Gibraltar: Running around the rock

On my final day here the weather was beautiful, and I had a few hours to kill before my flight home. So I checked out of the hotel, grabbed my rucksack and went to explore The Rock.

11:14 – I started by taking the cable car to the top of the Rock. For the first time all week I had sunshine and a cloudless sky

11:24 – Standing on the middle terrace of the cable car Top Station, at 412m above sea level. I got clear views here across the Bay of Gibraltar to Algeciras on the other side.

11:26 – On the upper terrace (there’s three) looking North. This is one of the few places I got to see both sides of Gibraltar at the same time.

On the lower right here is part of the Great Gibraltar Sand dune, formed by sand accumulating again the side of the Rock.

11:36 – Sandy Bay, one of Gibraltar’s 6 beaches.

The original beach here was eroded by the weather so tens of thousands of tonnes of sand were imported from the Sahara to replenish it. The two curved sea walls were built with a submerged breakwater between them to prevent further erosion.

11:45 – Looking south from one of the macaque feeding stations at the top of the Rock. On the horizon at the right-hand side you can see Morocco, it’s only about 15 miles from here.

11:48 – One of my favourite photos in Gibraltar. I watched these two playing and chasing each other for about 10 minutes.

12:09 – Near the southern end of the Rock I came across another old fortification. This ‘window’ gives a pretty dramatic view over the East Side of Gibraltar, showing why only 2% of the population live on this side.

It’s also clear how sands have been swept up against the side of the Rock to form a dune, rocks fall off the cliffs and add to its height.

12:35 – Looking down over the town and Bay of Gibraltar. There’s a lot of ships here: Gibraltar is the largest bunkering (fuelling) port in the Mediterranean.

13:09 – Looking down the Charles V Wall. Built in the mid-1500’s by the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, it runs from the top of the Rock down towards the harbour.

The wall has steps and a railing so it’s possible to walk it. Just keep an eye out for monkeys: they don’t like being cornered!

13:15 – Moving further down the Rock I started following the Royal Anglian Way footpath and came across the Windsor Suspension Bridge. It opened in 2016 with a span of 71m, the gorge below is 50m deep.

For those who don’t fancy it, there’s also the path around the outside that I’m shooting from. It’s not as fun though.

13:20 – The next stop is Ape’s Den and it did not disappoint. Straight away I ran into these guys grooming in the sun.

13:31 – The cable car station just above Ape’s Den, this is also the point the two cars cross.

13:52 – A little further along I found Tovey Battery, built to cover the western side of Gibraltar.

The guns have been removed now but standing on the concrete emplacements provides a good view over the town below.

13:58 – Almost as far north as I can go.

The oval-shaped pitch on the lower right is Victoria Stadium, used by the Gibraltar national football team. The far goal is only about 150m from the runway, and the other pitches are even closer.

14:05 – An ape near the Great Siege Tunnels.

Almost every macaque I’ve seen here appears to be deep in thought…

14:54 – Backlit flags outside the Military Heritage Centre

16:07 – My final shot from Gibraltar, on my way to the airport. Gibraltar is small enough that even with luggage, it’s easy to walk the mile or so from my hotel to the airport.

It had been overcast and misty for most of my time here but today was easily the best day. I’m glad that I had an evening flight so I had the whole day to enjoy it and get some awesome shots.

I took over 700 photographs today, more than the rest of the week combined. I also walked 32km in a territory that’s only about 5km long end to end 😀


Gibraltar

In November 2017 I spent a few days in Gibraltar, a tiny British Overseas Territory on the southern coast of Spain.

The peninsula (it shares a land border with Spain) was ceded to the British in 1713. It squeezes 30,000 people into a land area of just over two and a half square miles, giving it the 5th highest population density of any territory in the world.

Here are some of my highlights.

Gibraltar airport

View of the Great Gibraltar Sand Dune shortly before landing.

Gibraltar has one of the weirdest airports in the world. The lack of flat land means the airport is located on the isthmus between the Rock and the Spanish border. The western end of the runway sticks out over half a kilometer into the Mediterranean.

