31 August 2021

Jabal Ikmar – Al Ula

There are thousands of inscriptions across Al Ula, due to the different people who passed through the region over many years and left their marks. The earliest are dated 9 to 10 centuries BC. Some were written by professional scribes, others by ordinary people. Inscriptions are incised, painted and in relief and include Aramaic, Thamudic, Dadanitic, Minaean, Nabataean, Greek, Latin and Arabic languages. Among the items they describe are journeys, pilgrimages and offerings. Jabal Ikmah appears to have been a sacred place not only for the Lihyanites but also travellers who passed through Al Ula and is one of Saud Arabia’s largest open libraries. There are hundreds of inscriptions many dating back 2000 years giving us insight into the economic, political, religious and social lives of their authors as well as the development of the Arabic language. Most of the inscriptions are written in Dadanitic whose alphabet was written from right to left. Many different animals are also depicted including camels, horses, Ibex and Ostriches. Humans often figure in hunting scenes and musical instruments are carved on the rocks.

27 August 2021

Hejaz Railway. Station – Outside Madain Salah

The Hejaz Railway was a 1050mm narrow gauge railway originally built to transport pilgrims from the city of Damascus through Syria to Madina in Saudi Arabia, through the Hejaz region of Saudi Arabia and was one of the principle railroads of the Ottoman Empire. Small stations of uniform design were built along the railway from Tabuk until Madain Saleh (Al-Hijr) with the photographs below of one such station about 50 kilometres north of Madain Saleh



23 August 2021

Hejaz Railway Station - Madain Saleh (Hegra)

In the late 19 century, Sultan Abdulhamid II ordered the construction of a railway from Damascus to Makkah. This was known as the Hejaz Railway and construction began in 1900 and made pilgrims journeys easier and significantly reduced their travelling time The stations at Hegra and Al Ula signalled the final point to which non-Muslims could travel before reaching Makkah. They opened in 1907, and in 1912, more than 19,000 pilgrims stopped at Madain Saleh which was one of the largest railway stations on the Hejaz railway and consisted of 16 buildings that date back to the Ottoman Empire. It is one of the most important stations along the Hejaz railway and was used as a rest area, accommodations and a restaurant for passengers. It consists of a workshop for the maintenance of trains and a small museum is now there within the main Madain Saleh historical site. 

17 August 2021

Hejaz Railway – Al Ula

The Hejaz Railway was a 1050mm narrow gauge railway originally built to transport pilgrims from the city of Damascus through Syria to Madina in Saudi Arabia, through the Hejaz region of Saudi Arabia and was one of the principle railroads of the Ottoman Empire. It was originally designed to reach mecca but never reached this destination stopping at Medina 400 kilometres short. It was started in 1900 and completed in 1908, but was severely damaged during the First World War (1914-1918) by Lawrence of Arabia and the Arab Revolt. It was built to facilitate pilgrimages to the Muslims’ holy places in Arabia but in fact also to strengthen Ottoman control over the most distant provinces of the empire. The main line, built by a multiracial labour force mainly under the supervision of a German engineer and covered 1,320 km of difficult terrain. It ran from Damascus southward to Deraa and thence over Jordan into north-western Arabia, and inland via Dhāt al-Ḥajj and Al-ʿUlā to Medina. Small stations of uniform design were built along the railway from Tabuk until Madain Saleh (Al-Hijr) in Saudi Arabia and one year after the opening of the railway station in Tabuk a ceremony was held in September 1907 for the arrival of the railway line at Al Ula. Volcanic black rock was used to build the stations and bridges in the sector of the railway between Al Ula and Al Madinah. 

13 August 2021

Rock Structures – Al Ula

Al Ula has many amazing rock structures many of which have names and are very photogenic. Four formations we visited on our trip were Jabal Al Feel, Hand Rock, Sparhawk Arch and Vassel Hole Rock all of which are in the same small area north of Al Ula town. Jabal Al Feel or Elephant rock is located near to Al Ula and is a natural sandstone rock of huge proportions in the shape of an elephant with its trunk touching the ground. The elephant also appears to have an eye made of natural rock formation. The best time to photograph the rock is in the morning at around 07:00 – 08:00 hrs as the sun is in a good position and the sunlight not too harsh. It is easy to get to from Elephant rock either by car and has a signpost in brown saying Jabal Al Feel on the main road indicating where it is. It is s short way from the road but is accessible by any car if care is taken. The other three sites are not as popular as Jabal Al Feel and we were the only people present during our visits they are still worth looking at, as they are very impressive rock formations. Hand Rock has some impressive rock art on one wall depicting many things including Ostrich and Camels.

Hand Rock

Hand Rock

Sparhawk Rock

Sparhawk Rock

Vassel Hole Rock

Jebal Feel - Elephant Rock

09 August 2021

Stone Kite – Khaybar

The desert and particularly harrat landscapes of Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Iraq are covered with a large number of manmade prehistoric structures, named desert kites. They were discovered in 1925 by aircraft pilots, and can be seen easily on satellite images like Google Maps. Some are very large in size and they are thought to be from the Neolithic period. But there is no doubt that these structures are prehistoric. There is much debate about the use of these structures, with most thinking they were used as hunting traps, to herd game in the ending enclosure of the kite. The kites are normally triangular shapes with one end open and typically two, three or more circular enclosures on the edge of this coral. They vary in size from a few hundred metres in length to others that can span over several kilometres with the more complex larger kites having five or more circular enclosures joint with curve shaped walls. There are many thoughts as to how the traps were used but one is that live animals were kept in the small circular enclosures and killed as needed as there was no refrigeration in those days and others are the enclosures were there to trap the animals for easy slaughter. The bottom photo is taken from Google Maps.


07 August 2021

Birding Tanoumah

Whilst birding the Tanoumah area in the western mountains we saw a good number of Grey-headed Kingfisher. There had been plenty of rain so the birds were making the most of the new wet areas formed. A single Short-toed Snake Eagle was seen flying over and four Arabain Magpie were seen feeding and calling to each other. Several White-throated Robin were on passage and small groups of Arabian Babbler were seen. A few different pairs of Streaked Scrub Warbler were located as were small numbers of Yemen Thrush, Dusky Turtle Dove, dark phase Long-legged Buzzard, Palestine Sunbird and Yemen Serin. 

Short-toed Snake Eagle

Long-billed Pipit

Yemen Serin

Yemen Serin


05 August 2021

Sadd Qasr Al-Bint Dam – Khaybar

Sadd Qasr Al-Bint Dam on the outskirts of Khaybar is believed to have Nabatean origins and is 135 metres long and 20 metres high. Khaybar was an important caravan stopping place for many centuries with the centre developed around a series of ancient dams that were built to hold back run-off water from the rain. Around the water catchments date palms grew, and Khaybar soon became an important date producing centre.