Article,  Odds 'n' Ends

Discover the Top of the World… and Back Again!

I recommend this particular walk to ‘The Top Of The World’ because with a young child and a toddler it was comparatively easy compared to most walks around Malta. I also think older or less able persons would be able to complete it without much difficulty as well.

We went for this particular walk just before the time we couldn’t go for walks (cue the coronavirus) on a fine Maltese Winter’s day in February. The sun was shining, the sky was blue.

How this came about was that my husband, Carl, and I, on many a supermarket shopping trip, would drive beside a very deep valley near one of the larger ‘villages’ of Malta. (Almost all the collections of urban areas in Malta are called villages. I think in the past these places probably were small villages and while the name has stuck through the passage of time the size didn’t.) Passing a certain very deep valley almost always elicited the remark. “There MUST be some way of getting down there” from one of us. Okay, but how? From most directions trying to get to the bottom looked similar to jumping off the nearest big city skyscraper without a parachute and hoping to be in one piece at the bottom. We don’t have parachutes. This prompted me to, finally, inquire with some of my work colleagues.

“It’s near to Mosta. It’s a valley. We know there must be a way down but we don’t know how to get down and we don’t know what it’s called so we can’t look it up to see how we get down.” I explained. Highly understandable, don’t you think? Okay, maybe not… But it got an answer and some directions. I passed these directions along to my husband and the next time my day off, his day off, our daughter’s kindergarten was off and our son’s nursery was off we all went. This is how we coordinate our family days, as you can guess often there is a very a long time between them.

So! Directions given? Check! Phone set to direct us? Check! (Remember this part for later and think of the game “Chinese Whispers”…) Drinks and snacks? Check! Nappies and wet wipes for Taran? Check! Spare clothing for whatever minor disaster may happen? Check! Isla did a pee pee? No! “Go and pee pee.”, “I don’t need to pee pee!”, “Go! Pee pee!”, daughter did a pee pee? Check! Faces cleaned? Check! Four people strapped into a car? Check! Everything previously checked is actually now in the car with the four people strapped into the caa? Check! Okay then, let’s go!

As usual, Carl drove. Carl driving is not because we are into the stereotypical man and his wife roles but because, while having been perfectly comfortable with driving in England as soon as I hit legal age, I have a fear of actually driving in Malta that is nearing phobia level. I acknowledge the need for something to be done about it but for the moment my husband always drives. I, however, always back seat drive so we get there safely although not necessarily the best of friends!

I watched the red arrow on the mobile and directed right or left until we got to “You are here.” Carl realised immediately “you are here” was not where we had intended to be. However, there were two kids in the back of the car letting it known they thought they had been there for long enough. This prompted the decision that since we were there anyway we might as well look at this, hitherto unexplored, part of Malta.

As it turns out, it was quite a nice mistake. We really went to the ‘top of the world’. Okay, well this is Malta so the ‘top of the world’ turned out to be a few extra metres above sea level but you could see for many miles.

In comparison to just about every other hike we have done in Malta this particular walk seemed easy peasy. It started on an almost straight and tarmacked road – such luxury! No rocks to climb. No cracks to jump. No death-defying sheer drop on one side! Malta! What has happened?

Isla tugs at me. “It’s boring, Mummy! Let’s go to the swings and slides!” Except, right then, there were some interesting birds! Who needs a nice view when there are big birds to admire? Suddenly the walk became a bit more exciting. Big birds temporarily trump swings and slides.

We photographed, we viewed we admired and we told the kids they were “girl peacocks”, peahens. I suspect, in fact I am pretty sure, we might have lied a bit as they didn’t look the same when I googled peahens later. What they were remains a mystery.

The aforementioned mysterious birdies!

A little bit further along there were two men building something just below the road – my kids and one of the men had a friendly wave across the distance. A wave or a hello from a stranger always makes Isla’s day.

Often on any outing with my kids I am asked questions on various flora and fauna. Any close up flower or insect photographs I take are always at the end of a “What’s that, Mummy?” conversation with Isla where I have taken a photo so “we can look it up later”. I think I now know the names of more flowers in Malta than I ever knew in England. This was a beautiful tree with every branch covered in pretty white flowers.

Probable almond tree

I identified this as a almond tree blossoming from my google search at home later. Hopefully, I am right and I apologise if I am wrong.

