Pathways > The Pathways book > Canal towpaths

Canal towpaths

After the packhorse routes came the canals. The new mode of transport brought a step-change in the quantity and speed with which goods could be taken to and from the rapidly growing urban centres. A horse pulling a barge could carry 30 times what it could in a cart.

The efficiency of the canal prompted an investment and building frenzy, but not all canals returned a profit. They were hugely expensive feats of engineering; most would have eventually paid off had the railways not come along and superseded them. In the event the first 'canal age' was very short-lived but it still had a major effect on the industrialisation of Britain.

Now, of course, we are witnessing a resurgence of the canal, primarily for leisure. The canals are busier than ever before and the towpaths are popular with cyclists and walkers alike. Horse-drawn barges, however, are rare and a campaign is on to make sure that the horse related 'furniture' on the canals is preserved.

The Regent's Canal towpath walk, featured in the book, is free to download once you have joined as a member of Walkingworld.

Below you can read the full chapter from the book.
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We decided to include the canal in our exploration of British paths because it was the last method of goods transportation that relied to any real extent on travelling on foot. With its dependence, at least in the early decades, on horse-drawn power, the canal sits at the crossover between the age-old methods of commercial transport and the new. It was the last time that horses led by hand played any major part in the movement of goods around the country.

The canals heralded the emergence of industrial-scale transportation, and were a key element in the simultaneous revolution that was taking place in production. Ultimately canals, railways and newly metalled roads superseded the drovers’ roads and packhorse routes that had been the commercial highways of Britain for centuries. They literally put them out of business.

We think of the canal as an 18th-century invention but the use of water for inland transport goes back to prehistoric times. Some archaeologists believe that the Preselli bluestones at Stonehenge may have been carried there by glaciers from the last ice age, but there is no real evidence that the ice reached that far south. It’s more feasible that the massive blocks of stone were transported all the way from Preselli in South Wales to the ritual site in Wiltshire entirely by human effort. Dragging them overland seems extremely unlikely. There is, however, a feasible route by water, along the Welsh coast, across the Bristol Channel and then by a series of rivers. It would have been an astonishing feat.

There was a rash of canal building across Britain in the early 19th century as industrialists and entrepreneurs rushed to invest in the exciting new technology. ‘Canal mania’ mirrors in many ways the dotcom boom of the late 20th century. As a method of transporting heavy and bulky goods, canals were far preferable to the poorly maintained road system of the time. The first boat along the Bridgewater canal was supposedly towed by a mule but on most waterways heavier, stronger horses were more popular. A horse pulling a barge could transport 30 tons, 10 times what it could carry in a cart. Between 1760 and 1820 no fewer than a hundred canals were built. In some cases extravagant profits were made, with massive returns on investment. In others the shareholders lost pretty well everything.

In theory it all started with the St Helen’s Canal, which was built as an adjunct to the Sankey Brook in 1757, making it navigable down to the river Mersey. A few years later the much better-known Bridgewater Canal was opened, joining the Duke of Bridgewater’s coal fields with his customers in Manchester some 10 miles away. With the opening of the canal the cost of coal in Manchester was reduced by two-thirds. It was a highly compelling argument for further canal construction.

The canal companies made their returns from charging tolls, from providing services to barges, and sometimes from providing the water in the canal itself to factories on the way. But while there were economic benefits to canal owners and to those trading in the goods carried on them, other interests had to be taken into account. Canals used water draining down from the highpoint to the eventual outflow, albeit more slowly than a river, so the need for water for the canal had to be balanced against the irrigation required by surrounding farmland. There was also the risk of flooding if the canal banks were breached. To control these factors, most new canals required an act of parliament, laying down the rights and responsibilities of all involved.

As canal owners were usually prevented from owning their own fleets (to prevent a monopoly developing), another group of entrepreneurs sprang up to provide the boats. Sometimes an owner would have only one boat, on which he would live with his whole family. Others would have a fleet operated by hired boatmen.

The earliest boats were simple open barges, as the distances involved were small enough for the boaters to continue to live on land. But as those distances got greater it became necessary to sleep overnight on the barge. The convention was to have a small cabin at the stern into which whole families lived and slept, often in very cramped quarters.

It was an all-consuming existence, and the boatmen formed a community apart. The forms of decoration that sprang up on their barges are not unlike those on Romany caravans, and it is possible that some of the people were the same (though many boating families firmly resisted the connection). The lack of nautical terms used on inland boats suggests that the people came from the bankside rather than from the sea. Some, perhaps, were navvies involved in canal construction, labourers from the vicinity attracted to a different way of life, or drovers who realised that they had to embrace the new world.

