With magnificent scenery and a mass of wildlife, the Elan Valley is a true gem in Mid Wales, and the best way to get to know the area is on foot. I once had the honour of taking part in a race through the valley, and the scenery was so inspiring it gave me that extra boost I needed. Following the old Birmingham Corporation railway line for most of the journey, the Elan Valley Trail is an opportunity for runners to see this beautiful part of the country at its best whilst keeping active.
The route I have chosen starts and finishes at the Elan Valley visitor centre. With the entire course on a solid path, it’s a lovely route for runners of all abilities. Park at the visitor centre and make your way towards the Elan Valley Trail, towards the gradual climb up the western end of Carreg Ddu Reservoir. As you approach, you’ll be rewarded with impressive views of the surrounding valleys, as well as the area's four reservoirs. The journey ends at the Pen-y-Garreg Reservoir car park. If you wish to continue a little further, you can carry on to Craig Goch Dam for a further 2 km, to complete almost 5 miles.
There’s an excellent choice of running and walking routes at Llyn Brenig, all of which offer wonderful scenery. This route (5 km) is high on the Denbigh Moorlands and passes the Llyn Brenig Reservoir. The course incorporates a variety of different terrains, including moorland trails, woodland areas and dirt tracks. From the car park, cross the Brenig dam before turning right and running cross-country down towards Clocaenog Forest. From here, follow the forest trails that take you to the left, and back to the lake through the forest. This route brings you to the edge of the lake which then leads you back to the dam, and back to your starting point.
I love running up mountains – the feeling of being hand in hand with nature, and the delight of reaching the summit, especially after a challenging climb. The Brecon Beacons are great favourites of mine, but when the trails are busy I prefer to make my way towards the quieter routes of Llyn y Fan Fawr and Llyn y Fan Fach. Further east, and equally as impressive are the Black Mountains in Monmouthshire.
Located near Abergavenny, this loop forms part of a series of routes that are maintained, are easy to follow, and take you around and over The Skirrid. It is a moderately difficult route, but the wildflowers and beautiful forests make it worth your while. Once out of the forest, the trail opens up to reveal heather shrubs and inspiring scenery. There is a steep, short slope on the way up which climbs to 318 metres, but it levels as you reach the top. After undertaking this short, steep climb you’re rewarded with a light ride down the ridge back towards the car park. On a clear day, it’s possible to see the Black Mountains, the Brecon Beacons and the Wales-England border in all their glory.
45 minutes by car from Cardiff is Cwm Dare Country Park, Aberdare. This is a wonderful park, built on the site of an old coal mine, covering 500 acres of woodland, mountains and lakes. Visiting the park is free, with parking also free.
There are numerous running routes to enjoy within the park – you could spend the day running here (I did once, for 12 hours, as part of a race!) Here you’ll find lakes galore, waterfalls to marvel at, and you can even take a break to watch red kites from a specially-built platform.
There are three marked trails around the country park that vary in length and suit different abilities. At 3.5 km long, the Bwlfa Trail is mostly flat and takes you past a stream and through woodlands up to the lake. If you would like to extend the distance, you can run around the lake before re-joining the trail and returning to the visitor centre. Once you’ve crossed the finishing line you can reward yourself with a meal from the visitor centre’s café, and there’s also a popular campsite if you want to extend your stay in order to enjoy more adventures in the area the following day.
Ffordd y Gogarth
Running around the Great Orme / Y Gogarth encompasses everything I enjoy about road running – incorporating a rural atmosphere and spectacular coastal views. The scenery is stunning, and the combination of the fast and winding road means I never get bored of running here.
I sometimes choose to run from one tollgate to the other, which is 4 miles long, but for shorter routes you can stop, turn around and run back when you’ve reached as far as you intended to go. There is nothing dull or repetitive about this route, and on your way back you can enjoy different scenery at every turn, from Liverpool Bay, the Carneddau and Anglesey to name but a few. There is another route above the road that allows you to extend the distance if you wish to push yourself a little further.
