Time: 1 ˝ to 2 ˝ hours
This walk is steep and at times arduous, and not for people without a head for heights. Time is an important factor when negotiating this path. Early mornings are usually preferable, but during the summer months a late afternoon walk will provide the visitor with plenty of much-needed shade. The area is particularly appealing during the spring, when the visitor is greeted by an interesting and very beautiful array of flowers.
The Mediterranean Steps take the walker from Jews’ Gate on the southern end of the Nature Reserve at 180m above sea level, up towards O’Hara’s Battery at 419m, close to the summit of the Rock. The path runs mainly along the eastern side of the Rock, an area that is comprised primarily of cliffs and low Mediterranean scrub.
Before starting the walk, we can visit the exhibition at the Jews’ Gate Field Study Centre, which is run by the Gibraltar Ornithological and Natural History Society (GONHS). Here, we can appreciate the diversity and abundance of wildlife found within the Upper Rock Nature Reserve.
The walk starts alongside the Centre, leading south through some dense maquis, which gradually opens out into a beautiful garrigue, from which the walker is afforded a spectacular view of North Africa across the Strait. Here on the south-facing view of North Africa slope the Esparto Grass, Asphodels, Paper White Narcissus and a wealth of other flora comprise a beautiful habitat that is practically unique within Gibraltar. It is also here that we begin to notice many individuals of the Dwarf Fan Palm, a plant that quickly becomes a dominant feature of this walk.
From here, we continue along a narrow path that borders along the edge of cliffs, where we may be lucky enough to observe the resident pair of Peregrine Falcons that nests here. The melodious song of the Blue Rock Thrush frequently echoes along these cliffs during the springtime, and this species can be observed in this area throughout the whole year. It is here that we begin to appreciate the silence and serenity that this path has to offer, and the cries of the Yellow-legged Gulls are frequently all that can be heard. These birds may mob walkers during the nesting season, but they are harmless, and will do no more than swoop over the unwary visitors’ heads.
Some maritime plants grow around this cave, and these include the Gibraltar Sea Lavender, the only site within the Nature Reserve where this species may be observed. Barbary Partridges may startle the walker as they explode into flight at his or her feet; these birds may be encountered throughout the entire course of the walk.
Retracing our way, we begin to ascend a steep flight of steps that leads to the Goat’ Hair Twin Caves; two caves that lie directly to the left of the path. Excavations during the 1970s in one of these caves unearthed artefacts that indicate that prehistoric man had once inhabited them. It is amazing to consider that these caves, like Martin’s Cave, were once at sea level. The view from the entrance from these caves is breathtaking, taking in the Mediterranean Sea, Europa Point lighthouse, and the Spanish enclave of Ceuta and Morocco on the side of the Strait.
Continuing the climb, we reach a building that was constructed by the Military during WWII. Here, we finish the first flight of steps, and commence a path that leads through a small tunnel and on towards some WWII fortifications. We now reach a platform that offers the visitor a unique view northwards towards the cliffs that line the eastern side of the Rock and Spain’s Costa del Sol. Beautiful stands of the Gibraltar Candytuft sit between the crags and ledges that border the rest of the walk, and this ranks amongst the best places where this special plant can be observed.
The path winds its way upward, and starts to get steeper. Looking up towards the top of the Rock, we can now see the zigzagging stairway that hugs the Cliffside and leads to the end of the walk. Passing through the thick scrub that dominates along this section of the path, it is impossible to miss the loud, musical song of the tiny Wren. Here, we also encounter another set of WWII fortifications.
Following the track, the walker arrives at the base of the cliff, where the final flight of steps subjects the visitor to a last, strenuous effort in order to reach the summit. Halfway up these steps, we notice a hole at the base of the cliff. This is Spider Cave, a small hollow that was used by the military during WWII. Further up, close to the end of the path, we can find five of the seven special plants growing on the cliffs. These are the Gibraltar Candytuft, Gibraltar Thyme, Gibraltar Campion, Gibraltar Chickweed and Gibraltar Saxifrage.
On reaching the crest of the Rock, the visitor finds an impressive view across the Bay and the Strait beyond. Immediately to the south lies Lord Airey’s and O’Hara’s Batteries. The 9.2 inch guns at these emplacements were installed at these sites during WWII, and were last fired by the Royal Gibraltar Regiment in 1972. From here, where the walk ends, we can either retrace our steps, or preferably follow the road down to St. Michael’s Cave or on towards Prince Philip’s Arch, where there is a pack of Barbary Macaques.
Because of the narrowness of the track in sections and the possibility of rock falls it is recommended that the prospective walker check the safety of the path from the Reserve authorities before attempting it.
Source: A Guide to the Upper Rock Nature Reserve - GONHS