We start our day with breakfast on a rock wall overlooking the Mediterranean. I cook up onions, tomatoes, mushrooms and ham, allowing them to simmer into a sauce before I scramble eggs. It’s delicious and the perfect breakfast to enjoy with such a view.
The drive to Gibraltar is largely unremarkable. We take the toll road so as to avoid the slow going through the beach side tourist hotspots that mark Spain’s Mediterranean coast. And then, there it is, the Rock. We’re both quite stunned at how high it is. It’s quite daunting to think we are about to hike up to the top; all 426m of it.
But first we have to pass through immigration because Gibraltar is part of Great Britain, not Spain. Immigration barely look at our passports as we flash them. It’s probably because we are Australian so do not require any visa to enter the UK. Once across the border it’s clear that we’re not in Spain anymore. Everything is different. Signs are in English. Prices are Pound Stirling, there’s red post boxes and red phone booths with the symbols of the British Crown emblazoned on them. Restaurants sell greasy British pub food, supermarkets advertise British products and the policemen are bobbies.
At Customs a woman looks at me with disbelief when I tell her we will walk to the top of the Rock instead of taking a tourist bus. “It’s 9km” she says. “No worries” is my response. She doesn’t look impressed but it is her job to sell tickets on the bus, especially because the cablecar isn’t operating today. We don’t know exactly where the path to the top leaves but find a sign in the middle of the town. The sign leads up some steps and it makes sense to just follow.
The steps lead to a road that promises to climb all the way to the top of the Rock. It goes past the Moorish Castle where a British flag flies proudly on the roof. We decide not to enter because it is already after 1pm and we don’t quite know how long the climb will take. It costs 1 Euro or 50p to walk up the Rock of Gibraltar. The cost for a car, minibus or cable car is much higher. If you take the road, the cashier is at the Moorish Castle.
Unsurprisingly the road climbs ever upward. There is no relief at all from the ascent. But this is okay because we’re both quite fit and don’t struggle at all with the effort. It’s just a lovely day out walking.
And the views from the road are absolutely breathtaking. You can see the the town of Gibraltar laid out in front of you and the shipping port is in full swing. Every turn in the road brings yet more views.
It couldn’t be a more perfect day for hiking up a mountain. The sun is shining, a gentle breeze is blowing and the air is crisp.
Large terns call constantly, filling the air with their song. It is the sound of the sea and makes the Rock feel so exotic to me. It’s a sound I’ve heard often on movies and other soundtracks but never for myself.
Three-quarters of the way up the road we come to the famous monkeys of Gibraltar. It is said that Gibraltar will remain British as long as the monkeys live on the Rock. I don’t know how true this is nor do I support a colonial world. But it’s an interesting story and the monkeys are funny to watch. We have no trouble from them; though it is also said they do try to steal food from many travelers passing through.
This point of the road is also the narrowest part of the Rock. It’s like a razor-back with a steep drop down to the sea on the east. There’s a plaque telling the story of some Spanish shepherds who scaled this very cliff in an attempt to take back the territory for Spain. They were captured by the British and imprisoned, and the path they used was destroyed to prevent followers.
From here the summit is shrouded in cloud and mystique.
The Mediterranean Steps lead down the eastern side of the Rock from the summit. They are steep and narrow. We set off down them, stopping not on a concrete step cut into the cliffs to eat lunch with a view.
Just as the road led ever upwards, the Steps lead ever down. The views aren’t as good as those on the way up because there’s too much mist.
But the views back up the Rock’s steep cliffs more than make up for the mist. It’s as huge as it looked from a distance. I feel so small here. Nature is so immense.
While there’s few views into the distance over the sea, we can take in the ships waiting outside the harbour for their turn to load or unload. There are so many ships here. But then, the harbour is large and busy with ships. I’ve read it’s a tax haven, so perhaps this is why.
The walk down is gorgeous with the cliffs and ships and also the flowers that are in bloom. They add more colour to the green, blue and grey world of the Rock.
At the base of the steps we follow a narrow overgrown path around the point of the rock and down to the road. There’s a carpark here that allows people to talk just 1.5km each way up the steps to the top of the Rock instead of walking the 5km up the road from the border and then back from the carpark to the border. But then you do need to negotiate Immigration both to Gibraltar and back into Spain with your car.
Then we walk back across the airport tarmac (there’s a commercial airport runway to cross between Customs and the town of Gibraltar) and into Spain. Again, Customs don’t care to look up for our passports so through we go. Our hike from where we parked the car has taken about four hours.