What A Long Strange Trip It’s Been

When one wins a Guinness World Record, there are only ever three reactions:
2. Silence, or
3. “I know one that’s far bigger / faster / steeper.”

I am delighted by the first, I quite understand the second, but the third — which incidentally is the most common — leaves me completely baffled.

Harlech won the Guinness World Records Certificate for the World’s Steepest Street last Tuesday 16th July, and immediately the complaints came flooding in. ‘There’s a far steeper street in Lincoln / Shaftesbury / Bristol / Llandudno / San Francisco / Pittsburgh / Kalkan / insert your home town here.’

Well, no, there isn’t. If that was the case, why would it not be recognised by GWR as the world’s steepest? ‘Oh, I couldn’t be bothered. What a waste of time.’ There’s an element of truth there. It took us ten months from start to finish to win the record. But they’re bothered enough to post denigrating comments at three in the morning, perhaps after one bottle too many.

It’s a shame there isn’t a Green Text button on Facebook.

We’ve even had deniers who baldly state ‘No. Baldwin Street [in Dunedin, New Zealand, the previous record holder] is steeper.’

No it’s not. A gradient of 37.45% is steeper than 35%. Irrefutable. Undeniable. Steeper is steeper.

Tomorrow is the 50th anniversary of the first men landing on the moon. But there are legions of people who are convinced the moon landings were filmed in a shed in Arizona. Why? Because they just do, that’s why. And every one of them knows a street steeper than Ffordd Pen Llech.

No. They don’t.

Trump would probably dismiss the steepness of Ffordd Pen Llech as fake news. But it’s not. Because We Have The Certificate To Prove It.

Guinness World Record application made

Following my blog last year about Ffordd Pen Llech probably being the steepest street in the world, we have now submitted our application to Guinness World Records to have it officially recognised.

We should hear back by Thursday 4th July. So I will report back.

Fingers crossed!

The Steepest Street in the World

Here’s an interesting fact. I suffer under the impression that Wales gets overlooked, that we punch below our weight on the world stage. It would be interesting to see how often Wales is mentioned in world media as opposed to, say, Israel or Slovenia, which are about the same size. I guess it’s less.
If I’m driving down from town to the Morfa I prefer to use Llech, because I’m less likely to meet oncoming traffic (because it’s one way). Yes, it’s steep, but I have four wheel drive and anti-lock brakes. But I wondered — just how steep is it?
So I looked up Wikipedia and the Guinness Book of World Records. The steepest street in the world is … Baldwin Street in Dunedin, New Zealand! Yay! Another record for the Kiwis!
At its maximum, the slope of Baldwin Street is about 1:2.86 (19° or 35%). That is, for every 2.86 metres travelled horizontally, the elevation changes by 1 metre.
Hang about.
I looked up Llech, or Ffordd Pen Llech as I discovered it’s also called, on Wikipedia. It says; “Its descent of the rock spur to the north of the castle gives it a tangentially measured gradient at its steepest section of 1:2.73. Whilst this translates to the vertical rise being 36.63% of the horizontal going, it is normal practice for UK highway authorities to round gradients to a nominal figure to avoid confusing road users with excessive precision; hence the warning sign gives a slope of 40%.”
And Llech carries on up through Twtil to Pen Dref, also quite steep.
1:2.73 is steeper than 1:2.86.
36.63% is steeper than 35%.
Clearly, Ffordd Pen Llech in Harlech is steeper than Baldwin Street in Dunedin. So can we have the world record now please?

Baby Dragons Nest In Harlech Castle

Inside Harlech Castle is a new nest of baby dragons. The castle will welcome Dwynwen and her baby dragons, Dylan and Cariad, from Tuesday, 1 August. It’s hoped they’ll stay until August 13th.

It must be true — it’s in the Cambrian News!

Walking In Lower Snowdonia:

Inspiration For A General Election

Prime Minister Theresa May took a holiday in Meirionydd a couple of weeks ago. No doubt she chose it because it was one of the five regions of Wales to vote Remain in the Brexit referendum in June last year, and as someone who campaigned to remain in the EU she felt happier among like-minded pobl.

