Great Wall Trek Diary for Tuesday 13th November 2001

This is my diary for Tuesday 13th November 2001. I was on a trip to China to walk on the Great Wall, fundraising for the National Star College. I kept a diary but I never published it, so here it is, 10 years on. I’ll do this for every day there’s a diary entry. [Text written like this is commentary added by me now.]

Index of all relevant blog entries is here.

Tuesday 13th November – final day, returning to UK

Boo, it’s over.

2023 UTC. Nightmare journey. Or maybe just tired and depressed.

Breakfasted early as I’d had an early night last night. Finish packing and wake Llew – who singularly did not have an early night last night. Hand in key. Polava, fuss and nonsense, as you’d expect with a crowd of seventy people all checking out.

Get on bus; go. Oh yeah – it snowed. Anthony summarises the week for us – bless. Pass USSR & Canadaian embassies. Running late.

Arrive at the airport, and head with Jack, one of the Chinese guides, to Lost Property to claim tripod. Show them the form we got on the way in, and get waved inside; gloriously, they don’t know which shelf it’s on, i.e. MY LOST PROPERTY IS LOST IN LOST PROPERTY! Anyway, find it and sign for it. The zip on the bag is broken; bah. There’s no good reason for that.

Find and rejoin main group, queueing at luggage check-in in queues which don’t move. After a while, Eric magically moves us to another, and progress is made. I don’t know the weight of my luggage but I’m not charged any excess – as predicted by Julie. Then we queue for security – Tony has tiny scissors and thus everything of his is searched; fail. My bic biro sets off the metail detector, but I escape the full cavity treatment.

Not much time before boarding so a quick rush into the shop for last-minute presents, then on we go, er, onto a bus. Then onto plane. Very pushy Chinese guy – de rigeur. Seated in the middle column of the plane, towards the back. Then, oooh how pleasant, a two-hour wait for some latecomers! Joy! Just what you want before an eleven-hour flight, eh?

Flight is generally tiring and depressing (and knee-hurting). Food not great (chicken and rice, beef and rice) though nut allergy people (i.e. Julie) get fucking steak. [Protip!] Have a bit of a snooze but uncomfortable as not by a window so nothing to lean against. [Amateur.] Films shite again. On the other hand, start reading “A Mad World, My Masters” by John Simpson – excellent, must buy it. All in all though, my worst flight yet, alas. Probably mainly down about returning to reality – just want to trek.

Land at Heathrow at 1630 UTC. People fucking standing on walkways! Stand on the right if you want to stand! Clear immigration, then to baggage collection – should be interesting. Takes a while but both rucksack and tripod arrive together – woo hoo. Sit on trolley while waiting for other people getting the coach back to the National Star Centre and beyond.

Non-bus people start leaving – argh. There go Rich and Ollie. There goes Emma. There goes Becca. There go Mavis and Alison. There they go… So sad! Will I ever see these people again? [For most of them, no; I saw a few a couple of times over the next six months of so but then that was that. I miss them, and for some of them I miss getting to know them at all.]

Neil, a bus person, has lost his luggage, and the decision is made to leave without it – very nice of him not to make all us very tired people wait longer. We clear customs without me noticing it. Then onto the bus, on which I sleep until Ullenswood, when I see the gates of Star College for the first time – but no more.

Farewells to all, especially Pete, Laura, Julie and Gill – total star. Anita, Jan, etc. Then Llew gives me a lift to the station, where I’m writing this. Should be home at 2245. Have phoned Mum & Julie, will talk more to them tomorrow. Really sad/depressed it’s over. This was the best thing I’ve ever done. End.

[So that's that. It really was the best thing I'd ever done in my life at that point, and I realised with something of a jolt that I should be doing more with my life, that something or some things needed to change. For one thing, I realised just how much I actually liked doing stuff outside - walking, etc. And also, just, life is short and you need to do things you care about; within a year of the trek I'd quit my unfulfilling job programming for a company which didn't care about anything except the bottom line, and got a job teaching at Swansea University, with more control over my hours, and the prospect of doing some research and one day doing a PhD - which I'm now a year from completing. I'm sad to say that the trek also brought my relationship with Julie to an end, though not immediately as there was a lot of momentum there and I had a lot of fear to overcome. I'm still no intrepid traveller, and haven't been adventuring overseas at all really, though I did go back to China for a week in 2005 with my job. So I've still got a long way to go, but I'll always remember the trek as a major waypoint on that journey, and one of the best times of my life.]


Great Wall Trek Diary for Monday 12th November 2001

This is my diary for Monday 12th November 2001. I was on a trip to China to walk on the Great Wall, fundraising for the National Star College. I kept a diary but I never published it, so here it is, 10 years on. I’ll do this for every day there’s a diary entry. [Text written like this is commentary added by me now.]

Index of all relevant blog entries is here.

Monday 12th November – second day in Beijing

[It seems I'm definitely running out steam by this point...]

[Pictured here, the "fake fireworks" mentioned earlier... They're animated neon at night.]

Spiky things!

Last full day. Get up and go to breakfast but feel like a pig shat in my head (as the saying goes [it's a Waitnail & I quote]) so back to bed. Others going to Lama Temple but my way is better. [Nonsense. A prime example of regretting something you didn't do. I should have gone.] Decide on a lazy day, basically - tomorrow’s gonna be hard. [I.e. the return journey.] Get up lunchtime and shower, go looking for company. Others back about now, Llew shows me Lama Temple postcard - looks impressive but I’m all touristed out. In lobby, Julie changing money and Rich/Ollie off to Pizza Hut, just up road. Have to send postcards so spend 15 minutes licking 24 huge stamps [hahaha - errr?], then follow them up there. Oh wow – it’s pizza! Have my first Edge, excellent. Er, Chicken Delight, if I recall correctly. [Looking back, ten years on, I can only congratulate myself for recording this fascinating detail, which more than makes up for the lack of any memories of the Lama Temple, say] Crazy waitresses. [No idea why.]


Very cold outside, and rather grey. Bloke doing Tai Chi Chuan. [I think, in fact, Julie and I went to a nearby park-ish bit (I remember a small lake) where several people were doing so - but it was quite grey and miserable.] Can’t face packing yet so to bar, where Becca and Laura waiting. Pete buys me a beer, Ollie arrives from cold sauna – something for him to write about I guess. Feeling OK, but really don’t want to pack as implies acknowledgement of impending return to reality. Do so anyway, in a mad rush before dinner (which is at the hotel again). Pretty good meal, though air hot, chips cold, and waitresses intrusive (SIT THE FUCK DOWN! [Hahaha. I suppose this is what we thought they were thinking, given their actions...? No idea really.]) Not drinking much, gonna make it an early night. It’s all fairly subdued, really. Ice cream!

Back in bar, some people (notably Kim – bouncing off walles) are making the most of the last night – and of course the stalwarts are there – but many also subdued like me. Chat with Becca and Laura, then Anita. But ready to crash at midnight so do. Laura spilt my whisky! Llew rolls in late (0430?), turns light on, spends an hour undressing, etc. Bless him, he’s a trooper.

