Are you considering taking on Wales’ highest road?
Gospel Pass lies within the Black Mountains in Brecon Beacon National Park, between Hay-on-Wye and the Stanton.
The climb may not be as long or steep as other famous climbs in the UK, such as Hardknott Pass or Bealach-Na-Ba, but it is certainly beautiful, with panoramic vistas and lush green mountains as far as the eye can see.
Gospel Pass is Wales’s highest road and one of the great climbs in British cycling.
A herd of sheep or the odd wild horse may walk in front of you, so fear not, you’ll get plenty of breaks!
You can approach the climb from either the North or South side; both are formidable. The northern aspect, leaving from Hay-on-Wye, tends to be the preferred choice amongst those brave enough to take it on.
In this profile of the Gospel Pass, we’ll be covering:
- History of The Highest Road In Wales
- Gospel Pass Cycling Guide
- Tips For Gospel Pass Cycling
- Gospel Pass: The Surrounding Area
Let’s jump into it!
History of The highest road in wales
Gospel Pass is an ancient road that dates back to Roman times, cutting through the steep valley of the Vale of Ewyas.
There are two main theories as to where Gospel Pass got its name.
Either it was a 12th-century Crusade, which passed through the area preaching and trying to raise funds for the expedition, or the name of the pass is a reference to a visit over 2000 years ago by Saint Paul, who crossed this part of Wales whilst preaching the gospel.
You be the judge – neither makes the climb any easier!
Gospel Pass Cycling Guide
As mentioned earlier, there are two ways to head up Gospel Pass. Both directions include a long stretch that precedes the ‘official’ climbs.
#1: From North to South
- Departure Elevation: 93 m (305 ft)
- Finish Elevation: 550 m (1804 ft)
- Altitude Gain: 457 m (1499 ft)
- Length: 8.5 km (5.3 miles)
- Average Gradient: 5.4%
- Maximum Gradient: 18%
As you find yourself on the outskirts of the beautifully quirky village of Hay-on-Wye you will pass a bike shop called Drover Cycles. If you haven’t got a bike, you can hire one here.
More importantly, if you haven’t got any cake or coffee in your belly, here is a strategically placed refuel point.
The first 3.5 km is an appetizer to the true climb. Although, there is still the odd punchy hill.
Things truly ramp up when you first see signs for Capel y ffin. You are about to enter the most challenging part of this climb. Buckle up – the next 500 m averages 12.9%.
As you emerge from the dense hedgerow, you will get your first glimpse of the steep hills of The Vale of Ewyas.
Don’t look up for too long though. There is plenty of elevation left. In fact, the next 500 m is still in the double digits at 10.4%.
You’ll be relieved to hear that the climb mellows out briefly before one last big 500-meter effort.
As you crest the end of the steep section, you will be rewarded for your efforts with spectacular panoramic views. Tolkein-esque mountains stretch as far as the eye can see.
The road now mellows out, and it’s a cyclist’s paradise. There’s a good quality road surface with high visibility, gently meandering up the mountain.
The climb is exposed, so be sure to check the weather on the summit before you head off. Strong winds, rain, and snow can greet you at the top of the pass, even if the sun is shining down below.
Toward the summit, the road steepens slightly, but nothing to worry about. There is no sign to mark the top, so once you start to go down, stop!
From the top, you will have clear views of Hay Bluff, Lord Herefords Knob, and Llangors Lake. You are in the very heart of the Black Mountains and you’ve worked hard to get there!
The descent is thrilling – but steep hedges can easily hide vehicles, so proceed with caution.
#2: From South (Capel-y-ffin) to north
- Departure Elevation: 322 m (305 ft)
- Finish Elevation: 550 m (1804 ft)
- Altitude Gain: 228 m (1499 ft)
- Length: 4.4 km (2.7 miles)
- Average Gradient: 5.2%
- Maximum Gradient: 14.6%
- KOM: Sam Harrison, 33′ 56″ (Full climb)
- QOM: Hannah Larbalestier, 40′ 39″ (Full climb)
Cycling from the South side is significantly longer if you include the 13 km climb from Stanton to Capel-y-ffin.
