Predicaments of purported progress
The Ramblers’ programme for March challenges the endurance and vitality of members and guests. Six out of the seven walks prepared are moderate to hard. However, the first walk of the month, along and across the harbour, provides a good sport for beginners.
Hardy ramblers get more buzz from tougher, craggy stretches. The Gozo walk tops the endurance test. The hilly topography will perforce assess the stamina of ramblers as high ridges are climbed and deep valleys descended many times over, during five hours of continuous walking.
Besides the healthy exercise, the prize for the effort will be the breathtaking array of vistas on offer, rugged countryside and rocky coastline panoramas immersed in warm sunlight; sights that are not destined to last if the warped thinking behind the proposed Gozo tunnel continues.
The Ramblers are set against the idea of the two-lane tunnel for traffic because it is no solution at all for sensible connectivity between the islands. It is incredible how this idea, which has been bandied about for many years but discarded as unviable by different administrations, has been declared as doable now without so much as a glance at its impacts and sustainability.
How presumptuous is it of our prime minister to summarily state that the tunnel is definitely going to be built and in the same breath say that scientific studies are yet to be concluded! This stinks of a foregone conclusion, with the studies being carried out as only ritual formalities. Rationally, one should wait for the studies before deciding.
Supporters of the tunnel are ill informed if they think it is a quick solution for speeding up the crossing. Not only will it take years to complete but even once finished, it will not decrease the average crossing time appreciably. One must first consider the controls and collection of tolls. And the single-lane restriction will create delays in case of slow-moving vehicles and unimaginable problems in case of a breakdown or accident, which are inevitable.
Seeing a tunnel for traffic as a solution is shortsighted
Queues of tailing traffic will still remain but will be transferred elsewhere from Mġarr and Ċirkewwa. Since travel through the tunnel will be less staggered, more traffic will inevitably cause gridlocks in Gozo, given the size of the road network.
The sister island will become a mere extenion of characterless and polluted Malta as the building industry will irresistably thrive on covering green areas with cement, sadly eliminating bursts of countryside views as one drives along.
The distance travelled underground in a single lane will be at least three times the distance from Mġarr to Ċirkewwa.
The landscape beneath the Nadur ridge will be scarred as the gaping hole will pour its asphalt arteries onto the fertile meadows, causing irreversible damage to the environment.
Nor is it a long-term solution! Other problems will be caused by the traffic that is likely to escalate with long queues of vehicles puffing out poisonous exhaust (imagine being forced to stop in the middle of the tunnel!). One would have expected better thinking outside the box from the various authorities created recently to deal with traffic problems.
Other measures that have been suggested, such as high-speed ferries, and ferries to different ports, need careful consideration in order to provide solutions that will hold for the next 50 or so years. A combination of such measures would certainly solve the problem of waiting time and queues. Seeing a tunnel for traffic as a solution is shortsighted.
If a tunnel has to be dug then let it be for a metro system that would remain underground and be studiously planned to encompass the whole of Malta, as has been suggested elsewhere.
Together with fiscal measures, it would have the effect of reducing traffic and improving air quality. It might be argued that tunnels for a metro system will aggravate the problem of waste. This is certainly true.
However the Castille-inspired rhythm of overdevelopment, now described as “the great leap forward”, knows no bounds and makes land reclamation inevitable, with or without tunnels.
Since Malta has to suffer the predicament for its purported progress, it is best to seek and suggest methods that limit the anticipated environmental damage.
Sunday, March 3: Around and across Marsamxett harbour – an easy cultural walk from Manoel Island to Valletta of some four hours taking in the Pinetum and Valletta gardens on the way, returning to the Ferries by boat. The starting point is across the bridge on Manoel Island.
Sunday, March 10: The northeast coast of Mellieħa – starting at Selmun Palace, this hard walk of four hours heads down the steep lane to Mistra Bay and follows the coast overlooking St Paul’s Islands and Mġiebaħ Bay. Not recommended for inexperienced walkers because of the rough and hilly terrain.
Wednesday, March 13: The countryside around Mosta – the meeting spot is Tarġa Gap next to Mcast. The walk of four hours will follow the Victoria Lines to Dwejra on to Wied il-Qlejja (Chadwick Lakes) returning by way of Wied Speranza. It is a moderately hard walk on rough terrain.
Sunday March 17: Gozo – a long and moderately hard ramble of some five hours, which, however, can be cut short at various points at will at bus-stops encountered on the way. It leaves the Mġarr ferry terminal upon arrival of the 8.15am trip from Ċirkewwa. Many hills and valleys are trasversed as the walk takes in Għajnsielem and Nadur, Xagħra and Marsalforn, Qbajjar and Żebbuġ. Not a walk for the faint-hearted.
Sunday, March 24: Wardija Ridge – a moderate walk that starts near Scotts supermarket in Bumarrad and climbs through Wied Qannotta to the highlands of Wardija from where spectacular countryside and coastal views can be enjoyed.
Wednesday, March 27: Żonqor – The meeting place for the walk is at the bottom car park of Smart City. It will head towards Żonqor along the country lanes of Inwadar park and then follow the coast back. The duration of the ramble is three hours and it is a moderately easy walk on rough terrain.
Sunday, March 31: Victoria Lines West – The starting point is Mġarr parish church. The moderately hard walk through the hamlets of L-Iskorvit and Ta’ Abatija will climb the uphill path to the Kunċizzjoni Battery from the top of Fomm ir-Riħ Bay. Then the Victoria Lines are followed until the Binġemma Gap is reached.
Except for the Gozo walk, all walks on Sunday mornings start at 9am, while those on Wednesdays start at 2pm. Everybody is invited to join in the walks. However, beginners should take care to start with the easy walks, and then decide on the harder graded walks. The Ramblers’ Association takes great care in picking its trails but everyone is solely responsible for their safety and are free to choose to walk or stop at their discretion. For further information visit the websites above or call 9949 7080.
Alex Vella is executive president of the Ramblers’ Association of Malta.