Baħrija-Mtaħleb Circuit

This was a circular Harrison Lewis walk from Baħrija and was led by Brian and Sue.

Site of Bronze Age settlement at Il-Qlejgħa

We visited the site of the bronze age village at the crag of Il-Qlejħa before lunching with fantastic views over the Wied Miġra l-Ferħa to the sea. Then on to the clifftop Mtaħleb chapel after passing a Roman quarry at Tal-Merħla. We returned by an inland route past the masts of Wied Rini maritime radio station.

Roman Quarry at Tal-Merħla

A very enjoyable walk in excellent company, it was particularly interesting for me as it lies on the route of the next stage of my own Malta circumnavigation walk.

Around Wardija

The Harrison Lewis walking group is a small group of walkers in Malta, limited in size so that numbers on any walk rarely exceed the teens. They are named after the group’s founder, Harrison Lewis, who is often erroneously referred to as a former “American ambassador to Malta”. In fact he pre-dated the first formal ambassador. Until 1964 Malta had been a British possession. Malta gained full independence on September 21, 1964. The United States recognized the new nation and established full diplomatic relations on September 21, 1964, with Harrison Lewis as Chargé d’Affaires ad interim until George J Feldman presented his credentials as the United States’ first Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary on 5th October 1965. Harrison Lewis, a retired Foreign Service officer, died on December 21, 1986 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina

I joined the Harrison Lewis group for a circular walk from Burmarrad via Wardija hilltop village. This was my first group walk since arriving in Malta and was very enjoyable. Everyone made me feel very welcome and the time seemed to fly by.

Walking with a group is rather different from the solo walking that I have become used to. I found myself cheerily chatting to other members of the group only to find that five minutes had gone by without me noticing anything about my surroundings!

This particular walk introduced me to an interesting rural part of Malta that I had not previously visited and I shall certainly go back there again.

A Chameleon on the Path

We met at 9:45am in the car park of Scott’s supermarket in Burmarrad and set off along the main road towards Buġibba. After a short time we turned left along a track and began a gradual climb up to the hilltop of Ġebel Għawżara, occasionally turning onto a different or occasionally leaving tracks behind and skirting the edges of fields.

In the middle of one of the tracks we found a good-sized chameleon which was very lucky not be be trodden on before someone spotted it.

Soon we reached the top of Ġebel Għawżara, with spectacular views over St Paul’s Bay. It was very interesting to see the gun emplacements, dating, I assumed, from the Second World War period.

View over St Paul's Bay

We then descended down a rough path to Wied Qannotta and up to the Wardija road.  We circumnavigated the hilltop in a clockwise direction stopping for lunch above the cliffs which lie under the Wardija Hilltop Village development of 25 apartments. The latter are built in the style of a traditional Maltese village and fit quite well into the landscape.

After lunch we passed the Castello Sultan tas-Sultan. It is known as Tas-Sultan, in remembrance of Grand Master Ramon Perellos y Roccaful for whom this was his favourite spot on the Island. Castello Sultan is one of Jaqui’s favourite houses on the Island. It is currently the private home of Count Alfred Manduca. The chapel attached to the house dates from the time of Roccaful and is dedicated to the Madonna tal-Abbandunati (Madonna of the Abandoned).

Wardija Hilltop Village

We then made our way back down to Burmarrad.

Malta Circumnavigation Day 6: Għar Lapsi to Dingli Cliffs

It was a long but fairly gentle climb from Għar Lapsi to the Il-Fawwara (“Spring”) road. We could have stayed on the road all the way but elected to skirt the quarry above  Ix-Xaqqa (“The Cut”) cove and use the track which runs directly up the side of the hill.

Ix-Xaqqa Cove

The Il-Fawwara road is very pleasant to walk along. Since it is a dead end it’s very quiet and we met only the occasional hunting party and a postman. There are interesting cliffs above and great views out to sea below.

A Garden on the Il-Fawwara Road

There are some nice, isolated houses and two interesting chapels along the road the Kappella tal-Lunzjata (Annunciation Chapel) and the “underground” chapel dedicated to our Lady of Mount Carmel.

The Underground Chapel

At the end of the road there is a dramatic winding track leading up to the high ground above Rdum Dikkiena (“Stone Bench Cliffs”). This is a satisfying route as to travel from Għar Lapsi to Dingli Cliffs by road involves a major detour inland.

View back from the zig-zag path.

Once on top we joined the road which skirts Dingli Cliffs to reach the highest point in Malta at the radar station (253m). We stopped on the way for a look at the Magdalena Chapel perched on a cliff edge.

