Well the address of the website starts “britishcoast”. Whilst my primary focus is walking the coast of mainland Britain I’ve also walked around many of the off-shore islands such as the Isle of Wight, the Isles of Scilly, the Channel Islands of Guernsey, Jersey (and the smaller islands), Lundy Island, Flat Holm, Steep Holm and a few I’ve not yet written up here yet, such as the Isle of Man. So today I’m going to go slightly off-piste again with a special post about another British territory with a coast line, Gibraltar.
As it is the winter time still the days are still a bit too short for me to justify going to northern Scotland for the weekend as when I do make these trips I prefer to make a longer trip than just a weekend (using some of my annual leave) and hence prefer to do so in the summer when the days are longer and the weather likely to be better (snow can still be a problem in northern Scotland even at this time of the year).
Gibraltar, also known as simply Gib or “The Rock” is a small corner of Britain located at (almost) the southern tip of the Iberian peninsula. It is also extremely close to the coast of Morocco, which is only around 10 miles away. It is small, at a little under 7 square km in total and with a population of around 35,000 it is quite densely populated.
To go just for the weekend is somewhat tricky, but I managed it. Surprisingly, for such a small place it does have an airport big enough to accommodate international flights so it is possible to fly direct from the UK (at present from London Heathrow, London Gatwick, London Luton, Bristol and Manchester). However the services are not especially frequent and the only way I could make a viable trip for the weekend was to travel out from London Gatwick early on Saturday morning and back to London Heathrow on Sunday evening. To make this work I drove to Guildford station (where I could park my car for a reasonable £6 for the weekend) and take the first train of the day direct to Gatwick Airport, at 5:10am, so it was an early start!
I then took the 7:55am EasyJet flight to Gibraltar. After a delayed departure due to mist causing some delays at Gatwick, I arrived at Gibraltar Airport 2 minutes early, at 11:53am local time (Gibraltar is one hour ahead of the UK).
To my surprise a passport check was carried out (I had assumed being a British territory and having travelled on a flight direct from Britain that this would not be necessary, but I had taken my passport anyway, which was just as well).
The view from the airport itself is hugely impressive with the sheer face of “The Rock” looming over the airport. In fact most of the airport runway is on reclaimed land built out over the sea, so when you land there is sea on 3 sides and a near vertical cliff face on the other!
The airport is right at the northern end of Gibraltar and just north of the runway is the border with Spain.
Most of the border runs parallel with Spain and the rest is part of the runway so there is no coast to walk here that is accessible to the public.
Coming out of the surprisingly large and modern terminal I crossed the pick up area to reach the border with Spain. Here you can walk into Spain, and there is of course also a road.
However I didn’t want to leave Gibraltar having only just arrived, so I turned south.
The view of the Rock from the airport was impressive and the weather was lovely (2o degrees and sunny) however setting off from the airport did not give an initially great impression because the walk from the airport was past the bus depot and various other light industrial buildings. Having passed these there was another surprise.
The main road (and in fact, only road) into Gibraltar is called Winston Churchill Avenue. It is a dual carriageway, though with a pavement on either side. So the first part of my walk was beside this road, but I was surprised to find that just ahead the road runs directly over the airport runway!
Hence the road (and pavement) is closed whenever flights are due to arrive or depart. Bells sound and traffic lights and pedestrian lights stop the traffic and pedestrians, and manned lookout boxes are at either end of this part of the road. Barriers are then lowered to prevent the traffic and an inspection takes place to ensure the area is free from litter and other debris. Then the air traffic can proceed and when passed, the road re-opens again. It’s like a level crossing, but for planes!
Hence over the runway itself there isn’t a pavement as such just a painted white line on either side for pedestrians to walk on and another next to it for cycling. There are no physical barriers and so there is (physically) nothing stopping you wandering off to the runway and terminal, where I could see the plane I had arrived on still at the terminal. Of course I’m sure if you tried to do such a walk the police would soon escort you away!
Having crossed the airport runway I passed a few more fairly ugly blocks of flats and various other office buildings, petrol stations and so on to I came to the point where you walk through an arch in what was once a fortress around the peninsula. This arch once provided the only way into Gibraltar. Today it is only used by pedestrians.
Once through, things improved considerably. This is Grand Casemates Square and is surrounded on 3 sides by the original Casemates of one of the many bastions and batteries that I was to find all over Gibraltar. The other side of the square was a fairly ugly 1970s building.
