The Great Wall hah. After living in Beijing for two years I thought I was familiar with the cities most famous landmark. I’ve been myself, with my family and with a veritable mob of other relations and friends. Now, whilst I normally go to Mutianyu for a couple of reasons: 1) it’s quieter than Badaling 2) It’s got stunning views, and all renovated, and 3) It’s got that cool toboggan which you can zoom down pretending to be in the Olympics, with one of my best friends from home out in Beijing I thought we’d do something different.
By this point Julian had done the Forbidden City, Olympic Venues, Temple of Heaven and so was really due a visit to the Great wall, but I wasn’t sure how to get him there. A friend had recommended the Beijing Downtown Backpackers Hostel as they ran a hike along the wall from Jinshanling to Simatai for a reasonable RMB 260. Intrigued, we made our way to the Fish ‘n Chips at Nanluogu Xiang, then went a bit further along to check it out.
That Saturday started very early- about 5:00am in fact. I’ve never been a morning person (‘only dull people are good at breakfast’- Oscar Wilde), and I was a true zombie as I stumbled about the house sorting out the day bag with packed lunch, pre-frozen drinks and entertainment for the 3-hour journey to and from the wall. When all that was done, we wandered round to the Hostel for 6:40am to catch the bus. Perhaps surprisingly, we were not alone- an impressive crowd of around 10-12 were also on our trip and they were an interesting ensemble of people. Among the group were an Austrian, a group or Americans, a Danish couple and (with some national pride) a chap wearing a Welsh top. We all clambered onto the bus and in the warm cozy vehicle I promptly fell asleep.
When I woke up about 3 hours later we were about to arrive. Pulling into the Great Wall at Jinshanling we were told to our shock that the cable car would take 60 minutes to get to the wall. Julian and I were horrified until it transpired that he actually meant 16 minutes. Relieved we got our tickets and started up the mountains leaving the bus and the terrible music of the cable car station behind, eager to start our Great Wall hike- a strenuous 4.5 hour walk along an 8km stretch of the wall, encompassing 31 guard towers and billions of steps. But hey, Julian was a Junior GB squad Canoeist and I’d done a half-marathon in the UK, how hard could it be?
The answer to that became blindingly obvious by the time we stopped for the first of our major breaks in the 9th guard tower. Hard. Very Hard. The views were breathtakingly beautiful, the company brilliant and the never-ending steep steps a real… pain. Without doubt Simatai was far more stunning than Mutianyu, and the non-renovated parts of the wall added to that charm. Moreover unlike Mutianyu the wall was practically empty leaving us feeling like the sole owners of the world wonder. Nonetheless we were saved on our hike only by our decision to pack copious biscuits and drinks, a cooling breeze and the good-natured competition between Julian and me as we raced along some of the easier sections.
A spectacular trip, but one that our legs weren’t going to forget in a hurry. Indeed by 1:30pm as we struggled down the last few steps (during which I wrote the word PAIN! In my notebook), we were definitely ready for home and a cool Tsingdao. However, looking back I can say that the whole trip was fantastic, and if there are any sports conscious families out there, I recommend you check it out.