Scotland’s canals are ready to welcome even more boots and bikes this summer thanks to the completion of a £4 million project to improve their towpaths – the biggest revamp that they have seen since their restoration at the Millennium.
Transport Minister Derek Mackay, Scottish Canals’ Chairman Andrew Thin,Chief Executive Steve Dunlop and Sustrans Scotland Director John Lauder joined pupils from Dochgarroch Primary School on one of the newly-upgraded sections on the Caledonian Canal today (Wednesday 27th May) to mark the completion of the project.
The works improved more than 45 kilometres of towpaths throughout Scotland, which already attract around 22 million visits per year from the likes of long distance runners, commuting cyclists and daily dog walkers. The paths also link some of the nation’s top tourism attractions, from The Falkirk Wheel and The Kelpies to the iconic lock flight of Neptune’s Staircase, and form a key part of the Great Glen Way and John Muir Way long-distance walking and cycling routes.
It’s hoped the project will encourage even more Scots to enjoy the towpaths, which sit at the heart of many rural communities and provide vital green spaces within the nation’s busiest towns and cities. The new section at Dochgarroch delivers the ‘Dochgarroch Loop’ – a circular route between Inverness’ Tomnahurich Bridge and the village – and is a key venue for leisure, exercise and commuting for the local community.
Minister for Transport and Islands, Derek Mackay said: “I am delighted to be able to mark completion of this project as part of the developments to upgrade towpaths and improve local facilities across the country. We have worked closely with our partners to ensure £4m of investment provides more active travel routes to link our rural communities and encourage more people to walk and cycle along Scotland’s fabulous canal network.
“Walking and cycling bring enormous health and environmental benefits, and we want more people to use them as alternative transport options. We have already invested record levels of almost £40 million on cycling projects, and I am determined to increase that again this year to help create more opportunities for people to be active.”
Undertaken by Scottish Canals and funded by Sustrans Scotland, the Scottish Government’s Future Transport Fund and various local authorities and organisations including SITA; West Lothian Land Trust; and sportscotland., the project also improved access to the towpaths with the installation of new signage, ramps and solar lighting at key locations.
Andrew Thin, Chairman of 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 has opened up access to them by providing 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 as well as 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, Sustrans Scotland said: “While there are some finishing touches to come later in the summer, Sustrans Scotland are delighted with the upgrades that have been made to towpaths across Scotland.
“Scotland’s towpaths form a vital part of Scotland’s National Cycle Network. The NCN is a massive asset, with an indicative value of almost £300 million from leisure cycling and cycling tourism. We’re also seeing more and more people out on the NCN – with some 104 million walking and cycling trips on the network in 2013.
“The upgrades take in the NCN Caledonia way, Inverness to Campbelltown – a stretch that is surrounded by some of Scotland’s finest scenery – and the Caledonian Canal, which we were delighted to contribute Community Links funding towards. These routes will be a big draw for locals and tourists alike.”
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 four million miles-worth of additional physical activity carried out on Scotland’s waterways save the NHS more than £6 million per year.
The project also saw solar lighting installed on around 5km of towpaths linking The Falkirk Wheel and The Helix thanks to Scottish Government Future Transport Funding. It’s hoped the installation of the LED lighting will encourage even more people to enjoy the route linking the world’s only rotating boat lift and The Kelpies – the largest pair of equine sculptures on the planet – 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 Edinburgh, Falkirk, Glasgow, Kirkintilloch, Linlithgow, Inverness, and Fort William.