Patrick’s an interesting chap. Outdoorsman, mountaineer, doctor, sailor, climber. He also runs a bit. He shares his top place in the world to run. It’s not some far-off part of the globe, it’s right here in the UK, on the quiet, rugged Irish coast. Interesting fact: During covid, he got trapped in Greece. In a camper. While most of us were stuck at home and longing for a bit of adventure, he spent his days running, climbing and swimming in near-perfect isolation (he was with his partner, and they did end up adopting 3 puppies en-route, but that’s a story for another day…)
The guys at Mokimor asked me where my favourite place to run is and why. The Causeway coast, on the north coast of Ireland, would have to be my current pick. It’s a combination of the landscape and the weather that makes it so special. On top of that, I’m here visiting my other half’s family, having isolated in the van in the garden for two weeks before making it inside, and can always do with an excuse to escape for an hour!
The coast alternates between white sandy beaches washed by blue-green seas, and high cliffs beaten by grey waves. The cliff paths undulate up and down and in and out, changing and turning too often to give too much thought to a niggling stitch or developing blister; my mind is just always on the scenery, except when I spot a seal or cormorant in the sea below. I’m often surprised when my headphones interrupt me with another kilometre marker, and I generally finish my planned route hungry for more.
Even above the crowds visiting the Giant’s Causeway, there are few people to avoid – perhaps a couple of dog walkers, or braver tourists seeking a different view, but I’m usually the only one running. Away from the landmarks, I can have the most pristine beaches or sublime cliffs to myself. This has been taken to a new level on my current pandemic-visit, and the coast is more beautifully lonely than ever.
My ‘normal’ runs are inland (although a 15km loop is far enough to get my trainers salty), weaving along single-track roads and lanes between a patchwork of fields. Here the surroundings aren’t quite as unique as they are by the coast, but more often than not when I’m running at dawn or dusk I can turn my head to the enormous sky – there’s barely a hill in sight – for sunrises and sunsets that I’ve only seen equalled at sea. Equally, on a clear night after the reds and yellows fade into darkness, the light from the huge theatre of stars is enough to run by. I like to turn my head torch off and tear through puddles on the tracks, disrupting their immaculate reflections of the night sky.
When the sky’s not clear it’s usually wet – let’s be realistic, this is Ireland -, and whether I’m by the sea or inland there’s not much protection, so with the rain there’ll normally be a good gale on too. I love to run in bad weather. In fact, I got a new 10km PB last week in sideways rain, and I remember an absolutely phenomenal half marathon last winter where the onset of adductor strain that stopped me running for a couple of months was almost offset by the joy of running the majority of it in a snowstorm. If I can’t see enough of my surroundings to make a day’s run feel epic, the elements will reliably step up to the mark here on the north coast.
Here’s one of my all-time favourite routes, on the Causeway Coast, Northern Ireland:
Start: There’s a car park in Portballintrae, overlooking Runkerry Beach, big enough for a van!
Route description: From here you can either run along the beach or the railway track just behind the dunes to get to the cliff path that takes you right to the Giant’s Causeway. Then fly down the tourist track to the sea and the famous hexagonal pillars, head along the coast for a few minutes, and back up to the clifftop by the Shepherd’s Steps. From the top, you can turn right and pick up the cliff path to get back to Portballintrae, totalling about 9km. If you’re after more of an adventure you can always turn left – the path continues for 7 gorgeous kilometres to Dunseverick.