Trail running in London- I kid you not. Moving to or visiting London doesn’t mean you have to hang your trail shoes up. Beyond the concrete jungle, London has some excellent Green Spaces, leading it to become the world’s first National Park City in July 2019. When I first arrived here in 2017 as a northern girl who had grown up surrounded by countryside, I found a city with much more to offer than just high-rise buildings, and what’s more the greater London and South East area have some fantastic spots where you can dig out your trail shoes and get your green space fix. Here are some of my absolute favourite city trails and beyond.
Trail Running in London
Hampstead Heath is an area of ancient heathland covering approximately 790 acres and comprising of one of the highest points in London. Is it also home to the London Cross Country Championships, which is what originally brought me here to run. The hills are great and the views over the city (which is a protected view) is incredible- especially from Parliament Hill. You can opt to run larger circuits of the heath taking in a combination of open heathland and woodland or navigate a smaller loop around Parliament Hill. In winter is can get pretty muddy but that adds to the adventure. Parliament Hill can be accessed via London Overground, The Northern Line and Thameslink.
In addition to running, you can also swim here- take a look at my blog on swimming in and around London for more information.
Epping Forest is a 5,900-acre area of ancient woodland and dedicated Site of Special Scientific Interest as well as featuring a Special Area of Conservation. It was the location of my first (and to date still my only!) trail race and one of my favourite places to visit in London- especially on chilly autumn weekends when the leaves are turning. Epping Forest actually straddles the boundary between Essex and Greater London but is easily accessible via the Central Line, London Overground and TFL rail. If you’re driving, there are a number of free car parks dotted around the surrounding area. You can follow wide gravel paths or opt for more rugged trails intersecting Forest and Ponds- I’ve been here a few times now and still don’t feel like I have scratched the surface. Finish your run at the Butler’s retreat where you can enjoy a delicious post run feast.
Easily accessible from Central London is Richmond Park, the largest of the Royal Parks covering approximately 2,500 acres. Richmond is a haven for runners, walkers and cyclists- with a road loop used by cyclists and a variety of trails for runners and walkers. There are also some small hills to get your teeth into and some fantastic views over central London. You can opt to follow the perimeter path otherwise known as the Tamsin Trail, which is just short of 12km, or venture into the interior of the park, navigating your way through some more off road trails cutting between ferns, forest and ponds. Be sure to stick to already marked paths though as Richmond, is an area with protected status as an important habitat for wildlife (watch out for the red deer especially if you’re on a bike- I had one run out on me during London Duathlon!). It is also a National Nature Reserve, London’s largest Site of Special Scientific Interest and a European Special Area of Conservation. Car parking is free in the park and there are a variety of café’s dotted around which always prove popular with cyclists hunting that mid-ride cake!
Beckenham Place Park
Beckenham Place Park is the largest greenspace within the borough of Lewisham providing 237 acres of grassland, forest and a noteworthy Mansion House. You can run a mixture of gravelly footpaths and some grassy trails, and whilst perhaps not as wild as Richmond or Hampstead Heath it certainly is a pleasant green space within South London. The park is home to Beckenham Place parkun and there is also a beautiful swimming lake (see my London swim spots blog for more info).
Trent Country Park
Located in North London at the end of the Piccadilly Line, Trent Country Park is comprised of 413 acres of meadows and ancient woodlands. I first came here for the Bear Grylls Survival Obstacle Course Race and was amazed by how much wild open space was so close to the tube station! It is home to Trent Park Running Club and also hosts cross country events during the winter months. If you’re feeling brave Go Ape Cockfosters is also based here, and from what I’ve heard there is also a lovely equestrian centre if you want to swap two legs for four.
Other Parks and Green Spaces in London
Other parks, commons and heaths across London can help give you a small moment of greenspace escapism, for example Greenwich Park, Regents Park, Victoria Park, Wimbledon Common, the Olympic Park, Bushy Park, Dartford Heath. Or if green and blue spaces are more your thing, the Thames Path outside of central London can offer some scenic and at times gravelly paths.
Trail running near London
If you’re lucky enough to have access to a car (if you don’t own one check out daily rental companies like Zip Car), or are savvy with the transport system here are some of my favourite places to trail run, or enjoy a day trip, beyond the greater London Area.
