Trail running in Yorkshire

The hills and dales of "God's own County" are sheer perfection for trail runners of all abilities

Yorkshire is blessed by some of the best running trails in the UK. The variety of landscapes means trail running in this part of England might include a gentle 6-mile run from Whitby to Robin Hood’s Bay, to a brutal 24-mile slog over the famous Three Peaks. Dave Jelley, whose company Jelley Legs offers running holidays in the area, describes what's on offer.

Trail running in Yorkshire can be broadly divided into four areas. Heavily urbanised South and West Yorkshire border the rugged trails of the Pennines. In East Yorkshire there are some beautiful long undulating trail runs over the Wolds. Further up, the North York Moors are criss-crossed by a multitude of upland trails and finally, west of the A1, the huge expanse and variety of terrain in the Yorkshire Dales make this area the jewel in the crown of UK trail running.

High on the North York Moors

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In my opinion to just go on a run in Yorkshire is missing the point: a trip here should include at least a night to enjoy an evening of Yorkshire hospitality. The five trail running areas are based on five places which I believe will provide the perfect base for a trail running break, they have good accommodation, good pubs and restaurants – and, most important of all, trails which can be accessed without driving anywhere first.

1. Hebden Bridge for runs along the stone flagged trails of the southern Pennines
2. Goathland for runs along the lush wooded valleys, windswept upland trails and coastal paths of the eastern side of the North York Moors
3. Osmotherley for the high tops of the North York Moors
4. Reeth for Swaledale and Wensleydale
5. Kettlewell for Wharfedale, Nidderdale and Ribblesdale

Hebden Bridge
This small former mill town between Leeds and Manchester makes a great base for exploring the mass of trails in the Calderdale area. The OS map for the South Pennines (OL21) is a good starting point – it clearly marks the Calderdale Way, a fascinating circular route of the valley and moorland tops. The Pennine Way and the Pennine Bridleway are both close to the town, while for a mix of running and culture there’s a trail to Haworth, home of the Bronte sisters. The area is sandwiched between many urban conurbations and this means that trails may at times pass through more built up areas than the Yorkshire moors or dales, but many landmarks of the recent industrial past - old mill chimneys and canal basins - hold a special fascination.

There is a tradition of fell running in the area and you’d be unlucky to spend a weekend here without finding a race within a 10 mile radius of the town. For more local information you can contact Calder Valley Fell runners or Halifax Harriers.
Crossing a stream on the North York Moors
I was torn whether to recommend Goathland or Robin Hood’s Bay as a base. I think in the end Goathland won because it is such a special spot in the heart of the North York Moors. It has the wonderful steam railway line passing through it as well as a disused line which is perfect for running on. For a longer run, it is possible to catch an early train to Whitby and then do a fantastic run along the coast and back over the moors to Goathland. Jon Steele at Hardmoors organises a great number of trail races in the North York Moors – and he also will do guided runs by arrangement. OS map OL27.

The North York Moors’ western trails are best explored from Osmotherley, which is easily accessed from the A19. The village has plenty of accommodation and pubs with excellent menus. There is also a Youth Hostel near the village, which is useful if you want to bring a running club group. The trails which crisscross the village are never flat, so do not come to this area for a weekend of easy running. A short section through a lush wood full of bluebells will soon be followed by a moorland path over the high tops with the potential for wind, rain or snow. But the scenery is magnificent, and some of the trails provide a chance for miles of fast downhill running after the arduous ascent. Again visit the Hardmoors website to check if there are races on or contact Jon Steele for some guided running. OS map OL26.

There cannot be many more attractive villages in the UK than Reeth. It is centred around an expansive grassy common, which is surrounded by handsome buildings with the tops of Fremlington Edge, Calver and Harkerside moor looming on the horizon. Park on the green, and wander across to Swaledale Outdoors. Rich Gale, the owner of the shop and a keen runner, will show you a variety of routes to run from the village. On a Saturday morning at 9.30 you can just turn up at the shop, from where Rich leads a trail run for about two hours for no charge: he welcomes runners of all abilities. The routes from Reeth can be as hard or easy as you want. There are wonderful riverside runs that follow the valley floor, or there are challenging routes which take in the moorland tops. Accommodation is plentiful and big groups can use the Dales bike centre or the Youth Hostel in Grinton.

