In the first week of December I was fortunate enough to attend adventure training Exercise DRAGON VALETTA in Malta with personnel from 143 (West Midlands) Brigade. Malta is a beautiful island pushing it’s way up from the Mediterranean, with some great opportunities for both rock climbing and open water diving in amazing scenery. A downside to Malta’s location however is the volatile weather, and we managed to arrive during one of the wettest periods of the year, and fast-moving storms became a recurring theme for much of the week.
The hotel we stayed in was located in the town of Bugibba on the north end of the island, a quiet town with plenty of good restaurants and views over the bay and out to sea. The climbing areas we were to use were located on the south coast of the island, and it was only a short move across the island to get there.
The first day’s climbing began in the vicinity of the Blue Grotto, so named for the natural grotto formed by the sea-carved arch and the stunning blue of the waters beneath it, a popular tourist spot. We wasted no time and began our first climb on a multi-pitch route over crashing waves. Though initially nervous, not having climbed for several months, I soon enough remembered what I was supposed to be doing and we were rewarded with a great view of the Blue Grotto not accessible to most.
The next day’s was spent further west along the coast at the Xaqqa cliffs, a location we returned to several times during the week, due to its mix of basic and technical climbs in a small space. It was here we first witnessed the speed of Mediterranean storms, rushing in off the sea to drench us and vanish again in the space of 10 minutes, only to leave blue skies and a bright sun behind it.
The undoubted highlight of the climbing was the opportunity to climb up the arch of the Blue Grotto. At the top of the arch we were afforded a great view of the area before we abseiled down to the bottom on ropes set up by the team on the rock climbing leader’s course. The start of the climb was no more than three metres above the sea and the spray jumped up to meet us. Though not the most difficult route, the climb was still challenging whilst giving us time to appreciate the surroundings, albeit surrounded by watching tourists. This climb alone was worth the trip, and won’t be something easily forgotten.
The last two days of the trip were spent going on battlefield trips across Malta. The first day was spent in the capital, Valetta, which was the main focus of the First Siege of Malta in 1565, when the Ottomans attempted to take the island from the ruling Knights Hospitaller, in what is described as the final battle of the crusades. Much of the fortifications survive, and the story of the battle was vividly retold by the battlefield tour guide who showed us key points of the battlefield in the capital and across the bay, at the formidable Fort St. Angelo.
The second day was spent visiting sites across the island that were involved in the Third Siege of Malta during the Second World War. Malta was crucial in providing a depot and safe port for naval supplies headed for North Africa, as well as a vital airfield fir the RAF to contest the German and Italian control of the skies. This made Malta a priority target for the Axis forces and was bombed continuously for 154 straight days, or 5 months, compared to London’s 57. This earned the island the first collective George Cross for heroism, an honour woven into Malta’s flag, as well as the title of “most bombed place on Earth”.
I have been to Malta before on holiday, but never for a rock climbing trip, and was surprised by the scope of different climbing opportunities. I would highly recommend both the island and the rock climbing to anyone, and look forward to returning soon to explore the more challenging climbs soon, as well as more Mediterranean sun.
Maj Jerry Dolan, SO2 Adv Trg, HQ 143 (West Midlands) Bde