The towpaths of Scotland’s canals will be ready to welcome even more boots and bikes this spring thanks to £3.4 million of investment to improve the popular routes – the biggest path project undertaken on the nation’s waterways since their restoration at the Millennium.
The works will improve more than 45 kilometres of towpaths throughout Scotland, which already attract around 22 million visits per year from everyone from long distance runners and commuting cyclists to daily dog walkers. The paths also link some of the nation’s top tourism attractions, such as The Falkirk Wheel and The Kelpies. It’s hoped the project will encourage even more Scots to enjoy the routes, which sit at the heart of many rural communities and provide vital green spaces within the nation’s busiest towns and cities.
Undertaken by Scottish Canals and funded by Sustrans Scotland, the Scottish Government’s Future Transport Fund and various local authorities and organisations, the project will also improve access to the popular routes with the installation of new signage, ramps and solar lighting at key locations.
Richard Millar, Director of Heritage, Enterprise and Sustainability at Scottish Canals, said: “The towpaths of Scotland’s canals are busier than ever and play a vital role at the heart of the communities they run through. They’re increasingly significant destinations for leisure, exercise and commuting and this project will open up access to them and provide a safe, all-weather surface everyone can use and enjoy.
“From the unique engineering of the world’s only rotating boat lift and the magnificent Kelpies on the Lowland Canals to the iconic locks of Neptune’s Staircase and the breathtaking scenery of the majestic Great Glen in the Highlands, Scotland’s waterways have no shortage of incredible destinations to visit and the towpaths offer the perfect routes to explore all they have to offer.
“We are hugely grateful to Sustrans and our partners for supporting these important works. Scotland’s canals already attract more than 22 million visitations a year and I am sure that the improved access offered by these upgraded paths will see even more people enjoy the rich heritage, wildlife and green space offered by the nation’s waterways.”
The towpaths of Scotland’s 220-kilometre-long canal system are a vital part of sustainable transport charity Sustrans’ National Cycle Network and connect to more than 800 kilometres of pathways across the country. The Network provides long-distance cycling opportunities, but also important community links to encourage everyday journeys to be made sustainably.
With a 300% increase in usage over the last decade, the towpaths provide safe, off-road travel and recreation for all ages and abilities. Over the past five years Scottish Canals, Sustrans, local authorities and other organisations have jointly invested more than £8 million upgrading Scotland’s towpaths, creating important links between rural communities and vital active travel arteries in some of the nation’s busiest cities.
John Lauder, National Director of Sustrans Scotland, said: “In Scotland we have an action plan with a vision for 10% of trips to be made by bike by 2020. Investment in Scotland’s towpaths will play a key role in helping to achieve this vision and therefore we were delighted to contribute Community Links funding towards their improvement. The towpaths provide a great facility for short everyday trips such as commuting to work, getting to and from the shops, and going to school.
“Furthermore, they are a great leisure resource, with many of the towpaths forming part of the National Cycle Network. This year marks the 20th birthday of the Network and we are delighted that these sections will be upgraded for everybody to enjoy.”
With almost a million Scots living within two miles of a canal, the towpaths also play an important role in the health of the nation. A recent report estimates that the benefits of the 4 million miles-worth of additional physical activity carried out on Scotland’s waterways save the NHS more than £6 million per year.
The project will also see solar lighting installed on more than 7km of towpaths in Glasgow thanks to Scottish Government Future Transport Funding. It’s hoped the installation of the LED lighting will encourage even more people to enjoy the popular route between the city’s Maryhill and Speirs Wharf throughout the year.
First trialled on the towpaths of the Union Canal in Edinburgh in 2014, the section near the city’s Harrison Park has proven very popular with cyclists and walkers, who are now able to use the route from dusk till dawn. It’s estimated that usage of the stretch has more than doubled since the installation of the lighting.
Other areas to benefit from the investment include towpaths in Falkirk, Glasgow, Kirkintilloch, Linlithgow, Inverness, Fort William, and Dochgarroch. The project is expected to be completed in spring.