Similar to its Northern counterpart the initial part of the climb takes you through daunting hedgerow and narrow country lanes. Nothing much in the way of views here, but it still has its own allure.
You’ll be pleased to hear that the first 13 km only climbs 229 meters, so nothing too taxing.
The real climb on the south side begins as the road takes you past the stunning ruins of Llanthony Priory.
The South side of Gospel Pass feels like a scaled-down version of an Alpine climb.
If you’re a bit gassed and need to take a breather, here is the place. The mystical ruins have a rich history and entrance to them is free. You can also treat yourself to a coffee stop courtesy of the Llanthony Priory Hotel which is built into the ruins.
As cyclists, a coffee stop is pretty standard, but this is one to remember!
Anyway, back to the climb. As you cut through Capel-y-ffin, the climb starts to slowly increase in gradient. The next 2.5 km averages a manageable 4%.
This will soon be over, and with trees covering the road on either side, shrouding the full view of mountains you will find yourself in amongst it.
The next kilometer averages 10.9%, a true test for anyone, irrespective of fitness. Hidden amongst the steep gradients are shorter ramps of 14% or more.
Once you make it through this section you have broken the back of this climb.
Greeted by a short decline and beautiful sloping mountains, you are truly rewarded for your hard work. There’s just one more kilometer until you reach the top, with an average gradient of just 3.5%.
Soak it in!
Tips For Gospel Pass Cycling
We’ve mentioned it before – the weather in Wales can change at a truly frightening rate. Be sure to check the forecast up on the Pass.
You can climb Gospel Pass at any time of year, although it will often be shut in winter due to snowfall.
It’s easy to come at this climb with excessive confidence, with the peak of the pass only 550 meters in the sky.
Wind chill mixed with rain can cause our body temperature to rapidly decrease. With the climb exposed to the elements it is essential we have the correct gear, for all scenarios.
Here are a couple of must-haves:
- Waterproof jacket – breathable waterproof materials are a must. If we sweat too much on the inside, our bodies will get cold as soon as we stop. Be brave and start off a little cold, you can always add layers as you go.
- A lightweight windproof jacket – Keep one in your back pocket, to be thrown on just before a long descent.
- Cycling gloves – In the summer short finger gloves should suffice but get a pair of long-finger warmer ones for autumn and winter.
- Hat/headband/buff – find yourself a cap that fits under your helmet to cover your ears. Additionally, a neck buff is good for keeping the cold air out of your jersey on the descents.
- Thermal layers and jerseys made from a wicking fabric – thermal layers are a must-have, they really make the difference.
Gospel Pass: The Surrounding Area
There is plenty to do if you’re in the area. Here are a couple of recommendations:
The Black Mountains are a gorgeous area with the Vale of Ewyas being a truly beautiful valley. The pass rides in between Hay Bluff and Lord Herefords Knob, 2 mountains that are well worth a hike.
The sprawling meadows that connect the two mountains are rich in nature.
Pop the bike in the car and put on some hiking boots. Once you’re sat on the top of Lord Hereford’s Knob, you’ll be glad you did.
#2: Mountain Biking
The Brecon Beacons are full of surprises, and you could spend weeks there doing something different every day.
One stand-out ride is called The Gap.
It may not be the highest road Wales has to offer, but this is one of the all-time classics of the Beacons, with the route varying from smooth grass to gravel, rocks, and ruts.
It’s a feast for the eyes, riding alongside the Brecon Canal, the Taff Trail, and the very popular Gap Road.
On a good day, you’ll get 360-degree views of the Brecon Beacons and Pen y Fan, on a bad day you’ll be covered in mud with a smile from ear to ear.
It’s classified as a red route, so don’t bring you’re significant other along under the guise of a gentle pootle along the canal.