Last week I went to Gibraltar.
This was my first ever visit to the rock, and I was quite excited to see what it was like.
As a British resident of Spain I am often challenged as to when I might return Gibraltar to the Spanish crown. I usually patiently explain that that’s beyond the scope of my role, but also, quite aside from the legal status of the territory, I question why it is such a big deal anyway – there are anomalies all over the place for crying out loud: Ceuta and Melilla being two obvious ones.
Having had these discussions (and plenty more) for many years, I was intrigued to see what the place was really like, and was interested to know if I was going to have to hide my Spain links and play up the Yorkshireman card just to get through the week unscathed!
I could not have been more wrong.
I half expected by Spanish taxi driver to duff me up when I stumbled off the train in Algeciras and mentioned my destination. I thought he’d start having a pop once we got going, but he not only drove me there reasonably safely, but patiently stopped while I took photos of the rock as we approached.
I was fortunate to not only meet the Governor and his team, delivering training at the beautiful Convent building, but also work with the Government of Gibraltar, delivering two huge sessions (200 people in each session) on a ship in Gibraltar harbour.
Just as I’d (wrongly) expected the Spanish to get all shirty at the mere mention of Gib, I expected the Gibraltarians to be avidly anti-Spain. Not a bit of it. They loved Spain, and were hugely positive about the Spanish people.They are fiercely proud of their unique history and identity, but they don’t get funny about it. It doesn’t leak over into aggression or insular xenophobia, or at least not as far as I saw – I mean, half the place even supports Real Madrid! (the other half support Barcelona, and they all also have an English team – it was great to meet so many fellow Leeds United supporters!)
The next day I decided to walk up the rock.
I had been convinced by the Governor to try the Mediterranean Steps that snake around the southerly cliffs, leading up to the southern summit of the rock by O’Hara’s Battery.
I won’t be doing that again.
It was beautiful, but one of the hardest things I think I’ve ever done in my life. The sense of achievement on getting to the top was lost in the sense of relief of having remained alive and having finally run out of steps to climb!
The view is incredible, you can see across the straits to Morocco and Ceuta, across the bay to Algeciras, up the east side of Gibraltar into the provinces of Cadíz and Málaga. In typical tourist fashion, I headed straight for the monkeys (and they are monkeys, not apes, I checked on Wikipedia):
But I have to say, having spent nearly three hours climbing up and noodling around on the Rock, I can really see why they built the cable cars …