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Friday, 25 January 2013

ROCK of GIBRALTAR January 2013

The weekend of January 18th - 21st saw Jill take me away on a surprise weekend to Gibraltar. I knew nothing of where we were going except that it was a weekend away. I was thinking UK, Wales, The Lakes, Scotland or even over to Ireland again. To make the surprise even more so, I wasn't allowed to pack my bag and had no say in what to take or wear, even down to what shoes I put on my feet!!! The first time someone else had packed my bags since I left home and got married all those years ago, even my daughter, Terri, helped with the packing. Yes, I was kept totally in the dark about this for a good few weeks. With the UK weather forecast to be snow and blizzards rolling in, Jill did start to panic a bit but I was looking forward to getting out in the snow to test my new snow tube out :-)
On the Friday morning as the snow started to fall and the UK started to grind to a halt with a few millimetres of the stuff I was told that we were ready to get going. Where's my backpack, my boots, hat, gloves, all my nice warm clothes!! All that I was taking was a rucksack with a few bits and pieces in, the clothes I had on, plus my non waterproof trail shoes, not going to Wales then!! :-) I sought of guessed that we'd be flying out somewhere but where I had no idea until we got to passport control. Now most of us have been there with the grumpy non smiling robots checking out the funny mugshots on the passports, well for some reason we had a cheerful, smiling person on duty who promptly told us to have a wonderful time on the Rock of Gibraltar!!! The look on Jills face was a picture and she could of hit him as I looked more than a bit surprised. Cheers mate :-) Now I'll be honest and say that Gibraltar wasn't on my radar at all, Barcelona came to mind as we have been twice before and liked it, even Paris came to mind on the approach to the airport as we have been there but Gibraltar to me has always been a rock with some apes on it and also a stop off for the cruise liners as they made their way around the med. This is certainly a surprise alright!
Luckily for us, Manchester being Manchester didn't suffer with snow so we managed to get off only 30 mins late, which was better than the flights from other airports in the UK, so it was round about 3pm we left the cold and wet conditions behind and arrived in Gibraltar about 6.30 local time and stepped off the plane in the cool evening light with a bit of a breeze. On looking at the tarmac it looked like we had missed some wet weather but the breeze started to pick up a bit. This is a small new Airport, only opened in 2011 and is very smart. The runway is small and they have to shut the main road that connects Gibraltar with mainland Spain everytime a plane lands or takes off. It ranks as the fifth most dangerous airport in the world and the most dangerous in Europe!!
We had a 25 minute walk to our hotel from the airport that took us across the runway with the Rock being the centre of attention
The walk we did on the Sunday took us all round the coast line and up to the top of the rock with some fantastic views all round, and it was the best day weatherwise as we sat out a thunderstorm on Saturday morning! In fact the weather had been so bad all through Friday night and Saturday, that the airport and seaports were closed to all incoming and outgoing flights & shipping. So much for a nice warm sunny break!! The sea was blowing up over the end of the runway!

We did get out and about for some exploring on the Saturday after the rains stopped mid morning but the wind was as strong as any open mountain and it seemed that the whole of Gibraltar had shut down. We took in the new harbour with all the big fancy private boats and new apartments where a penthouse suite can cost £1.8 million pounds

 So on the Sunday we set off to the lighthouse at Europa Point at the South of the Island. It was still very windy but we did have blue skies and sun and some good views across the choppy sea towards mainland Spain from Rosia Bay

As it was clear we could also see Africa in the distance

We made our way round to Camp Bay & Little Bay via a couple of short tunnels in the rock. Camp Bay reminded me of the seaside places we visited as a kid growing up in the 70's. All concrete and not much in the way of health and safety :-)

The wind around this side of Gibraltar was still strong as it whipped up the sea, blowing it over the walkways
When we came out into the car park we noticed a waterfall coming out of what looked like an old tunnel in the rockface below some buildings. No idea where it was going or where it was truly coming from but it looked quite spectacular
From here it was another walk through Keightley Tunnel, this one being quite long and the cars don't seem to slow down much.