All in all, a nice gentle day.

With the lovely Hat

Great Wall Trek Diary for Sunday 11th November 2001

This is my diary for Sunday 11th November 2001. I was on a trip to China to walk on the Great Wall, fundraising for the National Star College. I kept a diary but I never published it, so here it is, 10 years on. I’ll do this for every day there’s a diary entry. [Text written like this is commentary added by me now.]

The photos for this day are here.

Index of all relevant blog entries is here.

Sunday 11th November – first day in Beijing

The best breakfast yet, but a nasty head accompanying. To Tiananmen Square – very cool! Get to do the touristy thing of following a yellow flag about the place! Eric [Chinese guide] telling us about the place: the Great Hall of the People (i.e. parliament), Mao’s Mausoleum, the National Museum of China, and of course the Forbidden City – where we’re heading in a sec. Would have loved to have seen the mausoleum and the museum, though the latter in particular is colossal… Lots of people, including two soldiers, the tallest Chinese people I’ve ever seen.

Monument to the Peoples' Heroes Andy hangin' tough at Tiananmen Square Museums of Chinese History and Chinese Revolution The People, mid-Revolution (part two). Wow, those guys are tall!

Frantic photos with Louisa, then head towards the Forbidden City. Go through an underpass under the road. Pass under the big picture of Chairman Mao and through the Tiananmen Gate. Roger Moore! [Er, what? I'm pretty sure he wasn't actually there, so presumably this refers either to an animatronic or a recording of his voice...?] Hawkers, tourists and courtyards, oh my! Lots more soldiers. Flags. Then through the Duanmen and Meridian Gates and we’re actually in the Forbidden City proper. Little girl hawker with Steve: mamiya! [Hahaha. Can't quite remember, but I think maybe he tried to talk to her or something, and she ran off calling for her mum?] Lions (male with ball, female with cub), urns, gold plate, stripped. [Urns had their gold plate stripped from them for the money, I guess...?]

Chairman Mao's picture above the Tiananmen Gate Red flags over Tiananmen Square. 017_14a 019_16a

Then through the Gate of Supreme Harmony, across the Harmony Square to the Hall of Supreme Harmony at last! Woo, Last Emperor stylee… Chinese bloke engages me in conversation. [No memory.] On through, Dowager Empress area, tripod frustration [I guess it was dimly lit and I wanted to do a long exposure.]. Imperial Gardens – very nice, but can’t hang around for long. “Loving Couple” trees [a pine and a cypress interlocked; I think this is a picture of them, from here] – awww. Into shop, a la Friendship Store. Nearly accidentally buy a banner. [Er?] Do buy some calligraphy. Shopping with Emma, she’s a dog. [Errr? Oh, I guess her Chinese sign?] Paperweight painting. Josie looking at horse prints - wow, Y500? About 43 quid – I’ll get it. But gotta go! Hurry, and get it for Y400 – but with debit card so real cost maybe much higher? [No idea.] Which way did the group go!? Left or right? Aha, there’s Eric!

020_17a 022_19a 024_21a Something metal Unsmiling Gimbo 030_27a 034_31a

Back to bus, then to Silk Alley, spat out in hawker/taxi central. Walk past Austrian and Cuban embassies to Silk Alley – bloody busy/insane. T-junction, turn left – looking for Pizza Hut. Dead end, turn back, fight through to other end. Micky D’s [i.e. McDonald's] to left, no sign of Pizza Hut. MD it is! Er, how do we order? Lady w/ pad – phew! Five Big Mac Meals and one veggie, please! Big Mac Meal costs Y173, i.e about 1.70 – mental. I’m no fan of McDonald’s but this was very welcome – no rice, no egg, no nuts, and the chips are hot! Strange experience anyway. By the way, with Becca, Laura, Jan, Emma, Julie. More trekkers appear everywhere, including Anthony with spicy chicken burger of renown. Emma’s contact lens adventure. [I guess it came out?]

OK, time to hit the shops! Aaaargh! Mental! Girls looking for dresses for tonight’s big meal, me looking for a shirt (aikdio trousers will do for legs). First dress purchase is Y320 haggled down to Y55, I believe – very good going! I get a shirt when I see one I like, it’s pretty plain. Y280 down to Y75, but I can’t haggle like Becca. Julie wants a yellow dress, which of course nobody sells. Trust a Julie to be awkward. [Hahaha. My girlfriend at the time was called Julie. Somebody once joked that as my Julie couldn't come to China, the organisers had been kind enough to supply me with one. Oh, how we laughed.] She gets a black one in the end – the earlier haggling paid off as get same price automatically. She and Laura try to get 5 more knocked off it but it’s not happening. Jan looking for a bag. Julie and I get taxi back to hotel (using card with address on it) – hairy! Looked for colour and meter. [I.e. to identify a legit taxi rather than one which would have resulted in our being sold into slavery, presumably.]

Sit in hotel lobby writing twelve postcards; takes fucking ages. [To this day I find writing postcards a terrible chore which takes an inordinately long time.] Then look for phone to call home, jog to another hotel as our payphone is not doing international. No reply! 0930 on Sunday morning at home - get up you lazy gits! Maybe they’re at church… Have to get back, late, no time to shower before dinner, so just change and get to coach (6pm).

Go to famous Peking duck restaurant, Anthony gets nasty response when explaining how it’s produced [presumably because part of the process involves force-feeding the ducks, though not to the extent employed for fois gras, apparently] – but all these people will eat it an hour later. The restaurant is big – really big, multiple floors, multiple rooms. Pictures of famous diners include Ted Heath, Fidel Castro, George Bush, etc. [This list strongly suggests that the restaurant was Qianmen Quanjude, est. 1864.] Seating confusion puts me on a table with people I don’t know too well, but of course they’re great people – just would have been more of a laugh if we’d all been together – this is the big night. Superb jasmine tea [first time I'd had it; love it to this day]. Meal excellent, best of week, and duck is great fun and delicious (duck sliced at table, pancake, scallion, sweet/salty sauce - yum). Toffee apple chopstick woman. [Hahaha. Something to do with the dessert. See photo below.] Speeches by Anthony and others, then William Lindesay [the first foreigner to walk the entire length of the wall, and the guy who was to present us with our certificates] – cool guy – then presentation of certificates, then votes of thanks. Then, like a big jessie, I burst into tears. The idea of not seeing these people any more really got to me. Awww. Gill and Emma console (well, Gill consoles, Emma listens). Buy the t-shirt. Then out to get bus back.

Choppy choppy duck duck Are those things toffee apples? Andy & Will, take two The Beijing Babes Under the hat

Liveliest night yet in bar – though most people have changed their clothes (oh yeah - girls all had to swap dresses because they didn’t fit!) Really cool night, everyone on great form and I’m feeling less emotional about the whole thing. Talk with Harry about cool places to go, and about Eric Shipton (he recommends I read The Six Mountain Travel Books [though as it turns out I prefer Bill Tilman's writing, on balance]) I tell him about Shipton’s Arch and promise to send him the National Geographic article I’d recently read about it), and got his card – fantastic. [The following year a bunch of the trekkers went with Harry to Nepal, a trip I had been very enthusiastic about but which I pulled out of for personal reasons, to my continuing regret. Always remember the words of The Butthole Surfers or, if you prefer, Orbital.] Collect addresses (and lipsmacks!) at back of this book. Buy a 30 quid round. Talk with Harriet about life and priorities – she’s a top lass. Talk with Ollie about his work, and discover a shared love for Withnail and I. Talk codshit with various people. Ace. Bed at about 3AM, apparently. A good night.

