Towpaths, canals and rivers

Briefing
Towpath and riversides make attractive cycling routes

Towpaths, canals and rivers

Headline Message 
  • Opening up towpaths and riverside paths for cycling enhances the network of motor traffic-free routes for commuting, recreation and other purposes.
  • Some walkers and other users are concerned about sharing paths with cyclists, but codes of conduct on responsible cycling, together with good design, help promote harmony.
Policy Key Facts 
  • In England and Wales, there is no general statutory right of way over towpaths along navigable rivers or canals, but a number are public bridleways or footpaths, and others have local rights. In Scotland, cyclists have access to rivers, lochs and reservoirs, provided they respect the Outdoor Access Code
  • Cycling is, in any case, largely welcomed alongside the canals and rivers managed by the Canal and River Trust (England and Wales) and by Scottish Canals.
  • 50% of the British population lives within five miles of a towpath or river.
  • The Canal and River Trust cares for around 2,000 miles of waterways in England & Wales, while Scottish Canals looks after around 137 linear miles in Scotland.
Cycling UK View 
  • Cycling UK welcomes the decision by the Canal and River Trust to allow considerate cyclists to ride along most of the length of its towpaths. These routes are a valuable motor traffic-free facility both for utility and recreational cycling, and national and local government should view them as an important part of the strategic transport network.
  • Codes of conduct help promote courtesy and understanding between users.
  • There is little evidence to support the view that cycling on towpaths creates excessive hazards to walkers or to cyclists themselves.
  • All towpaths should remain open to cyclists along their entire length, unless there are insuperable safety issues that can only be avoided with restrictions.
  • There should be no need to apply for a permit or be charged for cycling along a towpath. Cycling UK therefore strongly welcomes the Trust’s decision to allow cyclists to use its towpaths without permits.
  • To help facilitate cycling, towpaths and river paths should have good surfacing and drainage.
  • There is little evidence to support the view that cycling is any more damaging to towpaths or river paths than walking.
Download the full detailed campaign briefing 
Paths alongside canals and rivers can provide attractive and useful motor-traffic free routes for utility and recreational cycling.