The ascendancy of the canals was short-lived: they were largely superseded by the railways, although many were actually bought up by the railway companies as they sought to have an integrated transport system. Landowners who had invested in canals sometimes fought hard to prevent railways being built across their land, but the onward push of the railway was irreversible. Canals struggled to compete and had to slash their toll prices; the profits available to boat owners also plummeted.

But the canal has had an enduring effect on our country. Perhaps more than anything, it presaged a new attitude to the landscape and how you could travel through it. Canals couldn’t go up and down hills: they had to be punched through the countryside on a level. Surveying canals brought new understandings of the geology of the landscape. William Smith, who over a half a lifetime of research created the first geological map of Britain, first developed his skills as a canal surveyor.

Smith was a man of the new industrial Britain, employed by the wealthy and aristocratic the length and breadth of the country to help drain their fields, survey their canals and tell them where to mine for coal. Like so many pioneers, he was rewarded reasonably handsomely for his practical assistance and treated badly for his seminal contribution to the new academic discipline of geology. Largely ignored by the aristocratic academics of his time, he bankrupted himself in the expectation that the map would make his fortune. Smith spent several weeks in the King’s Bench debtors’ prison in London. His story, however, ends rather more happily. His contribution to the nascent discipline of geology was finally recognised and a pension was cobbled together to allow him to live out his days in modest comfort.

Regent’s Canal
David Stewart joins two members of British Waterways (now the Canal and River Trust) on a three-mile stretch of the Regent’s Canal, to search for clues to its horse-drawn past.



Canals were difficult and expensive things to build. Regent’s Canal in London is a graphic example of the difficulties and risks involved in such a major engineering undertaking. The Duke of Bridgewater’s canal was funded entirely by him, but most canal enterprises needed to raise share capital, and then an act of parliament was required to push the plans through. The act would place constraints on how the canal was constructed and how commerce on it was managed.

The Regent’s Canal project was proposed by canal entrepreneur Thomas Homer and the Regent’s Canal Act was passed in 1812. One of the directors was the architect and town planner John Nash, who integrated the canal into his masterplan for this whole area of north London and got his friend, the Prince Regent, to lend the new waterway his name. Nash’s engineer, James Morgan, was given the task of overseeing construction.

Homer, however, got into personal financial trouble. He was found guilty of embezzling the company’s funds in 1815 and sentenced to transportation. The shareholders had to be approached for a fresh injection of cash. There were also bitter arguments with one of the landowners, a Mr Agar, whose gardeners took to having fist fights with the navvies. The first section of the canal, from Paddington to Camden, finally opened in 1816 and four years later the second section was completed through to the Thames at Regent’s Canal Dock (now called Limehouse Basin). The whole enterprise cost over £770,000, twice the original estimate.

In 1845 the Regent’s Canal company was offered £1m to have the canal basin drained and converted into a railway. The offer was accepted but finance could not be raised for the venture. Another attempt was made in 1883. However, the canal company managed to stage a revival in the late 1920s, buying two connecting canals, the Grand Junction and the Warwick, and combining them to form the Grand Union Canal Company, whose waters stretched from the Thames to Birmingham. A subsidiary bought 186 pairs of narrow boats and aggressive pricing won custom back from the railways. The strategy worked for a decade or more but the final decline was inevitable.

The change to powered craft was also very gradual. The first steam engines weighed over 10 tons and took up a major proportion of the carrying capacity of a barge. Steam-powered craft were sometimes used by the canal companies to tow boats through tunnels, replacing the slow and laborious work of ‘legging’, in which a team of people would lie on the roof of a barge and propel it through using their feet. Propelled craft really only came into their own after the first world war, when simple single-cylinder diesel engines were installed. On the Regent’s Canal the final horses were only replaced in the 1950s, first by narrow tractors chugging along the towpath. The last horse-drawn cargo was towed along the canal in 1956.

I am intrigued to learn that there are plenty of relics of horse-drawn canal boating on the Regent’s Canal in London. I have arranged to meet up with Gill Owen from British Waterways’ marketing department and Florence Salberter, one of its heritage advisers. Gill has promised me that you can find bridge supports and handrails all along the canal where the lines from horse to barge have rubbed deep grooves. It is a walk I must have done a dozen or more times when I lived in London 30 years ago but I don’t remember these tell-tale signs at all.

In the interests of research my wife and I (plus dog) had earlier spent a lazy half day on the Kennet and Avon canal, being pulled along by Freddy the shire horse. The Kennet Horse Boat Company has a large barge capable of holding well over 50 people, complete with bar. Even with this number on board Freddy is able to pull us along with comparative ease, stopping every now and then to munch on vegetation while the barge glides gently through the still water. The quietness is striking, a huge contrast to the chug-chug of the diesel engine one usually associates with canal boats. Progress is also extraordinarily smooth, the only bumps coming as the four young men in charge of the boat manoeuvre it by hand into locks and under bridges. You can see why Josiah Wedgwood was so keen on canal transport for his fragile pottery.