She stayed at the Penmaenuchaf Hall Hotel in Penmaenpool, 17 miles and half an hour away from us. I’m sorry to say I’ve never been there, but it looks lovely.

On her contemplative walks in the area she had a great idea — ‘never mind what I said earlier, and never mind that there’s a law passed in 2010 which mandates fixed term elections, let’s have one NOW! We’ll just repeal the inconvenient law. ‘

She’s leading the polls by a zillion percent because poor Jeremy Corbyn really isn’t much of an opposition. I think even I might be cleverer than him. And who else is there? Plaid Cymru will undoubtedly win in this area, but curiously they won’t win enough seats to form the main opposition to the Tories in Westminster.

I see the SNP holding on to their seats, the Labour party haemorrhaging theirs, and the Lib Dems doing surprisingly well as they’re the only party to stand up for the 48% of us who voted to remain with the EU. If they get 48% of the vote we will be living in even more interesting times.

Meanwhile we can experience our own walking epiphanies. Here (courtesy of The Guardian) are the routes Theresa took. They’re not yet listed in the Walks section on the harlech.org website because we haven’t done them, but I still think if you’re in that area it would be hard to beat the Precipice Walk.

Let us know what you think, if you do these walks?

Helicopter crash

The mountains behind the house are called the Rhinogs, and the biggest is the dome-shaped one called Moelfre, 549 metres high. Stand outside the kitchen window, look over the garage and you can’t miss it.

Sadly neither did a helicopter this week. Five people were killed when one crashed in the Rhinogs.

A major air and land search was launched yesterday after the aircraft vanished en route from Luton to Dublin.

Superintendent Gareth Evans of North Wales Police said the crash site was located today and the bodies of all five people on board had been found.

A mountain rescue team found the wreckage in the Rhinog mountains, between Trawsfynydd and Harlech.

Police have not revealed the exact location of the crash as the bodies have not been recovered from the “remote and hazardous” terrain.

It is very rough walking, and there are few safe paths through the mountains. The Roman Steps which start at Cwm Bychan is one. The steps will probably be closed today.

Ten Epic Train Journeys

The Guardian recently listed the ten most epic train journeys in the world. Here’s the list:

1. Jungfraubahn, Switzerland
2. Dovey Junction to Pwllheli, Wales
3. Jasper to Vancouver, Canada
4. Windhoek to Swakopmund, Namibia
5. Chicago to San Francisco, USA
6. Kristinehamn to Gällivare, Sweden
7. Belgrade to Bar, Serbia & Montenegro
8. Cape Town to Johannesburg, South Africa
9. Bangkok to the River Kwai, Thailand
10. Alausi to Palmira, Ecuador

There’s exalted company we’re in! The little line that runs round the bottom of our cliff ranks with some of the most exotic (i.e. far away) places in the world.

Here’s what they had to say about it:

From the lonely request stop at Dovey Junction, the Cambrian Coast line clings to the shore of Cardigan Bay so closely it is often damaged by sea storms. Chugging for the best part of 2½ hours along one of Britain’s most scenic railway lines, trains traverse the half-mile-long, 150-year-old Barmouth bridge, which spans the Mawddach river. They then pass lovely Portmeirion on the far side of the sandy Dwyryd estuary, and offer up choice views of Harlech and Criccieth castles. • Explore Cambrian Coast rover, adult £12, child £6, family £21, arrivatrainswales.co.uk

Now if someone had the nous to couple up a big brash steam locomotive to a train on the line it would transform the entire Welsh economy overnight.

Drystone Walls and Trees

One of our pine trees has shifted in a high wind and its root movement has toppled fifteen feet of a five foot high drystone wall. It’s an expensive business living with trees and drystone walls.

Key the strimmer said he had a mate who could help out. Mates are always cheaper than professionals, so I asked him to pop over.

Emrys arrived very promptly with his sidekick. Obviously the tree had to come down before the wall was repaired. There was a lot of sucking of teeth and shaking of heads. “Big tree, mind,” said Emrys. His mate nodded thoughtfully.

“Was it Gwyn?” he asked. I nodded. “Odd name for an Englishman,” he mused. “I’m Welsh,” I retorted, repressing a flush of irritation.

“OK,” he said. “£800.”

