Walking the Dream: The Great Wall of China

Seeing any of the ‘Wonders of the World’ was always going to be an incredible experience, but I didn’t imagine it would be THAT incredible!  The Great Ancient Walls stretch over 3,900 miles across China, from Shanhaiguan in the East to Jiayuguan in the West, and are part of a huge defensive barrier that runs the entire length of China with trenches and natural defences including rivers and mountains.  Supposedly the Great Wall can be seen from the moon, but scientists and astronomers are still debating that one! Hopefully one day, I’ll get the chance to see for myself!

The construction of the wall was started back in 206 BC, during the Qin Dynasty, although little of this original wall remains today.  On and off, the wall has been built and renovated, most of the remaining wall was constructed during the 7th Century.  It was originally built as a defence against intruders  and small armies, however it had many other uses such as border control for trade and immigration, and also as a way of transporting goods across China.

The wall is made of several different materials including stone, brick, earth and wood.  Although there is no accurate records to know just how long it took to build the walls, or how many people it took, it is estimated that as many as one million people died during its construction.

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Most of the wall sits high up in the hills, with some parts over 900 metres above sea level. As with many man-made wonders of such enormous proportions, its almost impossible to imagine how every single stone (of which there are millions) were carried up the hills before being laid.

I visited a section of the wall close to Beijing called ‘Mutianyu’, and it took about an hour and a half to get to the tourist centre by car, driving through small villages on the outskirts of China.

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This part of the wall was mostly constructed by the Ming Dynasty and has been renovated so it is safe for tourists.  At the entrance to the wall is a small market selling Chinese trinkets – as always, I found it impossible not to pick up a souvenir or two!

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The wall is open all year round, however the soaring summer temperatures and sub-zero winters can make for an unpleasant time to visit. The best times to see this wonder are between March and June, and September and November. Weekends during periods of nice weather can also become very overcrowded, so best to visit during weekdays if your itinerary allows.  I visited in July, and it was very hot and sticky, not to mention the mist we encountered while we were up there which at times blocked the beautiful views.

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There are three ways of accessing the wall:

1) Walking up the Great Wall along the stone steps ( approximate 40 minute hike ) to the 10th Watch Tower
2) Taking a cable car up to the 14th Watch Tower
3) Taking a chairlift to the 6th Watch Tower

I took the cable car up… feeling lazy!

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The wall is therefore accessible for wheelchair users or mothers with prams.

There are several different sections of the wall that you can visit from Beijing, but I really enjoyed the Mutianya. The scenery was beautiful and, thankfully, it was a beginners level of hiking!  This section of the wall is about 3,000 metres long, and includes 20 watch towers, taking roughly 2-3 hours to explore.

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Coming down, you can either get the cable car OR much more fun, toboggan down!

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My colleague Guile enjoying the toboggan

If you are on a budget then its possible to catch an indirect bus from Dongzhimen public bus station in Beijing centre, it will cost around 20 RMB.  However, I would suggest taking a tour from Beijing, which includes the cost of the entrance ticket.  For about $70, they will pick you up from your hotel, drive you to the wall, wait, and then drop you back – just a lot less hassle and makes it very manageable to see the wall if you only have one day in Beijing.

Liberty’s Tips:

1. Avoid wearing sandals the hiking is more vigorous than I thought it would be, good trainers or walking boots are much advised.  I ended up walking bare foot in the end!

2. If you are short of time in Beijing, get up super early and go to the wall, then head back into Beijing early afternoon and visit the Forbidden City before it closes.

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Lookout for future blogs on Beijing, when I visit The Forbidden city in torrential rain and the Summer Palace in glorious sunshine…..

路順風!

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