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New Zealand Loses Steepest Street Record To Wales

Harlech, Wales —(Map)

Baldwin Street in Dunedin, New Zealand has long been thought to be the world’s steepest street. But now, Guinness World Records says that a 1,000-year-old street in Wales has taken the title.

For the last 30 years, if you wanted to walk on the world’s steepest street, you needed to be in Dunedin, New Zealand. That’s because in 1987, Baldwin Street was named the “World’s Steepest Street” by Guinness World Records.

Dunedin - Baldwin Street
For the last 30 years, if you wanted to walk on the world’s steepest street, you needed to be in Dunedin, New Zealand. That’s because in 1987, Baldwin Street was named the “World’s Steepest Street” by Guinness World Records.
(Source: Rob Young [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons.)

Large numbers of tourists come to make their way up Baldwin Street’s steep pavement every year. Everything about the street looks steep. Some houses on the street almost look as if they were cut in half in order to sit on the street.

The street can be challenging to walk up and even more difficult to bike up.

A photo of a house in Baldwin Street, the steepest street in the world, Dunedin. Taken by BjarteSorensen.
Everything about Baldwin Street looks steep. Some houses on the street almost look as if they were cut in half in order to sit on the street.
(Source: Bjarte Sorensen, via WikimediaCommons.org.)

Every year there are special events on Baldwin Street, such as a race up and down the hill known as the “Baldwin Street Gutbuster”.

In 2018, an 11-year-old raised over $7,500 ($11,000 NZ) to help others by going up the street on a pogo stick. Another money-raising event which has been held on the street since 2002 involves rolling 30,000 chocolate covered candies down the hill.

The unicyclist has to lean forward to keep his centre of gravity centred over his unicycle's contact with Baldwin Street, on the steeper cement covered portion of the street.
Baldwin street can be challenging to walk up and even more difficult to bike up. Every year special events are held on the Street.
(Source: Samuel Mann [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons.)

But starting last week, Baldwin Street became only the second steepest street in the world. The steepest is an old road called Ffordd Pen Llech in Harlech, Wales.

Harlech is a town in Wales that is home to Harlech Castle, which was built around 700 years ago. The castle is at the top of a hill. Ffordd Pen Llech, one of the roads leading up to the castle, is thought to be even older than the castle. The name “Ffordd Pen Llech” means “way to the top of the rock”.

The castle, Harlech Castle, Wales - 1905 picture, showing castle and steep road down.
Harlech is a town in Wales that is home to Harlech Castle, which was built around 700 years ago. Ffordd Pen Llech, one of the roads leading up to the castle, is thought to be even older than the castle. This picture of the castle was taken in 1905.
(Source: The Library of Congress, via Wikimedia Commons.)

Gwyn Headley is the person who asked Guinness to consider Ffordd Pen Llech. Mr. Headley said he first thought the street might be able to win the title for the steepest street, “when my car slid straight down with all four tires locked.”

To decide how steep a street is, Guinness doesn’t look at the whole road. Instead, they find the steepest 10 meters (11 yards) of the street. Then they divide how far the road goes up in that section (rise) by far it goes sideways (run). This is called the “slope” or “gradient” and is often given as a percentage.

Diagram illustrating rise, run, and slope
To decide how steep a road is, Guinness finds the steepest 10 meters (11 yards) of the street. Then they divide how far the road goes up in that section (rise) by far it goes sideways (run). This is called the “slope” or “gradient”.
(Source: Based on work by Madcap [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.)

It took a long time for the people of Harlech to convince Guinness that their road was steeper. But finally, Guinness agreed. Ffordd Pen Llech’s gradient measured 37.45%. Baldwin Street’s gradient was around 35%.

Ffordd Pen Llech
Guinness World Records agreed that Ffordd Pen Llech’s was the steepest street in the world. Its gradient measured 37.45%. The sign in the picture says 40% because in the UK, gradients are rounded up.
(Source: Ian Capper / Ffordd Pen Llech, via Wikimedia Commons.)

The people of Harlech are very excited about their new record. About 200 people turned out to celebrate the news last Saturday. The townspeople hope that the extra attention from having the world’s steepest street will bring more visitors to the town.

As for Dunedin, many people there are sorry to lose the title, but they are still proud of their steep street. They are considering how to describe Baldwin Street, now that it is no longer the steepest street in the world.

Harlech, Wales


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