Thursday, March 12, 2009

A Bit of British (Gibraltar)

I was asked by a friend planning a trip to Europe whether a visit to Gibraltar was worthwhile, whether I treated Gibraltar as a travel wonder. It made me reflect on my two visits on this tiny territory held by the British since the Spanish yielded it in the early 1700s.

Entering Gibraltar from Spain, the famed Rock of Gibraltar stands in front of you, majestically standing guard over the once strategic waterways on Europe's border. Bizarrely, you cross the runway for the airport and stroll a kilometre of so and you are in the main street (Queensway) of the country. In that short distance, visitors change from paella, tapas and fine riojas to fish and chips and pints of ale; from Euros to pounds and can again be acquainted with several well known English high street chains.

Before indulging too much, the highlight of Gibraltar is walking (or driving or cable-car for those looking for an easier path) up the rock and enjoying the views. As you walk up the rock, pay a thought to the numerous kilometres of both natural caves and man-made tunnels which thread through this limestone monolith. Past the elegant botanic gardens (see top photo) is St Michael's Cave is richly decorated with elegant lighting and worth a quick detour half way up the climb.

Most visible up the climb are the symbol of Gibraltar, the Barbary Apes (technically Barbary macaques), tail-less monkeys which both entertain with their precocious nature and infuriate with their bold thieving from inattentive tourists. They'll happily snaffle items from handbags, backpacks and straight from unsuspecting hands. Cute babies cling to their parent's stomachs as they race around the rock walls.

Towards the top as the road turns back on itself is the Moorish Castle with its distinct Tower of Homage flying the Union Jack and the long snaking walls down almost to sea level. Though much has been reconstructed, elements of the castle are over 1200 years old. The whole of the upper area of the rock is preserved as a nature reserve.

The very southern tip of Gibraltar is Europa Point where you can view the busy shipping of the narrow entrance to the Mediterranean and on a clear day, the continent of Africa. A lighthouse, mosque and church share this stunning vista.

Gnawing into my fish and chips at The Angry Friar on the main road and rinsed down with a pint of ale, Gibraltar seems a strange anachronism in modern Europe. The population are fiercely protective of their British status (as shown in recent referenda) and so Gibraltar is likely to stay in this form for many years to come. As for a visit, I personally wouldn't travel too far out of my way, but if you are heading to Africa or nearby in Spain, it makes for a different and pleasant one day journey to enjoy the views, the antics of the Barbary Apes, a touch of history and a small feel of a gentler, comfortable Britain.

Other British Posts
Soaking Up Culture (Bath)
Half-Timbered Houses (Lavenham)


madeira said...

seems bizarre to find a small piece of the UK in such a alien environment - ie sun and no rain!

Earl John said...

great post showing the tourist attraction of the place and other information to convince the traveler to visit the place.

Earl John said...

great post showing the tourist attraction of the place and other information to convince the traveler to visit the place.

GMG said...

Hi Matt!
Interesting post! Gibraltar is somehow a mystery... ;)

Blogtrotter has Akbar’s capital city for you. Enjoy and have a great weekend!

Barbara @ Hole In The Donut Travels said...

I've been to Gibraltar and found it fascinating. I was especially tickled when the gate came down across the main road so that the plane could land!

Mark H said...

@madeira: It is sun and no rain. Hadn't thought of that angel...

@earl john and @gmg: Thank you

@barbara: I think the whole runway thing is weird. I also watched a plane land - the idea of the runway basically closing your main street takes some getting used to. I guess a runway takes up a lot of space in a small country like Gibraltar.

Cuckoo said...

I have heard about this place but the idea of gate opening there is a little scary. The error factor I meant..

But it would have been fun to watch it.

Caucasus Trekking said...

Very good travel blog and quality content, thanks for sharing,
greetings from Gudauri ski hotels

wrinklie said...

Watch out for the apes! I was given a tour of the Rock by a local who had a big piece of one of his ears bitten off by an ape.
It's a strange place, very British but very sunny.

Mark H said...

@cuckoo: It seems to work out

@caucasus trekking: Thank you

@wrinklie: Great name. Ear bitten off sounds a bit dangerous. The apes did seem aggressive when I was there too, especially sighting food.

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