The Med Steps: a few facts & figures

Unless you are completely new to this blog, you will no doubt be aware I have a rather daunting event on the horizon. Along with two friends, I am planning to climb the Med Steps to the top of the Rock of Gibraltar 5 times as part of the Med Steps 5 Challenge on Saturday. For those of you who have never had the pleasure of taking this rather scenic, steep walk, I thought I’d take you along with me. You won’t need your trainers though – I’ve done the hard work!

The length of the walk from it’s beginning at Jews’ Gate on the southern edge of the Upper Rock Nature Reserve (just opposite the monument to the Pillars of Hercules) to the summit (close to O’Hara’s Battery) is 1400 metres. At it’s start, you are 180 metres above sea level, at it’s summit, you are 419 metres above the waves below – that’s a climb of 239 metres.

It runs round the southern edge of the nature reserve and then along the eastern side of the Rock on narrow rocky paths and steps up along the cliff face.

Just next to the Jewish Cemetery and bird observatory is a flight of steps leading the way into a small wooded area.

The path winds gently up hill before opening out to offer a great view across the top of Europa Point, and the northern coast of Africa across the Strait of Gibraltar.

Close to here is Martin’s Cave the roosting and breeding site for rare bats. 

The path takes a downward turn down several steps before levelling out to a beautiful path lined at the moment with wild flowers.

Then the Med Steps begin in ernest. They are rather irregular in size, some man made, others just appear to be lumps of rock. Some take the size of ‘normal’ stairs, others are well over 30cm deep. Approximately half way up this first set of steps is the Goats Hair Twin Caves.  

Excavations during the 1970s found evidence here that suggests prehistoric man once lived there. It’s believed that many years ago, these caves were actually at sea level.

Just above the caves, there are several old military buildings serving as a reminder to the role the Rock played during World War II. 

At the top of this climb the path takes us through a small tunnel which offers much needed shade and a chance to take a breather.

It’s at this point that you often see seagulls sitting on the path, they look most put out as you approach and they feel the need to move. Clearly they are making the most of the peace and quiet and taking in the view! I have also seen a couple of native Barbary Partridges near here too, I believe Peregrine Falcons are a relatively common sight as well, but I can’t say I’ve seen any.

A little further along here and you end up on a great viewing platform which affords a fantastic view on a clear day along the eastern side of Gibraltar, across the runway and north towards the Spanish Costa del Sol.

A few metres back from this and the rocky path takes you onwards and upwards towards our goal. 

This part of the walk is particularly verdant and it was along here that I saw one of Gibraltar’s national plants, the Gibraltar Candytuft for the first time a few weeks ago.

There are several other plant species native to the Rock which can be found in this area, the Gibraltar Thyme, Gibraltar Campion, Gibraltar Chickweed and Gibraltar Saxifrage to be precise.

The walk continues meandering back and to along the side of the Rock with several more flights of stairs here and there until you find yourself at the foot of the cliff where there are 15 flights of steps zig zagging up the rocky face leading to the summit. (In my opinion; the killer part).

Up you climb, up and up. 

I love seeing this ‘seat’ carved into the rock. Every time I see it, I think of my Dad who walked up the steps with my Mum and me a couple of years ago. He stopped here for a rest. If I’m still fit enough to climb the Med Steps when I’m in my seventies, I’ll be more than happy!

Two flights later and there’s the wild flower sign – oh we’re almost there!

Just two more flights and we’re at the top – Hurrah!!!

I may have lost count due to exhaustion but I think I counted 595 man made steps up to the top (I didn’t count the extra natural rocky steps or the ones which rather annoyingly take you downwards before the main climb).

So we’re at the top, time to give yourself a pat on the back and take in that magnificent view. 

It’s now time to head down the military road which zig zags down the western side of the Rock past St Michael’s Cave and back to Jews’ Gate again. Just another 4 times round and then we can stop for a cup of tea – wish us luck!!

All information is courtesy of the GONHS

10 things I’ve learned about Gibraltar 

Today’s a special day here in Gibraltar, it’s the 10th September which means it’s National Day 2015. It’s a day when shops, schools and offices close and the population of the Rock heads outside attired in the national colours of red & white to celebrate their national pride. There are political rallies reaffirming the people’s right to self determination, concerts, firework displays and a not insignificant amount of alcohol imbibed. 

This was the scene in Casemates Square last National Day, it was hot, incredibly busy but really good natured. As you wander along Main Street during the day you see all sorts of sights with musicians, performers and fancy dress costumes. Oh, and there are usually a few bemused tourists made conspicuous by the fact they didn’t get the red and white memo!

 So on such an auspicious day I thought I’d share a few of the things I’ve learned about Gibraltar since I arrived a few years back. Here we go:

1. It’s small but perfectly formed

Considering how much the people of Gibraltar achieve on the world stage, (being represented at the United Nations on the matter of relations with Spain, having a football team in UEFA, and being home to a Miss World winner – Kaiane Aldorino in 2009 to name but three) it’s comparatively tiny. If you were to walk or run around the Rock, you would cover a distance of approximately 10 kilometres.

2. It’s a long way up

The Rock of Gibraltar is 426 metres high, which makes it taller than the Eiffel Tower, the Empire State Building or the Shard.