Box Hill Surrey
Box Hill is one of my favourite places in the South East. Named after the box woodland prominent within the area, this is a beautiful site packed with wildlife and boasting over 25 species of butterfly. The highest point is Betchworth Clump at 224m above sea level, although most visitors head to the Salomons Memorial (172 m a.s.l.) with views over the Surrey Countryside and Dorking. Like Richmond, Box Hill is a haven for runners, walkers and cyclists with the famous zig zag hill from the 2012 Olympics also featuring as one of the challenging Surrey Hills on the Ride London 100 mile cycle. There is a café and pay and display car park at the top of the hill, but I love parking at the bottom and walking or running up (there are a few small, free, car parks dotted around including my favourite- Whitehall Car park on Headley Lane). Box Hill offers a number of walks/trails from a more leisurely Hill Top Stroll, to the 8 mile Box Hill circular Hike, which you can download from the National Trust website, I really recommend this as I find the signposting and routes a little disorientating once you’re in the Forest. Again, despite frequently visiting here I don’t feel like I’ve even scratched the surface as there is just so much to explore here. Just beyond Box Hill you can also enjoy running some of the South Downs way- which I did accidentally when I got VERY lost during one of my visits!
The Slindon Estate
Further afield is the Slindon Estate, which features as part of Race to the King- my first ultra-marathon along the South Downs Way. The Slindon Estate is 1,400 hectares of woodland, downland, farmland, and parkland managed by the National Trust. There are 25 miles of public footpaths to explore across the estate and some incredible viewpoints. Some more information on routes can be found here or alternatively we used the Komoot app to plot out a 20km run. The nearest train station is Arundel approximately 4 miles away (and a beautiful place to stop for a walk about if you are travelling over this way). If you’re driving, there are free car parks on Park Lane, Duke’s Road and Bignor Hill-if parking at Bignor Hill you can get a fantastic view over the downs. Don’t put the post code in for the National Trust Slindon Estate as it takes you to an office address.
Hindhead Commons and the Devil’s Punch Bowl is another spectacular National Trust location covering a 697-acre site. The Devil’s Punchbowl is a natural amphitheatre and dedicated Site of Special Scientific Interest. There are a variety of walks around the site, including a gentle stroll to Gibbet Hill, the highest point of the rim at 272m a.s.l. where you can just see London in the distance, or a slightly longer 5km guided trail through woodland and commons. Plus there are bridleways and trails that take you slightly further afield. Be sure to follow the arrows or bring a map as we got easily lost! The nearest train station is Haslemere, 3 miles away, there is a cycle way from the station too. We came by car and found it a really easy drive as it is just off the A3 (parking is pay and display). You can find more information here.
Knole Park- Sevenoaks
Knole Park is a 947-acre biological Site of Special Scientific Interest within the Kent Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, in Sevenoaks Kent. Part of the estate is looked after by the National Trust whilst the rest belongs to the Knole Estate. The perimeter of the park is approximately 6 miles with many paths intersecting these so that you can plan loops on or off road. You might also come across the herd of fallow deer, which roam freely across the park. This is a really popular location and can become busy on the weekends so my best advice is to head there early. A pay and display car park is available onsite, or alternatively you can take the train to Sevenoaks, which is approximately 35 minutes from London Bridge via South Eastern.
Beachy Head and the Seven Sisters
The Seven Sisters are a series of chalk cliffs bordering the English Channel. They form part of the South Downs National Park in East Sussex. As the name suggests there are seven undulating cliffs offering a challenging, but extremely picturesque trail. Just to the East of the Seven Sisters is Birling Gap where the path then continues to run towards Belle Tout Lighthouse, Beachy Head and Eastbourne. At Birling Gap you’ll find a National Trust car park, café and access down to the beach and you can choose to walk west along the Seven Sisters or East towards Beachy Head. Beachy Head is the highest chalk sea cliff in Britain, rising to 162m a.s.l. The longest stretch of trail from Seaford via the Seven Sisters and Beachy Head to Eastbourne is approximately 22km, or you can do shorter variations starting at ending at various points. We Started at Birling Gap and explored an out and back trail to just beyond Beachy Head. Whilst the view is stunning, be extremely cautious around the cliff edges.
White Cliffs of Dover
The White Cliffs of Dover are an iconic part of British History and are a beautiful place to run or walk. Starting at the National Trust café and car park you can do an out and back towards the South Foreland Lighthouse or venture a little further towards St Margaret’s Bay (about 4.5miles total). Many paths cross this undulating landscape so you can choose to avoid the main hills if you wish! If you require a wheelchair accessible route, you can get a great view from the wheelchair friendly boardwalk (more info here). If you are venturing along the cliffs, make sure you wear suitable footwear, especially in wet conditions as I found some areas really slippery.
Thanks for reading! Becca xo
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