Walking the world, one trail at a time

Hiking the northern coast of Gozo, Malta (plus, the importance of map reading)

A rugged coastal walk in Gozo that taught us why good map reading is an important skill.

Disclaimer: the map at the bottom of this page is not the walk that we did.

That’s because the walk we did took us somewhere quite strange. We had a vague idea of where we were going; I was using Google Maps on my phone to navigate.

Skip to (a more sensible version of) the route.

Anyone who’s used Google Maps when trying to walk anywhere that’s even slightly off the beaten path will know it’s rubbish at marking footpaths. I’ve become accustomed to this, so when I saw a clearly marked footpath (in real life and on my phone), that later disappeared into nothingness, I figured I could just wing it. Google Maps was probably wrong, I probably knew better, and we’d figure out which way to go once we got there.

We’d caught a bus from Victoria, schlepped through the streets of Xaghra to get to Ramla Bay, and then started to climb upwards. Just before the path disappeared on my phone was a very steep hill. So steep I was practically crawling along to stop myself from falling. When we got to the top, it was straight back down. The ground was loose and it was tough going.

This is where the path on my phone disappeared. Lo and behold, in real life too, the path had vanished. We carried on (I could spy further up the coast the bit of land we wanted to be walking on), climbing over unstable rocks and even underneath barbed wire (could you think of a more obvious ‘do not proceed’ sign?).

We eventually decided to turn back because, frankly, we got a bit freaked out. Beyond the barbed wire we found a makeshift base camp, with a camo-painted wooden shack and several cages. There was a burnt out barbecue. It looked abandoned.

I crept up to one of the cages, curious. It contained a wooden model; it looked like the abandoned pig farm we’d seen on Comino. I peered closer, my face inches away from the mesh.

Something moved.

I screamed.

We got the hell out of there.

On reflection, I think the creature in the cage was a ferret or some other rodent, that might have been used to flush birds out during their annual migration to Gozo. Unfortunately bird hunting appears pretty rife on Gozo (a presenter of Springwatch was even in court regarding this practice while we were visiting), and the shotgun shells we’d had to step over (another warning sign – what was wrong with us?) seemed evidence of the activity.

So what was the outcome? Nothing bad, we got back on track safe and sound. But we’d wasted time and I couldn’t help think it would have been a different situation altogether if one of us had slipped, or if we’d encountered someone manning the fort. It was really remote out there.

We retraced our steps and followed a path that we could see would take us all the way to Marsalforn, and carried on (this is the route on the map below). By that point it was raining, I was knackered, and we just wanted to be in a bar with a glass of wine. We got there soon enough – and I resolved to get a compass and some proper maps for our next adventure.

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Getting there

We caught the bus to Xaghra from Victoria’s bus terminal. For info on Gozo’s bus routes, click here.

Distance

7.7km / 4.8 miles

Time

2 hours

Difficulty

Moderate; some quite tough uphill climbs.

The route

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