Running in London sounds like a bad idea, right? Grey roads filled with too much traffic and, in the ever-changing weather. But take a turn off of the main roads and you’re presented with some of the most beautiful nature reserves, fields and woodland trails that the UK can deliver.
If you’re still keeping up with your running routine, there is now no better reason than to take advantage of those scenic runs around the capital. Not only will it give you a new appreciation for your city, but getting outside for a run or a walk is associated with extra mental and physical health benefits.
Plus, running somewhere beautiful isn’t just a nicer experience, it can actually make you a better runner. According to research, published in the Journal of Sports Sciences. For the study, 12 runners ran at a steady pace on a treadmill in a virtual-reality set-up that simulated the experience of running around a lake. The runners were, on average, 2.6 per cent less efficient when focusing on their form than when focusing on the scenery and 4.2 per cent less efficient when focusing on their breathing.
If you’re not in London, there are plenty of other places in the UK to head for beautiful hikes. But whether you’re an east London resident and can run along the canal, or are situated in west London with access to wildlife-filled parks, there are tons of options for picturesque and scenic running routes. Here are just some of our favourites.
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This is a 14.5k trail that runs from Little Venice to Limehouse, but is most famous for the beautiful section that flows through Hackney. It can get busy, warns Strong Women Training Club editor Miranda Larbi, “but if you go early, you can run across London with nothing but other runners and coots for company.”
While you’re east, take a spin into the Walthamstow Wetlands. The nature reserve has many different routes to take around its marshlands and nine reservoirs, so there really is something for everyone, regardless of experience or ability. “I love ending my runs at the pond where I can watch the herons and ducks as I cool down and then finish with a stop at Engine House Cafe for a coffee and some breakfast,” says Strong Women editor Meriam Ahari.
This is a quieter route than that of the main Greenwich Park area, so it’s perfect for taking in London’s countryside without crashing into other runners. The perimeter of the grassland is around 6k, but you can loop the zigzagged roads through the fields for a longer route.
Lea Valley Walk
The full Lea Valley Walk is a 24k route from Waltham Abbey to East India Dock. But it’s the Ponders End to Lea Bridge that takes Miranda’s fancy as the most beautiful. “It’s a quiet trail and feels like you’re in the middle of the countryside – when you’re actually just in Tottenham. It’s lock after lock with intermittent sights of ponies, cool industrial buildings and narrowboats,” shes says.
London Fields is, of course, full of picturesque nature, but it’s darting off route that really adds to the beauty, according to Stylist’s digital writer Hollie Richardson. “I love running around the streets that surround London Fields. The roads are beautiful and the houses are so cool. I just love noseying around the neighbourhood,” she says.
Following the perimeter of Richmond Park, Tamsin’s Trail will take you up some gentle hills and through tree-lined pathways for an 11k run – but you can start and stop the trail at any point to make it a suitable run for you. And it wouldn’t be Richmond Park without stopping to spy some deer.
The Grand Tour
Running through central London isn’t usually recommended, what with all the crowd dodging. So while the city is quieter, use this as your chance to take in its gorgeous surroundings with an 11k loop that takes you from Trafalgar Square through Whitehall, St Paul’s Cathedral and back again.
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Chloe Gray is the senior writer for stylist.co.uk's fitness brand Strong Women. When she's not writing or lifting weights, she's most likely found practicing handstands, sipping a gin and tonic or eating peanut butter straight out of the jar (not all at the same time).