I didn’t explore much of the coast on my first day. Instead I spent some time exploring the town, which is a mixture of British and Spanish influences. You will see British shops such as Marks and Spencer, Debenhams, Mothercare, Matalan and so on, as well as some more local shops and some British banks, such as NatWest.
There are quite a few attractive buildings in the town. This is the Roman Catholic cathedral.
This is the Convent, the official residence of the governor of Gibraltar.
Opposite is the Guard House that guards it.
Having explored the town I headed up to the Upper Rock. Most of the higher parts of the rock are not built up and instead a beautiful nature reserve, full of tropical plants and different wildlife the most famous is the wild population of Barbary macaques which roam the upper hills.
The top of the rock is very high, at 426 metres above sea level. It can be reached by several stair cases from the town centre, a cable car or the Mediterranean steps a footpath and steps near the far end of Gibraltar. I initially opted for the cable car but found the queue to be long and very slow moving. It was also expensive (£15.50 for a return trip) so I gave up with it and walked up. That means steps. A lot of steps.
One thing I hadn’t realised is that you must pay to enter the Upper Rock (this is in addition to the cable car fee, if you go that way). The price is currently £5 and there are booths on all the roads and paths up. Many of the most interesting tourist attractions can also be found in the Upper Rock and so I opted to buy a ticket that also included admission to most of these as well as the reserve, at a cost of £20.
I won’t talk at length about all the attractions in the Upper Rock but first up was the Moorish Castle. It had clearly seen a few battles in it’s time!
Next up was one of the numerous batteries where I could enjoy the stunning view from the top.
Next the City Under Siege Exhibition where I learnt much of the history of Gibraltar.
After that probably my favourite of them all, the Great Siege Tunnels. Here I was amazed to find out that there are around 34 miles(!) of tunnels built into and under the rock. For a place so small it is quite a statistic and the rock itself must be like a Swiss cheese to accommodate so many miles of tunnels! It was possible to walk through a fair few of the larger tunnels, where gaps had been cut into the cliff face in order to fire cannons and other weapons into Spain!
Next was the top station of the cable car. Here the views were stunning and the Barbary macaques provided a good deal of entertainment!
Onwards I reached the Skywalk where you can stand on a glass floor suspended over the sheer cliffs at the north side of the rock. What you don’t want to see in such a place is that the glass is cracked, and so part of it is closed – but that is exactly what I did see!
I was not the only one enjoying the view from here.
Now at the eastern end I walked out to O’Hara’s Battery which you could explore and had more underground tunnels.
Next I descended the Mediterranean steps, but more about that later, then walked back up the road over the Windsor Bridge to the Ape’s Den. At the Ape’s Den I saw many more of the Barbary Macaques, as they are fed here.
In fact at this point I came close to losing my rucksack to one, as I swapped the lens on my camera I put the other lens in my rucksack and then left my rucksack on a nearby bench to photograph these cheeky monkeys. I spotted at the last mine another had arrived who was trying to grab my rucksack and stopped it just in time!
From here I followed the steps down from the Upper Rock down to the town and checked into my hotel for the night, The Rock Hotel.
It was not cheap, but it was exceptionally good. I was lucky to get a room on the top floor facing the coast (I think all rooms at the hotel face the coast). My room also had a balcony from where I could see much of Gibraltar itself, the coast of Spain beyond (and the towns along it) and perhaps most excitingly to the left the mountains on the northern coast of Morocco (they are just visible on the horizon on the first photo below).
So I could see 3 countries (Spain, Britain and Morocco) and 2 continents (Europe and Africa) from my room! It was a wonderful place to stay and I had dinner at the hotel before wandering back into the town for a while during the evening.
For my second day my plan was to walk as much of the coast as possible. First I took one last look at the view, where the mountains in Morocco were far clearer than last night. I took a zoomed in photo of them.
Having had breakfast I checked out of my hotel and headed down, via another battery, to the nearest part of the coast to my hotel.
This was a marina with a development of flats around it.
Sadly it was not possible to walk far before the path was blocked off due to building works. Signs also warned the whole area was private, so I had to return to the pavement of the parallel road, with the walls of another military battery on the left, Wellington Front Right Bastion.
Briefly I passed another marina and the Wellington Front Left Bastion and then reached the Ragged Staff Gates through the walls of the old battery.
The road ahead was marked as a dead-end heading into the docks and industrial area. So instead I turned left through these gates then right to follow the road beside the walls of the battery.
