Towpath Action Group

Campaigning for better access on the towpaths of the country's canals


News: May 2000 | News: May 2002 | Towpaths as cycleways?

Click here for details of Andy Screen's heroic (!) walk along 42 miles of the Thames Path as part of the Walk on Water fund-raiser in July 2002.


Towpath Action Group: Past, Present and Future

As with the vast majority of societies, be they canal societies, environmental groups or whatever, the Towpath Action Group was not born overnight, but evolved slowly from a set of circumstances to which a number of people took exception.

In 1987, Don Lee of the Open Spaces Society (and formerly of Peak & Northern Footpaths Society), as part-time tutor for the Manchester Workers' Education Association led a series of walks round the Manchester canal system - "Byways and Backwaters of Manchester". On one of the first walks, Don took the students through Dale Street Basin at the top of the Rochdale Nine lock flight, where the Community Task Force had recently completed some towpath restoration.

Returning there some weeks later, the students found that a wall had been erected right across the new towpath, making it completely unusable. The students were incensed by the obstruction and by the waste of tax-payers money in having the towpath restored to no purpose. There was sufficient strength of feeling for Don to start a new study group within the WEA, the Rochdale Canal Towpath Access Study Group, and students surveyed the whole 32 mile length of the canal from Manchester to Sowerby Bridge, with a view to producing a report. The report was ready for the printers by the time the WEA classes had finished, and it was decided that the group should continue, outside of the auspices of the WEA, to monitor the situation. So was born the Towpath Action Group (TAG), and we sprung ourselves on the general public with our report "Trouble on the Towpath" at the Inland Waterways Association's National Rally at Castlefield in 1988. From a rickety table under the railway arches, over 300 copies of the report were sold.

Since then, we have continued to campaign for access to, and along, canals and rivers far beyond the Rochdale. We are a campaigning group, though physical towpath clearance is not ruled out, and we have assisted on a number of work parties run by canal societies, the Mersey Basin Campaign and Groundwork. Our work is no longer restricted to Manchester and the North West, but from our power-base in the city, we have to increasingly rely on information and help from others to enable us to monitor the situation outside of our own back yards. Predominantly, we have enlisted the support of rambling groups and canal societies nationwide. Most canal societies are as keen as we are on having continuous towpaths with good access - if they advise us of their problems, we can get involved and support their own cause, as well as our own.

Don Lee, one of our founders, was appointed to the Inland Waterways Amenity and Advisory Council for a two year period and helped to establish TAG as a strong force in the world of inland waterway restoration, with influence over British Waterways and other central government policy - we are now regularly consulted by the Department of the Environment and British Waterways on major policy decisions. Another founding member, Andy Screen, sits on the Inland Waterways Association's Restoration Committee.

We have undertaken considerable work too on local government plans and are increasingly recognised as an organisation with a commitment to the mass of casual walkers whose voice is seldom heard.

As our net is spread wider over the whole of Britain, we aim to build up strong working relationships with other organisations: anglers, cyclists, environmental groups and national institutions like the Countryside Agency and the Ramblers Association.

We issue a quarterly newsletter updating members on our work, and offering suggestions of interesting canal walks, as well as canvassing opinion on the many subjects on which we are asked to act. The newsletter is self-financing from members' subscriptions: see our membership form.

As our campaigning work is largely costless we neither need or receive financial support. What we do need is non-financial support from societies and individuals who share our aims, so that we may expand upon our work and success in the Manchester area. If you would like to help, or to know more about our work, please write to the Secretary, Andy Screen, at the address below.

You can also e-mail TAG. 

Sponsored by Notts Tree surgeons, Sheffield Tree Surgeons and Leeds Arborists


Andy Screen (Secretary)
23 Hague Bar
New Mills
High Peak
Derbyshire SK22 3AT

 Tel. 01663 742198


Last amended 22 August 2002