West Country cyclists set free from fumes

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The Independent Online
A 250-mile section of the National Cycle Network opens today, guiding cyclists away from the fumes and snarl-ups of car-borne tourists on a relatively-peaceful route from Padstow in Cornwall to Bristol and Bath.

The inauguration of the West Country Way will be followed later this month by the opening of a 370-mile east of England section from Harwich to Hull, expanding the Network to a total of 880 miles so far.

From the fishing port of Padstow, the West Country Way winds over Bodmin Moor to pass through Bude, Bideford and Barnstaple before rising to 2,000 feet over Exmoor.

Cyclists will get a taste of the strange solitude of the Somerset levels before climbing again over the Mendips.

Some 74 miles of the Way are car-free, following disused railway tracks, tow paths and forest trails. Elsewhere the signed route follows quiet country lanes - roads used by less than 1,000 vehicles a day - with just short sections of busier highway.

The West Country Way is one of the most scenic sections of the Network being developed by the charity Sustrans in partnership with local authorities. Funded by pounds 43.5m of lottery money, the project aims to have at least 2,500 miles of safe cycle ways open by 2000 and 6,500 miles by 2005.

Ben Hamilton-Baillie, Sustrans' regional manager, said: "Everyone with an interest in the countryside and the quality of life in the South-west is concerned about the relentless growth in motor traffic.

"Developing cycle tourism will bring significant economic benefits to small communities without causing environmental damage."

The West Country Way currently connects with the railway in eight locations. Improving links to stations and bike carriage on trains is a high priority for the development of the route.

Creation of the Network is a complex business. For most sections, 1997 is the year for detailed negotiations with landowners and local authorities. Every section which requires construction or upgrading has to be surveyed, negotiated, approved, designed, built and signed.

The Harwich to Hull section was not planned to open until after the Millennium, but enthusiastic support from local authorities has meant a route across the wolds, fens and Norfolk Broads has been mapped and signed well ahead of schedule. The route takes in the old cathedral city of Lincoln and Norwich.

However, the Network is not all about recreation or long distance touring. As important in reducing car journeys will be links through urban areas and between town and country, enabling people to cycle to work, to school and the shops.

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