Hiking The Mediterranean Steps, Gibraltar.
The Mediterranean Steps, Gibraltar.
I had already enjoyed an amazing day exploring the gorgeous Gibraltar Nature Reserve. There had been so much to take in, including splendorous views over Gibraltar Strait and the ruins of the Moorish Castle. Moreover, I’d gotten a look at the territory’s fascinating World War II tunnels, crossed the awesome Windsor Suspension Bridge and hung out with Gibraltar’s world famous Barbary macaques.
I honestly thought I’d seen the best of Gibraltar and it’s incredible rock. However, I didn’t want to miss out on another walking trail that had come thoroughly recommend from a few blogs. And so it was, on my second day, that I set off for a mid-afternoon hike on the nature trail known as The Mediterranean Steps.
According to several online articles, this is the hike for “thrill seekers”. That description actually didn’t appeal to me. Rather, I was tempted by the promise of the fabulous views that stretch out across the Alboran Sea. For that, I could put up with a hairy hike, as long as the going wasn’t too wild.
First I had to make my way up The Rock’s southwestern slope on a trail called St Martin’s Path. From there, I simply had to spot the understated set of narrow stone steps that zigzag up onto the trail.
The Mediterranean Steps, Gibraltar.
That first stretch of steps lasted barely ten minutes before I suddenly emerged onto a narrow stone path. There was only just enough room for me to pass, with thick plants and bushes to my right, a jagged natural rock wall to my left.
Beyond that wall… wow! Absolutely nothing but the vast, seemingly infinite waters of The Alboran Sea. As I stopped to admire the view, a pair of seagulls flapped by before settling on a boulder. Even the birds seemed impressed.
There were more seagulls the further I progressed, but no people. Just yours truly and his phone, which I used to load up some history on the trail. You might be surprised to hear that it was the British Army who built the pathway in the late 18th century in order to allow soldiers smooth access between The Rock’s various defence posts.
Thus the trail served as a key part of The Rock’s military communications right up until the end of The Second World War. Thereafter, the path fell into a severe state of disrepair until local authorities finally closed it off to public access.
Happily, the steps reopened in 2007 after a huge restoration project carried out by the government and several local foundations. They fixed hundreds of broken steps and introduced rope handrails for some of the trickier ascents and descents.
Furthermore, they began protection programs for some of The Rock’s rare flowers and plants. I’m talking the Gibraltar Sea Lavender and the endangered Silene tomentosa (Gibraltar Campion).
Up On The Rock.
Perhaps the stunning views were a distraction, but I didn’t feel the trail was all that challenging. Here and there the path became narrower and took a sharp ascent, but nothing to write home about.
After a while I stumbled across my first fellow human. His name was Matthew, a member of The Royal Air Force stationed in a barracks down at the airport. He was in the process of jogging to the top of the rock and back, something he’d gotten into the habit of doing every day! Still, he was happy to stop for a chat and take a photograph for me.
And then he was gone, puffing out of view within seconds. A short while later the already delicate sky began to break and before I knew what was happening it was raining! Luckily, I chanced upon a small cave to the side of the trail.
So I ducked inside and settled down for a while, listening to the rain pitter pattering. Far off in the distance, beyond the slight form of a boat, I heard a crackle of thunder and saw the faintest flash of lightning. At that moment I was certainly glad to have found the cave!
The rain didn’t last. Before long, I was back on the trail marvelling at the new shades of blue, grey and white that were forming in the sky. It was just beautiful, and all the more special that it appeared to be granting me a private audience.
The Mediterranean Steps, Gibraltar.
Gradually, I hiked higher and higher up The Rock. As I went, the views just got better and better. At some point I spotted a large container ship with the word Hanjin painted onto the side. I figured it could perhaps be a Chinese boat.
But actually Hanjin Shipping was a South Korean container transport company. What I didn’t realise that day was that they had recently gone bankrupt, despite being one of the world’s top ten container carriers. I even found a BBC article claiming that a number of their boats got stuck in Gibraltar because the port refused to let them dock and unload.
