Top 10 towpath code questions answered

As part of our Share the Space, Drop your Pace campaign, we spoke to Dick Vincent, our national towpath ranger, about the most commonly asked questions he gets. But first a little test to see if you know the answers already...

OK, Dick it's over to you for the answers...

Dick Vincent, national towpath ranger

If you have a burning question which isn’t answered below, get in touch our very knowledgable customer services team.


Why are you running the Share the Space, Drop your Pace campaign?

Towpaths are for everyone to use and they’re now more popular than ever. They are special places full of nature, wildlife, history and peace and we want them to remain peaceful and relaxing, an antidote to our busy and stressful lives. With so many people enjoying the towpaths and the many great things to do on them, it’s important that everyone is considerate to each other and keeps to a slow pace.

Is the towpath a public right of way?

While some towpaths are 'public rights of way' most aren’t. Instead, our towpaths are 'permissive paths' – private land we allow anyone to enjoy as long as they follow the Towpath Code. Occasionally we need to close towpaths to carry out maintenance work or for special events. You should always check our website for advance notices when planning a towpath trip.

Why are you asking people to slow down when travelling on the towpath?

People tell us that they want towpaths to be a place where they can go to escape the busy streets, shift down a gear and slow down. While running and cycling on towpaths are a great way relax, if you go too fast it can spoil it for others or worse - you or another person could get hurt. Towpaths aren’t like roads, so everyone needs to treat them differently to get the best out of them. Don’t rush, just relax and enjoy your visit.

Why should I slow down when other people are speeding?

It’s up to everyone to consider their pace on the towpath. You don’t have to wait for someone else to slow down, why don’t you make the first move? You’ll enjoy your journey much more if you travel at a slower pace, feeling less stressed and being able to enjoy all the towpaths have to offer. Plus, going too fast could result in injury to yourself or someone else, and damage to your property or someone else’s. 

Remember that the canals are for everyone to share but they are also home to many boaters and wildlife. They are many things to many people.

Why is there no speed limit on the towpath?

We don’t specify speed limits on the towpath. We ask that everyone uses common sense, with primary consideration for pedestrians, those that are moving slowly or are stationary and those handling boats, as they are often the most vulnerable. At busy times – when people are travelling to and from work - anyone in a hurry should use an alternative route.  Being late for work is no excuse for spoiling others’ enjoyment or injuring them.

no need to rush, just relax

Why don’t you put in more chicanes and speed bumps?

We've put speed measures on the towpaths in the past and still do where they work and don’t limit access for those in wheelchairs or with prams. In most cases, however, this isn’t possible and there isn’t much evidence they do slow down those who are intent on riding their bikes fast. In many instances speed measures can create other problems and can often cause trip hazards.

Cyclists come to the towpaths because they are safer than the roads. We’re victims on the road yet villains on the towpath.

We agree that more needs to be done to make roads safer and more attractive for cyclists – this why as part of the Better Towpaths for Everyone policy we commit to working with others to achieve this, especially in places where towpaths are very busy. As more people take to bikes it’s vital that there good alternatives and towpaths remain 'nursery slopes' in a hierarchy of available routes.

Cycling signage on the towpathCycling will always be welcomed on towpaths but they aren’t the same as roads so cyclists do need to adjust their behaviour to match the more relaxed environment. Just as a truck is the biggest vehicle on the road, a bike is the biggest vehicle on the towpath. It can be scary for people to be passed by a cyclist going too fast as they might get hit or lose balance and potentially fall into the canal. 

Pedestrians wear headphones so when I ring my bell they don’t move. What should I do?

Pedestrians are generally the most vulnerable visitors to the towpath and have priority at all times, so while it’s a good idea to let others know you are there by ringing a bell or calling out, this shouldn’t be a demand. This is especially important when considering people who may have impaired hearing.

Why don’t you just make the towpaths wider?

Towpaths were built (in most cases) over 200 years ago for horses to pull barges. In many places, where we have been able to, we have improved the existing towpath so it can be shared more comfortably by everyone but it’s simply not possible to do this everywhere and, as a charity our funds are limited.

My local towpath is in a really bad state, with potholes and puddles. I can’t walk along it, let alone cycle. What are you going to do about it?

The Canal & River Trust receives no funding specifically for towpath improvements. We work with local councils and groups to help us maintain them. In London, we work with partners such as Transport for London and Sustrans to improve parts of the towpaths. Plus, there are a number of sections of towpath across the country which have been improved by funding to make the part of the National Cycling Network. We mainly get funding from projects to upgrade the towpaths in cities and towns where the use of towpaths is more concentrated. 

If you find a pothole, please do let us know by getting in touch with customer services on 03030 404040.

Last date edited: 14 June 2017