The big read: The winding history of the Snake Pass, the road loved or hated by Sheffielders

Some love it and others hate it, but every Sheffielder has an opinion on it. The wonderful, windy and oft-closed-in-winter Snake Road turns 200 this week.

By Steven Ross
Thursday, 19th August 2021, 5:00 am

Opened on August 23, 1821, Snake Road was designed to be a toll road connecting Sheffield to Manchester, speeding the pace of trade from Sheffield to the world.

The optimism and fanfare of that first August dissipated mere months later when it was clear the road was not ideally suited to winter weather – 200 years later the route is still closed for an average of 70 days out of the year.

Sheffield historian and expert Howard Smith, told the Sheffield Telegraph: “It’s a famous road - everybody in Sheffield has been over it at least once or twice. It’s an exciting road but in bad weather it’s a dreadful road. It’s always the first road in the country to be closed at the first sign of snow.

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9 Jan 2015...Snake Pass in the High Peak (for archive). Picture Scott Merrylees

“When the road was first opened there was terrific excitement and great optimism. Once people travelled in winter it changed.

“It operated as a toll road until 1875 but it always lost money. Royal Mail sometimes had to send post to Sheffield via Leeds because they couldn’t get over Snake Road."

The idea for a new road connecting Sheffield to Manchester first came about when the War of 1812 ended and Americans resumed business with Britain.

Roughly one third of Sheffield’s workforce was connected to American trade at that time and when orders started coming in again, a road that could get goods to the ports in Liverpool faster was sought.

The Snake Pass blocked by snow in 1981

Howard, who has written a book about the road - called The Story of the Snake Road and the Sheffield to Glossop Turnpike Trail - added: “There was a move in 1970 to close Snake Road from Snake Inn to Glossop.

"One of the other routes was through Hope Valley - they built a bypass but it collapsed because the whole side was unstable. Snake Road was reprieved. It is a very expensive road to maintain. It’s not just the surface that needs work, parts of the road are on unstable ground. Whole sections of the road shift position. But there is no alternative.”

While the Snake Pass has many stories to tell, the one most will be familiar with is that of the Bleaklow Bomber.

The plane, a US Air Force B-29 aircraft, crashed on a routine flight while descending through cloud in 1948 and the crash scene close to the Snake Pass and Glossop can still be seen today.

The Snake Pass, Derbyshire, June 1970

Although the Snake Pass was only a small section of Snake Road, it has become a popular synecdoche to refer to the whole of the road, and it shares the name with the former Snake Pass Inn pub.

Opinion among Sheffield motorists today is divided on this historic road, with some locals claiming it to be a beautiful route to visit, and others suggesting it is simply too dangerous.

Robert Jones, who was visiting the city centre from Rotherham this week, said: “I absolutely love Snake Pass. It’s one of the best driving roads you can possibly have. It is one of my favourite places to have a drive when I come up to Sheffield.

“It can be dangerous - there are quite a few hairpins. I just make sure I drive safely.

Howard Smith wrote The Story of the Snake Road and the Sheffield to Glossop Turnpike Trail.

"I would like to see it kept as a dominant road.”

But Steve Slack, who rarely uses the Snake Pass, said: “I don’t use Snake Pass primarily because it’s too dangerous, but also for environmental reasons.

"I think we should discourage people from using the roads. I like the idea of having a faster train from Sheffield to Manchester.

“It’s got too much traffic to maintain. Lorries and people rushing and overtaking. I think since lockdown people have been driving faster.

"I would get the train or taxi if I were going to Manchester airport. The last time I used the road was to go out walking.”

Pete and Barbara Davies, who live in Gleadless, said: “It is a brilliant road, it’s so spectacular. People in Manchester who come to Sheffield can’t believe it.“I always take others on Snake Pass. They are immensely impressed.

Robert Jones loves Snake Pass and says it is one of his favourite places to drive.

"We drive down Snake Pass to get to the beauty spots. Regular commuters should have another route for getting to Manchester.

"Sheffield should have a tunnel and dual carriageway, to reduce congestion. A tunnel would take some use off Snake Pass. But the Peak District is always opposed to road improvements.”

Aileen Smith, from Richmond, has used the road sporadically for years.

She said: “It’s a lovely road. I always found it to be pretty well maintained.

“I prefer it to a motorway, it feels safer than being on a motorway sometimes. A lot of problems are down to the drivers being unsafe on the road. I use it when going to Glossop and going to the airport. I would like to see it being kept in use.”

While some cyclists do use the Snake Pass, high winds, lack of a cycle lane, and fast-moving traffic make it a challenging endeavour.

Matt Turner, an avid Sheffield cyclist, said: “I would not use Snake Road because it is a death trap. Making Snake Road safe for cyclists is not a priority. What I think is important is access to the Peak District for cyclists.

"The main problem is the short roads that you can’t use if you ride a bike. We really, really need cycle paths so that cyclists have that same sense of freedom.”

Pete and Barbara Davies love Snake Pass and think that Sheffield should have a tunnel and dual carriageway, to reduce congestion on the road.
B29 BOMBER CRASH SITE,Snake Pass summitt, pictured is Daughter of flight captain Jean Tanner Gray with husband Don Gray after laying wreaths at the site after a two hour hike through bog in terrible conditions.