Data shows people swapping tourist hotspots and city centres for local towpaths

Paddington basin
Paddington Basin shows one of the biggest decreases in towpath use.

The Canal & River Trust, the charity which looks after 2,000 miles of the nation’s waterways, welcomes the latest Government advice about the importance of accessible green space, as data shows a growth in people staying local to discover the canal on their doorstep in place of the usual tourist hotspots and many city centre towpaths. 

Since the start of the coronavirus crisis and social distancing measures, the Trust has seen a shift in usage from busy tourist hotspots like Little Venice in London, central Birmingham, and the World Heritage Site at Pontcysyllte Aqueduct in North Wales, in favour of local less-used canal towpaths in residential areas.

This includes a surge in usage amongst less affluent communities where green space is often at a premium.

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The Trust has a number of towpath counters around the country and from these sources it has noted the biggest increases in visits in Burnley (+261%), Sandwell (+199%) and Blackburn (+187%), with the biggest decreases recorded in Paddington Basin (-72%) and Camden (-47%) in London, by Brindley Place in Birmingham (-52%), and at Pontcysyllte Aqueduct in North Wales (-38%).

Burnley embankment
Burnley shows the biggest increase according to the Canal & River Trust. PHOTOS: JANET RICHARDSON

The Trust is sharing these results as the Government highlights the importance of keeping parks and green spaces open, particularly in communities where people don’t have access to gardens or the countryside, but with the clear message that all outdoor exercise should be strictly local.

The Trust is asking people to limit their towpath use, observe social distancing at all times and to be mindful of other users. In particular, the Trust is urging cyclists to go slowly and take care around other users and asking everyone on the towpath to keep away from moored boats.

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Richard Parry, chief executive of the Canal & River Trust, comments: “I’d like to thank everyone who is using the Trust’s towpaths responsibly – observing government guidance to stay local and applying social distancing.

“We know how invaluable our canals are to local communities and the picture across our canal network is that people are switching to spend time on less-used canals in residential areas, and away from tourist hotspots like the World Heritage site at Pontcysyllte Aqueduct and the busier city-centre locations.

“The figures bear out that people are heeding the Government advice to restrict their daily exercise to local green space to maintain their health and wellbeing.  Our canals provide, for many people, a vital green/blue route on-their-doorstep, but people must limit their use and act considerately at this time – standing aside for others to pass, to respect social distancing, where the towpath narrows.

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“I particularly urge cyclists to only use the towpath for relaxed and responsible cycling; anyone wanting to cycle faster than walking pace must give pedestrians priority and is strongly advised to instead use the road network, as it’s much quieter – and safer – during this pandemic.

“I also ask all towpath users to take particular care around moored boats – please keep clear and respect those living aboard, who may be in self-isolation.

“It’s wonderful to hear that people are discovering their local towpaths for their daily exercise.  Our canals can be a lifeline for people but only if we use them responsibly.”

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In support of the government advice to stay at home as much as possible, the Canal & River Trust has an online hub of canal-related films, images, interactive content and stories for everyone to enjoy safely at home to get their enjoyment of the waterways virtually.

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