At sharp corners and other obstacles, pillars and posts on the canal towpath are used to pivot the boat around. Those few still involved in horse-boating are keen to see the remaining posts retained, both for their practical use and also because they are reminders of an important part of canal history. Often they have been taken out and not replaced, perhaps because the repairers have not understood their purpose.

Coming away from British Waterways’ plush west London offices, we almost immediately find ourselves at the pretty basin called Little Venice (a name supposedly devised by Robert Browning, who lived in a house overlooking the canal from 1862 to 1887). Little Venice is surrounded by graceful Regency mansions with white stucco facades and it’s all looking magnificent on this bright autumn day. We sit first in a canal boat café having a cup of coffee and chatting about the history of the canal.

As we set off Florence points out the toll house built in 1812 by Westbourne Terrace Road Bridge, where fees would have been paid by barges heading north on the Grand Junction Canal. It accentuates the fact that these were two completely separate commercial businesses. Indeed, here at the junction of the two canals a height differential had to be engineered and locks put in place to ensure that the Regent’s Canal and Grand Junction Canal companies were not supplying each other with free water. Later an act of parliament in 1816 specifically permitted the Regent's Canal company to act as a supplier of water to the Grand Junction Canal, presumably at a price. The fact that they went to such lengths to regulate their use of water is indicative of its value to them as a limited resource.

We cross the bridge on to the towpath opposite signposted to Camden and Regent's Park. Leaving the pool of Little Venice, we walk alongside the Blomfield Road residential moorings, one of the finest waterside locations in London. We are not allowed to use the towpath by these barges, so we turn onto Blomfield Road for a hundred yards or so.

At the end of Blomfield Road the canal disappears into the Maida Hill Tunnel, underneath the trendy-looking Café Laville. It is immediately obvious that the tunnel has no towpath, a common situation across the canal network. Digging a tunnel capable of containing a full-size horse as well as a narrowboat would have been immeasurably more expensive. Hence the practice of legging; it must have been hard, dirty work.

We cross over Edgware Road into Aberdeen Place and pass Crocker’s Folly public house on our left. The imposing, if slightly mad-looking, edifice was built in the late 1890s by a Kilburn publican called Frank Crocker. It wasn’t named as such by him, of course: he gave it the grander name of the Crown Hotel. He had hoped it would sit right by a new railway terminal but the plans were changed and the trains, with their valuable passengers, eventually came in a mile or more further south at Marylebone. The hotel was a huge failure. The story goes that Crocker, bankrupted, committed suicide by throwing himself out of an upstairs window. The reality is rather more mundane: he died of natural causes in 1904. The property is on sale now for over £4m but there have been no takers and most of the time it is boarded up. The day we walk by it is being kitted out for a TV shoot, surrounded by lighting vehicles.

We walk down a flight of steps and back onto the canal towpath as it passes through Lisson Grove. There is a strange blue corrugated iron casing by the steps, encasing cabling or pipework. High walls tower over us on our left, making it feel as though the canal is passing through a cutting. As we come down to the towpath, behind us is the exit of the Maida Hill tunnel, its mouth surrounded by damp mossy brickwork. The darkness in the tunnel is impenetrable; a British Waterways sign tells boat owners to stay within the profile of their boat and switch on their front head lamp.

We come to another short tunnel at Lisson Grove. This one we can walk through, with the towpath running just under the arch on the lefthand side of the canal. The entrance arch has cornerpieces of iron into which thick grooves have been worn by the ropes running from barge to towing horse. At regular intervals along the towpath we see lowered steps in the canal bank. Horses that were accidentally pulled into the canal could be unhitched, brought to these points and extracted.

The canal here is flanked by brand new and renovated buildings, a mixture of office and residential development. We pass a dilapidated brick structure with empty window frames and temporary metal fencing along its top. Coming out from under the next bridge we enter Regent’s Park and the contrast could not be greater. Nash would have liked the canal to go right through the middle of the park but the fine residents baulked at the idea of having the bad language of the boatmen echoing through their gardens. Nash relented and the canal was directed around the outer edge. He had plans to build over 50 villas in Regent’s Park, though only eight were completed.

The canal bends gently to the left to make its detour of the park. The grand villas on our right were built in the late 1980s and early 1990s to Nash’s designs. In the garden of one of them a man with a leaf-blower directs the leaves off the immaculate lawn onto the canal side.