Diary Lips!

Great Wall Trek Diary for Saturday 10th November 2001

This is my diary for Saturday 10th November 2001. I was on a trip to China to walk on the Great Wall, fundraising for the National Star College. I kept a diary but I never published it, so here it is, 10 years on. I’ll do this for every day there’s a diary entry. [Text written like this is commentary added by me now.]

The photos for this day are here.

Index of all relevant blog entries is here.

Saturday 10th November – fifth and final day of wall walking; Juyongguan

[One thing to note: that I wrote all of this a couple of days later, rather than at the time - so it's a bit curtailed and lacking in detail compared to earlier days. In fact, I really didn't appear to have much to say about this day, sadly...]

Last walking day! Juyongguan (“Middle Pass”). Really, really touristy, especially at start, up 1600 steps. Big group shot first.

70 of the best

Definitely the nastiest piece of wall we’ve seen, but only because of the setting – very urban, road running right through it, hotel in middle, etc. Also too many people! Hah, we’re such snobs! Lots of locks and ribbons attached to wall on the way up…

Pretty! Urbanism 032_29 038_35 Someone didn't get enough sleep last night

The wall is a ring here. Can see more wall in distance from top - apparently that’s Badaling [the most popular section of wall for tourists], though I didn’t realise this at the time. Several extra temples on the way, but I missed them – boo; Becca & Emma did them though. Walk down is long and in places very steep - excellent. Julie’s knees fine now, while mine are starting to twinge a bit!

003_0a At the top, looking down at the second half. 006_3a A pretty bit I missed going to Near bottom of first half Cute dragons!

Half-way round, cross road past buildings. Slightly hard but short climb up the other side but then easy undulating going, very quiet apart from some Americans (SHUT UP!) [hahaha - standard] and background traffic.

013_10a 014_11a Looking back at the first half Kawai! Gimboooo Nearly finished!

Then, suddenly it’s over. Off the wall and back up to the crowded car park for congratulations and lunch. (At least there’s chicken!) Sad, innit? Hang around, go in shop (Cathy & Gill buying thing), photo & annoying bloke [no idea what the problem was; I forgive you, annoying bloke!], then time to go.

Bottoming out Cultural sensitivity 026_23a Me and Llew

Now to Beijing proper, to Exhibition Centre Hotel. Beijing very busy, much construction, strange spiky things – what are they!? [Artifical fireworks - see photo below] Room 437. Shower! Meal nearby, food very good, though dead fish in tank (and live ones) [yum]. Bit of speech from Anthony (re Star Centre and trek), then awards, then silly awards (me and Louisa: Most Boring Conversation – hurrah! [ie about photography, cameras, focus length, exposure times, ISO settings, film choices, etc. etc. etc.]), then cabaret. Hugh and Bob started (The Teutonic Trekkers – German shower-cap-wearing walkers); Anita sang Summer Time; Jessie and Edith sang Sisters and some other songs; Richard sang something short but very good; Becca (not the hat) did a Pam Ayres style poem about the trek, really good, probably the best thing here; Chink In Wall sketch, very hammy! [no idea]; The Five Degrees (Neil, Sue, Jill, Chris, Trudi), but could only really hear Jill. My raindrop impression! [Hahaha. This.] Finish with Steve, Mavis, Ali, Jenny, Laura singing “Congratulations”.

Dinner in Beijing Meet the team The teutonic trekkers

Then out we go (beer w/ Hugh episode [no idea]) to bar for proper drink. Drinking til after 0200, according to Becca. Much tomfoolery!

Um... What's going on here? Ice, ice, baby... Put yer feet up and tell us all about it

Great Wall Trek Diary for Friday 9th November 2001

This is my diary for Friday 9th November 2001. I was on a trip to China to walk on the Great Wall, fundraising for the National Star College. I kept a diary but I never published it, so here it is, 10 years on. I’ll do this for every day there’s a diary entry. [Text written like this is commentary added by me now.]

The photos for this day are here.

Index of all relevant blog entries is here.

Friday 9th November – fourth day of wall walking; Huanghuacheng

[One thing to note: that I wrote all of this a couple of days later, rather than at the time - so it's a bit curtailed and lacking in detail compared to earlier days. Sorry about that - I was having too much fun. :-) ]

Lake at Huanghuacheng The Gathering

“Wild wall day”, at Huanghuacheng. Leave hotel and walk by lake to dam, then cross dam and head up, up, up. Helping Lola for most of the morning. The wall here is very cool, but it’s slow going, so no exertion, which is a shame. There’s an extra bit to look forward to, just for the adventurous (like with Simatai).

The morning's wall 034_31 038_35 Gimbo! 004_1a

Argh! We’re not doing it! Stopped at the decision point, can see this fantastic wonderfully crumbly looking downhill section, which Harry/others go to check out, but the verdict is no, too dodgy to let any of us do it. Absolutely gutted, looking at this beautiful and fun looking chunk of wall, watching through borrowed binoculars as Eric [one of the local guides] & Dr Xing [the local doctor] work their way down it. Sigh. Waiting in the sun is very pleasant, mind.

Decision point 014_11a Welcome break The Forbidden Zone 018_15a

Set off down through orchards, single file, very slow going. Hey, we’ve got split up! Does this path even exist? Helping Jess or Edith down, me with one, Llew with the other. Lots of scratchy twigs. Very hot day. Arrive at bottom same time as other party, wherever they went. Talk with Anita/Cathy/Harriet about trekking, careers, etc. as we walk back to/through the village. Lunch in car park in sun. Food same as usual, getting very boring now. Amusing debrief for afternoon - Anita stood on chair talking, Anthony’s arms waving around in place of her own…

Heading down Heading down 025_22a 028_25a Hohoho

Split into two groups for the afternoon: some lounging around, others going up the other side of the wall by the dam. Obviously I’m in the walking group. Good hard steep climb up a path and onto the wall, but slow going again, at least until we spread out a bit. I pair up with Julie on the way up, and walk with her for the rest of the day - indeed, the rest of the week, really. She’s still worried about her knee but it’s not too bad on the way down. The walk is very enjoyable - not terribly strenuous but wild enough to be exciting. Slightly icy. Fall on arse – hurrah! Cut right arm and draw blood – hurrah! Medical adviser reckons I’ll live, however.

Afternoon starts 039_36a Lake and Hotel Harriet and Cathy Gimbo 011_8 014_11

Harry waiting at bottom of one stretch, the wall continues but we have to go off it to the left, down and around the hill, and through the village. It’s really lovely, very rural indeed. But are we going the right way? Go back & wait for others, Antony points out scrawled arrow on ground, how were we supposed to see that!?