This was raised up, so I could look down over the industrial port area. It did not look like I was missing much. The path was almost a wide linear garden with plants and trees lining each side.
The road continued past a larger working area of the port where a dry dock looked to be used for servicing cruise ships.
Here I passed the 100 ton gun and a little rocky beach, partly surrounded by the old fortified walls. This is Rosia Bay and there was a small rather run down short pier here (well more a jetty), but I don’t think it was used any more, but it did allow me a view around the bay.
The route onwards took me along a minor road through a short rocky tunnel.
I continued on the road which headed down to the beach at Camp Bay.
This is a nice sandy beach, but due to the low morning sun was still mostly in shade, so there were not many people here. I imagine it gets far busier than this in summer!
I continued to Little Bay where there was a promenade and car park but the tide was in so there was not much beach. A few of the rocks were being used by fisherman whilst the promenade was popular with joggers.
I followed the little promenade and was surprised to find a sort of waterfall erupting from a hole in the cliff face! I guess there is a river here and this has been cut to change it’s course, perhaps to flow under buildings or a road.
I now had to head up to the road to continue as the route ahead along the beach was a dead-end. The road now went through a tunnel, around 1/4 mile in length. Thankfully I think traffic can only go one way and there was a separate pedestrian path, segregated from the road by periodic raised concrete blocks.
In places, water dripped from the ceiling and parts of the roof were re-reinforced with concrete.
Thankfully, there was not much traffic. On emerging from the tunnel I had missed a bit of coast (because the road goes under it), so I turned back to follow another road (Europa Road) and headed down through a housing estate which I suspect was once a military base. In it there was some quite grand buildings and the Shrine of Our Lady of Europe church.
Returning to the road I headed back the way I had come past a building sight that was barriered off and onwards to the far southern end of Gibraltar.
Here there is Ibrahim-al-Ibrahim Mosque – the influences of nearby Morocco are making themselves felt now!
Beyond that is Hardings Battery built into the coast and the lighthouse.
The lighthouse looks exactly like many in Britain (it reminded me of the one at Portland). In fact it is run by Trinity House, as are all the lighthouse in England and this is the most southerly such lighthouse they control.
I headed past a war memorial to take a closer look at the lighthouse.
Close too, the lighthouse still reminded me of the one in Portland!
Now rounding the corner my plan was to head along the east coast of Gibraltar. Here there are sheer rocky cliffs descending to the beautiful blue sea. Ahead the tall cliffs of the upper rock can be seen.
I passed the mosque and continued along the road on the eastern side of Gibraltar however almost immediately the pavement ended and the road being quite busy, this was not welcome. However a lay-by provided a refuse from the traffic for a view back to the lighthouse at Europa Point.
A short distance ahead a sign warned pedestrians were not permitted through the tunnel ahead! This tunnel is about twice the length of the previous one I walked through.
This was a disappointment. To be fair my map also did show that pedestrians were prohibited through the tunnel however I had hoped there might be an alternative footpath, but there wasn’t. Sadly I don’t think any buses operate along this road either. So essentially if I considered the road the lower coast path it was a dead-end. I’d need to take the next nearest route to the coast I could walk on. And that meant going up.
This involved doubling back and climbing the road up past Levant Battery to the Jews Gate.
This road also lacked a pavement in places and was a bit hazardous to walk. It was uphill all the way. The Jews Gate is now another entry point to the Upper Rock nature reserve, which I soon reached and I could enjoy the view I had earned by walking up the hill.
The closest route to the coast was now (according to my map) was to climb to the top of the Upper Rock via the Mediterranean Steps. This meant entering the reserve again, so I paid another £5 to enter the reserve and began my walk up, passing this monument to the Pillars of Hercules.
Then it was off the road and on up the Mediterranean steps. They started as an uneven and rocky path with a number of steps and a wall or hand rail beside it, soon giving fine views over the southern part of Gibraltar.
The path itself was sort of cut into the cliff edge.
The path continued to switch-back briefly descending around the cliff face of the rock. It is spectacular and the first part that really felt like a proper coast path! As I gained height it became a bit like a tropical jungle!
However the climb up is almost 400 metres. It is tough and unrelenting and by now the temperature was above 20 degrees, so it was hot, too! The path is not for those that suffer vertigo as the drop off is almost sheer in places, as here.
However it feels like another world here as you walk through the tropical plants, it feels like a jungle in places.
