Life in the slow lane

Millions of people visit canals for a chance to escape the hectic pace of modern life, which is why the Canal & River Trust is urging the public to slow down when using the towpaths

Canal & River Trust


We all need a calming place to go, especially when much of our lives are taken up with trying to cram as many things into a day as possible. We need a place where we can relax, reflect and take stock away from the hustle and bustle. This is one of the main reasons why millions of us choose to visit waterways, especially in urban areas where they provide a unique, natural environment where you can unwind.

However, one thing that’s guaranteed to unsettle that peace and tranquillity is someone rushing past far too fast.

That’s why, for the past three years, the Trust has been working on a campaign to encourage everyone – particularly cyclists and runners – to be extra considerate of others when using the towpath. Taking its cue from the towpath code of conduct – “Share the space, drop your pace, it’s a special place” – the campaign urges people to slow down to ensure canals remain special places for millions of people to enjoy every year.

Central to the campaign this year is the ‘drop your pace’ part – a polite and clear message aimed at reinforcing the idea that towpaths are a place to unwind rather than rush and encouraging people to be mindful of others.

“Throughout the summer, the Trust will spray messages on the towpath in the busiest areas around England and Wales to encourage people to ‘slow down and look around’ and that there’s ‘no need to rush, just relax’,” said campaign manager Claire Risino. “Visitors will also be able to spot a 3D image of a ‘sleeping policeman’ – literally a picture of a policeman having a nap – at various points along the towpath that urges people to drop their pace, a light-hearted nod to the physical speed measure often seen on roads.”

In part, this image recognises the limitations for infrastructure change on the towpaths and echoes one of the key findings in a recent survey we organised – most people feel that physical speed restrictions would be a bad idea or should only be used as a last resort. That’s the main reason this campaign is all about awareness and gentle persuasion. It’s up to all of us to share the space and drop our pace to keep the towpaths a special place.

Towpaths are no place for PBs
To help spread the message, the Trust is launching a short film in which a cyclist and runner aim to record a personal best time along a stretch of towpath, with unexpected results. The central message of the campaign is that cyclists and joggers are always welcome on the canal, but should slow down as they might injure others or get hurt themselves.

“Many cyclists say they are scared by the behaviour of others on roads – such as drivers not leaving enough space or travelling too fast – so what we’re trying to say to them, in a jovial way, is that other canal users could share the same concerns about cyclists on the towpath,” said Dick. “Another important point is that, if you’re going too fast, you are more likely to be hurt seriously than people who are not.”

Dick will also be touring the country’s canals with Bobby the ‘sleeping policeman’ throughout the summer, visiting hotspots where people travelling too fast is still a persistent issue and ensuring the campaign message is heard where it’s needed most.

“We hope our new recruit will help us raise a smile and spread the message to slow down and to enjoy your time on our historic slow lanes,” he said. “Life is much better by the water… but you might end up in it if you go too fast! Slow down – you’ll enjoy it all the more.”

Find out more
Canals and rivers can be very lively spaces. You could see cyclists, walkers, boaters, anglers, kayakers and even horses pulling boats along the water. Our Share the Space, Drop your Pace campaign encourages everyone to be more aware when using the towpaths. Find out more on the website

Spread the word
Want to help spread the ‘drop your pace’ message? Why not volunteer as a towpath ranger? Read about the many opportunities available on our website

Join us live!
Chat to us on Facebook Live this Monday 26 June at 1pm. Towpath Ranger Dick Vincent will be riding with Sam from Cycling UK – talking about the joys of cycling, towpaths and cycling on towpaths. Send in your questions and Dick and Sam will be able to answer them directly. Tune in to the Canal & River Trust Facebook page on Monday 26th June at 1pm.