Snake Pass

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For the novel by Bram Stoker, see The Snake's Pass.
Snake Pass
Approaching the summit from the Snake Inn
Elevation 512 metres (1,680 ft)
Traversed by A57
Location 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 the 1820s. 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.[1] It is regularly closed due to snow, 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.

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.

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. 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.[2] In the early 21st century, the inn was renamed the Snake Pass Inn, such that the inn now referred to the road that referred to itself.[3][4]


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.[5] The current road further south was first built as a toll road in 1820 by Thomas Telford in order to improve communications east of Glossop, which was expanding as an industrial town.[6]

In the 20th century the more northerly route of the Woodhead Pass, which is less steep and at a lower altitude, became the primary road link between Manchester and 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, but linking both cities would have meant constructing numerous tunnels and viaducts across the Peak District at a great cost. Consequently, the scheme was shelved.

Snake Pass was listed as one of best driving roads in the UK by Auto Trader magazine in 2009.[7][not in citation given]


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.[4] 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.[8] In 2012, Derbyshire Police announced a campaign to monitor motorcyclists using the pass, who are particularly at risk of having a fatal accident.[9]


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. There are areas where the road surface has very poor skid resistance and a number of bends have adverse camber. In the winter months the winding road becomes icy and little grit is spread to combat the problem.[citation needed] The British winter of 2010–11 was one the coldest for decades and the road was closed on numerous occasions.[10][11]

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.[12][13] 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.[13] The repairs were completed by August,[citation needed] but in 2012, the road had to be closed several times for resurfacing and strengthening.[14]


Snake Pass 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.[15] For this reason it has frequently featured in the Tour of Britain along with another nearby favourite, Holme Moss.

Cycling Time Trials sanctioned hill climbs are regularly promoted on this course by local club Glossop Kinder Velo. The course record currently stands at 12 minutes 16 seconds.

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. ^ Full Application - Installation of 6.4m Pole-Mounted Antenna - application to install police radio mast 800m west of Snake Pass summit
  2. ^ Smith, Roly (2008). Peak District: Northern and Western Moors. United Kingdom: Frances Lincoln Ltd. p. 128. ISBN 9780711224995. 
  3. ^ Dillon, Paddy (2011). The Pennine Way. Cicerone Press. p. 40. ISBN 978-1-849-65359-6. 
  4. ^ 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. 
  5. ^ The Hidden Places of England. Travel. 2000. p. 478. ISBN 978-1-902-00743-4. 
  6. ^ "John Overend Todd Archive: Howard of Glossop Estate". National Archives. Retrieved 26 March 2015. 
  7. ^ "England's best driving road - revealed". Auto Trader Magazine. 23 April 2009. Retrieved 4 July 2011. 
  8. ^ "'Most dangerous' roads in Britain named by safety group". BBC News. 1 July 2010. Retrieved 4 July 2011. 
  9. ^ "Police in bid to reduce Snake Pass road deaths". Manchester Evening News. 5 April 2012. Retrieved 26 March 2015. 
  10. ^ "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. 
  11. ^ "Snake Pass closed as snow returns". Glossop Advertiser. 17 December 2010. Retrieved 9 July 2011. 
  12. ^ "TRAFFIC ALERT: Landslide closes A57". Sheffield Telegraph. 25 January 2008. Retrieved 26 March 2015. 
  13. ^ 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. 
  14. ^ "Snake Pass to close for three weekends". Manchester Evening News. 29 October 2012. Retrieved 26 March 2015. 
  15. ^ 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. 

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