A Trail Runner’s U.K. Itinerary: Our Eight Favorite Runs/Hikes in England and Scotland

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I’m checking in with you all from the southern coast of Portugal. Nikki, Dash, and I just finished our Tour de U.K. in the camper van and are now unwinding for a few days on the beach before we return to the good ole U. S. of A.

We went into this trip with very little running-specific information. I’m sure it’s out there but we just winged most of our runs/hikes. So this is an effort to show all you runners out there what is available should you venture to the land of redcoats and kilts.

Here are our top eight runs/hikes in chronological order with corresponding favorite pictures of the run, camper van shot if available, and Strava data (naturally).

NUMBER 1: Hyde Park – London 

For you Americans out there, Hyde Park is the Central Park of London. It is right smack dab in the heart of the city. It is actually quite large and extremely picturesque. Every bush and tree is trimmed, every trail, sidewalk, and cobblestone path are immaculate. Like a force of a 1,000 gardeners is out with tweezers every morning plucking the park into perfection. I constantly was in a state of disbelief that they even allow just any old person to walk through the thing.

While running in a park is not typically our cup of tea (slight pun there), we thoroughly enjoyed our Hyde Park jogs – soaking in the history, birdwatching, people watching, Queen spotting, and feeling damned prim and proper. If you find yourself in London, you really shouldn’t head north until you check out Hyde Park. It sets a nice tone.

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Go-Pro wide angle.

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Item of note: one of the Strava segments had over 25,000 runners!

NUMBER 2: Lake District – Skyeside Campsite to Middle Dodd Saddle with extender run and fall

Oh, the Lake District. What a charming little cluster of fells. They might make you want to stay in England forever – ambling from ridge to ridge, achieving summit after summit, and dropping down into a quaint little village for a post-run afternoon tea. This outing took us up a meandering drainage, following a creek up to a satisfying saddle with panoramic views. I left Nikki and Dash for a 4 mile extender run to see the surrounding area. Got a little excited crossing a boggy sidehill and biffed it hard, cracking my iPhone screen in the process. All good fun though. This run was five stars.

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Summit cairn looking on at Middle Dodd.

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NUMBER 3: Southern Lake District – Wasdale to Scafell Pike Summit 

Next, we headed a tad southwest to tag the tallest peak in England – Scafell Pike. Still in the Lake District, this peak sits just a couple miles from the Wasdale camping area. The route, like most around here, follows a winding creek, requiring stair stepping old stone paths and following cairns to the summit. We were so enamored by this run that we purchased Alfred Wainwright’s book on the Southern Lake District fells. This man made it his life’s work to hike every gully, ridge, and peak in the Lake District and document his journey by writing a guidebook on each of the eight regions of the District. The books are illustrated by the man himself with route finding tips, flora and fauna notes, and even the odd sarcastic joke. We bought the book because we were drowning in the Lake District’s charm and because it would make an excellent coffee table book. Now we just need a coffee table.

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Jump the fence, follow the drainage to the saddle on left, cairn-hop to summit via ridge.
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The final grunt with patches of snow to make it interesting.

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NUMBER 4: Red Pike – Lake District

I was so pumped from yesterday’s Scafell Pike summit that I needed to bag one more peak in the District before we headed for Scotland. Mr. Wainwright spoke highly of Red Pike and the unique features one would see along the way. Turns out, he spoke true and delivered a special run. I realized just how easy it would be to spend a lifetime just in this one relatively small range.

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Dash learned a new word on this trip …. SHEEP!

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NUMBER 5: The Three Sisters Hike to the Lost Valley – Glencoe, Scotland

Ironically, Nikki, Dash, and I live right next to triplet peaks called The Three Sisters in Bend, Oregon. While amazing, they don’t compare to these Sisters here in Scotland. Wow, I think the pictures speak for themselves. This outing was a hike through some gnarly terrain to get up to a place called “The Lost Valley”. This place screamed Lord of the Rings. We also pushed our limits with respect to what we were comfortable doing with a baby. The route, which was described erroneously to us as “moderate walking” included a knee deep stream crossing through fast moving water and a section where we had to pass the backpack – baby and all – up a rock boulder to get around the feature. Nothing too crazy, but definitely got some eyebrow raises from other hikers (but if this is Dash’s grandparents reading … it was VERY SAFE).