Rdum Dikkiena

We finished at the Dingli Coastal Surveillance Station from where we walked over to Dingli village to catch the bus to Rabat. A very pleasant walk.

Highest point in Malta.

For the full story read the photo-journey.

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.

Malta Circumnavigation Day 2: Marsaskala to Marsaxlokk

I did this walk in mid-June when it’s beginning to get a bit too hot for walking. I was on my way by 7:00am but was overheating by the time I arrived at my destination about four hours later.

Early morning start in Marsaskala

I have a soft spot for Marsaskala, since it was where we stayed during our first visit to Malta in 2005. Nowadays it has its critics and it has to be admitted that there is a slight run-down air to the place. In particular, the Jerba Palace hotel, which occupies such a prominent position on the South point of Marsaskala Bay, is a gloomy and derelict shell. The harbour though, is still very pretty, albeit it would be nice to see more of the colourful Maltese boats on the empty moorings.

The Il-Munxar ("compass saw") headland

There are no sandy beaches in this area of Malta but there are many very  inviting swimming spots along this rocky coast. Malta has the second  cleanest coastal waters in the EU with only Cyprus having a slightly  higher score. Of the 87 swimming locations on the island where  measurements were taken, 83 were rated as “Excellent”, 3 as “Good”and  only 1 as “sufficient”. (Incidentally the one rated as sufficient is at  Ta’ Barkat, which we passed on Day 1. With the new processing plant and  the new pipeline emptying inert water 1 kilometer out to sea, this will  probably move to “Excellent” by next year.)

Il-Ħofra l-Kbira - "The Big Hole"

Once out of Marsaskala and past St Thomas’ Bay, there are some wonderful stretches of coastline, all the way down to Delimara Point, with Il-Ħofra l-Kbira and Il-Ħofra ż-Żgħira (the “big and little holes”) being highlights.

Malta Freeport at Birżebbuġa

After Delimara Point, it was then the full-on industry of South East Malta, with dramatic views of the Delimara Power Station and the massive Malta Freeport at Birżebbuġa. Sandwiched between these two gigantic plants lay my destination, the attractive fishing village and harbour of  Marsaxlokk.

Marsaxlokk Harbour

See here for full details in the photo-journey.

 

Round Għajn Tuffieħa

I dropped Jaqui off at the Radisson hotel in Golden Bay. She was visiting the spa for a “beauty session” so I took the opportunity for a walk around the area of Għajn Tuffieħa.

Looking out of Ġnejna Bay. Slopes of Il-Karrabar to the right.

Għajn Tuffieħa literally translates as “Eye Apple” so I guess could be loosely said to mean “Apple of the Eye”. Alternatively “Għajn” can also mean a “spring” rather than “eye”. (Update: Reader A Puli, in a comment on another post, writes “It is true that Għajn is spring and Tuffieħa is an apple. But it is incorrect to translate it as Apple’s Spring. This is because the name Tuffieħa is also an arabic name written “tofiħa” So it was a spring that belonged to Tofiha. The name of this bay dates back to the Arabic period.”)

Whichever translation, it is indeed a very attractive area, consisting of three separate bays, Golden Bay, Għajn Tuffieħa Bay and Ġnejna Bay, each of which has a very different character from the others. They are separated by two headlands, one the striking Il-Karraba and the other containing a fine lookout tower, one of the five commissioned by Grandmaster Juan de Lascaris-Castellar between 1637 and 1640. These towers are known as the “Lascaris Towers: and predate the great siege of 1565.

We will be coming through this area again on the circumnavigation of Malta, but this is a nice foretaste. See the captions on the photo-journey for more details.

Għajn Tuffieħa Tower

Malta Circumnavigation Day 1: Fort Ricasoli to Marsascala

This was the first leg of the 2011 project which is to circumnavigate Malta on foot, in a clockwise direction, keeping as close to the coast as possible.

Fort Ricasoli from the air

Paddy Dillon, in his book “Walking in Malta” recommends skipping this section of coastline since it is rather uninspiring and marred by debris and fly-tipping. Since I have plenty of time to complete the whole circumnavigation there are no excuses for leaving any sections out! In the event it wasn’t too bad, except for one formidable obstacle which wasn’t there in 2004 when Paddy’s book was published.

