Snake Pass

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
For the novel by Bram Stoker, see The Snake's Pass.
Snake Pass
Approaching the summit from the Snake Inn
Elevation 1,680 feet (510 m)
Traversed by A57
Location High Peak Estate, Peak District, Derbyshire
Range Pennines
Coordinates 53°25′58″N 1°52′08″W / 53.4329°N 1.8689°W / 53.4329; -1.8689Coordinates: 53°25′58″N 1°52′08″W / 53.4329°N 1.8689°W / 53.4329; -1.8689
Snake Pass is located in Derbyshire
Snake Pass
Location within the Peak District in Derbyshire

The Snake Pass is a hill pass in the Derbyshire section of the Peak District, crossing the Pennines between Glossop and the Ladybower Reservoir at Ashopton. The road was engineered by Thomas Telford and opened in 1821. The pass carries the A57 road between Manchester and Sheffield, though it is no longer the main signposted route between these two cities.

Like several other roads that cross the Pennines, Snake Pass has a poor accident record compared to roads in the UK generally, though more favourable compared to other roads in the area. It is regularly closed due to snow in winter, and has seen several longer term closures due to subsidence and instability with the local geology. However, the road remains a popular route for tourists and motorcycles, and sections have been used for semi - professional cycling races such as the Tour of Britain.

Route and location[edit]

The Pennine Way crosses Snake Pass at its summit.

The Snake Pass passes through the National Trust's High Peak Estate, and lies within the High Peak borough of Derbyshire. Much of it falls within the Hope Woodlands parish.[1][2] It is part of the shortest route by road from Manchester to Sheffield.[3]

The pass starts east of Glossop and climbs to the Pennines watershed between the moorland plateaux of Kinder Scout and Bleaklow to a high point of 1,680 feet (510 m) above sea level, where it crosses the Pennine Way. After this, it passes the Snake Inn, and descends through forest to the Ladybower Reservoir at Ashopton.[1]

The name of the road does match its winding route, but actually derives from the emblem of the Snake Inn, one of the few buildings on the high stretch of road. In turn, the pub's name and sign was derived from the serpent on the Cavendish arms of William Cavendish, 6th Duke of Devonshire.[4][2] In the early 21st century, the inn was renamed the Snake Pass Inn, such that the inn now refers to the road that referred to itself.[5][6]


The Snake Pass Inn, was originally called the Snake Inn, but is now named after the pass itself, which in turn was named after the pub.

The first road between Glossop and Ashopton was the Doctor's Gate, a Roman Road which follows the Shelf Brook between Shelf Moor and Coldharbour Moor. This route is still popular with walkers and cyclists.[7] In 1932, an Iron Age axe thought to be over 2,000 years old was found near the site of this road.[8]

The current road further south was first built as a toll road by Thomas Telford in order to improve communications east of Glossop, which was expanding as an industrial town.[9] During construction it was known as the "Sheffield to Glossop Turnpike" and run by the Sheffield and Glossop Trust. An act of parliament to build the road was passed 1818, being financed by the Dukes of Norfolk and Devonshire.[10] The road opened in 1821[11] at a total cost of £18,625.[10] Upon opening, it was the highest turnpike road England.[12] The road was immediately popular and increased toll collections of traffic heading to Glossop.[13] Tolls were abolished on the road in June 1870.[14]

In September 1945, the Ladybower Reservoir opened, which flooded Ashopton and rerouted the eastern end of Snake Pass over the Ladybower viaduct.[15]

Although Snake Pass is still the shortest route between Manchester and Sheffield, the more northerly Woodhead Pass, which is less steep and at a lower altitude, is now the primary road link between the two cities. Unlike Snake Pass, the Woodhead route is a trunk road. Traffic levels on both passes remained similar until the 1980s,[16] but the Woodhead Pass route is now favourable since it connects directly to the M1, while Snake Pass leads into the centre of Sheffield. Despite Sheffield and Manchester being the fifth and seventh largest UK cities by population respectively, no motorway directly links both cities. The Manchester to Sheffield motorway was partly built, and the Woodhead Tunnel was closed in 1981 with the intention of a road replacement, but linking both cities would have meant constructing numerous tunnels and viaducts across the Peak District at a great cost. Consequently, the plans were shelved, but reports in December 2014 announced a revival of the scheme.[17]

The road remains popular with drivers. In 2008, a survey by Caterham Cars rated Snake Pass the best driving road in the UK.[18] The following year, it was listed as one of best driving roads in the UK by Auto Trader magazine in 2009, who described the road as "offering unparalleled views over Manchester".[19]


An abandoned car left hanging off the edge of Snake Pass, 1983

As would be expected for a road crossing the Pennines, Snake Pass has several dangerous bends and blind summits.[6] Like many roads in the North of England that go through the undulating terrain such as the Peak District, Lake District and other parts of the Pennines, Snake Pass has a poor safety record in comparison to other roads in the United Kingdom. However, Snake Pass is not as dangerous as other roads that bisect hilly terrain in this part of England; it was not among the top 10 in a list of the most dangerous roads published in July 2010, despite nine of the top ten being in Northern England.[20]

On 31 December 1984, Def Leppard's drummer Rick Allen lost control of a car while driving on the Snake Pass, which resulted in his left arm being amputated. He stayed with the band and adapted a new drumming style. [21]

In 2012, Derbyshire Police announced a campaign to monitor motorcyclists using the pass, who are particularly at risk of having a fatal accident.[22]


Owing to its high altitude in the Pennines, Snake Pass is frequently closed due to snow in winter.

