The Mediterranean Steps – Gibraltar.
On a bright, crisp spring day there is nothing more exhilarating than a climb up the Mediterranean Steps in Gibraltar. Beware though this is not for the unfit or faint-hearted. The steps undertook some major refurbishment in 2007 and the opening path is modern, fenced and very easy to navigate, lulling you into a false sense of security.
At the start you can still make out the slight thrum of the traffic but the noise rapidly fades and, within minutes, the sounds of nature take over. Sea birds squawk with hysterical laughter and the seagulls respond with high-pitched squeals. Then moments later all you can hear is the distant sound of the ocean which is a dazzling turquoise expanse interspersed with diamond-white flecks spread out beneath you.
As the path zigzags up the rock and quickly loses its man-made feel, ancient trees stretch ghostly limbs skywards and there is a plethora of wild flowers – some of which are unique to the Rock and, therefore, quite rare. Keep climbing, taking care on the well-worn rocks which can be quite slippery at times, and the remains of military defences manifest themselves quite unexpectedly; here an abandoned hook fastened to a wall, there a rusty water pipe snaking up the rock.
Stop to catch your breath and to take the opportunity to look out across the sea; on a clear day Africa is quite clear and looks almost close enough to touch. Beneath the township and military base are spread out as if laid on a picnic blanket and the luxuriant undergrowth, with its vast range of greens, along with the contrasting cobalt of the sea is almost more than your eyes can absorb.
Stumble next into one of the caves that are scattered throughout the rock and feel the cool, unchanging air. Strange snails, spiders and other insects live here but this hasn’t stopped other visitors leaving their signatures on the walls!
Passing next through one of the many, many tunnels cut into the Rock, and rounding a slight bend, you are confronted by an arched exit; the small rocks and shingle that make up the pathway glint in the afternoon sun. An almost otherworldly feeling washes over you as you imagine frolicking fairies and pesky pixies.
As you emerge into the sunlight and a startled lizard scurries across your path, the birds begin their uproarious laughing again. Take the chance to spot the rare, yellow-legged seagull as it perches on a disused building that is almost hidden in the foliage. Butterflies too, fluttering about, seemingly tranquil but, in reality, never really resting in their incessant search for sustenance.
The end of the climb is nearing and the sea and land below look far, far away. Stand now and look back at the steps disappearing away below you, pat yourself quietly on the back at your achievement and relish in the sights and sounds you have beheld. The Rock of Gibraltar really is a magical place.