy farmland trail westward. You may want to reverse the route depending on just how strong the prevailing south-westerly is gusting that day, but at some point it is going to be in your face, and exposure to the elements is the joy of this trail.

Aside from the static home park halfway, the views along the trail seem to just get better and better with a fine vista from the farthest point near White Nothe towards the Isle of Portland and Weymouth Harbour. You’ll tick off some of the best landmark names going as you return: Bat’s Head, Butter Rock, and Scratchy Bottom (I kid you not). The coastline seems to plunge and rise in an unforgiving manner until you return by Durdle Door, skipping around some of the 200,000 walkers that this stretch of the South West Coast Path sees each year.

 
Running the Natural Wonders of the UK Running the Natural Wonders of the UK
Photos: James Carnegie
 

THE NEEDLES

The Needles, at the south-westernmost point of the Isle of Wight, are a row of three chalk stacks that rise up from the often-turbulent English Channel. The lighthouse that sits at the farthest point has been a beacon of hope to sailors since the 19th century, and the bright white chalk cliffs rising dramatically behind make this the most visited point on the Isle of Wight.

This simple yet challenging trail takes in not only the Needles but some fine woodland park as you leave the charming Yarmouth Harbour, heading south and beyond the colourful beach huts of Colwell Bay. As you climb gently towards Headon Warren, the majesty of the chalk stacks reveals itself ahead of you; to the right is the mainland. Passing swiftly by, lest you choose to descend the steep stairs for a close-up view of Alum Bay’s remarkably coloured and rapidly collapsing cliffs, the trail leads out towards the Needles and some amazing viewpoints directly above the chalk faces and black beaches far below.

Once you have pulled yourself away, the trail heads east towards Freshwater Bay, rolling along the Tennyson Trail where you can pick up the pace – should you choose – before heading north along the bank of the Western Yar, returning to Yarmouth ideally in time to make the ferry back towards Lymington.

 
Running the Natural Wonders of the UK Running the Natural Wonders of the UK
Photos: James Carnegie
 

PISTYLL RHAEADR

Whilst most runners head to the mountains of Snowdonia or rugged beauty of the Brecon Beacons when hunting for trails in Wales, the overlooked Berwyn Mountains and 240ft-high waterfall of Pistyll Rhaeadr ought to sit alongside them. And although Britain’s tallest single-drop waterfall is worth the visit alone, it is the ease of access onto the Berwyns, and a chance to bag over 1,700ft in ascent across beautiful Welsh valleys and hilltops, that rank this as a must-run trail.

At 832m (2,730ft) above sea level the summit of Cadair Berwyn is the highest point in the Berwyn range, the highest in north-east Wales, and the highest significant summit in Wales outside the national parks. On a clear day, views stretch to Snowdon, the Brecon Beacons, both Peak and Lake Districts, the Yorkshire Dales, and – incredibly – the Isle of Man, making this a good spot to stop for a photo op if the rain isn’t coming at you sideways (like it was for us).

The descent from Cadair passes a small lake, Llyn Lluncaws – which, depending on the season, is either a refreshing dip or an ice bath. From here, the trail opens up at a beautiful gradient for fast downhill running, but don’t forget to take in the stone remains of a sheep-farming outpost in the valley beneath before returning to the waterfall.

 
Running the Natural Wonders of the UK Running the Natural Wonders of the UK
Photos: Johny Cook
 

LOCH CORUISK AND THE CUILLIN

Loch Coruisk, Gaelic for ‘Cauldron of Waters’, is located on the Isle of Skye and can be accessed via boat from Elgol or by foot, either from the Camasunary car park or Sligachan.

This route is from the Camasunary car park and has layers of views that are stripped back as you head towards the loch. From the car park, you slowly gain height along the rough track and are initially greeted with the tips of the Cuillins summits in the distance. Upon reaching the high point, the track then begins to weave down towards Camasunary Bay in Glen Sligachan. There is a stunning bothy located in the bay just by the beach: the perfect stopover If you wish to make this route an overnight trip.

Leaving this bay, you then cross Abhainn Camas Fhionnairigh, a river that requires a bit of scouting to find the best crossing. Once across, begin the ascent up to the summit of Sgùrr na Strì. The route up here has no path so careful navigation is key. Sgùrr na Strì sits at 494m (1,621ft). For the modest height gained, the view over Loch Coruisk is spectacular, and has been named as one of the best views in Britain.

From the summit, the loch nestles under the mountain ridge of the Black Cuillin, and to the left you can enjoy views over the Small Isles with Rùm and the Isle of Canna in the distance. Making your way down to the loch, the route is grassy and goes past large rock slabs and, depending on the weather, through boggy patches. Once at the bottom there is a trail that will take you left, along the water’s edge and back around to Camasunary Bay. Although an easy coastal path to follow, there is one notable obstacle: the Bad Step. This is a long crack in a rock slab that you traverse with the blue waters of Loch nan Leachd below you. This traverse isn’t for the faint hearted and requires some scrambling to negotiate.

Once back at Camasunary Bay, cross the river again and follow the same route back to the car park, taking in the views that were behind you on the way in.


Produced in partnership with Merrell // @merrelleu
And the Royal Geographical Society // @rgs_ibg
Photography by James Carnegie // @jamescarnegiephotography & Johny Cook // @johny.cook

 

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