Eventually, the trail began closing in on the summit of Gibraltar Rock. Up at the very top stands a pair of historic artillery batteries. First, I gazed up at Lord Airey’s Battery, constructed in 1891. Named after General Richard Airey, a renowned British Army officer of the mid 1800s, it features a breech loading gun last fired during a drill in the 1970s. And then, on top of the gun, who the heck was that?
He turned out to be a Frenchman called Loic. As the only two people up on the top of The Rock, we got chatting as we strolled from Lord Airey’s Battery to the neighbouring O’ Hara Battery.
The Mediterranean Steps, Gibraltar.
From here, over 420 metres above sea level, came the most stunning views of all. Firstly over Gibraltar’s swanky Sandy Bay resort village and its pristine stretch of sand constructed using imported rock from The Western Sahara.
The spectacular bay is home to some of Gibraltar’s fanciest hotels, guesthouses and Airbnb apartments. People also flock here from all over the territory to eat at Kokonut, famed for its fresh fish and punchy cocktails.
And then there was the killer view from O’Hara’s Battery viewing platform, with its gargantuan cannon. This battery, also built in the 1890s, stands named after The British Army Officer Charles O’Hara who fought in several notable wars, including The Seven Years War and the American War of Independence.
In fact, O’Hara had the distinction/embarrassment of personally surrendering to both George Washington and Napoleon Bonaparte. In his later years he became The Governor or Gibraltar, hence the battery name.
Loic and I stood up there for quite some time in a state of awed silence. Before our eyes, the cloud line dramatically dropped, creating a mere corridor of vision above the sea.
It was time to set off back to town before blackness engulfed The Rock. Loic and I made the descent together, picking our way carefully down the trail, only occasionally stopping to photograph the last traces of early evening light.
The Mediterranean Steps, Gibraltar.
I’ll never forget how that evening ended. Loic and I had finally made it back into town and were walking down Governor’s Street in search of a pub for a drink and a bite. Quite suddenly, outside Governor’s Street Chambers, we bumped into an incredibly merry trio of barristers.
“Helloooo!” cried one of the men, introducing himself as Stephen Ffrench Davis. “We’re celebrating!” he announced, his arms extending out to his companions, standing on either side of him. “Come inside, do you like jazz?”
“I’m Tom Hillman!” cried the silver-haired man, as Loic and I followed our newfound friends inside Gibraltar’s Governor’s Street Chambers. “I’m the WORST f****ing lawyer in the world!” This pronouncement caused a ripple of communal laughter among the group. The remaining gentleman, the softly-spoken (and least inebriated) Mr. Stephen Bullock, proceeded to pour each of us a glass of champagne.
“A toast!” cried Stephen Ffrench Davis, “to my sister who has just given birth!”
And so we stood drinking and chatting for a bit to the sound of an early John Coltrane record. We talked about where we were all from, discussed families and waxed lyrical on a few choice Jazz legends, like Miles Davis.
At some point Tom Hillman, “the worst f****ing lawyer in the world”, took a seat at a piano and began tinkling away. It was a fun, warm and unexpected end to a fantastic day. Wherever Tom and the two Stephens are today, I hope they’re doing well. Thanks for a lovely surprise on that already long ago evening in Gibraltar.
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This was a lovely read! I’m glad you found a shelter and listened to the sound of the rain. I would panic a bit if it rained when hiking alone, especially in a different country 😂 But don’t mind me, I’m just a rabbit-hearted person with little hiking experience in a foreign territory 😛
The views from the top are stunning, by the way!
Thanks Bahanur for reading and leaving such a lovely comment. I don’t think of myself as particularly brave or adventurous when hiking, but I’ve had my moments I guess over the years. This was probably my favourite experience in Gibraltar, I’m glad you enjoyed it.
Enjoyed this post as this is the only thing we didn’t manage to do. We were scheduled to do the hike on the final day but overnight there had been a storm with fallen trees and debris and the hiking path had to be closed! A good reason to return. Hope your weekend is going well. It’s nice and sunny here.
Ah what a pity Marion, you just can’t control Mother Nature. It’s lovely and warm here in Batumi too, though I understand we are in for some days of heavy rains and storms next week. Thanks for reading about hiking the Mediterranean Steps.