017_14 018_15 020_17 Julie and me 024_21 026_23

Back to hotel for 1600, sit outside, get on coaches then off we go. Slightly disappointed with day – not enough walking and sad to have missed that awesome looking section of wall. Trip to next hotel takes about an hour, taking us into a much more urban area – really getting into Beijing proper now. Fantastic sunset – multiple rows of hills. Ming tombs. Lake. Fun park. Hotel in built-up area, not particularly pretty from outside but room is good (if small). Phone Mum & Dad briefly.

Dinner at a Friendship Store (not the main Beijing one, I think), food not bad not brilliant. Downstairs bar, quiet and hard work. [No idea what I meant by "hard work" here? Hard work to get served, maybe...?] Did a bit of shopping – huge store – Julie gets silk for dress. Everything very expensive, a lot of tat and a lot of quality. Hey, there’s an upstairs bar! Two vodka and cokes! It’s not beer!!! Huge, 720yuan. Wyn spent 2500 pounds! [Not on vodka. Not solely on vodka, anyway.] Back to hotel. Postcards From The Edge! [Er? Was it on TV? Did we watch it? Or is this code for me writing postcards; I don't think I did, yet...] Abortive karaoke attempt, then freeform bowling – either suck or excel. Little socks! [They made us wear some for bowling, perhaps?] Peter never bowled before but strikes-a-rooney! (0130). Up drinking til about 0230.

Friendship Store bar With Bek the Hat, bowling at the hotel near the Friendship Store

Colin’s birthday! [My brother.]

“Build New Beijing, Hold Great Olympics!” [Saw this (and similar) all over the place. At the time I was very impressed that they were getting for the 2008 Olympics all the way back in 2001; now I'm older and wiser, of course, it just seems eminently sensible. Still, one thing that constantly struck me about China - and again when I went back in 2005 - was that there was building activity virtually everywhere you looked, particularly in Beijing.]

Great Wall Trek Diary for Thursday 8th November 2001

This is my diary for Thursday 8th November 2001. I was on a trip to China to walk on the Great Wall, fundraising for the National Star College. I kept a diary but I never published it, so here it is, 10 years on. I’ll do this for every day there’s a diary entry. [Text written like this is commentary added by me now.]

The photos for this day are here.

Index of all relevant blog entries is here.

Thursday 8th November – third day of wall walking; Mutianyu

Wake w/ headache. Hangover? Not too bad but annoying. Get up, not too cold but no hot water (knew that) & can’t brush teeth as plug in sink won’t come out! Get dressed (walking shirts stink – should have brought more) & go to breakfast 0715, again not too bad, poached eggs - yum! (Hawkers outside already – poor bastards.) Angela comes in late (alarm didn’t wake her) so I sit with her & chat. She arrived last night (should have mentioned that), having had her purse w/ passport stolen at Manchester Piccadilly on Sunday. Terrible thing, but fantastic she made it. Raring to go, obviously.

0815 we’re leaving so to buses, then off to Mutianyu, about 1.5 hours. Alas, as journey progresses, headache gets worse (nurofen @ start) and travel sickness arrives (particularly near end – winding roads). Go through fairly urban area, don’t know name. Lousy journey really, feeling very bad at end – hope fresh air helps. Argh, need loo too. OK, get to bus park, do the necessary stuff, immediately feel infinitely better – hurrah! [Oh man, that was an experience I have no desire to repeat any time soon. Blessed relief but it was not pretty...] It’s hot, so dump stuff on bus & actually have a reasonable amount on me at start, which is nice.

Birdy num-num Climbing steps to Mutianyu wall

Much milling around. Two groups again: one going up in cable car, us going up steps. Through market. Steps leafy but boring, not too hard. At top, assailed by Mongol warrior. More wall, very restored! Chairlift toboggan down by here, so this is destination too. Off we go, paired up with Julie, her knees are playing up, OK up but painful down – poor thing. [Basically, she'd completely gunned it on the first day, and in particular had gone too fast on the big long steep down down down stretch at the end of the day; she'd spent day two laid up with painkillers and this was her first outing again. Silly thing in, she was a doctor: should have known better! Anyway, she and I got on very well, as of this day.] Going is OK, “undultating”, hawkers in fixed positions, which is OK. Stop for lunch @ cable car station [that means the path on my Google Earth KMZ is wrong - I'll try to correct it some time] (have met some of the other group), lunch is as we’d expect – plus cold chips. Mmmm, that’s nice. Really nice sat in sun, soaking up rays. Julie not continuing, will cable car down then shop.

The dragon snaking off into the distance, Mutianyu Luncheon is taken

Go on with rest of group, heading towards “the thousand steps” – about 20 mins to get there? Long, steep stretch, Anthony says “in one go”, but, er, no way! Well hard, but make it (last 10 steps even steeper) - and there’s a guy @ the top selling beer! There’s wild wall beyond, and a sign saying “road ends” or somesuch. Are we going there, I ask? No, says Anthony. Poop. All the same, it’s fantastic – brilliant views back over where we’ve been. Hang around for a while, top of the world, some French appear, a coat is blown off the wall, Harry goes to rescue it thinking it Hanmer’s, turns out it’s one of the French guys’. David & Neil appear last, and get beer from the hawker @ the top – cool.

The Thousand Steps Ascending the last bit of The Thousand Steps Top o' the world, ma!

“California Beef Noodle King USA!” — why did write this? [No idea!]

Anthony’s eyeing up the wild wall above, saying to Harry he fancies a crack at it. Harry’s staying. I say, you’re not going to let me go with you, are you? and he says come if you want. Oh yes! Louisa’s up for it too, so off we go. First bit is a scramble, almost a climb, fairly loose & great fun. Then it’s just steep, and very overgrown. It’s absolutely fantastic, we’re on wild wall! Keep going up, there are bricks, stick out @ 45 degrees, the real deal. Stop past first watchtower for photos (self-timer!) and general exhultation. However, time is getting on & we’re at the back of the group, so we have to put a yomp on to get back to the other end in time – want to get the toboggan down!

The dangerous road Me, Louisa, and Anthony on the Dangerous Road (1) Anthony and Louisa contemplating life on the Dangerous Road Anthony fighting his way back down the Dangerous Road Clambering back down to the Thousand Steps

Off we yomp, got to take it steady going down (whoah!) but we make really good time & catch Harry after about 4 towers. He’s got a rucksack someone left @ the top - think one of the French guys, and doesn’t want to leave it with Chinese police. Must ask him what happened. (Answer: “Air France, taxi, no thanks whatsoever.” [Hahaha - I presume there were more details to his explanation than that, but I'm buggered if I can remember what they are.]) Toboggan: Becca, Emma, Laura just departing as we arrive. Kim there, doesn’t want to do it, Anthony persuades. 40 yuan. A says “put the lever all the way forwards & ignore the people telling you to slow down”. OK, can deal w/ that. he goes first, then me. Wheeee… Bloody brilliant. I’ve been on a couple of these before but this is the longest by far. Unmissable. High fives at bottom. Long wait for Kim!

