An early 20th century coastal gun battery located at the very highest point of the Rock of Gibraltar
overlooking the strait and the Moroccan coast opposite. The gun has been meticulously restored and can be visited together with the underground ammunition magazines, engine room and rock-hewn connecting tunnel.
More background info:
Named after former Gibraltar
governor Charles O'Hara (1740-1802), O'Hara's point is at the summit of the Rock of Gibraltar, almost 1400 feet (426 metres) above the sea. O'Hara had a watchtower constructed at this site, but seriously overestimated the visibility from here, so it became known as O'Hara's Folly. This was later destroyed by gunners from the HSM Wasp in 1888. Two years later the first battery was constructed at the site.
This was replaced in 1901 with a 9.2 inch (23.5 cm) Mark X breech-loading gun capable (partly thanks to its elevated position) of firing shots as far as 16 miles (25 km) away, i.e. in theory all the way across the Strait of Gibraltar
to the North African coastline.
Going by the engravings I saw on the polished brass breech mechanism, this must have been replaced during WW1
, as it clearly said “1916” on it.
Originally fully exposed, the gun was equipped with a steel shield in the 1930s. The battery remained in service in WWII
and even the post-war period. It was last fired in 1976 in a training exercise, and then retired. However, the Battery was refurbished in 2009 and the year after the site was for the first time opened to the general public (having formerly been an out-of-bounds military location).
Nearby, 400 feet (120 metres) to the north, is another gun of the same type, which goes by the name of Lord Airey's Battery, and the pair fulfilled their military role together. The cannon at Lord Airey's Battery was also restored, but as far as I know it remains inaccessible to visitors. Definitely out of bounds is a third such gun at Breakneck Battery, which is still on Ministry of Defence territory, a short distance further north still.
In 1997, a secret underground chamber/bunker was discovered near/underneath Lord Airey's Battery which was determined to have been a secret stay-behind hideout for the planned Operation Tracer (see under Gibraltar), which, however, never came to be. (The location of this cavern is also on MoD territory, and hence inaccessible to civilian visitors.)
O'Hara's Battery is managed by a private company, though it's supervised by the Gibraltar
What there is to see: The gun itself is impressive enough for its size alone. All the finely refurbished, heavy-metal machinery is certainly pleasing to look at for those into such antique engineering and weaponry.
Apart from the gun itself, you can also visit the engine house that used to power the gun's hydraulics and the loading mechanism (it may even still be theoretically in working order, going by some accounts I've read). Down there you can marvel at yet more beautifully polished metal machinery as well as read some info panels and watch a film, including footage of a test firing of the battery in 1947. There's also a model of the mechanics of the gun-operating system.
In addition there is a virtual-reality interactive screen element where you can try your hand in a simulated attempt at sinking an “enemy ship” by firing O'Hara's Battery's gun (I didn't, as I'm not into such games, so I can't say how difficult or easy this would have been). Another screen provides an animation of the inner workings of the gun-loading mechanism.
From the engine house an underground rock tunnel leads to underneath the actual gun. Here you can inspect the charge storage magazine as well as the bottom of the loading mechanism and the gun's turntable and circular shell storage around it.
The rest of the site is closed, locked and off limits, but by the approach road downhill you pass another big gun barrel, positioned on concrete supports, possibly from a predecessor gun?
All in all
, this is no more than an add-on to visiting the Rock of Gibraltar, less so a dark-tourism attraction worth it in its own right, unless you're specifically into such early 20th-century artillery technology. I quite like looking at technology from that era, and the views from the battery are a definite bonus, so I didn't regret having made my way out here – despite the rather adverse weather on that day (as you can see in some of the photos below
at the summit of the Rock, nearly 1400 feet (426 metres) above sea level, in the southern half of the peninsula that is Gibraltar
. At the end of O'Hara's Road high above Europa Point, a bit under a mile (1.3 km) south of the cable car top station.
Access and costs: quite isolated, and getting there can be a hard climb or long walk; inexpensive.
Getting to O'Hara's Battery can be a challenge – especially if you decide to climb there specifically from the bottom of the Rock. This is possible, though: the so-called “Mediterranean Steps” lead up there along a partly tricky and steep path that winds its way up the sheer rock face – it's a hard, steep climb said to take some two hours. The more comfortable way of getting there is to first take the cable car (see under Gibraltar
) and then to walk along the ridge of the Rock right to the end of the road at O'Hara's Point. That's a longer distance but with far less climbing involved. If you don't want any of that sort of physical exertion you can of course opt to go there on a guided tour offered by local operators, or simply get a taxi from the town.
: now said to be included in the entry ticket to the Nature Reserve of Upper Rock, even in the regular £5 basic ticket (while for inclusion of the other attractions, such as the Great Siege Tunnels
, you'll still need to fork out £12 ticket for the comprehensive ticket). At least that's what the various Gibraltar
tourism websites say these days. When I was there in 2015, I remember that while access to the gun itself was free, visiting the underground parts with the engine room, loading machinery, tunnel and ammunition store incurred an extra charge (hence my wife, who wasn't so bothered about this chose to wait outside and read her book while I visited those parts on my own).
Opening times: nominally Monday to Sunday from 9:30 a.m. to 6:15 p.m.; however, I've ready several angry reviews in which visitors complained that they found the site closed and padlocked even within those times and even though they had asked at the Nature Reserve entry point whether the Battery would be open and were erroneously told it was when in actual fact it wasn't. So be forewarned of that possibility.
Time required: Visiting the Battery and its big gun as such won't take more than ca. half an hour. But getting there can be much more time-consuming if you decide to head there on foot.
Combinations with other dark destinations:
none in the immediate vicinity (though you can see Europa Point
in the distance down at the bottom of the southern tip of the peninsula) – but see under Gibraltar
Combinations with non-dark destinations: this southern part of the Nature Reserve that is Upper Rock features some interesting flora and fauna – bird-watchers in particular should keep their eyes open. Easiest spotted, however, are the monkeys who you can encounter here as well (though in smaller numbers than at the central and northern parts of the Rock).
The very best bit, besides the Battery, has to be the glorious views, though. From this unrivalled vantage point you can see down to Europa Point
and across the Strait of Gibraltar to Morocco in Northern Africa (weather permitting).
- OHB 01 - commodified
- OHB 02 - hydraulics
- OHB 03 - dummy operator
- OHB 04 - tunnel to the front gun
- OHB 05 - charge storage
- OHB 06 - shell handling
- OHB 07 - old machinery
- OHB 08 - upper level above
- OHB 09 - big gun
- OHB 10 - pointing out to the sea
- OHB 11 - specs
- OHB 12 - big barrel
- OHB 13 - controls
- OHB 14 - brass wheels
- OHB 15 - dating back to WW1
- OHB 16 - under the gun
- OHB 17 - neatly arranged shells
- OHB 18 - Lord Airey Battery close by
- OHB 19 - fire precautions
- OHB 20 - even older gun barrel
- OHB 21 - inaccessible parts
- OHB 22 - rather bent rails