We pass under an aqueduct carrying the forgotten River Tyburn over the canal and come to Macclesfield Bridge, or Blow up Bridge as it has come to be called. On October 2, 1874 at around five o’clock in the morning Macclesfield Bridge was accidentally destroyed when a barge carrying gunpowder underneath exploded, killing the three boatmen on board. The canal was closed for four days. On reconstructing the bridge, the opportunity was taken to turn the great metal bridge supports around so they could wear on the other side. The grooves are deeper on the older side, suggesting a lessening of wear as horses were displaced by onboard motors.

We make our way through London Zoo with its Snowdon aviary, opened in 1965, towering over us on our left. Beyond the zoo the bizarre three-storey Chinese floating restaurant moored in Cumberland Basin appears before us. An arm of the canal used to stretch from here towards Euston station. After it was closed the canal bed was largely filled in with bomb rubble from the second world war.

An expensive and time-consuming delay to the original construction of the canal was caused by the installation of an innovative hydro-pneumatic lock at Hampstead Road, designed by restless inventor William Congreve. It never worked properly and in 1819 had to be replaced with a more conventional one. Congreve still went on to receive a knighthood and more justifiable fame for his inventions in the field of military rockets. His perpetual motion machine, however, was a failure.

At the basin the canal takes a sharp turn to the left towards Camden. Beautiful white town houses stand over us as we go under Regent’s Park Road. In 10 minutes or so we reach Camden Lock, a bustling if now rather touristy market venue. The towpath passes over a footbridge just before the double lock and here the rope grooves cut into the iron handrails and stone walls of the bridge are particularly impressive. We chat for a while to some of the British Waterways canal workers having a break by the lock.

In the past few decades the canals have become busier than they ever were, both for pleasure boating and for canalside walking and cycling. In the 1960s and 70s Westminster and Camden councils opened the towpaths of the Regent’s Canal to the general public. Since that time waterside developments have become a major source of income for British Waterways and others lucky enough to own land beside the canals. The draw to water, for boating, walking or living, seems to be deeply embedded in our psyche.

 

Below is a selected list of walks relating to canals:
 

Aberdeenshire

A pleasant walk along the banks of the River Don that also passes through woodland, past a prehistoric stone circle and along a former towpath by the old Aberdeenshire canal.... More info

ID:
1582
Length:
4.4 Miles
Grade:
Easy Walk

Ayrshire and Arran

Compiled in July 2017. Despite its short length, this is a very pleasant stroll with ancient transport connections as it includes the embankment of a dismantled railway, the towpath of an overgrown canal and an old Stage Coach road. The walk... More info

ID:
7951
Length:
2.5 Miles
Grade:
Gentle Stroll

Berkshire

This walk starts with the royal splendour of Windsor Castle and landscaping of the Great Park. It then drops down the side of the Thames Valley to historic Runnymede and along the Thames towpath into Staines. There are several great views across... More info

ID:
5463
Length:
10 Miles
Grade:
Moderate Walk

Brecon

This walk in the heritage area uses the canal towpath for its outward route, but is more demanding as it climbs up the side of the Blorenge to contour on Hill's Tramway, before dropping quite steeply down near the Llanfoist Inclines to Llanfoist.... More info

ID:
2039
Length:
5.6 Miles
Grade:
Moderate Walk

This mainly level walk follows the Riverside Path along the River Usk before joining the towpath as far as the lock at Brynych. The return route follows the towpath of the Monmouthshire & Brecon Canal. The walking is easy and there is plenty to see.... More info

ID:
5307
Length:
6.2 Miles
Grade:
Easy Walk

Buckinghamshire

Start from the car park and picnic site near the canal and pub at Three Locks. Follow the towpath for some distance, then use a road and field paths to reach the village of Great Brickhill, on a prominent ridge. Having enjoyed the great views, go... More info

ID:
1183
Length:
5 Miles
Grade:
Easy Walk

This walk has everything: gorgeous views across rolling fields towards the Ridgway; lovely villages with great pubs; locks, bridges and towpaths of the Grand Union Canal; Mentmore Towers set in an Arts & Crafts village; and only 42 minutes from... More info

ID:
5810
Length:
8.7 Miles
Grade:
Easy Walk

Cheshire

An easy walk which includes a section of the Trent & Mersey Canal towpath together with a stretch of a former railway, 'The Salt Line'.... More info

ID:
409
Length:
5.6 Miles
Grade:
Easy Walk

The Trail begins just a short distance from the centre of Whitchurch and very soon goes along the towpath of the Shropshire Union Canal. This is left for quiet meadows and at the end of this section, a climb onto the first of the dramatic sandstone... More info

ID:
1908
Length:
11.2 Miles
Grade:
Moderate Walk

Most of the walk is flat, going through pasture and along a towpath, which is left by just one short but steep descent. The area around the castle is among the most tranquil you could find, with views of every side of Beeston Castle itself and also... More info

