Yacht Pipit


Macaques, Morrisons, Marks & Spencer, mosquitoes, miles of walking and Her Majesty's Diamond Jubilee - Gibraltar, 6th June 2012

How very British - a pork pie, a red ensign and Gibraltar.

Trying to make the most of our time here in La Linea means that we've done rather a good impression of 'Mad Dogs and Englishmen' by walking many miles in the hot sun. On our first foray across the frontier we visited Ocean Village and concluded that we wouldn't have been very happy there. The berths are stern-to a very high concrete quay, very public, very hot and very near the 'all day breakfast' establishments, too claustrophobic for our liking. And the view of The Rock is pretty restricted too! Queensway Marina looks nicer, but appeared to have quite a bit of surge on what was a fairly calm day. However, we really like Gibraltar and have been impressed and surprised by the variety of things to do apart from the obvious and obligatory visit to see the apes (the Barbary apes of Gibraltar are actually macaques - tailless monkeys).

On Wednesday, we walked from Alcaidesa marina to the cable car station, which must be about two miles alone. We took the cable car up to the top station with the plan to see the macaques and then take in the panoramic views as we walked to the Great Siege Tunnels. These had been highly recommended by our neighbour in the marina, a retired Master Mariner and pilot who has lived in Gibraltar for over 30 years and keeps his boat in Alcaidesa Marina. He also has a Range Rover TDV8 at the end of the pontoon, but that's another story...

Passing the middle station in the cable car on the way up.

We'd barely left the cable car when we saw our first macaques and they are very amusing, if just a little bit intimidating. We enjoyed watching them, but were careful when taking photos or walking past them as we'd seen them leap at people or snatch their food or anything the macaques thought was food! Thus follow some obligatory photos of the critters:

Gibraltarian security.

An early lunch at the café - coffee and a 'Cornish pasty' - a fresh tasty hot snack it was, but a pasty it was not.

After we had a quick lunch at the café, we set off to see the Great Siege Tunnels. Unfortunately, when we reached the entrance via the zigzagging roads which in places are poorly sign-posted, we realised that we didn't have enough £ cash for the entrance fee of £10 each, and credit cards are not accepted. At this stage we thought this rather expensive for only the Siege Tunnels. Due to the route we had walked through town, we missed the big sign at the 'drive in' entrance to the Upper Rock, which listed the attractions to which this £10 allowed you entrance. It's actually excellent value allowing entrance to all the attractions on the Upper Rock; St Michael’s Cave, the Great Siege Tunnels, the City Under Siege Exhibition, the Moorish Castle, the Apes' Den, the Mediterranean Steps, the World War II Tunnels and the old Jewish Cemetery. The confusion was due to slightly poor planning and pre-visit research on our part and partly poor sign-posting for people intrepid enough (or stupid enough in 30° C heat) to do their Rock tour on foot. Even in cooler weather there is too much to visit by foot in one day, so one of the taxi mini-bus tours might be a better bet for those in a hurry. I suppose that although we are, in effect, tourists wherever we go as cruising sailors, we aren't natural 'tourists' in terms of going into the Tourist Office for information and advice. This is something we should do more of in future, as there is so much to see and do on our travels and not all of it obvious.

Looking up to the highest point.

Incoming BA flight.

Looking across the runway to Alcaidesa Marina, Pipit in the inner basin.

Passing under the cable car as we walked - we must have passed under it a dozen times on the zigzagging roads!

Having been thwarted at our entrance to the Siege Tunnels, we headed towards the Mediterranean Steps. This had been another highly recommended thing to do, although we'd been forewarned that it was a serious walk, so hatched a plan that, having already walked several miles in the heat, we would just reccy where the start was and then return in a couple of days to actually do the walk. Poor sign-posting again meant that we walked down to the Jews' Gate and the Pillars of Hercules, but didn't see the nearby sign for the Mediterranean Steps. In some ways, this was just as well, as it turned out this was the bottom of the Steps. En route, we saw the City Under Siege exhibition, housed in what are believed to be some of the first buildings constructed by the British. There were excellent display boards about life on Gibraltar during the Great Siege which occurred from 1779-1783, and graffiti from this period remains on the walls.

Some of the original graffiti from the period of the Great Siege.

We walked back down into town, diverting via the huge Morrisons supermarket. It seemed odd to be spending £s again, but we did manage to relieve ourselves of over ninety of them, returning to the boat with a horde of treasures, most of which either clinked or had previously oinked. I should point out that not all of the clinking items were alcoholic, although the duty free prices were advantageous! We genuinely enjoy the culinary delights wherever we visit, but we do miss some 'British' delicacies such as pork pies, gammon, bacon, Cheddar cheese, Thai curry pastes and pappadums! They even had bottles of Sharpe's Doom Bar!

