Malta Circumnavigation Day 5: Blue Grotto to Għar Lapsi

This was the first leg of the journey on which I had a companion. Our old friend Lizzie was visiting from the UK and it was a welcome change to have some company on the walk.

My walking companion for the day.

I spent quite a lot of time exploring the little harbour at the bottom of Wied iż-Żurrieq before setting out on the walk proper. We climbed up out of the Wied using the route recommended by Paddy Dillon in his book ‘Walking in Malta”, well away from the road and hugging the cliff edge as we made our way to the top where we joined the road from Żurrieq to Ħaġar Qim.

The temple at Ħaġar Qim, under its protective "umbrella".

At Ħaġar Qim we bought tickets and explored the temple (and the Mnajdra Temple complex) before visiting the Ħamrija Tower and the Congreve Memorial. We scrambled down the cliff from the memorial and made our way on rough paths and over boulders to Għar Lapsi. The scenery was dramatic and full of interest, including views of the caves above Għar Lapsi.

The Ħamrija Tower, built in 1569.

 

The Congreve Memorial, with Filfla in the background.

We had intended to go on to Dingli but, having taken three hours to get this far and with the day heating up well into the 30’s centigrade, we decided to call it a day at Għar Lapsi. It had nothing to do with the rather nice restaurant we found there! (Blue Creek). We called Jaqui and she joined us for what transpired to be excellent lunch.

The coastal approach to Għar Lapsi.

For a full account see the photo journey here.

 

The girls enjoying a pre-lunch drink at the Blue Creek restaurant.

Malta Circumnavigation Day 4: Freeport to Blue Grotto

This was a walk I had not been looking forward to. I knew that the last stretch to the Blue Grotto would be excellent but that the way was barred by the industrial complex at Hal-Far. In addition to the Delimara Power Station and the Malta Freeport, a good deal of Malta’s industry is concentrated in the “deep South” of the Island. I suppose it has to go somewhere and probably the more it can be concentrated in one area the better. In the event I rather enjoyed the trek through Hal-Far, with the less pleasant aspects of the walk being more to do with guns and dogs than concrete structures.

With the daytime temperatures still being up in the 30’s Centigrade, I rose at 5:00am and was at the Freeport and on the road by 6:30am. Within a few hundred metres of the start I found myself surrounded by gunfire on both sides of my route. At this time of day and at this time of year (with bird-migration getting underway) the Maltese hunters are out in force, particularly in the more remote, less-visited parts of the Island. I briefly considered abandoning the walk for the sake of my own safety but decided to carry on. I reasoned that most of the hunters would be experienced gun handlers and well-schooled in safe practice.

Malta Hunters (Stock Photo)

There were a lot of hunters about, all carrying shotguns, and more than one gun had a bayonet attached! I’m still trying to discover the use to which the bayonets are put. I took fewer pictures than normal in this area as I was worried that the hunters might think I was trying to take photos of them or their vehicles. Although I have firm personal views on conservation, I refrain from getting involved in the hunting issue which is highly controversial here in Malta. I’m a foreigner, a guest in the country, and not fully aware of all the history and nuances involved. I feel it’s best for the Maltese to work these things out for themselves.

As it turned out, every hunter I encountered close up was perfectly courteous and responded to my greeting with a nod and a smile. I eventually began to feel more comfortable moving through their territory.

Palestinian Flag at Hal-Far? (See photo journey for explanation)

Hal-Far has an unfortunate reputation in Malta, perhaps associated with its being a major accommodation centre for illegal immigrants and asylum seekers and including the infamous “tent city”. My route took me through a dense industrial area on the site of the old Hal-Far airport, so important to the Island during the WWII defence of Malta. I actually found the many different plants and offices to be interesting, particularly the international nature of many of the companies operating from there.

Pharaoh Hounds (Stock Photo)

The dogs were something else. I have already had a couple of encounters with dogs on the Circumnavigation and have generally found that a gentle but confident word has been sufficient to calm them down. Not so today. On two separate occasions I was surrounded by a completely unsupervised pack of dogs. The first time was near Għar Hasan when there were five, two of which were particularly persistent Pharaoh Hounds. The Pharaoh Hound is the  national dog of Malta (known locally as Kelb tal-Fenek, or “Rabbit Dog”).  I kept talking to them while gradually moving away. I desperately wanted to get a photo of them but it wasn’t safe to get the camera out. Instead I’ve provided a stock photo to show how scary they look when unsupervised.

The second canine encounter was with three, much less imposing but no less intimidating, dogs at a farmhouse between Wied Hallelin (Thieves Valley) and Wied Bassasa (Rude name, you’ll find a translation in the photo journey.) Just when I thought they might be calming down they were further incensed by a new group of half a dozen who appeared on the roof of the adjacent building. Although I have so far managed to “talk” my way through these doggie encounters, I’m beginning to think that it may be worth bringing a trekking pole along on future walks, for use in defence as a last resort.  That would be a pity though as I’ve found that trekking poles really interfere with quick-fire photography so it would have to spend most of the time strapped to the day pack.

Once past the Hal-Far quarries, the countryside changes dramatically with some beautifully-kept farmland in the approaches to Żurrieq.  The Wardija Tower soon reminds you that you are still in the land of the Knights and the views across Malta from Żurrieq ridge are dramatic. Our Rabat apartment block can easily be seen from there and it was interesting to get close up to some of the landmarks we can see distantly from the front terrace at home.

The final phase of the walk is different again as you descend to the Blue Grotto. Although it is a tourist honey-pot, and massively popular with the diving community, it is still always worth a visit. I will spend a bit more time there at the start of the next stage.

Blue Grotto

To read the full account of the walk see the photo-journey.

 

Malta Circumnavigation Day 3: Marsaxlokk to the Freeport

This was a short walk of less than two hours mainly with a view to getting me to a good position to start my journey along the Southern and Western coastline of the Island. Despite the mainly urban environment, there was much to see and enjoy.

One of the many Fishing Boats at Marsaxlokk

Il-Bajja ta’ Marsaxlokk (Marsaxlokk Bay) is a large, fairly sheltered body of water and, on the map, looks like a large bite that has been taken out of the South East tip of Malta. Inside the larger bay are three smaller bays. The bay containing Marsaxlokk Harbour has no separate name from the larger bay. The second, near Il-Qajjenza, is Il-Bajja ta’  San Ġorġ (St George’s Bay) The third is Il-Bajja ta’Birżebbuġa  (Birżebbuġa Bay but more commonly known as Pretty Bay).

This walk takes in all three bays, starting from the site of Malta’s famous Sunday morning fish market on Xatt tas-Sajjieda (Fisherman’s Wharf) at Marsaxlokk. We briefly leave the houses as we round Ir-Ras (“The Head”), with the impressive Fort of St Lucian, originally built by Grandmaster Wignacourt in 1611 but subsequently much extended, particularly by the British in Victorian times.

Fort St Lucian

We then return to a heavily industrial landscape as we round St George’s Bay, through the area of Il-Qajjenza. St George’s Harbour itself is quite pretty and relatively unspoiled.

Beach at Pretty Bay

The area surrounding the sandy beach at Pretty Bay has recently been refurbished to a high standard. Although the Freeport ships and cranes completely dominate the landscape the Maltese don’t let it put them off one bit. The area is very popular and always full of swimmers in the summer.

Swimmers near the Freeport

For the full story of the walk read the photo-journey.