As I have said I have been to Malta several times and always to the town of Mellieha on the north coast close to the ferry port with a crossing to neighbouring Gozo.
I think I recollect correctly that on each of these visits I have visited the town but have always been drawn to the top of a steep hill where the Church stands close by to the main square and a ribbon of traditional shops and restaurants.
This is what Mellieha looked like when I first visited in 1997 but it is a lot more built up now. The Mellieha Bay Hotel can be made out on the far side of the bay…
I thought it was time for a change so this time after I had walked around the waterfront and the and the sandy beach and as I reached the fork in the road that led up to the town I turned left instead of carrying on and walked along the rocky southern shoreline of Mellieha Bay.
I followed signposts to a small museum housed in an old watch tower right on the edge of the harbour. Apparently it is a museum about tuna fishing and I am certain that I would have found that interesting but it was closed for renovation. Apparently the three hundred year old tower is collapsing under the weight of tons of concrete poured onto the roof during the Second World War when it was part of the Island’s defense network.
So I carried on walking.
The further away that I wandered from the beach and the harbour area there was not much to see, no shops, no bars then a private road with a gate and some holiday flats beyond so I had to turn back and then some interesting weekend homes.
Interesting because rather like railway arches in big UK cities they were built under an elevated section of the road,. Many were boarded up and barricaded with hefty padlocks but in some the shutters were open, children were playing, there was a smell of Mediterranean cooking and damp laundry was dying in the gentle breeze. It seems that these are weekend retreats for people from Valletta who drive down here on a Saturday, open the doors, give their washing a good blow in the breeze and enjoy a few hours out of the busy city.
I had walked about four miles or so by now and I was coming to the end of the urban development, the asphalt road became unpaved track and thereafter a dusty footpath that kept going to the end of the peninsular and I carried on because at the end of the mainland there was something I wanted to see – St Paul’s Island.
Saint Paul is the Patron Saint of Malta because in 60 AD he was shipwrecked on the island, an incident which is recorded in some detail in the Acts of the Apostles. Paul was on his way back to Rome to stand trial but a great storm sank the ship close to Malta and Paul and everyone else on board took refuge on a crop of rock and all were saved. Today there is a statue of him there to commemorate the event.
Malta is the most religious country in Europe…
…it has more religious public holidays than any other in Europe and 10th February is especially important because this is the The Feast of St Paul’s Shipwreck which was bad luck for Paul but good fortune for Malta because it brought Paul to the island in the year 60AD and whilst there he went promptly about converting the island to Christianity.
But my story of St Paul’s Island does not end here and I give you my word that I am honestly not making this up but in 1997 I too suffered the same fate. Taking a speed boat ride with Tony Oki Koki ‘Mr Crazy’ Banis the boat broke down and we were stranded on the very same rock in a storm for twenty minutes or so until thankfully rescued and transferred safely to Bugibba.
My nostalgic curiosity satisfied I turned around now and headed back the way that I come, back towards Mellieha.
For the record there are three more St Paul’s Islands that I can find, one in the Bering Sea (Alaska) another in Nova Scotia and a third in the French Southern and Antarctic Lands and I am fairly certain that Paul wasn’t shipwrecked on any of these.
Other Saint Stories…