Weekend Warm-Up: Trail Running Every Mountain in Wales

Will Renwick is the first to tell you that he probably chose the wrong time of year to attempt a continuous trail run of every 600m+ peak in Wales.

“[September] is very cold. The nights are very long, and the days are very cold. So not a good time to be trying to run up every single mountain in Wales,” the outdoor writer/editor and athlete shares in the film’s opening moments about his adventure, Taith Galed (A Hard Journey). 

man running on Welsh fells

Photo: Screenshot


But after being delayed for a year by COVID-19 lockdowns, Renwick wasn’t prepared to wait any longer. On Sept. 11, 2021, he set off on the attempt. In the coming weeks, he’d battle the aforementioned cold and short days in conjunction with heinous
blisters, endless rain, waterlogged trails, and, in one memorable case, forgetting to climb an entire mountain.

It’s a hell of a journey, and luckily for us, it’s all on film.

A Welsh obsession

Renwick’s obsession with Welsh mountains comes naturally — he’s a native of the country who got bit by the hillwalking bug early and hard. By the time he’d graduated college, Renwick had hiked virtually every trail that Wales had to offer.

Then he stumbled across the challenge of bagging all 189 of Wales’ 600m peaks. The route begins at the Swansea Observatory in the country’s southern end and zigzags all the way to the northern coast at Conway Castle.  But without the time in his schedule to hike the entire 800km route, Renwick knew he’d have to run it. No easy task.

a map of the route that connects every high mountain in Wales

Photo: Screenshot


“Truth be told, I was not confident that Will was going to make it,” says Mike Brindley, one of the videographers for the film.

An accomplished outdoor athlete, Renwick nevertheless gave himself a year to train and plan for the adventure. Then he had to wait another year when COVID-19 restrictions delayed his start date. Finally, one drizzly Welsh morning in September, he was off.

a man stands on a mountain and points

Will Renwick points out some of the mountains he’ll run up during his journey. Photo: Screenshot


“So the route started off going through the urban sprawl of Swansea. And then, eventually, the city petered out, and I was in the south Wales valleys…and I was just all of a sudden in the wilds of [the] Brecon Beacons [range]. And within a day, I was actually on the first of my 189 mountains of the challenge,” Renwick recalls.

Challenges abound

As the film explains, Renwick fell victim to a classic runner’s conundrum, whether the route is a 5k or a multi-week challenge — going out too fast, too early. He made excellent time in the first three days, but then an ankle injury, increasingly worse blisters, fatigue, and psychological challenges began to set in.

a close-up of a heavily blistered heel

Photo: Screenshot


“I remember Will calling me early on when he was thinking of quitting. And I think it hit him all at once how far he had to run. How high he had to run. How many mountains he had to run. And the insurmountable total finally just became too much,” notes Hannah White, Renwick’s partner.

fell runner in overcast weather

Photo: Screenshot


“And 189 is such a vast number. I can’t even picture it myself, and I think that’s what gave him his wobble. But I knew that if he just thought about it [as] one foot in front of the other, I knew that he could do it,” she continued.

Also in the runner’s way? Nearly constant rain. Many of the trails he had to scramble up along the route were more streambeds than footpaths.

“My feet were just constantly wet the whole time. Actually, every part of me was wet the whole time. There were times when I’d be running where a path should be, but actually it was a river.”

a raging river that was once a trail

This is, technically, a trail. Photo: Screenshot


Still, after 16 days of running, Renwick was standing on top of Snowdon — the highest mountain in Wales and the tallest peak in the UK south of the Scottish Highlands. And it’s this moment, Renwick says in the film, where he first began to believe he might legitimately complete the task.

Unfortunately, in the excitement and struggle of submitting the peak, Renwick missed one of the 189 hills he meant to climb. He had to backtrack over 50km to notch it, which bummed him out and seriously affected his schedule.

The extraneous fades away

You’ll have to watch the 20-minute film to determine if Renwick completes his self-imposed trial. And you won’t regret the watch. Virtually every second of the film showcases stunning POV and drone shots of the ruggedly beautiful Welsh countryside.

Watching Renwick’s tiny figure moving solidly across the green mountains just never gets old, and you can understand why the runner put himself through so much physical and mental effort to attempt the journey.

overlooking green valley in mountainous Wales

Photo: Screenshot


“[It’s] the simplicity that you find there, especially on multi-day adventures…All of a sudden, life becomes very clear. All you need to do in a day is put one foot in front of the other and worry about where you’re going to eat and where you’re going to sleep,” Renwick says toward the film’s climax.

“You don’t have to worry about all these extraneous things. And I think it’s that simplicity that keeps drawing me back and drawing me back to the trails of Wales.”

Andrew Marshall

Andrew Marshall is an award-winning painter, photographer, and freelance writer. Andrew’s essays, illustrations, photographs, and poems can be found scattered across the web and in a variety of extremely low-paying literary journals.
You can find more of his work at www.andrewmarshallimages.com, @andrewmarshallimages on Instagram and Facebook, and @pawn_andrew on Twitter (for as long as that lasts).