Even at the eastern end where I landed, less than 100 meters separate the runway from the waves. This means you only fly over dry land a few seconds before touchdown.

Another unusual thing about this airport is that the only road to the border (Winston Churchill Avenue) runs across the runway. As you can see here the cars are stopped by traffic lights whenever planes arrive or depart. Only a handful of flights a day land here but I still saw massive tailbacks towards the town.

After leaving the airport I got to walk across the runway to get to the main part of town (and my hotel), certainly a new experience for me.

My first proper view of the Rock after getting off the plane.

The other side of the airport is a military base: RAF Gibraltar. No aircraft are routinely based there and it seemed pretty quiet during my visit.

Cable car

The cable car in Gibraltar was built in 1966 and takes about 6 minutes to travel from the base station to the Top of the Rock. There’s also a middle station at Apes Den (the best place to find macaque’s) but it was closed during my visit.

My ticket for the cable car also gave me access to the nature reserve and the sites on the Upper Rock. The general idea is that you take the cable car to the top and then walk back to town, though you can make a return trip down if you wish.

A big benefit to visiting Gibraltar is winter is that it was pretty quiet, although I did spend some time dodging a cruise ship full of tourists visiting the Upper Rock by taxi.

St. Michael’s Cave

According to legend, the Barbary macaques came to Gibraltar through a tunnel from Morocco that exits deep in St. Michael’s Cave. Although the cave isn’t quite that big, it’s certainly impressive.

Prepared as a hospital in WWII (although it was never needed) nowadays the main chamber is used as an auditorium for concerts.

There was no event going on the day I visited, but there was recorded classical music and a light show that made the cave even more impressive.

In the ‘backstage’ part of the caves are more dramatic rock formations. These stalactites were formed by water dripping from the Rock above and dissolving the limestone.

Devil’s Gap battery

Because of its strategic location, Gibraltar has a lot of fortifications. I came across Devil’s Gap Battery a third of the way up the western side of the Rock. There’s been an artillery battery here for a couple of hundred years, although it’s not seen action for quite a while.

The current two guns were installed in 1902 and sank a German submarine in 1917, the only action seen by Gibraltar’s guns in WWI.

Great Siege Tunnels

At the very northern edge of the Rock, I entered the Great Siege Tunnels, these were dug out during the Great Siege of Gibraltar in the 18th century. They were dug to cover a blind spot and allowed the British to fire down on the Spanish below.

Considering they were dug out by hand the tunnels are huge, although fairly steep and they could be quite low, I had to duck to get through the lower parts.

Holes are periodically cut into the rock for cannon and ventilation, they give some fantastic views over the airport and Spanish border.

The Spanish were so close that a new type of gun carriage had to be invented in order to shoot at them. Seen here in this reconstruction, the Koehler Depressing Carriage allows the cannon to fire downwards.

This is the largest chamber in the tunnels: St. George’s Hall, equipped with 7 cannons.

At the very end of the tunnels, I came across this lookout and mortar emplacement, which was built in WWII when the tunnels were extended.

Moorish Castle

One of my favourite parts of Gibraltar is the Moorish Castle. The most prominent part of the castle is the Tower of Homage (seen here from Queen Charlottes Battery), it was rebuilt in the 14th century after being heavily damaged when the Moors retook Gibraltar from the Spanish.

The top of the castle provided a spectacular view over the town.

At night the tower is painted in light and stands out like a purple beacon from the lower town.

Macaque’s

Some of Gibraltar’s most famous residents are the 300 strong Barbary Macaque’s, the only wild monkeys in Europe. They live in 5 troops around the Rock and are fed and looked after by the government.

They’re also opportunistic little buggers and have gained a bit of a reputation.

I leaned against a railing at the top cable car station and one climbed onto my rucksack. Luckily for me, the clasps were too hard for him and I gently tipped him off.

Another legend of Gibraltar is that as long as the macaques live here: the territory will remain British. This was taken so seriously that when the numbers fell during WWII, Winston Churchill himself ordered more to be imported from North Africa.