A great read with an unexpected- although heartwarming- ending. There’s a novel in your travel memories, I am sure! Amazing how much of Gibraltars history and form is shaped by the military. It’s one of the hardest postings to come by for army families and definitely up there on the list of most sought after.
Thanks Helen, I appreciate that. I would love to write a novel one day but still searching for that great story. I’m curious, why is it so hard to get posted in Gibraltar?
For the army, the slots are very regiment, trade or rank specific so you need timing and a dash of luck to get it. Easier for Navy & RAF I believe.
excellent images and words leighton. im glad you took me to a place my knees would never be able to. love the history behind the route n’ the overall feeling of adventure. those chaps at the end made me chuckle, what a lovely and unusual experience
Hey Stan, appreciate your readership, as always. It felt quite adventurous to me, though I suspect proper thrill-seekers would shrug their shoulders at this route. Nevertheless, those seemingly infinite sea views make it an unmissable hike.
An excellent post Leighton. That walk was well worth the effort and it looks like you got the full show. The absence of crowds would have been a treat and you certainly bumped into a character at the top. Then, to top it all off with an impromptu gathering with drunk lawyers! Who could ask for anything more. A great read. Thanks for sharing. Allan
Cheers, this was worth travelling to Gibraltar for all in itself. I found it somewhat baffling that I saw just a couple of people along the entire trail.
It’s a signature Leighton experience. Hiking on a little used trail with great views of the ocean and the changing weather. Meeting new friends who invite you to join in the drinks and conversation about music. Even got to duck into a cave to get out of the rain (no pirate memorabilia, I assume). Wasn’t wild about the parts with no handrail though. A truly unique day.
Thanks Memo, it was a lovely day and I’m really happy with how the article turned out. It’s actually a hike I’d like to take Sladja on if we ever find ourselves in that part of the world.
What a great way to spend the day, Leighton! I probably couldn’t manage the steps, so I will have to let your post be my visit to the Steps of Gibraltar. Topping off the day by getting to meet and drink with the worst F*****g lawyer in the world would’ve been a hoot! Loved that you got to sit out the storm in a cave!
Kellye, comments like yours make this blogging lark worth it. I’m glad you enjoyed this hike, thanks for joining me on The Mediterranean Steps.
Wow, just look at those incredible views! It certainly doesn’t look like your average Sunday afternoon stroll, but if you are a keen hiker, and in reasonably good shape, what can be better than a chance to combine a good hike and incredible views along with a bit of a thrill thrown in? Thanks for sharing and have a good evening 🙂 Aiva xx
Thank you Avia, I’m glad you enjoyed this look at Gibraltar’s stunning Mediterranean Steps trail.
True, the views are simply amazing – really! But heck, it looks very high … I think my stomach would be in my throat half of the time! That photo with the cave as frame – it’s stunning. And by now, I’m not surprised that your evening ended on such a high note … drinking champagne with new friends – that’s true Leighton style 😄.
Hey Corna, I’m so glad you got to join me on this virtual Mediterranean Steps hike. The cave was a special moment, but thank god the rain stopped and I didn’t get stuck up there. Those lawyers were a bit mad, but it was all good fun. Thanks, as always.
Ah mate…a great hike, fabulous views, breathing in the sea air….and ending up with a large dose of unexpected fun in a bar. Now that’s a hungry travellers kind of day!
Thanks Phil, this was such a memorable afternoon. We are always on the lookout for hikes as peaceful and stunning as this, but there are no guarantees. Those lawyers were a lot of fun.
Wow what a gorgeous hike! So glad you read about it it blogs and had the cave to protect you during the storm. I love being able to stare out into the ocean, makes me realize how big the world really is. It’s a humbling feeling.
I can relate to that feeling. Being up there alone with that ocean view was special, and not something one gets to experience often.
Your pictures are gorgeous. I hope you’re not afraid of heights!! The views from the Mediterranean Steps did not disappoint. How stunning! And how lucky that you found a cave to hide in from the rain. Glad to hear it was short lived though.
