Think of London and the mind is usually drawn to the world-famous sights and attractions: Trafalgar Square, Buckingham Palace, Oxford Street, the museums, Harrods... the list goes on. It's a twenty-four hour city, where even away from the centre life never stops.
Some say it can be a little overwhelming. But there is a whole other world waiting to be explored on foot - just a short train or tube ride can lead you to areas of great beauty, tranquillity and history, where you can feel like you're a hundred miles away from the hustle and bustle of the centre and experience solitude you'd not think possible among almost nine million people. Here are five of London's 'hidden' running gems...
Thames Down link
Linking the Thames Path with the North Downs Way (NDW), the 16-mile Thames Down Link (TDL) is one of trail running's hidden gems in south west London. Beginning at Kingston Bridge and first following the London Loop south through the Hogsmill Nature Reserve, the TDL winds its way south via picturesque common land, footpaths and quiet backroads, towards its final junction with the NDW at the foot of Box Hill. Frequent trains back to Waterloo from Box Hill & Westhumble station, plus the excellent Stepping Stones pub nearby, make this a great option for a Sunday morning long run - or even an evening microadventure, finishing with a hard-earned pint. Just don't forget your head torch!
The Capital Ring is a must for runners across London - a continuously marked path looping around the city which stays within ten miles of Charing Cross at all times. The route meanders to take in all available green space along its 78 miles, but this means that an incredible two-thirds of the route is away from the road! Great care has been taken to ensure easy access to the path by public transport. A fine section runs from East Finchley to the Grand Union Canal via the beauty of Hampstead Garden Suburb, Fryent Country Park, Harrow on the Hill and the surprisingly vertiginous Horsenden Hill.
Princes Coverts and surrounding common land
Unless you live nearby, I'll bet you've never heard of the mammoth Princes Coverts. Nestled between Ashtead and Oxshott just inside the M25, this spectacular area of Crown Estate-managed woodland is available for all to explore. There's a 3.5 mile waymarked trail starting just off the A243 near Malden Rushett, but for a more varied and substantial day out start from Thames Ditton station and run a loop via Littleworth Common, Claygate, Princes Coverts, Ashtead Common, Oxshott Heath, Esher Common, and Arbrook Common. Despite the relatively gentle elevations in this area, when the weather is wet the conditions can be very tough underfoot - parts would be an ideal preparation for your next mud and obstacle course run!
Like the Thames Down Link, the Vanguard Way is a long distance route originating in London (at East Croydon station), but it actually goes right down to the sea at Newhaven, Sussex. A challenging but rewarding long run can be had by taking the train to slightly outside the M25 to Edenbridge, then following the route all the way back to Croydon, crossing the mighty North Downs near Woldingham and making good use of south London's green spaces.
The curly bit at the end of the Central Line might seem like a long way off for many, but those who travel to the eastern extremities of London's longest tube route will find a plethora of trails and quiet roads to explore. Highlights include the undulating Hainault Forest Country Park (through which winds the Three Forests Way), Havering Country Park, and the footpaths running towards peaceful hamlets Lambourne End and Stapleford Abbots, and the historic village of Abridge.
Have we missed an area of tranquil beauty amid the bustle of London near you? We'd love to hear from you, and we promise we won't tell the whole world! Get in touch on our Instagram accounts @iffleyroadrunningwear and @thefootpathlesstravelled to let us know.