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The Bwlch y Groes (Pass of the Cross) and its side road Bwlch Eunant probably have a history as a road that lies back in the dark days long before things were ever thought of being recorded as existing. The road summit at 545m, (1788ft) is often claimed to be the highest public road in Wales, however, as far as surfaced roads go, that honour is held by the Bwlch yr Efengyl (Gospel Pass) 549m, (1801ft) in the Black Mountains of South East Wales also used by the ISDT in Wales although its approach is not as steep as the Bwlch y Groes. The unsurfaced Bwlch Llandrillo in the Berwyns, also used in the ISDT, crosses the 580m 2000ft contour at the summit of the pass. The ISDT, when on the Bwlch y Groes, never crossed the high summit as detoured to travel to Bala via the gnarly old tracks through the Euanant and Hirnant valleys. History paints a picture of the route being in use by religious travellers passing between the early Celtic Christian sites and the many Monasteries, Abbeys, Friaries and Priories the church of Rome had established at Welshpool, Llangollen, Llanrwst, Holywell, Flint, Denbigh, Llaneltyd before the reformation. But it was mostly motorsport rather than tourism that rediscovered the opportunities the then many unsurfaced road provided in the early development of motoring on public roads.

C Smiths map of England and Wales 1806 clearly shows the route of the Bwlch y Groes and the Bwlch Eunant long before the construction of the Reservoir on the Vyrnwy by the Liverpool Corporation.

C Smiths map of England and Wales 1806 clearly shows the route of the Bwlch y Groes and the Bwlch Eunant long before the construction of the Reservoir on the Vyrnwy by the Liverpool Corporation.

the First Series 1

the First Series 1″ to the mile Ordnance Survey map using significantly greater accuracy surveying, than that used by Smith, shows the route in the late 1800’s with the traditional ISDT route marked in blue including the Bwlch y Groes, Euanant and Hirnant Valleys.

image - Map of Ordnance Survey - First Series 1

image – Map of Ordnance Survey – First Series 1″ late 1800s

image - Map of Ordnance Survey - Revised Series 1902

image – Map of Ordnance Survey – Revised Series 1902

Image - Map of War Office 1940 Wales

Image – Map of War Office 1940 Wales

Image - Map of Ordnance Survey 1

Image – Map of Ordnance Survey 1″ New Popular Edition 1948

Image - Map of Ordnance Survey 1

Image – Map of Ordnance Survey 1″ New Popular Edition 1948

The conventional ISDT route once passing Llanmawddwy headed north, to climb the Bwlch but before reaching the summit of the pass would turn off along another poor unsurfaced track to reach the firm road around Lake Vyrnwy and then travelling clockwise around the lake on reaching the next side road turned up it. This road is known as the Hirnant and heads towards Bala. These roads only became surfaced during the 1950’s.

image - profile view of route from Llanmawddwy up Bwlch y Groes to the Eunant and Hirnant finishing at Aber Hirnant

image – profile view of route from Llanmawddwy up Bwlch y Groes to the Eunant and Hirnant finishing at Aber Hirnant

Image - Mapped route as shown in Profile

Image – Mapped route as shown in Profile

Image Modern aerial photography with route of profile overlayed

Image Modern aerial photography with route of profile overlayed

The History of Motor Sport and the Bwlch y Groes is nearly as old as motorsport. Early motoring magazines often mention that editorial staff hand car manufacturers had been testing on the Bwlch y Groes owing to its status of a continual and sever gradient to one of the highest moorland crossings by a road in the UK. This leaves us with a wealth of material describing the setting and condition of the road nearly a 100 years ago. A Bwlch y Groes blog by Jorge Pullin on ‘My Royal Enfields‘ discusses an early report of the first motorcycle ascents of the Bwlch y Groes.

