Borġ in-Nadur, Wied Żembaq and Wied Qoton

This Harrison Lewis walk was led by Barbara. Although we started by the sea at St George’s bay, Birżebbuġa this was a country walk exploring the quiet valleys of Wied Żembaq (“Jasmine Valley”) and Wied Qoton (“Cotton Valley”.

St Georges Bay, Birżebbuġa, the start of the walk.

The Cross at Borġ in-Nadur

Our first point of interest was the site of the Bronze Age Village at Borġ in-Nadur. This is also the site of a series of visions of the Virgin Mary reported by Angelik Caruana, a resident of Birżebbuġa, from 2005 onwards. Religious meetings are regularly held at this spot.

The view from the Bronze Age village.

The smooth limestone path leading up the edge of Wied Żembaq

Further up Wied Żembaq lie the ruins of a large country house, known as ‘Casa Ippolito’. It was built in 1664 by the Sicilian Baron Ippolito Novantieri who was married to a Maltese lady. The history of the house is the subject of several myths and legends which have been handed down over the generations.

Interior ceiling of the ruined Casa Ippolito

It was a beautiful morning, if a little too hot towards the end, and the landscape, full of wild flowers, was magical.

A typical field of wildflowers

All of today’s pictures were taken using my new toy – the iPhone 4S.

An abundance of poppies.

There are several other ancient sites in this area which is well worth exploring further.

Malta Circumnavigation Day 9: Ġnejna Bay to Ras il-Qammieħ

This was a remarkable leg of the circumnavigation, for several reasons. It was the longest of the walks so far, approximately 5 hours and 19km in length and contained by far the most strenuous section I have completed. More photographs were taken than on any other part. It included the sparse clifftops of the far Northwest of the Island and overall was one of the best walks of the whole journey.

 

The clay slopes at Il-Karraba

Having given up on the section between Ġnejna and Għajn Tuffieħa at the end of the last section, I was determined to persist and complete this part by the “low route”, keeping as close to the water as possible. In the event I was glad that I went this way, for two reasons. Firstly, it’s a very interesting section of coastline and secondly, it confirmed that I should never take friends by this route – it’s simply too tough. In particular the scramble up the clay slopes by Il-Karraba is steep and crumbly underfoot. I needed to use a trekking pole (fully collapsed) and dig it in for every two steps taken – just like ice-axe technique! By the time I reached the top my legs felt like jelly.  This was followed by an immediate steep descent to the lovely Għajn Tuffieħa beach only to climb straight back up the long series of steps to the top. Only 45 minutes into to the longest section and I was feeling completely exhausted!

Ras il-Wahx

Recovery was relatively quick and after a brief visit to the Għajn Tuffieħa knight’s tower, I headed on into the Il-Majjistral nature and history park and the cliff top of Ras il-Waħx (“Ogre’s Head”).

Distant Ras il-Qammieħ from below Għajn Żnuber tower

Carrying on along the magnificent coastline, I eventually arrived at the controversial Għajn Żnuber (“Pine Tree Spring”) “tower”. This was almost certainly not built by the Knights of St John but was perhaps an observation station or hunting turret dating from the 18th or even a late as the 19th Century.

Anchor Bay and Popeye Village

At Anchor Bay we find the delightfully incongruous “Popeye Village”, originally the set for the 1980 Robin Williams version of Popeye which failed at the box office but has left the legacy of a popular children’s destination in Malta.

Gozo Channel, Comino and a glimpse of the Blue Lagoon

After more desolate but stunning coastline I eventually arrived at the day’s destination, the rather alarmingly named Ras il-Qammieħ (“Jumper’s Head”) with dramatic views across the Gozo Channel, to Comino and Gozo. We are now on the Marfa Ridge, the most Northerly of  the  succession of EW ridges which span this part of Malta. The end of a great walk which will no doubt become a favourite, like Wied iż-Żurrieq to Għar Lapsi, to be repeated many times. For a full account of this walk see the captions on the photo journey.

Valetta: Around the Laparelli Bastions

This was a Harrison Lewis group walk led by Andy and Jenny. We circumnavigated Valletta, for most of the way keeping close to the original city bastions.

In addition to a great deal of money, Pope Pius V sent to Grand Master Valette the great military architect, Francesco Laparelli of Cortona to oversee the plans and building of the fortified city of Valletta – the first city in Europe to be build entirely from the drawing board.