Louisa at the bottom of the Mutianyu Speedway Kim careering out of control Department of Propoganda for Prevent Fire

OK, now writing this on last day so time to slip into notes mode. Haven’t found time to write, I think because group & friendships have gelled, so no longer spending any time sitting around! Anyway…

Market/bartering at bottom, got some chopsticks. Coaches leave at 4 for Huanghuacheng. Longish drive, about 1.5 hours? Still pretty rural. Get to destination, first sight of hotel: wow! It’s modern! Also right by reservour. Go looking for photos but light gone (quickly). Hotel plush – definitely a hotel! Room is upstairs, v nice. Excellent. Catch up on this a bit, nice shower, etc. Dinner at 7, as usual in another building. There’s one guy who speaks English drafted in from somewhere else especially. Food better but not as much as might expect.

Good food... Great food, in fact!

Apres nosh, time for another game. Me elected team captain (bastards!). Three chairs, Anthony says stuff we have to take to chair, first one gets point. We suck badly – last w/ two points. Llew/Becca on winning side again – exultant! Chinese must think we’re barmy, but it gets worse… Steve drags Anita up to sing, then orange-napkin-on-head time. Kung-fu fighting!

The kung-fu conga Anita & Andy

“Charlotte Watson’s wanking in The Barracks!” [Heh. Her room-mate was Angela, who had only joined us this day due to theft as described above; this quote is Angela in England before she joined us, imagining her room-mate (of whom all she knew was her name) taking advantage of her unexpected solitude. :-)] Becca learnt lots of Chinese.

Next AM: grooo. [Read: hangover!]

It's a real hotel!

Great Wall Trek Diary for Wednesday 7th November 2001

This is my diary for Wednesday 7th November 2001. I was on a trip to China to walk on the Great Wall, fundraising for the National Star College. I kept a diary but I never published it, so here it is, 10 years on. I’ll do this for every day there’s a diary entry. [Text written like this is commentary added by me now.]

The photos for this day are here.

Index of all relevant blog entries is here.

I’ve also just uploaded a Google Earth file for the whole trip, with (approximate) hike routes plotted, which might be of interest to someone…

Wednesday 7th November – second day of wall walking; Simatai to Jinshanling

[This was a real rollercoaster of a day, in which I pushed myself (or to be more accurate, had no choice but to push myself) into and beyond physical discomfort and exhaustion in a way I never had before - and in doing so discovered just why it is that people do that. The wall was the best of the week, the countryside beautiful, the weather perfect, and the company marvellous. I'm sure I'll always look back on this day as one of the greatest of my life.]

My favourite photo from the whole trek

Another beautiful morning! Up @ 0630, get shit together, rucksack in coach @ 0715 then brekkie – coffee (warm hands!), apple, tomato, egg, doughnut, back to room to pick up bag (couple of photos w/ minipod), to coaches 0745. Don’t want to get on! [I didn't want to leave this place where yesterday had happened. Silly, given the day that lay ahead. I still struggle with letting go of good things...] Set off, up into mountains. Very windy, very barren, very rural – but lots of activity: people riding in open 3 wheelers, chopping crabapples, hefting bricks, etc. Flags/banners all over the place.

“The People of Xinglong County Wish You A Good Trip”. [A sign over the road that made me smile.]

Haven’t seen much wildlife: a few birds but mainly just domesticated animals: pigs, chickens, geese, goats, horses, camels. It’s very cold, I guess that’s why (birds migrated?). Good thing: no insects! (OK, 2 wasps and 1 beetle – but not bad!). Feeling very good this AM, things twinged slightly when squatted to get at rucksack shortly after getting up, and nose a bit blocked – have been neglecting nasal spray, must rectify [at the time I was taking a corticosteroid spray for rhinitis] – but other than that fine & raring to go. :-) My back feels completely fine – all praise to Allah. Lots of beeping (hey cows!), ie every time we want to pass anything. Quite a few dogs, mostly alsatianoid mongrels.

1710 Oh my God, what a day. I really don’t know how to describe how I feel, what I’ve done, where we’ve been. Incredible. I’ve just never done anything like that in my life (not even yesterday). But first it’s time for my first shower since Friday. Let’s go!

1755 Oh man, that was fantastic. The best shower I ever had in my life – and now the heating’s on! This room [in the hotel at Jinshanling, at the end of the walk] is so much better than the one at The Barracks – actually feels like a hotel, rather than, say, a tent with walls. I’m so exhausted, but I also feel absolutely fantastic – this must be why people get into exercise. There was a bit at the end today where I and Louisa were running along a bit of wall, giggling at the absurdity of it. Presumably by this point the pain barrier had been smashed to smithereens.

This morning was hell. But in a good way. Today’s walk was Simatai to Jinshanling, the hardest and most dangerous section we’re doing, but also the most “classical” and just generally groovy – or at least that’s what they’d said. They were not wrong – although of course three days to go. Well, anyway. Pre-walk through Samatai (Opera!), pretty naff, then split into two group: main group (turn left at wall), and crazy group, with me in it, turning right & going up a real fuckin’ steep bit to a high point, then coming back down & catching up with others (in theory). Estimated time: about 1.25 to 1.5 hours.

030_27a 035_32a

Two other things to note: it’s pretty warm but I’ve got both my coats because I’m sure Anthony said it’d be much colder today, so I’m heavily laden; and also, the hawkers. Huge crowd waiting at wall, hook onto us (one each) and follow. Real pains in the arse at first, but actually ended up quite appreciating them – guided way a couple of times, were encouraging, and said “Be careful” many many times; carried packs if desired (I didn’t), sold book at end (100 yuan - hmmm, let’s have a look at it – yeah, not bad – lots of pictures, basically).


OK, so anyway, the crazy group (about 10 of us) [later referred to as "The Simatai Suicide Squad" - photo below] storm through hawkers and start up RHS. V steep, hot, v fast – totally knackering. Rest @ first tower then up again, more of same. Bit icy too. It’s hell - complete hell. So hot. Stops are essential but don’t fully recover. By second tower I’m already regretting it – bad idea. But up we go, hawkers still with us. We’re aiming for tower seven, total insanity. Some sections slightly easier, but all pretty difficult. Gets better towards top – end attainable, I suppose, and less hawkers, though still enough to get in the way. At 5 or 6 there’s a steep metal ladder with handrails & Pete (?) stays there – it is pretty hairy. Get to 7, Anthony wants to go one beyond (apparently police stopped him last time), hell why not? So we make it to 8 (and not followed by hawkers on this section). It’s great – views fantastic though it’s really hazy unfortunately. We made it! Group shots… There’s a bit more (people up there – one guy was running earlier), but we’ve got to turn around – aiming to catch up with main group at some point. Back down hard work but not as hard as up. So hot! Less rests on way down, and at back so can’t improve that.

The Simatai Suicide Squad Looking back at Simatai

Down, down, down, past point of entry, to fantastically wobbly bridge then up steep metal stairs (almost vertical), three or four flights - argh! Feeling really bad now – awfully hot, carrying too much, thought we were stopping for lunch! At back, argh.

