In the far north of Malta and just off the main road to the Gozo ferry terminal, a minor road runs uphill to meet one of the most ‘colourful’ of the Knight’s fortified towers. St. Agatha’s Tower was built in 1647-8 to guard the short stretch of sea to Gozo, aided by St. Mary’s Tower on Comino. At some point in its life it was given a red coat of paint – no one seems to know exactly when or why – but this has inadvertently lent it its more familiar name – the Red Tower. The tower is a square, robust one and when in use in centuries gone by it was normally manned by four soldiers, though it could accommodate a garrison of up to fifty in times of trouble. Last used during World War II as a glorified machine gun post, the tower had fallen into a sad state of disrepair by the end of the twentieth century. Luckily the NGO Din l-Art Helwa, the National Trust, took over its massive restoration and finally opened it to the public.
The Red Tower stands on high ground on the Marfa Ridge and probably its biggest draw is the open views from its rooftop. But once inside there is also a wealth of information on the structure itself, its history and its eventual restoration. Other information boards concentrate on the area itself, its topography, fauna and flora. The small tower shop stocks thyme honey from the area.
Beyond the Red Tower, the narrow road continues to the edge of the Qammieh peninsula. It’s basically a dead end road but one which is a pleasure to walk and it’s not a longish one either – just over a mile in length. This short stretch of road is one of the most scenic on the island, bordered as it is by a rich garigue flora during the winter and spring months. There is an abundance of thyme and other aromatic herbs and in spring this area is one of the best for orchids, of which Malta has around a dozen species. There are understandably few trees on this windswept plateau but there are small copses of carob and pine in the more sheltered areas.
This road to nowhere opens up some spectacular views on the way. Starting from the Red Tower there are good sweeping views over Ghadira Bay and the nature reserve run by Birdlife Malta which backs the bay. Further on the views become more rugged – to the south there are wide vistas over the cliffs of the Majjistral Park while to the north the scene stretches to Comino and further beyond to Gozo and the magnificent white ‘wall’ of the Ta Cenc cliffs. The road ends somewhat ignominiously at a battered group of low buildings which once formed a radar station. Today most of the buildings are in ruin.
The view over the cliffs from this spot – practically Malta’s northern land’s end – is of a massive boulder scree which tumbles to the sea and is the result of the erosion of the seemingly mighty cliffs. Though the road stops here one can make his way along the cliff top to Paradise Bay, which can easily be reached in about a half hour. Some 400 metres to the north of the ‘road to nowhere’ there is another tiny road which runs parallel to it and can deliver you back to the Red Tower via a different, and equally scenic, route.
Author: Steven Bonello