The countryside in February will be showing off the best of its velvety verdant mantle, and with some luck, a crisp, sunlit day will draw deep contrasting colour by complementing white, puffed clouds against a blue sky. The effect is breathtaking and the impression striking with every turn of the eye. Nature is the realm of ramblers’ delight, their very joie de vivre, and nothing stops them from enjoying this God-given gift. Walking in winter is wholesome, warming the sinews and unwinding the mind.
Finding strength in numbers, ramblers will not hesitate to challenge obstacles illegally placed to prohibit access to years-old public lanes and trodden paths, to enjoy a simple walk. Where a country path is thoroughfare between two public roads or public lands, not treading on tilled fields or built-up property, there is a ramblers’ realm. Unless a sign, gate or barrier is recognised as definitely legitimate and appropriately placed at defined borders, leaving no doubt of privacy, there is no reason to respect any other sort of unofficial manifestation or contraption that renders inaccessible boundless tracts of land and/or foreshore.
European law recognises that country paths common to two or more are public paths. In Malta, open spaces are already limited to lovers of the outdoor. Ravenous building development with its ramifications has wrought widespread disruption to green areas and nature, and is fast converting meadows into building yards and car parks, without respect.
For the month of February, the Ramblers’ Association has six walks on offer, one for every Sunday morning starting at 9am, and two falling on a Wednesday afternoon starting at 2pm. The full programme is as follows:
• Sunday, February 4: A trail from Dingli to Ras id-Dawwara and along the coast to Miġra l-Ferħa right up the hill to Mtaħleb. There are impressive sights of rolling hillocks, cliffs and terraced fields, with the deep blue of the Mediterranean as a backdrop. The walk starts from Dingli parish church and lasts five hours.
• Sunday, February 11: From the Ħaġar Qim temples, a country path will lead to Torri ta’ Xutu via Wied iż-Żurrieq, again offering pleasant rural and coastal scenery. It is a moderately difficult walk of about four hours starting at Ħaġar Qim car park.
• Sunday, February 18: The wide expanse of terraced terrain and rocky coast recently publicised as Imwadar National Park is complemented by sites of cultural interest, fortifications and industrial heritage. This three-hour walk starts at Marsascala parish church and heads to Ta’ Bakrat via Żonqor and bypasses St Leonard’s Fort and San Niklaw chapel on the way back.
• Sunday, February 25: This is a more difficult but pleasant walk along the southern coastal cliffs of Birżebbuġa, treading inland through Wied ix-Xoqqa and Wied Żnuber. Starting at the car park of the Freeport in Birżebbuġa, the walk will last between three and four hours.
The Wednesday walks are directed inland and require easier effort and shorter time.
• Wednesday, February 7: The fertile agricultural valleys of Wied ir-Rum and Wied Ħażrun are the gems in the crown of Maltese rural landscape, having been cultured for millennia due to their natural springs and protection from the natural elements. The walk sets off from Dingli football ground, and takes about three hours to complete.
• Wednesday, February 21: The wooded ridge crossing the island from Xemxija to Manikata is replete with cultural curiosities, such as cart ruts, tombs, bee keeps and old roadways. The meeting place is near the Xemxija beach kiosk, and this easy ramble takes three hours to complete.
Alex Vella is executive president of the Ramblers Association of Malta.
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