I’m running over Dinas Head, a cyan ocean sparkling below and the endless sands of Newport enticing in the distance. Not really, of course, because we’re in the middle of lockdown and I haven’t been further than two miles from home in weeks, and, sadly, wonderful west Wales isn’t home (yet). But as I run over the little hill beyond my back gate, I’m taken back to sunnier skies and healthier times, where west is always, always best.
Dinas Head, one of my favourite spots, has been brought to life in Wild Running, a beautifully-photographed, all-colour guide to the best 200 trail runs in Britain. Written by Jen and Sim Benson and now in its second edition, having originally been voted in the top 10 running books of 2014, it follows their Adventurer’s Guide to Britain and Amazing Family Adventures. I’m very much looking forward to receiving my copy and it arrives precisely as we go into lockdown. But for now I can dream, and I can plan.
I devour the Wales section first, nodding away at familiar routes on Gower and in the Beacons and yearning to test my running mettle on Cadair Idris, which I’ve only ever hiked (on Cadair, to be fair, the hiking’s hard enough). I spot my friend and trail-running hero Tracy Purnell on p175, the familiar triumvirate of Pen y Fan, Corn Du and Cribyn – now strictly out of bounds – in the background. The Snowdonia section is tantalising and Moel Eilio, long in my sights but as yet unconquered, taunts.
Much as I love my homeland, however, I’m equally drawn to less familiar ground in England and Scotland, due to Jen and Sim’s easy writing style and those gorgeous photos. I’m a little obsessed with the Peak District these days and fancy myself running around Dove Dale before the year’s out, while the pages on the Yorkshire Moors and Dales – perennial holiday destinations of the Leeses Senior – smoothly reveal what the fuss is all about.
I’ve long dreamed about a roadtrip to Assynt, which is nearly as far north as you can drive from Wales, while the south west waters of Cornwall and Devon sparkle from pages bearing intriguing names such as The Hurlers and Cheesewrings. I briefly wonder if the teens would mind swapping our planned holiday to Canada for a grand tour of the UK – there are so many corners to cover, after all, and it’s hardly raining in any of them, according to this book.
Set out in geographical sections, Wild Running also has further ‘at a glance’ listings, including ‘best for beginners’, ‘best urban escapes’ and ‘best for summits and views’. But for a trail running newbie like me, the most helpful pages are up front, with thoughtful and genuinely educational tips on getting started. There’s a good paragraph on practising balancing which, as just about the least coordinated person on any trail, I eagerly bookmark, and, it turns out I need proper running socks. I think shamefully of my ancient, holey supermarket five-pack and vow to up my sock game at once.
Jen and Sim, whose Adventure Places blog is packed with further inspiration, have also included practical tips on staying safe in remote areas, which apply to any outdoor activity. You’ll still need to take emergency items, food and water in a lightweight backpack, know how to navigate and tell someone where you’re going and what time you’ll be back.
In these at-home times, the remotest I’m getting from my cottage is a dark corner of my shed – but it’s a very big shed, to be fair, and I could be in there for days if the door slams behind me and the teens fail to send out a search party. But it’s also a beautifully peaceful shed, with a very cosy sofa and all my camping kit. With a copy of this book and a good supply of teabags, I could survive quite happily for weeks.