An enjoyable coastal walk (Tarifa – Torre de Guadalmesí)

by firmm Team

Text and pictures: SONJA VAN DEN BOSSCHE, volunteer for firmm – June 2015

As I was not lucky to be on the boat on my day off, because it had already been sold out, I decided to go for a walk along the Mediterranean coast. This geologically and historically interesting part of Tarifa had already intrigued me since my walk along the rocky coast with Jörn (firmm‘s marine biologist), the participants of the whale watching course and the other volunteers the week before.

Walk with students Wooden bridge 

The coastal walk from Tarifa to the tower of Guadalmesí starts at the castle of Guzmán the Good. For centuries it has served for the transport of cattle and its trail ‘La Colada de la Costa’ takes you eastwards, in the direction of Algeciras, through the National Park of the Strait. I estimated that it would take me ca. 4 hours to cover this distance of about 20 km to and fro, so I left early in the afternoon.

I crossed two wooden bridges over dry rivers and passed by fields of flowers, flysch abrasion platforms and cliffs, bunkers and ruins, and so on. On the other side of the sea the huge Mount Moses, one of the two pillars of Hercules (the other one being the Rock of Gibraltar), constantly impressed me. Cows, donkeys, goats and sheep grazing on the hills and some birds were one of the few living beings I met on my way through this desolate, but varied and sometimes spectacular landscape, formed for millions of years by the rich history of Andalusia, the strong winds (‘levante’ and ‘poniente’) blowing through the Strait of Gibraltar and the erosion from the waves on the cliffs.

Flowers Cows by the sea 

Looking at the coast I frequently admired the flysch abrasion platforms. These are semi-submersible, rocky surfaces in the intertidal zone, caused by the collision of two tectonic plates, the Eurasian Plate and African Plate, which come together here, and unequal erosion resistance of materials, a harder (clay) and a softer one (sandstone).

Flysch abrasion platform Bunker and ruins of a farm View of Yebel Musa and the Strait 

In the cliffs on vertical walls covered with little vegetation there are strange hollows – reminiscent of wasp nests – having a diameter of 2-3 cm due to wind and saltwater erosion.

The 498 bunkers and other constructions in this region were built after the Spanish Civil War during Franco’s rule in the previous century to guard, defend and protect the border integrity between Conil de la Frontera and the Guardiaro River, especially close to Gibraltar.

The about 15 m high tower of Guadalmesí is the endpoint of the walk. It was built in 1588 under the reign of Philip II of Spain in the mouth of the Guadalmesí River, where the enemy, the Barbary pirates, used to fetch water, as this was the only river with water in summer. So the mission of the tower was to make water supply impossible for hostile ships between Tarifa and Algeciras or to defend the only possible all year round water supply point. In this way the natives were warned about the presence of enemies. Around the tower of Guadalmesí there are some devastated houses, probably occupied by a military detachment. Another function of the tower was to keep watch over the passage through the Strait by holding contact with the Friar Tower (in Spanish ‘Torre del Fraile’) and Isla de las Palomas.

Abrasion platform and the tower of Guadalmesí The tower and devastated houses Guadalmesí River and the tower 

In addition ‘Guadalmesí’ is Arabic for ‘river of the women’. The legend goes that the aboriginals hid their women near the source of the Guadalmesí River in Sierra Luna in order to prevent them from being kidnapped by the pirates from the sea and being sold as slaves on the other side of the Strait of Gibraltar.

In the vicinity of this tower there’s also a bird observatory. In spring and autumn we can see all kinds of gliding birds, such as eagles, ospreys, storks, griffon vultures, Eurasian sparrow hawks, black kites, European honey buzzards, Montagu’s harriers, lesser kestrels, etc. crossing the Strait here, using rising air currents, instead of flying by flapping their wings… And the migration watch point yields a breath-taking view of the 842 m high Mount Moses in Morocco, as the distance between Africa and Spain is at its smallest here, only 14.4 km.

Bird observatory of Guadalmesí and Yebel Musa Reef, lighthouse of Isla de las Palomas and the harbour of Tarifa 

On the long way back I suddenly heard the horn of a ferry and I felt very much relieved: this was Tarifa. Home again!

After a tiring afternoon the Strait of Gibraltar, a mythological and magical place in which two continents – Europe and Africa – and two seas – the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean – meet, had given me a lot of joy. And it made me realize that one cannot only feel at one with the wonderful dolphins and whales at sea, but also with this great gift from nature on land.

Map of the walk 


Information sources:

8) (birds)



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