Seashell Trust Sportive

I had first heard of the Seashell Trust Sportive in 2016. The idea was to tie it in with a visit to Rory. It all came together for 2019. I flew over after work on Friday evening to Manchester, chilled out on Saturday watching the Tour of Britain final sprint finish in beautiful weather and Sunday was the sportive. The forecast was 19°C and no rain but strangely enough when we got up it was raining. I thought to myself it must be a bit of rain that will pass. I hadn’t brought a rain jacket, knee warmers or a mudguard so there was nothing else I could say. We drove to the start which was in the grounds of the Seashell Trust on the edge of Manchester. The Seashell Trust is a school and college which supports children and young adults with learning disabilities. The sportive is in aid of the trust and most of the participants fundraised in addition to paying the normal entry fee. From the website and social media pages, it felt like a well organised event that really appreciated the participants. We were going to go for the Epic 170km distance which would bring us from the start at the outskirts of the urban area of Manchester into the southern part of the Peak District National Park. At the start there was a Pinarello tent, a mechanical support van from Velo Tech Cheshire, a Tour of Britain car and on the loud speaker was Dominic, an enthusiastic volunteer providing a rolling commentary of the build up to the day ahead. We went inside to sign up and came out and Dominic was interviewing Neil Fachie, a multiple World and Paralympic champion in track cycling.

The air was moist as we headed off, a bloke started with us who friendlily said we could take his wheel. I was concerned about managing the effort so we kept a bit back as he overtook various riders. We eventually settled a little distance behind a man and a woman. At around 8km we were all caught up at a junction and I think it was the bloke who left the same time as us had taken off his black rain jacket to unveil a ‘Cheshire Mavericks’ jersey. It was a bit like a mix of the Blanch Wheelies and the Clontarf jerseys with black shoulders and a red torso. We started off at the junction with the Cheshire Maverick and the road dragged up to a town called Poynton. Somewhere around there we let the Cheshire Maverick go and before we knew it we were out of the urban area, the road had narrowed and we were climbing. There was a little spike where we overtook another cyclist and a little descent. The houses had light yellow-brown brickwork. There might be very brief clusters of houses which kept in character with the brickwork, ivy growing up the houses and small gardens and brickwork walls.

The air was still moist and now it felt we were embarking on what they termed the Epic 170km. We were on narrow roads with brickwork walls and green fields either side with a mist maybe a field away or so. As we were climbing we went through the old brickworks industrial estate. This consisted of old warehouses on either side which completely fit into the character of the stone/brick used. They sold furniture and kitchens. The swift passing through this rustic estate finished with a final building in character on the right and a grassy hillside on the left as the road curled further into the mist. We saw a rear light ahead of us of another cyclist in the mist as the gradient was ramping up the 8% mark. Nearing the top, the road narrowed and we met a cyclist descending who gave a friendly wave. The visibility at the very top was quite short. We descended out of the fog in to the green countryside with the bushes either side until we touched on the edge of Kettleshulme where just as we met the tan brown brick houses we curled to a sharp right turn that climbed back up again. This was a long straight into the fog again. The top was a T junction that we met where we turned left to descend on a narrow road. Rory had seen some instructions at the start for a closed road so we were keeping an eye out. As we descended out of the fog, we shook on a rougher surface with a forest to the right we overtook some runners. Dropping down, the road curled to the right and an expanse of light on the left revealed itself as the Errwood Reservoir. Soon enough we saw a barricade and cycled what felt like a cycle lane with the beautiful wood on the left hand side – the slope going down to the reservoir. We climbed gently through the woods from the reservoir and into the idyllic upper Goyt valley, a moorland with differing hues of green alongside auburn brown from fern, gorse and heather. It was beautiful and tranquil. It climbed gently until a few signs on the road indicated a food stop. We heard music (and would later see someone was dressed as a dinosaur in a photo) and there seemed to be a big gang of the Cheshire Mavericks. Just after this we crossed a busy road (A537) and made our way to the A54. We descended into a strong enough wind and the fog still hadn’t lifted. After several kilometres we turned left onto a small narrow road that climbed uphill. There was a bump, we descended and twisted by a house and over a bridge with a sign that indicated us entering Staffordshire. There was a 3km drag with bits around 7-13% where we overtook some riders but heard others gaining on us from behind (but couldn’t see them due to the fog). I was beginning to think that the event was living up to its ‘epic’ name. We went through the village of Flash, the highest village in Britain at 1518 feet (the signs for feet and miles sparked off a day long thought pattern about the metric system). On the far side of the village, through the mist there appeared to be a second foodstop.

