Why do we travel? One reason is to experience and enjoy different cultures of which, food plays a large part. Sailing around the Mediterranean has amply fulfilled this desire, however, an occasional reminder of home is very welcome. And for the wandering Brit in the Med, sailing to Gibraltar provides a little taste of home from home.
Sailing to Gibraltar
After passage making westwards from the Balearic Islands, we had dropped anchor off La Linea, the Spanish town that borders Gibraltar. A good night’s sleep in a calm anchorage had dulled the frustrations of the last few weeks into distant memories. Our brains are so resilient.
The weather had largely caused our issues and despite a calm night, it hadn’t finished with us yet. With strong winds forecast over the next few days, we decided to treat ourselves to a few days in a marina. Because of the Covid situation, Gibraltar required the completion of numerous forms prior to entry by boat. So, we chose the easy option, taking a berth in La Linea’s Alcaidesa Marina instead. Even in high season, the prices are very reasonable. We were then able to then walk across the border to Gibraltar without the need for any paperwork.
However, we did want to take advantage of the cheap fuel prices in Gibraltar. Before heading into the marina, we motored the short distance to the fuel dock opposite the airport runway. Other than complying with the Covid precautions of masks, distance, and hand cleaning, there were no restrictions in place. The fuel dock is long, with fenders along its length, and has a large space in front for maneuvering. Friendly staff were on hand to help with berthing. Emerald’s tanks were getting low on diesel, so we were there a while. We also filled our portable cans; this had not been allowed when we passed west in 2014.
We even remembered to take down our Spanish courtesy flag. A military man onshore had shouted at us last time for this omission!
With Emerald safely tied up on a finger berth, we set about cleaning off the dust and salt of the last few months. A clean deck underfoot feels so good. Having tended to our home’s needs, we set off for some exploring on The Rock. We found many reminders from home, particularly when it came to shopping, be it food, clothing, or home products.
Walking Down Our Local High Street
Walking down Main Street Gibraltar feels largely like strolling along any British high street on a warm, summer day. It contains several of the familiar brands we know from home, such as Marks & Spencer, Debenhams, Next and Topshop. Prices are in £s, and clothing sizes are recognisable.
However, there are a number of differences. Firstly, scattered amongst the brand stores are the small duty-free shops; some selling alcohol, whilst others trade in electronics. And up above, Gibraltar’s red and white flag fluttered alongside the Union Jack.
Red telephone boxes stand on street corners and signposts are in English. But who would expect a troop of soldiers armed with rifles to go marching down the street?
This is where we became giddily excited. A large Morrisons supermarket was a regular destination over our five days there. In addition, there is a small Tesco shop and an Eroski store that sells Waitrose Basics products. We filled up on our favourite foods including cheese, pork pies and curry sauces. Emerald was sitting a good deal lower in the water by the time we left.
Unfortunately, the stocking up of boat maintenance products left us disappointed. It didn’t even cross our minds that a chandlery might be closed on a weekend. After all, isn’t that when most people are working on or out using their boats? Well, in Gibraltar they are only open Monday to Friday. And they were closed on Monday too, as it was a British bank holiday. So, Emerald had to go without any pampering products.
We confess! An advert for fish and chips lured us into a bar. It also helped that it served London Pride on draft. It was standard pub grub, but it filled a longing. There were numerous other British fare restaurants and bars to choose from.
History and Sight Seeing
Gibraltar has a very long history. The Cradle of History monument at the entrance celebrates the Rock as one the longest inhabited places in Europe. Neanderthals once called it home, and to this day, arguments continue over ownership.
The Carthaginians and Romans built shrines here and regarded the rock as one of the “Pillars of Hercules”. They named the northern pillar Calpe Mons, with its twin, Abila Mons, across on the African continent. The current name comes from its Moorish name, Jebel Tariq, who ruled after the Romans and Visigoths. Ownership passed to the Spanish in the 1400s before they ceded it to Britain in 1713. Since then, it has remained a British overseas territory.
Through numerous wars, the isthmus has played a strategic role due to its position. The ability to control the waters at the entrance to the Mediterranean was a prize many nations have coveted.