Francesco Laparelli 1521-1570

We met at the car park outside the Msida Bastions Cemetery and embarked on a clockwise journey round the city. We descended below the bastions to walk alongside Marsamxett harbour with the great walls towering above us.

The Laparelli Bastions on the Marsamxett side.

We rounded the outside of Fort St Elmo at the end of the peninsula and were fortunate that the workmen allowed us a brief excursion onto the new, as yet incomplete, bridge to the Grand Harbour breakwater.

The new bridge replaces the one destroyed in WW II.

 

The bridge is not yet complete.

The route from St Elmo to the Lower Barraka Gardens is presently unsafe so we had to detour back round St Elmo.

Lower Barraka Gardens

We then walked up to the Upper Barraka Gardens where we missed the Noonday Gun by literally a few seconds! After dropping down by the Malta Central Bank on St James Bastion we had lunch in the lesser-known Herbert Ganado Gardens, formerly the Kalkara Gardens but renamed for the Maltese writer and politician.

We crossed Floriana and descended back to the Msida Bastions Gardens and Cemetery. This was the main Protestant cemetery in Malta from 1806 to 1856. The majority of the graves were of British servicemen, officials and businessmen and their families. Mikiel Anton Vassalli,”the father of the Maltese language” was buried here in 1829, because he was out of favour with the Catholic church, partly because he had translated the New Testament into Maltese.

Mikiel Anton Vassalli Memorial

The cemetery has been lovingly restored in recent years from its previously ruined state and is now managed by Din l’Art Ħelwa. We were fortunate to have the two people mainly responsible for the restoration on the walk today and able to give us a very informative tour!

The peaceful Msida Bastion Garden of Rest

Malta Circumnavigation Day 8: Baħrija to Ġnejna Bay

Jaqui & Lizzie (+ Lawrence's Shadow) at Baħrija

I was accompanied on today’s walk by our friend Lizzie, visiting from the UK. A couple of days ago  (Tuesday) we repeated the previous stage (Dingli Cliffs to Baħrija) so that Lizzie could continue from where she had left off in September. She has now done four consecutive stages of the circumnavigation, all the way from Wied iż-Żurrieq to Ġnejna Bay, and hopes to carry on with her own circumnavigation on her next visit. I must say that it was refreshing to do the walk on Tuesday without the tyranny of the constant use of the camera to document the walk for this blog. Today it was back to normal camera duties but I have it in mind to do a second circumnavigation, camera-free, next year.

Kunċizzjoni Chapel 1731

The natural route onward along the coast from Baħrija is directly down the road which leads to the cliff-top overlooking the bay of Fomm ir-Riħ. However the track ahead is closed to the public. Hence a detour inland was required. Next time I do this walk I will attempt a dash across the private section but on this occasion the detour was no hardship as the longer route takes in one of my favourite roads on the Island.

The "Three Lakes" view of the Għajn Tuffieħa area.

We headed inland on the Rabat road and then took the first left branching back to the Kunċizzjoni Chapel. This is a delightful road with ever-changing views Northwards to Gozo and Eastwards to Mġarr and Mellieħa. The road is a a dead-end and we then continued along a track when we soon encountered the Western extremity of the Victoria Lines – the Maltese “Hadrian’s Wall” built by the British in the nineteenth century to impede the progress toward Valletta of any hostile forces which landed in the Northern part of the Island.

Victoria Lines

We descended the course of the wall to the cliffs overlooking the spectacular Fomm ir-Riħ (“mouth of the wind”) Bay. Then we crossed the neck of Ras il-Pelligrin (“Pellegrin Head”) and descended to the beach at Ġnejna Bay. We chose a direct descent, by a path which had been used by trail bikes and very soon began to regret the decision. The path was steeper than it looked and treacherously slippery where the motorcycles had churned up the mud. However we made it safely to the beach.

Fomm ir-Riħ Bay

Our original destination for the day had been Golden Bay and we carried on from Ġnejna towards the clay slopes of Il-Karraba. However the going is quite difficult by this lower route and we were conscious that Lizzie had a plane to catch in the afternoon. So we called Jaqui to change the final destination to Ġnejna and returned to the beach there for the pick up.

Ġnejna Beach with Lippija Tower above

Please see the photo journey for a more detailed look at today’s route. Don’t forget to read the captions!

Il-Karraba. A step too far today - back soon!

Għar Lapsi Circuit

This was a Harrison Lewis group walk which was led by Dianne and myself. We had agonised somewhat over the route, which was quite challenging We almost called it off the day before because rain was forecast and we were worried about the steep slopes becoming slippery and dangerous in the wet. In the event the weather was mainly sunny and everyone got round safely. Apologies that some of the photos below are from my previous walks in this area. I was too busy concentrating on the route and the other walkers to do much photography today.

