Briefing Note: Mixed Use of Towpaths
This briefing note sets out The Inland Waterways Association’s views on the mixed use of towpaths by different groups of users.
Waterway towpaths are a wonderful national resource, providing well over 3,000 miles of near-continuous path which is available to all. The standard of provision and maintenance varies, so IWA advocates that the high standards of the best areas should be copied more widely. In general, the number of walkable towpaths has been increasing and towpaths are well-used.
The original purposes of towpaths were to enable boats to be towed by horses or manpower and to provide access to, from and along the waterway by licensees or permit holders. Nowadays, in addition to boaters they are used by walkers, dogs, horses, anglers, cyclists, and canoeists – and in some places people live next to them. Towpaths are managed by navigation authorities and local authorities and although they are generally permissive footpaths, some canal towpaths and most riverside paths in England and Wales are public Rights of Way. In Scotland, cyclists have access provided they respect the Outdoor Access Code. This wide variety of paths and users means that it is important for people to understand the needs of others and be aware of their own impact and behave considerately. Canal & River Trust, in consultation with users, has developed a Towpath Code as part of its Share the Space Campaign.
[The photo shows a busy towpath at a boat rally at Ilkeston on the Erewash Canal – by Rupert Smedley]