WALKERS can put their best feet forward again now a four-year project to repair the Thames towpath through Oxford has finished.

Almost £2m has been spent improving access along three miles of the towpath.

Large cracks appeared in the path’s surface and parts of the bank were subsiding into the river, with particular problems at Grandpont and south of Iffley Lock.

The path is an important route into Oxford, used by hundreds of commuters, residents and tourists every day.

Repair and reconstruction work took place on stretches including the Fiddlers Island and Medley Island sections, near Port Meadow, where Wolvercote teenager Ben Halsey-Jones fell into the river and died in January 2007.

Patrick Lonergan, chairman of Oxfordshire Ramblers, said: “We are all for improvements to paths. It’s a lot of money to spend but three miles is a long way.

“It was necessary for health and safety reasons. As someone died I can understand why it was given priority.”

David Godfrey, Ramblers’ footpath secretary for the Oxfordshire area, said: “It’s an improvement. They had to do something. It will make walking along it safer.

“It’s used by just about everyone and his dog and his bicycle. It’s a pleasant walk within the city boundary.

“Hopefully, it will make walking more pleasant, particularly in areas where the towpath was showing signs of falling in.”

Oxfordshire County Council shelled out £1.75m and the city council contributed £100,000 in the first two years of the project.

Repairs were only planned where the bank was falling down but as the old sections of path were removed, workmen realised extra work was needed.

Between Bossoms Boat Yard at Port Meadow and Fiddlers Island, and between Iffley Lock and Isis Bridge, a traditional hoggin stone was used to complement local surroundings.

Elsewhere in the city centre, surface material was made up of a tar spray and stone chip, which is more hardwearing.

The towpath is also the route of the Thames Path National Trail, which follows the River Thames for 184 miles from its source in the Cotswolds, wending its way through Oxfordshire and the city to the heart of London and the Thames Barrier in Greenwich.

Rodney Rose, county council cabinet member for transport, said: “We are extremely pleased to have been able to complete this vital work to protect the Oxford towpath, which is one of the things that marks Oxford out as an exceptional place to live and work.

“I feel certain the substantial improvements to the safety and accessibility of the towpath, as well as to its appearance, will be of significant benefit to both residents and visitors to our city.”