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The camp spot. “Wild camping” is acceptable pretty much everywhere in Scotland
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Letting Dash stretch his legs in the shadow of The Three Sisters.
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Maneuvering boulders and whatnot to find the Lost Valley

NUMBER 6: Ben Nevis – Tallest peak in the U.K.

Ben Nevis was on the radar before the trip but it was all very weather dependent. Upon arrival, the weather was decent but I had no idea what the snow conditions would be up top. I received one tip from a local during the first couple miles – “when you get to the cairns, stay right, because there is a 2,000 foot cliff to your left. Sometimes you can’t see it.” Alrighty then! The ascent was mostly stone-stepping with a few bridge crossings and large swooping switchbacks. Up, up, up and into the fog, mist, and cloud. The valleys disappeared below me and I found myself first on patchy snow, then walking on crusty ice in whiteout conditions. After wandering off-route for a bit I luckily found one of the giant cairns and got my bearings. The cairns were just close enough to each other to follow. Eerily, I wouldn’t be able to see the next one until I was within a foot or two of the one right in front of me, then the next would materialize – a lighthouse in a storm. After maybe 15-20 cairns I found my way to the top and was rewarded by probably the coolest summit shelter I’ve ever seen.

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En route to summit.
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4,300 feet of gain in 4 miles to reach the Ben Nevis shelter.

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NUMBER 7: Isle of Skye, Scotland – Old Man of Storr

This one was a true hike with no running at all. Full disclosure: Old Man of Storr is a major tourist spot. It may look like we have this trail all to ourselves but we actually shared it with literally hundreds of other people on this day. But hey, you can’t go to Skye and pass this up.

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Camp spot outside of Portree.
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The whole crew.
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Poles with the baby pack are essential!

NUMBER 8: Isle of Skye, Scotland – Quiraing trail via wild camping spot

Last but not least, we have the Quiraing trail. I wish I knew more about the official name/trail/region but we literally just saw a trailhead, parked our van for the night, and planned on going up no matter the route. That’s how good the running/hiking was here: it doesn’t really matter where you start on Isle of Skye, just head uphill and you are bound to find something insane.

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Playing around with the Go-Pro. Photo Credit: Nikki Parnell

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That’s it! If anyone out there has any questions on specifics, I’d love to give you the inside scoop on how things worked, details on the van, where we went, what to avoid, or just answer any questions you might have. We absolutely loved our time in the U.K. and can’t wait to go back. It was amazing to get up high on trail when most mountains in the USA are still being skied on.

Of all the places, the Isle of Skye was the one that stole our hearts. We want a summer cottage on Skye or one of the smaller outer islands. It takes a hardy soul to live in the Scottish Isles, but I think if you embraced it wholly, one could be quite happy there. It doesn’t lack beauty, that’s for certain. Maybe someday…

Rise & Grind.

[Super special add-on note: if you enjoyed reading this, please click the FOLLOW button below in the footer or in the sidebar to the right to receive notifications every time I post a new snazzy piece. Keep it classy friends.]

4 thoughts on “A Trail Runner’s U.K. Itinerary: Our Eight Favorite Runs/Hikes in England and Scotland

  1. I love this post! Not having been there (yet), you seemed to have really captured the beauty of your pieces of heaven in England. Thank you!
    Kim

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  2. I’m heading there next month. Not sure I’ll have time to hit any of these but I’m more motivated to try now! I’m the only runner in our entourage so I also read your piece on alcohol habits just in case that ends up taking priority with our group.

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    1. Niiice! Let me know if you squeeze something in. I bet spring will be in full force and everything will be insanely beautiful. And yes, we drank our fair share of British beers in the van. Almost every grocery store there has a deal where you can select three 500ml microbrews for 5 euros. We did that most nights. Enjoy your trip! I’m jealous.

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