I would have liked to start from inside Fort Ricasoli which guards the Eastern side of the entrance to the Grand Harbour. (Its much better-known counterpart, Fort St Elmo, guards the Western side.) Fort Ricasoli was built by the Knights of St John between 1670 and 1693 and covers a large area of about 17 Acres. It is in quite an advanced state of decay but has been much used as a film set. It was used in movies such as Troy, Gladiator and Agora and also more recently in the HBO production Game of Thrones.

Fort Ricasoli is however closed to the public so I had to content myself with photos of the entrance gate and the bastions. I’m not sure what goes on in there nowadays but the security guard on the gate didn’t seem keen even on my taking photographs.

Entrance to Fort Rinella

From there I walked up the hill to the next fort, Rinella, which is a very different beast. It was built in the Victorian era to house a single gun, the massive 100-ton Armstrong gun which is on display there. The fort is recessed into the ground to provide camouflage and to protect it from return fire from approaching ships.

Next door are the Mediterranean film studios which provide massive tanks which can be used for maritime scenes, including underwater filming.

Once past the studios I was expecting to skirt the third fort, St. Rocco, and carry on along the coast. However the way was obstructed by the massive development of the SmartCity, a joint project between the Maltese government and a Dubai-based company. The security guards gave me permission to walk down to the site to take some photos, but, without jumping the wall, there was no way through. I retraced my steps, bid farewell to Jaqui who had kept the car there in case it was needed, and headed inland. It took about half an hour to get to the other side of the the SmartCity site!

Commonwealth War Graves, Kalkara

One piece of good fortune was that my detour enabled me to visit the Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery between Kalkara and Zabbar. Eventually I rejoined the coast at Xghajra. Even here I ended up in a farmyard through attempting to head coastwards too soon (as evidenced by photograph of a horse on the photo journey).

Salt pans at Xghajra

Xghajra is a rather pleasant, unpretentious little coastal resort which isn’t on the main tourist trail and is used more by locals. Once out of town I hit the countryside proper and had a very enjoyable amble along the rocky coast, passing various fortifications, some dating from the time of the Knights and some from the Second World War. I finally arrived at Zonqor Point from where buildings are encountered again and continue all the way into Marsascala.

Marsascala Bay

Marsascala bay and harbour are very attractive and made for a nice end to the walk. A bus appeared just as I was approaching the bus stop so in my haste I didn’t manage to photograph the actual end of the walk. I’ll remedy this next time at the start of Day 2. See here for the photo journey and don’t forget to read the captions!

On the buses

Rabat to Mosta Dome via Chadwick Lakes

The eagle-eyed may have noticed a change to the sub-title of this blog. “The British Isles” has been changed to “Britain & Malta” since we are now, of course, living in Malta.


Triq Iz-Zondadari, Rabat

My very first walk on the island was an inland one, from our home in the village of Rabat to the town of Mosta with its famous domed church. The route was not direct, but first curved round the Mtarfa ridge then down the Fiddien valley, by Chadwick Lakes and L’Isperanza gorge. This was a total distance of 7.25Km (yes we are fully metric now! – we’ve even set the satnav on metric distances.)

It was a beautiful, sunny spring morning and, after leaving Rabat, I hardly met a soul on the whole journey until climbing out of L-Isperanza valley into Mosta.

The beginning of the walk, through Rabat, reinforced the correctness of our decision to live in a true Maltese village, away from the main tourist trail – although I did encounter a few early bird tourists as I passed St Paul’s Church and the grotto where he is said to have lived during his sojourn in Malta.


Spring water levels in Chadwick Lakes

Chadwick Lakes, in the Wied Tal-Qlejgha, are not actually lakes but a series of surface-water catchments designed by the great Victorian sanitary engineer, Osbert Chadwick. They are no longer in use but serve as a habitat for wildlife and also as a favourite Sunday afternoon recreation area for the Maltese community.

The last third of the walk was through the Wied L-Isperanza (Valley of Hope) a dramatic off-road approach to Mosta. It was quite overgrown and the walking was tedious at times although not difficult. The valley  is the scene of a famous Maltese legend about a young, terrified Mosta girl who was fleeing up the valley from invading corsairs.


L-Isperanza Gorge

She hid herself in a cave, praying to Our Lady for help. A spider finished spinning its web across the opening of the cave resulting in the pirates not bothering to check inside.  The site of the cave is now a grotto (see photo-journey) over which was built the baroque Chapel of Our Lady of Hope in 1760.

On arriving in Mosta I settled on a bench to devour a well-earned banana when I saw that my bus was about to leave! Hence no photo of the bus until after my arrival back in Rabat.

This was a great start to what I hope will be many enjoyable walks on the Island. See the photo-journey which has explanatory captions.