Monday, 10 October 2011

Trail running in Farnham

Do you like trail running?  Then next time you are in Surrey, take a look at the medieval market town on Farnham, which is surrounded on all sides by superb running trails.

When you look at Farnham on a map, you will notice a triangle of main roads, which enclose the beautiful Farnham Park.  A six hundred year old deer park, where deer can still be seen occasionally, the park is a mix of open grassland and old oak trees with some well maintained paths around the perimeter and across the centre.  But the real joy for trail runners is the network of small dirt tracks criss crossing the park.  Many areas have been allowed to become overgrown, with brambles and bracken and oak saplings, creating a secluded feel and a maze of trails for runners to explore.

To the North of Farnham Park is an area of sand and gravel known locally as 'the common'.  Used for army manouevers but open to the public, this area is marked on maps with 'Bricksbury Hill', 'Caesar's Camp' and 'Long Bottom'.  This area is covered with short, sharp hills, rocks and plenty of isolated patches of water.  It is great for a hard workout, with stunning views from the top of the old Roman Caesar's Camp in the middle.

Between the common and Weybourne is Rowhills Copse, locally known as Bluebell Woods for the blue flowers that can be seen in spring.  While small, this is a densely wooded area, tricking you into thinking you are much further from civilization than you really are.  It is the source of the Blackwater River.

The common runs into Rowhills Copse and you can continue along public footpaths past the ponds (sadly private) at Badshot Lea onto an area of land I don't have a name for (it is shown in white on the OS Landranger map, bordering the A331 with a couple of small bodies of water.

This is damp grassland surrounded by woods and deer can be seen here too in early morning.  You can follow the curve of the A331 round to the North, running alongside a canal for miles in this direction.

Farnham is home to the start of the North Downs Way, a long distance footpath that stretches all the way to Kent.  This varied trail is well marked and makes for a great out and back trail run from Farnham.

One of my favourite Farnham trail runs begins at the Shepherd and Flock roundabout.  This junction is so big that it hosts a pub (serving the excellent Hog's Back TEA at the time of writing) and several houses.  Its always busy here but there is a pedestrian underpass into the middle and you can then run along a gravel track out of Farnham and follow the River Wey all the way to Tilford along secluded wooded tracks.  On the way, there is a worthwhile detour up Crooksbury Hill.  Its only a short climb and well worth it for the long views to the west.

From Tilford you can keep running all day, heading south along the river to Frensham ponds (the Little Pond and Great Pond).  To the east is Hankley common.  This entire area is sandy with a mix of trees and scrub, crisscrossed with paths.

From Crooksbury Hill (car park at the bottom), after ascending the summit, drop down over the far side and keep running east as far as Cutmill ponds  and Puttenham Common, another maze of sandy trails through oak woods.

Farnham won't give you the biggest hills in the world, but it is far from flat, being situated at the edge of the North Downs.  The trails are forever switching between up and downhill and this can be deceptively tiring.

It would be easy to combine all of these routes into an epic circular trail run, taking in the best running that Farnham has to offer.