Sunday, 6 June 2010

High Hills and Deep Dales


Today almost didn't happen, or at least not in the way I intended.

The whole idea of being in Glossop on a Sunday morning was so that I could catch the one bus per week that goes up the breathtakingly exposed Snake Pass on its way into the Peak District. I'd heard it was one of the best bus journeys in the UK and I needed to know it that was true.

The bus was due at 10.07. By 10.20, I was reluctantly making plans for an alternative route to Bradford and had completely given up on the Snake Pass bus arriving. I was so disappointed, but everything I have heard suggests that rural bus services are a bit like that.

Just then, the bus trundled into view and, with not so much as a word of apology from the driver, we set off up the Snake Pass. I was annoyed but delighted – the journey as I imagined it was back on.

The Snake Pass is one of the highest passes in England and our bus seemed to be labouring uphill for ages. Finally it levelled off on top of a huge moor with amazing views for tens of miles around. This was what I had come to see – there can be few more spectacular views to be had from a bus anywhere in Britain. Tremendous!

The scenery kept getting better, though. Once off the wind-swept moors we were plunging down into deep tree-lined dales beneath the brooding bulk of Kinder Scout – which played such a major role in the mass campaign to secure free access to the mountains and moors for walkers in the 1930's. Every other passenger on the bus is a walker and we chat happily about the day ahead. The driver happily drops them off exactly where their footpaths leave the road – no bus stops on the high moors!

We were soon running alongside the sinewy Ladybower Reservoir before dropping into Bamford for my 272 service to Sheffield. It's a double-decker, the first I have ridden on since Birmingham, and I quickly re-acquaint myself with the view from the front seat on top!

The wild beauty of the Peak District slowly gives way to the busy streets of Sheffield and it's a rapid transition – open fields one minute, housing estates the next. We pull into the Sheffield Bus Interchange which is tucked away almost in embarrassment behind some truly appalling 60's and 70's concrete boxes, which leer over the bus station in a positively threatening manner. It (and the rain) discourages further exploration so I'll have to leave Sheffield for another time. Pity, really, as according to the inspector on duty my connecting bus to Holmfirth has broken down, so I have time to kill.

Eventually, onwards to Holmfirth past all manner of ugliness – steel-shuttered shops, factory units, bland new apartment blocks - along a valley lined with terraces of stone workers cottages until we get to Stockbridge. Here is evidence I had been looking for of Sheffield's former steel industry. The Corus works in Stockbridge is everything you expect a busy steel mill to look like, and they are truly vast, seeming to dominate the whole of the valley. That they are still working is cause for some celebration.

And then we are suddenly out into open country again, over moorland tinted green and brown by bilberry and bracken, with more impressive views to the north and east. The road falls away and we are soon running into Holmfirth, setting for the long-running BBC comedy series Last of the Summer Wine. Every corner we turn looks familiar, either because it has appeared in the show or because it looks like it could! One of them was definitely familiar – Sid's Cafe in the town centre – at which I pop in for a cuppa. Well, you have to, don't you...

Yet another bus, this time the 313 to Huddersfield and another double decker. When we arrived in Huddersfield it was love at first sight. It's a great little town, full of those huge, decorative and 'don't mess with us'-type buildings you associate with Victorian civic pride. It also has probably the most impressive railway station in the country, even though the forecourt is a kind of bizarre obstacle course of random fountains which seem to shoot up from between the cracks in the pavement when you least expect them. Fun, though.

The bus station was built under a multi-storey car park and is everything you'd expect from a piece of dull, featureless 1970's architecture. The waiting area itself is pretty comfortable, though, and there's loads of travel information to hand, and the car park is only 3 storeys high so it doesn't dominate the skyline. For this, it is forgiven.

The last bus of the day takes me to Bradford. Another double-decker, but this time I notice a supermarket trolley-type wheel just by the bus's front wheel. As we arrived into Bradford, it all became clear as we squeeze into a bus-only lane bordered by high concrete kerbs down the middle of the road. The high kerbs connect with the little trolley wheels on each side of the bus and effectively take control of the steering from the driver (who no doubt nips off for a fag). On a Sunday evening when there is very little traffic, I can't really see the point. But I suppose in the rush hour the fact that the bus is using its own road gives it a clear advantage over the queuing traffic. And because it is a guided bus way, no other vehicles can get in the way (unlike bus lanes), and it only takes up the minimum of space required for a bus.

So here I am in Bradford. Once the rain stops (for it is raining once more), I'll pop out and explore some of Bradford's rightly-famous curry houses in preparation for another long day - back to the seaside once more, only this time at Blackpool.

I suppose that mean's fish and chips, then... and trams!


  1. Your "concrete boxes" are listed building (I know, how stupid). Keep having fun, sounds like a good trip.

  2. Thanks for your comment, Rob. They say beauty is in the eyes of the beholder!