The ferry for Gozo is only 20 minutes from Melliha where we were staying, but we still managed to miss the 9.30am ferry. To be honest it had been getting really cold and we were struggling to sleep at night. Missing the ferry was a combination of that and the slightly odd signage at the ferry port meaning we went round a few circles, but were first in the queue for the 10.15. The ferrys run at least once an hour and are ridiculously easy (once you’ve found the way in). On at Cirkkewa, off at the Gozo port and you don’t have to get a ticket until you’re on the way back. We only had a day in Gozo and I was really hoping that we would get a climb in as the weather for Thursday and Friday was looking pretty poor. In all honesty I was feeling rough, but could at least belay for Kane. That meant finding somewhere that was at least a little sheltered and although you can often work out which way the crags are facing by the times given for direct sunshine (the maps aren’t great or particularly clear in regards the actual direction of the crag), it’s difficult to work out what the terrain is like. As well as that we wanted to see Gozo itself, so I’d identified a mini tour which would take us to four different locations with three potential climbing spots meaning we’d at least get a few interesting walks.
Stop one was on the south east coastline, a beautiful cliff off a well trodden path. Where you came off the path the scramble was clearly marked with little signs and stone cairns. Making our way up to the cliff we admired the tall exciting routes that we may one day (in the distant future) be able to climb. The routes we could climb where hidden away down a greasy dark dank crack in the rock, down which Kane discovered the wind was being funnelled quite efficiently. Well it was a lovely walk.
We drove south around the coast, got a bit lost and found the most beautiful bay. The road had dropped down into the valley and it was sheltered and calm. There were a few traverses and Deep Water soloing routes out along the cliff edge that, given a few extra degrees and sunshine I may even have tempted Kane out along. But over todays grey and choppy water were not appealing. The valley was so sheltered it seemed daft not to try and find something to climb, there seemed to be a crag a bit of a stomp across a field but we were both a little tired and there was another section of the valley a little further up that looked more interesting for a walk. Kane had spotted an old waterworks in the guidebook and it looked like it would be a good exploration if not a climb. So we drove back up the hill, parked by an old stone half building and scrambled down the concrete slip to the top of the cliff. A path ran along the top of the cliff until the valley curved in one big hairpin bend (there’s a proper name for this but I didn’t pay much attention to my geography teacher at school). The path runs right to the end of the spit of rock that runs out into the bend, so we scrambled along, past three hunters and their lovely dogs (the guns were scarier than the drop, they seemed very friendly, both of us jumped about 30secs later when some poor pigeon got it), and when you think it’s going to be another hairy scramble there are beautiful deep cut steps into the stone leading you down to the old riverbed. Around the corner and through a tunnel in the spit you reach gold dust.
The Dream wall is a white expanse with one route after the next following the curves and features back up the cliff. Around the corner the rock takes its namesake Champagne and the delicate pinkish cream colours lead you on until you turn the next corner. On the opposite side of the valley is a deep cave, tempting routes and above it a channel is cut for water to run across an aqueduct towards the waterworks. The old buildings rise out of the rock like Minis Tirith and the climbs rise up the side in cracks and channels. Like hungry sugar starved children in a sweet shop we didn’t really know where to start, looked at everything within, above and below our grade range on Waterworks, and ended up back at Champagne wall for Kane to climb a lovely route just as it started to rain…
We abandoned our tour of Gozo, happy with our finds and went for a little meander and a coffee in Victoria, the main town. Having arrived just in time to hear apparently thousands of starlings in the main square, but forgetting the éverything shuts until 7pm we had issues with dinner. I was starting to feel rather dreadful, it was really cold and we were both getting hungry. But we went for a walk around the Cittadella, the beautiful old town fortress with views across Gozo. Then Kane had the very sensible idea of heading for the port and eating there so I would stop worrying about getting tickets for the ferry back. The plan wasn’t looking good when we arrived at 6pm and everything was still shut, but as we were giving up hope the lights went on in the ‘tent’ outside the front of Ta Tuna a restaurant on quay. This was the most expensive meal we had this week and I would have paid for it twice (actually Kane treated me so I didn’t have to pay once). The family hosts managed casual, friendly and impeccable service all at once and the food was outstanding. We had salmon terrine, olives and fresh cooked bread on the house (bread so fresh the white rolls came later as they were still in the oven when we arrived), followed by swordfish and duo of beef which included the best steak I’ve had in years and I think single handedly stopped me getting a full on chest infection the following day. Chocolate puddings, Panna Cotta that I actually liked (I normally consider this a waste of a pudding), best cappucino of the week and to wish us Merry Christmas a liquer to finish, also on the house (which sadly I couldn’t drink, driving, but made Kane finish)…
Such a wonderful day, and enough food that I wouldn’t need to leave the house for a week.
Which was good because the next day we basically couldn’t.
The wind had already started by the time we got home and the storm was well underway by the morning. I spent breakfast wrapped up in a duvet and managed to pretend I wasn’t asleep by knitting. We ventured out for a coffee to the Seaview Cafe 2mins walk away, which did give us an amazing view of the terrifying waves crashing into the bay. Needing a little more outdoors time after lunch (sadly our flat had no outside view at all), we went for a drive up to the Red Tower of St Agatha. It’s an old fortress high up at the North end of the island, weirdly no one seems sure why or when it was painted red. As we got up to the tower we realised how bad the storm was when we saw the ships. The winds were coming from the North East, and in the Western Bay, and hiding along the coastline all the Tankers had come in to shelter. It was quite a spectacular sight; the Tower is above the narrowest point of the island so you can see both the Western and Eastern bays. The West bay is still a deep dark blue, filled with the lights of the boats. Whilst the East bay is a yellow grey and white with the beating waves.
My hope was that an early night would sort out my chest, and the storm would sort out itself leaving Friday to do its thing. Last day best day?
It was for the weather, and the location, and the company. I had falling out with the guide book having chosen a crag that was south facing and described in a manner that made it seem like a very easy descent (follow the obvious slope, crag on your left). This was actually a very precarious sea cliff scramble that we had to lower the bags down and I was going to need to be on belay to get out of. This did not put me in a brilliant mood as I don’t like being somewhere I don’t feel I can get out of easily, so it says a lot about the spectacular nature of the cave (and Steve the rescue pigeon) that it was so much fun. The nature of the overhanging cave and the fact that the lower offs depended on some interesting rope work to ensure I could pull Kane back into the cave (the upper lip being further out than the lower lip) meant I couldn’t really climb anything, it’s really hard to retrieve the quickdraws from an overhang and I couldn’t do it on toprope without a precarious swing on bolts that we wern’t 100% happy about, making the climbing a little unnerving. By the time we got to the (easy) last climb, I really couldn’t climb anything.
Actually I couldn’t do one particular move which was a pull up onto a 4.5foot high overhanging edge, off a pedastal out over a 10 foot drop. Yes I was on a toprope but I’m not beating myself up. Turns out that having a (very mild) chest infection, not climbing for a month and sea cliffs do nothing for my self esteem or head game. Meh. I have a plan of attack for working on this, and for once, this wasn’t the point of our holiday. We didn’t get five days of warm southern sun and endless climbing or grade improving challenges. But was that the point? I hadn’t gone with anything to prove. I hadn’t gone to achieve anything in particular. I’d gone to have a holiday, and a rest, with a very lovely man, on a very lovely Island. And I got exactly what I needed.
Thank you Malta, we’ll be back. Kane’s already picked a project route and I still want to try the prickly pear liquer.