Trent & Mersey towpath improvements

We’re very pleased to see the improvements to the canal towpath between Swarkestone lock and the Cloud Trail complete. This towpath forms part of National Cycle Network Route 6.

The improvements have been implemented by the Canal & River Trust in conjunction with the Sustrans Paths for Everyone program and using funding from the DfT. Well done to all involved.

The original surface had been degrading for a number of years with the route becoming narrower as the grass encroached and puddles had been forming (and getting worse) as the old crushed stone surface eroded. In addition there were three very awkward barriers preventing access to some prospective users.

How it looked on a good day in 2019

Many people have suggested improvements over the years and this has included the local Sustrans Volunteer Rangers who included this work in a list of local improvements to be considered by the Sustrans Paths for Everyone program back in 2019. Shortly after submitting this list I discussed the possible improvements with the Canal & River Trust and provided various information on what needs fixing (which I’m pleased to say have now all been addressed).

After (gate to left now opens)

At the western end of the improvements there was one of the worst barriers in the Derby area which was inconvenient for all and impossible for some users with “non standard” bikes (e.g. trailers) or with mobility issues. While there are some remnants of the barrier remaining the metal obstructions have been removed. Of most use is that the conventional gate to the left of the photos above can now be opened.

Before: good concrete but narrow
After: greatly widened

The first part of the route traveling eastwards from Swarkestone was a reasonable concrete surface (so no puddle or mud issues) but very narrow. This has now been widened with tarmac sections to complement the concrete.


The canal passes under Swarkestone Road and there is access from the road to reach the towpath. Before the work this was very hard to access and impossible for some users due to the small gaps and the ground erosion. The ground has been repaired with some of the barrier being removed. The remaining metalwork is now just a historical artifact as there is no need to go around the black and white painted metal. The access gap onto Swarkestone Road is still narrower than is optimal (a gap of 1.5m minimum is expected for the best access for all).


The above photos show the change in appearance of the route as a result of the work. I’ve failed to find the exact spot to compare the photos but all the route is now of the quality on the “After” photo.

At the eastern end of the work, the cycle route turns away from the towpath to gain the old railway line towards Melbourne (the Cloud Trail). Before the work the access was awkward and the ground condition was poor – this has been much improved.

During 2022, the Cloud Trail (one of the few portions of the National Cycle Network actually owned by Sustrans) had various surface improvements. The upgrade of the towpath now provides a high quality route including the Derwent Riverside Path, the Derby Canal path, the improved Trent & Mersey towpath and the upgraded Cloud Trail and allows for traffic free, flat and well surfaced travel between Derby (actually Darley Abbey) to Tonge – a total of 21km (13 miles).

The final piece of work of covering the tarmac with “tar and chip”, to provide a surface with increased grip and which looks less “urban”, has now been completed.

Thanks are due to the Canal & River Trust (particularly Alan Leather) and the Sustrans Paths for Everyone program for planning, obtaining funding, and progressing this work.

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