A bag of edible snails.

We met at the car park near the Neolithic temple at Ħaġar Qim. I arrived early and met a Maltese couple who were returning from a successful foray on the cliff top with two bags of edible snails!

 

Mnajdra Temple Complex.

We by-passed the entrance to the temple and walked down the slope towards the Mnajdra temple complex, departing the path at about the mid point and walking up to the Neoilithic water cisterns of il-Misqa (“water trough”), where we paused to take in the antiquity of the construction well over 5000 years old. Flora, the only dog on the walk today, had a surprise when she flopped into one of the cisterns, imagining it to be a puddle! They are very deep.

Il-Misqa Water Cisterns (Credit: Electric Youniverse)

From il-Misqa, we took an interesting and unusual route past the quarries to the Għar Lapsi road. Not many know of its existence and Dianne and I only discovered it through some careful scouting of the route. Without it, a circular walk via Għar Lapsi would not have been viable.

A modern goatherd.

There followed quite a long stretch, about an hour’s walking, on the road. But this was no hardship as it is a quiet road with spectacular sea views out to the island of Filfla. At the junction with the road from Siġġiewi we encountered a herd of goats, with some sheep, being moved to pasture. Goats, which used to be so common on the the island, are a rare sight nowadays. We had picked up a stray dog on the way but he was finally turned back by the aged pack which guards the entrance to Għar Lapsi.

Looking back to Għar Lapsi from Ras il-Ħanżir

We looked at the remains of the massive rock fall which occurred at Għar Lapsi towards the end of 2011. It was a good point at which to engage in a safety talk about the rough terrain ahead. It was especially important to avoid the tempting path which skirts the edge of the cliff on the approach to Ras il-Hanżir (“Pig’s Head”).

Lunch on the slopes under Mnajdra cliffs.

We made out way Southwards along the undercliff, enjoying wonderful views along the rugged coastline towards the Ħamrija tower. Some of us had to divest layers as the sun came out to warm the day up. We enjoyed a lunch stop on the slopes overlooking the Magħlaq Fault – which runs along the South coast of Malta from Bengħisa to the North West. The displacement is quite dramatic – 210 metres – at this point.

Magħlaq Fault

After lunch we came to the cliff ascent just before the Ħamrija tower. This was quite safe in the dry conditions but still a strenuous climb. Most felt it best to abandon walking sticks and use both hands for the scramble. We all had a sense of achievement when we arrived at the top to be greeted by the Congreve Memorial.

The ascent to the Congreve Memorial

His Excellency Sir Walter Congreve VC KCB MVO, is one of my hobby-horses and I couldn’t resist saying a few words (well maybe more than a few) about him to the assembled company. He was a true hero in the grand tradition, as were his two sons who were both killed in action. He and his eldest son, William, are one of only two father-son pairs to win the Victoria Cross.

Congreve Memorial with Filfla in the background.

We walked on past the Ħamrija tower up to the point where progress is terminated by Wied Ħoxt (“Rough Valley”). We turned left up the edge of the wied and shortly arrived back at the Ħaġar Qim car park. It had been a strenuous morning and I hope everyone has forgiven me for the steep cliff ascent!  Certainly, apart from one longstanding member of the Harrison Lewis group, this walk was a first for everyone. I’m not sure if we will repeat it next year though….

Ħamrija Tower.

Xemxija Hill and Mistra Bay

Roman Apiary

This Harrison Lewis walk was led by Anne. The route was from Xemxija, at the innermost point of St Paul’s Bay, up onto the hill behind the village, where we encountered a range of interesting features:

  • 3 Punic/Roman apiaries
  • Arguably the oldest tree in Malta, a carob over a thousand years old.
  • A Roman road.
  • Some troglodyte cave dwellings, complete with fireplace and animal compounds.
  • A Punic Tomb cut into the hillside.
  • Six Neolithic “shaft & chamber” tombs cut into the rock, each having a vertical shaft leading down to one or more side chambers. In use in 3100 BC.
  • A Second World War defense post.
  • Roman baths.

Entrance to Punic Tomb

We made a brief detour to see some wild narcissi and then descended into the Wied tal-Mistra from whence we emerged into Mistra bay. After a pleasant stop for lunch overlooking the bay we ascended the Rdum tal-Kalkara (“lime-kiln cliffs”)and made our way back along the coast to Xemxija.

