The pedometer challenge

If you’ve resolved to step out a little more in 2019 then why not take to the towpath and smash those targets?

Pedometer challenge


The festive period is officially over and with its demise comes the sad facts that it’s no longer acceptable to drink sherry at 11am and mince pies don’t actually count as one of your five-a-day. Instead of a morning tipple or pastry, now is the time to take stock, ponder the months ahead and, perhaps, set yourself some positive intentions: achievable goals you’d like to bring into your life in 2019.

If one of your resolutions is to move more, then our network of waterways is an ideal place to start. Whether you’re a pootler or peregrinater, moocher or marcher, saunterer or scamperer, our towpaths offer a space that’s fit for all paces and purposes. Not only are our towpaths free to use they’re also, let’s be frank, a darn sight more appealing than an indoor gym.

Of course, we’re preaching to the converted. A study carried out by the Canal & River Trust in 2017 broke down the myriad ways in which the 4.3 million people who regularly visit our waterways each fortnight spend their time. The study showed that our canals and rivers provide a space shared by commuters, joggers, cyclists, boaters, walkers and their canine companions, while 1.4 million people visit simply to be close to the water. The same study highlighted that over 14% of the UK population live within 1km of our waterways – a figure that’s much higher in urban areas – meaning that we have the potential to provide over eight million people with an alternative space in which to exercise both body and mind.

If you’ve recently been gifted an activity tracking gadget, or your smartphone has similar capabilities, then you may already be pondering how to reach your daily step target. Look no further than your local towpath – it’s a place where you can escape the usual pace of life, soak up the tranquil surroundings and lift your mood, while simultaneously heading towards your goal. Many visitors we speak to also enjoy the sense of community they find down by the water, and the way that their regular jog or walk beside the water helps them to feel anchored in their surroundings.

One tip to help you stick to your fitness goals – and to make using the towpath as your treadmill as enjoyable as possible – is to make sure your experience feels entirely different from an indoor gym. Create a nature spotter’s guide for your regular running route, awarding yourself points for each mallard and heron you see along the way. Use the landscape to your advantage by turning bridges, turnstiles and locks into markers along your route. Or if you’re up for a challenge, why not test yourself by running beside a lock flight and measure how much further you can run uphill before stopping to catch your breath each time. Often the path of most resistance is the most rewarding!

Whatever your fitness goal, we hope that your local waterway will help your resolution become a reality this year. To get things started, we’ve highlighted three routes to help you reach your step target. Now step to it!

5,000 steps in Manchester

We all have to start somewhere and this stretch of the Rochdale Canal is a perfect place to tick off an initial 5,000 steps. Starting from Lock 84 (a short walk from Manchester Piccadilly train station), this route will take you along the towpath, through Sackville Gardens with its Alan Turing memorial statue, and will end up in the heart of the Castlefield Basin, where it connects to the Bridgewater Canal. We recommend ending your walk at the nearby Roman fort.

10,000 steps in Birmingham

It’s rumoured that Birmingham has more canals than Venice, making it an ideal place for an exploratory stroll. Our favourite route starts at the bottom of the Farmer’s Bridge Lock Flight (Lock 13), continues west along the Birmingham & Fazeley Canal, branches off up the New Main Line and then circles back via the Roundhouse to the Gas Street Basin, where quirky bridges and bright narrowboats provide the backdrop for a well-earned break.

20,000 steps in London

Perhaps the ultimate in city canal walks, the stretch of the Regent’s Canal from Limehouse Station to Little Venice (and then home via Paddington Station) has it all – history, tranquility, wildlife and urban beauty. A particular highlight is the Camley Street Natural Park (opening very soon), near Kings Cross; a true wildlife haven hidden amongst the hustle and bustle of London. As you reach Little Venice you’re greeted by a colourful collection of barges, a fitting reward for reaching your 20,000 step target.

Alan Baker