“When can you do it?” I asked. They exchanged glances. “We could do it tomorrow. Shouldn’t take more than a day or two.”

I’d found the Eddie Grundy of Harlech. “Right,” I said, “the maximum I’m prepared to pay is £400. There’s no way you can meet that price.”

Immediately he reduced his price to £600. This was getting insulting. I walked away, after thanking him for coming over.

The following day I had the tree taken down by a professional tree surgeon for £120. He logged it and took away the trimmings, leaving me with a lovely stack of branches to cut up for firewood.

Farmer Barry came round to look at the drystone wall. “£200?” he hazarded, knowing full well it was an outrageous rip-off. I shrugged and assented. He’d done a great professional job on another of my drystone walls a couple of years ago.

So that was that. Emrys’s £800 worth of work over two days was reduced to £320 over four or five hours. I went to get my new chainsaw. It started very quickly, idled at 5000 rpm for a minute then seized solid. I couldn’t turn it over.

I took it to Major Owen in Penrhyndeudraeth, and they read its obituary over the phone to me this morning. The replacement parts would cost more than a new chainsaw. “But it’s brand n …” I began, then I remembered that my ‘new’ chainsaw had come with the insurance for the flood which triggered fotoLibra — fifteen years ago.

So. Tree down, £120. Wall rebuilt, £200. New Stihl MS-180 chainsaw, £235.

It’s still cheaper than Emrys. And I get a new chainsaw thrown in.

Bye Bye Pylons

You look at them and you always wonder “Who decided they wanted these hideous pylons marching over the hillsides? And who allowed them to do it?”

We never find out. We just have to live with the visual blight. For decades the Maentwrog, Llandecwyn and Penrhyndeudraeth area has been dominated by an intrusive array of pylons carrying, I assume, power from the now defunct Trawsfynydd nuclear power station to the surrounding towns and villages.

Today we learn that the pylons are coming down, and the cables will be buried underground. The National Grid has set aside £500m for the project, and other pylons will be removed in the New Forest, the Peak District, and Dorset. The funding has been made available by energy regulator Ofgem.

These four schemes have been prioritised out of 12 sections of electricity lines in eight national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty (AONB) across England and Wales which were considered to have the most significant impact on beauty spots.

The four stretches of lines are in:

  • Snowdonia National Park, near Porthmadog
  • Dorset AONB, near Winterbourne Abbas
  • New Forest National Park, near Hale
  • Peak District National Park, near Dunford Bridge

Well, whoever decided they were to come down, I’m grateful. This probably gives Gwynedd Council the opportunity to shut Pont Briwet, a couple of months after it opened, while the work is carried out. I hope Hochthief isn’t contracted to do the work.

Hey — here’s a suggestion — why don’t they shut the bridge AND the road to Maentwrog while they carry out a study on what should be done and how long it might take? This would give us the opportunity to get to Penrhyndeudraeth by way of Barmouth, Llanelltyd and Trawsfynydd; a mere 39 miles and 1 hour 5 minutes instead of the current 6 miles and 14 minutes.

Planned Route — Harlech to Penrhyndeudraeth

Planned Route — Harlech to Penrhyndeudraeth


The Builders of Pont Briwet

How interesting.

If you have read some of my whinges over the years you’ll have heard of the appalling build overrun at Pont Briwet, the link between Harlech and Porthmadog.

It used to be a 100 metre toll bridge until it was closed for rebuilding in 2013.

For reasons not disclosed to we οἱ πολλοί by Gwynedd Council or the contractors Hochtief, it took 18 months longer to complete than scheduled. It finally opened last Monday, July 15th.

Then today this news report emerged:

“A German company has been found to be the biggest tax evader in Greece. A court in Athens found that Hochtief, the German company that was running the “Eleftherios Venizelos” Athens International airport was not paying VAT for 20 years. It is estimated that Hochtief, will have to pay more than 500 million Euros for VAT arrears. Together with other outstanding payments, like those to social security funds, it might have to pay more than 1 billion Euros.”

I am sure that Hochthief have paid all their taxes in the UK and that Gwynedd Council has been open and transparent in all its dealings with them, despite not informing the local population of any progress during construction.