I write this on day five of a Great National Debate. How much longer it is likely to go on none can be sure. It is time for me to state my position on this question of urgent national importance: why do cyclists not ring their bells?

Discussion of this hot topic was triggered by a letter last Thursday in the Daily Telegraph. Frederick Reuben Parr wrote: “Yesterday, I walked the often quite narrow towpath of the Bridgwater Canal, from Lymm to Altrincham, and cyclists, who had approached from the rear, and who had to slow down, glared at me as I finally stepped aside to let them pass. I never heard a single bell sounded to herald their approach.”

Now the glaring I can’t approve of. But I have a pretty good idea why bells were not rung (assuming these cyclists’ machines were equipped with them). As most riders realise, it is not polite — indeed, it can be considered offensive and therefore positively dangerous — to draw attention to yourself in this way.

As Michael Deacon (a reader, not the Torygraph’s journalist of the same name) explained in the letters column the next day: “To ring a bell from behind, as if to say ‘Get out of my way because I am more important than you’. seems to me to border on the very height of rudeness.”

Oh, come on, Mr Deacon — this is merely in the foothills of the ruderies most of us can conceive of. But it is a gesture liable to misinterpretation, to be sure . . . On the Greek island of Naxos, where I have spent much time over the past 25 years, locals feel the same about the parping of car horns — a most unGreek-like attitude, as some readers will probably realise. “We don’t use horns on Naxos,” I was told firmly when I infringed this local convention.

Mr Deacon advised that “a delicate cough to indicate your presence is quite adequate”; for Henry T. Harrison, writing in Saturday’s letters page “a gentle squeak of the brake is enough”. On Tuesday, there was a positive flurry of suggestions: “a polite verbal warning of ‘behind you’” (Felicity Peyman); “a small klaxon which . . . produces great hilarity [!!!] among the young” (Graham Watson); “whistling Hoagy Carmichael’s The Nearness of You” (Bill Luckett).

What all these suggestions overlook, of course, is that the walker is often not going to hear you because she or he is connected to an iPod or other music-playing device.

I regularly find myself trapped for some distance behind one or more walkers plugged into earphones and oblivious to my presence. The narrow causeway leading north from Osney Bridge towards Medley is where I am most frequently caught.

As I am almost never in a hurry, this is no problem. But how, I wonder, is one supposed to try to pass? I hardly think a tap on the shoulder would be considered acceptable.

This is one of a number of topics to do with footpath etiquette on which I would welcome advice from readers.

One problem I regularly encounter arises from groups of walkers who spread themselves over the entire width of the path. Approach from behind in as patient a manner as I always adopt and one or more will shout: “Where is your bell?” Approach from the front and you will find some of the group will stand aside, clearly hoping that you will not thank them because, when you don’t, they are always ready to shout “Thank you” in an irritating, this-is-what-you-should-have said way after you. But why should someone be thanked for the ‘courtesy’ of unblocking a path they have been selfishly occupying with no regard for others?

Usually they are equipped with maps, compasses and those curious ski-pole-like sticks. All this kit suggests a zealous approach to walking that is also seen in the boy and girl cycle racers, with their Lycra outfits, helmets and yellow illuminated plastic strips, who believe they have a right to pedal full speed ahead with no regard to anyone else.

I observed quite a number in action during the recent Summer Eights, racing along the towpath eying furiously any rowing enthusiast daring to get in their way. The right of an entire university to enjoy an important annual event? What does this matter when measured against a cyclist’s right to travel at maximum speed on all occasions?