Excerpt from a feature by Mr. Lino Bugeja appearing in The Sunday Times of Malta
Although the Rambling Association of Malta came into being only at the start of 2005, organised rambling in Malta started over 130 years ago.
Rambling was in fact recommended as a means to improve the quality of life of British servicemen and interested Maltese in 1871. That year the Methodist Church in Malta, mainly through the good services of Rev. John Laverack (1848-1926), a devoted and assiduous missionary, invited the Blue Ribbon branch of the British Temperance Movement to Malta to serve as “a counteractive to the wine shops and low houses of entertainment in which the neighbourhood abounds” – the locality being the Cottonera and Floriana areas where there was a concentration of troops.
The strategy adopted favoured the introduction of physical recreation in the form of rambling, cycling and football – activities associated with the Muscular Christianity Movement, whose mission statement was the promotion of Christianity through sport.
The ethos of Muscular Christianity is excellently evinced in the exquisite film ‘Chariots of Fire’ portraying the Puritan beliefs of Eric Liddell, the Scottish athlete who refused to run the 100 meters in the Paris Olympics (1924) because the event was scheduled for a Sunday. The film is interspersed with spiritual quotations like “God made me fast, when I run I feel His pleasure” or ” to run is to honour Him”
The Temperance Society took no time in setting up a Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Home in Piazza Maggiore in Floriana, a progressive organisation intent to formulate “a framework of respectable leisure activities for British servicemen and interested Maltese.” In 1882 the Temperance Movement set up a second home in a rented house in the vicinity of the Naval Dockyard, which then moved to extensive premises on Margherita Square in Cospicua, popularly known until today as ‘Ir-Rest’ and until recently the official premises of St. George’s Football team, which also owes its origins to this early British connection.
Interest in rambling in Cottonera lingered on until the pre-war years and I vividly recall the organisation of ‘marching-outs’ (rambles) by British expats residing in Birgu or by bar-owners to the expansive countryside outside the Cottonera Lines leading to Rinella, St Leonard, Xghajra, Marsascala, St. Thomas Bay and beyond.