Andy Brooks, off road running coach and race director tells us why The Peak District, the UK's first National Park (1951), is the best place in the world to run trail
Over the years I’ve been lucky enough to travel to many different parts of the world, as well as the length and breadth of the British Isles. And on my travels I’ve always taken my running shoes with me, because getting out for a run is not just a means of keeping in shape, it’s also a great way to explore wherever you are.
I’ve explored vast deserts, huge mountains, tropical rain forests, deep canyons, historic cities and rugged coastlines. Along the way there have been countless spectacular things to see, and many memorable adventures have been had. I’ve appreciated them all, and made vows to return to many. But, something that all the travel has made me realise is that there’s actually no better place on the planet to get out for a run than the Peak District! Somewhere right on my own Derbyshire doorstep.
Sure, there are places with bigger mountains, more extreme landscapes and better weather! But I’ve not found anywhere else that has so much beauty, so much history and so much variety in such a small and accessible area. In that respect, I feel that the PDNP is unique.
I love that it has remote, wild areas which, even on a (rare) sunny bank holiday, can make you feel like you’re the only human on the plant, while being only a parkrun distance from a major city. I love that, even on a relatively short run, you can enjoy a wide variety of terrain. And I love that it’s possible to actually run on so much of the terrain, if you’re reasonably fit. It could be argued that the bigger mountains in some of our other national parks, such as the Lake District or Snowdonia, are more spectacular. And I might agree. But their gnarly terrain isn’t as conducive for running as our original national park, the Peaks.
Being able to run makes it possible to move relatively quickly through the terrain. Some might say that gives you less time to enjoy the views. I would counter that it provides the opportunity to enjoy more views. In the Peaks, it’s not just that there is a great view around every corner, there is a different great view around every corner. With a bit of careful planning, a couple of hours running in the Peaks can take you along high rocky edges, across remote moorland, through spectacular canyon like dales, past historic stately homes, around picturesque lakes and into picture postcard villages. And be home in time for Sunday lunch.
I’m often asked which is the best place and/or my favourite place in the Peaks to go running. The truth is, though, I really don’t know. I’ve been trying to make my mind up for the last 25 years. My mind changes more often than the weather; there are so many great places. But if I were pushed to come up with a top 5, they’d probably be the following; although don’t ask me to put them in order.
- The rocky western edge of Kinder Scout from Edale Cross to the top of Williams Clough, past the Downfall; with breath-taking views over the reservoir below.
- Bleaklow Head to Margery Hill along Howden Edge which has a real feeling of remoteness. Not somewhere to venture in poor visibility unless you’re an expert navigator though.
- Stanton Moor with its unusual rock formations and the legend of the Nine Ladies stone circle. Feels like another world compared to the surrounding area.
- The northern reaches of the Dove Valley from Hartington through to the mysterious Parkhouse and Chrome Hills. Peaceful with a real backwater feel.
- The Goyt Valley: its own little world with a bit of everything, including forests, moorland and high fells.
Oh, damn! I’m now wondering whether I should have included the Edale skyline? Or the Roaches? Or Derwent Edge? Or Stannage Edge? Or Dove Dale? Or Tintwistle Moor? Or Ecton Hill? Or Black Hill? Or Curbar Edge? It’s really hard! There are so many!! On a different day, in a different mood, any of these might have made the cut!
In days gone by you’d usually find me tearing around the countryside as fast as I could, taking part in every fell race going, seeing how high up the field I could finish. And occasionally, when nobody good showed up, making the podium.
In recent years, however, I’ve developed a slightly different mindset. After a freak accident in 2012 I was told I was unlikely to run again. It wasn’t something I was willing to accept though, so I spent the next couple of years patiently re-habbing my way back. It was a tough episode to go through but it was one which gave me a much deeper appreciation of the ability to run. And, importantly, the ability it gives me to get out and enjoy the places I love. As they say, you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone.
So nowadays it’s a slightly more relaxed approach. My running excursions on my favourite trails in the Peaks are more about enjoying the surroundings; rather than always trying to go as fast or as far as I can. Plus I get a huge amount of satisfaction from helping others to get out for a running adventure in the countryside.
You’ll often find me out and about coaching or guiding others around some of my favourite places. Or looking for new favourite places to run which, even after all these years, still isn’t too difficult. There are so many great places in the Peaks, I’m not sure one lifetime is enough to discover them all.
Andy Brooks is an experienced off road running coach, guide, race director and all round lover of the outdoors. When he is not out on the hills you will find him in his van setting off on his next adventure. To find out more about what he gets up to in The Peaks look for him in the FIND section or click here