British Waterways manages over 2000 miles of canal and river navigations around the country. These have over 1500 miles of associated towpaths, which were originally for horses to pull the barges and narrowboats.

The path surfaces vary considerably, from asphalt and tarmac to grass or stony ground, and you’re likely to find a mixture of these on any waterway.

Not all towpaths are suitable for cycling, either because of the width or surface, or because cycling would cause a real danger to other users. Each waterway manager has made an assessment of the suitability of each stretch, and this information is contained in the local schedules (325KB) or from the local waterway offices.

Look after your waterways

– Avoid cycling where your tyres would damage the path or verges (e.g. when they are wet or soft)

Consider others
Anglers, walkers and boaters also use our towpaths

– Give way to others on the towpath and warn them of your approach. A polite ‘hello’ and ‘thank you’ mean a lot
– Watch out for anglers’ tackle and give them time to move it before you try to pass
– Dismount under low or blind bridges
– Never race one another or perform speed trials
– We recommend you obtain third party liability insurance and equip your bike with a bell or equivalent

Take Care

– Access paths can be steep and slippery. Join or leave the towpath with care
-You must get off and push your cycle beneath low or blind bridges, and where the path is very narrow
-If you really have to cycle the towpath after dark, use front and rear lights
-Thorny hedge trimmings can cause a puncture. We recommend plastic-reinforced tyres

Only cycle on stretches where it is permitted.

Other Information

Some towpaths on the canal system are becoming part of the Sustrans National Cycle Network. Over the next few years, in partnership with local authorities, we aim to improve many stretches of towpath and open more of them to cyclists.

We recommend the following detailed waterways maps and guides, available from all good bookshops or online from the Waterscape.combookshop
· Nicholsons Ordnance Survey Guides to the Waterways
· Geoprojects Maps
· Pearsons Guide

For more information about cycling on and around the UK’s inland waterways, including maps and a comprehensive trip planner, visit