Below I could now see the two beaches on the eastern side of Gibraltar, where the road through the tunnel I couldn’t walk leads. But as you can see there is no safe way around or back down from here – the cliffs are more or less vertical.
So I continued and soon the path became just steps, switching back and climbing up and up. It was beautiful, but also exhausting! At one point a couple of caves could be found.
Soon rounding the corner I had views west again over the harbour to Spain. Finally and with much relief I reached the top of the steps by the entrance to O Hara’s Battery.
It was so hot they must get a lot of fires. How else do you explain why there were so many fire buckets?!
I had visited the battery yesterday so wasn’t planning to do so again (and would have to buy a ticket to do so again).
However after the steep climb in the sun I was desperate for another drink (having drunk the two bottles of water I had with me by this stage). Thankfully the booth where you are supposed to buy tickets (or show them, if you have one already) was closed, so I was able to sneak into the fort without paying just to use the drinks vending machine to get a cold drink. Returning I followed the path north past the Skywalk to the top of the rock.
The Barbary macaques are everywhere up here and great fun to watch (but watch your bags, I saw them rip open one ladies plastic bag and run off with her lunch!). The views are spectacular.
On reaching the top cable car station I stopped here for lunch at the “Top of the Rock” cafe. I took the cashiers advice to eat inside and not risk taking food outside because of the monkeys. I didn’t need reminding, I had already seen someone else lose their lunch this way!
I was aware time was pressing on. However the with no access down to the road at the eastern side of the rock I had to continue to the south western tip of the upper rock, re-tracing the route I had followed yesterday along the hilly roads back down the steps, which offered wonderful views.
I was not the only one enjoying the views.
At the far end, I followed the road as it winded down out of the reserve and then descended down the many steps past typical Mediterranean houses and back to the Grand Casemates Square. There are a lot of steps!
Here I headed on the road back to the airport but turned right before the runway to head for the eastern shore. I had hoped to meet up with the other end of the tunnel I could not walk through, but I knew by now I would not have time to get that far (or explore the very far north west coast of Gibraltar, though I think much of the latter is private around marinas anyway).
The road I was now following was a busy dual carriageway beside car dealerships and run-down office buildings and what appeared to be some sort of (possibly disused) quarry. Though I have heard a tunnel is being built to take the road that currently crosses the runway under it instead, so perhaps it was the spoil from that.
However this did allow me to admire the many holes cut into the face of the rock, for canons and the like, where I had walked through some of the tunnels the previous day.
Soon the light industry ended and I reached a lovely beach. This is Catalan Bay.
I think the sand here is natural. It is very pretty, with colourful houses behind much of the beach and a hotel at the far end. It was primarily used by fisherman and at one time only fisherman were permitted to live here.
However I enjoyed getting down onto the beach and walking beside the waves in the warm sunshine. I stopped on the beach for a little paddle too, it is very refreshing for the feet!
Checking the time if I continued on to Sandy Bay just beyond I’d reach the other end of the Dudley Ward tunnel. However I was too pressed for time to continue to do that, especially if there was not a bus back. So instead I headed to the road to check the bus times back.
If there was not one soon I’d have to head straight to the airport. Some people were already waiting at the bus stop and I suspected a bus was due imminently. At least I thought so – confusingly the bus timetable showed the time the bus departed from the terminus at each end, but no times at stops in between, so I had to guess! However the terminus at this end must have been Sandy Bay so it would not be long.
Buses in Gibraltar are much like the UK, you simply pay cash to the driver on boarding and take a ticket. You can also use a contactless card. Helpfully the fares are displayed on the bus window so you can at least get chance to get the correct fare ready (as I did).
Having caught the bus I had saved some times and so had a last half an hour wander around the town before I walked back to the airport.
It was much quieter in town today than it had been the previous day.
I crossed the runway and arrived at the airport 1 hour and 45 minutes before my flight home.
This time I’d have to return on British Airways, to London Heathrow as that was the only way I had been able to get enough time to make the trip worthwhile (the Easyjet flight to London Gatwick back was over 4 hours earlier).
As you might recall from a previous post I’m not a particular fan of this airline, having cancelled the flights I had booked for my trips up to Scotland for my walks this year (and re-timed that of another trip to Austria), forcing me to re-book with EasyJet. I had low expectations, and I was expecting disruption and delays.