I’ve had the pleasure of commentating on many races, as well as running a number of routes on or around Anglesey. The island is blessed with incredible scenery, and one of my favourite places to run is through Newborough Forest and along the spectacular, well-known Llanddwyn Beach. The stunning scenery is enough of an inspiration to sustain your energy.
The trail starts and ends in the car park adjacent to the beach. There are so many different tracks and routes to follow, and running here feels more like an adventure than hard work. A 5km-long rotating course takes you from the car park on a route towards the special island of Llanddwyn. You will then follow grass and fire tracks, before turning to the park's forest. Follow the course as it comes back in a circle to the main car park.
As a Gower girl, it would be impossible for me not to talk about running in this part of the world. There is a huge choice of running routes on offer, particularly along the Wales Coast Path. The Clyne Valley route is popular (especially as it is a fast track, and therefore a good choice for those aiming to achieve a Personal Best). If you're looking for dramatic scenery, the Caswell Bay to Mumbles route is staggering. The starting point is the Caswell Bay car park, and the trail starts along the back of the café and ice cream shop. From here, just follow the route through to Langland Bay with its beach huts, and around to Bracelet Bay. From Bracelet Bay, you descend down to finish on Mumbles Pier. To stretch your legs after running, take a stroll along the marina whilst enjoying the area's famous ice cream. I ran this route to get myself back into the swing of things when I was recovering from a serious leg injury, and the course was perfect for rehabilitating and getting familiar with running again.
Coed y Brenin
When I travel up to North Wales, I often stop at Coed y Brenin to flex the legs and take advantage of the wonderful routes available here. From the visitor centre, there are a range of options for all abilities – from a 2.7 mile course to a challenging 13.5 mile half marathon. These routes are ideal for new runners, as well as more experienced runners looking to improve their abilities.
The 5km Sarn Helen course (short), is a moderate run, climbing 97m. With panoramic views of the mountains of southern Snowdonia, cascades, rivers and oak forests as company, you won’t be disappointed. Climb until you reach the Cefndeuddwr ridge, where you’ll reach the Sarn Helen trail – an ancient Roman road, before descending back to the visitor centre. It is a lovely and quiet place to run, with plenty of varied scenery, which makes this course one of my favourites.
Castell Coch, Cardiff
Running routes along the Taff Trail, Bute Park, Llandaff fields and Pontcanna are extremely popular with residents of the capital. If you're running in the dark over the winter, running around the Cardiff Bay barrage or Roath Park are good, well-lit options. There are other, quieter routes a few miles outside Cardiff such as Mynydd y Garth and St Fagans, along the River Ely, to name but a few.
Other routes worth exploring on the outskirts of the city include some of the trails near Castell Coch. Castell Coch, a 19th-century Gothic castle about 6 miles north of the city in Tongwynlais is extremely popular with visitors to Cardiff, and runners visiting the area will have a field day on this network of gravel trails.
The quiet, woodland trails are smooth enough and not technically difficult, and therefore suitable for all. The starting point for this course is at the red gate (which is at the bottom of the castle walkway). Follow the Sir Henry Trail (which is parallel to the road) gradually up to the north car park. Here you can turn back towards the castle on the dirt trail, before turning right along the Sculpture Trail. After the run you can take a tour of the castle, before enjoying a cup of tea and cake in the 'Forest' Tea Rooms, which are hidden in the forest.
You should always ensure you’re wearing suitable clothing and footwear before setting off on a run. Some of the routes I have listed include cross-country tracks and mountain trails, which can be difficult, particularly when the weather and other conditions are not favourable – so make sure you check weather forecasts in advance. Remember to take a mobile phone with you and make sure you let someone know before starting your journey. If on the mountains, please also carry a map, a compass, some food and water. Run with others when possible, and always take care when out running.