Chain bridge at Simatai

Then we do stop for lunch (about 2pm), it’s very good (crazy club sandwich, rice, egg, apple), and great to stop, but hawkers are spoiling it. Argh, so much less nice than yesterday but should be even better – gotta get out of this headspace. Know who “my” hawker is by now, but there are many more. They’re not actively disturbing us, just hanging around & chatting loudly. Others also finding it hard – I guess that’s good! Who’s in group? Anthony, Llew, Louisa, Laura, Emma, David, Peter, Neil, Becca, Richard, Ollie, er… Chris, Tony (?), Kit, Hugh.

Jogger’s nipple – ouch!

Follow the crumbly brick road

Then press on. It’s hard, but spectacular. Still hot, but have moved fleece to under lid of backpack and that’s really helping. Have now basically paired up w/ Louisa (Anthony suggested twos & threes to spread hawkers – working for us with just one each but others not so lucky) and it’s pretty good: similar paces, and she’s nuts about photography, and also very talkative, which was exactly what was required. Some icy patches a bit dodgy, hard going. Really hard part is not knowing how far we have to go – there’s supposedly a checkpoint somewhere? Wall goes on as far as we can see, and time’s getting on, are we going to make it before dark? (At least Anthony’s behind us.) We reach a point where wall goes up steep & crumbly, looks good but guides guide us around, onto path off wall – quite pleasant little bit but find out later could have gone over (Ant + others did) & it’s great. Ah well.

Louisa Thumbs up for the wall!

Great thing that happens just before this point is we can see Jinshanling, our destination, so we have an idea of how far we have to go. This buoys our spirits immensely and we’re really anjoying it again now (though have picked up Jinshanling hawkers). At next tower meet Harriet, and hawkers want to go home. Nearly there (or so we thought) so buy book & postcodes from my guy (120 yuan) since he’s been such a trooper, and crack on.


Now coming through back of main group, Correley (sp?), Lola & Rhiannon (having trouble w/ hawkers), and Harry, who promptly yomps off. Help C, L & R along for a bit (Louisa does same steps 3 times!) then Anthony coming up from behind & nearly there so go on. There’s the end – and Anita! Go out on ledge for photo & guides shout Nonononono! They think I don’t know this isn’t the way down! By now we’re feeling absolutely great & not dark yet so we go on to the extra bit (about 4 towers), and Oh My God is it fantastic! The hawkers don’t follow! We’re on our own! We feel great – this is why people exercise. We’ve passed the pain barrier & are worrying that we can’t feel the damage we’re doing – but don’t actually care. So quiet & peaceful – Anthony, Laura & Emma are behind but not with is. This just tops the day off perfectly. I want to keep writing about this because I’m feeling it now (24 hours later) but it’s so hard to describe. Ah, fuck it. We ran to an out of the way bit in hope of good view/photo of Jinshanling. Not very pretty though so didn’t bother. Still, was worth it for absurd giggliness of run.

Setting sun over Jinshanling Peace, perfect peace

As we came down off wall, onto muddy track into Jinshanling, Louise told me about working on a ranch in Montana – sounds fantastic. As we enter village hawkers reappear – gaaah! Are we going the right way? Stop & wait for A, L, E behind us. L & E go into shop, A joins us – heartiness & tales all round.

We go on to hotel, Cathy & Anita waiting outside. My bag’s in my room already! Cool. Get to room; it’s great! Much nicer than barracks. The shower – oh yes! Clean clothes, mmmm. Excellent. Just getting dark when arrive @ hotel. Bit of sitting around saying wow (still feeling great), bit of diary. To restaurant for pre-dinner beer @ 1830, meet w/ Diana, Wyn, and others. People drifting in, end up on table with 8 women – haven’t done that since uni! ;-) Meet Jill for first time. Food better than Barracks, sort of. Definitely eminently edible and enjoyable. Jill buys 12 quid bottle of wine (rubbish). Briefing on tomorrow, sounds good. Then 2030 bonfire & firecrackers outside – woohoo! Really nice, mega toasty. Mainly standing around w/ Becca, Llew, Tracey (who lets me use her phone to send a text message to Julie!), supping beer & talking stuff. Becca’s definitely up for getting us all dressed up for the last night. Some people playing charades or something inside – but I stay by fire. Me, Llew, Neil, Jill last ones there, then us two go back and crash, unsure of time but think before 2300.

Dinner at Jinshanling hotel, third night Thrilling headgear around the fireside

Malc’s sleeping bag is ace.

The blessed room

Great Wall Trek Diary for Tuesday 6th November 2001

This is my diary for Tuesday 6th November 2001. I was on a trip to China to walk on the Great Wall, fundraising for the National Star College. I kept a diary but I never published it, so here it is, 10 years on. I’ll do this for every day there’s a diary entry. [Text written like this is commentary added by me now.]

The photos for this day are here.

Index of all relevant blog entries is here.

Tuesday 6th November – first day of wall walking; Huangyaguan Pass


11 AM. I’m walking the wall! Unbelievable… It’s just perfect. The weather’s incredible – cold, clear, crisp. Definitely warm enough when walking. There’s snow – on the path! Steep. Views incredible, fantastically clear. I feel absolutely elated. Nearly finished first film. XP this afternoon? [Ilford XP2, a film which gives sepia coloured pictures; I used it on later days.]

1645 Incredible day – lots of catching up to do!

Woke 0730, didn’t even bother trying shower, just got dressed, brushed teeth, went to breakfast. Bustling! Jasmine tea, nuts, tofu, mumbled eggs, bread, doughnuts. Many people grumbling how “this isn’t breakfast food” but me loving it. Set off @ 0900. Up through village, lots of people chopping crabapples. Horses! Left through gate, start winding uphill. Chatting w/ various people. Er… Julie, Laura, Emma, Wyn, etc. Stop for piccies on concrete irrigation thing, Mavis falls over! But she’s OK… Up more, horseriders pass – do we want a ride? No! Round bend to big clearing with statue of some bloke (Qi Qi Kwon? Qi Qikuon? [Aha, according to this informative page it's Qi Jiguang, a Ming era general.]), group shots. Let’s do some wall! Up past derelict hotel (great site!), and we’re on the wall! Hands on bricks. There’s snow! A photo-taking flurry begins. Start walking, not too bad I reckon. Totally incredible… See earlier comments, but generally wow: views! It’s the fucking wall! Big grin on face, not gonna go away for a while.

Horsemen at Huangya Trekkers at Huangya, just before first assault on wall

Some people totally storming off already, I’m taking too many photos to be at the front. Finish film fairly soon. Hook up with Mavis, helping her down some steep bit, end up with her until near end. Some people definitely having problems, but everyone going for it… Mavis is a good laugh – and Ollie’s got her back pack (far ahead and getting further!). Slower going now than if I was on my own, but realise that’s a good thing. Why be in a hurry to be anywhere but here?

Up, down, up, down, steps, rough bits, ice & snow. Coming towards end, turn right off wall & down slope, getting hairer. Round corner & can see Barracks – cool! Meet w/ Harry & Cathy, Harry asks if I’d stick around to help other ladies down (Mavis OK from here). Er, like - yeah! Excuse to stay up here!

