Category Archives: Malta

May Diary 2016

Well, April was something of a disaster!  I had to cut my South West trip short as there were problems with my car – it turned out the alternator was slowly dying and communicating its distress to the steering and clutch through the wonders of modern car electronics.  At least I got my boots ordered first!

Peugot on Dartmoor
Peugot on Dartmoor

I did manage to explore the fabulous Scilly Isles, ancient haunt of pirates, for the day.  I dined on fish at the ‘Admiral Benbow’ on my return – yes, I know it’s not the real one from the book but it had to be done!  Penzance Youth Hostel was excellent, one of those with a lively sociable lounge and valuable parking space.

If you go to Cornwall in the summer, don’t take a car!  My landscape reading skills tell me that the narrow rocky peninsula is not kind to vehicles.  You can get a whole day’s travel on the buses for the price of an hour’s parking.  If there’s enough of you to fill a car, check parking on Google Streetview, look for reviews.  It’s more of an adventure to go on public transport!

Adventure was the theme at Falmouth Marine Museum.  Sailing out into the unfriendly Atlantic in a wooden ship, with no engines to steer you away from the jagged rocks lining this coast – no wonder so many pubs are furnished with the spoils of shipwreck!  There was a Viking exhibition featured too, a fascinating insight into the everyday lives of these fearsome reavers.

The deck of a seagoing Viking ship and an explanantion of the reverse osmosis method used for drinking water in Malta
The deck of a seagoing Viking ship and an explanation of the reverse osmosis method used for drinking water in Malta

I had to limp home and forego my visit to Tintagel and the nearby town of Boscastle.  The flooding there in 2004 inspired the ‘Strategic National Framework on Community Resilience’ which was an important influence on the Resilience Handbook.  Bringing resilience into play, I renavigated my course to the Bristol Survival School weekend camp to go by bus.

My goal was to learn to use a fire drill, as featured on ‘The Island’.  I achieved that, but also learned that anyone who’s good enough to get a fire going with this method in under ten minutes – and there were a few! – wears a flint and steel around their neck.  Fire drilling doesn’t seem to be the preferred method, and it is very difficult.

I continued my work on identifying burdock in its first year stage, which is when the large tasty roots form.  I’ve nearly nailed down the differences with the poisonous foxglove.  Please don’t go digging up wild plants though, except with the informed permission of the landowner.  Use your Resilience Garden space – even if it’s only patio pots – to cultivate your own forage plants.  You only need to get to know them, maybe try a few…

making fire drill

Above, the instructor is carving out a fire drill set from raw wood.  Below, an ember has been lit from the powdered wood created by the drilling process, and has been transferred to a piece of bark.  At this stage you use ’ember extenders’ to nurse it into a larger coal.  This is placed in a hank of dried grass and blown into flame, narrowly missing your eyebrows.

firedrill ember 20160423_200120

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Malta – Transport and Trees

We thought we had come well prepared for the challenge of hiring a car in a strange country after arriving late at night. We’d printed out a full list of Google directions to the hotel at the far end of Malta. Luckily my colleague, Linda Benfield, had also bought a map at Bristol Airport.  It was a very valuable last minute purchase!

The directions relied on street names. We found one later, sixteen feet up a wall in inch high letters, some of which were missing. Navigation was a challenge even with the Marco Polo map. Signage seemed optional, the names of towns changed as you got nearer and EU funding had inspired a proliferation of new roundabouts. There was even an extra tunnel to the ones depicted!

Hedgehog sign
Beware of the hedgehogs!

Being resilient, we had a torch to do map reading with, and made it to the hotel. The ‘Riviera’ sign lights up blue at night and is something of a landmark as you drive the the hairpin bends of Marfa Ridge. There was no need to worry about Reception closing, as a coach full of German tourists had just arrived.

Discovering it only took ten minutes to go from really close to our sought after destination in central Mdina, to being confused on Route One at the northern edge of the island was a revelation, and explained why we spent the first few days visiting sites at random as we stumbled across them. We were simply expecting too much distance.

Malta is a small island with a long history. Everyone knows their way around. If you’re able-bodied, there’s an excellent bus service – without, alas, the iconic yellow buses, which were stood down in 2011. Walking is a good option too. Some of the important Neolithic sites can only be accessed on foot. Remember the summer sun can be merciless in this open landscape; take water and a hat.

Land here has been cultivated for centuries and deforestation is a problem. On their arrival in 1529, the Knights of St John – soon to be the Knights of Malta – reported ‘an island without trees.’

Rural landscapes are divided into tiny vegetable plots, there is neither space nor water for many large trees. Although it was only 20 C in January, the impact of the summer heat was baked into the very stones.

The contrast with Buskett Forest Gardens was startling. Here, we found open water, running streams, cool and damp air. This reforestation project dates back to its use as a hunting preserve by the Knights in the 1600s. It’s now a Natura 2000 site. Native tree species from Malta’s once extensive forests support a variety of rare wildlife, including many migratory birds.

Buskett Forest Gardens, Malta 2016
Open water in the forest

On Sundays, as we discovered, many Maltese families come here for picnics, and the car park becomes very full. We were hoping to find the famous cart tracks and caves, which were surely just at the top of that hill, but couldn’t find the way. Perhaps it was signposted from the other side of the plateau. I recommend hiring a guide!