Signs of its embattled history abound. The town was fortified in Medieval times and a well preserved Moorish castle still stands on the Rock’s flanks – it even forms the logo on Gibraltar’s flag. Improvement of the defensive walls took place over the years to withstand numerous sieges. To this day, the central area remains lined by thick, white-painted casement walls.
Humans have exploited the rock to provide both safety and as a strategic weapon against enemy attack. Hewn into the limestone are miles and miles of tunnels. In times of siege, they provided a place for storing supplies and for hiding out. The tunnels also allow access to lookout points and defensive positions cut into the rockface. The snouts of canon once poked from these windows, and the enemy had no way of scaling the sheer cliffs to attack back. We were able to learn the history and explore a section of the Great Siege Tunnels.
The Upper Rock Nature Park
We experienced the cable car to the top of The Rock back in 2014, so this time, we decided to walk up. However, the cable car was temporarily closed anyway, with a fleet of minibus taxis taking its place. They were annoying at times, clogging up the attractions and driving too fast on the narrow roads.
In a change since 2014, there is now an entry fee for tourists to the area within the Upper Rock Nature Reserve. It was £13 per person but this did incorporate entry to all the attractions. These include two sets of tunnels, St. Michael’s Cave, the Windsor bridge, and the Moorish castle. We visited everything, except for the WWII tunnels. We were disappointed to miss these, especially as it was down to an omission in the provided information. At that time, the only way to visit was as part of a guided tour, but when we bought our tickets we were not informed of this. Hence, we missed the last tour by ten minutes. We did however get to see the Great Siege tunnels, which were impressive in their scale.
We had already visited the Upper Rock and its troops of Barbary Macaques back in 2014 (read about that visit here), but we couldn’t resist another visit to see these characteristic apes. As an aside, who knew that a collective noun for apes is a shrewdness? Not me, until now.
It took us a while to find them this time. We tried the ape’s den first, but there was only one. It was heading up the steps alongside the Charles V Wall. There are over 600 steps, but from where we were it was the most direct route to the top, and there are rest places along the way.
As we ascended, the number of apes increased. Most of them were gathered at the top where there was a second feeding station. It was also where the taxis stopped off. Apes posed for photos and attempted crafty delves inside bags. Nit grooming seemed popular as did lounging about, seemingly oblivious to the humans around them. Suddenly, a shriek pierced the air, and apes scattered around in a commotion. A young one had cut its foot. Its expression as it investigated the wound veered between pain and inquisitive. Poor thing.
We walked over 30 miles during our time in Gibraltar, however, there are other forms of transport available.
- There are no forms of public transport that cross the border. However, buses run close from the Gibraltar side of the border to most locations on the Rock. Day passes are available, although they are not usable between the two bus companies that operate.
- Bicycles are able to pass through the customs point along with all other traffic.
- Once in Gibraltar, it is necessary to cross the airport runway. This will be closed when planes are landing or taking off.
Finally, not forgetting our Spanish hosts. The border town of La Linea de la Concepción is worth a stroll around. From the marina, we walked through a park with some interesting trees across to the eastern side. There we found a long, sandy beach, the ruins of a castle, and a boardwalk decorated with flower boxes.
For supplies, there are several supermarkets within walking distance of the marina. In the evening, the town centre was bustling with busy tapas bars.
25th August: Cabo Gata to La Linea – 167nm
Anchored in 4.6m in position 36 09.682’N 5 21.76’W
27th August: La Linea Anchorage to Alcaidesa Marina
- The marina has good sized finger berths and very reasonable prices, even in high season.
- The shower and toilet facilities are bright and spacious. They were cleaned several times a day. A washing machine is also located in the same building.
- There are gates on each pontoon with key cards to control security.
- The only downside is that the office is a 10 minute walk from the pontoons, although apparently, the marineros will ferry people in a golf cart.
- There is an active Facebook group that can provide information on local amenities.
- If you have short legs like me, be aware that the pontoons are set low to the water. Stepping down from the deck can be a long way down.
Gibraltar Fuel – we did not have to complete any paperwork or make a booking to use the fuel dock in Gibraltar.
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Thank you from Nichola & Colin