Pounding the UK capital’s pavements is fun – striding along next to the Thames is one of life’s real pleasures, and looping past architectural icons such as St Paul’s or the Houses of Parliament is an experience that cannot be beaten.
But there comes a time when the choking exhaust fumes and pedestrian dodging become too much to bear. Not only that, there are scientific benefits to getting off the pavements and into forest environments, for both your physical and mental wellbeing – studies have shown that even 10 minutes exercising in green space or near water can boost mental health.
- Go out prepared: The best trail running shoes
If you have reached that point, Get Sweat Go is here to help. We’ve scouted out some of the best trail runs within an hour of the centre of the city. All you need is a train ticket, a copy of the route and a pair of running shoes.
Epping Forest Oak Trail
Epping Forest is an essential destination for London runners. Jump on the Central Line and head west (and northwards) until you reach Epping, the end of the line.
Once off the train, you can explore the miles of trails the forest has to offer. The way-marked Oak Trail is at the very north of the forest, less than a quarter of a mile from Epping station, and is well-marked if you’re unfamiliar with the area. It follows a 7-mile loop under the M25 and through a deer sanctuary.
Jump on the train to: Epping (Central line)
The home of the Wombles is more wild and muddy than its over-the-road compatriot Richmond Park. This two-lap 13-mile route skirts the circumference, giving you the option to do one 6-mile lap or two depending on how you’re feeling.
Wimbledon is the nearest train station, then simply head to the common and join the park on Parkside. Head towards the Windmill in the centre and pick up the route from there. You’ll be running on gravel, through woodland and across stream-based paths, meaning you’re guaranteed to get muddy through winter – but that’s all part of the fun of running on the trails.
Jump on the train to: Wimbledon
Guildford/North Downs Way
Within a mile of Guildford train station (which you can reach in just 36 minutes from Waterloo), you can find yourself on the North Downs Way – a trail runners' paradise which we could dedicate a whole guide to in itself. The North Downs way runs all the way to Dover on the Kent coast – and for trail running it's an absolute stunner.
This section, running south from the city, is challenging to say the least. If you like climbing you’re in Ascent Town – make your way towards St Martha’s Hill where you’ll find St Martha’s church overlooking the North Downs. If the weather’s decent, you can take in a view that covers eight counties. It’s sandy footpaths at this point, but expect mud as you make your way downhill to Newlands Corner in this 9-mile loop.
If you prefer point-to-point then you have those options too. Head up to the North Downs Way and it's around 10 miles to Box Hill and Westhumble station, which takes you back to London. If you're hungry for more, you can cross the stepping stones and ascend Box Hill itself and head onwards to Merstham (another 10 miles), which is a pleasingly short train ride back to East Croydon and London Victoria given all that running.
Jump on the train to:Guildford
A chance for a spot of hill repeats while on your morning run – Parliament Hill, at 322 feet, is the perfect place to get your heart rate working before you head to the office.
This 6k route skirts the edge of the Heath, crosses a couple of big ponds and passes through plenty of patches of woodland. Close your eyes and you might almost think you were in the New Forest. Until you catch sight of a local celeb like Liam Gallagher running past you, that is.
Jump on the train to: West Hampstead
The big one. Richmond Park has acres and acres (2,500 to be precise) of premium running for off-road fans. Trails intersect throughout the whole park, and it’s surprisingly undulating once you are there, with some long climbs to push you to the edge.
This 12k loop of the edge of the park is not easy (take a peek at the elevation chart), but the views are worth it, and you might even spot a deer or two. If training it from London, jump off at North Sheen or Richmond and from there it’s less than a mile to the park.
Jump on the train to: Richmond
Trains can get you to Dorking in just under an hour, so this one sneaks on to the list purely because there’s so much good running to be had at what is traditionally a destination for cyclists. But if you like fell-running type trails, with all the insanely steep ascents and descents that type of running involves, this is likely to become your favourite trail location.
This 7.5-mile route starts and ends less than a mile from Dorking train station. Admittedly, from the off you’re going straight into a slog up the steep hill itself, but console yourself with the fact that once you’ve ascended 400ft, there’s (a little bit) of downhill… until it heads up again after a mile. Refuel at the hilltop café before your final descent on your way back to the station.
Jump on the train to: Dorking
Home of the original Parkrun, and part of the Bushy/Richmond/Wimbledon triangle, this smaller sibling offers plenty of off-road trails to get stuck into. More deer on offer here (from this list it’s almost as if runners can’t move for them in London), and gravel trails and footpaths through the woodland will have you getting muddy as you make your way round this 10k route in the shadow of Hampton Court Palace.
Jump on the train to: Teddington/Hampton Wick/Hampton Court
A quick train to Sevenoaks (25 minutes) provides you with 1,000 acres of running in the beautiful Knole Park. A seven-mile route is a good introduction – this includes a double loop of part of it, so you can cut that out if seven miles is too much.
The National Trust’s Knole House is the centrepiece and – guess what – there are more deer here too. The park features trails all over the place, so you can go off-course without (hopefully) getting lost.
Jump on the train to: Sevenoaks
You’re more or less on the Thames here, just way out west in the Essex marshes, which are protected by the RSPB. There are various off-road routes from 3k to 12k – the 12k route here takes you from the visitor centre along the Thames for cracking views before skirting back alongside the marshes to spot rare wildlife and maybe even a seal. As it’s Thames-side, it’s as flat as you like, so good for beginners, and Purfleet train station is easily accessible.
Jump on the train to: Purfleet
This trail-laden forest can get so muddy there’s even a warning on the National Trust’s website, so take your hardiest trail shoes on this run.
The loop takes in 10k of the Trust’s property, starting and finishing at Hatfield House itself and including part of the weekly Parkrun route. Trains from King’s Cross arrive in Hatfield in 30 minutes, not bad for somewhere just outside the M25.
Jump on the train to: Hatfield
Leith Hill, Surrey
Yes, we've already mentioned Box Hill in the guide, which is just a few miles down the road, but we really couldn't miss out Leigh Hill in a London trail running guide.
The twisting route through the woodland is one of the most enjoyable we've found, which, combined with a fair bit of undulation and probably one of the most impressive landscape views of South England, means it's worth booking your second visit to Surrey.
Starting from Holmwood Station the route follows a circular path around the woodland hills, passing Coldharbour, Clock Cottage and Anstiebury Hill Fort before snaking your way up the National Trust's Heathland.
Once you've got to the top of Leith and taken some photos, head back via the beautiful Frank's Wood before coming back into Holmwood to treat yourself at on of the countryside pubs.
Jump on the train to: Holmwood