It's completely brutal but driving this epic Welsh mountain road is worth the nerves

From above, the road drops away sharply
-Credit: (Image: John Haynes/Creative Commons)


Wales, with its mountainous terrain and stunning landscapes, is home to some of the UK's most awe-inspiring locations. One such spot is a road in north Wales that has been dubbed one of the most challenging drives in the country. Bwlch y Groes, a mountain pass in Gwynedd, stands at an elevation of 545m or 1,788ft above sea level. This makes it the second highest public road mountain pass in Wales and the highest tarmacked pass in the country.

The 17-mile route offers breathtaking views across the Dyfi Valley and Cadair Idris, and lies on minor roads between Dinas Mawddwy to the south and Llanuwchllyn to the north, within Eryri National Park. You can get the latest WalesOnline newsletters e-mailed to you directly for free by signing up here.

Known as the Pass of the Cross, Bwlch y Groes was used by pilgrims centuries ago to travel from north to south Wales. Its name comes from a cross placed along the route as a symbol of faith for those journeying along it in past centuries. The steepness of the road made it a testing ground for the British Motorcycle industry and car companies in the early 20th century who wanted to test prototype vehicles against the toughest and steepest climbs.

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Between 1933 and 1954, the International Six Days Trial - one of the world's oldest 'off-road' motorcycle events - passed through Bwlch y Groes. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s it went on to gain a reputation as the most challenging climb in the cycling Tour of Britain. Often referred to as Hellfire Pass by English visitors, Bwlch y Groes is known for its steep incline and narrow width, making it a challenging route for walking, cycling, or even driving.

It's steep but worth making the effort
Bwlch y Groes mountain road in Gwynedd, north Wales -Credit:I Love Colour/Creative Commons

Dangerous Roads, a website that has reviewed more than 13,000 roads, describes Bwlch y Groes as being located high in the Aran Mountains, on the edge of Eryri. The road to the summit is fully paved but very narrow and steep, with some ramps hitting a maximum gradient of 25%. The site uses the adjective 'brutal' to describe the climb, stating there isn't a better word to encapsulate the experience.

The website further states: "In fact, it's one of the steepest, toughest and most spectacular climbs in the country. It's one of the truly definitive climbs, and the road is unsuitable for heavy goods vehicles. Wild and remote, to drive the road without stopping will take most people between 30 and 45 minutes. It's a road of outstanding beauty - rough, weathered and remorselessly steep. The views from the pass encompass the plain of the Dyfi valley, Cadair Idris and a close view of Aran Fawddwy."

Bwlch y Groes gives breathtaking views
It's probably not for skateboarding -Credit:Mat Fascione/Creative Commons
The views from Bwlch y Groes are impressive
And the views aren't bad either -Credit:Rob Wildwood

The Guardian has previously recognised Bwlch y Groes as one of the 'top 10 toughest cycle climbs' in the UK, highlighting a particularly gruelling section that ascends 385m in just over two miles, potentially making it the most challenging stretch of road for cyclists in Britain. "Named Hellfire Pass by the English but better known by its Welsh name, Bwlch y Groes is the highest tarmacked pass in Wales," the Guardian wrote. "Passing farm buildings and trees, the road veers left, then a very sharp 25% right a taste of what's to come before easing as the last of the trees disappear beneath you.

"Now round to the right, the ever steepening, increasingly lumpy surface heads into arguably the hardest section of relentlessly steep tarmac in Britain. The sheer length of this steep section is what sets this climb apart, there's just nowhere to recover. You'll be counting each and every pedal rev as you slowly push your way up the scree-littered road to the summit."

For those seeking an intense cycling challenge, a strenuous hike that feels more like a run, or a scenic low-gear drive, Bwlch y Groes promises an unforgettable adventure with some of the most breathtaking views in Wales.