The Nutty Nuns 200k has been running since 2006. It runs alongside the Merry Monk 100k which is in its 10th year. They are both Audax events which took place on Sunday 27th April 2014. The events are organised meticulously by Mark and Helen Lilly. Mark does the cycling stuff and Helen feeds everybody.
The start and finish is at High Ham near Langport in Somerset. The rides are well established and popular in the Audax Calendar and despite the very poor weather forecast, 29 riders started the 200k at 08:00 and 174 started the 100k ride an hour later. There were quite a few DNS (Did not start).
I had planned to extend the 200k to 300k by riding from my home, in Burton Bradstock, to High Ham and then home again afterwards. When I got up at 04:15 the rain was hammering on the window. I went outside to check if it was as bad as it sounded. It was. So ignoring Rule 5 I went back to bed. I sent a quick message to tell Steve what I was doing as he was planning to ride the Nutty Nuns 200k with me. Inexplicably I woke again at 06:10 and checked my phone. Steve was picking me up in 20 minutes to drive me to High Ham.
Heavy showers poured down as we drove on flooded roads to High Ham. Mark Lilly, irrepressibly cheerful, was there to greet us, and Helen was dishing up tea and toast. After a quick presentation of a bottle to the guy who has ridden all of the Nutty Nuns, we set off into the dampness at 08:00.
Down a very big hill to start with – knowing that the same hill would be climbed about 10 hours after at the end of the ride.
The flat lanes across the levels were virtually traffic free and the group cruised along easily with plenty of chat. Even the rain stopped. After 20k the little hills started to appear and the riders began to spread out with the speedy guys disappearing and Steve and I continuing at our steady, comfortable pace. We began our gradual ascent of the Blackdowns and rode steadily uphill for the next 10k. During this climb I began to feel ill – quite nauseous and tummy pains. I tried to ‘hang on’ until Dunkeswell but had to dive into a hedge a few kilometres short. I was feeling quite unwell at the Dunkeswell Control but having already failed on the extension I was determined to continue.
As we left the Aviator cafe it began to rain heavily. The drop down into Honiton was on a very wet road but the views of the surrounding countryside were superb with vibrant, bright, spring colour. The hill out of Honiton was billed at 17% so it was quite steep. Just as we reached the top a tanker went by – too close and too fast and soaked us both. The lanes towards the next control were very pretty with lots of spring flowers but they were also running with water and there was a lot of gravel. The Puncture Fairy was out and about causing havoc – luckily she left Steve and I alone but some riders had repeated attacks. Maybe something to do with the tyres we use or maybe just good luck.
The Colyton Control is the furthest outpost on this ride but it was manned by two lovely people who were there to stamp our cards in the dryness of their tent.
They also plied us with hot and cold drinks and lots of cake.
It was at this point we learned that Helen Lilly takes a week off work to bake and prepare the food for us cyclists. We were encouraged to eat plenty and were also supplied with clingfilm to wrap up more cake and take it with us. The lemon drizzle hit the spot for me and my tummy seemed to settle down. I was please to help a victim of the Puncture Fairy with my micro track pump.
Our next stop was Forde Abbey. We had a slight problem in Axminster as the Police had the town centre closed off as shop guttering had crashed down into the street but we found a way round.
Heavy showers continued to punctuate the ride and we were very wet when we arrived at Forde Abbey.
The rain stopped and we had a brief interlude in the sun. All was quiet when we arrived but it had been a very busy place with all 174 of the Merry Monks also passing through the Forde Abbey Control.
The countryside hereabouts rolls gently and is very pretty. One of my favourite cycling roads is the one from from Mosterton up to Cheddington.
We did have to take shelter for a few minutes as a particularly violent pulse of hail came through but the views to South Perrott into Somerset are wonderful. As we continued, crossing over the A356 at Winyards Gap – there is another very special lane above the headwater of the Rye which flows down into Sutton Bingham Reservoir.
Onwards crossing the A37 and on to Oliver’s Coffee House in Sherborne where we met our next smiling, welcoming controllers.
Wetness was still the order of the day but the sunny spells in between were becoming longer and we had a brief bask in some warm sunshine in the courtyard at Sherborne.
Heading North to the next control at Wookey the hills became smaller, the showers more infrequent, my tummy more settled and we made good progress. Quite suddenly, just before West Pennard the roads became dry and the sky brightened. Gone were the threatening, towering, black clouds that had accompanied us and a lovely evening emerged. The final control was the Ring ‘o’ Bells pub at Wookey
All that was left was 25 kilometres of mainly flat riding – just a couple of hills. The straight lanes of the levels seem to stretch for miles along the rhynes.The dryness helped us appreciate this unique environment, seemingly unscathed from its prolonged period of winter flooding. At Westhay Moor Nature Reserve we passed a meadow with a great congregation of over 100 mute swans.
We had no problem with Shapwick Hill and safely crossed the A39 and down Pedwell Hill to the last few kilometres along Nythe Road to the final grind up Ham Hill back to the finish at High Ham.
Mark,still cheerful 12 hours after opening the hall, was there to greet us and stamp our cards.
Helen, also still smiling, was there to serve us with food.
Contributions were invited for the food and all proceeds are donated to the Dorset and Somerset Air Ambulance.
200km was definitely enough riding for me on this particular day in these conditions. I was pleased to get round this scenic, interesting but challenging route. The weather didn’t help but having controls manned by helpful, cheerful, people with food readily available definitely helps. So thank you Mark and Helen for a really well organised Audax event.
I hope you will find the enthusiasm to continue to run it in the future.
It’s on my Calendar for 2015!