Photo - Photo of successful attempt to ascend the Bwlch y Groes 21 June 1912 by Mr J Mills on an 8hp Royal Enfield with Sidecar - 'Motor Cycle 4th July 1912

Photo – Photo of attempt to ascend the Bwlch y Groes on a solo motorcycle- ‘the Motor Cycle‘ 4th July 1912

Over 100 years ago it was clear there was a popular fascination for crossing the Bwlch y Groes by motor vehicle. Despite the lack of modern media news sources and reliance on the distribution of printed word through the specialist press, the matter received press coverage, for example the above photo posted in ‘the Motor Cycle‘ of 4th July 1912. At the same time in the ‘letters to the Editors’ was this note from Mr Fredrick Wells “Sir – Having read with interest the accounts of the various attempts to scale the famous Bwlch-y-Groes (Dinas Mawddwy) with a sidecar machine, my friend, Mr J. Mills, decided to attack the hill with his 6HP Enfield sidecar. Accordingly, at 10am on Friday, June 21st, a start was made for Bala, the sidecar being occupied by George Yarnold, and I accompanied the party on a Triumph. Bala was reached without incident, we pushed on and arrived at the summit of the pass, both machines having climbed the “easy” side without difficulty. The Triumph was then abandoned, and descending as far as the gate on the carrier of the Enfield I sat down to wait. The machine disappeared from sight, round a bend, and after what seemed an age, could be distinguished returning up the steep gradient at a good speed. The first attempt was, however, doomed to failure, for on reaching the steep section, after the gate, Mills, in his excitement, fouled his levers, and the machine stopped dead. A fresh start was made, and this time all went well, the J.A.P. engine pulling wonderfully, and after the worst patch was covered, accelerating to the summit. The latter portion of the climb was witnessed by a Mr Hugh Morris. I should like to say, in conclusion, that although this pass is without doubt an extremely steep and lengthy climb, we are of the opinion that the hill on the road from Llanfair Talhaiarn to Llansannan (the former village is five miles from Abergele) is considerably steeper, and the surface is much worse. This hill is about three-quarters of a mile long.” The following note from R Lord appeared in the ‘Letters to the Editor’ feature of ‘the Motor Cycle’ in the July 11 1912 issue. “With reference to my climb up Dinas Mawddwy, I made my first ascent at 9.45 in the morning, another at (?) then drove on to Bala, and on the way met Mr Mills (?) Enfield going to the hill, so I think it was clear (?) was first. After lunch, on going again with Mr (?) we met Mr Mills returning” Any further examples of early attempts to take vehicles over the Bwlch would be welcomed for inclusion in this feature. The November 1925 issue ‘Motorsport Magazine‘ reported

THE 14/45 ROVER ON BWLCH-Y-GROES.

An interesting trial of the 14-45 h.p. Rover Saloon has been made under the observation of the Royal Automobile Club and consisted of 50 consecutive ascents of Bwlch-y-Groes. The test occupied 12 hours of practically continuous running, and during that time a total distance in excess of 150 miles was covered. Needless to say, top gear was hardly ever used, third, second and bottom being in action almost exclusively. It is interesting to note that at the conclusion of the trial less than half a pint of water was needed to restore the contents of the radiator to their original level. The car carried a driver and an R.A.C. observer throughout and the total weight exceeded 31 cwt. Bwlch-y-Groes is the famous test hill on the road between Dinas Mawddwy and Bala, North Wales, and the length of the hill is roughly 1.6 miles. Photos taken in 1924 for an event report in Autocar show it to be an unmade and rough road making the test event more a significant undertaking than had the road a tarmac surface.

Photo - Clyro takes part in the RAC Small Car Trials of 1924. The event covered a large area of Wales and here is seen on the Bwlch y Groes

Photo – Clyro takes part in the RAC Small Car Trials of 1924. The event covered a large area of Wales and here is seen on the Bwlch y Groes

Almost exactly the same view in 1929

Photo - A competitor ascends the Bwlch y Groes in the Welsh 24 Hour Trial 1929

Photo – A competitor ascends the Bwlch y Groes in the Welsh 24 Hour Trial 1929

Photo - A view of the western climb of the Bwlch y Groes Welsh 24 Hr Rally 1929

Photo – A view of the western climb of the Bwlch y Groes Welsh 24 Hr Rally 1929

The 1925 Rover test came back to the attention of the motoring press when it was decided to retry the feat in a more modest modern car the Citroen 2CV which tells us more about the 1925 endeavour when reported in the June 1956 issue of ‘Motorsport Magazine‘.

