Gibraltar – The Last Bastion of Empire
Whatever you may think of Gibraltar itself, nobody can deny that it is a fascinating place due to its history, geography, culture and unique status within the EC. The passengers on cruise liners calling at Gib have less than a day to explore The Rock. Most make it no further than Main Street. To fully appreciate Gib can take many days The Great Planet Official Store , weeks and some make it a life’s work. I hope this short offering, that takes you to places not often visited by tourists, will encourage more people to open their eyes to what Gib has to offer.
There is only one road into Gibraltar from the border. Whether you opt to drive or walk, after going through customs (don’t forget your passport), you will go over the airfield runway. The original runway was built during the second world war and has been extended a number of times since. It is still in use as an RAF base, host to naval aircraft and for civilian flights. From here you can appreciate the Rock itself, a massive, almost sheer, limestone buttress. The caves you see, used as defensive gun positions, are the ends of the miles of tunnels excavated since the British gained Gibraltar in 1713. An entire city is hidden within the rock.
The town is entered through one of the gates through the massive walls built during the 18th and 19th Centuries. In those times the sea came right up to the walls, all the land outside the walls has been reclaimed over two centuries.
Walk up Main Street to the square just before Marks and Spencers and take the small alley at the top right hand side of the square that leads to the Gibraltar Museum. For £2 from 10am to 6pm Monday to Friday and 10am to 2pm on Saturdays you can discover the fauna, flora, history, geography and, through an excellent film, the geology, of Gibraltar. The museum itself appears small from the outside but is a rabbit warren of small rooms within. There is so much packed in that one visit is never enough.
From the museum return to Main Street and turn right. Walk up the street and you will soon see Governors House on the right. On occasional Saturdays at noon the changing of the guard ceremony takes place here with all the pomp and ceremony the Brits are renowned for. This ceremony used to take place every Saturday but security measures in 2005 were introduced and the dates of the ceremony are not announced so it’s a case of being lucky.
One smaller ceremony that does happen at noon every Saturday starts at Casemates Square at the lower end of Main Street. Nine volunteers in 18th Century Infantry uniforms, to the sound of fife and drum, march up Main Street turn around and march back again for a well earned pint. The statement they are making is pretty obvious. Notice the smallest volunteer, well into his sixties, only as tall as his musket and with a grin from ear to ear.
Continue up Main Street and through the Cemetery Gates following the signs for the Alameda Gardens. The Alameda Gardens were opened in 1816 at the instigation of Lieutenant-Governor George Don who wished to provide a scenic walk for residents and visitors to Gibraltar “where the inhabitants might enjoy the air protected from the extreme heat of the sun”. They have been developed and expanded ever since and provide a small tranquil sanctuary in the centre of this bustling town. The Alameda is now the home of the Gibraltar Botanical Gardens with displays of native foreign plants that grow in a Mediterranean environment. Many native and rare insects, reptiles, butterflies and birds have taken up residence. Sad that I am I try to go there once every couple of months so as not to miss anything in its season.
By the time you leave the Alameda you will be ready for a coffee. I have a theory there is a competition in Gib for serving the worst coffee on the planet – Morrisons are winning so far. The Piccadilly Garden Bar is on your left as you leave the gardens car park. Not only is it good coffee they are also known for their excellent, home made, churros and papitos. Churros are the round dough confections eaten with sugar and hot chocolate, the papitos are similar but straight. A sweet way to end the visit.