If you have ever been to Gibraltar you won´t need me to remind you of what a quirky place it is. It prides itself as being a little bit of Britain, complete with bobbies on the beat, big red post boxes,  BHS and Marks and Spencer on the main drag and plenty of pubs showing premiership football where you can sink a pint of London Pride. But then you look a little closer and you see people walking around in T shirts during a February afternoon and you hear the fusion of English and Spanish spoken by the locals. Look behind you and you will see, above the buildings, an enormous slab of Jurassic limestone piercing the blue sky. The air is full of the screeches of Mediterranean gulls and the northern coast of Morocco, a continent apart, is only separated from you by a slither of water.

What makes the place famous, however, are “monkeys” which live on the rock. The Barbary macaque or Barbary ape lacks a tail and I had thought, as a result, it was an ape (like ourselves) but it seems they are a tail-less monkey. The Macaques were once widespread in Europe and their remains have been found as far north as Germany and even in the British Isles but when the ice age kicked in they vanished and went extinct in Europe around 30,000 years ago.

So where did the ones in Gibraltar come from? The DNA evidence points south to North Africa and pins them down to populations in Morocco and Algeria. They seem to have been brought over by the moors whose influence went far beyond the linguistic and cultural. To my knowledge they also brought mongoose which has now become successfully established in the wild.

My daughter Pippa took part in a dance competition in Gibraltar last night and, to avoid a return drive in the early hours of the morning, we stayed overnight at the Rock Hotel. We had a little balcony with a stunning view of the harbour and Spanish and African coasts. It is really absorbing to watch the ships come and go.

I was hoping I might come across a macaque but was not fortunate enough to see one. On the balcony, where I settled to read a fishing magazine, there was a sign asking guests not to feed the apes. These apes, apart from having an eye on human snacks, are kleptomaniacs, and are quite happy to help themselves to the baseball caps or sunglasses of visitors or whatever else they can lay their hands on. And it seems like innocent fun until you realise that they happen to be the keys of your hire car that they are dangling over the abyss.

As a precaution against similar misfortune, I removed my glasses and magazine from the balcony of hotel room while I settled to watch the Ireland vs England rugby international on the telly inside. It was tough enough to deal with seeing Ireland lose without the additional anguish of wandering on to the balcony outside only to discover that my possessions had been nicked and that, somewhere snuggled on the branches of a tree nearby, was an ape wearing my spectacles and reading the March edition of Fly Fishing and Fly Tying Monthly!

Legend has it that Gibraltar will remain in British hands as long as there are apes on the rock. Things look pretty secure at the moment. There are around 300 all told divided into 5 troops. An annual census of their numbers is carried out and they receive vetinary care and supplementary feeding. But things have not always been so rosy. During the Second World War the numbers had dwindled to around 7 individuals and Winston Churchill gave the order for a few more to be shipped in. It is amusing to think that, while his generals were planning out military activities in different theatres of war in 1942, Churchill ensured the security of his strategic interests in the Western Mediterranean by getting a few more apes to relocate to the Rock of Gibraltar.

Despite being unable to come across a specimen on this visit, Catriona fished out a picture she took last year of Pippa and Leo and myself standing next to an ape we happened to bump into as we were heading off to breakfast!

Enough monkey business. How did Pippa get on in the dancing? She did very well! She was always going to be the star of the show for me, whatever happened. But she did well in the eyes of others also and won first place and third place for her two group dances.

Four apes chilling in Gibraltar

Four apes chilling in Gibraltar

Gibraltar 002

A hell of a view!

A hell of a view!