Thursday, 4 December 2014

WALKING TO THE ROCK

Walking and writing have often gone together.  William Wordsworth (and Dorothy with her notebook), WH Auden, Laurie Lee, Patrick Leigh Fermor, Thomas A Clark are just a few examples.  

Walking was the reason for a week-end in Gibraltar recently.  A friend of mine has spent the last four months walking there from Lincoln, so a group of family and friends went out to welcome him back to British soil and to celebrate his achievement (and his 60th birthday).

I found that we had just missed the Gibunco International Literature Festival (including an impressive line-up of Jacqui Dankworth, Butterfly Wing and Maureen Lipman reading from jazz poet Jeremy Robson's new collection).  But the weather was too good to spend indoors.  Of course we went up the Rock and saw the apes (Barbary Macaques) and the military tunnels.  I was hoping to see Africa but for the whole week-end a misty haze stubbornly obscured the Moroccan coastline.

Because of its strategic importance Gibraltar abounds in history and there are many reminders of its military past, from the Moorish castle to the 100 ton gun from the First World War.  We visited Europa Point and saw the ships entering the Mediterranean.  I thought of the troop ships which went through the straits in the Second World War, including one carrying my father who sailed this way en route to the Far East.  As I watched the numerous vessels passing Europa Point I was reminded of W H Auden's "Look, stranger, on this island now" with the ships on their "urgent voluntary errands".

We walked back from Europa Point along the quiet shore roads and tunnels which took us to Rosia and back into the city.  We explored La Alameda Gardens (Gibraltar's botanical gardens), marvelling at a free-flying Monarch Butterfly (bigger than a wren) and the colourful bird of paradise flowers.  

The last thing I expected to find in the gardens was a statue of Molly Bloom from Joyce's Ulysses.  I had forgotten that Molly, daughter of Major Tweedie, grew up in Gibraltar.   Her memories of Gibraltar form part of her famous reverie at the end of the book - including "the fig trees in the Alameda gardens".

"Each walk moves through space like a thread through fabric, sewing it together into a continuous experience ... this continuity is one of the things I think we lost in the industrial age - but we can choose to reclaim it." (Rebecca Solnit Wanderlust, a History of Walking)  I am full of admiration for my walker-friend.  Four months and over 2000 miles on the path.

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