Hey hey, I’m actually not all that comfortable with heights. But at the same time I wouldn’t let that stop me from doing a hike like this. Glad you enjoyed this piece, thanks for checking in.
While the Mediterranean Steps certainly looks appealing, jogging to its top and back is something only a few people would even think of doing, I believe. Matthew is amazing. And the view from the summit does look breathtaking! Sometimes when we travel, random encounters with strangers — like your experience with those barristers — often end up as one of our fondest memories from that trip. Looks fun!
Hey Bama, I dread to think just how miserably I would fail in running and down the Mediterranean Steps trail. I agree, these positive, unexpected encounters with people are part of what makes some travel experiences so special and memorable.
Lovely post, thank you for the trip! Sitting inside that quiet cave watching the storm must have been amazing!
Hey Sherry, it was a lovely and surprising moment. Thanks for reading and leaving a comment, it’s much appreciated.
This was such an incredible site we visited. Hiking was a bit difficult for us.
Thanks for commenting Anita.
Like you, I’m a sucker for incredible views, and I’d definitely take a crack at tackling the Mediterranean Steps if I make it to Gibraltar someday! The narrow, uneven steps you photographed remind me of the hike I did in Kotor (St. John’s Fortress), its steps also steep and irregular. All the same, the views are completely worth the huffing and puffing to the top, and what a way to make friends and celebrate back in town afterwards! Thanks for sharing this hike, Leighton. 🙂
I see what you mean about St John’s Fortress, we also did that hike while we were living in Kotor this time last year. Thanks for checking out The Mediterranean Steps, Rebecca.
I thoroughly enjoyed this post! When I first read the part where you said “you stumbled”, I was worried at first that you actually did fall; thankfully, that was not the case. The cave appeared at just the right time to offer you shelter from the storm. The hike is one I would love to do; however, my arthritic knees would not agree to that much climbing. Sadly, because we will be visiting Gibraltar in a few months, and the Steps sound quite inviting. Thanks for sharing!
Ah that’s a pity Tricia. I know there is a cable car service up and down The Rock, so I’m sure you’ll be able to see some of the reserve’s stunning views. Thanks for joining me on this virtual hike along The Mediterranean Steps.
Good to know, thanks!
What an incredible hike with stunning views, some pieces of history, and some fun people along the way. O’ Hara should probably leave his surrender to Washington and Napoleon off his military resume. How lucky to find the cave and have this uniquely lone moment to see the trail and the views from such a vantage. That would probably make anyone feel a bit poetic…as long as their feet were dry because there’s no poetry to be had with wet feet.
Ha ha, brilliant. I’m also wondering how O’ Hara would deal with the inevitable questions about his battle record in a job interview situation. Oh yes, it was dry feet all the way throughout this hike, thank god for that. Cheers Meg!
Oh wow what incredible views! And a little history added to the trail. You meet some of the funniest characters Leighton!! Maggie
Thanks for reading Maggie! Pristine sea views and comical lawyers, it was an unusual but enjoyable day.
What a great little hike for those wonderful views 🙂
Thanks for your comment Hannah, The Mediterranean Steps might just be my favourite Gibraltar experience.
The Mediterranean Steps seem like a wonderful hike with great vantage points. The ocean also looks really blue there!
Thanks for your comment Allie. Those ocean views are mesmerizing and made all the effort of the hike worthwhile.
I didn’t know about this trail, so interesting and dramatic views! My son and I spent a day there once. We were planning to take the gondola to the top of the rock, but the line looked like it was hours long… so we hiked up the trail, monkeys and all. This one, though, looked like a great discovery, not crowded. You always seem to discover the less traveled path!
Hey Ruth, I’m glad you enjoyed this trail. I suspected it might be quieter than the routes around the main reserve, but was surprised by just how deserted it turned out to be.
Really cool blog. Have to say I loved Gibraltar when I was there but didn’t get a chance to do the steps like you did. Thanks for sharing!
If you get a chance to, take a read of my account of Gibraltar.
Thanks Steve, I believe I’ve read this one, but will check again!
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Thanks for the repost.