Sunday, 6 April 2014

Valley of the Rocks Audax 2014

"Oh yes" said Peter, "Ian Hennessy is well known for putting together some pretty lumpy routes".

Of course by the time these words were uttered, that had become self-evident. I think it was shortly before the point that my Garmin's battery failed, or I had run out of food, or switched my lights on because we had been out for so long that it was getting dark!

But it had been a wonderful day, one of my favourite days out on a bike in fact. And definitely the hardest route I have done in the UK to date. Whilst I've had tougher days, they were difficult because of me and my poor fitness or unpreparedness, or perhaps because of the weather. This ride, the 200km Valley of the Rocks Audax was hard because of its 130 miles, (I know, that's more than 200km isn't it?), and 11,841 feet of climbing, and gradients the like of which I don't want to see again. Over 25% in one case, and yes I walked.

Leaving the valley of the rocks (photos courtesy of Jamie Andrews)

Martyn and I joined a very cheery bunch of around 30 or so at Ian's house for the start in a misty Honiton at 8AM, and after quick preliminaries off we went. I'm using Martyn's record of the route and we stuck together for the whole ride bar the odd hill. We had expected to meet Peter at the start, but there was no sign and no message, so we headed off into the gloom without him.

Woody Bay from the route

I'm not going to describe it all, suffice to say that once we were down below the clouds, the weather improved, and although it never became a truly sunny day, there were fleeting moments of brightness. And only an hour or so of proper rain, splashed through the day.

Martyn on the coast route

The scenery was fantastic. Little villages, wide-open vistas of rolling countryside, the wildness of Exmoor, the stunning north Devon coast, gorges, woods, valleys, rivers, lakes, it had it all. Being an Audax everyone was very friendly and supportive, and we even had lunch in the pub at Combe Martin.

Lunch, Audax-style
Which is where we bumped into Peter, who had caught us up after starting 30 minutes late. We thought he'd soon catch us again on the next few hills, he's a stronger rider than us, but he must have expended a lot of effort to get to Combe Martin, because it wasn't until South Molton, where we stopped for full-fat coke, that he did.

The next section between South Molton and Crediton was a succession of rolling valleys, each seemingly steeper than the last, and many populated by a motley collection of land-rovers, men on horseback without redcoats, and lots of people staring over hedges into fields whilst shouting into walkie-talkies.

It was the hunt, skilfully murdering a defenceless animal while circumventing the laws of the land in the name of a "way of life". And stupidly driving their 4 by 4s too fast up narrow country lanes, nearly knocking me off. Wouldn't it be easier to go out and shoot foxes with a gun?

At the top of the highest ridge was the wonderfully-named village of Black Dog which belied its associations with the condition in being a pretty place with a wonderful aspect.

We rolled on into the final stretch, checking the directions, and eventually rolled into Honiton again just as dusk was falling. A great day out, can't wait for next Audax in a few weeks' time. And for next week and the Wild Horse challenge, or as I'm calling it from now on, the Neil and Shirley memorial ride.

Many thanks to Jamie Andrews for permission to use his two of me and Martyn.





Valley of the Rocks

Looking up the valley

Into the Valley


  1. Good to meet you all and to ride some of the Combe Martin to South Molton stretch with Peter.. .You left me feeling very slow and tired whenthe three of you flew by me just before Sandford
    My account is here:
    I'm doing the Dorset Coast 200 on Sunday and then Nutty Nuns on 27th April. That's close to you I think so maybe see you there?
    I have an external battery pack which takes 4 AA batteries that gives my Garmin enough extra battery for longer rides. Its about £15 off Amazon (Gomadic is the make I think).

    Nice to meet you

  2. Great ride and feeling of accomplishment the next day. Always amazing the power of the mind to forget pain and struggle but remember elation.

    On such long endeavours solitude may be both enjoyed and occasionally have to be tolerated. The mere knowledge that others are sharing the experience, even if in isolation, makes it easier to achieve both. Before I eventually caught up with you at South Molton, I enjoyed sharing the road for some time firstly with Jamie Andrews and then Barbara Hackworthy.

    As to, "the unspeakable in pursuit of the uneatable," I think Wilde was over generous. What a dismal mix of tradition, money, arrogance and menace.

    Welcome cup of tea at l'arrivee and I wish I had accepted the offer of stew, it looked great.

    I rode off to the car park, thinking that we had all used the same one. Obviously, not, so didn't have the chance to say good bye and thanks for the company.

    Looking forward to the next one.