23 August 2009

The Great Wall of China

Seeing The Great Wall of China is clearly a highlight of any tour of China and I approached it with much anticipation but little knowledge. I knew that it was old and long but that was about it.

What I was not expecting was steep!

The part of the wall that we were taken to is about an hour's coach journey North of Beijing. Here the Wall falls down from one peak down to the river in the middle of the valley and then climbs up the other side.

The first view of the wall is this almost sheer climb up to the first tower. We were advised that it would take about 45 minutes to get to the top and so we knew we had a long slog in front of us.

The good news was that we had deliberately got there fairly early in the morning, i.e. before the hordes arrived to swamp the narrow steps. As with most places we visited, The Great Wall is a popular destination for Chinese tourists and so it got very very busy.

The early start also meant that we started the climb before the hottest part of the day but it was hot enough and so sun hats and water were necessary.

The Wall is in fairly short sections with small towers at regular intervals. Some of the sections were almost flat but most of the ones that we walked along varied between steep and very steep.

This picture looking down at the people climbing up below us gives you some idea of just how steep some parts are.

You can also see the river in the background and one of the dramatic things about the Wall is how quickly you gain height.

This means that you have good views all along the Wall and pausing to photograph them is a good excuse to take a brief rest from the relentless climbing.

This picture also gives you a good idea of how narrow the wall is with just about enough space for three abreast for most of the way. This makes it difficult to pass slow climbers, and there are a lot of these as the Wall attracts visitors of all ages all of whom seem determined to make it to the top however long it takes.

The view from the top of this section of the Wall shows how it is built along the ridge of the range of hills.

You can also see how high you get in 45 minutes of hard climbing as the river, where the climb started, looks a long way away in the distance.

The towers along the way provide interesting look-out posts though they were not designed for tourists and you usually have to queue for some time to get access to the one ladder-like stair that takes you up to and down from the top level.

Walking down also proved to be unexpectedly difficult as we met the bulk of the tourists on their way up. By then the wall was packed worse than Oxford Street on a Saturday with the added disadvantage that some of the people were resting on the steps.

Men in uniform arrived to try and organise the crowd but the Chinese seem to pay little attention to instructions from authority and so this had limited success. Luckily we were in no rush to get back to the coach so we happy to go with the (limited) flow as we made our way back down.

After the relative disappointment of Shanghai, The Great Wall was a fantastic experience and was one of the undoubted high points of the three weeks in China.

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