Im not a big user of the UK waterways I went on a river cruise in York once, and Ive crossed the odd stream whilst mountain biking, so access problems dont really have a huge effect on me. I am, however, a believer of gaining greater access to the great outdoors for everyone, whether its improving bridleways to aid disabled access, opening up more coastline to walkers, cyclists and horse riders, or improving waterways access to the whole range of sports people who use them kayakers, canoeists, gorge walkers, gill scramblers, rowers and swimmers (amongst others!).
So it came as a shock to me that only 2% of the waterways in England and Wales have access rights to the public. As a member of the public, how can 98% of our waterways be inaccessible to me?
Back in 1932 a mass trespass of Kinder Scout, in the Peak District, took place in order to show the need for open access to our countryside, so that everyone can enjoy and take advantage of it. The result has been a huge development of paths, BOATS and bridleways, opening up the countryside to the masses. Though restrictions are still in place for horse riders and cyclists in England and Wales (another topic to discuss another time!), we are now able to visit and experience a massive variety of English and Welsh countryside, thanks to the Kinder Scout Trespass.
Waterways have played a significant role in shaping the UK, in a whole variety of ways. From the locations of our oldest settlements, based around the defensive position of river confluences to the ability to use our rivers and canals as a way of transporting goods around the country, rivers are an integral part of our history and heritage. We are currently excluded from most of this, perhaps now is the time to change this.
The Rivers Access Campaign, funded by Canoe England, is highlighting this problem, and aims to improve access for the public. Through letter writing, publicity campaigns (including some rather cool expeditions!) and getting the press involved they are hoping to increase our access to our waterways. Visit the River Access Campaigns website to see more information, and find out how to get involved. Even if you arent a user of the waterways, can you imagine not being able to access the UKs forests, moorlands and mountains???