My Grandma lived on one of the steepest streets in Britain, the sort that makes you wonder if you car will make it to the top or if you slip on the pavements, if you will avoid skidding and rolling hundreds of feet to the bottom. So as a person with interest in such oddball awards I noticed last week that a meandering street in north-west Wales has been crowned the steepest in the world.
It should be noted that this is a record for streets with houses and not careering mountain tacks but if you’re looking for either a walking or cycling challenge then head to Ffordd Pen Llech in the historic town of Harlech. Until now the town has been best better known for its fantastic castle which I remember seeing 10 or 12 years ago as well as the rousing song best known from the class film Zulu , Men of Harlech. In fact when I was 3 or 4 I used to sing Men of Harlech on the bus to any elderly person with the misfortune to sit near me… often getting paid some serious pennies though my father would insist it was to shut me up but then his singing talents never saw him take to the karaoke stages of Harrow, London like it did for myself!
Anyway, I digress, following a long campaign by the local residents, the street has been awarded the title by the Guinness World Records now that it has been established that at its steepest point Ffordd Pen Llech has a gradient of 37.5% at its steepest point compared to the distinctly flat predecessor of Baldwin’s Street, Dunedin in New Zealand with its feeble 35% gradient.
Winning the title was a lot tougher than the townsfolk had anticipated. The Guinness World Records was very specific in the 10 criteria demanded for it to qualify as the steepest street in the world.
The problematic 10th criterion was that Guinness World Records required a blueprint of the street. The Harlech bid justified its absence because the street has been there since time immemorial, or at least 1,000 years, before there were such things as blueprints or urban street maps..
A surveyor called Myrddyn Phillips, an expert on mountain measuring, did much of the hard work. He used a combination of hi-tech (a satellite dish) and low-tech (chalk to mark out key points and bricks to keep a tripod steady) to take a series of measurements on the street. At one point a volunteer dropped a brick and was astonished to see it rolling down the hill.
In fact the steepest five-metre section of road is a crampon, belay, rappel-needing, roped-on 46.30%!
To qualify for the title, the street or road also must be a thoroughfare that is commonly used by the public, who are able to drive vehicles across it. Ffordd Pen Llech is flanked by 300-year-old houses and an ancient route to the castle. Motorists do use it – and the unskilled often become unstuck.
Located in an otherwise quiet valley of the South Island city, Baldwin Street in Dunedin has attracted daredevils and adventure sports enthusiasts, prompting the local council to upgrade infrastructure and residents to launch cottage industries selling food, drinks and souvenirs.
Having all ready lost the Cricket World Cup Final to England and Wales, some in New Zealand have appeared a little forlorn with one person suggesting it may be worth resurfacing Baldwin Street for the sake of the title, which had turned the neighbourhood into a tourist attraction.
Craig Glenday, the Guinness World Records editor-in-chief, said: “The local community in Harlech has shown sheer willpower in their quest to earn Ffordd Pen Llech the title. We know the anticipation has been building for quite some time now and I’m pleased to see the outcome has brought such joy to the residents.
“I hope Harlech enjoys the celebrations and that the new title brings lots of people to the beautiful town, to experience the world’s steepest street for themselves.”
If you’d like to read a rather more tragic Welsh post then grab some tissues and read about poor old Gelert, the trusted hound of King Llewyn The Great.