2 C.V. CITROEN’S 100 ASCENTS OF BWLCH-Y-GROES

Air-cooling vindicated in R.A.C.-observed trial IN 1925 the Rover Company was awarded the Dewar Trophy, that coveted award presented by Lord Dewar in 1906 to commemorate annually the most outstanding performance accomplished in Certified Trials observed by the R.A.C. They were awarded the Trophy in respect of an endurance feat undertaken by a 14/45 Rover saloon. This was the then new model designed by Poppet. with a four-cylinder 75 by 120 turn. 2,121-c.c. engine having the unique overhead-valve gear with two high-set camshafts and cross push-rods to actuate valves inclined in the hemispherical combustion chambers. The car weighed approximately 28 cwt., or approximately 32 cwt in running trim with driver and observer, etc., and it pulled a bottom gear of 20.3 to 1. Bwlch-y-Groes was described as a mountain pass about 1+ miles long with gradient* ranging from 1 in 12.3 to 1 in 4.93 and this the Rover set out to ascend and descend fifty consecutive times on September 22nd, 1925. At the top it was swung round, at the bottom reversed for turning. The test commenced at 7 a.m. and concluded at 7 p.m., the climbs and descents being as continuous as practical, the engine being kept running continuously, except for four stops on accidental occasions, when it was restarted immediately. Only three pauses were made on these climbs, once, on the third ascent, due to momentary popping in the S.U. carburetter, once through the presence of sheep and once to open a gate. Changes of driver and observer were made after 13 ascents; naturally, top gear was never engaged. Heavy rainfall fell most of the day. No work or adjustment was called for, descents were made in third gear (9.3 to 1) and at no time did the cooling water boil, the total amount of water consumed being slightly less than half-a-pint. The Rover was duly granted R.A.C. Certificate of Performance No. 610 and awarded the Dewar Trophy. Last year the Editor of MOTOR SPORT suggested to Ken Beat, Competition Manager of the National Benzole Company, Ltd., that it would be instructive to see if a small air-cooled car could emulate the Rover’s task. Consequently, on April 24th this year, a 2 c.v. Citroen was set at the gradient, again under R.A.C. observation, the object being to accomplish, double the number of ascents made in 1925 by a car of one-fifth the Rover’s engine capacity. A start was made at 5 a.m. and the drivers. W. Noddy and K. Best, changed at three-hour intervals. The little Citroen climbed faultlessly in first (25.9 to I) and very occasionally second gear (12.55 to 1) and descended the steep, unfenced road at speeds exceeding 50 m.p.h., virtually coasting, as overdrive-top (5.17 to 1) was used for the descents and the automatic centrifugal clutch was fitted to the the car in question. The little 425-cc. air-cooled flat-twin engine was kept running continuously except for a period of two minutes when it was stopped to enable the oil-level to be checked. The Citroen was reversed vigorously each time at the foot of the Pass in order to turn it for the next ascent. The runs occupied about 18+ hours and during this time only three vehicles were encountered, one of them an Austin from Longbridge, for B.M.C. use BwIch-y-Groes for test purposes. The weather varied from sunshine to torrential rain and thunder and the last ascents were made with the car lost in mist at the top turn, its brakes now absent due to the effect of the rapid descents—Boddy handed the car over to Best to enable him to have the honour of driving the 100th ascent, and also, because he was aware of the complete lack of anchorage! R.A.C. observers travelled in the car throughout and found that the overall average speed up and down the Pass, with it’s average gradient of 1 in 7.3, and including the turn-rounds, was 16.52 m.p.h. The Citroen consumed National Benzoic petrol at the rate of 25.41 m.p.g. and required only half-a-pint of National Benzole Light s.a.e. 20 oil. It’s chassis and front-drive universal joints received no grease and after adjustment the following morning the brakes were pronounced satisfactory This endurance test is a further tribute to the reliability and practicability of the little 2 C.V. Citroen, the smallest-engined saloon on the market, for it was running as soundly at the finish as at the start and its cylinders never missed a beat, or gave any evidence of overheating. The K.L.G. plugs, and Ducellier coil, stood up without a trace of protest, cooled, of course, by the benzoic fuel. Certainly air-cooling and front-wheel-drive were vindicated for strenuous and continuous Pass-storming. If you are not convinced, try ten consecutive ascents this summer in your own small saloon! Motor Cycling has an equal rich history on the Bwlch y Groes. Apart from the attention the motorcycle industry gave it, there were also a number of motorcycle events. The Sangster Cup Trial took place in the early part of the 20th Century and started in Birmingham finishing in Abermaw ( Barmouth). In 1933 the ISDT made its first visit and it featured in each event until after 1954 when the Tarmac monsters had finely managed to tame the route into a civilised public highway.

