A charity is installing "duck lanes" alongside canals, to promote its highway code for towpaths

Image: Getty.

An oft-neglected issue in traffic management (bear with us here) is the free-for-all on towpaths beside canals. They're narrow – a bit like pavements, only with the crucial difference that there's a sharp drop into water one side.

They also lack well-understood rules about how best to share limited space – something that wouldn't be such a problem, if they weren't simultaneously used by cyclists and pedestrians.

And, of course, ducks.

The Canal & River Trust is the charity responsible for maintaining more than 2,000 miles of inland waterways in England and Wales, and as part of its "Share the space, drop your pace" campaign, it's installed temporary "Duck Lanes" along waterways in London, Birmingham and Manchester. Its hope is that the reference to cute waterfowl will encourage cyclists and pedestrians to be more considerate of surrounding wildlife.

The lanes are also meant to highlight the paths' narrowness: cyclists and pedestrians can't be properly segregated along these routes due to their width, so it's everyone's responsibility to stay alert and watch out for walkers or bikes coming in the opposite direction. The Trust is asking users to stick to something called the "Greenway code for towpaths", which includes giving way beneath bridges and giving pedestrians priority. 

The ducks themselves, though, have not so far seemed keen to stick to the new regulations. This one is following the rules (though to be honest, she looks like she's travelling in the wrong direction): 

But this rebel isn't having any of it: 

Meanwhile, these ones are terrified of passing bikes:

Quite right too.

Aww.

Images: Getty. 


 

 
 
 
 

Where exactly are the Wombles named after? We made a map

The Wombles playing Glastonbury in 2011. This isn't one of our joke captions, it's a genuine description of what the picture shows. Image: Getty.

 The Wombles may famously be ‘of’ Wimbledon Common, but each Womble is also connected to somewhere else in the world, by their names.

Creator Elizabeth Beresford named almost all of the Wombles after places: hence Great Uncle Bulgaria, Orinoco (as in the river), Tobermory (as in the town in the Hebrides) and so forth.

And so, we’ve put all the ones we could find on an interactive map:

The blue pins are the main characters, the yellow ones appear only in the books, and the green ones appear only in TV or film adaptations. 

The particular derivation of Womble names is not always obvious - Hoboken, an American womble is, confusingly, named not for the New Jersey city of Hoboken, but for the Antwerp district from which it borrowed its name. Wellington is named not for New Zealand’s capital, but for Wellington School in Somerset, which Beresford’s nephew attended. And some Womble names that don’t sound like places names actually are: Bungo derives from Japan’s historical Bungo Province, now called Ōita Prefecture.

The reasoning behind all this, according to Wombles canon, is that a Womble does not get a name until they have come of age, at which point they pick one they like the sound of from an old atlas belonging to Great Uncle Bulgaria. (Of the variety of things I’ve seen “left behind” on Wimbledon Common I’ve never come across an atlas, but artistic licence and all that.)

There are apparently some exceptions to this Womble naming rule: Stepney, an East London womble added in the ‘90s, picked his name from a London A-Z. Livingstone, a hot air ballooning womble, is so old he forgot his original name and borrowed that of the explorer Dr Livingstone. And there’s also a Cousin Botany. Who is named after botany. Because he does botany. Obviously.

Chief musical Wombleteer Mike Batt has apparently been working on a computer-animated Womble revival for the last few years, but he hasn’t yet revealed whether we can expect to see any new Wombles with hip modern names like “Silicon Valley”, “Midtown” or “Garden Bridge”.


To find your Womble name, tweet the name of a place you’ve found in an old atlas, followed by your credit card details.

Ed Jefferson works for the internet and tweets as @edjeff.

Want more of this stuff? Follow CityMetric on Twitter or Facebook.