In winter, the road is often the first of the available routes between Sheffield and Manchester to be closed due to snow in the area.[23] In bad storms, the entire road over the summit, including marker poles, has been buried in snow.[12] There are areas where the road surface has very poor skid resistance and a number of bends have adverse camber.[citation needed] In the winter months the winding road becomes icy and gritting is not a priority, as the A57 is only a "secondary" road at this point.[24] Local councils, in turn, prefer to treat streets in towns which are more likely to be used, as they believe that roads like Snake Pass will be closed anyway.[25]

In 1924, Derby County Council spent £2,000 installing underground telegraph wire cables beneath the road, as the above ground installations had been continually broken and disrupted due to snow.[12] The British winter of 2010–11 was one the coldest for decades and the road was closed on numerous occasions.[26][27]

Snake Pass has also been closed for longer periods due to subsidence in the local area as a result of rain. In January 1932, the road was closed after 200 tons of debris fell on the road during a heavy rainstorm, covering the road in as much as 4 feet (1.2 m) in places.[28] In January 2008, a landslip at Cowms Moor due to heavy rain caused the road to be closed to all traffic between Ladybower and Glossop, although access was still available to local premises and businesses including the Snake Pass Inn.[29][30] A subsequent investigation by the British Geographical Survey showed the road has had a history of long term closures due to subsidence dating back to the 1930s, including a 1970s project that attempted to strengthen the layer below the tarmac with local rock fill. The road reopened in February, but with temporary traffic lights at the point of the slip restricting traffic to one direction at a time.[30] The repairs were completed by August,[citation needed] but in 2012, the road had to be closed several times for resurfacing and strengthening.[31]


Snake Pass is a popular route for cyclists. In 1902, a report on leisure cycling in the Lancashire Evening Post described the eastward journey from the summit to Ashopton as "nine miles unbroken freewheeling" and the scenery as "magificent".[32] The road is one of only a few road climbs in the UK that are comparable in length and average gradient (approximately 7% for around 3.2 miles (5.1 km) when starting in Glossop) to those used in continental cycle racing.[33] The road had been part of an 82 mile "Tour of the Peak" race, involving climbing the pass twice,[34] and has frequently featured in the Tour of Britain along with another nearby favourite, Holme Moss.[33]

Cycling Time Trials sanctioned hill climbs are regularly promoted on this course by local club Glossop Kinder Velo.[35] In 2014, the record for completing the course was set by Tejvan Pettinger at 11 minutes 51 seconds.[36]

Popular culture[edit]

Inspiral Carpets filmed their 1990 video for "This Is How It Feels" where the road peaks.

The music track "The Snake" by the Human League, from their 2001 album Secrets, is entirely about the Snake Pass.

The Autechre EP Anvil Vapre features track names deriving from locations around the Snake Pass.

The Squarepusher album Selection Sixteen features a track entitled "Snake Pass".

Comic character John Shuttleworth has performed a song called "Incident on Snake Pass" about the perils of driving on the Snake Pass.