Our Morrisons horde of treasures.

Doom Bar across from (the) Rock.

Thursday and Friday were spent handling the domesticities and maintenance tasks of liveaboard life - me doing the washing and shopping and Andy changing the engine oil and cleaning the strainer on the seawater side of the engine (there were a couple of mussel shells in there, presumably dislodged from the sail drive leg whilst on the hard in Lagos).

Mosquitoes have been a pest since we arrived here, both of us having been bitten extensively, but an armoury of bug products, including a plug-in deterrent, seem to have kept them at bay now.

Late on Saturday morning, we set off to The Rock again, planning to walk up to the Great Siege Tunnels. Having crossed the frontier, we stopped en route take the obligatory mid-runway photograph, and here it is:

Not a Fokker in sight...

It was already quite warm but all the walking we did through the winter in Lagos must have improved our fitness because despite the steep inclines, neither of us struggled during the climb. We duly bought our £10 tickets which, incidentally, are valid only on the day of issue, so our 'bad planning' actually turned out to be good planning as we didn't have time to see everything we wanted to the other day anyway.

Firstly we visited the Moorish Castle:

Next were the Great Siege Tunnels, which we found absolutely fascinating - originally the tunnel was only 82ft long but, by the end of the Second World War, this had grown to over 30 miles! The display boards and exhibits are excellent, and the shear scale of the network of tunnels is awe-inspiring. Worth £10 all on its own, in our opinion.

Can't be too careful...

Unique cannon mounting to allow for the extreme downward angle of firing.

Ladder up to the 'Notch'.

Our navigation went slightly awry again as we tried to find St Michael's Cave, but as well as many butterflies we did spot this orchid along the way:

This time a natural phenomenon, the caves are just as impressive as the Siege Tunnels:

Concerts are staged in here - we'd have taken our instruments if we'd known...

A section cut through a fallen stalactite.

After cooling off in the caves, we tackled the Mediterranean Steps, starting here:

Fortunately these are on the east side of the Rock and it was late afternoon, so we were largely in the shade, and going downhill. It was still quite a challenge in places as the ground between sections of steps is unmade, but it afforded us great views along the Costa del Sol.

About half way down.

Having descended the steps, we still had a long walk back to Spain, and we arrived back at Pipit very hot & tired. Fortunately there was still some Doom Bar in the fridge...

On Sunday we had a 'day off' and on Monday, having established that both M&S and BHS were open despite it being a Bank Holiday we headed once more across the runway. This turned out to be a good time to go, as Main Street was very quiet, no doubt partly due to there being no cruise ships visiting. Also BHS had a 'Jubilee Sale' on, so look how much we saved! We stocked up on unmentionables, shorts and one of us bought a bikini... Well, neither of us has spent any money on clothing since before we left Plymouth two years ago! With a numerically significant birthday approaching, I'm not sure I should have bought a bikini, but maybe I've just become one of those old women who don't care anymore - or maybe I'll make sure I keep my sarong on if anyone's around! And two sarongs don't make a saright... We also had a successful diversion to Sheppard's chandlery where we spent a bit more money...

On Monday night, we listened to the Diamond Jubilee concert in London courtesy of Radio Gibraltar and from our cockpit watched the beacon on the Moorish castle being lit. Actually that was a bit disappointing, the castle floodlights masking the flames of the beacon, and at 10pm here it wasn't yet fully dark. A slightly strange experience, seeing as how we are in Spain, but we'll always remember where we were for the Queen's Diamond Jubilee.

Here's a photo taken from the same spot the next day - an effect of the Levanter blowing, perhaps nature's way of keeping the Spanish guessing...

We're sure there was a big rock there yesterday...

We've also enjoyed the output of BFBS including, last night, full length versions of Bohemian Rhapsody, Stairway to Heaven, Layla, and the complete Sgt. Pepper & Dark Side of the Moon albums, all in one program!

So what do we think of Gibraltar? Well, we had heard various reports of it being dirty, but it is no more so than many other cities. If you venture no further from the frontier or a cruise ship to Main Street, you'll have a very different impression of it than we have. Move back just one street and it's a different world; venture to the Upper Rock and the history is fascinating, the views fabulous and the flora and fauna beautiful. And if that's not enough, there's no VAT (although import duty is 12%), no CGT and no inheritance tax - we like it here...

But it's time to move on soon, Morocco beckons...