Canal boaters in Northamptonshire urge people not to use narrow towpaths for exercise

Call for greater restrictions from worried residents but trust asks people to be respectful

By Jack Duggan
Wednesday, 15th April 2020, 6:33 am

Canal boat residents in Northamptonshire are worried about the lack of social distancing on narrow towpaths and the increased footfall since the coronavirus lockdown began.

More joggers, walkers and families have been using the Grand Union Canal paths as part of their daily exercise despite signs urging people to limit their use.

The Canal and River Trust has been called on to restrict the towpaths to just those who need them but the charity says it is neither practical nor desirable to close them.

One boater who is moored in Daventry district but wished to remain anonymous said: "People do have a choice, boaters don’t, because they have been asked to stay in one place and stay at home.

"We are staying at home, but others are coming to our homes, so we now have no safe space."

Canal boat residents have been asked to stop all non-essential travel and can moor in one place for longer than the usual two weeks since March 23.

But they feel trapped as more people are passing within two metres of their boats where those who are self-isolating with the virus might be resting when they use the towpath.

Grand Union Canal near Welton, Daventry

The boater said some of those using the path feel like they can flout the social distancing rules because it is secluded, putting people at risk and potentially spreading the disease.

The Easter bank holiday was particularly busy with members of the public enjoying the warm, sunny weather, but when they are challenged, they say they have a right to be there.

"People are ignoring the signs and are coming in larger numbers than ever to the towpath, endangering lives," she said.

"They are passing less than a metre away from people on their boats, an arms-length from someone’s kitchen sink.

"One boater was laying in bed sick with the virus, with an air vent in the roof of the boat above her head, listening to families strolling past on the other side of the wall."

However the boater said the Canal and River Trust should take responsibility for the towpaths and not allow the public to use them.

The charity said towpaths need to stay open for those living along the waterways to access services and facilities, for its teams to undertake regular inspections, and in case of emergency.

A spokesman said the many thousands of open access points across its 2,000-mile network makes it difficult to shut them so urged everyone to adhere to the 2m-distance rule.

"If we all continue to observe government guidance, and we can encourage people to heed our advice to stay at home, limit towpath use, and strictly observe social distancing, then together as a nation we can combat this pandemic – and be able to enjoy getting back out on or by our waterways when we’ve beaten it," they added.