All quiet on the canals - but not on the towpaths

PUBLISHED: 12:07 06 May 2020 | UPDATED: 12:07 06 May 2020

Towpath 'limit use' sign, Leighton Buzzard (photo: CRT)

Towpath 'limit use' sign, Leighton Buzzard (photo: CRT)

CRT

With the extended lockdown period due for review soon after this issue appears in print, it is not known how long restrictions on canals and towpaths will continue

With the extended lockdown period due for review soon after this issue appears in print, it is not known how long restrictions on canals and towpaths will continue. However as we go to press, the situation remains that leisure boaters on the waterways are being told by navigation authorities not to cruise or to visit their boats, while full-time liveaboards are urged to only move the minimum necessary for example to access facilities. A number of sites including Caen Hill Locks and the Anderton Lift are closed to navigation, other keeper-operated structures are reduced to limited booked use for essential journeys, the requirement for boats without home moorings to move every two weeks is suspended, and expired Boat Safety Scheme certificates have been extended.

But while the canals are quiet, on the towpath it’s a different matter. A Canal & River Trust survey reports a move towards local use, with some ‘honeypot’ sites (such as Central Birmingham and London’s Paddington and Camden) seeing use halved, but other areas recording a major increase (Burnley and Sandwell top the list with a tripling of use) as people take to the towpaths for exercise. CRT Chief Executive Richard Parry said this showed that “people are heeding the Government advice to restrict their daily exercise to local green space to maintain their health and wellbeing”. However he added that “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”, advised cyclists to “only use the towpath for relaxed and responsible cycling”, and urged all users “to take particular care around moored boats – please keep clear and respect those living aboard, who may be in self-isolation.”

However, that advice wasn’t enough to satisfy the National Bargee Travellers Association, which said “CRT has so far not responded to the many calls to protect the health of liveaboard boaters by closing towpaths for leisure use, despite vastly increased use by cyclists, runners and walkers.”

CRT maintained: “If people do approach your boat, there should be no risk to you provided you stay on your boat while they pass,” and urged boaters not to “put yourself or others at risk by confronting other people”, and said that “Under no circumstances should anyone place obstructions on towpaths.”

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