We walked further along. The view ahead showed the typical Maltese landscape during Winter; blues, greens and white. Opposite to England’s greenery, which appears in Summer, Malta’s greenest season is Winter when the Mediterranean sun is less scorching. In Winter, the smooth, dark greens of the growing plants is in vivid contrast to the bleached and pock-marked rock they nestle into. Add in a topping of blue sky and outline everything with blue from the Mediterranean water and this is Malta. I just realised this sounds like a recipe description…

We had picked a great day for a walk. Unusually there was very little wind; Malta, like all small islands, is subject to almost constant winds. I almost never reach a destination with an hair up-do intact.

We encountered a lot of wild fennel on the roadside. I use a lot of fennel in my paleo recipes; it tends to be my go-to aromatic veggie rather than onion for tummy health reasons. We keep wondering if we can dig it up to use instead of buying it and save ourselves a bit of shopping money. So far we haven’t had the nerve to wonder along with a spade digging up the Maltese roadside. I have visions of an irate farmer appearing with a pitchfork!

Right at the end the road bent around to the left leaving a sheer drop ahead. What’s a Maltese hike without the imminent threat of death by means of a sharp drop? There are a few public benches to admire the beautiful view from a seated position. One of the benches was in such a precarious position, without safety features of any kind, it seemed designed for the contemplation of life… or death. A small platform with a rusty looking chicken wire for safety jutted out a little further over the drop and allowed you a moderately safer way to risk life and limb for a better view or, as in my husband’s, case this beautiful panoramic photograph.

Top of the World, Gharghur, Malta

One or both of us held the kids in a death grip while we admired and photographed. My husband even braved the ‘contemplation of life’ bench and pretended relaxation for a photo there as well. The only minus point was some rubbish which had gathered around the benches. Why can’t people take their trash away with them?!

We turned left onto a slightly rougher track with, of course, a death defying drop on the right side but it was made safer with a wall. The wall was above two year child head height so we could let my son, Taran, run about a bit more freely.

On the left side there was a bit of a rocky hill climb which Isla insisted be climbed but she was too scared to go alone so I nominated Carl to accompany her. They climbed up most of the way and waved. At various points along the walk other families were doing the same. It wasn’t a busy place but it wasn’t deserted either. Apart from the the one risky view point it is a highly suitable walk for families and there were a few about.

Malta tends to attracts people for the Summer season with the combination of sun and sea drawing in large crowds but if you get the chance I actually think it’s Malta’s least attractive side and it is the rest of the year that makes the country shine. If you are interested in trekking, exploring, culture immersing, history finding or nature watching then Winter in Malta is the best time to do it. I would say Spring and Autumn too, but I have noticed since living in Malta they seem to only have two seasons, Summer and Winter. The heat addled days of Summer shift into the cool of Winter within the space of a week bypassing Spring and Autumn.

The surprise at the end of the track is a very pretty picnic area called Ghal Ghar where you can eat, or read (I saw many people with a good book so it seems to be a popular reading place) whilst overlooking the valley. It’s accessible by car too which is a plus and a minus, the minus being my son’s brief freedom disappeared and we had to resort to hand holding again for safety. The apple snacks I bought had been demolished long since so we didn’t stop. What we did do is take a small detour to one side where you could stand in front of a huge drop (grab the kids again!) to look out over the valley towards the Victoria Lines, a set of fortifications from Malta’s rich history.

This is a walk of many parts, each one completely different from the previous one. The panoramic view, the picnic/reading area, the historical view and then we at the road side we passed a small planted flower tribute to someone’s dead son; it was beautiful and touching. The next part is the religious part.

A church for tiny people! Okay, so maybe not. Malta is a Roman Catholic Island and very religious. It has many, many churches all vying with each other in size and decoration. This is Malta’s smallest church. It is a replica of the much larger Gharghur church, complete with doors and bells and is created from stones, pebbles and shells. It is definitely something to see and is far more than this photo shows!

Unfortunately, after the mini-church, there is a stretch of road followed by a bit of a steep climb up into Gharghur villager itself, cue the complaints from short legs! My two year old son got passed between us depending on who’s arms were most tired. Isla, at the ripe old age of 4, was a big girl and had to walk it. Suddenly being a ‘big girl’ wasn’t such a good thing! It wasn’t so far, though and then what goes up must come and down and down we went towards the car and the end of this particular trek; the pleasant mistake!

2 Comments

  • Carol Raistrick

    I really enjoyed the description of your walk Alex and the photographs. Also advice about best time to visit Malta.

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