Starting from the roundabout at the entrance to Mellieha take the road marked Selmun. It’s an open country road with a few houses which make up the hamlet of Selmun strung along one side while the other side is construction-free with open views southwards.
One soon comes upon Selmun Palace, the main building of note in the area sitting majestically on high ground. Though this fine building, built by the Knights in 1783, gives the impression of a fortified residence in reality its purpose was as a summer residence and glorified hunting lodge.
Take the road to the right of the palace and at the first bend in the road (about 100 meters past the palace) take the trek that suddenly appears to your right. The trek soon starts dipping steeply down the side of Mistra valley towards the bay. It’s a very scenic trek which winds its way between open fields on both sides. On the lower ground to the right is the site where most of the huge blocks for the Valletta breakwater were quarried by the British late in the nineteenth century, but you will be hard pressed to notice anything resembling degradation as the rehabilitation of the area after the quarrying was done is almost miraculous. At the very bottom of the trek a road opens up. Taking a left turn gets you to Mistra Bay in a couple of minutes. Mistra is a small horseshoe shaped inlet, thronged by the locals in summer but blissfully deserted in the winter months. The road circles the shallow inlet and heads towards the head of the bay where a coastal battery dating back to 1761 stands guards. The battery (access is not possible at time of writing) was restored in recent times by its present tenants, an aquaculture company.
From this point the road becomes a stony path which roughly follows the coastline along the cliffs of Rdum il-Bies. The small islet of St.Paul comes into view here. It is still hallowed ground for many, being reputedly the place where the saint was shipwrecked on his way to Rome to stand trial in AD.60. The 10th of February is marked in the local calendar as the presumed date of the shipwreck and is a public holiday. The day also marks the only major festa celebrated in winter – that of the parish of St.Paul Shipwrecked in Valletta.
An annual pilgrimage to the islet still takes place every summer. A statue of the saint, a ruined farmhouse and a few rubble walls are the only signs of human intrusion – the last inhabitants of the islet being a farmer’s family residing in happy seclusion until the early days of the twentieth century.
Past the islet the coastline becomes a gentler limestone shelf with some disused salt pans pockmarked in the smooth rock face. The salt pans continue around this last headland but it’s a dead end that way so the better option is to start trekking uphill along a dirt road running parallel with the clay slope. It’s the only rough track on this walk really – a trek hewn out of the clay throughout various years of abusive offroading in the area – a practice that is now illegal. At the top of the hill and to your left there is a long low wall and you should head that way. The wall is in fact the outer perimeter of Fort Campbell.
Fort Campbell’s real interest lies in the fact that it was the last major fortification to be built by the British in Malta. Built in the late 1930’s, its main function was to challenge enemy vessels approaching Grand Harbour. Its novel design which includes a very low profile and the rustic perimeter wall was primarily dictated by the need to avoid detection from the air. Sadly the wall is the only thing that is well preserved here, otherwise the fort (which one can enter freely) has been the victim of long years of neglect, pillaging and vandalism. The barracks around the fort are sadly in an equally dilapidated state.
Making your way out of this somewhat forlorn site you can follow the road back to Selmun Palace. It’s a gentle one kilometer or so to the palace and an immensely scenic road too as it hugs the edge of Mistra valley to its left and borders various fields and vineyards to its right. Two hours should be ample time to cover this relatively easy walk.