Snake Pass in the Peak District

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PAGE UPDATED: 14.12.2021

If you’re heading to the Peak District there are a number of things you simply must do. Taking a drive along Snake Pass is one of them.

The A57 between Manchester and Sheffield is a road full of twists and turns with wonderful scenery either side. Indeed, it’s one of the UK’s most scenic routes.

We’ve made this journey twice now, once in late summer when the heather turned the hills purple and on the second occasion in the autumn, continuing the drive westwards over the border into Wales.

But be warned! The Snake Pass can be treacherous in the wintertime and is often closed if the weather gets too bad.

Before we tell you about this road trip, let’s begin by looking at our starting point at Castleton, an excellent base if you’re exploring the Peak District…

Shepherd's cottage near Castleton, Peak District, UK
The beautiful scenery of the Peak District

Wild camping in Castleton

The Peak District is great hiking territory and we spent some time enjoying the walks around the ‘Shivering Mountain’ of Mam Tor and exploring the caverns in the village of Castleton.

On our arrival in the area, our old motorhome had struggled up the 20% incline of Winnat’s Pass, her wheels spinning on the wet tarmac in first gear. Trying to change up into second gear was a no-no; she just couldn’t pull at all.

We would suggest that, if you’re in a motorhome, especially an elder of the tribe like ours, you come in from the top of Winnat’s Pass so you can free-wheel all the way down!

The thing is that the Peak District has many roads like this that can and will take you by surprise. Indeed, on another occasion we had to reverse 200 yards all the way down a hill when our van ran out of puff!

So, keep an eye on those road signs. We now know that anything over a 20% incline means we’ll have to find an alternative route.

Winnat's Pass, the Peak District
Winnat’s Pass – great if you’re going downhill, but not so easy going up in an old campervan!

After wild camping along a quiet road on the edge of Castleton, the next morning we set off through Hope Valley toward Snake Pass…

But there were a few questions playing on our minds…

Snake Pass – is it suitable for motorhomes?

This was the question Hobo Gav had asked a work colleague who had travelled the route several times – but in a car. It can be a very different experience in a larger vehicle.

Specifically, we wanted to know whether our old van could make it up any hilly sections of the route.

We also wanted to know…

  • How long is Snake Pass?
  • How steep is Snake Pass?
  • Where does Snake Pass start and finish?
  • Is it best to travel east or west along Snake Pass?

These are the sort of questions we wanted to know before we set off so let’s explore them now…

Details about Snake Pass

The A57 Snake Pass road runs from Sheffield to Manchester and was built in 1821. It is just over 26 miles long and reaches a height of almost 1700 feet above sea level.

It passes over the high, desolate moorland of the Pennines, providing the traveller with some fantastic views.

As the name suggests, Snake Pass is a winding road with several twists and turns, ups and downs, and adverse cambers, making it notoriously dangerous in bad weather. Indeed, the road is often closed in the winter time and even impassable because of snow drifts.

The road is in generally good condition and is wide enough all the way along for two vehicles, so there’s no need to pull over into passing places.

The steepest gradient is 10.2% with an average of 5.2%. (With this info we felt confident our van would make it okay!)

We actually travelled from east to west, descending almost 1200 feet on the way to Glossop on the outskirts of Manchester. (We haven’t done the route the other way, going up hill).

map of Snake Pass - the A57 in the Peak District
The route we took: After leaving Castleton we joined the A57 Snake Pass and headed North-West to Glossop (Click map to see larger image)

Spectacular scenery on Snake Pass

We thought Snake Pass would be a challenge but as it turned out it was a breeze. We found that much of the A57 had been re-surfaced over the last few years.

Sure, there are some gradients to climb and the road gets twisty in places but by and large, if you drive sensibly, you’ll be okay. From East to West you’re pretty much descending most of the way and you’ll have your foot on the brake pedal for long stretches, especially if you’re driving a motorhome.

We found that the biggest challenge was in trying to keep our eyes on the road! The scenery demands your attention.

On our first drive along the pass in late August the hills were strewn with purple heather and we reckon this is possibly the best time of year to do this drive.

A close second is autumn time when you get the gorgeous colours of the trees as the road winds its way through the wooded areas of Hope Valley before reaching the higher moorland peaks.

The good news is there are several places you can pull over and take a break and some pictures. Or, like Hobo Trudi, you can sit with the passenger window open the whole time and snap away. The drive would certainly make for a good dash-cam video as well.

Snake Pass on the way to Glossop
Snake Pass – surrounded by hills of heather in late summer

The A57 from Sheffield to Manchester

Indeed, it makes sense to stop and take in your surroundings because, before you know it, you’re free-wheeling downhill all the way to Glossop. Manchester looms on the horizon like another world.

There are some sharpish bends on the descent and you can’t drive round them like you would in a car or on a motorbike. Caution is the name of the game for road-tripping in an RV on roads like the Snake Pass. You don’t want to go tipping over on a bend!

As a side note: Gav’s friend did just that in a ‘Luton’ Van. The weight of his load, the speed he was travelling and the corner he was negotiating was simply too much and over he went. And he was only doing 40 mph! Fortunately for him, there was no drop the other side. But his van was written off and much of what he was carrying had to be scrapped as well.

You don’t want that happening to you and your van – on Snake Pass or anywhere else!

Snake Pass – a slow roller-coaster of a ride

The thing is that when you reach the outskirts of Glossop you’ll want to turn around and go back the other way. It’s like being a kid again and wanting another go on the roller-coaster or bumper cars.

Snake Pass is like that. One ride is never enough.

We guess that’s why we went back a couple of years later and did it all over again, this time carrying on right the way to Wales and the Horseshoe Pass.

You get a taste for these drives.

When we go back for the third time, we’ll do it the other way, starting at Glossop and heading uphill toward Sheffield, if our old van will let us!

Have you driven the Snake Pass? What did you think of it? Let us know your story in the comments section below or by sending us an email.

You can find out more about the history of Snake Pass here.

And if you’d like to find out about the ‘second leg’ of this road trip and the journey into Wales read about The Horseshoe Pass. It’s another UK drive you must do!

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