ID:
4520
Length:
6.2 Miles
Grade:
Easy Walk

Although the climb to White Nancy is the obvious walk in this area, there are plenty of other attractive paths. This route goes south from Bollington on a bridleway to the east of Kerridge Hill before picking up a short length of lanes rising to an... More info

ID:
7045
Length:
6.8 Miles
Grade:
Easy Walk

Compiled in August 2017. Starting from the 'Tunnel Top' pub above the Preston Brook Canal tunnel, this is a lovely walk to enjoy before lunch and is part of two long distance trails. Walk down the lane to the southern end of the tunnel and the... More info

ID:
7974
Length:
3.1 Miles
Grade:
Easy Walk

Cumbria

Walks 1160 and 1161 were devised to keep walking going throughout the outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease that devastated the countryside at the start of the century. Both have more road-walking than you or I would like and although they are still... More info

ID:
5385
Length:
5 Miles
Grade:
Moderate Walk

This walk has a bridleway, woodland, a short stretch of parkland, the canal, a few fields and good views of the Lake District from the elevated towpath, making a more than satisfactory day out. The intention was to offer an improved version of Walk... More info

ID:
5410
Length:
6.2 Miles
Grade:
Moderate Walk

Denbighshire

From the town centre the famous bridge over the River Dee is crossed, beyond which a short climb leads to the canal towpath. This brings you out into more open country, where field-paths are followed to the foot of the hill on which Castell Dinas... More info

ID:
312
Length:
6.2 Miles
Grade:
Moderate Walk

Derbyshire

A charming and easy circular walk by the Trent & Mersey Canal. The walk takes you along the banks of the canal, on good towpaths (suitable for small children to walk - with supervision of course) to the junction of the canal with the River Trent and... More info

ID:
647
Length:
5.6 Miles
Grade:
Easy Walk

A spectacular walk over the Chinley Churn moors to join the old drovers' road to Hayfield, joining first the Sett Valley Trail followed by The Goyt Way and taking in Torside Park in New Mills. It finishes along the canal towpath to the car park at... More info

ID:
3814
Length:
10.6 Miles
Grade:
Moderate Walk

Devon

This walk is very varied, using the Grand Western Canal towpath, then on to footpaths across farmland through quiet country lanes which take you into the mid-Devon countryside and small villages. There is also the option to visit St Mary's Church and... More info

ID:
4683
Length:
4.4 Miles
Grade:
Easy Walk

Glasgow

The Glasgow branch of the Forth and Clyde Canal is largely disused, but is far from derelict. Currently the haunt of joggers, dog-walkers and the occasional cyclist, there are plans to redevelop the canal. This is a tranquil and wheelchair-friendly... More info

ID:
4875
Length:
5.6 Miles
Grade:
Easy Walk

Gloucestershire

The Slimbridge Wetlands Nature Reserve lies between the Gloucester and Sharpness Canal and the River Severn upstream from Purton. The walk follows the Severn Way along the edge of the reserve via the canal towpath as far as Shepherd's Patch, close to... More info

ID:
5558
Length:
8.1 Miles
Grade:
Moderate Walk

Hertfordshire

The walk starts by following the River Lee towpath, passing Ware's gazebos before crossing to the opposite bank and running along a quiet path towards the edge of the village of Bengeo. The walk turns to reach Hertford Lock and then returns through... More info

ID:
3163
Length:
5 Miles
Grade:
Easy Walk

Highland

One of several pleasant walks at Fort Augustus, at the south end of Loch Ness. This walk is along the old towpath on the Caledonian Canal, from the village of Fort Augustus to the Kytra Lock. With the canal on one side of the path and the scenic... More info

ID:
1021
Length:
5 Miles
Grade:
Easy Walk

Lancashire

The walk has three distinct parts: the towpath of the Leeds / Liverpool Canal; the Cheshire Lines Path; and field paths.... More info

ID:
1205
Length:
5.6 Miles
Grade:
Easy Walk

A relativly easy walk along country lanes and tracks and country park, followed by a stroll along the canal towpath back to the start.... More info

ID:
1258
Length:
6.2 Miles
Grade:
Easy Walk

This easy walk is good for most times of the year because it is firm underfoot in what is a rather wet area. Only the towpath opposite the hall is muddy. There is plenty of interest for a short walk.... More info

ID:
1305
Length:
4.4 Miles
Grade:
Easy Walk

West Lancashire means the Lancashire Plain to most of us, but there is a series of hills, outliers of the Pennines, which lie along its edge. Harrock Hill, Parbold Hill and the height topped by Ashurst's Beacon are among them. There is a good network... More info

ID:
3606
Length:
3.7 Miles
Grade:
Easy Walk

Clieves Hill, just outside Ormskirk, is one of a line of low hills that look west across the Lancashire Plain and have much more distant views than you would think their height merits. In this case the Welsh Hills are frequently in sight, while the... More info

