Cycling Ffordd Pen Llech, Snowdonia National Park, North Wales.
Harlech Castle, very close to the climb.
Not much to say about this one other than it is brief and STEEEEEEEPPPPPPPP!!!!! It was crowned the world’s steepest bike climb in 2018, but has since fallen back a few notches - yet, it didn’t get less steep and is still a beast!
Truth be told, there are several climbs in Wales that are tougher than Fford Pen Llech, but if you are in the area, the novelty of this tight, unique, and fun road is well worth it. The climb ends near a castle, and you can roll around town and see an amazing view of the ocean (if it’s not raining).
Ffordd Pen Llech cuts right through the city of Harlech. Don’t make the mistake we made when driving to the start point….avoid driving the route itself. It is remarkably steep and narrow for an SUV to navigate. At the base of the climb is a sign denoting Ffordd Pen Llech as the “World’s Steepest Road.” As I was taking pictures of the sign, a Danish man came over to chat with me. According to him, Ffordd Pen Llech was recently bumped down to the world’s second steepest by a climb in rural New Zealand. Even still, steep is steep and you are in for a fight to reach the summit of the climb even though it is only 0.2 miles in length.
We’re not in Kansas anymore! Vehicles bottom out on this one.
Ever wonder what 25% looks like?
This climb is not particularly scenically pleasing (or pleasing in anyway, really, unless you are a masochist!), but it is said to be the steepest road bike climb in the UK (Ffordd Pen Llech; Dangerous Roads). We tackled this climb in August 2018 and will not dispute the claims! The first 50 meters are at a quad busting 28%. Yikes!
An unrelated but great treat associated with this climb is Harlech Castle, which can be accessed pretty easily from the finish. The castle is a medieval fortification on top of a rock hill 1.5 kilometers from and in sight of the Irish Sea.
Built by Edward I during 1282-1289 (Invasion of Wales) the castle withstood several wars until falling to Owain Glyndŵr in 1404, and subsequently being recaptured by English forces in 1409. During the 15th century Wars of the Roses, Harlech was held by the Lancastrians and Yorkist troops until the outbreak of the English Civil War. In 1647 it became the last fortification to surrender to the Parliamentary armies. In the 21st century the ruined castle is managed by Cadw, the Welsh Government's historic environment service, as a tourist attraction.
“UNESCO considers Harlech to be one of "the finest examples of late 13th century and early 14th century military architecture in Europe", and it is classed as a World Heritage site. The fortification is built of local stone and concentric in design, featuring a massive gatehouse that probably once provided high-status accommodation for the castle constable and visiting dignitaries. The sea originally came much closer to Harlech than in modern times, and a water-gate and a long flight of steps leads down from the castle to the former shore, which allowed the castle to be resupplied by sea during sieges. In keeping with Edward's other castles in North Wales, the architecture of Harlech has close to links to that found in the County of Savoy during the same period, an influence probably derived from the Savoy origins of the main architect,” (Harlech Castle).
Harlech Castle at the top of the climb.
Descent Warning: We drove down the climb in our car to find parking, and that was a mistake. The narrow road was barely wide enough for our car, and the road is so steep that the brakes overheated and began to slightly fail. Now that’s one steep segment of tarmac! But, at the bottom to the right there is an elementary school you can park at.
The village of Harlech is at the top of the climb and it is a nice spot to visit and spend a little time having a meal at one of the cafes, along with a visit to the castle.
This climb is located in the south eastern edge of Snowdonia National Park:
“Snowdonia (Welsh: Eryri) is a mountainous region in north west Wales and a national park of 823 square miles (2,130 km2) in area. It was the first to be designated of the three national parks in Wales, in 1951.
The English name for the area derives from Snowdon, which is the highest mountain in Wales at 3560 ft (1,085 m). In Welsh, the area is named Eryri. A commonly held belief is that the name is derived from eryr ("eagle"),
(Snowdonia National Park).
Although very short and quite challenging, this is climb and its related activities are a very fun experience.