The charity making life better by water

Sharing the space on our towpaths this summer

We’re asking people to keep their cool on our canals this summer with the launch of our new Towpath Code. Our network is more popular than ever, with more boats on our waterways than at any time during the Industrial Revolution. In fact, new figures show a record of nearly 900 million visits to our canals last year alone. That’s a lot of traffic on our towpaths. To help us enjoy our canals safely and responsibly this summer, we’re urging visitors to be kind, courteous and respectful.

See how we're encouraging everyone to share the space in this short video:

Our canals were once the lifeblood of UK industry, bustling with working narrowboats, criss-crossing the country, laden with grain, wool and coal. Today, they serve a very different purpose, knitting together people, places and communities.

They provide vital habitats for plants and wildlife, bring nature into our inner cities, and offer a tranquil escape from the rigours of daily life. As temperatures soar, and walkers, cyclists, boaters and paddlers flock to the canalside, it's important that we remember to share the towpaths responsibly.

A family with bikes on the canalside

As our chief executive, Richard Parry explains, “With the nation's 250-year-old canals more popular than ever, the summer months are set to draw even more people to visit these much-needed spaces. But with so many people sharing them, and with waterways bringing nature and biodiversity into our towns and cities, it's important that we're kind to each other and to wildlife.”

That means keeping your pace slow, making way for others, particularly if you're cycling, keeping dogs under close control, and, of course, being careful not to litter. Millions of people in England and Wales live just a stone's throw from their local canals, and for many, they play a key role in their everyday lives, whether it's a route to work, a place to fish or exercise, or a favourite walk with our four-legged friends.

“We saw a huge rise in visits to our waterways during the pandemic,” Richard recalls, “and they've remained important places for many people who discovered them during that difficult time.”

A woman with a bike chatting with a man pulling on a mooring rope

It's true that during those dark days of lockdown, our canals became somewhat of a lifeline, a place where people could escape and de-stress. Post-pandemic, the trend has continued, with visits increasing by more than 30% in the past four years.

“Today canals are playing a key role within society,” says Richard, “They are vital links for walking and cycling and help the Government hit its targets around access to nature and the outdoors. By sharing the space responsibly, we can all look forward to enjoying our local canals this summer.”

With that sentiment in mind, here's a quick breakdown of our new Towpath Code, a simple, easy-to-understand guide for how to share our towpaths:

  • Pedestrians have priority.
  • Cyclists must slow down for others.
  • Take extra care when passing people, pets and wildlife.
  • Respect people using the waterway for activities like angling, boating or paddle sports.
  • Wheelchairs, mobility aids, cycles and legal e-bikes are allowed.
  • E-scooters, motorbikes, modified e-bikes and other unauthorised vehicles are not allowed.
  • Keep dogs under close control and clean up after them.
  • Take litter home.

By adhering to a few simple guidelines, being friendly, courteous and mindful of others, we can all enjoy our towpaths safely and sensibly this summer. As our new Towpath Code campaign reminds us: ‘Share the space, Drop your pace, It's a special place'.

Last Edited: 28 July 2023

photo of a location on the canals
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