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Journey to the Edge of the World

I’ve just re-read the title of this episode and it looks as if it could be a novel title from Jules Verne. Not so, but it is still a story worth telling. There are very few sites that are recognised tourist attractions in KSA, and I have not been to many of them. This is not out of disinterest, but I have deliberately been saving them up for times when I have family out here so that they can see something of the country that is beyond the compound and the shopping malls. And for the last two weeks I have had the pleasure of the company of Elaine and (for a slightly shorter time) daughter #1.

There are four World Heritage sites in Saudi Arabia, and one of these is in Riyadh (the others are quite a distance away, and bear in mind that KSA is almost as big in land mass as western Europe so to visit these would require significant time and organisation). The Riyadh WH site is to the west of the city, around the (usually) dry ravine that forms the old edge of the city. The Arabic term for a dry river bed is “wadi” and this is the Wadi Hanifah. Around this area are the old city of Diriyah walled defences and much of it has been restored and laid out as parkland. So we went there a week past on Friday and had a pleasant mosey about. One of the key aspects of World Heritage inscription is public access and interpretation / education, (I have experience in this), but from my casual observation the interpretation was lacking, even if only in Arabic.



After the historic Diriyah we moved into the old city centre, the Deira area, and had a look around the old city fortress. This Masmak fort was also accessible and better laid out with an exposition of how King Abdul-Aziz re-took the city from the Kuwaitis in 1902. Quite interesting with the information laid out in Arabic and English. The construction is mudbrick and clay and has four watch-towers, one at each corner. There is a single main gate at the front and it is almost what a six-year old child might sketch if you asked him/her to draw a castle. Or even build a sandcastle on the beach. Nowadays it is surrounded by modern city so has lost much of its imposing presence.  


Masmak fortress

On the Saturday we set off for the Edge of the World. This is an actual place, and is about 90 km to the north-west of Riyadh. It is where the Tuwaiq escarpment ends and the plains restart and sweep off to the west. It is an impressive natural feature, and the jagged edge cliff face extends for several miles with drops of several hundred feet. A good way of describing it is a single-sided Grand Canyon. The similarity stops there, there is no Colorado River flowing at the base, no hotels, viewing platforms, helicopter rides, souvenir shops, car parks, tour guides – nothing. There aren’t even any fences at the edge or signs. There is no road to the Edge of the World (possible Chris Rea song title there) nor even any indication at the main road that there is anything of interest to be seen. Were it in the UK it would be a major tourist destination. There is information on the ex-pat websites about the EotW and ex-pat societies such as Internations organise regular outings there.

I was given advice on how to go, and the most important thing to arrange was a 4x4 vehicle. This is because the last 25km are off-road. Next, it was advisable to go as a group because if anything untoward were to happen there are no rescue facilities, and no mobile phone coverage. Plenty of water and some food rations are de rigeur too. So we arranged a tour party of 10 people and three cars (I had hired a Nissan Patrol for the day). We set off in convoy at 9am, and reached the turn-off point in the road an hour later. The next hour was very interesting, crossing river beds, plains, stony outcrops and other challenging terrain. En route we passed several flocks of sheep and goats, two of which were tended by shepherds on donkeys. Mediaeval. And the answer to the old question? – sheep are white, goats are black – here at least.wp_20170401_13_55_58_pro.jpg

Gertcha !

At last we arrived at the EotW. There were a couple of other cars parked just back from a cliff edge so we stopped there too. The final walk to a really good vantage point took 20 minutes and was relatively easy going, no scrambling needed. We passed and spoke to the other car occupants, and one was a Scot from Fort William, and we commented how different it must be for him coming from Scotland’s highest rainfall town to the desert. The weather was perfect, not too hot (25 deg C), little wind and no sand blowing about and reducing visibility. Apparently if you go there in summer the heat haze really limits the distance you can see. I will let you judge the photos to see if you think it was worth the drive.


No signs, no railings to spoil the view


Edge of the World. N24 56 41.4 E45 59 32.1

It took us 2½ hours to return to Riyadh, the additional time was taken up by stopping for a picnic lunch where there were a couple of trees. Whilst it was nice not to have to brave the traditional British picnic hazard, wasps, there were a serious amount of large ants about so we kept an eye on them as we ate. In the evening I took the hired 4x4 back to the rental company, and was sad to see it go, it was nice having a decent V8 engine and high ride position for the day. This was several steps further up the driving food chain than my hired Nissan Sunni.

So, something else off the bucket list. In addition to the EotW, I have also been to Hell (just north of Trondheim, Norway; in 1984). Where else is there with interesting names? Heaven perhaps? Is there one on earth?


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