  1. ^ a b The Peak District – Dark Peak Area (Map). 1:25 000. Ordnance Survey. 2010. OL 1. 
  2. ^ a b Cox, Barrie (1994). English inn and tavern names. English Place Name Society. p. 36. ISBN 978-0-904-88942-0. 
  3. ^ Institution of Civil Engineers, ed. (1985). Failures in earthworks: proceedings of the Symposium on Failures in Earthworks. Thomas Telford. p. 29. ISBN 978-0-727-70243-2. 
  4. ^ Smith, Roly (2008). Peak District: Northern and Western Moors. United Kingdom: Frances Lincoln Ltd. p. 128. ISBN 978-0-711-22499-5. 
  5. ^ Dillon, Paddy (2011). The Pennine Way. Cicerone Press. p. 40. ISBN 978-1-849-65359-6. 
  6. ^ a b Turner, Kevin (2012). Bonjour – Is This Italy?: A Hapless Biker's Guide to Europe. Veloce Publishing Ltd. p. 18. ISBN 978-1-845-84399-1. 
  7. ^ The Hidden Places of England. Travel. 2000. p. 478. ISBN 978-1-902-00743-4. 
  8. ^ "Perfectly Shaped Axe Found near Shopton". Derbyshire Times and Chesterfield Herald. 5 November 1932. Retrieved 27 March 2015 – via British Newspaper Archive. (subscription required (help)). 
  9. ^ "John Overend Todd Archive: Howard of Glossop Estate". National Archives. Retrieved 26 March 2015. 
  10. ^ a b Albert, William (2007). The Turnpike Road System in England: 1663–1840. Cambridge University Press. p. 105. ISBN 978-0-521-03391-6. 
  11. ^ "SK 19 SW Parish of Hope Woodlands Snake Road 11/19 (South Side) Milestone II". Retrieved 27 March 2015. 
  12. ^ a b c "Town and County Gossip". Derby Daily Telegraph. 1 November 1924. p. 3. Retrieved 27 March 2015 – via British Newspaper Archive. (subscription required (help)). 
  13. ^ "Turpike Tolls to let". Sheffield Independent. 4 May 1822. p. 3. Retrieved 27 March 2015 – via British Newspaper Archive. (subscription required (help)). 
  14. ^ "Local Turnpikes Case". Sheffield Independent. 8 May 1883. p. 2. Retrieved 27 March 2015 – via British Newspaper Archive. (subscription required (help)). 
  15. ^ "Full Description of the Ladybower Reservoir". Derbyshire Times and Chesterfield Herald. 21 September 1945. p. 7 – via British Newspaper Archive. (subscription required (help)). 
  16. ^ "Woodhead Route". Hansard. 19 March 1984. Retrieved 27 March 2015. 
  17. ^ "Sheffield to Manchester £6bn road tunnel 'plan' announced". BBC News. 1 December 2014. Retrieved 27 March 2015. 
  18. ^ "Snake Pass is voted best road". The Star (Sheffield). 16 September 2008. Retrieved 27 March 2015. 
  19. ^ "England's best driving road – revealed". Auto Trader Magazine. 23 April 2009. Archived from the original on 12 March 2012. 
  20. ^ "'Most dangerous' roads in Britain named by safety group". BBC News. 1 July 2010. Retrieved 4 July 2011. 
  21. ^ Cargill, Angus, ed. (2014). Hang the DJ: An alternative book of music lists. Faber & Faber. p. 173. ISBN 978-0-571-30717-3. 
  22. ^ "Police in bid to reduce Snake Pass road deaths". Manchester Evening News. 5 April 2012. Retrieved 26 March 2015. 
  23. ^ Nuttall, Anne (1990). Mountains of England and Wales. Cicerone Press Limited. p. 293. ISBN 978-1-852-84037-2. 
  24. ^ "Snake Pass closed again because of abandoned cars". Sheffield Telegraph. 18 January 2015. Retrieved 27 March 2015. 
  25. ^ Environment Select Committee Meeting (Report). High Peak Borough Council. 16 February 2010. Retrieved 27 March 2015. 
  26. ^ "Derbyshire hit by road and school closures over snow". BBC News. 2 December 2010. Retrieved 9 July 2011. The A57 Snake Pass is closed in both directions between the Hurst Road junction in Glossop and the A6013. 
  27. ^ "Snake Pass closed as snow returns". Glossop Advertiser. 17 December 2010. Retrieved 9 July 2011. 
  28. ^ "Landslide on the Snake". Derbyshire Times and Chesterfield Herald. 9 January 1932. p. 12 – via British Newspaper Archive. (subscription required (help)). 
  29. ^ "TRAFFIC ALERT: Landslide closes A57". Sheffield Telegraph. 25 January 2008. Retrieved 26 March 2015. 
  30. ^ a b Walkover survey of a landslide on the A57 (Snake Pass) road at Cowms Moor, Derbyshire in January 2008 (Report). British Geographical Survey. 16 May 2008. Retrieved 26 March 2015. 
  31. ^ "Snake Pass to close for three weekends". Manchester Evening News. 29 October 2012. Retrieved 26 March 2015. 
  32. ^ "Cycling Notes by Ixion". Lancashire Evening Post. 3 December 1902. p. 4. Retrieved 27 March 2015 – via British Newspaper Archive. (subscription required (help)). 
  33. ^ a b Jones, Tom (2013). Mad Dogs and Englishmen: A Year of Things to See and Do in England. Random House. p. 50. ISBN 978-0-753-54957-5. 
  34. ^ "Cycling : Despatch from "Clubman"". Lichfield Mercury. 18 June 1943. p. 3. Retrieved 27 March 2015 – via British Newspaper Archive. (subscription required (help)). 
  35. ^ "Snake Pass hill Climb". Glossop Kinder Velo. Retrieved 27 March 2015. 
  36. ^ "Tejvan Pettinger wins Glossop Kinder Velo hill-climb". Cycling Weekly. 31 August 2014. Retrieved 27 March 2015. 

External links[edit]