Follow the Leader: Taking to the Towpaths

Whether you’re tackling them by boot or bike, the towpaths of Scotland’s 137-mile canal network offer some fantastic routes to get active, explore and enjoy the great environments and heritage of the waterways. Traffic-free, reasonably flat and with plenty to see, they offer a great day out no matter what your age or ability.

Working with our partners and volunteers, over the past few years we’ve been encouraging even more people to engage their boot or pedal power and take to the towpaths with our volunteer-led cycling and walking groups, as well as improving access to them by raising funds to upgrade the routes with a new, all-weather surface.

Vital green spaces in some of the most heavily-populated areas of the country and active travel arteries between rural communities, the towpaths now attract more than 22 million visits a year – and we’re proud to have played a role in their renaissance.

Our volunteer-led cycle and walking groups reach out to people who might not otherwise have had the confidence to take to the towpaths. They encourage communities to engage with the environments, history and green spaces of the canals and get active – and they ensure everyone has a lot of fun in the process. Kingfishers, water voles, lost villages, roman forts, unique engineering – there’s no shortage of things to see on a plod or pedal along Scotland’s canals.

Scotland’s towpaths are a key part of active travel charity Sustrans’ National Cycle Network and connect to more than 400 kilometres of pathways across the country. With a 300% increase in usage over the last eight years, they provide safe, off-road travel and recreation for all ages and abilities.

Whether you’re taking a trip along “Britain’s most beautiful shortcut,” the Crinan Canal, getting your blood pumping on the Caledonian Canal and the Great Glen Way, or leaving the car behind for a stress and traffic-free commute to work, there’s lots of ways to enjoy the towpaths.

The canal really does offer something for everyone – a place to bring learning to life, somewhere to get fit or just to get away from it all and relax – but it’s the people that make it. If you fancy helping us to encourage even more people to take to the towpaths as a volunteer cycle or walking group leader, or are interested in joining one of the groups, please get in touch.