I was also unable to checkin more than 24 hours before my flight without paying (unlike EasyJet, who allow checkin at least a week before). So I had to check in at the airport. To my surprise there weren’t any automated check-in machines in the terminal either so I had to join the slow queue at the desk. 20 minutes later I had my boarding pass and passed through security.
I then saw from the monitors that the incoming plane from London was due to arrive 30 minutes late. I expected this would mean a delayed departure, though the signs at the airport insisted “on-time”.
What I was very pleased to find was that there was a lovely public glass-fronted balcony where you could sit and wait outside on chairs in warm early evening sunshine, overlooking the Rock of Gibraltar and runway. A far nicer place to wait than inside the building on such a lovely day.
Nearby passengers were tracking our plane via some mobile app and I could overhear them saying where it was and how close it now was. Soon the bells went to shut the road to traffic and soon someone nearby spotted it arriving over the hills in the distance, circling The Rock and heading for the runway.
I could watch it (and hear it) land right in front of me, quite fun and not something you get to do at most airports, and stop just below me.
To my pleasant surprise British Airways got everyone on the plane and the doors closed only 5 minutes after we were due to leave (17:30). However once onboard the captain relayed the unwelcome news we’d be stuck sitting on the plane for 45 minutes because Storm Freya was hitting the UK with strong winds. This was causing some disruption to air traffic and as a result we had to wait 45 minutes for a “departure slot”.
When we did set off, the flight was uneventful until we began to approach London where we had to circle for a further 10 minutes before being allowed to start the approach to land. The captain warned it might be a bit bumpy, due to the weather. The plane descended over central London and through the clouds, with fine views of the London Eye and various other buildings in central London lit up (it was now night). However here the strength of the winds became apparent quite quickly. The plane was soon buffeting from side to side and bouncing around, with some creaking noises as it did so. It felt like the pilot was struggling to keep it level. I was becoming increasingly nervous and I don’t think I was the only one as a silence descended over the cabin as we bounced around heading for the runway.
I was relieved to see us pass over the perimeter road at Heathrow and the end of the runway briefly come into sight, but then, and without warning, the engines surged back up to full power and we lifted up again, with such force the g-forces pushed you right back into the seat. A few passengers screamed.
As we were soon informed by the cabin crew (and had already realised) the landing had been abandoned at the last minute, but we were told that it was not unusual and nothing to be alarmed about. I have had this once before, but on that occasion we were higher off the ground, so it was not as violent. It was a bit scary and I did wonder what would happen if it was deemed too windy to land again and where else we could go. The captain soon informed us that the landing had been abandonded because a “wind shear” warning had come on in the cockpit, indicating the wind gusts were too severe to land safely and so we would be going around for another attempt. So we had another view over central London and began to be buffeted by the winds again.
This time we did touch down but the plane did feel like it veered rapidly to one side as it did so but thankfully this was quickly corrected and we safely reduced speed, with cheers and clapping from the passengers, myself included. I was glad to be back on the ground and in one piece!
It quickly turned out London Heathrow was in a good deal of chaos with almost all flights delayed, presumably due to the storm and flights having to take multiple attempts to land safely, as we had had to. As a result, there was no stand for us to “park” at, so we had to wait a further 15 minutes for a stand to become free so that we could get off.
By the time we did get off we were over an hour late. My plans to get home were to take the National Express coach from Heathrow Airport to Woking and a train from there to Guildford. However with the delays by the time I got to the Central Bus station I had missed the coach I was planning to get by 2 minutes – with the next due in an hour.
A quick bit of re-planning saw me on public London bus bound for Kingston-upon-Thames. I planned to get off at Feltham where I could take a direct train to Woking, which would work out (slightly) quicker than waiting for the next coach. On reaching Feltham the road outside the station was closed for road-works so the bus had to divert and I had to make my way back along unfamiliar dark streets in the drizzle to reach the station, but I made it in time for the train. I took the train to Woking where I planned to change for Guildford. Then I saw on the departure screens the sign every weekend rail traveller dreads “Replacement Bus Service”! So I had to take a bus back to Guildford to get my car and drive home.
Still despite the eventful journey back it was a really fantastic weekend which I thoroughly enjoyed. Gibraltar was a delight in a quite stunning location and with a fascinating history. There was a more more nature and beautiful scenery than I had expected too. I was very glad I had gone there. The coast was truly spectacular especially the east side, with those sheer cliffs, and also tremendously varied and I had very much enjoyed exploring it.