Come to Wied il-Lunziata, a jewel of Gozo! Rabat’s (Victoria’s) Garden, as it used to be called! Find beauty and tranquility, find immense interest in the natural and the built heritage there! This is the Short Tour (see Map 2 inside back cover). Widen your horizons and explore the upper lowland streams, the fascinating Fontana wash place and the magnificent Xlendi Valley in the Grand Tour! (see Map 1 on back cover). Find an ancient causeway, try assessing the amount of pollution: and enjoy a picnic!
The Short Tour is a one-stop tour, leaving cars just below Kercem. There is a short walk, and some steps. (Those who cannot manage steps can see, luckily, a good deal from the Turning Place. Bring binoculars if possible.) To do all the activities suggested in the book would take several hours. Two hours at a time is enough! Longer means less interest and less concentration. Choose, for the first visit, just the text, or a few activities that seem particularly interesting. Then come again to do more.
The Grand Tour can be done on the same day as a (quick!) visit to the Short Tour. However, it takes a good four hours (not including coffee at a Xlendi café). There is hardly any walking from the car at most stops (though in places it is easier to walk than to drive between the sites). A few sites do need a short walk. There are no (necessary) flights of steps. Many cars can drive all the suggested route, but a mini bus will have to leave passengers to walk part of the road west of Wied il-Lunziata and drive round via Victoria to pick them up further down. Or it can be done on another day, which perhaps is better, or it can be done in parts.
These tours explore the River Xlendi. The WHAT? Look at Map 1 on the back cover. There is a watercourse, a stream, rising right up by Santa Lucija, flowing through Kercem, through Wied il-Lunziata, through Xlendi Valley, gathering tributaries along the way, and reaching the sea at Xlendi bay. These are not odd separated bits of watercourse beds and valleys, they are all one river system, here called R. Xlendi.
A stream, a river? Well, it used to be. Once Gozo started taking borehole rather than spring water for mains pipe supply (and later for agriculture) the water level in the limestone, in the aquifer (water-holding rock), started to fall. Fewer springs ran, and they ran less water. Instead of water staying in the rivers (staying because the rock they flowed over was full of water, like a wet sponge), the water sinks and leaks down out of the stream bed, sinking down, down, until it reaches the present deteriorated water level. Streams starting as springs in the lowlands, on the soft Globigerina limestone, flowed all year. The three upper streams of R. Xlendi were there. Boreholes show water is still there, lower down in the rock. Springs in gnien areas like Wied il-Lunziata also flowed all year. These flowed strongly! There was a good river from (near) Santa Lucija to Xlendi Valley. Downstream, within Xlendi Valley, less new water was being added to the river. When rain falls, some always flows as run-off down valley slopes to river bedswhether from Santa Lucija, Wied il-Lunziata or Xlendi Valley, that is the same all through. But the springs are more patterned: the top streams have lost most of their spring water. Wied il-Lunziata still has many springs, but with much less water than even in 1980. (In 1980, there were still freshwater crabs and eels in Wied il-Lunziata, according to Mr G. Grima of the Science Centre). Both animals need good water all year, and are now extinct.
It will be helpful to look at The River Valleys of the Maltese Islands (Haslam & Borg) both before and after visiting R. Xlendi: not for R. Xlendi itselfthis booklet covers it in far more detailbut for a general understanding of river valley ecology, use, history and management.