ID:
4372
Length:
6.2 Miles
Grade:
Moderate Walk

The countryside round Earby has an amazing number of footpaths. The walk rambles in and out of both Yorkshire and Lancashire and goes along the towpath of the Leeds - Liverpool Canal. There are fine views of some of the southerly summits of the Dales... More info

ID:
7116
Length:
5 Miles
Grade:
Easy Walk

The walk is flat and is a mix of woodland, towpath and little used lanes. There are several points of interest along the way, such as Rufford Hall which could be added to the walk, as could the pubs and cafes in that area. Away from Rufford and... More info

ID:
7552
Length:
8.1 Miles
Grade:
Moderate Walk

Leicestershire

This walk starts in the lovely little market town of Market Bosworth, in Leicestershire. Using part of the Leicestershire Round (100-mile walk) it crosses fields to reach the village of Carlton and then Shackerstone Station, home of the Battlefield... More info

ID:
2085
Length:
6.8 Miles
Grade:
Easy Walk

This is a circular walk near the tiny Leicestershire hamlet of Far Coton (two farms and six houses). It begins along the Ashby Canal towpath, up a small lane into Far Coton and then across fields, along bridleways and small country lanes to... More info

ID:
2374
Length:
8.7 Miles
Grade:
Easy Walk

From Shackerstone - the home of the Bosworth Battlefield Railway - this walk uses a quiet country lane, fields and a green lane to reach the Ashby Canal. It then returns along the towpath through the quiet and peaceful part of Leicestershire.... More info

ID:
2554
Length:
6.8 Miles
Grade:
Easy Walk

The parish church at Foxton is the starting place for this walk of canal interest and beauty. The route heads for the Foxton Locks on the Leicester Canal before taking the towpath of the Market Harborough Arm, returning via field-paths.... More info

ID:
3068
Length:
7.5 Miles
Grade:
Moderate Walk

The walk starts with a short walk along the Grand Union Canal, then heads across fields to Marston Trussell, before turning back through Lubenham and past Gartree Prison to the village of Foxton. Here we rejoin the Grand Union Canal towpath and a... More info

ID:
3572
Length:
6.8 Miles
Grade:
Moderate Walk

From the Leicestershire village of Congerstone, walk along the towpath of the peaceful Ashby Canal before crossing fields to reach the old village of Carlton, dating from pre-Roman times. From the church, cross more fields and walk through a wood to... More info

ID:
5689
Length:
9.3 Miles
Grade:
Easy Walk

A circular walk starting at Wistow Church, then travelling across fields to Newton Harcourt Church and returning via the canalside towpath.... More info

ID:
5989
Length:
1.9 Miles
Grade:
Easy Walk

Take a walk through the green heart of Leicester, along the flat, well-maintained paths of the Great Central Way and the Grand Union Canal towpath. Both Abbey Park and Aylestone Meadow are great picnic spots, why not make a day of it?... More info

ID:
6107
Length:
6.2 Miles
Grade:
Easy Walk

London

Linear walk along the Regent's Canal towpath from the basin at Little Venice, past London Zoo to bustling Camden Lock. Walk featured in the 'Pathways' book. ... More info

ID:
6070
Length:
4.4 Miles
Grade:
Easy Walk

Manchester

This is an excellent walk of just over nine kilometres between two villages in Saddleworth. It passes reservoirs, streams, mill lodges and the site of a Roman fort. It follows paths across fields, tracks across hills, some urban and rural roads,... More info

ID:
7661
Length:
5.6 Miles
Grade:
Moderate Walk

Merseyside

This walk is a mixture of canal towpath (the Leeds - Liverpool) and lanes and is not very taxing. As on many walks in this low-lying, flat area it is the vast expanse of sky that impresses, so save it for a good day!... More info

ID:
3287
Length:
3.7 Miles
Grade:
Gentle Stroll

This is an easy halfday walk on level ground and mostly on well-surfaced tracks. Signposting is good and there are no stiles. There is a variety of terrain: suburban streets, canal towpath, riverbank, young woodland and an urban park round the town... More info

ID:
3964
Length:
3.7 Miles
Grade:
Easy Walk

This walk is to the north of the city centre and unlike others on the website, including some of my own, it deliberately avoids the prettier parts of Liverpool. My intention had been to discover where the towpath of the Leeds - Liverpool Canal began,... More info

ID:
7192
Length:
8.7 Miles
Grade:
Easy Walk

Monmouthshire

A circuit linking ancient woodland, farm, field track, canal towpath and aqueduct, offering views in all directions over undulating patchwork fields and the hillsides of the Brecon Beacons National Park. This 'barrier free' walk offers the chance... More info

