The top of the Mediterranean Steps, Gibraltar. © D. Stillingfleet


Gibraltar - The Rock

, 426m - Info | Trip Report

Mediterranean Steps :

The Rock of Gibraltar punches well above it's weight for high point of only 426m, and for a round trip that can be made in little over two hours from sea to summit and back. Stray from the tourist route and a mini adventure is in store, but first let me rewind a little.

I had come here with my wife and son two days previous with a plan. Not expecting them to walk to the top, I had figured on them enjoying a cable car to the top station and making my own way up on foot. I had not figured on the cable car being closed for essential maintenance, but it was January, and very likely the quietest time of year for tourist. Teams of minibus taxis touted for our business as I tried to persuade my family that a good walk would be great for all of us, but eventually, at the brink of a domestic incident I gave way and we handed over a princely sum to be transported up the Atlantic facing slope from one visitor site to the next; St. Michael's Cave, Ape's Den, and the Upper Galleries. The latter being a tunnel excavated in to the north facing cliff linking artificial caves dug for the placement of cannons during the 1770-83 siege. We fed the Barbary Macaques (the only apes living wild in Europe), and I confess had a good time.

Left: Pillar's of Hercules Monument. Centre: Europa Point. Right: Mediterranean Steps.
Left: Pillar's of Hercules Monument. Centre: Europa Point. Right: Mediterranean Steps.

But all this just did not count for a fanatic like myself, so two days later we returned. At two o'clock I waved my wife and son farewell as a small motor boat took them out into the Bay of Gibraltar on a dolphin spotting trip. There it was, a window of opportunity. I grabbed some lunch and most importantly some drink from the quay side Tesco's store, and made my way through the city walls into town and southwards, under the wires of the cable car, above the botanical gardens, to the pay booths marking the entrance to the Upper Rock Nature Reserve, the gate otherwise known as the Jew's Gate. Here I passed the tourist who, like ourselves only days earlier, were looking our across the Straits to the coastline of North Africa, and taking photos of the bronze "Pillars of Hercules" monument.

Thus far I had followed the road through a hillside covered in a smothering, dried lava like carpet of cement. The views had all been westward, out over the docks, the warships, pleasure craft and dolphins watchers. But from now on I would tread on less known ground. The "Mediterranean Steps" path began behind a hut at the Jew's Gate and at first contour through the reclaiming vegetation above Point Europa. Below, unseen persons shot at targets out to sea, their gun fire echoing amongst the crags. A myriad of gulls soared high on the breeze, squawking cries so human that for a while I was certain that I was not alone on the path, that at any minute, coming round the next corner, I would meet a party of walkers, a family, children calling and shouting. I never did, that path was deserted.

Left: Mediterranean Steps. Centre: Goat's Hair Cave. Right: Tunnel Enterance.
Left: Mediterranean Steps. Centre: Goat's Hair Cave. Right: Tunnel Enterance.

There are steps, many of them. But before these came an uncertain path with a few false lines, perhaps means by which to explore the military lookouts and gun placements nesting in the limestone. For a few minutes I attempted to follow a misguiding terrace, with hindsight I dare not now call it a path, up a scree slope. I though better of it and headed downwards on an equally misguiding and dangerous path. Despite the exposure and crumbling steps the latter proved to be the correct way, and so it was that I arrived at a second junction, a wall, and a rusted and bent metal signpost. Certainly no one was caring for the pathway and in parts of the western world it would have been closed for safety and fear of lawsuits. Here, it was as if the signposts had been meddled with to confuse an invading army, and then everyone had left, never to return in the last fifty years. The rusting sign read "Mediterranean Steps" and pointed downwards. This was absolutely ridiculous so I figured that I would head on up. What the Hell, if I was wrong the steps could not go far, and I would just double back. Climbing higher I approached two caves, a handy sign informing me that these were the "Goats Hair Caves". Assuming that here the path ended, I was ready to turn and descend back down the rocky staircase when I noticed that the stairs continue further across the exposed rock. Having investigated the shallow caves for signs of goat or any such likeness to the beast, I continued on up towards the tall concrete walls of a pumping station, and here again it appeared I had reached a dead-end. I could hardly have been blamed for thinking this, crags towered all around, and other than a short level terrace, there was nowhere else to go but back down. But there to the right lay salvation, a dark tunnel carved into the cliff face. Dark tunnels and salvation may not usually be put together in the same sentence, but indeed this was the case. A short distance later I emerged in the sunshine and on a series of once wide trails built for the manoeuvring of weaponry and provisions between the many gun placements and observation posts, remnants of world war two now neglected.

Pillar's of Hercules Monument, Europa Point, Mediterranean Path
Left: Mediterranean Steps. Centre: Lookout. Right: Seagull

A crumbling flight of steps provided final ascent. Zig followed zag, followed zig, hanging step after hanging step. Surely it would not be long before it all tumbled into the blue waters of the Med. Perhaps it was only the plants that held it in place, certainly they seemed just as much a part of the pathway as the rocks themselves, perhaps more permanent. Yet unsurprisingly I made it to the top, hitting the ridgeline in cloud. I've seen pictures of the views on a clear day, indeed I was nearby on such a day, and for that I was content. A quick photo of grey cloud and white rock (if not for the aerials and installations this could have been any high mountain), and I was on to O'Hara's Battery, the Rock's highest point. Access to this point is restricted, a fence surrounds the gun placement and out buildings. I stood a while on the road at the gate, calling, hoping that someone there might let me in. Was this to be Cyprus all over again? No answer. There were a few tourist about, and they had seemed to have found a way in. There seemed nothing to loose and a few minutes later this mighty pillar was in the bag. Now for the decent.

Left: Top of the Mediterranean Steps. Centre: Site of O'Hara's Battery. Right: King Charles V Wall.
Left: Top of the Mediterranean Steps. Centre: Site of O'Hara's Battery. Right: King Charles V Wall.

I took the single track road for speed and through apparent lack of choice. Passed the entrance of St. Michael's Caves, went under the cable car route, to a feeding place of the apes and though the gate in the mighty King Charles V Wall. Had I not descended so eagerly, and instead taken the ridge top road, I would have been able to taken the stairs that run along this wall. I contemplated heading back up, but knew the dolphin watching would soon be finished so continued down the road to a walkers path near the Devil's Gap Battery. The path led to the top of town and proper steps, then roads, family and dinner in a sun blessed Grand Casement Square.