I will eventually be passing  Mistra Bay on the circumnavigation, and will take lots of picture then, so today’s three photos are inland shots.

Wild Narcissi

Thanks to “electrobleme” of everythingselectric.com for the map below of Xemxija Hill, showing the main sites.

Xemxija Hill SItes

Red Tower & Paradise Bay

This was another excellent Harrison Lewis walk led by James.

The Red Tower on a January Morning

We met at the St Agatha’s Tower, more commonly referred to as the Red Tower. This tower is more like a mini-fort, built in the style of the Wignacourt Towers, and was completed by Grand Master Lascaris in 1649. It holds a commanding position on Malta’s most northerly ridge (Marfa Ridge) with 360 degree views over Gozo, Comino and Northern Malta.

Steep ascent soon to be rewarded by lunch stop.

We made our way down the steep Northern slopes of Marfa Ridge and across to the cliffs overlooking Paradise Bay. Then south along the line of the cliffs, stopping for lunch on the way, before ascending to join Triq tad-Dahar (“Back Road”). We turned right to visit the rather alarmingly-named Ras tal-Qammieħ (“Jumper’s Head”) a high clifftop overlooking well-kept undercliff farmland.

The view South from Ras il-Qammieħ

Most of the group returned along Triq tad-Dahar to the red tower but a few hardy souls descended to the farmland and climbed back up to the tower by the pleasantly wooded slopes.

Malta Circumnavigation Day 7: Dingli Cliffs to Baħrija

Having been “stuck at Dingli Cliffs” since September it was a relief to be on the move again. It seems incredible that such a long period of time has passed since the previous leg of this journey. The intervening time has been soaked up in a flurry of social events and the entertaining of a succession of friends and family as house guests. What walking I have done has been in the company of my walking group and these excursions have been recorded, albeit briefly, on the group walks section of this blog.

Looking NW towards Ta' Ħammud

Today the weather was glorious and perfect for walking. It was difficult to believe that it’s January 2nd. Although the day commenced with cloudy, moody skies it soon became bright sunshine and at times I felt almost too hot and in danger of sunburn!

Wied ir-Rum

I’ve been looking forward to this leg of the walk for some time. Today’s route was through some of the remotest and least-travelled parts of Malta. The scenery was spectacular and the photo-journey account is highly recommended. Highlights, among many interesting features, were Miġa Ferħa (the secret cleft in the Cliffs where Count Roger is said to have landed in 1090 to take the island from the Arabs), Mtaħleb chapel and a Roman quarry.

 

Il-Mina Cliffs near Miġra Ferħa.

I shipped my trekking poles out to Malta in November and had one with me today in case of dog problems. In the event, although several groups of fierce-looking dogs were encountered, their bark was, as usual, worse than their bite and all were negotiated without incident.

Mtaħleb Chapel

For a full account see the captions on the photo-journey.

Cottonera Lines

This Harrison Lewis group walk was led by Colin whose intimate knowledge of the area made for a fascinating journey.

Grand Master Nicholas Cotoner 1608-1680

We met at the Cospicua bus terminus outside the new main gate into Birgu. We followed the perimeter of the massive defenses erected circa 1669 by Grand Master Nicholas Cotoner .

Cottonera Lines

 

After passing around the fortifications in an anti-clockwise direction as far as we could go, we dropped down to visit the Capuccini Naval Cemetery on the Southern outskirts of Kalkara. We spent some time there and, despite its designation as a “Naval Cemetery”, it contains RAF and Army graves, in addition to those of foreign nationalities.

Fort Ricasoli, South Gate

We walked up to the front gate of Fort Ricasoli and then around Rinella Creek before lunching at the seafront on Kalkara creek and returning through Birgu to our starting point.

Kalkara Creek

Bajda Ridge

This was another enjoyable Harrison Lewis walk led by Carol and Caroline.

We met at Golden Bay and walked up the Western end of the Bajda Ridge (“White Ridge”, though it is not named on current Malta maps). This is the area which makes up the Il-Majjistral Nature Park and has wonderful views out to sea from Ras il-Wahx (“Ogre’s Head”) and Rdum Majesa.

View from Ras il-Wahx

View from Ras il-Wahx

After passing under the old aqueduct in the bottom of the valley on the Manikata to Mellieħa road we passed through some quiet woodlands where we had lunch.  Then back along the Southern flank of the ridge, through Manikata and back to Golden Bay.