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The Great Wall of China

Posted on 27 Jul 2013 | 6 comments

Warning – long story, don’t start reading if you are in a hurry 🙂

Even though the Chinese like to believe the Great Wall can be seen with the naked eye from the moon, this is not actually true. It is however the longest thing (6300km!) made by humans and even though it is not all connected, the various Great Wall sections are very imposing.

Jon had already been to the Great Wall at Badaling, the restored section close to Beijing where most tourists go for a stroll along the wall. And even though we would go there as well (it is one of China’s most famous sites after all), we also decided to try and find some sections of the wall that are not completely restored and would have fewer tourists.

Approaching Beijing from the west, we literally drove through some of the most ancient sections of the wall near Datong. We found a village built inside an old garrison, the old rammed earth walls still standing and decided that would be an interesting place to camp and explore. And although infested with mozzies (mosquitos or muggen for you non-ozzies) it was one of our better campsites in China.

Driving into the garrison town near the Great Wall in Datong.

Driving into the garrison town near the Great Wall in Datong.

We climbed the old walls, strolled through the village and ventured further north to find sections of the old wall still standing too. We could even see the remains of the old moat (gracht) and the tunnels inside the walls. To think we were looking at and walking on nearly 2000 year old walls!

Standing on top of the garrison walls.

Standing on top of the garrison walls.

Very steep garrison walls.

Very steep garrison walls.

Group photo, all couples and their cars. From left to right: Phil & Mads, Miles & Marina (and Roadie), Jon & Jude (and Lara), Guy & Cheryl (and Bee) and Rob & Robyn (and Ozzie).

Group photo, all couples and their cars. From left to right: Phil & Mads (and Beautiful Thing II), Miles & Marina (and Roadie), Jon & Jude (and Lara), Guy & Cheryl (and Bee) and Rob & Robyn (and Ozzie).

The old, not restored walls near Datong

The old, not restored walls near Datong

The section of Great Wall at Badaling was, as expected, seriously busy with tourists from all over the world, including lots of Chinese. We enjoyed our walk on the wall, beautifully restored (rebuild?) and very impressive. We were there on quite a clear day and could see the wall snake along the ridges of the distant hills for miles. Simply stunning.

When you drive out to Badaling you actually drive 'through' the Great Wall of China.

When you drive out to Badaling you actually drive ‘through’ the Great Wall of China.

Can you see the wall snaking over all hills and ridges in the distance?

Can you see the wall snaking over all hills and ridges in the distance?

Some sections are really steep and watch towers are all individually designed and built.

Some sections are really steep and watch towers are all individually designed and built.

We didn’t enjoy the number of sun bears kept in tiny concrete pits, with no water, no greenery, no shade. Just a concrete jungle with twisted bits of metal as ‘playground’. Most of them broken off and totally rusted. They had 5 pits with 8 adult sun bears each and one with younger cubs. So sad! Tourists can buy a bit of food and chuck it down into the pit, that’s how they make their money with these poor bears. I can’t believe Unesco would approve, it is a world heritage site after all (another one of our list).

Our favourite section of Great Wall was at Jinshanling. We wanted to camp on the wall, preferably in one of the towers and wanted to go to the section at Simutai to do this. When we got there though, it was closed for restoration. We knew the eastern side of Simutai was closed, but didn’t realise they had closed off the entire road to get there. We thought we could walk the western section…

A quick change of plans was needed and after looking at the maps, we decided to continue our drive to Jinshanling. This section is connected with the section of Simutai and we were hoping it would be similar and offer an option to camp overnight.

We packed our overnight packs, trying to keep them as small as possible as you’re not allowed to spend the night on the wall and we didn’t want to make it too obvious what we were doing. They are paranoid about bushfires at all attractions, so we decided not to take our stove but have sandwiches for dinner instead.

It must have been pretty obvious what we were planning to do, but for the first time in China they didn’t stop us. Just after lunch we started our hike, again using our own energy instead of the cable car to get us to the top. A cute dog followed us up, waiting impatiently after flying up each set of steps.

At the start of our overnight hike on the Great Wall. About to enter the actual Great Wall. Pupster walked up the hill with us and stayed with us the whole time.

At the start of our overnight hike on the Great Wall. About to enter the actual Great Wall. Pupster walked up the hill with us and stayed with us the whole time.

Are you coming? Our little companion was a lot faster than us!

Are you coming? Our little companion was a lot faster than us!

Every step is different on the Great Wall.

Every step is different on the Great Wall.

The sections at Jinshanling are not restored.

The sections at Jinshanling are not restored.

The side walls were missing a lot of times, but my goodness is it beautiful.

The side walls were missing a lot of times, but my goodness is it beautiful.

Jinshanling is partly restored, but only to the point that it is safe to walk on. Many areas are very weathered, whole sections missing the side barriers or the top layer and some parts have collapsed and you need to walk next to the wall to get on again a bit further. Very interesting as it shows how it is built.

Half of the wall is missing, gives you an interesting view on how it was built.

Half of the wall is missing, gives you an interesting view on how it was built.

Some watchtowers are in pristine condition, others you could barely make out there used to be a tower once. We loved it and so was our new friend Pupster, the cute dog still walking with us.

Our gorgeous little friend!

Our gorgeous little friend!

