Peaks, passes and pubs in aging MG-F


Drive: Cat and Fiddle Run (18km), Snake Pass (22km) and Winnat’s Pass (1.6km) in the UK


You’ve got to love a cracking drive (or ride) named after a pub.

Cue the Cat and Fiddle run, a combo of the A537, A54 and A53 roads which link Buxton in Derbyshire with Macclesfield in Cheshire.

Not so long ago (early-2000s), the Cat and Fiddle was rated the most dangerous road in the UK due to the disproportionate number of motorcycle crashes (70 per cent of the total of fatalities and serious injuries). 

In 2015, it dropped off the worst 10 list, which authorities put down to a number of road safety initiatives:

  • reducing the speed limit to 80km/h
  • the advent of high-friction road surfacing
  • high-visibility warning signs
  • red warnings painted on the roadway
  • motorcycle-friendly safety barriers
  • enforcement signs
  • carriageway widening
  • mobile speed cameras
  • and police presence

Duly noted, especially the latter two.

We’re starting our drive in Buxton at the junction of the A53 and A5004 Long Hill Road.

At our disposal is a well-kept, but short of pristine, MG-F, produced from 1995 until 2002 when it was replaced by the TF.

It’s the better-endowed 107kW, 173Nm 1.8-litre VVC (Variable Valve Control) model, not the 90kW, 166Nm entry level of same engine displacement and twin-cam design. 

There is, I soon find out, a fair bit to like: rear-wheel drive which equals uncorrupted steering, short clutch travel, mid-mounted engine that makes for sweet balance and Hydragas damping more effective than the interpretations served up by BMC some years earlier. 

The system employs interconnected fluid and gas displacers to provided a surprisingly compliant ride but one which could be tuned to provide excellent handling characteristics.

Through the western outskirts of town and along the A53 we go, before taking a right turn at Ladmanlow onto the A54.

I make good use of the F’s five-speed manual gearbox to tap peak torque so that we surf a series of testing bends leading onto flat moorland along Goyt’s Moss, where signposts change to A537.

The road straightens on approach to The Cat and Fiddle (circa 1813), at some 520m, England’s second-highest public house to the Tan Hill Inn.

We stop, not for refreshment, but to take in the sweeping views and record the occasion on my trusty Canon, little knowing that in four years’ time (2015) the doors would shut leaving The Cat and Fiddle to face an uncertain future.

(In 2020, it reopened as a whiskey distillery and bar). 

Thereon, the road descends to Macclesfield via yet another continuous, inviting series of bends, mostly wide and open and offering good sight lines.

Okay, so some radii do tighten but there’s no shortage of signage – alongside, or painted on, the road – to guide bikers and drivers alike. 

All of just 17km the Cat and Fiddle Run, as a drive, is short and sweet.

So much so, that upon reaching Macclesfield, the decision is easy – turn around and drive it over again.

2000 MG F brochure
2000 MG-F brochure


Snake Pass

Here’s another mountain pass with a pub connection.

Though the name might well be justified by the twisting, winding A57, it actually comes from the emblem of The Snake Inn located halfway into what is a memorable drive or ride from Glossop to the Ladybower Reservoir at Ashopton.

In the early 21st century, ‘Pass’ was added making the name Snake Pass Inn.

Originally built as a toll road in 1820, the pass formed the most direct route between Manchester and Sheffield until succeeded by a safer and easier route, Woodhead Pass. 

Interestingly, Snake Pass has even made its way into music.

Sheffield band The Human League recorded a track entitled The Snake on their 2001 album Secrets; ditto Squarepusher on their Selection Sixteen album.

And comedian John Shuttleworth is known to perform a song called Incident on Snake Pass, which reportedly relates to a crash he had driving a Ford Anglia — of all things.

The MG-F affords me substantially more confidence than I’d imagine Shutttleworth might have enjoyed with the Anglia: disc brakes all-round; modern, grippy 15-inch rubber; ABS and airbags.

Comfort levels are good, as is space (for a small two-seater) and the F rides compliantly with little body roll.

Minuses? With some 70,000 miles (112,000km) on the clock, power and torque are understandably down a little and the occasional bump provokes some minor scuttle shake.  

The road starts out tight and twisty with vegetation in the form of hedgerows or part thereof nearly to the roadside.

Sight lines are limited; consequently, double lines – as in no passing – define much of the way.

It continues slightly downhill and then opens into rolling hills denuded by sheep and cattle grazing.

The Snake Inn appears on the right, its exterior rather ordinary in appearance, it has to be said.

The landscape, though, grows more attractive, morphing into woods with overhanging branches alive in vibrant green foliage. 

Taller, even more-imposing trees appear, and you could be forgiven for thinking you’ve taken a wrong turn and driving through the Ardennes Forest with the mighty Nurburgring signposted just up ahead.

But, the naked hills return, with guardrail and the occasional stone wall to the left while the road cuts into hillside to the right.

On a clear day, the sweeping views open up to where they say you can catch a glimpse of Manchester.

Tight bends, steep climbs and descents and camber changes punctuate the 25km, making this a joyous road to drive. 

In 2008, a survey by Caterham Cars rated Snake Pass as the best driving road in the UK.

My first-hand experience would fall short of such glowing endorsement. But it would be close. 


Winnat’s Pass

Compared with Snake Pass and the Cat and Fiddle run, Winnat’s Pass is an absolute minnow – in length, at least.

Just 1.6km marks the steep climb from the attractive village of Castleton (pictured, Olde Nag’s Head Hotel) west through a steep cleft, surrounded by lofty limestone cliffs.

How steep is steep? The climb averages 10 per cent, with a considerable section of 20 per cent plus near the top.

If you’re wondering about the name, it’s a corruption of ‘wind gates’.

Intriguingly, local legend has it that the pass is haunted after a young couple were murdered by rogue miners in 1758. 

Good news for drivers, motorcyclists and cyclists alike is that the narrowness of the road and its maximum gradient of more than 28 per cent (1 in ​3.5) have resulted in it being closed to buses, trucks and other vehicles of more than 7.5 tonne.

While it might be short in distance, Winnat’s Pass is a rewarding road and one well worth going out of your way to do.

Drive with verve and it becomes immediately obvious that this would make a cracking hillclimb course if closed to the public for a day, like it is as an occasional cycling event. 

As it stands, you can readily add value by following the A625 from the pass on to the village of Chapel-en-le-Frith.

This, too, is a road that will have you cracking a broad grin as it unfolds under the wheels. 

Other must-do drives:

  • A628 Woodhead Pass
  • A6 Derby to Buxton
  • A53 Leek to Buxton
  • A5004 Whaley Bridge to Buxton
  • A515 Buxton to Sudbury (taking in the delightful towns of Matlock and Bakewell, as in that fabled delicacy, the Bakewell Tart)
  • 623 Ayam to Chapel-en-le-Frith

Other good watering holes? Check out The Wheatsheaf Hotel in Bakewell and Olde Nag’s Head in Castleton.  



Basic price: N/A

Engine: 1.8-litre VVC DOHC inline 4-cyl

Power: 107kW @  7000 rpm

Torque: 173Nm @ 4500 rpm

Transmission: 5-spd manual

Weight: 1070kg

Drive: Rear-wheel

0-100km/h: 7.5 secs

MG F on the Cat and Fiddle Run
MG-F on the Cat and Fiddle run.


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