The Barracks from above

Go back up to wall & meet up with back markers, then help Jess down - a few dodgy moments! Finally make it to bottom (more hawkers!), arrive in stadium to cheers & applause.

Great lunch: rice, nuts (Peanuts without chopsticks? How??? [Explanation: at dinner the previous evening I'd been very pleased with my chopstick skills, eating peanuts one by one; lunch contained peanuts but no chopsticks and for a moment I felt genuinely flummoxed - and then I cracked up.]), apple, hard boiled egg, sarnie, cake, soup. Then off again, v soon – some people have been waiting an hour. [Suckers.]

This afternoon is up the other side: straight up, then straight back down – so OK not to set off immediately. Drop coats off, then start heading up w/ Harriet (doc, rear marker), then head ahead to catch up w/ Harry. Jesus – steps! Some tiny, some normal, some huge – but many of each. Hard work, hardest of day because a) it’s all uphill; b) it’s steps, and pretty steep; c) playing catchup. Do catch up, then go at his pace (stopping frequently – good), until reach sign at top (gets dodgy/rough again then).

Looking across Huangya valley at the morning's Wall Near the top on the first afternoon

Actually goes further – up very steep staircase w/ handrail – very icy though. First lot are coming down, apparently lookout @ top is great. Up we go. Hard but looks like coming down is harder! Cathy @ top of steps – just a bit of rough stuff up to lookout: go!

Trekkers descending icy steps at Huangya

Laura & Emma up there; fruit is shared. Harriet still behind: went so far then helped someone down, then back up again! Make it to top shortly after Laura & Emma leave. I waiting @ top w/ Cathy while Anthony & Harry check out a bit of wild wall to the right. We three go back to lookout again – really incredible looking at where we walked this morning. Achingly beautiful. Perfectly happy. Boys return, group shot, then down we go (Anthony storming ahead). It’s hairy, although I’m pleased to find myself not gibbering like some people were. :-) Good fun going down, gossip, jokes, travel stories – don’t have much to say, just listen. Happy to be with these guys, and very happy to be last ones down, because after that it’s over.

Looking down the icy steps at Huangya Harriet, Andy, and Kath at the top

Knee complaining a little, mainly toes are complaining of being scrunched up in boots – hard going down! Horses again – & hawkers of course. (Chinese couple earlier – he in suit, she in heels!). Get to bottom, spot rubbish from lunch, start clearing but Chinese woman stops us – she wants it. Kindly invited back to H+H’s [Harry, guide, and Harriet, doctor] place for tea - excellent! Gives me chance to catch up on this, while Harriet does her medical notes & Harry talks travel & jokes. Anita & Cathy pop by and have some tea, then go. Harry gets the brandy out – now you’re talking, especially as I lacking coat. About 6pm head back to C5 and coats, and finish this. Quiz tonight!

Another great dinner, similar to last night but some differences. Sat w/ Kit, Diana, er, others – old & well-travelled mainly. Won the quiz (team name “Spock”), out in front from start – woo hoo! Free beer! [Team: Hanmer, Lucile, Kit, Wyn, Diana, Jill, Josie, Judy.]

Most then to bed, plenty still drinking though! Sit w/ Llew, Becca, Laura, Emma (?), Cathy, Jean & Anita joined us later. Much beer - doubles in price @ 10pm! About 1115, barmaid sits next to me, and writes down (and says very slowly), “This restaurant is closed. Please tell everybody.” I did, and then I left, but I heard the next morning that people stayed later, and she threw a tantrum. To Louisa: “Yo go sleep now!”

Great Wall Trek Diary for Monday 5th November 2001

This is my diary for Monday 5th November 2001. I was on a trip to China to walk on the Great Wall, fundraising for the National Star College. I kept a diary but I never published it, so here it is, 10 years on. I’ll do this for every day there’s a diary entry. [Text written like this is commentary added by me now.]

The photos for this day are here.

Index of all relevant blog entries is here.

Monday 5th November – flying to China, driving to Huangyaguan

Frozen wasteland

0820 Beijing time. Slept a little, then woke to see daylight through gap @ bottom of vistor. Lift it. HOLY SHIT. Hills, can’t tell how high but I think rolling like Dartmoor (?), some with jagged tops, like mountains, and it’s all black like ash, or white with snow. The black’s weird – is it trees? Frozen rivers, frozen lakes, and just this as far as the eye can see. Welcome to Siberia, I guess.

Some of them are definitely trees. Er, I think.

That is the most incredible place I’ve ever seen with my own eyes. Now obscured by clouds. Damn. Who lives here? Those have to be houses. Insanity. I have to come here again.

OK, some of the black may be trees, but I think most is, er, rock. The light… Ooh… big brown bit. God, I couldn’t imagine this and now I don’t know how to describe it. So I’ll cheat and take some photos! I can’t believe long I stared dumbly out before remembering my camera!

Mongolian river

The sports news is on – and they’re playing Go! But they call it Weiqi.

Ground now browner and less hilly/desolate. Following a railway line (trans-Sibera?), so a few more settlements. It’s vast and empty.

The map’s back – we just entered China recently, and that was Mongolia! Woo hoo! 168 miles to go. We went right past Ulan Bator & I missed it – grrr. OK, so that was/this is the Gobi Desert. Cool.

Can now see serious mountains in distance – think we cross ‘em before Beijing (on a plain?). Passing Xuanhua soon.

1024: I just saw the wall!

The wall from thirty thousand feet

1100: Crazy shit: I’m in Beijing. Party congregating… everyone v nice. What a journey!

1230. Joy to the world! I’ve lost my tripod! If I’m lucky will be able to pick it up on way back through Beijing. [I did get it back on the way back (though with broken bag) and actually it was probably for the best, as it was too bulky/heavy to carry on the wall, it would have just been an encumberance.] Cool. Much running around with guide, Eric, I didn’t expect this much exercise so soon…

Others go, Eric & I do stuff then follow. 2 coaches. Jack, guide, spiel – very sweet. Driving through Beijing, then outlying villages (maize everywhere – for cattle apparently). Signwriters must do well. After a while, into the mountains! Now it gets windy. Slightly nauseous anyway, this doesn’t help. Pass a huge reservoir (described as “tiny” compared with five serve Beijing), v pretty, water tower is disguised as a pagoda!

Can see wall on mountains ahead. V steep! Not doing that bit, but are doing bit next to it! Arrive at Barracks [Our hotel at Huangyaguan Pass for the first two nights - its actual names is the Huangya Villa Hotel - see photos.] – mental! Huge! It’s right by the wall! Like, wow! (In margin: Bags! [No idea.]) Look round, photos before light goes. Lots of hawkers. Check out room – very basic but it’s all there. Brings home your desire for warmth & security, mind. Llew more intrepid…

Archway at the Barracks

It’s 1530, alarm clock says 0730. Julie’s just getting up, I suppose, and here I am at the wall. Hope she’s alright.

