Canalside social distancing warning after weekend crowds pack towpaths

Walkers, joggers and cyclists are being urged to limit use of towpaths after images appeared of people apparently breaking social distancing rules at the weekend.

The Canal & River Trust has repeated its advice to follow Government guidance and keep use of the waterways to a minimum, after already putting up thousands of posters along towpaths.

It comes after footage and photos were posted on Twitter showing dozens of people crowding the paths along the Regent’s Canal towpath in Victoria Park, Hackney, during the mild weather.

One resident, an NHS midwife at a London hospital who lives aboard a boat moored by the towpath, posted images of people crowding the narrow footway, with the comment: “Victoria Park towpath, less than two metres wide. We will see the direct repercussions of this in two weeks.”

“Incredibly upsetting how selfish humans can be,” they added.

She told the PA news agency the towpath had been particularly busy because of the closure of parks and the sunny weather, but blamed a “stupid minority” for flouting social distancing rules.

“I’m at work and it’s insane and people are dying and you go and spend one day at home and you think, who the hell are all these people,” she said.

“If you want to exercise, use the roads, there’s no traffic on them at the moment.”

She called for towpaths to be used only for essential travel such as to and from work, better, larger signage such as that seen on the Underground and more police patrols.

Two Met Police motorcycle outriders did turn up after she reported what was happening, but only at 5pm on Sunday, when the crowds had thinned out.

Victoria Park was closed at the end of March by Tower Hamlets Council, after what it called the failure of some visitors to stick to social distancing.

New signs on the towpath
New signs on the towpath

“The sun comes out and – to put it mildly – people don’t give a shit,” she said.

“I put a sign out saying ‘Please go home’ and all you get is abuse.”

She said another neighbour, an NHS doctor, recorded 600 people passing their boat in the space of an hour.

Another user, posting video of walkers and joggers on the same towpath on Sunday, said: “Stay home!

“Towpath is as busy as it is any normal sunny day – if you have to do your hourly exercise, keep 2m apart.

“If that’s impossible to do – walk somewhere else!”

Health Secretary Matt Hancock has warned outdoor exercise could be banned if people continued to flout rules.

Canalside poster
Canalside poster

It comes as the canal trust, which oversees 2,000 miles of waterways, has released a new poster urging people to limit towpath use.

In a statement posted on its website, the charity said: “For our canal towpaths, this means that we are asking people to limit their use, avoid stretches where multiple boats are moored where possible as people aboard may be self-isolating, and always apply social distancing measures.

“As towpaths in some places can be narrow, when you pass someone, please make sure you use the full width of the towpath, keep moving, stand aside to allow others to pass, in single file, when necessary.

“If you can’t avoid passing a moored boat please keep as far away from it as possible and pass quickly by.”

“Together we can combat this pandemic – and be able to enjoy getting back out on or by our waterways when we’ve beaten it,” the statement added.

In other parts of the country, people using the towpaths have reported the public sticking more closely to social distancing measures.


Claire Riches, from Hanbury, Worcestershire, said: “It hasn’t been over-populated, certainly less so than the supermarkets, I would say.

“When I have been down there on my bike, people have considerate and mindful of social distancing.

“Almost everybody I’ve seen has either waited or gone in single file, and you do the same, so it all seems to be working.”