The New Zealander that went to war with Wales over the worlds steepest street

A New Zealander had a tiff with a Welsh town after his country was temporarily had a Guinness World Records title taken away.

A road in Dunedin, a major city on New Zealand’s South Island, was awarded the title of world’s steepest street in 1987.

The record was well earned, as Baldwin Street boasts a gradient of 34.8 per cent which will make anybody walking up the hill really feel the burn in the legs as they trek up the slope.

But in 2019, controversy erupted after the title was awarded to a street in the seaside town of Harlech, North Wales.

Toby Stoff, however, didn’t accept defeat and said to have “smelled a rat” after seeing pictures of the Welsh survey team measuring the slope of the newly-crowned road, Ffordd Pen Llech.

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The squad in Wales, he claimed, had measured the street on the inside. But to compare streets and make the competition fair, the steepness must be measured from the centreline of the road, he argued.

The surveyor, based in the Otago region encompassing also the city of Dunedin, packed a bag and made the whopping 12,000 mile journey to Wales himself to make his own survey of the road.

Upon his return, he filed a six-page report in which he argued Baldwin Street remained the steepest in the world – and that it was steeper than the Welsh road by 5.2 per cent when the average of left-hand side, centreline and right-hand side gradients of the steepest 10-metre sections of both streets were compared.

His report also found that the centreline of Baldwin Street is 6.2 per cent steeper than Ffordd Pen Llech.

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Measuring Ffordd Pen Llech in a way comparable to the survey done on the New Zealander street showed the gradient of the Welsh street is just 28.6 per cent.

He then appealed to the Guinness World Records, asking the organisation acknowledging record-breaking achievements and facts to give back the title to New Zealand. 

Mr Stoff’s uphill battle was successful, as the Guinness World Records announced in April 2020 that Baldwin Street had been reinstated as the world’s steepest street.

The organisation also established that in order to make fair assessments in the future, the “best practice for the gradient is to take the measurement from the centreline of the street” – as suggested by Mr Stoff.

Craig Glenday, Editor-in-Chief at Guinness World Records, said at the time: “Each one of the 60,000+ records we monitor have a set of rules unique to them which specify, among other things, the evidence that must be provided in order for us to verify a world record claim.

“As well as calling upon in-house expertise, we also work in collaboration with dozens of consultants, universities, federations and governing bodies across a number of subject matters to ensure that our rules are as up-to-date and as relevant as possible.

“We’re very grateful to the Baldwin Street appeals team, led by surveyor Toby Stoff, for making us aware of a rare gap in our stipulations and we’re pleased to see the title return to New Zealand.

“We’re also very grateful to the Ffordd Pen Llech team for their application and good humour throughout this process.”

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