For more information contact Rich Gale at Swaledale Outdoors. OS map OL30.
Across the tops near Kettlewell
You may remember the film Calendar Girls. This was set in Kettlewell, which is a beautiful small village in the heart of Wharfedale. The Dales Way runs through the village and provides an excellent, well-marked, low-level undulating trail run. For the more energetic, the village is surrounded by various rewarding trails. Great Whernside and Buckden Pike can be linked together with the Dales Way to make a challenging 20-mile loop or, for a shorter hilly run, the trail over to Littondale has fabulous views. If you arrive with a car and have a few days, it’s easy to run in some of the adjoining Dales. You might even attempt the Yorkshire Three Peaks or consider a long run on the Pennine Way including Malham Cove. There is a good variety of accommodation, including a Youth Hostel. OS maps OL30 and OL2.

For more information on any of these, or other routes, contact Dave Jelley at Jelley Legs.

Five great running routes
There are, of course, endless wonderful trails in Yorkshire. I used three principles to decide on the five routes below. (1) great views; (2) a surface that isn’t overly technical, so it can be enjoyed by any reasonably sure-footed runner; (3) a route that can be found easily on a standard 1:25 000 OS map and does not require advanced map reading skills.


1. The Dales Way

• Base: Kettlewell (car parking just over bridge) • Distance: it’s up to you • Terrain undulating at times boggy and rocky; some easy riverside running • Route: can be followed in either direction. It’s easy to make a circular route using an OS map. There are great hills on either side to tempt you: try Great Whernside and Buckden Pike, but chose a clear day as it can get confusing on the tops in low cloud. • Cafés and accommodation: Kettlewell and Grassington • OS maps: OL2, OL30

2. The Nidderdale Way

• Base: Ramsgill • Distance: 12-20 miles • Terrain: hilly and rocky in places, some fast grassy sections • Route: follow the Nidderdale Way to Middlesmoor west of the river, then the main track to Scar House reservoir. A longer route goes up to Great Whernside. Continue over the reservoir dam and up to the high path – well marked - then back to Ramsgill. • Cafés and accommodation: Pateley Bridge – nice pub in Middlesmoor • OS map: 298 Nidderdale

3. The Cleveland Way

• Base: Osmotherley • Distance – many options from 10 miles to 110 • Terrain: incredibly varied: some paved trails, some woodland, heather moorland • Route: the Cleveland Way passes through Osmotherley so you can head south towards the White Horse or North towards Roseberry Topping. If you can follow a footpath on a map it's very easy to make up a circular route using the Cleveland Way. • Cafés and accommodation: Osmotherley • OS map: OL26

4. The Wainwright Coast to Coast path in Swaledale

• Base: Reeth • Distance 10 miles to Richmond (or bus to Richmond and run back) 12 miles to Keld, or 20 miles Keld and back by the river route • Terrain: grassy trails, some hard-packed tracks and slippy rocky paths • Route: the route is well described with maps by Martin Wainwright’s guide. Circular routes can be devised in all parts of the Swaledale section. • Cafés and accommodation: Reeth and Grinton (YHA and Mountain bike centre have cheaper accommodation) • OS map: OL30

5. The Pennine Way

• Base: Hawes • Distance – 10 to 270 miles • Terrain: hilly – and can be boggy in places • Route: all routes are up hill from Hawes but you are rewarded by some spectacular views. Try the route up Great Shunner fell or south towards the head of Wharfedale until you meet a minor road. Turn northwards and then branch northeast on the dead straight Cam high road (an old Roman road) to Butterset and then back to Hawes. • Cafés and accommodation: Hawes • OS map: OL30


Best times to go:


Trail running in Yorkshire is possible throughout the year. However, it can be very bleak on the hill tops in midwinter. So if you fancy a winter running break, you either need to choose the valley trails like the Dales Way from Kettlewell, or if you want to do the higher routes in the North York Moors and Dales you need to follow sensible safety practice ( see below).

Spring running is wonderful in Wharfedale. June is a special month in Swaledale, with all the meadows carpeted in brilliant yellow buttercups. Autumn is a good time for the wooded valleys around Hebden Bridge. Frosty/ snowy winter runs on the moors can be magnificent.


Make sure someone knows where you are going

Run with a friend if you can

Carry a backpack with full waterproof top and bottoms,waterproof hat and gloves, an extra base layer, a whistle, compass, and foil bag or mini bivvy

Take some food and drink, even when it is cold you still need to rehydrate

Take extra gear in winter: if you twist an ankle and have to walk off the hills slowly, you will need warm clothes. And winter running with a backpack is excellent training.


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