The weather wasn’t great with low clouds obscuring our view, but we could still make out the wall in the distance, although faint. We spent a few hours on top of one of the towers. Enjoying the views, writing postcards, snoozing and playing with Pupster who wasn’t leaving.

Writing postcards on the Great Wall

Writing postcards on the Great Wall

A rare moment on the trip: Jon having a break and a snooze. Pupster is patiently waiting for us to get moving again.

A rare moment on the trip: Jon having a break and a snooze. Pupster is patiently waiting for us to get moving again.

A few hours before darkness we continued our hike until we found the perfect watchtower for our camp. The ceiling had long ago disappeared, but it still had all its walls and windows. We had dinner with Pupster (who wasn’t interested at all in what we offered him) and watched the lightning of a storm in the distance.

Soon that storm was no longer in the distance and we decided to quickly pitch our tent and jump in. The tent had different ideas. In the gale force wind now blowing, rain hammering down and the lightning all around us we struggled pitching the bloody thing. After a few attempts trying to get the poles through the right bit of fabric we gave up and decided to leg it to the previous tower which we knew still had a roof.

Pupster had found some shelter in a corner of the tower, but when we left and called him he came out and joined us! What a great dog.

It must have been a comical sight, 2 people, a tent with poles sticking out (now we couldn’t get the damn poles out!) and a dog, scrambling down the extremely steep slope of one tower and up to the next. Halfway was a particularly exposed section where Jon decided it was a great place to analyse the situation for Health and Safety procedures with the lightning now striking every couple of seconds all around us. Just keep moving!!

This was the section we ran when trying to duck for cover.

This was the section we ran when trying to duck for cover.

We made it, a little wetter but happy to have a roof over our heads and a dry area to put our mats and sleeping bags down. We were about to climb into them when Jon spotted the sun setting. The sky had cleared a bit in the west and whilst there was still lightning all around us and it was raining a bit, we had the most stunning sunset of China all to ourselves. And Pupster of course who was also bunking down in the dry tower.

A beautiful sunset on the Great Wall, seen from 'our' tower.

A beautiful sunset on the Great Wall, seen from ‘our’ tower.

We munched some chocolate and cracked open the little bottle of Amaretto and watched the sun go down over the Great Wall of China. Beautiful.

Our overnight camp.

Our overnight camp.

The next morning we got up early, packing everything away before having breakfast in the sun in the next tower which we had left in a hurry only a few hours earlier. I found my sock there that I must have dropped in our haste to get out of there.

We continued our hike all the way into the Simutai section until we were turned around by a guard in one of the towers as the next section was closed. We had to leave Pupster behind at some point as he couldn’t climb down a steep ladder. We heard him bark and cry for a little and when we came back and called him it took him quite a while to get back to us. He must have tried to find a way around the ladder as he was seriously panting and very thirsty.

A little break on the second day.

A little break on the second day.

The wall is so beautiful here, we couldn't stop taking photos!

The wall is so beautiful here, we couldn’t stop taking photos!

Pupster walking with Jon, a very smart dog as he knew where to find the shade.

Pupster walking with Jon, a very smart dog as he knew where to find the shade.

Pupster stayed with us all the way back on the wall and even joined us when we went past our starting point to explore the other side of the wall. We passed some people now and again, but he didn’t even give them a second look. Always waiting for us to catch up and get a cuddle. It broke my heart to leave him behind when we got back to the car, especially when he chased us a long way down the road.

That's the section we walked.

That’s the section we walked.

We had asked about him and were told he lives in the nearby village and joins some tourists every day and walks the wall with them. I guess he didn’t realise he picked a couple who weren’t coming back the same day! A family seemed very happy he was back and gave us a big meaty dumpling we could give him, he gently ate it out of my hand.

The owner of the dog? We're not sure, but they were very happy to see him again and gave us a meat dumpling to give to him.

The owner of the dog? We’re not sure, but they were very happy to see him again and gave us a meat dumpling to give to him.

It was a great walk on the Great Wall of China, with beautiful scenery and a gorgeous little dog that made it even more special!

6 Comments

  1. Great pictures from the Great wall and also all those terracotta warriors. I did get to walk along the wall when we were in Beijing back in ~2001. It was an extremely hot day when we did that and I remember it being a pretty tiring 4 hr walk as the wall didn’t seem to be flat anywhere. But then, it wasn’t built on the easiest terrain; it was deliberately built on the hilliest terrain to make it harder to assault (I think that’s what I gleaned anyway).

    Great you had a guide for the trip as well. What a lovely hound.

    Really enjoy reading your stories.

    Phil.

    • Yeah, definitely hilly everywhere on the wall! Would have been pretty sweaty on a hot day for you. Our stories seem to bring back some memories for you? Glad you’re still enjoying reading them! Big hug, Jon & Jude X

  2. Pupster looks so cute – what a special companion!!! Glad the storm didn’t get you. Great adventure guys 🙂

    • He was awesome Tara, seriously broke my heart when we had to leave him!! Still makes me sad thinking about it, wondering if we could have…
      But it was a fantastic adventure! Something we always wanted to do.

  3. Great to read your news guys happy hunting

    Ian

    • You’ll love the Mongolian stories (coming soon)! We’re at Kharkhorin now, visiting the monastery tomorrow. Hope you’re enjoying a great holiday!

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