Hot water 1500–1700, dinner @ 1800.

Read a while, but was getting sleepy so tried to have a shower. No hot water. Not cold water: no water from hot tap. Er? Resolved to stink, washed feet, got ready to go to restaurant to change money & have dinner. Quite a few people there already, drinking beer & chatting. Changed $200, got some beer! Met Shaun, very nice chap, bar manager @ NSC. He’s in room next door w/ Bob who I met at luggage, but didn’t get his name before. Told me a bit about NSC, sounds cool. 16/17 year olds @ intake, often w/ no capabilities, first term is hell (“want to go home”), by 2nd year they’re “bolshy little fuckers” and by time they leave they’re your typical young adults – like compressing the teenage years into just 3.

Round tables seating 10 w/ Lazy Susan. Cold bits already, yummy peanuts w/ sesame seeds (sweet – J would not like!), celery w/ dried prawns (didn’t try), strips of beef w/ garlic (tasted as you’d expect), & some green leafy vegetable, very bland. Sat on same table as Llew. Also: Diane, very nice middle-aged lady with GSOH and lots of spirit; her friend (name?), also nice but not impressed by food - poor dear; Lola & her daughter Rhiannon, easily the most “glam” pair here; Harry, Silk Steps guide, 40s, grey beard, very experienced trekker, lots of sage advice to give out; Becca, who I met earlier, still nice; Jeanette who I mistakenly thought knew Becca (actually could be roomies I guess) and didn’t talk to much (mainly talking to Diana on my other side). Bit of talk from Anthony, Anita, Harriet. Food comes! Lots of courses… Little beef satays, really tender lamb/mutton (lovely), chips (!), slices (thin/small) of something melon-like, cabbagey noodly soup, watery peppery (yiy!) soup, plain rice, er… Dumplings!


Drank a fair bit of beer. Someone’s birthday so cake! Sitting around, chatting… Had some firewater of some description – giggling Chinese girls @ bar, squealed when I necked it. Tasted like pear drops! [It was rice wine.]

Andy avec beer

Crashed @ 2145, felt like 2am! Woke @ 3am, almost ready to get up. Uh-oh… BURP! Nasty, felt like I was gonna be sick, but gladly wasn’t. Thank God for Malc’s sleeping bag, that’s all I’ll say! Must get him a nice present to say thanks.

[The next morning we'd walk on the wall for the first time...]

Great Wall Trek Diary for Sunday 4th November 2001

This is my diary for Sunday 4th November 2001. I was on a trip to China to walk on the Great Wall, fundraising for the National Star College. I kept a diary but I never published it, so here it is, 10 years on. I’ll do this for every day there’s a diary entry. [Text written like this is commentary added by me now.]

The photos for this day are here.

Index of all relevant blog entries is here.

Sunday 4th November – flying to China

Departure day!!! Back not too bad in night, couldn’t really lie on RHS but OK. Woke w/ pain early, took pills, OK (now 2pm still OK, so that was probably at about 8am). [I'd pulled something in my back the previous day, and for a while feared I might not be able to go on the trip] Tesco’s for breakfast (much confusion), then last minute “where’s passport?” panic – stolen from coat outside? Nope, in photovest I’m wearing! D’oh! OK, shit is together, time to go (about 12:15). Fond farewell to Heather (won’t hug me due to fumes from coat [from waterproofing]), and we’re off! (J driving). Phoned Col again (ansaphone), Dave & Rach (cool) and Nan. Headache from fumes? Traffic is good, arrive about 1:10pm. Wander around looking for Air China, ah it’s area G. On way there, someone shouts “Andy!”, it’s Anthony Feasey from NSC. Wow, I’m impressed! Gill & Cathy around corner by Air China, get tickets from them (handy!), and check in. Nervous, fiddly, clumsy, etc. J gonna go & let me get on with it - scary! Fond farewell… Hang around for a bit like a lemon, then go to THE BAR! Boarding @ 1615 so plenty of time to kill (glad we arrived early though – got a window seat!). Now in bar @ 1357, halfway through a Caffrey’s – better take it easy!

Holy shit, I’m going to Beijing…

Have seen/met a few people but everyone seems to be keeping themselves to themselves thus far. Fair enough, there’s plenty of time, gotta see who we end up sat next to, etc. Like starting uni. :-) Wonder what Llew’s like. [The organisers had previously told us the names of our room-mates.]

Big queue to get into departure lounge; shook hands w/ Neil Brimble. Everything a bit mental but courtesy seems to get me through. Many many shops… A pub! A pint of Bass! 2.20? Outrageous! [Hahaha, oh wow.] Now 1510, only an hour until we board!

1750: OK, on board! Have met Llew, Becca (Charlotte), Laura Aitken, & Wyn (Scottish). Have window seat (11K), and it really is window, not wall between windows – cool. Sat w/ Sally & her Mum Kath, not on trek. Heathrow is dark and twinkly, not to mention huge. Back feeling OK. Really excitied – going to China!

No way can I see fireworks over there – must still be Heathrow? Hmmm, stopped, maybe was just kerosene going up. Nope, definitely fireworks, just more distant than I first thought. Here we go! Up! Up! Up! Wow, can see fireworks going off all over the place - crazy! Like camera flashes in a stadium. London (?) looks incredible, it’s a living map – want to fly over it on my own. Watching fireworks from above! Mental! Clouding under now, can’t see streetlights but firework flashes still come through. Argh, cabin lights are on, can’t see anything w/o pressing face against!

1909, passing Goethenburg @ 33,000 feet.

Dinner is served. It’s… chicken!

Yan Jing Beer! Brought to you by the good folks of the Beijing Yan Jing Brewery Co., Ltd. The label says: “Mineral water, malt, rice, Hop. Quality: Excellent. Address: Eastern Side of Beijing Airport.” Cool.

I think we’re over Finland & I can see faint lights, far far below. Definitely a town, definitely coastal. Russia?

2110, we must be above Siberia by now. Siberia! All I can see is darkness, clouds below, stars above.

2230, I can’t tell what I’m looking at – it’s like clouds but the patterns are too regular, in fact I reckon it’s ice/snow. Oh, definitely – there’s an almost round frozen lake. WOW. Absolutely beautiful. I opened the visor and there was this landscape, and a town or something! Town in distance, airport? railway? harbour? Closer too. Wish they were still showing map instead of bad Hong Kong action movie! Twisty snakey thing – a river! Light reflecting off it! Light from us? Now 0630 in Beijing, must be about 2AM here?

Aha! 100 miles north of Omsk! 10,000m. 0445 locally. 2150 miles to go. Crossed Urals about 200miles north of Sverdlovsk? Might pass Irkutsk? Lake Baikal! [I've been fascinated by Lake Baikal for as long as I can remember. One day I'll go there.]

Insane badly-animated Chinese cartoon, Little Tiger Ban Ban, just came on. Little Ban Ban appears to be a reckless motorcycling tiger cub, returned to his forest homeland with The Dew of Immortality, to save the forest, presumably so he still has somewhere for dirtbiking. Wow, he just crashed – don’t think I can watch any more, however.

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