Arthur’s Seat, Edinburgh
A mountain amid a city, a volcanic plug, a tourist honeypot. Run over grassy ramparts, slip beneath the towering Salisbury Crags, try not to stop running on a steep, winding, unending staircase, scramble the final steps to the rocky, breezy summit of Arthur’s Seat. While you are unlikely to be alone, you ran here, with every uphill step heightening the sumptuous glimpse of Edinburgh, the Firth of Forth, Fife and the Pentlands. There are few places where the possibilities of running and living seem so powerful.
The Seven Sisters and Beachy Head, Sussex
Once Cuckmere Haven has been escaped, the Seven Sisters emerge suddenly – a violently undulating carpet of grass ending in sheer white cliffs. This is the view that faces runners in the annual Beachy Head Marathon having already negotiated close to 20 miles. Beachy Head and the finish line in Eastbourne appear a lifetime away. Count the Sisters off. Try not to succumb to walking. Hard? Yes. Inspiring? Undoubtedly. You could be plodding along concrete; instead, you are running the finest final six miles of a marathon a runner could wish for.
Worcestershire Beacon, Malvern Hills
‘The most beautiful silhouette in the world.’ Who are we to argue with Stanley Baldwin? Best viewed from the east, the Malverns rise shockingly from the Vale of Evesham, a British Himalaya. There are few finer expeditions than the challenging, rolling run across the backbone of the hills, with a well-trodden path leaping over top after top, to reach Worcestershire Beacon at its northern end, from where – on a fine day – the onlooker can glimpse 13 counties and the cathedrals of Gloucester, Hereford and Worcester.
Craig Dunain, Inverness
A crowd of Inverness Harriers’ athletes had been running for several miles on forestry tracks around Craig Dunain when a vision of loveliness in the evening haze appeared before us: the vast sprawl of a glistening Loch Ness. Tourists travel thousands of miles to glimpse this; we had jogged here from the outskirts of Inverness on our regular Tuesday night run. ‘What’s that?’ I was asked. ‘Lock Ness,’ I fired back. We ran on, the Highlanders sniggering at the poorly enunciating Sassanach.
St Annes on Sea, Lancashire
When the sea ebbs at St Annes, it all but vanishes into the haze of a far-off horizon. Running towards that horizon provokes a queer sensation. Where are the obstacles? The buildings? The mountaintops? The junctions? There is nothing but soaking sand stretching into oblivion. Run and run and run, and turn. You have run away from civilisation. The pier and seafront houses are inconsequential dots. The loneliness is overwhelming, filling the runner with fear. The sky is impossibly large, the ground endless, and you imagine the sea could suck you away at any moment.
Home to no more than two dozen people and an aggressive midge population, Rum is the largest of the Small Isles, pitched off the west coast of Scotland. Running west on a track from Kinloch, then turning south over a col before plunging to the ocean at Harris, the runner will encounter – if they are lucky – no-one. Harris is no more, an abandoned township circled by shuddering mountains. Turning your back to the ghostly remains is a wild Atlantic surf breaking on a deserted, rocky beach.
Skiddaw, Lake District
It is 2.15am. It is very dark. The twinkling lights of Keswick have vanished into mist. The beam of the head torch is thrown back in my face. Following an hour of gradually moving uphill, the land flattens. The 933-metre summit. Another world. A black, godforsaken world, jumbled with rock, smashed by a tremendous wind. I scramble across the confusion, seeking out the triangulation pillar. It is found – joyously – and murmuring a little prayer in my thoughts, I flee, running frantic zig-zags downhill to escape that other world.
Tooting Bec Common, London
Familiarity breeds contempt, the saying goes, but familiarity also breeds fondness. Humans need constancy and Tooting Bec Common is my constant. The seasons change, motivation and running spirits fluctuate, but the common endures. Flat as a Frisbee, split by railway tracks and home to the second largest lido in Europe, there is no gloss to Tooting Common. Battersea Park or Hyde Park, it is not. The thousands of people – from shufflers to sprinters, from beginners to serial marathoners – who are drawn to Tooting Bec are grateful for that.
Kynance Cove, Cornwall
Like a vision from the Caribbean, Kynance Cove is the marvel of the Lizard peninsula. Azure seas, golden sand, rocky outcrops, and – for the runner – a rollercoaster coastal footpath that showcases the charms of the cove. From here, perhaps after feeding and watering at the beach café, the runner can climb steeply on an undulating path above cliffs before arriving at Lizard Point, the modest southern-reach of the British mainland, a world away from the commercialism of that other great Cornish full stop, Land’s End.
Ladhar Bheinn, Knoydart
Knoydart is the ‘Land of the Giants’, a Scottish west coast peninsula suffused in the mythology of the outdoors. To stand on the summit of Ladhar Bheinn – a 1020-metre Munro – after several hours of the roughest, toughest, wildest hill running in the British Isles is to be spectacularly isolated. The consequences of a trip or twist here are alarming and potentially fatal. Danger is juxtaposed with supreme beauty: to the west is an astonishing window into a world of ocean, island and mountain.
A version of this article is published on the SportPursuit blog.