For most of the year the Maltese Islands offer some of the most fascinating country walks in the Mediterranean: an exhilarating array of scenic landscape rich in geological features, secluded beaches, coastal cliffs, historic and archaeological sites, coastal towers and wayside chapels scattered in remote and inaccessible corners far from the hustle and bustle of everyday life.
From early autumn to late spring, the Maltese archipelago offers a veritable floral paradise when the land throws up a riot of wild flowers and the rambler can marvel at the floral sights decking the gentle hillsides which look so bare and forbidding in the long hot summer months. Fields of white and yellow wall-rocket (gargir) interspersed with pockets of red clover (silla) or red poppies and bordered by banks of the ubiquitous Bermuda buttercup (ingliza) or the crown daisy (lellux). Along the footpaths the lovely ‘Sweet Alison’ (buttuniera) with its exquisite white flowers, the rare Evergreen Rose (girlanda tal-wied), the Red Campion (lsien l-ghasfur) and hundreds of other species compete for attention.
Then onto the large expanse of garigue (xaghri) the intoxicating fragrance of the wild thyme (saghtar), the sweet smell of the yellow-flowered fennel plant (buzbiez) and other wild herbs elate the spirit as you notice the sudden change of the landscape as well as the dramatic shifts in topography.
The English mystic poet William Blake wrote about seeing ‘heaven in a wild flower’, in which case an endless paradise awaits the Maltese rambler with a feel for nature. Indeed Malta and Gozo boast of around a thousand species of wild flowering plants with about 700 of them being indigenous to the Islands.
Of course there are other rewards for the compulsive rambler, not least that of a healthy lifestyle. George Trevelyn, former professor of Modern History at Cambridge, very closely associated with the National Trust of Great Britain in the 1930’s once quipped: “I have two doctors, my left leg and my right “.
Countryside under threat
Unfortunately this earthly paradise is seriously being threatened as the Maltese countryside is rapidly being hijacked by unscrupulous speculators, landowners, and squatters. With astonishing regularity rubble walls, corbelled huts (giren), Punic sites, rock tombs, free-standing aedicules and even time-honoured cemeteries as well as whole stretches of garigue are reduced to heaps of rubble by heartless speculators equipped with the latest mechanical shovels and bulldozers; or by insensitive pseudo-farmers with the intention of creating more space for the myriad illegal cement-coloured cubicles that dot our shrinking countryside. A sense of horror and national disgrace pervades the discerning ramblers as they helplessly witness the systematic disappearance of cistern, well-heads, water-troughs, olive crushers, sundials, milestones and notarial deeds carved in marble, thus depriving Malta of those elements which give additional character and vitality to our countryside.
Ramblers, hikers and backpackers have lately and systematically been encountering increased hostility from hunters, trappers, squatters and to a lesser degree from the farming community, even when ramblers follow what they consider to be a public path with a right of way.
No place has escaped the illegal privatisation of public land. Every day more and more public land, pathways and even surfaced secondary roads are illegally appropriated and closed off – at Mtahleb, Kuncizzjoni, Bahrija, Bingemma, Dingli Cliffs, Il-Qaws, Ras ir-Raheb, Gnejna, Delimara, Munxar. The list is endless.