The Mad March Coast and Quantocks 200km is an Audax Calendar Event run by Pippa & Robin Wheeler of Exeter Wheelers. The event starts at the Barn Owl in Exeter.
The weather forecast wasn’t good. A damp start with strong winds becoming wetter and wetter as the day went on. It was accurate!
There were about 30 riders who started the 200km and I rode the event with Steve my regular cycling buddy. Pippa got us underway at 08:00 and our first landmark was the 2011 bridge over the M5.
The route undulated across Woodbury Common and onto the first of the Information Controls at Budleigh Salterton after 23km.
It was dry at this point and we didn’t have a headwind as we trundled our way along the picturesque Otter Valley to Ottery St Mary where we controlled at the garage at 40km. The next 20km are quite flat – by Devon standards – and we made rapid progress to Cullompton. Between Cullompton and Tiverton are a couple of vicious hills and it had started to rain. So we were quite drippy when we arrived at the Control at the Canal Tea Rooms.
There were plenty of cyclists already there
and Pippa waiting in the warm dry tea rooms to stamp our cards.
Suitably refreshed we set off to conquer the A396 up to Wheddon Cross. The road follows the River Exe through beautiful scenery. We did observe that although the weather was not at its best, the scenery was still fantastic. The river was running fast and had a few trees across it from the recent storms, which would explain the absence of kayakers. The rain was not continuous as we made our gradual climb to the next control at the Rest and Be thankful inn at Wheddon Cross at 102km.
The 14km to Carhampton are more down than up with just the horrible, short, steep hill before the next control at the Blue Anchor Railway Station at 118km.
It was very warm in the station with a real fire and the ladies in there were very kind and friendly. The rolls, cakes and hot chocolate were gratefully consumed and once more we turned ourselves out into the dismal weather. The view over the Severn Estuary was grim with a brown muddy sea and grey heavy sky. We could scarcely make out Wales across the other side. The next 10km, until we joined the A39 at West Quantockhead, undulate, but the road is quiet with interesting views all around. Following on, the A39 is a busy road, the wind was on the nose and it started to rain properly so the 10km along to the Castle of Comfort Hotel were a low spot and we saw our average speed which had been over 20kph up until Blue Anchor drop.
The climb up to Dead Womans Ditch is a proper hill and as the 200m of height was gained the rain became heavier and heavier.
This is a wonderful place on the top of the Quantocks but we didn’t linger and carefully descended the 25% hill down into Crowcombe. By this time the brakes were full of grit and grinding on the rims. Winter riding is hard on the bike as well as the body.
In pouring rain we rode along the A358 before turning onto lanes at Combe Flory. The already sodden ground could take no more and the lanes were running with red muddy water coming off the fields. It was slow going. Navigation is not straightforward on the lanes and the route sheet and GPS were difficult to follow in the rain. We couldn’t see much through our glasses and the road surface was obscured by water, mud and debris. The lanes are continuously undulating. It was quite tough going and we weren’t going very fast! We had a quick stop for emergency chocolate – Plain Chocolate Bounty, Peanut butter Chunky Kit Kat and Smarties being the choice – and soldiered on to Milverton. After Milverton we still had 20km of hilly lanes to ride in the rain to the next control. We were soaked through by now. The bikes were becoming noisy as all the lube was washed away and the brakes were ground down.
It was with great relief that we finally made it to Woodgates where Wellington Wheelers host the final control. With years of experience this control is run very efficiently.
The bikes and very drippy gear are parked in the spacious garage where the Brevet cards are also stamped. Then it was indoors to the warmth where towels are available for drying off. Hot drinks, hot food and cake were delivered to order. This is exactly what was needed to get us through the final 30km and we were very grateful.
I put on my spare dry clothes when we left Woodgates and we needed our lights on as it was already quite dark at 5:40pm. The first few km are on narrow lanes which were awash, so again the going was very slow. We reached proper roads at Uffculme and were able to get going much quicker. We soon warmed up and even the rain eased off. Navigation is straightforward for this last section and we made very good speed towards Exeter.
Sometime after Cullompton we saw a faint flickering white light ahead and it turned out to be another Audax rider whose rear light had packed in. He had managed to use his phone positioned in the back pocket of his jersey to make a light of sorts. We sandwiched Chris between us – and continued to Exeter in convoy. Steve’s rear light also packed in. Soon we reached Broadclyst and the street lights and all that remained was to follow the signs back to Exeter Park and Ride and the Barn Owl.
We had been out 11hours 20 minutes. This was an hour longer than last year. The time had been lost in the last 60km and we blame the weather! Pippa and Robin were there to record our successful ride
with a handy radiator for drying out soggy Brevet cards.