Second-time lucky I breezed through immigration and straight into the Beijing city-centre. My feet didn’t touch the ground before we were in a Taxi to go to a karaoke club which supposedly had a show.
We ended up in a total dive where around the club were vacuum cleaners and discarded rice cookers and other odds and ends – not least the few customers who were crowing away earnestly! Cutting our losses we headed back to the hotel ready for an early start off to trek the great wall.
It quickly becomes clear that there is no one wall but many walls built in layers over time and not completely uniform in construction or restoration. Hearing that the closest section to Beijing was a disneyfied reconstruction with rivers of day trippers Tim instead did the research to head to a more remote section in Gubeikou around 2 hours by bus so off we headed.
Starting in Gubeikou we did a day trip up an unrestored brick and mud section which snakes along the ridges of the local mountains. As we climbed we could eventually see the wall snaking as far as the eye could see given the mist and pollution. As for the hike the top of the wall reached vertiginous angles at points – how anyone in armour or on horseback clambered up this I have no idea.
The following day we headed on a longer trek to Jinshangling on the wall through the countryside and to a restored section. That we kept on track at all was miraculous given the online itinerary had such gems as ‘turn right up the track after the chickens’ and part we had to divert around a military zone!
We had the wall almost entirely to ourselves except for a large troupe of people who Pedro guessed were from the British Heart Foundation on account of the red t-shirts. Sure enough 10 mins later we passed a bunch of brits walking the wall for the BHF – not a bad charity stint if you can get it!
After 5 hours or so we got to the renovated section and the views and scale of the wall were breathtaking and camera photos don’t really do it justice.
That thousands of kilometres was built and maintained and garrisoned from the sea to the desert in Central Asia thousands of years ago is mind-boggling. For us all there was left to do was soak in all the grandeur of the view before heading back to Beijing tired but contented.