Photo – #27 Mauer – Meyer with is very striking 750cc B.M.W outfit leading #78 J Swift (348cc Ariel) and #25 GC Harris (1096cc Morgan) on the descent of the Bwlch y Groes on Thursday ISDT 1933 (from Speedtracktales Archive)

Photo – #27 Mauer – Meyer with is very striking 750cc B.M.W outfit leading #78 J Swift (348cc Ariel) and #25 GC Harris (1096cc Morgan) on the descent of the Bwlch y Groes on Thursday ISDT 1933 (from Speedtracktales Archive)

Photo – #96 T Stewart (346cc Royal Enfield) and a non-competitor amidst some of Wales’s grandest scenery. They are climbing the famous Bwlch y Groes. ISDT 1933 (from Speedtracktales Archive)

Photo – #96 T Stewart (346cc Royal Enfield) and a non-competitor amidst some of Wales’s grandest scenery. They are climbing the famous Bwlch y Groes. ISDT 1933 (from Speedtracktales Archive)

Photo of crashed German Motorcyclists #85 J Forstner BMW 494cc #60 T Fleischman DKW 245cc on Bwlch y Groes, Bala in ISDT 1937

Two German riders with problems at the base of Bwlch y Groes, #85 J Forstner collides with 250 DKW rider #60 T Feischmann. Both went on to finish with a gold medal each.

Photo of #48 P Schafer on a Victoria 496cc Sidecar outfit climbing on unsurfaced road at Bwlch y Groes in ISDT 1937

Photo GW Sannes (122 Eysink) and P Scahfer (596cc Victoria Sc) rounding the hairpin at the Bwlch y Groes ISDT 1937

Photo GW Sannes (122 Eysink) and P Scahfer (596cc Victoria Sc) rounding the hairpin at the Bwlch y Groes ISDT 1937 (Speedtracktales Collection)

Photo GW Sannes (122 Eysink) and P Scahfer (596cc Victoria Sc) rounding the hairpin at the Bwlch y Groes ISDT 1937 (Speedtracktales Collection)

Photo - #146 Ted Usher (Matchless) climbs Bwlch y Groes followed by #88 A J Humphries (Norton sc) ISDT 1949 (Courtesy Deryck Wylde collection)

Photo – #146 Ted Usher (Matchless) climbs Bwlch y Groes followed by #88 A J Humphries (Norton sc) ISDT 1949 (Courtesy Deryck Wylde collection)

Photo - #146 Ted Usher (Matchless) climbs Bwlch y Groes followed by #88 A J Humphries (Norton sc) ISDT 1949 (Speedtracktales Collection)

Photo – #146 Ted Usher (Matchless) climbs Bwlch y Groes followed by #88 A J Humphries (Norton sc) ISDT 1949 (Speedtracktales Collection)

The following two images show the conditions of the road as it crossed the Eunant (Waen y Gadfa) which is the road linking the Bwlch y Groes with the Hirnant.
Photo - Waen y Gadfa, included on Thursday's run  C Merlo (Gilera)

Photo – Waen y Gadfa, included on Thursday’s run C Merlo (Gilera) “in the country” as #135 Bob Ray (Ariel) passes ISDT 1949 (Speedtracktales Collection)

Photo - Waen y Gadfa, A Rudge on the rocks with Civil servant JH Lennon (Rudge) [DRW 911] ISDT 1949 (Speedtracktales Collection)

Photo – Waen y Gadfa, A Rudge on the rocks with Civil servant JH Lennon (Rudge) [DRW 911] ISDT 1949 (Speedtracktales Collection)

photo - #163 Jack Stocker (

photo – #169 Jack Stocker (“350 Bullet”) carefully picks his way along the slippery bed on the Waen y Gadfa ISDT 1950 (Speedtracktales collection)

Climbing Bwlch y Groes between Dinas Mawddwy and Bala, which was the lunch stop on the Friday. #161 S Keepence on the 250 Triumph Special chases #159 H Tanner on a 250 Jawa. Bwlch y Groes is now a tarmac road - ISDT 1954

