A MAJOR step forward was this week taken in the creation of the cycle trail between Tavistock and Plymouth.

The ambitious project mainly follows the old Great Western Railway tracks from Plymouth to North Devon — creating the cycle path has been a long process involving much negotiation with many individual landowners.

Now agreement has been reached with a property owner in Horrabridge, meaning the track can now be completed as far as Grenofen, making full use of Magpie Viaduct.

Graham Cornish, Devon County Council's project officer for the National Cycle Network in Devon, said: 'I am absolutely delighted, it's fantastic news.

'It means there's now only about 875 metres left to sort out on either end of Grenofen Tunnel, in the whole 26 kilometres of track between Plymouth and Tavistock — it's a major step forward.'

Mr Cornish said he had been working on the Tavistock section of the National Cycle Route 27 cycle path for about ten years now.

Once the section, known as Drake's Trail, is complete, it will be possible to cycle virtually the entire way from Tavistock to the city off-road.

Mr Cornish said: 'It's been one of the most difficult bits in the whole county. Not only because of the number of different landowners involved, but also because of the terrain.

'Even for Devon, it's very, very hilly — even Brunel had to build two viaducts and a long tunnel just to get from Tavistock to Horra-bridge.

'But at least now it means that nearly the whole of Drake's Trail is assembled, apart from that 875 metres. Negotiations with these three landowners are continuing.'

Phil Baker, project officer for Drake's Trail, said: 'From our point of view, this news is quite a breakthrough.

'We are planning a launch of the trail at the end of March and it gives us the opportunity to promote a much longer stretch of off-road route between Yelverton and Tavistock, because it links two existing pieces of off-road trail.'

Mr Baker said the trail, when complete, would be a 'huge attraction' for residents and visitors to the area.

He said once the remaining short length of old railway track has been purchased, the £2.5-million bridge constructed across the Walkham Valley, and Grenofen Tunnel has been re-opened, there would be major benefits for Tavistock.

Mr Baker said: 'With the tunnel and this amazing bridge, it will be an incredible facility.

'The bridge, at its highest point, will be 40 metres high. It will be an amazing experience for people crossing the valley.'

Devon County Councillor for Yelverton Rural Alan Hosking said he was delighted that the difficult negotiations to open the land for the cycle path were nearing completion.

'The cycle track will provide an invaluable asset for local residents travelling between Tavistock and Plymouth and residents and visitors will be able to use it for exercising in this beautiful part of Dartmoor.'

l More information about Drake's Trail in West Devon, and the spur routes connected to the main path, is at http://www.drakesdartmoor.co.uk/drakes_trail.htm">www.drakesdartmoor.co.uk/drakes_trail.htm