Last week, I was invited to visit the Great Wall. I have been before, once, to Badaling, one of the most touristy parts of the wall just outside Beijing. This time, the invitation was to visit the ‘wild wall’, where tourists do not, often, visit. The invite came from my Chinese colleague who sorts out my water deliveries (I get 18-litre water bottles delivered every so often) and his son. We set off in the early afternoon, which I thought was a little late, but it meant we saw the sunset at least. I was actually in two minds about going due to the hour (I did not want to have an accident there which would mean my forthcoming US trip would be cancelled), but equally I have been spending a lot of time indoors recently, despite the decent weather and the fact most students have now left the campus, and the university is something of a ghost town. So it is good for me to get out and explore every so often.
The drive took about one and a half hours from my university to the spot, and then another half an hour or so of walking. The walk to the wall, through some woods, was something of a killer – it was quite steep and I was very tired when we arrived at the top. I thought that perhaps this place would be my final resting place. I was sweating and panting on the climb up. Nevertheless, I was able to rest once at the top and the view was excellent. We were the only ones there. We had about an hour actually on the wall itself.
The people I had gone with had been there before and knew where to go. We saw the sunset, which was pretty cool, and then headed down, which caused some issues – we arrived back in the woods just as darkness hit fully, which I was pleased about. Any later and climbing down would have been even more difficult than it was already. The steps on the wall are often quite far apart so going from one to another can be a challenge, and requires stretching your legs a long way. Plus, some of it is less steps and more just bits of stone sticking out. We took things slow and eventually made it down. We had torches, though, and as we headed back to the car, I had a sense of The Blair Witch Project, of us, alone, in these woods with only our torches to guide us. My companions had also kindly loaned me a big stick to aid my climb. This was one which had been found of previous climbs and was a big help. Whenever I have a stick like that, it makes me think of Gandalf. Had something sinister or supernatural been in those woods, I could, at least, have done the whole “you shall not pass” thing. Thankfully, nothing happened. In total, between leaving my university and getting back to the car to leave, we were gone about 5 hours.
Although I was somewhat concerned about the state of the wall, and the climb we had to do, it was nevertheless a pretty interesting place to visit, especially because the weather was very good – clear skies, not too cold (as the sun set the temperature did drop), little pollution, and no other people around. The sunset was very impressive too, and this visit was much better than my last one to Badaling which was a little polluted and crammed full of people. This time, it was so quiet, so peaceful.