5 Great Trail Runs Near London

By Sam Pearce. Posted: September 14, 2017

Had a hard week at work? City life getting you down? Need to get some big miles in before your next trail race?

Although it may not feel like it in the hustle and bustle of Oxford Street, or among the throngs of tourists on the steps of St. Paul's Cathedral, we're so lucky here in London to have miles and miles of beautiful trails and footpaths to explore only a short distance outside the city. Whether you've got a car or rely on public transport to get your nature fix, there's an awesome route for you in our collection of five great trail runs only an hour from London!

Surrey Hills - Leith Hill

Start/Finish: Holmbury St. Mary or Ockley train station

Map: OS Explorer 146 (Dorking, Box Hill & Reigate)

Distance/ascent: 17km/400m

Difficulty: Moderate

See route map here.

Leaving the start point and climbing steadily up on the Greensand Way to the summit of Holmbury Hill, this is one of my my favourite routes in the Surrey Hills. Take a minute at the top to enjoy the view, before the path plunges down to lower-lying land and makes its way east via Forest Green towards Ockley on a mixture of footpaths, bridleways, and short sections of link road. Now we do The Big One - the long climb up to the 18th century Gothic tower atop Leith Hill, the highest point in Surrey. This 210m climb in a little over 2km gets steeper and steeper the closer you are to the top, but the reward is well worth the effort - breathtaking views back past the path you've just conquered that extend all the way to the English Channel on a clear day. The return to the start crosses part of the ancient common land known as The Hurtwood, concluding with a thrilling downhill back to Holmbury St. Mary for a well-earned beverage in one of its two beautiful pubs. If travelling by train, you can cut across onto this route from Ockley train station (either on road or local footpaths), adding around 4km to the total distance.

Holmburry HillHolmburry Hill

Chilterns - Wendover Woods

Start/Finish: Car park by Wellonhead Bridge, near Tring, Hertfordshire

Map: OS Explorer 181 (Chiltern Hills North)

Distance/ascent: 13km/350m

Difficulty: Moderate

See route map here.

This lovely loop takes in not one by two county tops - Hertfordshire and Buckinghamshire! Heading up the road from the car park the route begins gently climbing right from the off, and crosses Chiltern Forest Golf Club on its way to the ridge at Aston Hill Farm. By keeping on the eastward footpaths until almost at the A41, the legs have time to recover before a sharp turn onto a byway to the south and the tough, muddy ascent that traverses its way to the top of Pavis Wood. Now follow the well-marked Ridgeway until the southern border of Wendover Woods, then pick up the footpath trending north towards the cafe and Go Ape centre by Haddington Hill. Complete the loop by continuing on to Aston Hill Farm and returning to the car park through the golf course.

KentPathway in Kent

North - Dunstable Downs

Start/Finish: The Cross Keys, Totternhoe, Bedfordshire

Map: OS Explorer 192 (Buckingham & Milton Keynes) and 182 (St Albans & Hatfield)

Distance/ascent: 11.5km/220m

Difficulty: Leisurely

See route map here.

This fairly relaxing run turns into a real monster in the winter, with thick mud making the first half of the route a leg-burner to rival the craziest cross country courses! From the small village of Totternhoe, cross the fields towards Well Head and its famous gliding club on a combination of the many footpaths that link the two. Passing the gliding club on your right, make your way towards the top of the ridge using any one of several clearly visible paths heading up the very steep bank to enjoy the wonderful views from the summit, and be sure to make use of the very interesting Chilterns Gateway Centre. Return to Totternhoe by heading north on the Icknield Way Trail, dropping into the outskirts of Dunstable, before picking up the byway marked Green Lane (track) to take you back to the sanctuary of The Cross Keys pub. For a bonus climb, the nature reserve above the village offers a thrilling panorama across the whole route!

HillLeith Hill

East - North Downs Way to Rochester

Start: Meopham train station

Finish: Rochester station (18.5km) or Chatham station (21km)

Map: OS Explorer 163 (Gravesend & Rochester)

Distance/ascent: 18.5km/380m

Difficulty: Moderate

See route map here.

Last year I discovered this route after accidentally leaving my car in a multi-storey past closing time, and being forced to return on Monday morning to pick it up! Rather than getting the train all the way and wasting the day, I decided to visit a lesser-known section of the North Downs Way (NDW) and run the last part of my journey into the historic city of Rochester. On a good day road shoes are fine for this route as there are several sections of tarmac, particularly at the beginning and end. The scenery along this famous long distance trail and the varying terrain makes it well worth the effort. Head southeast from Meopham station through Foxendown to Great Buckland, where a short sharp climb brings you to the NDW. Follow this all the way to and across the famous Medway Bridge - don't worry, there's a separate cycle/pedestrian path next to the motorway! A scenic, flat jog along the river into Rochester is all that's left, and you can always up the distance to a half marathon by carrying on to Chatham if you wish.

Sam jumping

West - Three Castles Path to Windsor

Start: Crowthorne train station

Finish: Windsor & Eton Riverside train station

Map: OS Explorer 160 (Windsor, Weybridge & Bracknell)

Distance/ascent: 28.5km/290m

Difficulty: Hard

See route map here.

This is another route that runs between two commuter belt rail stations, and follows a little-known long distance trail named the Three Castles Path (TCP) which links the castles of Windsor, Odiham, and Winchester. Much of the route is not marked with its own unique logos, so this is a great opportunity to test your navigation skills in an environment where you're never far from civilisation. From Crowthorne station, head south alongside the railway line and pick up the TCP on the outskirts of Sandhurst. Head northeast on this path all the way to Windsor, crossing the Crown Estate-owned Swinley Forest, then Bracknell Forest, Ascot Racecourse (the path goes right across the racetrack, so be sure to check there are no events happening when you visit!), and finally into Windsor Great Park. The final section to the finish runs along the world famous arrow-straight Long Walk, from the Copper Horse statue to the castle. Be sure to wave to Her Majesty if the British flag is fully raised! Refuel at one of Windsor's many pubs and cafes, and why not meet friends or family there to enjoy the rest of your day out?

Sam leaping


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