There was a nice descent even if it was lumpy and ended abruptly with the road going over a bridge and twisting up the side of a hill at about 9%. At this point we chatted to a bloke in black Castelli kit doing the spin. He told us that the next stops were at 50 and 80 miles and that the 80 mile stop was after a tough hill but after that it wasn’t too hard to the finish. Also that last year he had completed the full distance but the weather was brutal. The road levelled out again and descended into what looked like another small town. We touched on the edge of the town and turned off to a bumpy country road that rose again. We got to a wide open plateau and saw bustling traffic on a road not far ahead but the route diverted us to a small road to the left just before we met it and we continued on quiet roads to ourselves. It was mainly downhill to the foodstop at around 88km at Tissington ford.

We had been on a regional road and turned right downhill onto a small road with a cattle grid. The stop here consisted of a stall with the sponsor TDS. There with lots of goodies, three merry volunteers and a porto-loo which I availed of. I appreciated the toilet paper and the soap considering it was a small sportive they really put the effort it. I remember the Amstel Gold Race sportive having neither in 2015! One of the volunteers said that the first guy through only stopped for a minute and headed on. I asked if it was the Cheshire Maverick and he said it was. The road actually went through a river but for walkers and cyclists there was a footbridge we could use. After about 20 minutes stopped we got our act together and crossed the Bradbourne Brook river on the footbridge. It was immediately 9% gradient after the river so it was a shock to the system. It reminded me of the Keutenberg in Limburg, the penultimate climb in the Amstel Gold Race. Although the initial gradient of the Keutenberg is steeper, here in Tissington we climbed into a great open green plain, like something from Limburg. The great open green plain turned out to be the Tissington estate which had a commons area so no fence or ditch to the fields on the road as well as plenty of cattle grids. The grids were a bit more square and the gaps between the grids bigger than in Ireland. We passed through a small scenic village of Tissington and then came out of the estate.

From there we buzzed through small roads in green countryside with traditional villages and had a lot of sharp climbs. There were some drops but mainly we were climbing. There was a lovely view of the Bunster Hill to our right. We could see loads of walkers on it. It was undulating from town to town. Rory said there were a lot of signs throughout the day for LEEK but we never seemed to get there. After that I started noticing them. I kept thinking of the Castelli bloke saying about the climb at 80 miles. When we had been stopped for so long he had started a bit ahead of us but we eventually caught up with him and I asked him how bad this climb was. He said it wasn’t that bad but where it was in the overall spin hit him the previous year. After a small village we turned off onto a small road which rose up. It levelled briefly at the top on a busier road before deviating to a smaller quiet road. It was climbing up through green countryside. We got a bit higher and were on the side of a hillside with an expanse to our right. At this stage the Castelli guy wasn’t with us any longer but we were joined by a friendly lad in a blue sleeveless jersey and Bora shorts. He told me that there was a gate or a cattle grid coming up at some point. The road became more exposed and the countryside more moorland. The road kept going on gently climbing. It reminded me of the featherbeds except less of a gradient. The definitive peak came around 123km from which we had a rapid descent. First by a viewing point and parking area by Bearstone Rock followed by a bumpy small road draped in hedgerows with a sharp bend that was well sign posted. A short 1.5 km climb led us to what I thought was the final food stop where in the moist air the volunteers very kindly gave me a great cup of tea from the ‘Beyond’ sponsored stall. While we were there a few lads from the Leek cycling club cycled past. The kit was a mix of white and black – white shoulders and black body with a white band in the middle with LEEK CC in black writing in it. I couldn’t really think of a club kit in Ireland similar to it. I nodded to Rory – ‘they’re from that LEEK place.’

From there we descended with trees either side in a twisty narrow road until a small narrow bridge and a house by a bend that had once been a corn mill (Bearda Mill). The road abruptly went uphill and I said to Rory ‘climbing’ to warn him as I hit the 11% gradient. After a bend the road continued steeply and you were greeted immediately with an outhouse on the side of the road that had a gable end window and a face looking out of it. Coming closely I could see it was a sculpture sitting just inside the window.

The road leveled somewhat and then we met the Wincle brewery where the road dragged up again alongside a line of parked cars and a red telephone box. The road kept climbing for 2 kilometres before we re-joined the A54 which we had been on earlier in the day. We had a long descent all on small roads, stopped when we’d cross bigger roads, until we actually arrived at a final food stop where the volunteers told us there was only ten miles to go. After that we had one final bump followed by a few kilometres retracing our route from the morning and arriving back at the Seashell Trust on the edge of Manchester.

It was a great day out being 168km with just over 3000 metres climbing. The fog at the start made it fairly epic. The volunteers were very nice, appreciated everyone doing it and were very encouraging. The route was challenging and kept us on nice quiet roads. The descents and gravel were signposted. Arriving in to the finish Dominic directed me to the warm food and we went inside for a tea and a soup. We had a good chat with Dominic and also the guy who came up with the route. It was cool doing my first sportive in England.