A few months ago I went to do some fell running in the Preseli Hills. The Preselis are a mountain range nearby to where I live. In fact I can see them on the horizon from our house. Always tempting to get out there!
Today I realised that the term “fell running” is not that well recognised outside of the UK. I was reading this thread on the /r/trailrunning subreddit when I made the realisation. Hopefully this post can help explain what it is.
The short answer is that fell running is not much different to trail running. It’s just trail running but where the route you are taking is most difficult because of the hills or elevation.
The best, most concise definition I could find is that fell running is the sport of running (or racing) off road and over upland country where the gradient climbed is a significant portion of the difficulty.
There are many impressive fells in Northern Britain, especially around the Lake District. So fell running has elements of trail running, cross country and mountain running, but is also considered to be distinct from those disciplines.
Wales has many fells and impressive mountains to run. I consider myself very lucky to live here and have all of this within close proximity.
The two fells that were targets on this occassion were Foel Drygarn and Carn Menyn. “Foel” is Welsh for “Fell”. My goal was to see the rugged rocks which look like scales on a dragon’s back sticking out of the ground. They run all the way along the ridge between these fells.
This entire range is really beautiful, and I try to get out there once every month or so to experience the hills and rugged terrain.
Fell running to the top I came upon the ruins of an old hill fort. The hill does make for an excellent location as you get a specacular view of the surrounding areas, and this would have been a very defensible position.
The climb is quite sharp, but it is the classic definition of a fell. A high and barren mountain or moor covered hill. Here is my initial ascent toward the top (where the hill fort is located):
At the top, in the middle of the old fort are the three large stone cairns. They are regarded as Bronze Age burial mounds, and have seemingly been left untouched by those who built and occupied the hill fort.
Carn Menyn sits on top of the Preseli hills ridge. The main feature is the rocky outcrops of spotted dolerite. The high point of this small mountain or fell, provides a great view across the surrounding area, and across Cardigan Bay to the Llŷn Peninsula.
More Fell Running and Mountains in Wales
The Preseli Hills are a great place for me to do some fell running, but as I eluded to earlier, Wales is host to many other significant and impressive fells and mountains.
I plan on tackling some of those in official races next year, one of which is the Wild Horse 200 (which will traverse the Brecon Beacons on part of the route). The other is UTS 50 – which I did some scouting and testing on earlier this year. Finally a stretch goal I have is to do one of the toughest mountain races known – the Montane Dragon’s Back – a 380 km foot race over 6 days.
If you’re in Wales to explore, there are options no matter which part you’re in. North Wales? Snowdonia and the surrounding area is perfect. Mid Wales has the Brecon Beacons and Black Mountains, and West Wales has the Preseli Hills.
4 thoughts on “Fell Running in the Preseli Hills”
Oh, this is beautiful, Sean!
Those videos are amazing – the first one must be from a drone, right?
I’ve heard of fell running and the way you describe it was exactly the way I imagined it to be. Very steep, very wild, maybe even without a visible trail. The run that you did in the Preseli Hills fits the description very well.
And what awesome races you have on your 2023 schedule! I knew about the Wild Horse one and I thought that was going to be the highlight of next year. And now there’s the Dragon’s Back! I checked out the website and it looks epic. When is it? I couldn’t find the date. I’m guessing September 2023?
It is, isn’t it! Granted it was in Summer when I did this particular one. I have been back a few times since June and it still is beautiful, just in different ways. With the low light now there are some stunning golden hour views.
Yes the first one is using my DJI Mavic Air drone – I packed it in my running pack for this run as I knew there would be some great views and its so remote I don’t have to worry about people. It was exceptionally windy that day though, so flying was a bit of a challenge, even on it’s set path mode I used.
It’s good to know that the fell running term is not too mystical in nature. I think as trail runners we all tend to do the same types of running, but there are just more technical and specific terms for them the further you break them down, or how you classify the biome and terrain.
Yes Dragon’s Back will be in early September next year. There is lots of time between Wild Horse 200 and then to prepare – mentally and physically!
I have not yet booked it in though. I better get to at least putting down the first deposit soon!
Thank you for explaining Fell Running, Sean. I’ll see the term on Twitter and on blogs such as this but for us runners here in Canada we have never adopted the term.
I am wondering if it is because the small “mountains” here in Eastern Canada are usually always forested. Bald mountains out west such as the Rocky Mountains sometime have the term mountain running for runners.
Skyrunning is more of a European term, but it is becoming more well known in Canada with the Canadian Skyrunning Series. I have run one of the races in the series. I had run it before it became part of the series & it had loads of elevation. In order to be part of the Canadian Skyrunning Series the director had to come up with another 150 meters of elevation.
I have heard of Montane Dragon Back. Looking at that video on the link home page, that looks extremely tough, Sean. It gave me goosebumps…lol. You are amazing and an extremely tough runner. I know you have it in you to run this. 🙌
Carl, I’m really happy this post helped clarify the term for you. I think your analysis is spot on with the differences.
Skyrunning is another interesting one – there are quite a number of events here in the UK, and it’s something I want to try my hand at (or is that legs!) on a dedicated event or series.
I’ll have to go search your blog to see if you posted anything about the one you ran – kudos. Elevation rich endurance running is extremely tough!
Thanks for reading.