Trip Start Jul 24, 2011
27Trip End Aug 21, 2011
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The traffic this morning is simply appalling. It seems we're crawling out of the city inch by inch, using each of the 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th Ring Roads. On the edge of the built up area, we stop at a motorway services for a few minutes and then carry on to the 6th! The worst jam is at the expressway toll booths where everyone waits for ages to pay a maximum charge of 2 Yuan (20p) - they should be able to build several more new motorways with that!
Eventually we leave the motorway system for narrower roads and go through a flat fruit-growing area, leading towards the Great Wall
Eventually the bus gets onto a road which is only just wide enough for it and then draws up in a car park in the centre of a small village. It's get out and walk time.
The weather is still very dull and misty, but also warm and sultry. Within minutes, we're all sweating buckets. We were warned in advance that this first day's walk would be the hardest and the warnings weren't wrong. The initial bit is gently upwards on a concrete driveway, but we soon turn off onto a rough path which is much steeper. Our Group Guide, John, is walking at the back and he's hired a local farmer to lead us at the front. It's not long before we see the first watchtowers of the Great Wall a long way above us, though they're no more than vague outlines in the mist. Our progress towards them is pretty slow as there's a need for frequent rest stops in the oppressive conditions.
Eventually we're walking alongside the Wall (with quite a few people scampering along the top of it, just above our heads), but it's still quite a climb before we reach a place where we can clamber onto it
Even when we're on the Wall,and slightly refreshed after a lunch stop, there's more climbing to be done. This thing ain't flat! There are quite a few other people around and, as in Beijing, I'm in demand to have my photo taken with some of them. Conditions under foot are good at first, but suddenly the restored section of wall ends and it's then rough walking through the undergrowth on top of the Wall - with a substantial drop often only inches away as we edge our way across crumbling stonework. The fact that the Wall is so overgrown in many places proves that the idea of it being visible from space is just a popular myth, with no basis in fact.
The watchtowers on the Wall are all different and served different purposes - some accommodated officers, some ordinary soldiers, some were storehouses, some arsenals, etc. At long last we reach one called the North Ming Watchtower, which is our top point for today
Then it's down a steep path through dense trees to the nearest village where our bus is waiting to ferry us to our overnight accommodation in nearby Jiankou. It's been a tough day which has proved to be too much for a couple of our number and the Group size is reduced from 14 to 12 from now on.
The accommodation in Jiankou is a guesthouse, built by a local farmer with help from other members of his family. It's only about 1 year old. It's a better standard than I was expecting, and I've got a room, with en-suite toilet and shower, to myself - ok, the shower isn't very strong but it's nevertheless welcome after an extremely sweaty day. Outside the rooms is a communal area covered by a roof of corrugated plastic. This is where we eat, socialise and hang our washing.
Dinner is not long in coming - a whole series of small courses including fresh salad, green vegetables, fresh trout and a ram stew. At least we're told it's ram stew - the d-word isn't mentioned. It's a pretty good meal, all locally produced, I think.