The Valley of The Rocks 200km
The Valley of The Rocks is an Audax event and takes place in April. It is a 205km route (without getting lost) and it attracts 4 AAA points as it has 3900m of ascent. We were riding it as an Audax permanent in the hot, dry, mid summer.
The weather was very hot on the day we left Honiton at 06:00 and headed for Sampford Peverell. Audax rides generally avoid main roads and follow an intricate, often precipitous route through narrow lanes. In the summer-dry and dusty, in the winter-wet, muddy and gravelly. The route was very pleasantly undulating and I enjoyed the shady lanes and cooler early morning temperatures.
The first control was at Dulverton and we used this as a good excuse to eat a couple of pastries each from the Co-op.
It was most definitely upwards after Dulverton and we followed a long hill up onto the moor enjoying lovely views glimpsed through the beech hedges. We had a lovely fast descent into Simonsbath followed by the inevitable grind back up onto Exmoor proper as this is where the Exe rises.
The descent to sea level was good fun before the rise once again to Lynton and on to the Valley of the Rocks.
The next control was Mother Meldrum’s cafe and we stopped here for an early lunch.
I have walked the SW Coast Path and remembered the next bit was up and down. If I had looked at a proper map in detail I would have seen plenty of double gradient marks indicating grades of 20%+ but we set off well fuelled from lunch and marvelled at the magnificent coastal scenery.
The next 20km did have some very steep ups and also some quite technical descent, but at every turn we were rewarded with fantastic views on this most beautiful of summer days that we were sufficiently distracted to not suffer too much. We were grateful to stock up on fluids at the garage in Coombe Martin which was the next control, as the day was now very hot and we knew that as we were now once again down at sea level that we were bound to have another long ascent onto the moor.
The ascent on the A399 towards South Molton was long but not very steep and we were soon off the main road back onto pretty quiet lanes and enjoying the countryside with cooling afternoon breeze. We dropped down to South Molton for the next control and once again took as much fluid as we could on board before winding our way on to Crediton. We were starting to feel the 150km and the hills so we carbo-loaded on sandwiches, bananas, crisps and chocolate and yet more water and juice before tackling the last 50km.
The landscape changed to become more benign as we went down into the Exe valley at Thorverton.
There were the inevitable undulations but there were no more steep hills. We made it as far as Rockbeare on the supplies we had but had to top up on fluids once more as even at 20.00 it was 24 degrees. We were weary when we got back to Honiton but very pleased to have completed such a hilly 200k on a very hot day.
Exmoor and Coast 200km
Our second outing was the Exmoor and Coast 200km and was on 1st August. With only 3150m of ascent this was not quite as hilly as the Valley of the Rocks. We started from Tiverton on a cool misty morning and headed to Dunkeswell for the first control. This was a little disappointing as we though the ride would be routed around Exmoor. From Dunkeswell we headed to Hemyock – the first proper hill and then the steep descent to Wellington. We made quick progress through the lanes to Milverton and then on the B3183 near Oakhampton Farm we came across Steve. Steve had come out for a quick ride and got about 10 miles from his home and had a hefty lump of metal through his tyre and no repair kit, tube or pump with him. Fortunately we were able to help him out and soon had him on his way again.
We carried on up to Elworthy cross
and then enjoyed the long mainly downhill run into Watchet. Watchet was sunny, warm and bustling with tourists.
We sat out and had some food and stocked up on fluids as it was now very hot.
Inevitably from sea level it was uphill and then down again to Blue Anchor. Along to Dunster and at last to Exmoor – having ridden 80km already. The route leaves the A396 just after Timberscombe to follow a delightful wooded lane which ascends gradually to start with but becomes consistently steep for a very long time with the grade around 18%. The lane was newly surfaced and in the shade which made it a bit easier. Nonetheless we were very pleased to emerge eventually at the B3224 and turn towards Simonsbath.
The B3224 has a couple of proper hills before the descent to Simonsbath but we had glimpses of the moor through the beech hedges which gave us some shade.
The next control was Boevy’s cafe at Simonsbath and we consumed a large number of calories and more fluids before going onto the moor once again and then a long, long descent to South Molton.
At this point Steve, my buddy, decided enough was enough and he chose to go directly back to Tiverton and so shorten the ride by about 60k and a lot of hills. So I left him there and carried onto heading to Hatherleigh via Dolton and Iddesleigh. It was a tough ride to Hatherleigh with a headwind developing, which at least kept me a bit cooler. The descent into Hatherleigh was awful as I knew that once I had been to the control in the village I had to climb out again. I sat on the pavement outside the Co-op and had a sandwich and as much drink as I could take. It was 27 degrees at 17:00. Then, with a lot of mental resolve I set off up the hill. It wasn’t too bad and there was a breathtaking panorama of Dartmoor from the top.
There was also an intriguing obelisk commemorating Colonel William Morris.
Onward heading East back to Tiverton via Winkleigh, Eggesford and Chawleigh with some steep ascents. Then there were a few easier kilometres which were relatively flat and quick before two more proper hills in the last 10km before Tiverton. I saw the Garmin flick onto 60kph on the final jubilant descent into Tiverton. All that remained was to navigate to the Tesco car park where Steve had been relaxing for the last couple of hours with a copy of Cycling Weekly. He had very kindly got a litre of milk and a banana waiting for me to start my recovery after a very hard ride.