ID:
2858
Length:
1.9 Miles
Grade:
Easy Walk

This easy walk starts along the River Usk, using the canal towpath before returning via a disused railway line.... More info

ID:
5027
Length:
5 Miles
Grade:
Easy Walk

Northamptonshire

Follow the Nene Way to the Grand Union Canal's towpath. Take footpaths through fields and meadows to the pretty village of Nether Heyford and then onto more footpaths and the River Nene and back to the canal and Weedon.... More info

ID:
1301
Length:
8.7 Miles
Grade:
Moderate Walk

A walk through some typical English villages / hamlets and countryside and along the towpath of the River Nene (kingfishers and dragonflies in abundance), with the choice of visiting the Castle Ashby gardens, craft shops and tea rooms en route. The... More info

ID:
1543
Length:
10 Miles
Grade:
Moderate Walk

Nottinghamshire

A long and pleasant walk from Nottingham's busy city centre along the canal towpath, through a city park and the university campus to the deer-park of Wollaton Hall. Walk back to the centre via the prestigious residential area known as The Park.... More info

ID:
265
Length:
8.7 Miles
Grade:
Moderate Walk

Oxfordshire

The walk is varied, using footpaths and bridleways, country lanes and canal towpath, with panoramic views over a patchwork array of fields, woodland and valley slopes.... More info

ID:
907
Length:
5.6 Miles
Grade:
Moderate Walk

This walk follows the River Thames, with its lovely surrounds, to visit the city of Oxford. Usually very difficult to drive into, this access, on foot, is an ideal way of seeing the many colleges and historic sites of Oxford. The return journey from... More info

ID:
1144
Length:
6.2 Miles
Grade:
Easy Walk

A figure of eight walk from the canal side village of Thrupp in Oxfordshire, combining towpaths, fieldpaths and street walking in Kidlington, giving an interesting mix of rural and industrial scenes.... More info

ID:
2382
Length:
7.5 Miles
Grade:
Moderate Walk

Powys

This easy walk starts along the canal and then explores part of the Dinore Tramway. Talybont Reservoir is home to a lot of birds, particularly in the autumn.... More info

ID:
2204
Length:
4.4 Miles
Grade:
Easy Walk

Although this is a short walk, it is very interesting. After walking along the canal towpath the walk makes its way to the banks of the River Usk. The first part of the river walk is taxing, as the path goes over boulders and rocks; however the river... More info

ID:
3167
Length:
3.7 Miles
Grade:
Moderate Walk

The walk is on clearly marked tracks, as after a short walk on the canal the route climbs part of the Dinore Trail. From there it follows the Usk Valley Walk as far as Pencelli and returns via the towpath of the Brecon Canal. The height gain is done... More info

ID:
3282
Length:
6.2 Miles
Grade:
Moderate Walk

This is an easy walk but classed as moderate because of the rather steep ascent after Waymark 04. All the tracks used are good. The towpath is well-maintained, the old railway track has been tarmacked and there are no stiles. Just enjoy the peace and... More info

ID:
4146
Length:
3.7 Miles
Grade:
Moderate Walk

From the nature reserve at Coed-y-dinas, south of Welshpool, this walk offers flat walking beside the River Severn, returning along the tranquil towpath of the Montgomery Canal.... More info

ID:
4463
Length:
4.4 Miles
Grade:
Easy Walk

Shropshire

The walk is based on Whittington Castle, which must be among the very few owned and run by a Community Trust. The walk is level, using quiet lanes, the towpath of the Shropshire Union Canal and pastures to make a circuit from a delightful village in... More info

ID:
7035
Length:
6.2 Miles
Grade:
Easy Walk

The walk is based on Whittington Castle, which must be among the very few owned and run by a Community Trust. The walk is level, using quiet lanes, the towpath of the Shropshire Union Canal and pastures to make a circuit from a delightful village in... More info

ID:
7556
Length:
8.7 Miles
Grade:
Moderate Walk

Staffordshire

This is an almost flat walk on the Staffordshire / Shropshire border with no stiles and with views of The Wrekin from its modest high point. It uses a new (April 2012) board-walk across a water meadow to reach a lane, after which there are farm... More info

ID:
6488
Length:
7.5 Miles
Grade:
Easy Walk

An almost flat walk through some of North Staffordshire's past industrial areas now transformed into peaceful walkways and country parks. It travels mostly along converted railway tracks, canal towpath and two country parks between Stoke-on-Trent and... More info

ID:
7606
Length:
7.5 Miles
Grade:
Moderate Walk

Surrey

This is a short, fairly flat walk starting and ending near a pub. It is a mixture of country lanes and canal towpath. It can be very muddy between Waymarkss 07 and 08, even to the extent of flooding in very wet weather.... More info

