IN DENMARK, a 3,000-kilometre (1,900-mile) system of long distance cycle routes has just been opened and in the Netherlands there is a similar network twice that size. Both have the support of their respective transport ministries but in Britain a small voluntary group is struggling to create a 1,000-mile cycle route between Dover and Inverness with no direct support from national government.

John Grimshaw, the engineer of Sustrans, the group planning the route, is refreshingly honest about the aim: 'We want to see this as a catalyst. It is a way of focusing attention on improving cycle facilities in the areas through which the route will pass.' Indeed, Sustrans is quite prepared to divert the route to take in cycle paths put forward by sympathetic local authorities: 'Leicester are keen to build cycle facilities and so now the route will go through the town, even though that was not originally planned.'

It will not be a cycle path from one end of the country to the other. Instead it will use country roads, forest tracks, and canal towpaths, as well as dedicated cycle paths, mostly on defunct railway lines, which have already been built by Sustrans or local authorities. The idea, says Mr Grimshaw, 'is to ensure that inexperienced cyclists, including children, will be able to use all parts of the route without worries'. Several sections have already been built.

The route will start not at one seaports but three - Sheerness and Newhaven as well as Dover - because Sustrans feels that ports have particularly bad cycling facilities. It will traverse London by following the Thames from Dartford to Hampton Court, encouraging the London boroughs to support cyclists. But resistance has already come from an unexpected source, Liberal-controlled Richmond-upon-Thames, which does not want cyclists on the well-used wide path along the river. The route then goes through via Oxford, Derby, York, Carlisle and Glasgow, but it makes no attempt to take the shorter route: at times it goes east-west to take advantage of existing facilities.

Few people would be expected to travel the whole length of the route but it would be used by both long distance and local cyclists. The first Sustrans path, between Bristol and Bath is now used by 1 million cyclists per year. Sustrans expects that the Inverness to Dover path would, even on a conservative estimate, generate 20 million journeys annually.

The former roads minister, Ken neth Carlisle, was quoted before his recent sacking as saying the Government did not encourage cycling because 'we believe people should choose whichever means of transport is most convenient for them'.

John Grimshaw says this is a ridiculous policy because the Government covertly favours cars: 'There are millions of people who want to cycle but won't because of the lack of facilities.' He hopes that new long distance routes will tap into this reservoir of potential cyclists.

It is a cheap vision. The whole path could be completed for pounds 20m.