Who would have thought that a Little Britain would actually exist? – but it does.
After a short walk from the marina at La Linea de la Concepcion, in Spain, along the ‘front’ we arrived at the border. Long since announced by the beeping horns of cars infuriated by the wait for border formalities.
We swanned through passport control of both Spain and The UK, barely causing a flicker of interest.
We appeared, blinking in the bright sunshine, outside the sliding doors of customs and the first thing we saw was a big red telephone box!
A moment later we saw a sign announcing that we are on Winston Churchill Avenue. This is no ordinary road, however, since it crosses the runway for the airport. We arrived at the barriers and as there was no plane due we were allowed to cross the vast expanse of tarmac that bisects the isthmus (great word!) between Spain and The Rock of Gibraltar.
The smell of bitumen was strong in the heat of the day and there was an overriding waft of sewage coming from the sewage works at the far side of the run way. A swish new airport terminal building dominated the view to our left.
We took the obligatory photos and marched sensibly and swiftly across the runway towards Waitrose supermarket, the Post Office, the Nat West Bank, Marks and Spencer’s and Morrison’s.
All the signage and street furniture was exactly the same as we see in the UK. The place was orderly and tidy and the biggest difference we can saw was that cars drove on the right. We walked towards what was oddly called the ‘city centre’ and wandered along, occasionally we glanced up at the enormous limestone edifice above us until we felt the need for caffeine.
My first impressions were of a Britain I remembered from my childhood; when service, food quality and surroundings were seemingly less important than they are today. What we saw engendered nostalgic reminiscences of instant, convenience food. What my mum always called ‘plastic’ ham; cheese that had hardly been introduced to milk; sandwich spread, Bachelor’s savoury rice,Heinz Salad cream, Primula Cheese in a tube; crab paste and Smash. It also reminded us of pier chip shops and fusty smoke-filled pubs. They were there….called The Victoria, The Hope and Anchor and The Trafalgar all selling uninspiring food of the frozen kind, long since dispensed with in pubs at home. There were all the usual tat souvenir shops and a high street retailers not unlike any you’d see in a provincial town in the UK.
Large, monolithic residential blocks crowded in, bumping shoulders in the limited land available. There was little character or charm in those. Dotted in amongst, were the remnants of defences used when the island was a series of bastions and military strongholds. There was even a small cemetery called Trafalgar Cemetery. Only two tombs still show details of those who died of wounds suffered at the battle of Trafalgar in 1805.
Some prettier, older buildings have been preserved on the Main Street. The Court house, the Bank of Gibraltar, Parliament House, City Hall and the Gibraltar Trust Heritage Building.
We lost ourselves amongst the warren of narrow pedestrian streets, climbing high up the steep sides of the rock. We saw a policeman wearing a traditional domed helmet, and finished our meandering by walking down appropriately named Ragged Staff Road to the quayside marina and a lunch of fish, chips and mushy peas!
With the exception of gin at £6.50 per litre, and petrol at £0.78 per litre, it was an expensive place to be.
Before too, long it is time to head back. We all feel somewhat jaded and have a quick nap back at the boat and then it is time to bid David farewell, as he set off back across the border to the airport to catch his flight home.
Just 48 hours later, we went back to the airport to greet our daughter, Keira (third visitor), who was flying in from the UK for a working holiday as she prepped for her finals. We watched her flight approach from the viewing gallery which gave an amazing view of aircraft as they came in from the east, shot along the runway, across the road and out towards the Bay of Gibraltar and yet more sea.
We did a little more exploring of Gib with Keira, but more focused on shops! We took a Number 2 bus out to Europa Point (£2.25 return), which is the southern most tip of Europe and a spectacular spot to see the confluence of the Atlantic and the Mediterranean and the land masses of Europe and Africa.
On this huge flat piece of land is an enormous and striking mosque, built in 1997 by the generosity of the King Fahad Abdul Aziz of Saudi Arabia for the Muslim population of Gibraltar. The combination of the Mosque minarets, the British Flag flying on a tall flagpole and the bright white and red lighthouse made for an interesting juxtaposition.
In the surrounding area is a car park, a huge children’s play area, with very squeaky swings and a Mr Whippy ice cream van.
A few steps away was the impressive Gibraltar Lighthouse which is fully automated and is the only one regulated by Trinity House outside the UK. It dates back to 1841 and stands 49m above sea level with a range of 37km. Nearby is a 38 ton gun from the 1860s, being used as a climbing frame by playing children and a Polish War Memorial made from the original propeller recovered from the seaweed Polish Prime Minister in exile, General Sikorski lost his life in an air crash when his plane took off from Gibralter during WW11. We also spotted the University of Gibraltar and its playing field. Some great pieces of history and culture, but, in my opinion, sadly underdeveloped.
On Friday we decided to head up to the top of the rock on the cable car. We took the short journey up there, 12 euros each, and enjoyed stunning views. We chose the right day. It’s was proper panorama!
(We declined the opportunity to purchase a scone, imprisoned under cling film, for £3.95 or a cup of tea for £2.10 from the rather disinterested staff in the Viewpoint Cafe, noting that the plastic ham and cheese sandwiches on white bread looked as they had been there since the ’70s!)
We were lucky to be graced with the presence of a family of Barbary Macaques which are a species of tailless monkey, particular to Gibraltar. They were clearly well used to being photographed by visiting humans. They posed precociously and you could almost here them tut when people wandered off without so much as a by your leave.
Ian photo bombed my picture of a posing macaque and so you see two cheeky monkeys!!
It’s probably safe to say that we haven’t been away from the motherland long enough to fully appreciate the charms Gibraltar had to offer.