Climbing Bwlch y Groes between Dinas Mawddwy and Bala, which was the lunch stop on the Friday. #161 S Keepence on the 250 Triumph Special chases #159 H Tanner on a 250 Jawa. Bwlch y Groes is now a tarmac road – ISDT 1954

Eagle-eyed reader David Davies quite rightly corrects me here, this photo is actually on the Hirnant which is the road that directly connects Lake Vyrnwy to Bala with the riders Keepence and Tanner heading from Bala towards Vyrnwy climbing the highest part.

Photo of Austrian 175 Puch rider #74 F. Gnaser ahead of British entry #37 J.C.L. Bodenham on his 175 DMW, with a low cloud blanketed Bwlch y Groes near Dinas Mawddwy behind them in ISDT 1954

Photo of shows H Pelikaan of Holland wheeling his DKW down the narrows at Eunant Pass, Czech rider #126 J Kubes manhandles his JAWA along and in the background CZ rider, Czech J Hoffman waits for a clear run at the gulleys in ISDT 1954

photo - The Eunant pass holds no terrors for #220 NS Holmes (497 Ariel) [BOF 258]- a Thursday picture ISDT 1954 (Speedtracktales Archive)

photo – The Eunant pass holds no terrors for #220 NS Holmes (497 Ariel) [BOF 258]- a Thursday picture ISDT 1954 (Speedtracktales Archive)

Whilst the application of a tarmac surface after 1954 meant that future trials would not be drawn to follow the road any linger the Bwlch found a new reputation as one of the toughest times in the Professional Cycle Race event circuit in the UK and has been used in the Tour of Britain and the Milk race

Stage 6 1988 Milk Race on the Bwlch y Groes (Image - Johnny Pickles)

Stage 6 1988 Milk Race on the Bwlch y Groes (Image – Johnny Pickles)

Aussie Neal Stephens battles Britains's Adrian Timmis Stage 6 1988 Milk Race on the Bwlch y Groes (Image - Johnny Pickles)

Aussie Neal Stephens battles Britains’s Adrian Timmis Stage 6 1988 Milk Race on the Bwlch y Groes (Image – Johnny Pickles)

Postcards

Postcard - Bwlch y Groes - 1936 (Frith Cards)

Postcard – Bwlch y Groes – 1936 (Frith Cards)

Postcard - Bwlch y Groes - undated

Postcard – Bwlch y Groes – undated

Postcard - Bwlch y Groes and Aran Fawddwy - undated

Postcard – Bwlch y Groes and Aran Fawddwy – undated

Postcard - Bwlch y Groes 1950's (Judges Cards)

Postcard – Bwlch y Groes 1950’s (Judges Cards)

Postcard - Bwlch y Groes Pass (Courtesy roadsandpasses.wordpress.com)

Postcard – Bwlch y Groes Pass (Courtesy roadsandpasses.wordpress.com)

Postcard - Bwlch y Groes Pass (Courtesy roadsandpasses.wordpress.com)

Postcard – Bwlch y Groes Pass (Courtesy roadsandpasses.wordpress.com)

Postcard - Bwlch y Groes Pass (Courtesy roadsandpasses.wordpress.com)

Postcard – Bwlch y Groes Pass (Courtesy roadsandpasses.wordpress.com)

Postcard - Hirnant Pass (Courtesy roadsandpasses.wordpress.com)

Postcard – Hirnant Pass (Courtesy roadsandpasses.wordpress.com)

Other Bwlch tales

An episode of 'the Saint' tv show in the 1950's included a trip along the Bwlch y Groes expecting viewers to believe it was on location in Mexico.

An episode of ‘the Saint’ tv show in the 1963 included a trip along the Bwlch y Groes expecting viewers to believe it was on location in Mexico.

An episode of 'the Saint' tv show in the 1950's included a trip along the Bwlch y Groes, here descending towards Llanuwchllyn, expecting viewers to believe it was on location in Mexico.

An episode of ‘the Saint’ tv show in the 1963 included a trip along the Bwlch y Groes, here descending towards Llanuwchllyn, expecting viewers to believe it was on location in Mexico.

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