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This Street in Wales Is Officially the World’s Steepest

Ffordd Pen Llech, a winding road in the historic town of Harlech, has claimed the Guinness World Record—but not everyone is happy about it

(Guinness World Records)
smithsonian.com

Nestled within Wales’ Snowdonia National Park is a small, historic town called Harlech, best known for a towering castle built by Edward I in the late 13th century. But now, Harlech boasts another claim to fame. As Steven Morris reports for the Guardian, one of the town’s winding streets has officially been declared the world’s steepest.

Ffordd Pen Llech, as the street is called, has snagged the Guinness World Record title for steepest street after a hard-won campaign. The honor previously belonged to Baldwin Street in Dunedin, New Zealand, whose impressive gradient measures 35 percent at its steepest point. But Harlech resident Gwyn Headley suspected Ffordd Pen Llech was steeper.

“I first realised this street was a contender for the steepest street in the world when my car slid straight down with all four tires locked,” he says.

Before clinching the World Record title, Harlech had to call in a skilled surveyor to assess Ffordd Pen Llech’s incline. The task was bestowed upon one Myrddyn Phillips, an expert on mountain measuring. As the Guardian reported earlier this year, Phillips relied on both satellite technology and less high-tech methods—chalk, for marking important spots, and bricks, for keeping a tripod steady—to make his measurements. The numbers were subsequently processed by a mathematician, and it was ultimately determined that Ffordd Pen Llech’s gradient clocked in at 37.45 percent at its steepest point.

“The record is measured based on the steepest [highest gradient] section over a 10 meter distance,” Guinness explains. “If the average steepness is taken, you could have a road where one section is extremely steep and the rest is flat, which is not a fair assessment. The gradient is measured by taking the 10 meter stretch road and dividing it by how much it rises/falls over the 10 meter distance.”

Guinness had to approve Harlech’s calculations, but that alone wasn’t enough to secure the title. Ffordd Pen Llech also had to meet ten selection criteria, including, among other things, that the road was a public thoroughfare, that it was fully surfaced and that it had buildings along the carriageway, according to the BBC. “Guinness World Records were ultra-specific in the criteria,” Headley says. He was confident in meeting nine of the points, but the last one had him worried.

This particular stipulation required the town to submit blueprints of the street. Harlech had documents from 1842 onwards, but couldn’t produce any that date back to the street’s early history; Ffordd Pen Llech is believed to be more than 1,000 years old. The town successfully argued, however, that it would be difficult to provide records from a time “before there were such things as blueprints,” Morris notes.

News that Harlech had taken the Guinness World Record title for steepest street was met with jubilation by the town’s residents, who are planning a party to celebrate.

“As somebody who was born and raised here, I can’t really say how special it is,” says resident Sarah Badham. “It’s amazing.”

But those who live in Dunedin, home to the newly dethroned Baldwin Street, are not quite so pleased—particularly in light of the Cricket World Cup final, where New Zealand lost to England.

“I’m angry over lots of things in the world this week, but this has really just ruined my week—thank you,” says New Zealand writer Hamish McNeilly, per the BBC. “I’m not going to get over this, this follows the cricket for me so we’re still very angry. It’s a bad week, it really is.”

Baldwin Street is a source of pride for New Zealanders and an attraction for tourists. Charity runs are held there, cyclists tackle the street, and each year, onlookers flock to Baldwin for the Cadbury Chocolate Carnival, when tens of thousands of spherical chocolates are rolled down the incline. Residents along the street have taken to selling food, drink and souvenirs.

But some are taking the loss of New Zealand’s world record in stride. Not long after the news broke, a sticker appeared on Baldwin’s street sign, which proclaims it the “World’s steepest street.”

“World’s SECOND steepest street,” the sign now reads.

About Brigit Katz

Brigit Katz is a freelance writer based in Toronto. Her work has appeared in a number of publications, including NYmag.com, Flavorwire and Tina Brown Media's Women in the World.

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