Here at Spokes, we’ve become increasingly concerned about the sustained lack of maintenance of the Kennet and Avon Towpath, particularly the rural stretches out towards Marsh Benham and to the east of Colthrop. Despite forming part of National Cycle Network Route 4, the path has been left to degrade to such an extent that we now consider it to be inherently unsafe.
When the path was originally constructed it was 1.5 – 2m wide for most of its length, even in the more rural areas. However, the grass has encroached to such an extent that it is now less than 0.3m wide in places, with a pronounced lip on either side. This makes it virtually unusable by anyone on a bike, since it is very easy for a wheel to catch the lip and unseat the rider. We have spoken to several people who indicated that they or a member of their party had fallen off on these sections.
The path also suffers from poor drainage. Given that it is nothing more than a rut in the grassy bank, it is not surprising that it fills with water whenever it rains. This conceals the true extent of the hazard and leaves a muddy, slippery mess as it dries, which makes it even more difficult to navigate on a bike. What’s more, there are several sections where large notches have been eroded in the bank and cut into the path. If you are not looking for them, then it would be very easy to ride into one and fall straight into the canal.
This is completely unacceptable. If this was a road, it would not be allowed to fall into such disrepair. Cyclists should expect similar maintenance standards of maintenance to be applied to ensure their safety on these sections of the National Cycle Network, which is popular with leisure cyclists and families.
We are aware that developer contributions have just been made available from the Newbury Racecourse development to improve the section of the towpath between Newbury and Thatcham, which is very welcome and we look forward to these sections being repaired and upgraded. However, this should not be allowed to distract from maintenance liabilities on the other sections of route.
We appreciate that funding and resources may be tight, but the Canal and River Trust still have a duty of care to the users of their towpath, including cyclists. We have contacted the Waterway Manager for the Kennet & Avon to highlight the problem and to ask that they take urgent action. We have also suggested that they could pool resources with Sustrans and West Berkshire Council. The Council has been very responsive with Cllr Ardagh-Walter inviting the Waterway Manager to the next meeting of the Cycle Forum in December and suggesting that we could undertake a more detailed audit of the route to help the Trust.
If you would like to add your voice to the campaign, we would suggest that you contact the Canal & River Trust directly by emailing: firstname.lastname@example.org