The Valley of the Rocks 200 is an Audax 200 organised by Ian Hennessey. It is a challenging route which attracts 4 AAA points. The route is straightforward with some spectacular scenery and a very challenging 20km section along the North Devon Coast.
38 people entered the event and 25 riders started on the day. I was the only woman amongst all the men. The weather was disappointing. At 08:00, as Ian waved us off, it was dreary damp and misty, but quite warm and not very windy.
The route is consistently hilly and after just a few minutes riding we were ascending the first of them, a mere 150m of climb, out of Awliscombe. It was quite a misty start but after an hour or so the day brightened and we even had some sunshine. The first 20km passed quite quickly and there were still plenty of riders around to chat to. We had a brief stop at Uplowman to change over the route sheet
before heading up to Bampton and then up and over to Exbridge and on to the first control at Dulverton.
48k completed according to my GPS
From Dulverton there is a steady climb of about 300m onto Exmoor. The cloud level had risen enough to have lovely views across the moor. I was riding alone on this section having taken a ‘slightly alternative’ route from Dulverton, but once I rejoined the B3223 I was on familiar ground and enjoyed the ride across to Simonsbath. Jamie caught up with me here and we rode together over the moor through the headwaters of the River Exe and then down the spectacular gorge of the River Lyn to Lynmouth. Jamie writes an Audaxing blog.
Jamie gave me the heads up that from Lynmouth we were facing the steepest sustained hill in Devon. After a comparatively gentle run up of a couple of hundred metres at 16% the gradient steepens to about 25% for another couple of hundred metres. For the first time ever I had to get off and push!
The control at 84km is Mother Meldrums cafe at the Valley of the Rocks.
It’s a pleasant place to take a break before the next 20km section which is very scenic but very hard. The sunshine disappeared and it started to rain heavily. I was riding on my own again having only stopped briefly at Mother Meldrums. The descent to the Hunters Inn in the Heddon Valley is very steep. It was very wet with lots of gravel and there is quite a history of cycling accidents on it. I took it very slowly and carefully. As I released my brakes for the last 30m or so there was a loud bang and my rear wheel slewed out from under me. I just kept control of the bike and staggered to a convenient picnic bench outside the pub to begin the repair. As I removed the rear wheel the rim was still very hot. I think the rims had overheated due to the braking on the hill and the tube had failed. The tyre was still intact thankfully. I removed several flints from the tyre and was rather slowly managing to change the tube in the pouring rain. Then along came Pete and Kieran from Portsmouth who gallantly stopped and finished the job off for me. Thanks guys!
The rain stopped as I tentatively continued towards Combe Martin. There were still two proper hills before the descent into Combe Martin. Although this is not really a steep hill my confidence was low and I walked the steepest part. The control in Combe Martin was at The Pack of Cards
and Pete and Kieran were there enjoying a cup of tea.
Combe Martin is at 20m of elevation so next up was an ascent back onto the Exmoor plateau at 300m for 20km before beginning the gradual descent to South Molton. I was feeling quite tired by now and having another 80km to ride with many more hills to come I was having to dredge up happy songs to keep my mood positive. In the following 35 kilometres to Crediton I reckon there are 7 hills. This was relentless. I was riding mostly alone still and got mixed up in the Exmoor Hunt. Not many horses around but plenty of followers in 4 wheel drive trucks and quadbikes, blocking the lanes and seemingly unaware that there were others who may want to use the thoroughfare.
Eventually I descended to the control at Morrisons in Crediton.
I was really surprised to meet up with lots of other riders and after buying my favourite egg and cress sandwich on brown and carefully keeping my receipt I set off – alone – for the final 40km back to Honiton. The hills carried on relentlessly. Iain Robert joined me at Sholbrooke and we rode together through Thorverton and caught up with another 4 riders. Hurrah – I was so pleased to have company and was determined to hang on to this group for as long as possible. Along the way back to Honiton we gathered in another 2 riders so it was a group of 8 who arrived back just as it was getting dark. The 208km had taken just under 12 hours which is pretty good going for such an arduous ride.
I was really tired and very grateful for the cups of tea and lovely veggie stew provided by Ian and Elly.
Three had finished before our group arrived and all but one completed. Jamie valiantly rode another 18km back home to Uffculme in the dark and pouring rain.