The tunnel bought us out at the car park of Europa Point and our first view of the Trinity Lighthouse
There was quite a few boats around this side as we were now beginning to get sheltered from the strong winds by the Rock and its sheer drop cliff face

It was also where we thought we were in the middle of a war zone as there was loud bangs going off and echoing all around us. Nothing too much to worry about though as we were passing the local clay pigeon club!
As we approached Dudley Ward Tunnel it was getting warmer due to the lack of wind and so coats and jumpers were coming off. We were quite surprised to see the "no pedestrian" signs at the entrance but was told by a local it was ok to walk it as long as we stayed close to the sides!! We did notice quite a few joggers and walkers using it and also a police car passed us halfway through and didn't stop us!

We came out of the tunnel in summer like conditions, warm sun and calm seas, quite a contrast to the west & south sides of Gibraltar. There was also quite a few openings in the cliff face that looked like old lookout posts and gun placements from the war
We also came across our first taste of a proper beach area at Sandy Bay and you can see why the beaches are on this side as they must be well sheltered by the sheer cliffs rising steeply above

The next beach we came across was at Catalan Bay , a small bay that seems to be named after the Italian city of Genoa. We did have a coffee and sandwich sat outide a cafe overlooking the bay. A taste of summer :-)

After having ninety minutes or so of warm sunny weather, we approached the North end of Gibraltar and came out of the shelter of the cliffs and into the strong wind again where jumpers and coats went back on again quite quickly. It was a good drying day though

It was also very quiet in Casemate Square & on Main Street where our hotel was situated

As it was only early afternoon, about 2pm, I fancied getting to the top of the rock and having a look round and the weather, although windy, seemed to be staying dry despite the clouds rolling in again. Jill decided that she'd go back for a coffee and a read. I set off up the steep little back streets and made my way up to the World War Two Tunnels and along Queens Road to the Charles V Wall

After I had passed the tunnels this is where the views started to open up and also where there was a spot or two of rain as the clouds started to cover mainland Spain and there was a good view of a plane about to take off

Luckily the rain didn't stay for long but it was still quite cool as I came across the first Ape sighting of the day, just sat there minding his own business when I came along a stuck a camera in his face! Funny how exciting you get at seeing a wild or semi wild animal that you only see on TV or in a zoo. I don't think that the ape was too bothered though :-)
You can just make out another in the background and this is an area called Apes Den where there are quite a few hanging about around a feeding area.

This is where I started to climb up the Charles V Wall, a few hundred steps going up in stages and brings you out near to where the cable car and cafe station is. There is also another troop of apes around here as this is another tourist bus/taxi stop. the climb up the steps was hard going so I was quite glad about the cool conditions.

Once at the top there were some great views down to Sandy Bay where we were in the warm sun a couple of hours before
And also along the top edge where I was going to explore
But just as I was about to make my way, along came two tourist buses and a party of ramblers, all to see the apes. I stood back and watched and it was hard to tell who were the apes at times

After getting fed up of the circus show I made my way along the cliff edge path that leads up to O'Hara's Battery at the summit of the Rock @ 1400ft above sea level. Along the path I came across a lookout post that provide great views all around and also of how much the weather had changed from the morning!

Just a short walk along the road took me to the locked gates of O'Hara's Battery & Lord Aiery's Battery. Although there are tours around this place it all seemed a bit unused for a few years as it was barb wired up and all gates were padlocked and a bit overgrown. There are the Mediteranean Steps that you can use to get from the Pillars Of Hercules to the battery and these did look steep and unstable in places. I did see a few people on them though. I just had a good look round this very interesting area and a birds eye view of the walk Jill & I did earlier in the day

I made my way back down after having a good look round as the weather seemed to be getting a bit moody looking with the rain in Spain falling mainly on the mountains and the coastline just across the water

And where the apes were in a more sedate mood

As I made my way back down the Charles V Wall

To the apes den where the other troop were just as sedate

I made my way down past the Devils Gap Battery

Before making my way down the Public Footpath back into town

Where I spotted our hotel amongst the maze of buildings & little streets below

Just a short walk back through the streets in time to watch Manchester United get a point away to Tottenham, well two points lost really. Sky Sports in our room :-) Walking through the streets made me feel more at home as I came down the Union Jack Steps on Sir Matt Busby Way :-)

Well I have now learned quite a bit more about Gibraltar and now know that it's not just a Rock with Apes or just a stopping off port for the Cruise Liners, There is so much history and a lot to explore on the Rock and it's surroundings. A pity about the weather but we'll just have to go back sometime when it's a bit warmer.
Nonetheless, a great weekend away, thanks Jill x :-)

A couple of videos.
The Apes

O'Hara's Battery & Views