3. You can enjoy four seasons in one day (well kind of) 


Due to the geography of Gibraltar, proximity to the Mediterranean Sea, Atlantic Ocean, Iberian peninsular and it’s height, there are several micro climates around the Rock. It can humid on Main Street, blowing a gale at the airport, be misty in South District and sunny and hot at Catalan Bay all on the same day! Oh and I may sound like I have gone soft living in these southern climes, but it really does get cold, wet and windy in winter. Homes here don’t have central heating, we rely on electrical heating, which isn’t great – our lounge fell below 10 degrees Celsius last winter a few times brrrrr!

4. There’s great religious diversity here


The largest religious community in Gibraltar is Roman Catholic, but several other Christian denominations are represented, there’s the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity for Anglicans as well as the King’s Chapel, St Andrew’s Church of Scotland, the Methodist Church, and several smaller evangelical churches. There’s also a large Jewish community with four active Synagogues here. In addition, there are two Mosques including the beautiful Ibrahim-al-Ibrahim Mosque pictured above situated at Europa Point. Tucked away behind Main Street you can find a Hindu Temple. There is also a Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses a short walk from the Cruise Terminal.

5. The entire civilian population was evacuated during World War 2

Even today Gibraltar is home to Army, Navy and RAF bases, back in World War 2 it was seen as a strategic military strong hold. Tunnels were dug deep into the Rock and some servicemen were even on standby to be bricked up into secret tunnels in the event that Gibraltar was captured, in order to spy on the invading force. During the war Gibraltar residents were forcibly moved from their homeland, put into ships and sent to destinations like Casablanca, blitz bombed London, Madeira and Jamaica. For some it would be ten years before they were able to return home. This year is the 75th Anniversary of the Evacuation and on Monday this week there was an extra bank holiday, known as Evacuation Memorial Day, to commemorate it.   

6.  If you turn up at the beach without the right kit, locals know you’re an amateur  


There’s a particular type of beach culture here, no matter how early you turn up in the morning, there will be clusters of deck chairs and sun parasols there already. There are clearly spots where families regularly set up camp, and they guard their turf by marking it out early. Also, if you tip up to the beach with just a bag, a book and a towel, you will stand out a mile – you need to know what to bring. Deck chairs are a must, as is a parasol. But woe betide you if you just stick it in the sand and leave it like that. You’ll soon learn that the local winds whipping round the Rock will have your umbrella blowing halfway down the beach and spearing an unsuspecting sunbather before your bottom’s been heaved out of your folding chair! A screw in mechanism on the pointy end of the post is desirable but a couple of lengths of washing line tied to the top and anchored into the beach with sandbags or tent pegs are de rigeur. Special hooks on the stem of the parasol are common place allowing beach-goers to hang valuables and clothing out of the sand. Picnic tables, cool boxes and umbrella awnings are also useful. 

7. Gibraltarians love to chat

Where ever you are in Gibraltar you will see people chatting, in clusters on Main Street, at the tills in Morrisons, even in the middle of the road. Scooter riders will drive in pairs chatting or alongside a car chatting through an open window to the driver at speed. Traffic will stop dead in the road while one driver stops to chat to a pedestrian or someone coming the other way. It’s quite something to behold, although at times rather frustrating, when you have to wait for the conversation to finish before you can complete your journey. You can choose the shortest queue in Morrisons and still be the last one out as the person in front strikes up a conversation with the cashier. I can only assume it’s because many people have spent most of their lives here and therefore know practically everyone! One overwhelmingly positive side effect of all this chatting means that on arrival here, you’ll never be lonely. If you are at the bus stop, in the aforementioned queue in Morrisons or sitting on a bench in the Alameda Gardens, there’s a very good chance someone will come and speak to you. This openness is part of what endeared the people of Gibraltar to me, meaning you soon get to know people.

8. Gibraltar’s a hotspot for twitchers 


Due to it’s position at the very south of Europe and it’s proximity to the continent of Africa, many migrating birds pass through the skies above Gibraltar on their migration routes north and south. Kites, eagles, kestrels and vultures can be seen passing overhead, and of course there’s also the locally resident Barbary Partridges too.

9. The apes don’t just stay at the top of the Rock


Most visitors to Gibraltar make the trip to the summit of the Rock in order to encounter our hairy neighbours, the Barbary Macaques. However, at times (especially when they spot a cruise ship coming into port) they make their way down into town. They also take unsuspecting visitors by surprise by coming in through open hotel windows at the Caleta and Rock Hotels. I was once mugged by an ape who assumed the plastic bag I was carrying contained food. It was grabbed out of my hand while I waited to cross the road and ripped open. The balls of wool inside were jettisoned in disgust once they’d been spotted to be inedible.

10. Although it’s stirling, you can’t spend Gibraltar cash in the UK


The currency here is stirling, there’s no exchange rate – it’s worth exactly the same as notes and coins minted by the Bank of England. British notes and coins are readily excepted in retail outlets here in addition to the locally produced money. However, if you try to spend Gibraltar cash in the UK you won’t get very far with your transaction. You can’t even use it on a flight leaving from Gibraltar airport rendering you thirsty, hungry and unable to purchase duty free! So, if you come to visit, you need to spend it all before you leave OR keep it safe until your return. 
I hope you’ve enjoyed this round up of facts about the place I call home. Have a great Gibraltar National Day wherever you are in the world!