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Time to get those walking boots on

An exhilarating feeling of physical and mental wellbeing engulfs mem­bers of the Ramblers’ Association of Malta as they take in the scenic and historical treks in the Maltese islands. The 30 different routes in the association’s autumn walks pro­gramme stretching from today to December 26, take in some of the most breathtaking views, particularly the rugged coast at Ħondoq ir-Rummien in Gozo and the Bajda Ridge and Wied Qannotta in Malta.

The Maltese countryside, so bare and forbidding in the long, hot, summer months, takes on a new look at this time of year, presen­ting, after the first autumn rains, a veritable floral paradise. In late autumn and winter, the Maltese archipelago offers some of the most fascinating country and coas­tal walks in the central Mediterranean.

Like all seasoned ramblers I feel an uplifting of the spirit as I prepare my walking boots and rucksack for these walks that have been meticulously planned by the Ramblers’ Association for the past 10 years. Ramblers share with musical giant Ludwig van Beet­hoven the feelings expressed in his Pastoral Symphony, a musical trib­ute on experiencing the joys of nature.

Unlike so many of our European neighbours, there is somehow a reluctance on the part of many Maltese to adopt rambling as a way of life. They flee away from our glorious seasons of autumn, winter and early spring to hibernate in their cosy homes to indulge in their favourite pursuit, a sedentary lifestyle which only contributes to nervous disorders and disease.

There is also the occasional opportunity to witness a glorious autumn sunset as the soft evening breeze wafts across the garigue, rich in wild flowers

I am irked with Malta being given the negative title of Europe’s capital city of obesity. I make an im­passion­ed appeal to my fellow citizens to shrug off the unsavoury tag branding us the laziest nation in the EU. I urge readers to put on their walking boots to relish the Maltese landscape dotted with ancient towers, wayside chapels, humble giren (corbelled huts), unique geological features, seclu­ded beaches, majestic cliffs and the shimmering blue sea.

All these aspects are included in the autumn walks programme. There is also the occasional opportunity to witness a glorious autumn sunset as the soft evening breeze wafts across the garigue, rich in wild flowers. Ranging from gentle strolls and relaxing rambles to long-distance walks and heart-pumping panoramic trails, these walks, led by experienced and dedicated volun­tary leaders, offer every opportunity for enjoyment and relaxation, contributing to a better quality of life ‘far from the madding crowds’.

The majestic cliffs and shimmering blue sea in the northwest of Malta.The majestic cliffs and shimmering blue sea in the northwest of Malta.

Ramblers’ fascination with Malta’s sister island is reflected with the inclusion of four walks in Gozo, taking participants to secluded Ix-Xatt l-Aħmar and the iconic Mġarr ix-Xini. The latter recently made world headlines as the romantic place where world-famous actors Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt chose for their film By the Sea. Cable News Network (CNN), a US channel specialising in news coverage, named it “among the 10 places to visit before they change forever”.

Another Gozo walk skirts the picturesque Mġarr harbour to the quaint village of Qala and down to the popular bay of Ħondoq ir-Rummien, with its hard, granite rocks that provided the material for the Grand Harbour breakwater over a century ago and more recently the stone cladding for the new Parliament building in Valletta. On the way participants also visit the derelict, secluded, decaying San Anton Battery on the water’s edge.

The medieval thematic trail to ancient Żurrieq and Safi, starting from Xarolla Windmill, takes ramblers through Punic times, the Roman conquest, early Christianity and the rich medieval period, particularly the post-Muslim era. This village, with its abundant texture of ecclesiastical medieval remains, like the beautifully res­tored medieval wayside chapel and cemetery of Ħal Millieri, offers the seasoned rambler great satisfaction.

Another interesting walk is ‘From Tower to Military Battery’ in Mel­lieħa, starting from the imposing Selmun Palace over­looking Mistra Bay. The route passes through beautiful scenery in Għajn Ħadid, dotted by geological and historical features like the ancient Imġiebaħ (beehives) in an area rich in garigue, where the wild thyme (sagħtar) – home of the Mal­tese honey bee – grows in abundance.

Wilderness rambling can be enjoyed at Il-Qammiegħ, a cir­cular walk on Malta’s northern coast, with its unique scenic, geo­logical and cul­tural features, such as Il-Latmija, once a cave set­tlement. On a fine, clear autumn day this walk is truly memorable.

The Maltese islands still have the potential to provide some of the finest and most exhilarating rambles in the central Mediterranean

Another area suitable for this type of rambling is on the Buskett plateau, an area criss-crossed by hundreds of the enigmatic cart ruts, known as Clapham Junction, which have baffled both local and foreign historians for centuries. The nearby cave settlement of Għar il-Kbir, which was still inhabited in the early British period, and the various Punic tombs that characterise the area, are added value to this heritage trail.

The Siġġiewi walk in late Decem­ber, when the Maltese country­side dons a floral mantle made of the red flowers of clover (silla) and the yellow hue of cape sorrel (Ħaxixa Ngliża). This is a vigorous walk taking in the nearby hamlet of Ħax-Xluq with its medieval chapel and the imposing stone statue of the Assumption of Our Lady. This brings the curtain down on the autumn walks programme, after which the Ramblers start planning their winter walks.

As the late anthropologist Jeremy Boissavain had pointed out, the continuous nibbling away at the countryside has paradoxically been going on ever since we attained our independence. In spite of this, the Maltese islands still have the potential to provide some of the finest and most exhilarating rambles in the central Mediterranean.

The programme of autumn walks sent to all members of the Ramblers’ Asssociation, complete with detailed route directions, points of interest and grading, has been carefully planned by its Walks Commission in consultation with voluntary walk leaders to suit all members and their families.

Of course, a few walks need particular care and it is always worth heeding the guidelines given to derive maximum enjoyment. The Green Country Code devised by Nature Trust Malta has also been sent to association members to promote a more respectful approach to Malta’s countryside and coastal zones. Foreign visitors are welcome to join the Maltese rambling community.

www.ramblersmalta.org

Lino Bugeja is honorary president of the Ramblers’ Association of Malta.

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