ID:
3486
Length:
3.1 Miles
Grade:
Gentle Stroll

This is an easy, flat walk, covering canal towpath, farmland and quiet country lanes, an ideal walk before or after a pub meal. Note that the instructions for this walk assume that you are carrying a map with the waypoints marked.... More info

ID:
3515
Length:
3.7 Miles
Grade:
Easy Walk

Warwickshire

From the peaceful village green surrounded with attractive houses and cottages, the route climbs the High Street, then drops to pastureland below the village. It leads to the Oxford Canal on its descent from the summit via the locks. Following the... More info

ID:
350
Length:
4.4 Miles
Grade:
Easy Walk

A good proportion of this walk is on canal towpath, following the dramatic climb of the twenty-one Hatton Locks; very pleasant with distant views. ... More info

ID:
992
Length:
5.6 Miles
Grade:
Easy Walk

The walk begins along a bridleway before joining the Grand Union Canal towpath and returning to Southam via lovely agricultural land with lovely long-distance views. Southam itself has a variety of interesting historical shops and pubs. This is a... More info

ID:
1049
Length:
8.1 Miles
Grade:
Easy Walk

A good walk combining field-paths and canal towpath in very rural surroundings and mostly on the level. The stretch of canal-walking on the return journey is delightfully tranquil and green, with many interesting points along the way.... More info

ID:
1666
Length:
11.2 Miles
Grade:
Moderate Walk

West Midlands

A circular route around some of the Birmingham Canal Navigation, almost entirely along towpaths.... More info

ID:
5980
Length:
12.4 Miles
Grade:
Moderate Walk

Wiltshire

A delightful waterside stroll between the Saxon town of Bradford-on-Avon and the neighbouring hamlet of Avoncliff, deep in the Avon Valley. The outward leg of the walk follows the banks of the River Avon, with the return leg following the towpath... More info

ID:
193
Length:
3.1 Miles
Grade:
Gentle Stroll

A gloriously-varied walk (say it myself) in a right rural setting. By footpath, byway, bridleway and towpath the route explores a patchwork of Wiltshire woods, fields and downland plus waterside habitat and includes the attractive village of... More info

ID:
1050
Length:
8.1 Miles
Grade:
Moderate Walk

Head from the picturesque town of Bradford-on-Avon, along the towpath to Trowbridge. From then go to Holt, with the NT property of The Courts Garden. From there, cross fields to Woolley Green (which has an NGS garden sometimes open), then it's back... More info

ID:
6901
Length:
8.1 Miles
Grade:
Moderate Walk

Worcestershire

An easy walk starting from the Bowling Green Inn, a lovely pub and restaurant, mainly along scenic lanes and some public footpaths, bridleways and a canal towpath, with a lock and a mill. ... More info

ID:
6850
Length:
5 Miles
Grade:
Easy Walk

Wrexham

The walk is mainly to the east of Chirk and is about evenly divided between canal towpath, quiet country lanes and fields. There is little climbing and for the distance, very few stiles. Views are good and it makes an interesting walk in an area... More info

ID:
6662
Length:
5 Miles
Grade:
Easy Walk

Yorkshire

This has a 'little bit of everything': riverside, canal towpath, woodland, parkland and some delightfully bleak moorland. Visit the historic village of Saltaire with its recently acquired world heritage status. There are stunning views over the Aire... More info

ID:
2968
Length:
14.3 Miles
Grade:
Moderate Walk

This is a short walk that is easy to follow and has as its objective an ancient pack-horse bridge which is reached mainly by a canal towpath. The walk also passes a canal visitor centre where there is a cafe and toilets at the point where the tunnel... More info

ID:
5893
Length:
2.5 Miles
Grade:
Gentle Stroll

The walk is based upon Gargrave, although it can just as easily be done from the halfway point, the Cross Keys Inn at East Marton on the A59. The first two miles of the walk follow the Pennine Way in a south-westerly direction across pastures. The... More info

ID:
6716
Length:
7.5 Miles
Grade:
Easy Walk

West Lothian

This walk starts from Linlithgow Station cark park before climbing out of town to Beecraigs Country Park. After visiting the park centre it goes through the country park woods to the top of Cockleroy Hill with its impressive viewpoint. Then the walk... More info

ID:
3975
Length:
9.3 Miles
Grade:
Moderate Walk

Mainly using off-road footpaths and pavements along roads in quiet estates, this urban walk also passes though a park and the wooded grounds of a medieval priory. It ends along the towpath of the Union Canal. It affords a link to two more rural walks... More info

ID:
5545
Length:
2.5 Miles
Grade:
Easy Walk

A varied walk over old railways, country park, canal feeder path, canal aqueduct, towpath and urban paths.... More info

ID:
6755
Length:
8.1 Miles
Grade:
Moderate Walk