Article: Classic Routes in the United Kingdom

By Buzz Burrell on Thu, 07/22/2021 - 06:56pm

What are the most iconic routes in the UK? Here, in no particular order, we have a look at some of the most competitive challenges in Great Britain. All FKTs mentioned below are in Supported style unless otherwise stated.  Route names are links to the route page.  An accompanying podcast episode is here. 

By Mike Jones, Regional Editor for Routes in the United Kingdom


The big one! This cross-country (literally; from one tip to the other) route between Lands End and John O’Groats is over 800 miles (exact distance depending on the route chosen) and has a rich history, not without controversy. Previous record claims have been disputed. The current records are held by Carla Molinaro (12 days, 30 minutes) and Dan Lawson (9 days, 21 hours, 14 minutes). A brilliant film documenting Dan’s record breaking 2020 run is available here.

Paddy Buckley Round

This Welsh mountain round traverses approximately 105km and 8500m+, and visits the five major mountain massifs in Snowdonia National Park: the Snowdon range, the Glyderau, the Canneddau, the Moelwynion and the Moel Hebog range. Trails vary from rocky and technical to boggy and intricate. This is a truly wild round with no easy sections, and the records on it are substantially longer than the Bob Graham, despite it being a similar distance, giving some idea as to its difficulty. Kim Collison recently set the men’s record of 16 hours, 20 minutes, while Jasmin Paris holds the women’s at 18 hours, 33 minutes. Nicky Spinks completed a double round. The documentary of this run is available here.

Paddy Buckley Round

Pennine Way

It would be an understatement to say that this route has seen top competitive action since summer 2020. The long standing 1989 Mike Hartley record was first broken by John Kelly, and then by Damian Hall one week later. John came back in May 2021 to take a further 3 hours off Damian’s time, bringing the supported record to just 2 days, 10 hours, 4 minutes. The ladies’ record is believed to be held by Sabrina Verjee (3 days, 2 hours, 28 minutes). The 260-mile route is one of Britain’s most famous long-distance trails, making its way along the backbone of England from Edale in the Peak District to Kirk Yetholm just over the border in Scotland. The film Totally FKT brings to life the competition between John and Damian in the summer of 2020.

Pennine Way
Pennine Way

Bob Graham Round

The Bob Graham in England’s Lake District is undeniably the UK’s most well-known hill round, and its reputation extends beyond Britain’s shores to attract some of the world’s best athletes. Many considered the decades old record by Billy Bland to be unbeatable, but Kilian Jornet in 2018 took an hour off the time (12 hours, 52 minutes). Beth Pascall matched the feat by bettering Jasmin Paris’s time by 50 minutes to 14 hours, 34 minutes. Many fell runners find that getting back to Keswick’s Moot Hall inside 24 hours is challenge enough; the current record times underline how strong these two achievements are. Over 105km and 8000m+ a total of 42 peaks are summits are crossed. Unless we can tempt you with the 24-hour fell record?

Bob Graham Round
Bob Graham Round

Wainwrights 214

A much longer tour of the Lake District can be found in ticking off every one of the fells listed in Alfred Wainwright’s seminal series of hill walking guidebooks. This grand route has become very competitive recently, with Paul Tierney reducing Steve Birkinshaw’s record (memorably recounted in his book) to 6 days, 6 hours, 5 minutes. Sabrina Verjee, after several attempts, has recently taken the overall record in an astonishing 5 days, 23 hours, 49 minutes. All this on a route that extends for more than 300 miles (the open course nature of the route meaning the exact line is up to the runner), and takes in a scarcely believable 35,000m+. John Kelly recently had a go, and bailed part-way in.

Southern Upland Way

Another Mike Hartley record was set on this scenic route across southern Scotland, in 1988. This stood until 2020, the year of the FKT, when Jack Scott improved it by just 13 minutes, to 2 days, 7 hours, 42 minutes. Anna Rutherford in 2021 set a solid time of 2 days, 14 hours, 34 minutes on this route of 214 miles and over 8000m+. The Southern Upland Way isn’t as well discovered as some of the UK’s other National Trails, but is a beautiful route across the remote Borders region and is the setting for a race, the Ultra Great Britain.

South West Coast Path

This 630-mile National Trail is the UK’s longest, and follows the coastline between Minehead in Somerset and Poole Harbour in Dorset, via Devon and Cornwall. Don’t let the coastal nature fool you: this is a very tough trail with a huge amount of climb and descent (around 35,000 metres!). Many stunning locations are passed on this trail, and navigation is not always as easy as keeping the sea on one side. Danielle Blackie set the women’s record of 18 days, 14 hours, 42 minutes in May 2021, while Kristian Morgan holds the men’s FKT (10 days, 12 hours, 6 minutes).

South West Coat Path
South West Coast Path

Ramsay Round

Like the Paddy Buckley, the Ramsay round is not as well known as the Bob Graham, but is a route of fearsome reputation in the Scottish hill running community and the UK in general. The round was created by Charlie Ramsay when he first completed this circuit of 24 mountains (of which all but one are Munros), in just shy of 24 hours, in July 1978. Slightly shorter than the other two famous rounds, at 95km, but with a similar amount of ascent, this round is steep and remote, making supported attempts difficult, with long efforts required of the pacers. Jasmin Paris’s impressive 2016 record has stood the test of time, at 16 hours, 13 minutes. Finlay Wild had a terrific run in 2020 to bring the men’s record to a mere 14 hours, 42 minutes, holding the overall record in unsupported style. Alicia Hudelson’s film of the Ramsay Round shows the beauty of the route.

Other notable routes

The above ‘classic’ routes all have one thing in common: they have attracted a lot of competition from top-flight runners, in some cases from outside the UK. There are some other iconic routes we think could become highly competitive. One or two of these routes do not have times listed on; if you know of any FKTs, please let us know.

• Cape Wrath Trail
• Denis Rankin Round
• South Downs Way
• North Downs Way
• Capital Ring
• West Highland Way (note, the supported FKT for this is likely to be race course record)
• Pembrokeshire Coast Path

National Trails

The United Kingdom also lists 15 trails (some of which are above) designated as National Trails. 

What do YOU think?  What have we missed?

Paddy in winter