The towpaths that line the canals of England and Wales are apparently more popular than ever, with the Canal and River Trust reporting more than 385 million visits in 2015 alone. However, with greater popularity comes greater potential for problems, so the CRT is following up significant investment in towpath maintenance by introducing new ‘Polite Zones’ to encourage people to use good old-fashioned manners along the busier stretches of canal.
The CRT is the national charity that cares for the 2,000 miles of waterway in England and Wales. In 2015, it secured more than £10m of funding to improve its towpaths, and it is planning a further £10m investment in the next 12 months. However, it’s the charity’s new ‘good manners’ campaign that is really catching the imagination.
The plan is apparently to “to call on visitors to help protect the special atmosphere which has made these spaces so popular” by means of Polite Zones, with messages sprayed onto the towpath, encouraging people to “Smile and say Hi as you go by” and to remember that they are entering a “Hat-tipping Zone” - a nod to times past when people doffed their caps as a sign of respect.
Dick Vincent, CRT National Towpath Ranger, explains: “For many people our towpaths are antidotes to the pace and stress of the modern world and places to relax and unwind. They are ‘Super Slow Ways’, providing a slice of peace and calm through the centres of our busiest cities. Whether cycling, running, walking, mooring your boat or fishing, please help by being considerate of others, slowing down and remembering we are all there to enjoy the space.”
To push home the point, the Trust even has celebrated Canal Laureate, Luke Kennard, on the case with a good-humoured poem designed to help guide people in their conduct:
New traveller of the shining towpath,
Please be mindful as you roam.
It’s not that you can’t speak, eat, laugh,
But this is everyone’s home.
Let others too enjoy its use,
Be like the duck and not the goose.
Okay, so it’s not exactly Shakespeare. In fact it’s more like the playground rhyme of a semi-literate child, but you get the point. Be nice to one another. Or else.
For more inland waterways eccentricity, see: Blackburn bridge decorated with wallpaper and Musical work inspired by the Grand Union Canal.