The Great Wall of China

Unanimously the peak of the China trip.

In Beijing there is a strange law that number plates starting (or ending) with different numbers can’t drive on certain days, e.g. 3’s can’t drive the third Thursday of the month. This is to try and control the smog. But because of this law, instead of a minibus, we travelled to the Great Wall in a coach. That is a full coach for just 7 passengers. Up yours, excess pollution!

Our guide had told us to wear layers as it would be cooler in the mountains. We all obliged.

The coach driver got lost.

Then found.

We arrived.

There’s a Subway at the base of Mutianyu. Apparently Subway is the most popular fast food restaurant in the world. ‘Ave it, McDonald’s.

Fun trip to the toilet. Toyed with buying lunch but decided my bakery fodder from Beijing would be enough.

We looked up and braced ourselves for the long walk up to the wall itself, lest the following 10km walk that we would have afterwards.



I was glad that mother didn’t make it into the country as this surely would have killed her. She definitely wouldn’t have been fit enough to have done the majority of the stuff on the trip, so really, aside from the money that she lost from visas and annoyances there, really the travel agent should have been more responsible.

The layers of clothes that we had been advised to wear quickly came off. It was not cold, and the physical exercise made it even less so.

That first climb was tough. Our physical fitness was to improve quite markedly throughout the holiday.

The one guy in our group nearly lost his camera, but thankfully realised in time to retrieve it from where he had left it.

The walk along Mutianyu is borderline unpleasant. I would have said that I am quite fit but this would prove otherwise. A pair of Chinese girls clopped along in heels. Some vendors carried crates of water and other produce up.

Convenience store indeed

Convenience store indeed

I was glad that I had gone gung ho with my water and brought three or four bottles. It was very hot. My back was entirely covered in sweat. My backpack would never be the same again, though has only just given up the ghost. I would recommend the Vango Pac 15 – so much so that I replaced it with the exact same backpack.

Photography, chatter, physical pain. These were the early days of the holidays and the arduous nature of the walk was, combined with the new people, altogether quite fun.

Standard tourist photo

Standard tourist photo

In Beijing I had worn ankle boots. I was told that I should wear more suitable footwear in future. I wore trainers for the rest of the trip, except in Yangshuo and Hong Kong where I wore sandals, but walking boots probably would have been a better option. I think I brought four pairs of shoes with me in total. And a hairdryer. And straighteners. I am phenomenally bad at packing.

We had some lunch before embarking on the final stretch of sheer staircase, which seemingly consists of an infinite number of stairs. Then you reach the top and feel pride in yourself for not dying. This is supposedly a family-friendly wall, but I thought it was hella tough (and that is my professional opinion).

The Great Wall of Stairs

The Great Wall of Stairs

If the Mongolians managed to break in, they were far greater people than I, as even traversing along the wall was tough so to mount over it is just beyond my realm of possibility.

The second part of our wall walk was along an unrestored section of Jiankou. We met with a local guide who was wearing a suit and smoking. He was about 60 and proved that physical fitness would save what smoking undid to your health. I realise that he must have walked the wall thousands of times, but he was far more sprightly than any of us. He was wearing walking shoes at least.



It was this part of the wall that was the highlight of the holiday. No tourists, just history and nature. It was stunning and impressive and mildly sad that it was in ruins.

It was beautiful and we all chatted and frolicked and had fun. The sun made for some nice pictures, particularly on one girl’s Samsung Galaxy S5.

Our bus met us and drove us to thee farm that we would be staying at for the night. We all went to the toilet, having not done so for five hours – sweat is as good as a pee – and then tried to have a shower.

The electricity wasn’t working for some reason or other, and the showers were heated by solar panels. I left the water to run for 5 minutes before deciding that it wasn’t going to heat but I was still gross and sweaty and should just jump in.

I gave up and called for help. They got it working within a minute. I had a nice shower, but was late as a result.

A woman silently showed us how to make dumplings. We all made dumplings. I was definitely the worst at this task. I was recently thinking about taking a cooking class but that surely would be a huge waste of money considering my relative uselessness with my fingers and thumbs.

Dumpling making. I wish I had liked food more back on this trip

Dumpling making. I wish I had liked food more back on this trip

The maestro at work while we had beer

The maestro at work while we had beer

Dinner was lovely. We all had a good time. People got a buzz on. The electricity was out and it was getting cold, but we were bundled in blankets and there were candles so it was like a cookout.

Drinks kept coming. The cold crept in more and more. One by one people gave up. The last three of us were waiting for the electricity to kick in again so that we could use wifi. 11pm, the time that it was supposed to kick back in, came and went. The cold got too much. It was amazing that the temperature difference between day and night could be so vast. Where I spent most of the day sweating profusely, night was filled with shivers and seeing my breath.

I got to sleep quickly.

At about 2am all of the lights turned on. Electricity was here. I got up to turn the light off. The electric blanket turned on, which I didn’t realise. It is the only time that I have ever used an electric blanket and I would highly recommend it based on that experience.

sun great wall





This hike was through a lot of woodland. The route joined the wall again after about half an hour, and it was as rugged and impressive as the day before. We then reached a vertical section of the wall. He pointed upwards. We looked up. He pointed to us then pointed upwards. We looked terrified. He pointed at us then pointed upwards then laughed. He started climbing up. Some people flat out refused. He came down. Somehow, speaking no English, he explained that there was a way around if we wanted.

I wanted to climb the sheer wall, if only to rub the face of British health and safety laws. This was not safe at all and probably shouldn’t have been done, but the whole thing went off without accident and I took a sigh of relief at the top. Several people smoked at the top out of fear and gratitude for their lives.

Always safety first

Always safety first

The rest of the walk was less eventful.

Goodbye Great Wall! Hello again Beijing? Or so we thought. Instead there was a car crash which blocked the whole road up and down the mountain.

I’m surprised that this was the only car crash that we saw as Chinese drivers are quite chaotic. One of the people in the crash was a German man who had come for a run with his dog. He called another driver who met him further down the mountain and drove him away. I’m not too sure how that worked legally.

We waited in the mountains for about three hours. It was quite dull. My patience was tried for the first time in the holiday. There’s only so much you can do on a road.

Eventually the police came, looked at the cars, then they and some civilians pushed the cars out of the way and we were off.

Dinner in Beijing, where our guide saved some tourists who were trying to argue with the staff and I ate some cabbage that was too spicy for my placid half Cantonese tongue.

We went to a fancy hotel to use wifi.

Train station, where we initially thought that there was no need to pay for the premium waiting room then were quickly sold on entering the regular waiting room. A lot of people travel with livestock and drums of oil while conversing loudly and spitting as the odour of stale smoke and sweat clings to them.

Goodbye to one of the great wonders of the world, its smoggy nearby city, its vast country, and this long damn travel memory that I have finally finished some 20 months after the fact.



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