The Great North Road – Gibraltar

The Tuesday evening before dad flew home we had the pleasure of exploring the Great North Road. Now the Great North Road in Gibraltar is underground, it runs from behind the old casino down to the Calpe Barracks. Our lovely neighbour Manolo arranged the tour as these tunnels are still in active use by the MOD and are only accessible with a guide.

We met on Europa Road with our guide Pete at 6.30pm and made our way up the hill that goes behind the old casino. Now the oddest thing about the evening for me was the heat factor. Outside the weather was horrid. Drizzle and at points steady rain and wind with a cold chill to it, inside of the tunnel it felt much the same, until we turned the corner where the heat hit us. It was delightful. It would make the ideal location to dry washing while the skies are grey! The exact reason for the heat, I have forgotten, but I am told that inside of caves stays the same temperature all year round. If it wasn’t so bloody dark I would potentially move in!

At one point our guide told us to stop walking, which we did, he then got us to turn of our torches. It was black, there was zero natural light. It wasn’t so creepy at the ‘Lines Tunnels’. But the sounds of the water pipes running through the tunnel made me jump! In comparison to some of the other tunnels this one is massive, it is big enough to drive down in a truck, and you can see where people do, especially from some of the floor, where the concrete slabs that cover the gully where wiring is housed are all smashed up.

Along the Great North Road in Gibraltar you will find the usual stops, Peterborough, Darlington and Durham. These were all stores, chambers or stairways. Oddly back home this road cuts through my home town (Hatfield in Hertfordshire) so Dad and I both found it slightly amusing to be walking along it here in Gibraltar. The reason for the naming was simply navigation. It seems that most of, if not all of the soldiers stationed there knew their way up and down the Great North Road in the UK, so they just ‘mimicked’ the route so people could learn the tunnels with ease.

The tunnel runs at about a mile long and has kitchens, a hospital, surgery, engine rooms and natural caves (seriously humid) all leading off of it. It also has several sets of stairs that lead down to the next level of tunnels that intersect the Rock. There are over 30 miles (between 32 and 34 miles depending on who you ask) of tunnel in the Rock. Most of these were created between the end of WW1 and the end of WW2. It is possible to travel from end to end and side to side of the Rock without going outside. An underground ‘world’ was created to provide cover for the 16,500 soldiers that were based here during the war. There were provisions in the stores to last for three months! (Although Wikipedia says slightly different, I will go with what our guide told us!) It was just crazy.

The reasons for the tunnels made sense, so much military power on show, available to blow up easily, it needed protecting, the Rock is a brilliant natural fortress and also civilian safety came into it. Especially after ammunition went off once, blowing up a ship and sending debris clear over the top of the Rock.

I took my old camera (I wasn’t sure what kind of caves / tunnels we’d be going into) so I hope the pictures will explain some of the things we saw with more ease than I can!

16 thoughts on “The Great North Road – Gibraltar

  1. AMAZING, your so very lucky to be able to get access through this tunnel, great pictures as well, i also love searching and exploring the non tourist parts of the Rock (especially the WW1/WW2 tunnels).
    I look forward to your future adventures and blog posts – Keep up the good work!

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  2. Yes I’ve done the lines, fantastic set of tunnels, I hear the government wants to restore the “jungle” area into a tourist attraction in the coming years…
    Have you been down the Williams Way tunnels yet, near Eastern Beach?

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    1. I have heard this too. I think it would be good. Its a huge area though… I wonder how they would do it. I haven’t been down Williams Way yet. YET. Is that the one that cuts across from the east to the west, near the dockyard?

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      1. I’m not to sure, it would definitely be a long term project, much like the med steps restoration.
        I think so, I believe it also links to the great north road and the old east side gas station plant, it’s a great place to explore… It starts just opposite Ressto, but it’s a great entrance to pretty much the entire network 🙂

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  3. Alan 29/03/2015
    I served on the Rock 1964 – 1969 as amember of Power Station Troop 1st Fortress Sqn. RE. I am horrified to see the state of Calpe Hole Power Station. When I think of the love and care that we, both military and civilian staff, lavished on those engines.
    I will be visiting Gib. shortly on a RE reunion and was looking forward to our visit to the Great North Road__ I’m not so sure now. Regards Alan

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    1. I can only imagine what they looked like when they were in use, and after last summers series of power failures I am sure a lot of people would be of the same mind as you! I hope that you enjoy the rest of your trip. As someone who has never seen the tunnels ‘in working order’ I found it really interesting. When is your trip planned for?

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      1. Hi we will be arriving on 23rd April and staying for 7 days. Incidentally I notice that I’ve made made an error in my dates, I was actually stationed there from 1966 till 1969. My first year was spent as Tunneling Troop Electrician and I worked with them on the completion of “Moles End Way.”

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  4. Hi, I last visited the Rock on a cruise ship some years ago. I’ve not stayed on Gib. since 03/10/1969. A certain Mr. Franco was meant to re-take Gibraltar but as he had 2nd thoughts I was allowed to go home.
    You mention that you’d rather wet yourself than use the toilet in your picture. You’d have done more than that if you’d seen the creature that I met at 3 am. in one something similar.

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    1. I can only imagine. I sort of want to know. Was it a rat? Or an ape? Lol. You’ll have to let me know what has changed once you visit. I know you’ll find it massively different, as everyone who comes back always does. It never seems to stop changing… new buildings, reclaimed land… it is all going on!

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      1. I don’t know that, Rats are every where in the tunnels and I should’ve been expecting it. Just the lethargy one feels at that time of morning. I’m afraid my intended trip is off, for the time being. My wife was taken ill on Easter Sunday ending up in hospital . She is out now but has been advised not to fly so we’ve had to cancel. Once she has been cleared we will re book our holiday.
        I notice from previous comments that quite a few people seem to enjoy exploring the tunnels. Whilst not wanting to be a spoil sport may I remind visitors that men died whilst digging the tunnels and in some cases still lie entombed in them. Some tunnels collapsed during work burying whole shifts of men. Some of these were judjed so dangerous they were simply bricked up and a burial serve carried out. Please respect any memorials etc. that you find. Regards Alan

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