Friday 2nd July 2021
I promised myself last October when trying out Hulleys of Baslow’s then brand new Snake X57 bus route across the Peak District’s Snake Pass I’d be back for another ride if, as I dared hoped, it survived the winter and was still running this summer.
Eight months later with summer arrived and finding myself conveniently in Manchester mid morning on Wednesday I was set for a trip across to Sheffield to enjoy the spectacular Peak scenery served up by this splendid bus route once again.
Not only have Hulleys kept the route going, albeit they’ve withdrawn the complimentary route X56 shorts between Manchester and Glossop, but in May they extended the route from central Manchester down to the airport.
This takes the bus along the busy Oxford Road dominated by students facilitating convenient pick ups for travel over to Sheffield.
Hulleys have also done a deal with Thomas Cook with discount travel available to holidaymakers flying off from Manchester Airport.
But of course at the moment both the airport and university markets are pretty dead so these potential travel demands have yet to materialise.
The airport extension has come at a hefty price. A fifty percent increase in resources with the X57 now taking three buses rather than the previous two. Whereas the previous timetable was quite tight this one is the complete opposite with bus and driver scheduled for over an hour’s layover on most journeys at Manchester Airport. One mid morning journey has 95 minutes stand time.
Yet at Sheffield the previous arrangement of just 15 minutes between trips has continued which seems odd, especially as buses can face delays heading into Glossop on the return journey from Manchester.
I caught the 10:55 departure from the airport on Wednesday morning – the one where the bus had arrived from its previous journey at 09:20. No wonder my driver looked refreshed, he’d no doubt been enjoying that nice long break.
The bus arrived on stand at 10:55 and within less than a minute we were off having picked up a father and son travelling into central Manchester. The bus station departure area was deadly quiet so it wasn’t surprising there were few passengers.
Even in normal times it’s not the time of day when bus departures from the airport would be busy.
We had a good run into central Manchester, passing an airport bound bus with one passenger on board, arriving at the bus stop alongside the coach station at 11:23 well ahead of our departure time of 11:35.
Just before 11:35 a female passenger boarded and expectations of this not being a solo journey rose, but it turned out she wanted a National Express coach. Then a college lad boarded with a pass and travelled to Hollingworth (the suburb before Glossop).
We made good progress on the journey to Glossop including a fast run on the M67 enabling us to pass through the town bang on time at 12:15 shortly after which the third bus on the route passed us heading towards Manchester Airport with just one passenger on board.
The journey’s next fifteen minutes is the highlight for me.
The long steady winding climb as the A57 leaves Glossop is truly spectacular …
… as you pass Coldharbour Moor …
… followed by an equally dramatic decent along Snake Pass before reaching the former Snake Inn at 12:30. Where we picked up a passenger.
The next fifteen minutes takes you through Lady Clough Forest before the River Ashop appears along Woodland Valley and then we pass alongside the lovely Ladybower Reservoir, where two more passengers are waiting for us at 12:45.
At the next stop at Ladybower Inn another Hulleys driver is waiting for us in a parked red car and there’s a slick driver changeover and we’re quickly off again.
The next ten minutes see us climbing again with Derwent Moors on our left and Moscar Moor on our right but all too soon we’re on the outskirts of Sheffield and twenty minutes later arrive at the Pond Street interchange spot on time at 13:15.
The journey didn’t disappoint although the number of passengers might. But the good news is weekdays are currently not typical of what happens at the weekend. My driver was telling me on a recent weekend the bus he was driving “was rammed full of passengers” with standing all down the gangway and he had to leave people behind. After ringing the depot the controller took a bus out himself to act as a duplicate.
I’m not surprised to hear this. As word spreads among the walking community there’s no doubt Snake X57 offers a fabulous way of reaching places not easily accessible before. And parking’s a nightmare in that area too. I’ve experienced busy buses leaving Sheffield towards Ladybower and Castleton on Saturdays on previous trips, so it’s good to hear this new route is proving popular eight months on.
Maybe the solution is to increase the frequency to hourly at weekends and not worry about the airport extension and instead concentrate the resources where the proven demand is.
It’ll be interesting to see what happens to the weekday service when Covid Bus Service Support Grant is phased out. Fortunately it looks safe for the summer period, so if you’re able to get to the Peak District in the next few weeks, Snake X57 is definitely worth a ride.